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Trip Report Trip report on the EBC and surrounds

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I'm reporting on my trip (starting today) on a three week trip including two weeks of the EBC with Ace the Himalaya, and some extra time in and around Kathmandu.

This trip began on May the 17th, with my trusting Super Shuttle to get me to the airport on time for my flight to Chicago. Now I've used SS many times in the past, and on one occasion they called to tell me that they were sending a Yellow Cab instead. This was a cluster, and they ended up getting me to the airport barely in time. I remembered this experience vividly. So when the girl calls me at 12:55 for my 1 pm pickup to say that a cab is coming, I ask her pointedly when she called the cab. Ten minutes ago, she said. Well, this is an outright lie, which I find out later. She says the cabbie will call me right away to confirm. Twenty minutes pass and of course, he doesn't, because SS hasn't called them yet. I call SS, am on hold for quite a while, give them an earful and they say they will call the cab. Finally I get a call from the cabbie (it's now forty minutes later) and he says that SS has cancelled the ride and I have to pay the eighty dollars full fare. This isn't the case and I inform him of such and call SS again. He has to call them back- the clock is still ticking, and finally he is on his way to my place. He gets there nearly an hour later and we head to the airport.

On the way, I ask him when he got the call. True to form, he only got the call minutes before he called me the first time, making the claim that the first SS call made a complete fantasy. This was the case the first time around. SS does not call the cab until they get around to it, which means you may or may not make your international flight on time. Your cab may be on the other side of tarnation when he gets the call.
Well, my cabbie was a great guy and we had a terrific conversation. Turns out he was from Sierra Leone and we just bonded. Good thing because when he dropped me off, I left my computer and solar battery charger- a $500 investment- in his cab, and I hurtled into the airport. Since I don't travel with a cell phone, I had to use United's phone and spent an hour on hold while they tracked him down downtown Denver. By that time he was at least 45 minutes away, and I was 20 minutes from boarding. But somehow he made it back out to the airport in less than 10 minutes- and I got my gear, a great big hug (that didn't cost anything) and he got thirty bucks for his trouble. There is nothing like stress to make you do bonehead things like leave computers in cabs. And there is nothing like bonding with a cabbie to make sure he puts the pedal to the metal to get you your goods back in time to make your flight. I was mad all right but not at him, and I was hugely grateful to him for hightailing it back out to make sure I had my gear. Whatta way to start a trip. Good thing the rest of the trip was nothing more than long, restful sleeps.

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    I had booked my EBC trip with Ace the Himalaya, an outfit that has some nice press about it, through a gear website called The Clymb a number of months ago. Since then I've done some research and prep, did the Inca Trail in April and read some intriguing comparisons from other adventurers who have also done Kili and the Inca Trail as have I and the EBC which I've not. As a reference point I'm 61, a gym rat, do adventure travel and like many on here am a travel addict.

    Istanbul airport was to me a revelation in some ways, a complete joy- my first time there. I only want to comment on how much a pleasure it was to eat authentic baklava in Turkey, even if it is at the airport, to sit in such a crazy busy place and watch so many different nationalities mix and mingle. There was a four top table where I sat on purpose and periodically people would join me in the food court, and because of that I got to meet a Lebanese surgeon living in Russia who is just learning English. That conversation was so delightful I came away with an invitation to come to Russian and may well do just that- which is why I don't travel with a phone. Here is my favorite quote from Abbas: "I speak Lebanese I am one person. I speak French I am two people. I speak Russian I am three people. I learn English I am four. And so on." I loved this wisdom. What you can learn in the Istanbul Airport. Is there a better reason to get on a plane?

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    Kathmandu, first impressions. The visa process was so easy. I'd read where people at the airport struggled with you to take your bags for tips. Didn't happen. Where do these stories come from? Someone offered, I said no, nothing more. Perhaps the early morning arrival? Prem had someone with a sign right out front, made it so easy. The sky was dark with dust, 22C already it was only 7 am. People everywhere sweeping trash, facemasks on. Lots of trash in the street. Chaotic traffic, a bus making a U-turn for no conceivable reason causing a huge backup. Raj, my mountain guide, energetic and friendly, delivers me to my hotel in the middle of tourist district- all souvenir shops and hostels. Closed up tight until 9 am. At 9 everything comes alive with incense and music and horns and street vendors and thank god people selling fruit. A riot for the eyes and ears and nose. It's HOT. No power until noon, but I can at least wash a few things and set them on the balcony upstairs. It's such a pleasure to take it all in, to familiarize with the streets closeby, to take in a new country's impressions. Tomorrow the trek group meets. Just before I left, Sierra Trading Company was selling Icebreaker T shirts- super lightweight wool, and I snapped up a bunch and traded up to them in my gear. Smart move. They cool and warm. Here, I am using both a buff and the facemask I bought on the streets in Vietnam. Both are working fine, but depending on how your breathe, it's easy to fog glasses. Comes with the territory- but it does clean the air.

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    Wow, that's a **** way to start a trip! I'm lucky that I live close to an airport and am usually driven to/from by friends. I'd have been going absolutely nuts. But... your computer wasn't in your carry-on?

    Have a great trip. Where are you staying in KTM?

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    Thursdaysd-it was a carryon- I have a backpack and it was an additional carryon, which I never usually have, so I simply didn't remember it. Usually I have one big backpack or gearbag and a small pack for a carry on and that's it- but this time I had the solar battery back as well and the computer was in there. Sigh. I'm at the Trekker's Home in Thamel, where for some reason the power is on the middle of the night right now (go figure) and the computer is powering up from oh dark thirty to oh dark thirty while no one is up and moving around. Except me, apparently.

    Yesterday after arrival as is my habit, the first order of business was to find fruit. That wasn't as simple as I thought it might be, although the guy at the front desk made it sound so. I trundled up and down the streets in all directions and finally found a street vendor- who charged me an arm and a leg for some bananas and a papaya and a mango. Fine by me- this is my lifeblood. I spent nearly an hour trying to find yogurt which was utterly fruitless, no pun intended, all the local markets not having cold storage, but I did unearth another fruit stand which was far more reasonable.

    I am delighted to have hot water showers, which will not be all that easy to get at altitude, starting tonight from what I understand. We fly into heart attack airport this afternoon and hike for three hours into our first tea house and after that we are on our way.

    DIA is nearly an hour from my house so a shuttle service is a necessary evil. Taxis are a fortune. I was beside myself standing at my front door wondering if I was going to make it.But then, it also makes a funny story. SS sent me a feedback email and I sent back a detailed blow by blow account of the whole sorry situation. It will be interesting to see if anyone follows up with a customer service inquiry. If they did it to me twice, then they have done it to others, and there is a pattern there.

    BTW I did look up the recommendations listed on the other threads. They're a little rich for my travel budget but they looked lovely. I tend to sleep cheep and spend my travel dollars on adventures like river rafting and the like. I've got reservations at a different hotel in Kathmandu when I get back but they are negotiable. I plan to do some serious sleeping after 14 days of hiking!

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    Namche Bazaar, and a mild headache- the headache is because I spend more time studying my guide's feet and maintaining the pace rather than remembering to drink my fluids, which I have laced with something called Octane, an excellent drink that replenishes what we use up on these climbs. We are in a very nice little in, eleven of us with Raj our guide, who just gave us the dinner call.

    Despite what one writer said on another thread I've simply not seen trash on the path so far, if anything members of our group have picked up what little we've seen.There are big receptacles on the way. There was plenty of garbage around Kathmandu and there's some here in the streets in Namche, but not on the trail. What I have seen have been some pretty spectacular suspension bridges, causing one in our group who has a problem with heights to have to hold onto the ends of her sister's boyfriend's hiking poles in order to make it across. The first caused a little discomfort but when you figure thousands of people cross them regularly and they are very sturdy, they aren't a problem. They do bounce and sway, which can cause a little vertigo, but you get used to it.

    We have of course been passed by many a donkey team, and a few yak teams, hugely burdened. What astounds me even more is what people are able to pile onto their backs and move up and down the mountain. We would often move aside for people bent over under the weight of building materials, long long planks of wood that must have weighed a ton, and took up a great deal of space front and back. At lunch yesterday I watched a woman go by under a tower of goods that were three times her size.

    My tour has put me into rooms by myself so far, which is much appreciated as this allows me to write and also sleep through dinner, which I prefer to do. After long hikes I'm often more tired than hungry, and hit the sack around 6 or 7 and sleep until 4 am when I get up to write, fix supplement drinks, eat peanut butter and other calorie rich snacks and then join our group for breakfast. Most of our group is in their thirties with one father and daughter pairing from Iowa.

    This way I get lots and lots of recovery sleep, time to write and an early start on the new day which fits my normal schedule. I brought two pairs of hiking boots rather than the recommended flip flops or sandals, and this turned out to be a great idea. They give the feet a rest at night as well as a day off from your primary hiking boots. I also brought an extra pair of orthodics which lasted in my bag one day and were immediately put in the shoes.

    The hotel at Namche also offered a hot shower- and I mean a really good one- for 400 rupees. I'd not expected to be able to do this for another eight or nine days, not knowing the facilities, so this afternoon stood under some high pressure hot steamy water which took away all the sweat. This morning we did an acclimatization hike to 3800 feet up a climbing switchback which looked brutal from across the valley at the museum. However, once we hit the top and got to see the world's highest airport, walked around the first guesthouse and got our first vision of Everest, we forgot all about our climb. Minutes later we were enjoying coffee and juice at a lovely hotel with a breathtaking view of the peaks- a million dollar view if there ever was one.

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    I'm really enjoying your posts as I'll never get to do what you are doing. I am 69 and out of shape and overweight so mountain climbing and trekking like you are doing isn't going to work for me but I love it that I can read about it. The most adventurous I've been is to do white water rafting and zip lining in Costa Rica a few years ago.

    Looking forward to reading more and coming along with you on your trip!! Even if it's from my laptop.

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    Namche Bazaar also offers a great opportunity to gear up one more time before you head up higher. While it may be questionable whether what you're getting is really North Face or Arcteryx, from what I checked out this afternoon it looked pretty comparable. And you can't beat paying $28 for a pair of Arcteryx knockoffs you know would set you back many times that much back home. There is a gear shop here whose prices are quite high, but I stayed in the ones that also offered jewelry and souvenirs, and found plenty of offerings that looked like they'd work just fine.

    Namche curves around a valley, and consists of many blue-roofed hotels and buildings, shops and homes. It appears from the map that from this launching point one heads on any one of a number of different route through the Himalayas, so it makes sense that you'd finalize your gear set here. The small shop just outside our hotel ( The Yak Hotel) offered very nice looking down jackets, high quality pants and gloves, and plenty of climbing gear, as did many others. The very pricey gear shop which was in a glassed in space was selling Icebreaker tops and bottoms for nearly $100 apiece, which isn't out of the ordinary for back home but compared to other shops here it's high.

