Munich – McCarthy and Castles

Munich – McCarthy and Castles

Neuschwanstein CastleWe arrived in Munich just the day after some explosions hit a bus carrying the Dortmund football team, potentially due to that when we arrived at the airport just as we entering the main area of the airport I was stopped by two undercover officers, who had several questions for me (not Danielle though!), thankfully my answers didn’t raise any issues and I was allowed through!

One of the reasons for choosing Munich was the proximity to the Neuschwanstein Castle. Like Amsterdam, Instagram had provided some of the inspiration, while a mate – Rich, who had completed a European tour of castles before now provided further recommendation.

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Canals, Castles and Cycling

Canals, Castles and Cycling

I Amsterdam sign
I Amsterdam Sign besides the Rijksmuseum

It feels a lot longer ago but back in April Danielle and I took a Euro trip to Amsterdam, Munich and Salzburg. Our plan was to pack light enough to rely on carry-ons, a plan proposed by the shoe addict. The only carry-on suitcase I had wasn’t going to be enough so I had acquired a new suitcase after some careful searching on the maximum dimensions for carry on. Sorted.

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What I didn’t tell you about the hike to Everest Base Camp! (The Outtakes)

What I didn’t tell you about the hike to Everest Base Camp! (The Outtakes)

My injured eye on the way upto Everest Base CampI’ve written several posts on the hike to Everest Base Camp, and most of them I wrote while hiking and still on the mountain. In an effort to not increase worry and anxiety amongst some of the readership of this blog, I decided to omit certain details about the hike while I was still in Nepal. Since I have now been back to England and provided in-person evidence of the fact I’m not missing any limbs, it’s time to document the outtakes. In roughly order of occurrence here goes..

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Kathmandu Calling

Kathmandu Calling

Mount Everest from near Lukla, our last view of the mountainI’ve been back in New York for about 19 days now, more or less the same time I spent in Nepal. I’ve more or less finished editing my 3,000+ photos and now here’s the final part documenting the journey back from Everest Base Camp. A couple of things to keep an eye out for in the next few weeks – the photos from the trip, the highlights and outtakes of the trip and a few words on the last couple of days we spent in Kathmandu exploring some of the cultural sights in the city itself.

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Country Roads home from Base Camp

Country Roads home from Base Camp

It’s our last day before we fly out of Kathmandu tomorrow, this morning we explored the “Garden of Dreams” – an amazing oasis of calm hidden in plain sight of the crazy hustle of the Kathmandu streets. I’m now writing this in the Hotel courtyard, contemplating not only the whole trip but also how unlikely it is I’ll be sat outside updating this blog anytime in the near future.

The route back from Base Camp, over the following four days, to Lukla where the journey began in earnest was very enjoyable – the weather held and some of the varied routes took us through stunning scenery. Further, being acclimatised to circa 5000M and having nine days hiking behind us meant the hiking and altitude felt less strained than on the way up.

Day 11, Kala Pattar then down to Lobuche

Sunrise from Kala PattharThe day after EBC, everyone was feeling tired and some were feeling the effects of a cold which had hit our camp. Colds at altitude are definitely less fun than they are at sea level also. That morning we had the optional hike of going up a nearby mountain which is higher than EBC, the idea was to hike up – about 2/3 of the mountain to get a great view of the sunrise.

Sunrise is 6AM, so for those of us who chose to go on the trip agreed to meet at about 4.45AM. If we hiked for an hour we should be in a good place to see the sunrise over the mountains. To put in perspective how cold it was at that time, the jug in the barrel of water next to the toilet (to be used in place of a working flush) had frozen together preventing anyone from flushing the toilet until the ice melted. This was the one instance where I wore my down jacket, alongside top and bottom base layers and my soft shell fleece.

