Mount Everest (October 13th - November 16th)


I spent a week in Bangkok getting some cold weather gear for my hiking trip in Nepal. I would end up wearing every single item, sometimes all at the same time.

I arrived in Kathmandu and was immediately reminded of my time biking in India. It was chaotic, dusty, colorful and lots of people honking their horns. It's a lot easier to navigate around cities like this from the comfort of a taxi and not the fear-gripping seat of a bicycle. Some of the streets looked like a war zone in this very poor country.
During the Trek I would get very hungry as most days involved hiking up or down for about 6 hours. There is very little flat area and the porters tend to walk the shortest distance between 2 points so that means straight up or straight down. The local porters do not eat breakfast but typically have a cup of hot water or tea. They would then hike for a few hours and stop for some Dal Baht, the local staple. It is rice, lentil soup and vegetables and perfect for a good appetite.  I would do the same but would have breakfast too. Here is the main Nepal dish of Dal Baht.
I decided to hike on the Everest Base Camp (EBC) Trail that leads to the base camp set up for those crazy ones deciding to climb Everest. Since the attempts at Everest are only done in the spring the base camps were empty at this time of year. The main object was to get to Kala Pattar, a mountain with the best views of Everest. To get there you have to hike up to 5,545 meters or just over 18,000 feet.

One of my fears when starting the hike was the high altitude and the risk of getting altitude sickness (AMS). AMS can strike anyone and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, had to retire from high altitude trekking about 10 years after his historic climb because he became susceptible to AMS. He had to be evacuated in a helicopter on a subsequent climb. The usual symptoms of AMS are headaches, nausea, disorientation etc., and the only cure is to descend. The most important criteria is that if you have some of the symptoms you can stay where you are and sleep and hope to acclimatize but you cannot sleep at a higher elevation than you are at the time of the symptoms. All AMS related deaths occur because people ignore the signs and continue to go up and every year a few people on this hike end up dying.

Prior to actually starting on the EBC I decided to do a 7-day hike. I spent a lot of time on a bike in the last 2 years but not much actually hiking. I took a 10-hour bus ride to a town called Jiri to start the hike. If you have ever been on a packed bus with people sitting in the aisles and in a seat where the one in front is made for the locals that are rarely over 5'6" in height, then you will understand that it was not the best thing to do before starting a long hike. Jiri is literally the end of the road, from there on up to Everest; the only way to go is by foot on trails or by plane or helicopter.