    Food has been okay so far- mostly a selection of egg, noodle or rice based dishes. We've been warned off the meat, as it is carried uphill without protection and as such might not be the best choice. I packed in some mangoes and a pineapple which have all disappeared by now and where I can get it I buy fruit salad, which is largely made up of apples and pomegranates. Porridge is readily available, and perfect. All the stores are happy to sell granola bars and the typical favorites of Snickers and Twix and Oreos. Kopal, my porter, is hefting an additional few pounds of food weight in the form of Clif bars and packets of Almond butter (Justin's, available at Whole Foods) which come in very handy on the trail, and sometimes suffice when it's hard to find something on the menu. I also loaded up with dried apricots and pineapple slices in Kathmandu which will provide something sweet and caloric but also vitamins.

    We've been blessed with lovely warm weather the first few days on this trip, with bright sunshine (and the requisite dust) and mild breezes. The trail varies, heading up, sometimes quite steeply, then flattening out, heading down again for a bit. After landing in Lukla we hiked down for our first night and then hiked back up the next day. This combined with our acclimitization hikes makes sure we're able to handle the altitude, and so far no one has had any problems. I just need to be far more diligent about my liquids.

    We did find a few toilets along the way, however invariably one would be marked "free" and have a padlock on it and no one had a clue who had the key and gee nobody knew when that person would come back, but you could pay for the other one if you really had to go. Considering the condition of the ones that some of us had used up to that point, several of us girls headed up the trail and disappeared into the woods and kept point for each other. This meant air dry to avoid leaving paper but it was worth it.

    Finally, I have been trying out a solar pack on my backpack as a power source for my HP mini. I know most people use pads or tablets but I need a keyboard. The solar panel is the size of a 17" computer, and it has a rather clumsy strap system which caused it to sag. One carabiner later, we're all good. And it works perfectly. Every night I come in and plug the computer in and it juices right up. After Namche I was told there may not be too many more wi-fi spots but at least I can recharge without fighting for a plug.

    So far, the wonder of seeing these magnificent mountains has been well worth it. We have excellent, interesting company, many of whom have never done anything at altitude and several who have done Macchu Picchu and similar trips so have some experience. Lots of good humor, support and shared interests. What I like about this group is that we may be drawing a lot of strength from each other as the days go by, and the demands get greater. Tomorrow we leave at 8 am after another hearty breakfast, and I will be drinking a lot more Octane!

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    Great reporting jhubbel. Nepal is somewhere I have often thought about going but somehow I have never got around to it. I am relying on you to finally convince me. :-)
    PS that Icebreaker merino gear is amazing.

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    Hi JH
    Lacing my boots for the trek.
    Did you stay in Phakding, Monjo or Jorsale the first night out of Lukla?

    I did a trek up there last year, taking a slow wander around the Khumbu for a fortnight & stayed at Phakding & Jorsale. Made easy work of the switchbacks up to NB .

    Those were more likely Dzopke /Jopke than yaks, btw. That's a mix of yak & a cattle breed. Yaks are usually only found above 3,000m - too hot for them below.

    That Japanese hotel is charming isn't it? Everest View. Interesting history, built in the early 70's. hot chocolate on the balcony, watching Everest emerge in the sunrise - hard to beat.

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    Hello to all, and no surprise to anyone surely that wi-fi has been challenging to get along the way. Back in Kathmandu now and nursing my sore pegs, and some kind of nasty bug that I seem to have picked up at a teahouse along the way down. Good news is that I have a supply of antibiotics, and the really nice hotel where I'm staying courtesy of Ace the Himalaya is going to let me extend for a week. I was going to move to a hostel but not in this condition. With this cough, I like the idea of a little luxury.

    Our group was eleven strong, and a mix of folks which came into play as we headed up. There were some who had hiking experience and some with none at all, and some who had no high altitude experience whatsoever. This all came to a head when we reached the jump off point to Gorak Shep which I'll get to in a moment. We had an interesting story which some in our group aren't very happy about right now.

    The hiking up part of me is pure joy- I love heading up the mountain, it's like my pegs were made for climbing. After we left Lukla it is of course downhill and we stayed in Sherpa's Resort (some of the names of these places really make you guffaw). The sweetest thing about hiking this time of year is that all the rhododendrons are in bloom, every flower is bursting out and all the gardens are emerald green. The weather favored us- well, mostly- and of course with the exception of the chilly nights we hiked in shorts and light shirts most days.
    It is simply extraordinary to watch the movement of goods which come in by plane, are offloaded by cart and prompty end up (Pringles and coke and sprite) onto someone's strong back and then make the excruicating trip up the mountain to some isolated resort so that some tourist can have his refreshment- or buy the ultimate necessity, toilet paper. We might niggle about carrying 3L of water and this or that amount but when I would get up early (often around 4 am and look out at the trail, women and men with towering burdens three times their height would be steadily making their way past. Nothing more than a T-shaped piece of wood to sit on or lean against, use as a walking stick. So you and I can have a coke at altitude, mind you.

    The other notable was that this is construction season as it is all over the world, so many people would pass us up AND down with four by fours and other very long boards of extremely heavy wood. How they negotiated some of the tight corners that we had challenges with is a mystery to me but speaks to the effortless skill of these remarkable people.

    We quickly learned that at nearly every restaurant the staples were noodles, rice, eggs and bread of some kind, and while meat was available it was not advisable. My staple became cheese omelets, which varied by chef, but when fortified by ketchup were usually pretty good. Fruit disappeared quickly after Namche Bazaar.

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    At the lower levels the towns are so well kept, nicely painted, the mothers with their kids getting ready for school as we come hiking through, people getting wash out for the sunshine. The uninitiated who come to this altitude with drug store sunglasses will be nearly blinded especially higher up as the sun is unobstructed, the sky so clear and gorgeous. I had three pairs of glacier glasses for this trip since I had the unfortunate habit of losing three pairs on a previous trip, and I was to learn more than I ever wanted to know about how they held condensation. But they are required.

    The trees, pines, bushes and everything that could possibly flower, did- pine needles decorated our path, and we walked through the small villages which were cheerfully dotted with cafes, restaurants and hotels for travelers, often full of fellow hikers taking in coffee or my favorite, lemon tea.

    Raj was our guide, an enthusiastic, terminally cheerful, funny and sometimes very loud man in his mid-thirties with a buzz cut. Quick with a laugh and always happy, Raj got us going in the mornings, and Deepak, our assistant guide whose English wasn't as good, led us from the front Deepak wore a pair of very simple sneakers- no insulation- all the way to the top of the mountains in the deep snow- without any ill effect.

    I had a porter named Kopal, a particularly strong young man who had the misfortune of ending up with my bag which carried extra equipment and food. As a result, every morning Kopal found something extra tucked into the set of ropes at the end of the bag - a Clif bar or a Snickers or two, and while the bag got lighter with consumption, it was still heavy. This little extra caused Kopal and me to have some very fun interactions during the trip, and since I'd also brought enough food and snacks along, I often brought out goodies like honey sesame sticks for all the porters when we were up very early at altitude and sitting around the fire- on the rare occasion it was on in the morning.

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    One of the key pieces of gear that I bought from a site called Feathered Friends was a pair of very lightweight down booties. They had a firm flat bottom so that you could walk anywhere in them but I also slept in them- which for someone with ridiculously cold feet this was a gift. I'd bought zpacks' 0-rated down bag which weighed a little over a pound- my bag liner weighed more than the bag- and with a few layers of icebreaker and a pair of thermals I was very cozy. I never used any of the proferred blankets- famous for being a little ripe- at the guesthouses. When you recognize how hard it is to get clean water and how tough it is to wash something like a blanket you can understand. I brought an alternate pair of shoes for hiking to give my feet a break and they came in very handy. I used a pair of heavy leather Keens which had broken in quickly and had a big wide toe box, extremely useful for all those downhills when you are shoving all your bodyweight into your boots. And while I saw a lot of advice from various campers on socks, I followed one very experienced sage's advice from REI and this WORKED: one pair of liners, one pair of lightweight wool socks. The great big heavy duty wool socks are invitations to blisters, which I found out on Kilimanjaro. They take up too much room and cause chafing. The mid to lightweight wool works just fine- and the added benefit of a SmartWool liner does several things. First it prevents your feel from creating the tear gas effect (I am a first offender here- nobody gets downwind of me when I take off my boots) and they wick away moisture. They're good for several days in fact. The wool socks last several days as a result and they don't get offensive. A real win win. And after all that, no blisters. When necessary- and it did become necessary at one point- I put in shoe warmers AND toe warmers and still had room in the toe box to wiggle my piggies. This all simply speaks to careful boot selection at the outset and considering the conditions from bottom of the mountain to the top- the potential for snow including very deep snow (YES) and the exceedingly long walk down. Your feet better like you the whole way.

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    I may not get all the names of the places correct so anyone can jump in here and slam me. I am currently digesting my first (TWO HUGE) bowls of yogurt and fruit and am again lying in my luscious bed recovering away in luxury while catching up. Raj owes me a list of all the places we stayed but I don't think he's even awake yet. So mistakes are all mine, dear Readers.

    The monastery at Tengboche is one of the more wonderful spots for a variety of reasons. It saddened me that we got there late and left early- it always seemed we were in such a rush- and the material talks about the place being so peaceful. Yah, I suppose, if you take the time to enjoy it. As you come up to the first viewing point one of the things that strikes you is a line of prayer tablets off to your right, and behind you (which I saw much later) is a massive mountain of incredible beauty, with snow coming down its face, but I was so focused on forward that I missed the damned thing and had to have it pointed out to me later. As we crested the hill the monastery was to our left, the small town at the base of the valley and some fields with about ten black dogs tumbling about in play. And there across the horizon were Everest and her sisters in all their glory, on hell of a sight. Snow covered, imposing, glorious. Heart stopping.

    But it was late afternoon and we had to check in, so we made our way to our rooms (being an odd number I lucked out and slept alone, which I really appreciated). Toilets were down the hall. In some cases there was water available and most of us carried some kind of steripen, others had iodine tablets. Evenings and breakfasts were punctuated by the stirring of bright wands in varicolored bottles, complaints that someone's tube had gone out, discussions of the advantages of this version to that. But they kept us healthy.

    At about five, Raj gathered us up and took us over to the monastery for evening prayers which were just beginning. We quietly slipped in and grabbed rugs, and as soon as we were seated the prayers began. About twelve monks were attending, all in constant prayer. As their words rose to the highly decorated ceiling I took in the ornate walls, the massive gold Buddha, the painting and hangings on every surface in the room. Nothing was left untouched. Prayers went on unabated for some time, then attendants came in with hot refreshments. The tone and tempo changed slightly and prayers resumed, at times punctuated by cymbals clashing or other instruments.

    It was extraordinary, striking, sometimes earshattering, calming, deeply emotional and in every way moving. At some level one has to respect the level of effort to learn the prayers that these people recite for so long, the devotion that they show, and the time they give to their devotion. The room they do it in is another statement of faith for its beauty and design, all the love expressed to the being that sits in the back of the room I took a couple of furtive photos (they are allowed with no flash) and left when my legs gave out, very happy to have had such an intimate look at this practice.
    The night air was brisk and the great peaks in the distance beckoned.