We started out with our head torches affixed, going up the mountain. As it approached 6AM the shimmy of the sun could be seen on the horizon. What we hadn’t accounted for was given how high the mountains are, how long it would take the sun to rise above them – particularly Everest. The point we’d reached at 6AM was my physical limit at that time, you don’t sleep particularly well at high altitude, especially with uncomfortable beds. The combination of the day before’s hike and lack of good sleep was a definite factor in my feeling at that point. I also wasn’t the only one feeling the pinch. To keep warm Pemba showed us a couple of ways to warm the extremities up and we ended up walking in small circles to keep warm. After about 30 minutes of this the sun had made little to no progress up the mountain so it was at this point we called it a day and trudged back to the relative warmth of the tea house and an early cuppa. It was at least an hour later we saw from the window the sun peak above the mountains, the few of us who’d gone up feeling our decision to come down ratified.

After breakfast we had a relatively short hike back down to Lobuche, though we didn’t lose much height – only a couple of hundred metres. The tea house was more comfortable and I had my first hot shower in several days.

Day 12, to Pangboche

World's Highest BakeryAs we left Lobuche we passed the “World’s Highest Bakery” at the “hight” of 5000m. Unfortunately, I cannot report on what the bakery was like as we didn’t go in to try – maybe next time! As we continued the hike back down the valley in the morning we were able to spread out an not walk single file in a line as we had to do for much of the trek and everyone capitalized on the space to find their own pace. I tried to use the opportunity to get some front facing shots of people, I seemed to find myself at the back of the group most of the time as I stopped to take photos – meaning most of my shots of the group are of their backs!

In the afternoon we were back amongst the cliffs looking down on the river below with stunning scenery surrounding us. Once we reached Pengboche then it was time for celebrations with Beth celebrating her birthday in the Himalayas. We cracked open the first beers of the trip – hangovers at altitude are like the hangover after that Christmas party you would rather forget – best avoided, local ales don’t seem to exist but sharing a Sherpa lager wasn’t going to result in any complaints! Whenever tea houses had music in the background it was meditation type music, almost identical everywhere – supposed to lower your blood pressure. This time it was a little different though with the tea house lady deciding to put on some Billy Ray Cyrus and John Denver. Country Roads prompting a sing along much to her amusement.

We weren’t the only ones getting jolly that night though, Pemba met up with a friend (though in all honesty it felt like Pemba knew everyone in the mountains!) and came back after his friend had continued to pour “one more” Chang (local rice wine). Nick also shared a small bottle of whiskey he’d bought with the Yak driver, the gesture prompting a look of absolute sheer joy and even a little jig from the Yak driver.

The final leg to Everest Base Camp

The final leg to Everest Base Camp

Posting this on Day 19 though I wrote it in Day 15.

Writing this in the restaurant/common area of Hotel Camp De Base, in Namche Bazar on day three of our climb down. It’s feeling ever closer to home, especially with a large Union Jack pinned to the corner of one of the walls with a picture of Kate and Wills in it.

On EBC day we had a relatively short elevation gain from Labouche, crossing the 5000M mark upto 5140M (240M) though the distance was further with the hike taking a few hours including a final slog over very rocky and undulating (current hot word, after Nick described something as flat and while it may not have been a mountain we argued it wasn’t flat!) terrain. We arrived for an early lunch and then after a short break, started at around 12.30 for Base Camp.

imageIt started across a desert type plain, passing a frozen body of water which had a plastic bottle embedded within the ice allowing access to the water below. We also passed a sign, helpfully pointing the way to Everest Base Camp.

Soon we were on a rocky mountain path, working our way towards our aim destination. While it was cold it wasn’t freezing, I had only my top base layer on with a t-shirt and softshell fleece, my mid-weight walking trousers did the job fine. While I hadn’t worn my down jacket yet I thought I had it in my backpack, later I noticed I’d packed my sleeping bag instead – both stored in a similar looking bag.

As we neared Base Camp the glacier became ever more impressive and we got another look closer up of Everest itself. Unexpectedly, compared to other smaller mountains (only in relative terms, with several of the tallest mountains in the world in close proximity), Everest was often hidden from sight during our trek.