One of the most incredible athletic feats I have ever seen was watching the local Sherpa carry heavy loads up and down the very steep mountains. This young guy was lifting 100 kg (think of carrying a 220 pound man on your shoulders) and would end up walking the same 7-day hike as me.
The porters carry a t-shaped stick in their hands and wrap a strap around their heads to support the load. They would manage a few hundred meters, then put the stick on the ground behind them, sit down on it and rest for a few minutes, only to repeat that for the entire day. Most people could not even stand up with that much weight let alone hike up the almost vertical steps that you would find throughout the day. Some of them walked in flip-flops, no Gore-Tex hiking boots for these guys. The porters are paid by a combination of the kilograms they carry and the distance they walk. The further you get from the town with a road or airport, the more expensive goods are because everything is carried. In one place I stayed, the room for the night cost $2 and a loaf of bread at a bakery cost $8. The reason for the high cost of bread and other food and drink is that it has to be carried by a porter. I would see them carry cases of beer; lumber for building homes and anything else the local people need to live.
The trek meanders over mountains, rivers and through forests and you cross a lot of suspension bridges. All the bridges on this popular trek have been rebuilt but I can only imagine what they were like in years past. Here is one of the long bridges that also show the nice fall colors.
The kids here do what kids everywhere do when there are lots of tourists, they ask for money. It is such a shame to see this happen and I have never understood why people hand out money to kids. It spoils them and it makes it difficult for their parents to teach them the value of earning your money with work. Once in a while I would see some kids who didn't ask and I always took time to talk with them and ask if they wanted to see their pictures, something they never refused. Here are some of the kids.
Here is another long suspension bridge in the distance.
The paths here are the main mode of transportation but its not all hikers and porters, the monks have to go to and from their monasteries too.
One day I was walking and stopped to chat with a couple from New Zealand whom I befriended the prior day. As I was standing there a young calf came up to me and nudged against my leg so I bent down and gave him a head rub. He then started licking my arm. He thinks he is a dog.
The first day I headed off from Jiri and within minutes started hiking up a very steep hill. I was wishing I were back in Bermuda on the Railway Trail that is flat, at sea level and doesn't require you to carry a loaded backpack. I found out quickly that my cycling helped with the uphill hiking but the downhill was difficult. I also found out that hiking for 6 hours is not that easy so the next time someone tells me that walking is not good exercise, I'll suggest a hiking trip to Nepal. The scenery in the early parts of the hike was lush with forests, raging rivers, agricultural land and hills. It was my favorite part of the hike.
As noted Nepal is a very poor country and the local farmers in this area still used traditional farming methods on small plots throughout the region.
I enjoyed this part of the hike the best because the temperatures were pleasant and every once in a while you would get a glimpse of the snow packed mountains ahead. I would be walking along and turn a corner and have scenes like this pop up in my view.
There would often be lines forming before the bridge as they were often occupied. Around here the yaks and donkeys have the right of way.
As you head north towards Namchee Bazaar you start climbing steadily up. At one point there was a series of stairs that were almost straight up and I was curious to see how the porters and the large animals could manage this part of the route. It was something to stand there and watch the animals climb down steps that many people had difficulty with. The longhaired animals are yaks and they also have a mix between a cow and a yak and they are called Dzos. Here are some Dzos walking straight down.
The town of Namchee Bazaar is located at 3,400 meters in height and it is recommended that hikers spend at least 2 nights here to aid in the acclimatization process. It is a nice town surrounded by soaring peaks.
One day I was hiking and a man was walking on the trail with a large pail and would scoop up cow dung with his hand and put it in the pail. They use the cow dung as fuel for stoves and prior to using it they hang it out to dry, along with the regular laundry.
The small town of Tengboche is famous in Nepal for the Monastery that holds twice daily prayer ceremonies and is home to an active monk community. It is the scenery around the small town however that is spectacular as it offers the first real glimpse of Everest. The massive Everest mastiff was visible from Tengboche and here is the view during the day and as the sun was setting.
Here is the view behind the Monastery.
If you turn around 360 degrees you can view Kongde Ri, my favorite view on this trek.
The hike from Tengboche north to the Everest base camp is almost up the entire way and to avoid AMS it is recommended that you have frequent stops. I made it up to Lobuche, which is located at 4,930 meters and started feeling the impact of the lack of oxygen.
I didn't have trouble hiking nor did I exhibit any of the usual symptoms of a headache or nausea but during the night I would suddenly sit up gasping and unable to catch my breath. It was scary being on your own in a very cold room (the rooms were below zero degrees at night) and to wake up out of breath. At first I just thought it normal but decided to stay an extra night to be safe. The following day I had no problems but the same shortness of breath occurred at night. I was also hallucinating at night and knew something was wrong. The following day someone in the lodge I stayed at asked me where I was from and I slurred my words and couldn't pronounce Canada. It was the final realization that I couldn't sleep at a higher elevation. I wanted to get to the top of Kala Pattar, the mountain with the best views of Everest but I couldn't sleep at a higher elevation than I was so that meant a long hike the next day to go up and come all the way back down. I was up and walking as soon as it was light and ended up hiking for 10 hours just to ensure I would sleep at the same altitude. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera must have been frozen so I don't have any pictures of the 4 days in Lobuche and hiking to Kala Pattar. A friend was with me and he will be sending some photos of our hike when he returns to New Zealand and I will post those on my Flickr account.