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    The mountain I mentioned that stood behind our hotel in Tengboche Raj called the "horse's saddle," I don't know its name. But for whatever reason it became one of my favorites if for no other reason than the first time I saw it, it was shrouded in evening mists and its size and power was only hinted at. Before we took off in the morning a few of us early risers were outside in the clear air taking photos and I was able to see what I'd missed the night before. This massive set of peaks reminded me of posters I'd seen on my brother's bedroom wall, those of his hiking and climbing friends, and many sports shops. Now for the first time here I stand right in front of the real thing and there was this sudden vertigo-geez, this is REAL- not that it hadn't been up to that point but I think everyone can relate. The mists as they creep in during the evening hide a lot of the scenery so you're heading up with these massive peaks sneaking up all around you. You really have no clue what's popped up as you're doing all that work. Now you see Everest off in the distance, sure. That's cool. But right at your back door, literally, here is this astounding mountain with all this pure white snow and rock face- well. Like Christmas morning. So often we would end the day in mists, and truly have no clue what was around us. We knew we were hiking in pretty country but there was no way to see it. So we could only hope for sun at some point so that the scenery would reveal itself. And sometimes, it did. Like that morning. Wow.

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    Our group was made up of components including a father daughter pair, two German sisters and one's boyfriend- and those two were on a trip around the world and had already done Macchu Picchu, and mostly people who had signed up via the Clymb. I was the oldest at 61 and the father, a Nordic mix, was in his fifties. Sometimes we would get strung out a bit especially over the long uphill hikes. I loved pushing hard on Deepak's heels until we were one day on an acclimatization hike.It had begun to snow and this was up Chukka Valley (sp, sorry). The top of the mountain disappeared into the clouds and the conditions were nasty- ice on the rocks, snow, and a hard climb to boot with no visual reward. I stayed on Deepak's sneaker heels until we were past the 5000 m mark and we took a rest.

    At that point I was reminded somewhat of a guide I had followed in Vietnam back in January who liked to set a NASCAR pace, and it had cost me. I was panting, which at 5000 was to be expected, but two wonderful guides had taught me the right pace at this altitude on Kili and I wasn't following their advice. At that point it had stopped being fun, I had to ask what the hell I was trying to prove to myself and when a reasonable answer wasn't forthcoming I figured it was time to change. Several of our group headed to the top- ice cold, no view, just to do it, and the rest of us headed down, as the ice had made footing very slippery. No one wanted a busted ankle or leg at that point and the hike had served its purpose anyway. From then on I took up my pole pole (Swahili for slow, slow) and was fat and happy towards the middle back of the pack. And didn't pant again.

    Those of you who have done this hike recall the suspension bridges. One of our crew has a real fear of heights, and this was a bit of an issue for her especially on the first one over a big gorge. The fix was that she grabbed the tips of her sister's boyfriend's hiking poles and fixated on his back, and thereby ignored her surroundings and made it across. It is a bit disconcerting to be on a swaying, bouncing mode of transportation very high over a smashing, rolling river full of boulders, but all manner of animals and heavily laden people cross those bridges every day with no issue. Well, that's until you walk by the one bridge whose support system- the whole mountain on the other side- collapsed. That did give us all pause, and you're quite happy to walk over the little bitty one about 600 yards up the river which is barely high enough to keep you out of the mists.

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    I realize that I did not report on Namche Bazaar, that is because of the drugs, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I do love codeine, taken when appropriate, and now it is appropriate, and combined with clean sheets, a comfy bed and long hours resting it is a fine thing whislt trying to shake off the nasties.
    So. Namche. We stayed at the Yak Hotel, a right pleasant spot on a main drag (one of the only really paved flat streets in the town) and surrounded, natch, by camping stores. As I was just beginning to get used to the setups at the various hotels I hadn’t yet sorted out that lights might not always be where you’d think so I didn’t realize that there were lights in the toilet until we were about to leave. So using the toilet down the hall consisted of sprinting down the hallway- a light overhead would come on for a few seconds, enough time for you to scurry to a destination, and then you’d be standing in the black to do, well, whatever you were going to do. Someone earlier that day had decided to shave in the one sink we had to ourselves, which was a dumb move for several reasons. First of all, why? You might want that facial hair later not only for wind and sun protection but also for warmth. Second, who the hell is looking at you up here? Who cares? And third, as we all of course found out, shaving plugs the pipes. No one could use the sink for hours while Baby Face was smooth and shiny. Not cool. Which is one reason why I have to engage the services of a lawn mower to remove three weeks’ of growth in the nether regions because I don’t think my disposable razor has the blades to do the job. You could braid a rope with my leg hair right now.
    So I went next door to buy a little bitty flashlight and I got to looking at stuff. Yeah, stuff. And I found a pair of knockoff Arcteryx pants (no self respecting Arcteryx dealer would sell them for $28) which had lots of zippers, lots of insulation and were windproof and rainproof. Or appeared to be. This was the layer I wanted, and so I bought them,plus a carabiner, for the solar panel contraption I was carrying on my pack tended to sag and hit the rocks when I took my pack off. Most of these goods are made in this part of the world anyway and it’s all about the materials. I liked the look of the pants. I had no idea how hot they would get even in the deepest of snow- man did they deliver.
    Many of the others found a bakery which apparently was so good that on the way back down, this shop was one of the top subjects of whattaya gonna do when you get to Namche? My primary concern was good gear and good calories that I would eat at altitude and at that point I had both. The town itself is curved around the valley, a series of pleasant buildings with blue roofs, with great rising peaks behind. The Yak Hotel had a lovely view first of the street below and then of these peaks. Mists tended to rise in the late afternoon to obscure the peaks, and blot out the buildings on the opposing side of the valley.
    The second day in Namche, and I did mention the Japanese hotel, we took an acclimatization hike which was pure switchback all the way up. The path was rocky and challenging, and gave us an excellent taste of what was to come over the next few days. A few in the group were surprised that it wasn’t as hard as it had looked from the other side of the valley- a sentiment that might have been repeated a few times, as we often had a glimpse of our trail to come from a long way off. Especially those suspension bridges.

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    I forgot to acknowledge Bokhara2-you are quite right on the yaks. I didn't know their names, but there are distinct breeds. I particularly loved the high mountain yaks with the huge bushy white tails, the occasional painted eye, the great bulky body and massive hair growth. Our guide pointed out the difference as we hiked higher. I've got tons of photos but didn't write down the names as he didn't offer them up and I forgot to ask.

    I see I did report on Namche. Told you it was the drugs.

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    I just have to share this morning- this is after all a trip report. I was able to drag my aching carcass out of bed around 5:30 am when the sun started to creep inside the drapes so by 7:30 hunger got the better of me, especially after three days of not much food due to the buglets. Breakfast is free in this nice hotel so I went to the fifth floor, met the pleasant waiter, and heard a couple of words that I have not heard for weeks on end: yogurt and honey.
    Now I don’t know about you but when that big bowl of pure white yogurt landed on my table with the big spoon of honey next to it I nearly planted my face in it. Yogurt is one of the staples of my diet and yogurt this good just is hard to find, and I had a really hard time finding that elusive dairy (never did) on the streets of Thamel. Suffice it to say that the first bowl was inhaled, a second ordered and enjoyed more slowly, along with a big bowl of fruit, and then I suffered the consequences of a very tiny stomach shrieking I DON’T HAVE ROOM FOR ALL THIS DOWN HERE. Well I had to quietly walk off the urge to you know what and go lie down to convince the body that yes it really did need all those calories and kindly don’t do anything stupid, so everything calmed down and the resultant energy has been a gift. It’s very nice to know that another bowl of yogurt will be there tomorrow, the next day and the next. With honey. Heavenly.
    After the monastery we headed to Dingbuche, which is where we did that hike up the valley that was in the ice. This particular hotel, the Family Hotel, had a sign on the room door that tickled me pink. Along with a variety of other kind thoughts it asked for suggestions on how to make the hotel better. Well, I have one. Take the sewer pipes out of the hotel rooms. I mean really. I get convenience. But on any given day I would vastly prefer to wave my naked patootie out in the icy wind than try to sleep with an open sewage pipe right in my bedroom. Come ON man, whose idea was this? Now Raj teased me back that yes this is the mountain. Hey I get that. But there were plenty of outdoor toilets that used very effective composting techniques. There were all kinds of places we stayed that did not have that particular feature RIGHT IN THE ROOM. It so happened that I asked right away to be moved- since I can’t sleep with crap up my nose, parm my language- and they had a room in another building that had a bathroom down the hall. Did I mind? Was I bothered by a walk down the hall? Are you kidding me? I felt so sorry for everyone else, whose stories about putting plastic and rocks over the sewage pipes to assuage the smell actually had me feeling a little guilty. That was appalling. It’s a construction issue and totally, wholly unnecessary. Yes I get outhouses, yes I get that this is the mountain. And when you’ve got a stream of guests night after night, well, had we stayed there again, I’d have slept outside, no questions asked. It was just that bad.

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    I have to also be fair and report on our guides, Raj and Deepak, Raj being senior. They both of course started out as porters. Raj is in his thirties and is terminally cheerful, an absolute delight. Deepak, his English not quite as good, was at the head of our group, often on the phone with either his girlfriend or his 95-year old grandfather. Our porters, who laid our bags outside our rooms each night and picked them up in the mornings, would often gather early and get going before us. Kopal, my porter, was a compact man in his mid-twenties with aspirations to be a guide, so he was working on his English, which was pretty good. I snuck him a Justin's Almond butter which was- ah how can you say this nicely?- not well received- after which I kept him in those wonderful sweet and salty Clif bars that I found so addictive. I also had a pound of Blue Diamond Almonds and some other supplies that came out at various times either when I caught the porters up early or when Raj looked like he needed a sweet break. My backpack- I replaced the one I took up Kili with one with fewer pockets and more room- had lots of zippered compartments to hold dried pineapple and other fruits which came in handy when people flagged on the trail. I found that eating a big lunch midday left me nauseous and feeling like a lead weight was in my stomach. Similarly, going to bed very early- like between 7 and 8- allowed me to sleep extra hours, wake up early, write and head to breakfast very hungry. That terribly important meal started in the room with a supplement drink and peanut butter. I frankly don't ever want to drink that supplement drink again. Yechh. It's the one used by Olympic athletes! Okay so fine. That doesn't make it taste any better. People my age may remember paregoric? It almost got that bad. Very useful for energy but Ugh. What I did love were the big high fluffy three egg omelettes which showed up on my plate every morning, sometimes with porridge with apples and cinnamon. Best meal of the day for sure.

