Getting High in Nepal

Nepal – by Irene Butler
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Filled with heart palpitating excitement, we visualize ourselves higher than the loftiest Rocky Mountain peak in Canada, Mt. Robson at 12,972 ft., and above Mt. Elbert rising to 14,433 ft. in the United States. The summit of Kala Patar at 18,187 ft. boasts an unequal view of Mt. Everest, and of the base camp below at 17,575 ft. Undertaking this adventure is a life-long dream for my husband, Rick, and I am happily along for the trek.

The prop-plane drones its way from Kathmandu to Lukla, our starting point at 9,300 ft. Sizing up the twenty passengers compressed into the small fuselage, I note we are a minority, being in our late fifties. Milan, our young Nepali guide, calls us mum and papa, explaining he would be disrespectful if he called us by our first names.

A sudden swing to the right brings us between two mammoth mountain walls, aimed at an extremely short, inclined runway up a mountain directly ahead. Before I realize I am holding my breath, we skid and squeal to a stop feet from a rock wall at the end.

On still mushy knees we wobble along the winding streets of the village, and plunk down our gear at the first of many lodges on our sixteen day trek. We are soon titillating our taste buds with a potent delight, fresh garlic soup, said by locals to be a good aid to “acclimatizing” – the body’s natural process of producing more red blood cells to compensate for the corresponding decrease of atmospheric oxygen with increased elevation. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) results from ascending more rapidly than the body can adapt. Our simple stratagem is to follow the guidelines of not exceeding 1000 ft. in elevation in a day; periodically staying at a location an extra day for added acclimatization time, and if AMS symptoms still develop (severe headache, loss of appetite, nausea, or disorientation) to abort the climb.

Each day new wonders unravel before us along the rugged mountain terrain. Sherpas, dot the paths, neck muscles bulging from the strain on their namlo, the fabric belt around their foreheads attached to a woven basket filled with loads for lodge owners, trekkers, and mountaineers. The prowess of these small, agile mountain men for carrying weights in the 80 to 100 pound range at high altitudes is puzzling to scientific studies done, even with evolution on their side. The only other method of ferrying goods overland is by yak. These Himalayan oxen command the right of way. Tinkling bells are a cue to hastily jump up onto the nearest embankment while these burly beasts pass.

At times the climb is a gentle upward slope; other times it is tantamount to being on a Stair-Master for hours. Restricting our gear to only one change of clothes, plus our sleeping bags, is a wise move. Trekkers weighted down under obscene loads, marvel at how little we have, as we pass them on the trail.

Arriving at Namche Bazaar on a Friday, we stay an extra day to take in the famed weekend market. Wares of every description, carried many miles over mountain passes by Tibetan traders, cover every inch of a large central square. Bargaining in the festive atmosphere, we find warm mitts for Rick, socks for Milan, a necklace for me, and celebrate our purchases with a dozen gooey cinnamon buns at the bakery cafe.

Suspension bridges span rushing aqua rivers, waterfalls crash ferociously down catching rainbows in their vapour and miles of rhododendron forests surround us as we approach Tengboche’s Buddhist monastery. We sit entranced amid saffron-robed monks chanting mantras heavenward.

Each day ends with crackling fires in pot-bellied stoves, good food and the camaraderie of fellow trekkers and guides in lodge dining rooms. A ghetto blaster materializes one evening and the Nepali men dance to a catchy folk tune. Our Milan is by far the best. His twinkling eyes and beaming smile captivate the audience as he spins and leaps around the room higher and faster than anyone else. We reluctantly head for the warmth of our sleeping bags as the last embers of the fire die out.

The end of the tree line approaches. By day the sun blazes down more intently through the thinning air prompting slatherings of sun screen. At night a magical extravaganza of celestial bodies radiate from above, lighting the path on unavoidable excursions to the outhouse; the old bladder fills more readily as elevation increases.

At Gorak Shep, the highest overnight stay on our trek, our water bottles freeze in our room overnight. Milan is at our door with steaming hot milk tea at 5:45 a.m. Still swathed in chilling darkness, we begin the grueling ascent of Kala Patar. A thunderous roar of deafening proportions triggers a much needed adrenaline surge.

“Avalanche,” Milan shouts pointing to a mass of snow moving down the side of Mt. Nuptse on the left, sending up sprays of powder. Base camp is at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall to the right. As the rumbling fades, we summit, eyes fused to the distinctive contours of Everest. We are face to face with the highest point on earth – 29,028 ft.-“Chomolongma” goddess mother of the earth to Tibetans-“Sagarmatha” forehead of the sky to Nepalese. Turning slowly, encircled with a panorama of Himalayan monoliths, I am dwarfed and humbled by such a manifestation of a greater power. Our extremities pinch with frostbite, yet we stand riveted as the sun rising behind Everest creates a gleaming halo around its edges, and the grey of dawn morphs into shades of blue. My euphoria is heightened seeing Rick’s misty eyes and broad smile reflect the elation of meeting his goal.

If you are Planning a trip to Katmandu and wish to take a trek anywhere in the area, we recommend Milan, our Nepali Dancer & Everest Guide Extraordinaire.


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