I did get this one view of Everest from someone that night.
The hike to Kala Pattar was demanding and by the time I returned it was almost dark, an entire day hiking up and down left me exhausted and I then really started showing signs of AMS. I lost my appetite and did not eat dinner and that night woke up again with a jolt trying to get air. I ended up sleeping propped up, not wanting to risk suffocation. I knew I had to get to lower elevations so the following day. I woke up early again and had no interest in eating but forced myself to drink hot water and then continued down. I hiked another 8 hours to get lower and it was a struggle the entire way. I was losing energy and desire to hike but kept going. There are no roads here and the only way out is to walk so I would walk for 10 minutes, rest and repeat all day.

That night I managed to sleep without interruption but now was completely exhausted and just wanted to get down. I spent days jumping out of bed eager to hike and now it was a struggle to make it up very short hills. It took me 3 days to walk down the same path I walked up in a single day so my energy was gone.

I made it back to the small town of Lukla that has an airport ready to transport hikers back to Kathmandu. Here is the local burger place.
I also lost all desire to hike so booked a flight back to Kathmandu. I could have hiked back to Jiri in 7 days but I had already done the route and was still not feeling well. I spent a few days in Lukla waiting for my flight and slowly regaining my energy. It was too bad I developed AMS as the hiking was superb and the scenery beyond description. I was sleeping at a height of 4,900 meters and if I had stayed there longer I don't know how I would have made it down. I made the right decision as I struggled for days as it was.

However, after seeing the airport and runway that had to be navigated I almost had second thoughts. The runway was short and angled up so when taking off, the pilots had to accelerate quickly and just fly over the edge. Not the best view for someone who prefers not to fly.
I flew back to Kathmandu and changed my flight back to Bangkok so arrived here about a week earlier than planned.

On August 3, 2010, I flew from Canada to Ireland to begin the long journey towards the orphanage in the Philippines. I have been on the road for 2.5 years and often think back and wonder where the time went. I was in 20 countries in that period and it is now time to stop and sit in one place for a while.

I made a lot of observations about the world and the people here in these journal updates but the one that sticks out the most for me is that the happiest people in the world are the poorest people. The children with the latest gadgets who spend their time playing games or living in a virtual world seem distant, detached and serious. The children that have little except in terms of material possessions but engage in outdoor play with their friends and family are much happier and light hearted. You can see it and hear it in the small villages of India, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Poverty is a real problem however and when parents can't even afford to feed their children you have to wonder what is going on. All the countries with very poor people have armies with the latest in weaponry but spend far too little on education and ensuring their own citizens have the basic necessities to live. One big problem that is particularly evident in SE Asian countries is corruption with some of the richest people in the country belonging to or having very close ties to the police and military branches of government. It is a common theme and the people elected to care for the people simply care for themselves, their own families and anyone who can further enrich them. The wealth ends up benefitting a few families and since they hold all the power and positions of influence, it is difficult to change.

I spent 6 months at the Missionaries of Charity in Tacloban and I want to say a special thank you to all of you who gave generously to those kids. As I noted earlier, the children there are not orphans, each one has family but they were admitted with severe malnutrition and or a lack of healthcare because their families could not afford it. The orphanage did a wonderful job in getting all of the kids back to health and I saw firsthand the difference your contributions made. How children can be starving to death in 2012 is almost beyond belief when you see the sinful amounts of money wasted on military spending around the world. The U.S spends more on defense then the next 10 biggest spending countries combined, is that really necessary?

The anger and frustration I would feel because of these inequalities however was for the most part overshadowed by the people around the world. People are the same everywhere despite government and religious groups constantly trying to tell us we are different or better than others. There is an almost zealous attempt to paint people as different. You hear a lot of us verses them, good versus evil, Christians verses Muslims and freedom lovers and haters. I realized though that almost everyone wants the same thing. People want to provide for their children and ensure they have a good education, they want to be gainfully employed and they want to live in peace. It doesn't matter if you believe in God, Allah or Buddha because we are all humans and have far more in common than differences.

This will be my last journal entry and I want to thank everyone who followed me for the last few years. A special thanks to all of you who sent encouraging e-mails as I made my way through some hard days. Those letters encouraged me to keep going and I am grateful for the support. A final thank you to Robert Allen in Boise, Idaho who managed this website. If anyone wants work on a website I can't recommend him highly enough.

God Bless

Fred Bouwman