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    We fell into an easy rhythm of walking, as we passed flats where there were a riot of rhododendron trees with their white blossoms (Raj said the pink is the national flower). Lavender and yellow and all manner of spring blooms were everywhere as promised by the guide books but of course as we climbed the trees started to give way. Our party got much better at managing the suspension bridges, the very narrow walkways with the steep drop-offs, and hugging the mountain when the animal trains came by. Porters with the big loads also had right of way, something that it can sometimes be hard to be aware of if you’ve got ear buds in. There’s something about being able to hear the winds, the noise in the trees, the snippets of conversation, the birdsong that is part of the whole experience, but then that’s just an opinion. I had brought an iPod for the trip down but it was more trouble than it was worth.
    The various restaurants where we stopped often had outside patios where we could sit in the brilliant sunshine and watch the traffic pass. Animals would lumber over the bridge, give us the eye and continue pass us, and eventually their minder would come along at the end with some kind of whip or stick. It seemed that his voice was the most important motivation tool. Occasionally we saw horses, small and compact ponies, often for rent, sometimes ridden hard up or down the trail. Both the German sisters were equestrians as am I and we were attracted to the saddle pads and of course the animals. I saw one being manhandled badly by one rider, others treated with kindness, as they are everywhere. The saddlepads are richly colored and if I’m lucky I’ll find one to use at home. We all got accustomed to the light bright jingle of the bells around their necks signaling their approach, as we also heard the bells on the yaks and their lighterweight cousins. I came to like the sound so much I made a mental commitment to find one of each which now sit on a chair in my hotel living room.

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    We were surrounded by snow and clouds as we climbed into Loubouche (sp again my bad) which was our final stopoff point before heading up to Gorek Shep and then EBC. By this time we’d been in snow for some time. Our boots were wet, our gloves were soaked, and we hadn’t seen sun or scenery for quite some time. I can’t speak for anyone else but I had a bit of a foreboding about going further and I know there had been some discussion in the group. The snow had continued to fall and as we gathered in the lobby of the Mother Earth hotel, I wondered whether we’d see snow or sun in the morning, and whether or not we’d actually be able to complete the trip up the mountain at all.
    As you’d expect, the hotels are not heated. Ace the Himalaya provided sleeping bags and down jackets to those who needed them, and in these hotel rooms you needed them indeed. The higher we got the colder the rooms of course, and getting to bed at night and up in the morning involved quite the dance. Since you did want to change certain pieces of clothing like underwear, and I changed into thermals to sleep in, that means peeling everything off. This while standing in a room where your breath frosts. I also use a terrific muscle cream called EFAC which of course has been going up the mountain on Kopal’s back being refrigerated, so when I open it, it’s as cold as the outside. So here you are standing in an ice cold room, having taken off what were rather warm bits of clothing, you’re about to rub down with ice cold cream and put on ice cold pieces of clothing, and you will do this faster than you think humanly possible. Night after night. You think this is funny.
    The real fun starts at about 5:30 am or 4:30 if you happen to possess my bladder, and last night’s three cups of lemon tea come knocking and you’re facing a run down an icy hallway to sit on an equally icy toilet seat- which requires leaving a zero rated down bag and a nice sweet liner which is keeping you very very very warm. We’re talking executive decision here. Indecision lasts perhaps fifteen minutes because the alternative is unacceptable, you haul your down bootied feet out of the liner and sprint down the hall, go sit down, shriek, realize you’ve forgotten toilet paper, repeat the sprint down the hall, get toilet paper, sprint back down the hall, sit back down, whimper, take care of business and limp back. And leave several layers of epidermis on the ice cold toilet seat.
    Of course you can also do air delivery which is fine if you have good aim. It requires strong legs, which by the time you’ve reached 5000m, might be a little wobbly.
    So the morning routine is just as bad. You now have to strip down your nice warm thermals, take off your nice warm booties, put on ice cold socks, ice cold pants, ice cold boots unless you’re wearing warmers (let them warm up at least ten minutes first) and either move around or stomp around until the blood flow generates enough heat. My big expedition Bergen jacket was so heat efficient that it warmed things up very quickly and that was a gift especially on the very cold mornings. The other thing was that at high altitude I traded the trusty, dependable Oregon Research hat with the wide brim that you could flip up or down for sunshine for the very thick Peruvian double woven hat that was a lifesaver at night.
    Deepak had most kindly taken my expedition gloves and dried them as best he could the night before and he delivered them first thing in the morning (just one of the many, many, many things that he and Raj did for all of us). What I had not done, and should have done, was put my wet Keens next to the cook stove to dry them out. I had thought- quite wrongly on my part- that they might dry a bit overnight on their own. Not a bit. They were cold and wet and soaked through, and we were about to head up the mountain in what would turn out to be pretty bad conditions. I had chosen not to bring my mountaineering boots, my LaSportivas, on the advice of a great many people, and this was where I realized that you simply cannot plan for all contingencies.
    I heated up hand, boot and toe liners, put on my thermals and the brand new Arcteryx pants, we all had a big healthy breakfast and Raj led us out the door.
    Into about two plus feet of snow and it was still snowing.
    You couldn’t see much of anything- for my part, and I had very high end glacier glasses on, I was nearly blinded. Raj took us up the mountain trail towards Gorek Shep and was breaking the trail- hard damned work. Deepak was with him near the front, and I trailed in back. This is absolutely not my element, no way shape or form. I had put on my gaiters thinking they would help keep the snow out of my boots- that didn’t work either. About an hour into this hike I had ice and water running down my socks into my shoes from the packed snow that had been forced up into my legs.
    People ahead of me were falling, the trail being obscured by the snow, and one step to a side or the other meant a good slip of several feet up to the hip. We had a conga line of people behind us as well, including porters, our porters and others, other groups heading up. We were leading the way, and we were making very slow progress.
    At one point some group or someone coming down the mountain delivered either news or a rumor that made it down the line that the owner of the hotel in Gorek Shep was closing up and coming down the mountain because there was so much snow on his roof. Having played telephone so many times in elementary school, who knows what was really said at the front of the line- but we were halfway there and we had stopped cold. A knot of people had formed around Raj and Deepak and clearly there was a conflict going on.
    As far back as I was, what seemed clear was that there were two schools of thought- very simple. Some folks wanted to go ahead, some wanted to back because of the safety issue. Jan and his daughter were right ahead of me in line. About an hour before, Jan had had to pull me out of the snow drift I’d fallen into because my glacier glasses were so badly fogged that I was blind, and I was falling down, and I was pissed off. He was kind enough to let me rant for my alloted minute until I recaptured my funny bone, and we agreed that it was not looking good. And as we stood in line, and Cathy, his sweet faced blond daughter started snow angels, we decided to go back.
    At this juncture we’d been out on the snow and the trail for about two hours plus, and the trek to Gorek Shep was about three hours total. The effort to break through the snow and to make EBC that day was looking more epic than most of us wanted to do and the real issue was one of safety, with the second issue that of what’s the point if you can’t see anything anyway? Kalapattar might not be climbable, but five of our group- those with no experience- wanted to do it.
    On the other hand, being on Diomox and diligently drinking my Octane, and having not had a pee break for a VERY LONG TIME, and there not being facilities around nor a rock nor a bush nor a porta potty, I had an emergency brewing. Everyone to my left was facing forward and focused on the drama at the front of the line. Right. This I can do. I got between Cathy and Jan and started stamping out a semi circle in the snow. Cathy, a newly graduated nurse, knew precisely what I was doing. Soon as I had my little pot stamped out she stood on my right as my guard, and we asked the three closest curious porters to kindly turn around. Whereupon I dropped trou and waited.
    And waited. And waited. Now I don’t know about you but it’s not easy to pee in such a public place with people constantly marching by and eyeballing you. I finally resorted to my best system- George Carlin routines, and I got yellow snow. Ahhh.
    Okay so now I stand up and pull all the layers up but suddenly realize that in doing so I’ve also somehow captured a good handful of ice cold snow in my underwear which is now plastered to my left butt cheek and is quite literally freezing my butt off. This elicits a horse laugh out of me, Cathy now has to turn to inspect, so do the porters, and so natch all semblance of privacy is lost as I have to drop trou and shake my naked patootie to get rid of the ice on my butt.
    Well at least we’ve induced a little hilarity into the group, and at last a decision comes down- six of us head back to the hotel, Kopal is going to take over as assistant guide, and Deepak and Raj will take the five up the mountain to see what they can accomplish. I am very happy to take my increasingly wet feet and foggy glasses back down the mountain, and sit and write and shower and rest.

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    By the time we got back to the hotel, natch, the skies were threatening to clear, which made one of the German sisters truly unhappy as the EBC had apparently been a dream of hers for a long time. However her boyfriend had been having wet boot and shoe issues (I’d donated some boot warmers but they weren’t adequate). Their argument about go/no go spilled over to our lunch table, and the other sister, a great deal more cautious, was very concerned about a second, solo attempt up the mountain.
    The situation eventually righted itself, I got to room with the more cautious sister, and in fact we were probably pretty lucky to even score rooms since it was the end of the season. The sun did indeed come out which was like putting salt into the wound for the one climber, and the local peaks revealed themselves in all their insane glory for those of us with our cameras to clamber outside and fire away. By this time I’d cleared out all the gunk in my glacier glasses- in fact I’d brought three pairs and simply took out a different one. I made the mistake of walking outside without a pair- just once- which I would never, ever do again and wouldn’t recommend to anyone who cares about preserving his eyesight.
    The sun at 5000m is so intense and the snow is so white that the combination of the two is quite difficult to describe. Those of us who live in or near the Rockies and have spent time at altitude are familiar with the effects of snow blindness at say, 13-14k’. However this is of another magnitude entirely. I made it a couple of feet out the door and quite literally was blinded. I had to feel my way back inside and pretty much walked right into the snowbank right by the front door. Serves me right, too. It is beautiful, but you absolutely must invest in top quality protection for your peepers.
    This high up and with the sun blasting away at one end of the hotel, I thought that it would be superb to catch lots of sun for my panels, which had been hiding away during the snowy days on the mountain. I put the panels in a window in our hallway, along with my boots, in the direct sun. And left them both there for a number of hours. The results were interesting. The boots dried right out, which is an indication of how hot it was at that window. And I didn’t get a charge, because I overheated the battery, which had I read the directions that came with my unit it states very clearly to not put the unit where it would likely be overheated. You could probably have cooked crepes on the damned thing by 4 pm. Happily it didn’t die, it just was annoyed, and gave me less than 15 minutes of work time, which is better than a poke in the eye.
    Kopal, who as I had indicated before was working on his English, was now in charge, and managing our food orders and the accounting, and all the details of our needs, with his good humor and smiling face. We all took our time to relax, sleep in, and rest. The hotel warmed right up during the day. The next day, there was a marathon planned- and a great many people had been camping up at EBC getting ready to run it-in those same awful conditions that I’ve been describing. Those folks with their running shorts and sneakers were coming down the mountain in the morning. And so was Raj, by himself, a three hour trek to meet up with us, to begin the very long trek back to Lukla.