Base Camp itself we had been forewarned wasn’t hugely spectacular, and aside from the prayer flags and sign there wasn’t much to suggest this was worthy of much notice than many other places on our trip. However, it was extremely exhilarating since it had formed the goal of our journey. What was surprising was how small it was, Pemba told me how when they camp here they have to flatten out the stones to pitch the tents. With climbing season over for Everest till Spring the area was probably the equivalent of a slightly overgrown lawn – albeit one with great views around.

We spent I would guess around 20 minutes or so there, getting photos and wandering around. Amazingly for the last 5 minutes or so we were the only group there, a rather brilliant feeling of remoteness and achievement.

As I captioned the photo from EBC on Instagram it was a hugely exhausting day and challenging. The walk to Everest Base Camp from Gorak Sherp was probably tougher than people were expecting, while having also had a slug of a hike in the morning to get to Gorak Sherp had an impact. Most of all though I would say it was a cumulation of altitude, at over 5000 metres you can definitely feel the difference with all movements consuming more energy and generally feeling rougher while there was certainly some effect of having been hiking for 9 days.

Everest Base Camp 2016As Nick has regularly pointed out, the pains and groans of getting there will soon be forgotten but the feeling having reached Base Camp will not be something to forget. I’ll write more about the way down but the trip has been incredible and there have been so many highlights aside from EBC itself. Although a 6.30AM breakfast tomorrow is I’ll admit not one of them!

 

Tomorrow Base Camp, then we head for the summit

Tomorrow Base Camp, then we head for the summit

An update from the trails of Nepal, currently resting at Lobuche (4910M) after a days hike from Dingboche (4410M) before we push for Base Camp tomorrow!

Last update was on Day Four (of hiking). Here’s a recap of Day Five to Eight (today).

Day Five

This was a relatively short day and minimum height gain, from Tengboche (3860M) to Pangboche (3930M). The scenery as ever was stunning, the photos on Instagram and FB demonstrate that. A big part of this trip is giving back to Nepal after it suffered not only directly from the earthquake last year but also in a shortage of tourism. Although not a result of the earthquake we did come to a bridge that had collapsed due to a previous landslide. The Nepalese ability in these circumstances to deal with it is very evident as they have done a great rebuilding job in affected areas.

We arrived early afternoon in time for lunch, which was served in a suntrap of a room on the (British) first floor (That’s the American second  if you’re keeping up). Everyone was enjoying relaxing when a large group of German hikers arrived, they came with only a local guide and not an international guide. About 10-15 minutes after they arrived it was noticed they were ALL coughing. In an effort not to catch their lurgy we retreated to our rooms and had dinner served there. Not before Nick made the call to move to another tea house down the road for the night. A slightly eventful evening.

Day Six and Seven

We had two nights in the same location here – Dingboche (4410M). We used these days for acclimatisation, the first day a small group of us hiked up a little bit to a religious monument with great views over the valley which we would be walking through on Day Eight.

Day Seven the whole group took a big hike up a hill to between 4900M and 5000M for acclimatisation (since tonight, Day Eight, we’re sleeping at 4900). This was one of the toughest parts of the trip for me and after coming down I was very tired.

Day Eight

Here we are, the eve of Basecamp. It’s been a great day for photography, I’ve just been sat in my room in bed (sun up, really warm; sun down, super cold) flicking through the photos and typing this. We’re at Lobuche (4900M), I’m feeling OK at the moment so I think however hard yesterday was it’s helped me today.

We trekked through a rocky desert terrain this morning to our lunch spot (tuna pasta) making great time. After lunch we continued our hike up the glacial valley, pausing for some minutes part way as we came to a memorial ground for people who have died on Everest. As I put my bag down to wander around a local sherpa said “this is a sad place”, and I think everyone found it quite sombering. After this stop we crossed over the glacier and up to this small village of tea houses. We’re staying in the Eco Lodge, the Nepalese do quite a good job of harnessing the natural fuels available to them – solar, hydro, though not for any apparent commercial benefits. It’s very comfortable though a small luxury missing is WiFi in the rooms – a hugely minor complaint given we’re at nearly 5000M! It puts in perspective how amazing technology is given I’m even referencing it though.

