Adventures in Nepal 2. First Steps towards Everest.

7 October 2012

Over the next few blogs I plan to present an illustrated resume of my trip to Everest Base Camp that I touched on in a recent blog.

From a photographic perspective I packed two cameras, my Linhof Technorama (a medium format Panoramic camera and a Canon Eos 1, Mark 2. My primary focus was the film camera and from memory I came away with some pleasing images, but because of it’s weight it went with the Sherpas for the daily trek and so was saved for shots at the ends of the day. The Canon meanwhile, whilst still being a brick and rudimentary by todays standards was with me always and much more versatile. When I took it, it’s primary purpose was as a back up, but as I look back on the images and apply contemporary post processing software, I am pleasantly surprised by the results!
So to the story!

Lukla to Base Camp

Lukla is an approximately 45 minute flight from Kathmandu. Check in was to say the least basic; you received your ticket, waited and then took all your bags to the small plane at one corner of the airport as if it were an afterthought. I was excited that i would get views of Everest but this was not going to happen; number one I was on the wrong side of the plane, number 2 it was covered in adiabatic cloud.

Lukla is at 9000 feet and clings to a small shelf on a massive shelf overlooking the Kumbu river.

The reknowned airport was established in no small measure with the help of the patronage of Sir Edmund. The landing and approach is hairy as the runway is short limited by natural confines and to make up for the lack of yardage it slopes uphill! On landing you are greeted by hordes of climbers, sherpas and backpacks who swarm freely around the perimeter fence. The first thing I remember was breathing in the clear, sharp mountain air. I was curious to notice if I could detect anything different from the lack of oxygen at altitude. But at rest of course I couldn’t.

We start with breakfast at a guest house beside the airport. Todays it is quiet and I keep it simple with porridge and tea (sweet and milky and ready mixed in the Himalayas, different, but not unpleasant and something I will come to appreciate). The main subtext, however, is that we all get to know each other. There are our guide and his wife, both experienced in the Himalayas and well regarded, myself and an American father and potential daughter in law combination who have come to support their son/ partner in his summit attempt. We are therefore a small, varied and well catered for party.

Our suitcase sized packs go with the Sherpa’s and we carry a day pack with extra clothes, water, snacks and camera! And so off we go.

As you can probably tell my memory of details five years ago is a bit scanty.

The first day was about 6 hours walk basically level, with some minor ups and downs but overall actually a slight descent. Which given that we had flown into Luckla is helpful in aiding aclimatisation. The track is wide, flat and often paved in a make shift way. It start through the narrow streets of Lukla, closed tourist shops, boarding houses and private dwellings all opening onto the track which is also the main road. Life is on a human scale, subsistence, but healthy and simple. Beyond Lukla it hugs the side of the steep valley wall, cloaked in trees and interspersed with farms and farmland adorned with lush terracing and somewhat oddly dry stoned walls. My first impressions were that this country was a far cry from the exotic Asian experience I expected, but instead it had flavours of Europe, New Zealand and Northern England added to the mix.

Along the path was a steady stream of tourists (many coming the other way) and Sherpas ferrying supplies to the various  business on the trail. The track is actually a crucial piece of infrastructure for the Kumbu economy and the Sherpas and Yaks are the means of locomotion. And stood in awe as these slender but tough men would walk often in flipflops carrying massive loads, for instance several Duffle large Duffle bags would be twined ontop of each other and then other odds and ends added and the whole load carried. At a guess probably 60kg. Sometimes these “packs could be quite intricate and would have a wooden skeleton onto which were placed transistor radios, flags, buddha icons etc. How soft we in the west have become!

The title image has a story. I stopped to have a drink of water, which I kept in the lid of my pack. So I removed my pack emptied the contents of that compartment ( my glasses ) took a drink and then noticed the view infront of me. So out came the camera, adjusted my location for the shot, now the others were inpatient so rushed to replace my camera and drink bottle into the body of the pack for speed. And off again!..

Bye bye glasses: it would be prescription sunglasses only for the next two weeks, I would become known as the man with the big camera and the sunglasses, cutting quite a figure at tea or out for a sunrise shot!

First night in Monjo. a pleasant town hemmed in by steep mountains, no majestic Alpine vistas but plain but pretty houses all adorned with flower boxes and (unbeknown to me ) quite luxurious rooms (shown) They would get progressively more basic in terms of mattress, pillow and toilet (this had an outside longdrop) as we progressed up the track.

Day 2 I woke for the sunrise, took a few shots, non stunners from memory and then onwards. This promised to be a big day, a 600m ascent to Namchee Bazaar, the major town and geographic gateway to the Kumbu Region. I was nervous about the physiological aspects of this, but excited to get there to see the town and potential first view of Everest. In short the track is flat for about an hour, you then cross a massive swingbridge (Yaks and humans alike and then relentlessly Zig Zag the 600m to Namche.

I remember it being a challenge, but not impossible. I kept drinking and pacing myself and I was buggered enough that, when I got there I was disappointed to find that our guest house what at a higher part of Namchee. When I finally arrived ,of course, I soon changed my mind when  I saw the view.
Namchee is perched on another Alpine Shelf surrounded by Himalayan Peaks. The streets are in concentric semi circles across the hillside with connecting vertical streets. The buildings are stone and it is a mini melting pot of Himalayan and Western an odd mix of trekkers, climbers, Yaks, Helicopters, Outdoor Supply shops, Internet Cafes, mini Supermarkets and accommodations places.

From a personal perspective there were two major happenings for me in Namchee.
I ate ham….!!!

things would never be the same for several weeks despite antibiotics.
I came across the military. The stuff I’d read in the paper was real. But I was more intimidated by the stray dogs on the high land over Namchee than the rag bag of young sleepy looking men wearing military uniforms and carrying guns, who were happy to pose for photographs.

I will pick up on some of these themes: health and altitude sickness in future blogs.

Next time Namchee to Pheriche.

I would appreciate feedback on this please.