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    Our rest day didn’t go wasted. At one point one of the sisters walked by my door with wet hair, a sure sign that she’d had a shower, which I’d been thinking about. She was kind enough to give me some pointers on the pressure system which is much like elsewhere in the world- the lower the pressure the higher the heat. For five bucks, this is definitely on the menu. I grabbed my little kit and headed downstairs.
    The cheerful proprietor took me around a few corners and opened a door to the shower. I’m always hugely amused by the tricks the mind plays. I’m looking at white stuff on the floor, piles of it, and I’m thinking: soap bubbles. It’s a shower, so of course it’s soap bubbles. No you idiot, it’s SNOW, and a great deal of it, we’re at 5000 m and in the middle of a snowstorm. This is the Himalayas. So I’m standing on the wooden slats amidst the snow trying very hard not to stand in or on it, taking everything off, putting it all on the pegs, and then turning on the water as per the sister’s instructions. As the water heats up I do my best not to touch the walls which are wet, mouldy and a bit slimy. Ah- hot water. I mean HOT water. Heavenly heavens.
    I grab my soap and begin the ablutions and promptly lose my soap down the slats, not fifteen seconds into my shower, and I haven’t even gotten to the really dirty bits yet. Drat. So I feel around and discover that someone else has done the same thing possibly months ago and I pry up this slab of soap with my fingernails (you do what you must) and this will suffice. Hot water. Soap. Man oh man. Life is good. No shampoo yet. That has to wait.
    So then you have to turn off that nice hot water and step back into the midst of the snow which kinda defeats the purpose of the whole exercise, and put on all those clothes which have been steadily cooling off in the icy room (remember there is snow on the floor) and you make all kinds of squeaking noises as you dry off with that fast drying towel that’s the size of a napkin and then start putting your ice cold clothing back on. Yes, but CLEAN. That’s what matters. Your fingernails are white again. What small things that matter so much. What I wouldn’t do for a Q-tip right now.

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    So to an extent we are all sleeping the sleep of the dead and assuming that our companions are all fine and well, they are most certainly in expert hands (although Deepak with his sneakers- how he does this is a mystery to me). We take our time getting up the next morning since Kopal tells us we don’t have to gather until 8 am which is half the day gone compared to some of our mornings. Raj comes bounding in at 8:30 as we are finishing up breakfast and we give him a rousing ovation, very happy to see him, and he reports that a few had gone up Kalapattar partway with Deepak and the rest are on their way down and one of them isn’t feeling so well.
    Oh and by the way, the marathoners are headed down, and they are actually rounding the bend right about then, where the hotel has a station for water, music, and general cheering set up for these brave souls.
    I sprint outside to get a few shots of the elite runners – who have no glacier glasses holy cow- and they go flying by in their shorts and sneakers. They’ve already put in several hours of running down from EBC mind you, so this is gaining air for them. As we get ready to go and our porters pack up we all realize that we’re going to be dodging runners for much of the morning. The sun is high and very bright and that’s the kind of Colorado spring snow condition that people flock to my state for. You ski in your t-shirt and sunglasses and shorts, because it’s too hot to wear anything else.
    Interestingly the day before as we had headed back to the hotel and the sun had started to come out, several of us got overheated. I had to take off my Bergen jacket, which is uber efficient in keeping heat in, and those Arcteryx knockoff pants were like stovepipes. No complaints- they did what they were supposed to do. However I was peeling off layers right and left to allow some of the heat buildup out. That meant different planning for downhill.
    Raj loaded up and before we knew it he had joined the marathon, fully loaded with his backpack, and caught up to several runners. He was irrepressible. This after hiking down the mountain starting at some ungodly hour, and he is still full of energy. Who doesn’t love such a guy. The rest of us were slightly less energetic but we happily headed downhill.
    Now mind you, with that intense sun and all those runners, the trail down ain’t the trail we came up. And nobody knows that better than I do, with my proclivity to slip and slide going downhill, the added elements of ice and slush did not make me look forward to hours and hours of steep descent. But descend we did. And I went to the butt end of the line, walking as carefully as I could, while the skiers ( oh so reminiscent of Kili) scooted past me on the slush having a hell of a good time. I managed to make a few hundred feet before my first butt over beauty but after that it was not pretty. The trail was nothing but ice slush and mud in most places, and lots of rocks. One of the German sisters suggested- and this was a good one as long as there was a “there” under the snow- to walk at least partially in the snow bank. This was hugely helpful- again as long as there was something to step onto. Where there wasn’t I did another faceplant in the snowbank. Raj had been warned in advance that this might be the case so he was kind enough to lend a hand here and there. I fell anyway, and after a while the group disappeared in front of me and I just kept landing on my buttsky and making my best way down. Not my element. Never will be. And I also knew that coming down, I’d be at the back of the bus, being very careful, but hey, snow wasn’t in the plan. But that’s an uncontrollable.

    We all meet up at the monument site which is right about where two Irish runners-classic redheaded sweethearts- asked me to take their photos against the backdrop of the bright blue sky and gorgeous peaks. Who wouldn't? We had been dodging them and cheering them on with Zum Zum all morning. The runners ranged from the predictable twenties to the unpredictable sixties and possibly older, all countries, and all shapes and sizes. This was clearly an EVENT, and there was a fair amount of walking involved. It was on this part of the trail that I had made an aborted attempt to use my music, Figured if I was going to do some suffering I might as well do it to Beethoven or George Carlin or whoever else I'd recorded. Problem was that none of my gear had an appropriate pocket close to where it needed to be and that resulted in the unit being slopped around a pocket, jumping from Schumann to Michael Jackson to Vivaldi in mid song or mid sentence which was not only jarring but very annoying. Then it just fell out of my pocket and exploded in my ear, and I had to go back and find it. Fine. It went back in the pack where it belongs. At least it didn't land in the snow again.

    So we finally made our way down to relative mud, and I skidded on some icy gravel which caused one knee to file a complaint with the brain, and that slowed Raj and me way down. We were still in steep territory and I had to negotiate the rocks and gravel very carefully so as not to further damage anything. The other bad news was that somewhere in the teahouse in Loubouche I had picked up…Something. I had been sneezing that kind of sneeze that tells you that something is comin’ ‘round the mountain here she comes, and that tickle in the throat, and part of me was thinking you’d better get your tush down to Lukla before this thing hits or you’re going to be seriously ill on the mountain rather than in a nice hotel. So I was feeling some urgency along with an unhappy peglet. Not a good combination.

    The morning walk afforded us new views, and lots of fabulous photographs in all directions. We were all peeling off layers as we hiked. I was wearing three layers of icebreaker t-shirts, with a Marmot Precip jacket on top for rain and also heat retention. At nearly every stop we were all removing something, as the work and warmth took care of us.

    We found ourselves at one point hiking across fields which featured large stones, a lot of water (standing and running)a number of yaks with calves, and the surrounding mountains. The town we were headed to was Periche, and our hike hadn't taken us more than about three hours. The decision to continue rested with the climber who was feeling the worst, and it was his call that we respected to stay the night and give him a chance to recover.

    I recall crossing this particular area and being reminded a great deal of central South Island New Zealand. Hobbit Country I suppose now. But the bright green grass of spring on the tufts, the large, strange animals, the imposing scenery, all gave it that feel. We crossed a good bit of it balancing on the rocks to avoid getting our boots wet. And then, as we came into town, the snow started again.

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    On the day we head to Namche Bazaar I woke up very early as was my habit but with a headache and a cough, and the realization that yep I got the bug that some article somewhere said every visitor to Nepal eventually got. Well you buy extra toilet paper and you step lively. For some reason this night was colder than any of the others- even my luscious bag was cold in spots (right butt cheek in particular, the high point on one side ). I had to pull the bag over my head and really cocoon up, and the trip down the hall was particularly challenging because none of the toilets had any seats to them.

    I joined the porters who were gathered around the stove, which was not usually heated up in the mornings. It was about half an hour before we were required to be up and everyone had warmed and heated their boots and socks the night before, a sight that you figure to be pretty common during snow days. The stove radiated gorgeous heat. Pretty soon we were all gathered and ordering breakfast, and we started off for another day of downhill, this time to Namche Bazaar. It would turn out to be one very long day of hiking. One of the jokes of the day was that the number of hours listed on Ace the Himalaya’s website that we’d be hiking that day was not exactly what we ended up hiking. I might not have the numbers quite right but I think we expected around eight hours of hiking and ended up doing closer to ten. Whatever the accurate number was, we all felt it. But we started off cheerfully enough, layered smart for the day’s sun and effort, and headed off again.

    I skidded on some icy gravel which caused one knee to file a complaint with the brain, and that slowed Raj and me way down. We were still in steep territory and I had to negotiate the rocks and gravel very carefully so as not to further damage anything. Sometimes it helps just to keep going and soreness will right itself, and besides, there's no choice, you just keep walking. I had been sneezing that kind of sneeze that tells you that something is comin’ ‘round the mountain here she comes, and that tickle in the throat, and part of me was thinking you’d better get your tush down to Lukla before this thing hits or you’re going to be seriously ill on the mountain rather than in a nice hotel. So I was feeling some urgency along with an unhappy peglet. Not a good combination.

    Raj and I caught up with our crew at one of our previous lunch locations where a little white dog was installed to protect the Fanta and Coke supplies (and the Snickers bars, gotta protect the Snickers bars). A few folks had their heads on the table, and people were looking a bit gassed. This was one of the stops that had the outhouse where they were using wood chips for compost- and it worked really well.

    The sun was bright, the snow was largely gone, and everyone had ordered lunch. At this point Raj suggested that I might want to head down the mountain with Deepak early to get a head start if I was going to be slow, and I agreed. I skipped lunch- food wasn't very welcomed- and we headed down the mountain together.

    So now it was a race against bugs. We were headed to Namche Bazaar, and my purpose has several aspects. I don't want to give anyone in my group whatever it is that I have and right now I'm probably a carrier. Second, it would be very smart to make sure I get to Namche Bazaar as quickly as possible, rest as much as possible and get another early start for the same reason. You can just feel this thing coming on, the cough and the cramps and the rest. And Kopal has all my meds, far ahead of me down the mountain. Thank heaven for Deepak and his swift pace.

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    Sorry about the bugs, but thanks for a super TR! However, although I'm not an especially pampered traveler, it totally validates my decision to see Everest from a plane. Did any of your group actually get to EBC?

    BTW, tip for getting dressed in cold bedrooms (I grew up in England, sleeping an unheated bedroom). Take your clothes into bed with you. Ditto your muscle cream, in your case. Not all night, but for a few minutes before you get up. Even if you'd just put your clothes into your sleeping bag while you put the cream on it should have taken the worst of the chill off.

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    As we set out, Deepak in that gentle way of his reminded me that much of the next day and a half was going to be uphill, which is an idiosyncrasy of the geography on this trip, and this made things far easier. Uphill is doable. Downhill on much of the twisty trail and many of the rocky steps is just no fun, and it’s slow. And just nobody wants to slow everyone down. What I didn’t know was that the group had split into two once again, one moving fairly swiftly and the second half about an hour or so behind.

    We found a pace which allowed me to move swiftly uphill and gain time which I lost on the periodic long steps and rocky trails elsewhere. Looking backwards we could see amazing views and that’s when many of us got some of our best shots, and as we headed back down into greener territory, the blooming rhododendrons formed a perfect frame for a number of our peak photos.

