The Journey Begins: August 28-31, 2013

28 August:

It was a chaotic start to the day.   I didn’t get to bed until 3:30 AM, as I was taking care of things online over in Colorado, where it was afternoon.  So, the alarm came too early at 5 AM!  In my morning haze, I accidentally hit the alarm switch instead of the light switch in the hallway.  It sounded like a very loud chirping bird and definitely woke me up (hopefully, no one else in the house!).  Then, managing 75 lbs down a dark stairwell and two excited dogs in the driveway, one of which escaped into the street when I opened the gate and I had to convince back inside, left me pouring in sweat.

Fortunately, check-in and security at the airport was quick and the mountain flight to Lukla was smooth, with a spot-on landing!  Once in Lukla, I dropped off one of my bags with Babu, a porter, and had some breakfast.   The trails were very slick with mud and poo, so I definitely had to pay attention.  My pace was good, as I had music along this time to help.

After collecting a few observations along trail (e.g., land erosion spots), I stopped for lunch at a village called Phakding.  To get here, you cross two suspension bridges, which I find quite fun.  The rivers below are raging, given it’s the melt season and the monsoon has been pretty heavy.  Anyhow, my lunch consisted of a plate of boiled potatoes.  Cheap, but tasty.  The plate that was put in front of me had about a dozen potatoes, so I ate half and stuffed the other half in my bag, when the cook wasn’t looking!  These made for good, but heavy, snacks for the rest of the way.  Soon after departing Phakding, it started raining.  It was light at first, then got progressively heavier.  I finally caved and stopped at a village called Monjo, right before the entrance gate to Sagarmatha National Park.  It took a while to warm up, as my clothing was soaked, inside out.  All in all, a good mileage day!

Distance covered:  9 miles

29 August

Given the severe sleep deficiency from the night before, I went to bed around 8 PM and didn’t wake up until 8:30 AM.  After a quick warm breakfast, it was time to enter the park, get my paperwork (permits) checked, and continue on to Namche Bazaar.  It was partly cloudy most of the way, which is good as this trail is pretty steep and sustained.

I didn’t take many breaks along the way, as, given my late start, I wanted to beat any afternoon showers.  The one place I did stop is where you get good views of Everest.  It was too cloudy to see anything today; and, I was surprised to find that there is a new building going up in the area – it wasn’t there in mid-June. After this point, it was another 30 minutes and another checkpoint before I finally reached Namche.  The mists had just arrived and it started raining shortly thereafter.  The rest of my day was spent resting and science planning, as well as talking with 5 young trekkers on their way up to Everest base camp.

Distance covered: 3.6 miles; short but steep!

30 August

Today I had another kind of late start, which was okay.  It’s important to listen to your body at these altitudes.  Likely, I’m suffering a bit of physical burnout, as I’ve been on the go since early May and am still recovering from a back injury sustained in late June.  Today’s goal was Dole and, though it’s my favorite leg of the journey given the awesome scenery (rhododendrons and waterfalls!), it’s also the steepest and thus hardest.  The trail does start pretty easy, which can give the unaware trekker a false confidence.  It was quite cloudy today, but I did manage to catch glimpses of Lhotse, Everest’s more technical neighbor, along the way.  The music helped again, especially at the steep bits.  Being alone on trail for most of the way was a pretty cool experience.  At one point, a golden eagle soared past, quite close to me – it has an awesome wingspan!

After reaching a high point it was downhill for about a half hour, to a place called Phortse Tenga.  This is my favorite lunch spot, so I rushed down quickly to get some food.  Unfortunately, it was closed for the season.  My other food options were either back uphill or downhill, then back uphill.  Figuring I would burn any calories consumed with these options, I had one of my clif bars and continued onwards.  Though I felt sluggish the rest of the way, the waterfalls kept my mind off it and I actually got to Dole, the next village, faster than ever before.   I definitely splurged on some hot drinks (Dole is incredibly cold and drafty) and a big dinner.

Distance covered:  7.8 miles

31 August

Early in the morning, I was woken by a loud rumbling noise and the very thin plywood walls of the teahouse shook.  I figured perhaps it was a stampeding yak herd or something and didn’t think much of it.

After a quick breakfast it was uphill for a few hours to a small village called Machermo.  I have a canine friend there, so it was nice to stop for a quick visit and a hot lunch.  The mist engulfed the trails for most of the day and it was quite cold.  They were pretty empty, too, so it was a chance to get lost in my thoughts.  I continued onwards, eager to finally get to the glacier and arrived to Gokyo, my field base camp, in the early afternoon.  After getting a hot drink and changing, I decided to hop online briefly.  The first message in my inbox was about an earthquake (+ aftershocks) that hit Kathmandu and the surrounding areas earlier that morning.  That would explain the shaking I felt earlier in the morning!  Now, it’s time for more science planning and rest.  I’ll check on my cameras first thing tomorrow.

 Distance covered: 8.9 miles

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