Tomorrow we have breakfast at 6.30AM then hike to Gorak Shep (5140M) which will be our base for tomorrow night, have lunch and then continue onto Base Camp (5364M) before coming back down to Gorak Shep. The following day we push for the summit! Well, the summit of Kala Pattar (5550M) – the idea is to catch the sunrise since it’s supposed to offer better views than Base Camp. After that we’re back to Lobuche as we start our descent. Expect photos sometime over the next two days and then another update here around the 23rd or 24th.

Tea and trekking – first 96 hours

Tea and trekking – first 96 hours

Writing this on Day Four of hiking. We’re currently in Tengboche at 3,864 meters. Today has been a light day, though we were up at 5.45AM for breakfast (porridge) and hiking by 6.30 we ended at our destination around 11.30, the reason for starting so early was to see this festival that’s occuring in the town, in particular in the monestary.  It was quite spectacular with lots of dancing and masks though a little repetitive. The early start does mean we have had most of the afternoon free, giving time to update the blog. However the WiFi isn’t working here so will have to post this update later – edit now it’s working in between power cuts.

 

Skipping back a little to give a short update on the days so far:

 

Day One

Our first early start, we had to catch an 8am flight from Katmandu to Lukla from where all hiking begins. The flight was a rather exciting 30 minutes, with the plane holding about 25 people including pilots and stewardess. It was a very turbulent flight and incredible scenery.

 

Upon disembarking we took a tea stop in our first tea house, of which there have been many and very varied. After the tea stop we descended to acclimatise at a lower height – everyone was feeling a little rough at Lukla – being much higher than Katmandu.

 

This is a good point to give an overview of our crew. We have our guide – Nick who has done this trip about 4 times and founded the company – Fitways, superb mountaineer. Our second guide is a local Sherpa and all round legend, Pemba. The man is in his early 30s, has summited Everest 3-4 times and done many of the routes we are taking literally 1000s of times. He has been the local organiser – helping plan the route and book the accommodation. Then we have two yaks (technically not a true Yak as they are crossed with cows), who we have named Norman and George. A yak herder and a porter. Between the two yaks and the porter they carry our main bags – appox 10kgs per person (there are 9 of us).

 

Day Two

This was a big day, we hiked to Namche Bazar, which is a largish town built on a hill. We gained a lot of height on this day, 800M, going higher than Lukla. It was a good 8 hours of hiking, through some stunning mountain and river scenery. We also got our first peek of Everest, recognisable from the dust cloud surrounding the peak – a consequence of Everest being in the middle of a jet stream – one of the reasons it is so difficult to climb (though not as much as another mountain in the region we learnt, which for every successful summit also has one fatality). In the evening we got to experience some local singing and dancing in the tea house / lodge. As with what we experienced in the monastery today, a great cultural experience but one which could have done with being shorter!

 

Day Three

We gained 400m on this day, our destination was Pemba’s hometown where his parents and sister live along with his niece and nephew. Since we were going to visit the local school (I believe they taught around ages 8-14), we bought some pens and pencils to give out. I was feeling quite rough by the end of the days hike – a consequence I think of a poor night sleep and the altitude. So although it was really good to see the school I think I might have enjoyed it more another day. We also visited a local monastery which like much of the village was being rebuilt after the earthquake last year.

 

We had probably the best food of the trip (excluding Katmandu), with garlic soup for starter then pastry base pizza, potato wedges and veg followed by a chocolate rice pudding.

 

-All in all really good trip so far, hard work but the scenery is stunning and it’s amazing to experience some of the local culture.

Twenty Nine Not Out

Twenty Nine Not Out

Walking in Berkshire, Lumineers, Work174 days. The number of days that have passed since I last posted a blog update. During that time, a lot has happened including turning twenty-nine. As I contemplate retirement and with it hearing aids, Zimmer frames and taking 10 minutes to usher food from my fork to my mouth, I felt it was the right time to prove I’m not completely gone by updating this blog.

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