    We also took a nice break at Tengboche again, this time with the sun in a totally different place in the sky which allowed us to photograph Everest and her sisters in all their glory with the green valley in front of her. It was with a deeply pleasant familiarity that I passed these places, so strange the first time, but place markers now, letting us know our steady progress towards Namche. Often we could stand and see our trail far across a valley, see the suspension bridges coming up, see a town come into view.

    The benefit of slowing down, which is nice to do anyway even when you are trying to outwalk a virus, is that you notice so much more. I find that when I am heading up, I focus on the footing, the shoes of the person I’m following, and pay extremely close attention to where the next step is especially if the trail is iffy. Deepak found out just how focused I got with his feet when I continually speared his sneakers with my poles, something that had me constantly apologizing for and after a while we both were laughing about it- good for him for having a sense of humor about it- and I backed off a few feet and stopped nailing him in the Achilles’ heel. Raj got clipped a couple of times and got even with me later by playing soccer with me with some fresh cow flop, a skill he is far better at than I.

    Sometimes momentum really helps on questionable surfaces like rocks over a river crossing, or a rock fall. Stopping to decide where to put your foot puts everyone behind you at risk of falling if they are moving quickly, and someone may end up in the drink. Descending by its very nature more challenging at least for me as requires that I become far more measured in stepping, and on the EBC there were many stretches of trail where there was slippery gravel over clay, for example, or loose rock, perfect territory for a fall.

    Some of the steps heading downhill were very narrow for larger (Western) feet and took more time to negotiate. That meant using poles up and down the mountain, for balance and especially when things got sore, for taking some of the load off.

    As Deepak and I made our way towards Namche I would periodically fly upwards and go at snail’s pace downwards, with Deepak always keeping an eye out for particularly nasty spots that spelled spill for me. People would fly past us heading downhill, women with huge loads wearing flipflops, other hikers happily headed home towards that Namche Bakery or elsewhere. Periodically I could notice such a difference in the air quality – that increasing richness of oxygen that made the effort so much easier, the climbs a joy.

    There was a great deal of climbing involved, and so often it would culminate in a lovely white small temple with those serene eyes on all sides looking out over Creation. Deepak and I would curve around the corner and the breezes would hit us full in the face and we would both shout out in pleasure. The long hikes would be hard work and the breeze at the top our reward, along with a grand view of a valley, a river, the rooftops of our goal ahead.

    Part of what I loved about this hike- both coming and going- was that so often we could sometimes see the village or small city in the distance, carved out of a mountainside or nestled in the valley. On one hand it seemed so far away but the steady progress we made hour by hour was remarkable. The lines of the track were clear against the mountainside, sometimes it seemed impossibly long, but in truth the time melted away due to the beauty of the scenery and the simple pleasure of the company.

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    There was another thread on Fodors where some sixty-somethings had inquired about doing the EBC without mountaineering experience, and someone had told a story about people who’d had a terrible experience, by way of dissuading. I still heartily disagree, for as I’ve now done this trail- although not all the way up due to the snows- I’ve done the bulk of it and most certainly have climbed to 5500 m elsewhere- elders can do it with proper training. And the key words are proper training. The couple in question was looking at a late summer departure which would have given them months to get ready, and that’s probably what it would have taken given the lack of experience as described.

    We watched a steady stream of helicopters move people down the mountain- now mind you a good many of them were on marathon day in those awful snows so you have to take that into account-so the business of altitude sickness is very serious, so are potential injuries. But what I saw of the group that I was with, the care that was taken by our guides and the nature of the trail for the most part was that compared to some of the other epic climbs I’ve done EBC is actually a little kinder since there is more time to rest, there are longer flat stretches, and you do get plenty of opportunity to recover. But this is no walk in the park. It’s a major achievement to do this hike and it does indeed make significant demands, and the less fit you are the more likely you are to be miserable along the way. So much of making the EBC an enjoyable experience is working within the body’s limitations- at what pace do I walk that works best for me? Is this about the journey or the goal? If the goal is to be amazed by the scenery, people, views, experiences, then slowing down and taking photos, and breathing it all in, then it’s worth putting in the sweat equity to build the endurance and be able to stand at those viewpoints and look at one of the most beautiful places on earth.

    Since I deal with cranky knees, I know that taking on a hike of this sort is going to be challenging on the way down- and I allow for it. In cases like that you inform the guides, you bring the gear and you plan to be at the butt end of the group coming back OR as in our case, the guide sends you down a couple hours early (be prepared to get up well ahead of the group) so that you don’t slow down everyone else. Being a very early riser, for me this is just perfect. All this says is be aware of your limitations, keep a smile on your face when a body part barks at you and remember that it was your choice to do this. So when you’re doing an acclimatization climb and parts of you say “I’m done here” or it’s too icy and I’m scared I’m going to fall, listen- and tell the guide- and if you need to, get off the trail, take a break.

    I found it hugely amusing that one of the most common items for sale in Namche Bazaar was a knee brace- boxes and boxes of them- often hanging from the ceilings of the shops I wandered about. These were neither the size nor type I could use for I certainly considered the option. For a chunk of time my left knee was annoyed but ultimately what got the most sore during the trip down were my shins. I brought two full rolls of Rock Tape, the kind that professional cyclists use (I also ride) and I strapped my knees going uphill. Going downhill, I strapped thighs, knees, ankles, shins, just about everything. My legs were festooned with tape- and despite all this extra support, my shins were shrieking on the way down. There is no way to protect against the constant bombardment of weight and impact. The other place you are likely to really feel this hike is in your hip flexers, from the constant lifting and pushing off. I used EFAC cream, available on ebay for about $25, which has the most menthol I’ve ever found in a treatment cream and tiger balm, every night and morning. Both were enormously helpful in dealing with the inevitable leg aches and the lower back pain associated with a pack carrying three litres of water and your extra layers.

    Another thought on gear to bring. The higher you go the less power sources there are, and often the lights in the hotels depend on solar. When it snows, well. Some of us had headlamps. There are headlamps and there are headlamps. While it is sometimes a royal pain to sort out and put on – especially in the dark, the platinum choice of those of us who insist on going high is the high-end Black Diamond with the external battery back. The pack sits next to your body for warmth, hence no need for special batteries, you use AAs I believe, and the lights are brilliant and there are multiple settings. In the black of night when you want to read in your room, the overhead light is either wimpy or nonexistent (both likely) then this is the guy to have. Especially when it’s about 30 degrees or less in there and you can’t sleep.

    About a year ago while shopping for gear for Kilimanjaro I was wandering around the aisles at REI (something we all do at some point if we hike) and I picked up a pair of calf compression socks. They were pricey at $25, but I thought about them, and what they did, and how cyclists and triathletes use compression gear for performance. On a whim, I bought them, took them to Kilimanjaro. And used them every single day. As I did on this trip as well. One of our other climbers, a girl from Alaska, was also using compression socks, and had compliments for them. These are not to be confused with support stockings, please. This is high performance gear intended to increase circulation- and I found them very helpful on those 8 hour hiking days. They reduced fatigue, and were hugely helpful. Another item she had, and that I bought at REI and many of the rest of us used at some point were some kind of buff or face mask. The one I bought in Vietnam served me best in Kathmandu, then I used the buff at altitude. The dust really is an issue, and by watching when the guides used their buffs it was a good indicator of when to use yours. This time of year in particular there is a lot of dust on the trail.

    One of our other group members had brought a small device which indicated blood oxygen content and pulse when you place a fingertip in it. My guides on Kili had one of these, which is instructive as you head up and is a good way of understanding your condition relative to the altitude. You want your oxy content to stay above the eighties and you don’t want your pulse in high flight. The device made it around the table as we all greedily sought feedback about how close we were to expiring or thriving – a good thing to have on such a trip. We had three people in the medical profession which is also a fine thing to have on the trip.

    I did bring a pair of Oregon Research glove liners, which had a habit of getting damp from sweat or just general use. I found a way to get them dry but at a cost. Considering that at altitude anything wet is COLD. Very COLD. I slipped the two glove liners into my thermals next to my thighs. COLD. It did, however, result in dry liners in the morning. But I did walk funny for while until the dampness warmed up. I had both Under Armour and SmartWool Thermals, both were fantastic for both being ultra light and ultra warm.

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    JH : those prayer carved stones forming a wall = mani stones, mani walls. Always walk on the left (clockwise ) around or past them.

    On reflection, would you prefer group trekking - or would you prefer to go with just a guide & a porter, so your pace would be your own?

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    Hey thursdaysd thanks for the advice, and I will take it! I did sleep with much of my clothing on at least on top and that helped. I found that my deodorant worked just fine being layered- I didn't stink anyone out. Thank heaven! Your suggestion is so obvious it's a flat forehead slapper. I will remember it. And yes, five did make it to EBC, one young man got wickedly ill with ALS, he never took any meds and perhaps the extreme push to get there just cost too much. But he did get better eventually to everyone's relief. He left for India with a friend from Norway today.

    Others also made it partway up Kalapattar, which is amazing, and while the rest of us probably secretly envied them to a point (and I know at least one who really wanted to be there) I suspect that perhaps the larger number were glad to not have done what one young man said "was the hardest thing he ever did."

    My guess is that Everest from a plane would be quite enough. So glad I did this. And it doesn't need doing again although there is one in our group who is determinedly coming back to made a heroic nearby climb with her boyfriend and all I can say is go for it girl!

    Bokhara, it's hard decision. In part because I trust a group more than a private guide, in part because I love the group dynamics, in part because the group teaches you such wonderful lessons about community and support and sharing, there are so many reasons. The pace varied for everyone. Each day some folks roared to the front and some times there were folks way in the back. So while on one hand it makes sense and you make an excellent point, on the other hand there are great lessons to be learned. I often go alone, and on this trip I joined a group. And given the emotional bonding that we gained I am extremely glad we did. I came to care a lot about everyone and will miss their company. You can't put a value on that, or the many deep conversations we had, or the shared challenges. The pace is secondary. The quality of our time together was exquisite. And perhaps that in a nutshell is what decides it.

    Because of my previous experiences when I had knee problems, when Raj offered me the opportunity to head down early I took it. There were multiple reasons for doing this. As it turned out I didn't need that time - Deepak and I moved quickly and swiftly and reached Lukla ahead of the group which said that had I stayed with them, it would have been fine. Despite what one writer has to say about not being able to keep up it wasn't an issue of capabilities. There is a serious misquote in that post from someone who misquoted and exaggerated something I said, and used it out of context, and so now it's being used as gospel, and it comes from a person who was quite willing to leave a group member with an injury behind without a ride- along with a guide and two porters- in the middle of nowhere. So this person doesn't rate a great deal of standing, especially given that by comparison, our group gathered around to support the young man who got ALS, slowed our pace to spend a night after only 3 hours of hiking, and chose to accommodate him instead of complain that he couldn't keep up. One has to consider the source.

    Marija wasn't on this trip, and is reading my posts through a canted filter which is her choice. She seems to have missed the part where I pointed out that part of my very real concern was that I had a bug that I very much didn't want to give to anyone else on the hike and getting out away from the group seemed like a damned good idea. It's also ancient history given that I had a fabulous trip on the Inca Trail and a very successful second trip with the same outfit in Vietnam, and none of this is being taken into account. It is unfortunate that language such as "I know I'm supposed to be in awe" has to be used in this forum, since it seems sarcastic and unnecessary, and for my part, this stuff isn't written to impress anyone. It's a trip report. I'm having fun out here. And I value useful intelligent input where I get to learn. Most folks get that I enjoy taking shots at my own idiosyncrasies, limitations and personality traits and am the very first to make fun of my flawed humanity. There is absolutely no need to troll the forums looking for ways to take potshots at people who in some way offended or annoyed you. If that is the case then for heaven's sake, don't read their posts. The internet is a very big place to go play.

    When we got back to our lovely hotel in Kathmandu I isolated myself for three days due to the bug, which was just nasty. This is not something you want others to get. So I just slept it off, and stayed very close to facilities. We had two celebratory dinners the last two nights and we all had a grand time, and saying goodbye in the hotel lobby was hard for everyone. When people combined and coalesce, whether someone gets ill like our friend Craig, or someone goes ahead for whatever reason, it simply doesn't matter. We're all okay with it. I was so happy when our group was all together again after we split up top- everyone was- it was draining to worry about them in that storm. So you get a bug or have a cranky knee? Come on man. It is so minor. We all got down within about an hour of each other, we all celebrated, we were all very happy to have done this with each other. I love these guys. Nobody cares about the small stuff, and it is all small stuff.

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    Bokhara2, one last note, thanks for the information about the walls. Both Deepak and Raj were good enough to point this out and make sure we respected the religious monuments. There is so very much to learn, and there are so many significant points along the way that it was really helpful to get that education.

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    Today the cough that has been raking my lungs is almost under control and that meant that, with me armed with a buff, Raj was willing to drag me out to the local market in search of a horse blanket. He and I both thought they'd be pretty straightforward to find, find a tack shop and there you are. Well, not so. Raj went to homewares shops looking for blankets first until I suggested otherwise, then we asked everywhere until it was clear that no one had ever heard of a shop selling horse gear in Kathmandu. Ah. Well, we headed back, and I spent the next hour on the internet, which scared up- on ebay mind you- one old Tibetan horse blanket for $77.00, not even close. I was hoping to buy one of those colorful jobbies that I had seen under the saddle of the many ponies being ridden or offered for sale up and down the mountain. What I realized was that my best chance to get one was probably to buy one used which is a really good way to get yourself disinfected coming through customs. It would have been worth it, too. I couldn't find a thing and it may be because I am not using the right key words. I think the source is Mustang, but every website that looks promising on Google doesn't load. So if anyone out there has a suggestion I sure would appreciate it. This was one of the few things that I really found appealing to bring home and put to use.

    What has been extremely pleasant has been the quiet cycle of getting up later, enjoying that fresh milk curd (yogurt) breakfast, getting to know the wait staff and the ladies who come to clean every day (they have a great appetite for Snickers and Oreos, I found) and taking the time to slow down and relax. When I get home I won't have access to great big fat ripe papayas, so the piles of mangoes and papayas on my table are being enjoyed to the fullest. Along with the big boxes of fruit juice that I can get for a song at the local market.

    Walking with Raj today was a trip as we ventured well outside Thamel and its dense collection of tourist shops. We passed many different stores where a new variety of offerings looked interesting and it's tempting to go back. The people on the street were different, differently dressed, I saw far more saris which looked like brilliant butterflies. Against the drab of the dusty buildings these lovely pieces of silk and the beautiful women who wear them truly stand out.

    Next door to our hotel is an apartment complex, and every morning at about seven, about the time I wake up and pull the drapes, a young women comes to the roof and does her exercises. She wears what we were advised not to wear on the streets- Lycra pants- which many in our group commented that they'd wanted to bring but didn't out of respect for the culture. This particular clothing choice is actually more common than I would have expected given the conservative nature of the country but I see it everywhere.

    As is nearly always the case, I found myself backtracking on this trip- I'd told someone earlier that I like to stay cheap and spend my money on adventures. Well that was before I came down the mountain sick as a sonofagun. I swear that right about the time you make a pronouncement like that the Universe conspires to make you chomp on your words, so rather than move to a cheap little hostel, thursdaysd, I am staying at the Gaju Suites Hotel in Thamel, where the a/c, big bed, nice shower facilities, fan in the living room, and full kitchen have made getting well a lot easier. That big fat healthy free breakfast every morning doesn't hurt either. So while it might be the norm to hostel, when sick, hotel. There's something about not being cooped up with all the other trekkers who might be bringing something down the mountain while I'm just getting over it, too. So yeah. I do not mind eating crow, which in this case is right tasty. I got such a bang out of the reports from some of our group members who went out on some local tours and came back soaked with sweat from the heat, after being nearly frozen at altitude. We all laughed at the contrast. And of course, here at the suites, the power does occasionally go off, but it is off for a matter of seconds, not for hours at a time, and to have cool air or a fan blowing while working is such a luxury.

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    Hi Julia saw your post on my other thread. Still following along on your journey with interest. Planning on spending next year in Asia probably using Kuala Lumpur as hub and visiting various countries from there Nepal included so all this is v.useful.

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    Good morning Crellston, good to see you again. I can't recommend KTM as a hub, it's just too polluted and chaotic. I agree with several other posters on here who say it left them cold. I wholeheartedly agree. The only reason I am in the city right now is to fully recover from the cruds which turned out to be pretty serious and I am taking full recovery seriously. Ace the Himalaya put us up in the hotel that is in the same building they're housed in and it's a very nice one in Thamel but given the option I'd also choose elsewhere in Asia.

    After having done most, if not all, of the EBC now I would also argue that I'm not sure why others commented on another thread that it isn't that scenic. I've not done other hikes so I can't speak to comparison hikes, which is only fair, but I found the EBC to have lovely views often. As a first timer to the area my expectations were wide open and I was totally charmed. We did eventually come to places where people had dumped trash over the mountain and that was deeply disappointing. Otherwise, the various routes we took gave us the kinds of vistas that you only get to see on someone's wall posters as I mentioned earlier. Someone said that the Annapurna hike is prettier, and if so, it must be astounding, because I thought the EBC was gorgeous. This whole area has so many options. When the Clymb offered the EBC hike of course I wasn't familiar with much of anything else, and it was a great deal- and it turned out to be a fun adventure. What I did learn was that this time of year- especially based on the guide's comments- works out to be one of the best times, this mid to late May time frame- as it affords higher temps for hiking (with the requisite dust). We were all in shorts or light zip off pants for most of the way up to the higher levels when it began snowing.

    I found- and this to your earlier response- that two layers or Icebreakers and a Marmot Precip jacket were more than enough warmth in the spring snow temperatures, given the effort used in hiking. The big Bergen expedition jacket ended up being most useful inside the lodges where it got very cold at night in the rooms.

    When I read the label closely on my North Face expedition gloves there was an admonition to resurface them regularly for waterproofing, which I had not done in a long time, which was why they were soaking wet after a day in the very wet spring snow. These were older gloves, the newer versions probably don't need that kind of care.

    The only real complaint I had- and this is tempered by the fact that there really isn't a whole lot that can be done about them- is the toilet facilities as you head up the mountain. The higher you go the worse they get, but that may also be a factor in the less expensive hotels. Facilities are very, very basic, you're lucky to have plumbing at all up that high. You really must carry your own TP

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    Continuing, Crellston, but then you're a very experienced traveler and know all this already. My comments are more for anyone else who is considering doing the EBC and wondering what to pack. Especially if you catch something, and not everyone does, you just have to have a roll with you at all times. But then I suspect that like you, I've never gone to a new country without a big roll in my backpack.

    Another note I found interesting and this has to do with conditioning. I use Diamond Back carbon ultralight distance poles which are their super super light version, they weigh only a few ounces. This is in part for the sake of weight, and in part because when you're using poles for up and down they can be fatiguing over hours and hours of use. Especially if you're using them for support on the way down tricky staircases or twisty turney trails, this is where your upper body strength- and here I'm talking about your triceps- come into play. It's easy to assume that hiking is mostly about legs, and for the most part it is. But if you look at many of the workouts suggested in preparation for EBC and Kili, upper body workouts are strongly recommended as well. As your legs get fatigued, or your knees bark at you, you'll be using the poles more, and your upper body strength to support yourself. It's essential to put the time in to do pushups, tricep work, upper body weight work to make sure that your arms can also handle the demand that you're going to ask of them as you are hiking. It's surprising how much they come into play when you're using poles, and it's wonderful to have those reserves there when you need them.

    Since I have a challenge with food when I travel - primarily because I am a fruit and veggie eater rather than a bread/meat/potato eater- I brought a couple of supplements that were particularly helpful this time around. SuperGreen SuperFoods makes a vitamin supplement which is plant based, and so does GMC, which provides a wealth of goodies from plant and fruit sources. For someone like me this is hugely helpful when you can't get your fruit sources in the high country. I also took an iron supplement which helps with getting oxygen to the blood at altitude. Again these were things I have learned over the various trips to very high country to help maintain energy and a good blood flow. I also pack up almonds, dried cherries, Sweet n Salty Clif bars. And while I love a Snickers like anyone else, the Clif and other energy snacks are usually a better choice if you read the labels. And while this is up to the individual, I always pack more than I can eat because there is nothing like a happy porter crew when you provide goodies every day or even every so often, stuff they wouldn't normally get, chocolate or treats that show your appreciation for the extraordinary work they're doing for you. And by the way if anyone wonders did I pay Deepak extra for his company down the mountain you're darn right I did, double in fact what he would normally get, Raj too, they both did superb jobs.

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    I do recommend Ace the Himalaya as a trekking company. What I appreciated was that they were deep on the bench in terms of having multiple people ready to step in when the guides were pulled in various directions. By this I mean that when Raj and Deepak went up the mountain with our more intrepid climbers, Kopal, my porter, spoke perfectly adequate English and was quite able to take over assistant guide duties for Deepak. When the group split, as it did on multiple occasions for various reasons as groups will do due to ability and preference, there are enough guides to accommodate. I like that the guides were so pleasant and cheerful and especially in Raj's case completely irrepressible, so that when the hike became a bit of a slog, his good humor was hugely uplifting. And that is a key factor when endurance is required. I felt that their pricing was more than fair, and I liked that we were able to pick and choose our own meals along the way, and pay the porters as we chose. There was a base fee that we were expected to pay and then we also added tips as we felt we were served. Ace offered additional tours as options when we got back and airport pick up and drop off were included.

    It's fair to stay that when you've only used one operator and it's a good experience you're likely to say they're terrific since you have no comparison, and that's an honest observation. But suffice it to say I've gone up three difficult treks with three various tour companies and Ace compares very favorably with all of them in all aspects of customer service, care and competence. According to Prem, the owner, there are about 800 competitors, and they're all vying for the same tourist dollars, and finding a way to differentiate is tough. All anyone can say this was an excellent experience- and it was- and chances are I'd use them again because of it. They actively give back to the community, which is what I like about my other tour companies in other parts of the world. That's a good differentiator. For example, for everyone who signed up on their latest trip on the Clymb, $100 went to porters, which is the kind of support that I really like to see especially after what I researched on trekking companies in Africa/Kili. For those who are curious- and I apologize for not knowing the name of it- there is a porter's union started by and run by a Boulder, Co- based woman which supports porters' rights to living wages, proper clothing and footwear and all kinds of basic needs. I note here that Zara, one of the biggest companies out of Tanzania, the last I heard still refused to join. I do not know if she operates in the Himalayas, someone else might know this. It's a really good idea and the better companies join.

    Today on my fifth lovely day of R&R the waitstaff upstairs whom I've come to know, and who've come to know my appetite, anticipated me and bet that I'd still like the double yogurt bowl/fruit bowl/tea/mango juice/two fried eggs (yes I did go back) breakfast. I told the kind man that I might not make the second yogurt bowl but given fifteen minutes....ummm, is that yogurt and honey still available? He grinned. Some of my very best conversations here have been with the cleaning supervisor who clucks over her ladies like a mother hen, and who speaks with me about women's work issues as her women fuss over my room, and we raid my candy supply (well, I bought it for them) and they finish off all my dried cherries. They love them. And the wait staff at breakfast and I have had lively discussions about religion and travel and ideas and mountains and gardens and just about everything under the sun. It's always a reminder of how perfect solo travel can be, like that four top table at the Istanbul Airport. You just never know who's going to sit down and teach you something.

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    By the way, I just had my last meeting with Prem, who reports that they have built some five schools with proceeds from clients, not donations, and people who have gotten actively involved in their projects. He was the youngest Rotarian in Nepal where there are only about three thousand members, and it has served him well to host other Rotarians who've gotten engaged and been supportive of the company and of his development. Smart move. Just something to keep in mind about Ace if you're considering a provider. The cheapest price isn't the only thing to take into account- I like to see the whole picture of business practices and what I'm supporting but then not everyone cares. I hope this information has been helpful in thinking about Ace.

    Today I made it out again and this time found myself at Naveed's shop, a cashmere and pashmina place that seems to be on a whole lot of people's radar. It's not far from the hotel and very close to the Courtyard which I know many of you are familiar with, they are friends of his. He likes to show off his acquaintances with the various high and mighty, especially embassy people, but what I like about him was that he allowed me the courtesy of finding my own way around his shop without feeling as though I was being circled by wolves. And you do get that sense. I usually walk away fast when that aggressive greeting starts, and when someone allows me to simply be curious and do my own looking I'm happy to come in. So this shop features some gorgeous shawls, which I don't wear but two dear friends in my inner circle do. Naveed features hand sewn scarves on pashmina, the kind of handwork that is really pretty, and you're tempted to buy it even if you won't wear it just because. He brought out the real thing, then the Chinese machine made knockoff for a fraction of the price, explained the difference, and let me make up my mind. We patiently went through a slew of designs, colors and prices until I had two that were perfect at the right price.

    Then he pulls out his finest stuff- it floats on the air, all hand sewn paisley, gorgeous, so soft it's like a cloud. Only $350. Yeah well. Not this trip. But I do have a pal who loves we did end up going through the layers in his cupboard until we found a purple pashmina with flowers for a Christmas present. And with that, I took a photo of him smiling a huge smile, and I left with three scarves for about $33 each, very happy, and he was happy, and that's how it should be.He has friends in Carbondale, CO who buy from him and I may just look them up. My Christmas list is handled but for one challenging guy and I'm thinking...knife.

    There was a funny moment earlier this morning where I'd rediscovered one of the better curio shops- the ones where there's a lot of old old old jewelry and masks and stuff that looks but isn't old. This time the boss wasn't there and no customers, so I was able to get a really good look at the totally cool beads and belts and necklaces and walls full of who knows what from front to back. There were statues of various body parts (can't go there) and statues of deities, but what got me were these amazing beaded belts. At least that's what the guy told me they were. I tried to fasten one around me and look, my waist is 24" and there was no way this thing was going to get clasped. These were small people. So I kept looking.

    I found something slightly bigger same colors, and he said it was 20, which a part of my brain registered but the functioning logical part didn't. I didn't hear the "thousand" after the twenty is what I'm saying. Took it down and it fastened. Well there's a sale. So I took it down and he was all excited and then there was a long pull of blue beads, also expensive, and we added it all up and I pulled out my US dollars. Which he looked at askance and showed me the amount again on his readout. I had completely missed where the decimal point landed. This was $212.00 bucks were were looking at total and idiot here is standing there clutching a twenty.

    Well tell ya what, that's a nice belt but I'm not feeling that flush, especially when we travelers consider each purchase in terms of how many hotel nights it will buy us. So I had to apologize like crazy and buy the beads, which were gorgeous, and make my embarrassed way out to the street. What a classic case of the mind hearing what it wants to hear. I'm hearing what a steal and he's hearing what a sale and we're on a crash course.

    Anu, the housekeeping supervisor, has just come by (I'm sitting out in the lobby area) to remind me to write about her and her ladies in this report so I am again dutifully doing just that. She wants to make sure I wear a set of clothes (a very light top and pajama style cotton pants) that her crew bought me today for tomorrow, which are considerably cooler than what I have, and of course I will. So I'll be taking photos with them on my floor in their gift- which is no small thing given the kind of income these women likely make. To say the least this was a deeply moving gesture which I take to heart. I bought them another supply of Snickers and Oreos for their break tomorrow.

    I am at all times in all ways astounded by the simple generosity of people everywhere I go, and the extraordinarily sweet gestures they make, and all you can do is say thank your from your deepest heart and realize how fortunate you are. And I mean really, truly fortunate.

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    This morning it was raining a blessed cooling rain early in them morning and I'm racking my noggin for other suggestions that might be useful to anyone packing up for the EBC. Here's one, which I've made elsewhere, so for those who've seen this before kindly bear with me.

    While the porters will wrap your big bags in plastic when it snows and/ or rains, there is just no guarantee that your stuff is going to arrive dry. A lot of sites recommend ziplock bags, trash bags and the like (trash bags are hugely useful later for- uh, trash- and laundry at the hotel- but they also rip easily, as do ziplock bags. While they are never on sale, I've found that Sea to Summit bags, which come in many sizes and styles with my favorite being the Dry River Bags are the best. They are of course the heaviest and most pricey, but they are investments in DRY GEAR. Especially your electronics, and your down clothing, and an alternate pair of boots. Most of us are familiar with the Eagle Creek packing cubes and their copycats. I pack up all my stuff into the cubes, slide them into the dry bags and mark the bags with their contents. Voila. With the color coding available (bags come in all colors) you know what bag holds what, it's neat, it's dry and safe, and you are guaranteed that in any downpour your stuff is protected. Big River Bags are for water sports so they're made for dunking. Do they add a bit of weight? Yes. Is it worth the weight and the investment (up to $35 a pop or more for a single bag)? Let's ask you that question if you have a soaked-through down jacket at 5000 m, soaking wet boots, nothing to change into, including dry socks. You get the picture. I do think it's worth it- one big fat investment once, or acquired over time, and you are set for good. From the Amazon to the top of the Himalayas my gear has been subjected to wet snow and serious rain and never has it gotten wet. The cubes may be an unnecessary piece which helps me organize and stay neat but that's my military training and a personal preference. You may argue- quite rightly- that a waterproof gear bag will do the same. Well not if it has a big hole from a rock scrape, major damage from a drop, that kind of thing. It happens on adventures. This is my insurance and it's worked, and it's only a suggestion.

    When I switched to a bigger backpack and gave up the pockets, the cubes became my organizers. Some of them offer waterproof liners which helped when a few of my hair products leaked, as any female traveler can relate when altitude causes a moisturizer tube to explode.

    Sea to Summit also makes a superb bag liner which added about 15 degrees of warmth to my sleeping bag. With the exception of Periche I didn't find it difficult to stay warm and I'm a cold sleeper. Folks might want to check out Outdoor Gear Lab for excellent recommendations for ultralight sleeping bags, keeping in mind that the lighter the bag and the warmer it gets the higher the price. In Peru, I opted for the rental bag which, while warm, weighed a ton and pushed me so far above the allowable weight limit for my porter than I had to hire an additional porter for $150. An excellent lesson when you have uber light gear which would have done a perfectly good job at a fraction of the weight. Zpacs or Zpaks (can't recall) who made my bag has sales on where you can get a returned bag- which is what I got- at a substantial discount if you don't mind a little campfire smell, which dissipates quickly. As I continue to do these hikes I learn more about the balance between rent theirs/bring your own, the quality of gear that is offered for rent and how much that gear is likely to add to the weight a porter has to carry. Sitting at home reading about these options and considering the convenience, it doesn't necessarily occur- but when the guy is weighing your gear to put on someone's back and he's just handed you seven plus pounds of sleeping bag and pad, it really comes home. I literally paid for those lessons and it was worth it, so now I bring my own. But that's because I'll be doing this many times over again in the future, and that's a consideration for other trekkers. Do you want to build your gear for future treks and other sports or is this a one time thing? An investment makes sense if you do multiple sports and things like Dry River bags come in super handy for scuba, horse back trips in high country, kayaking, and other adventures. Not if this is the only time you'll ever do this.

    Other things- obvious and not so obvious- for women who may be new to this. When you're heading to the top of the world you don't bring make up and a hair dryer. First of all there's no power. Second of all nobody's really looking at you unless you've got a special companion, and they're going to love you hat hair or no hat hair. You just don't bring that stuff on a trip like this. Yet people do. There's no place to plug it in, there's no point. So leave it at home or at least at the hotel. You can dress up in KTM but on the mountain less is best. You'll find your beauty routine goes down to a minimum for many reasons- time, cold, fatique, lack of sleep. SPF is more important than beauty cream but Neutrogena makes good creams that do both. We had several Nordic women with crystalline blue eyes and that creamy gorgeous white skin who paid a dear price in the sunshine with blistered lips, nasty burns and that was even with slathering on sun cream. Reapplication is necessary, especially when you're removing layers and exposing arm flesh, and don't forget wrists, backs of hands, parts you don't normally consider. For example, one girl's forehead got hammered because of the reflection, and she was wearing a hat. It's so tempting to want to soak that warmth in after we've been cold but there is a cost- a big one. People get skin cancer more often from the occasional big serious burn than from regular exposure. And up top is where that can happen. Most of the men with us who were hair challenged remembered to put sunscreen on their pates, if they weren't wearing hats. And while many wore their ballcaps, the backs of their necks were also exposed, and tops of ears. Little but critical areas.

    Anu has come by to check out how her clothing choices look on me (comfy and cool and they fit perfectly) and we're taking photos later as a group. They usually land in my room around 9:30 and they collected their Snickers and Oreos, and there will be a nice tip later when we do group hugs. I am going to miss their presence in my room every day. The sun is now out, the traffic is honking downstairs and time to go out one last time before it gets too warm for the day. Last day in KTM, last day in Nepal. And very nearly all recovered.

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