LOTS OF PICS !!!
During the off-season, we all do many things, some of us just rest and get those home projects done that have been neglected all year, others do some different type of exercise like running, roller blading and strength training. For others it’s a chance to do something completely different and take a break from cycling. For me, I had a huge year of cycling and my tan lines were sharper and deeper than they have been for over the past 20 years. That was a lot of amazing “smiles” this year. However, I was ready for a different stimulus. For years, I have been dreaming of going to Nepal and seeing the Himalayan mountains. From boyhood dream to reality at age 54, I was beyond excited to book a 21-day trek with Highland Expeditions in Kathmandu. Not only was my most amazing adventure partner, Diane, going on this trip, but she was up for the challenge, super fit and probably going to kick my butt! (she did!) Everest Base camp is at 17,589′ and while Diane and I had never been to that elevation before, we did race in the Machu Picchu Epic MTB race in Peru a couple of years ago and every stage was between 11,000-14,000′ and we did fine with the lack of partial pressure of oxygen.
We knew from our experience in Peru that we needed to pre-acclimate with a week at higher elevations, so after a full summer of getting in some longer and longer hikes (between bike rides), we headed to Colorado to spend a week camping and hiking at 10,000+ feet and we even summited the highest “14er” in Colorado at the end of our week, Mt. Elbert.
Summit of Mt. Elbert, Colorado 14,440′
A rest week and then a week of intervals followed to maximize our red blood cell growth and then off to Nepal we went, still with a little interval fatigue in our legs! From Kathmandu, we opted to fly by helicopter to Lukla, which is the start of the Everest Base Camp Trek. Many times, the planes can’t land at the Lukla airport because of poor visibility, but helicopters can just fly around those clouds! The “most dangerous” airport in the world and the runway is a 12% gradient! Imagine landing and taking off in a plane on one of those steep sections of road that you have ridden you bike up! Watch the take-off video below. Skip forward to 2:00 where the helicopter lands and then the plane takes off… CRAZY.
We started our trek with our guide Prashant Basnet from Darjeeling, India and our Porter, BB, who lives “two days walk” below Lukla. BB carried most of our gear, which included sleeping bags, clothes, hand warmers, extra food, toiletries including toilet paper (bring your own!). We each had a limit of 25lbs, so BB was carrying our 50lbs of stuff and his own gear which was basically a small daypack. Prashant carried his own pack which was about 30lbs. We each carried day packs as well, which were about 18lbs each. Clearly us westerners don’t understand what it means to go light! This was a 16-day hiking trip, so while BB never changed his clothes the whole time, we decided that we’d like at least 3 changes of clothes!
BB!!! He weighed 125lbs and carried like 60lbs!!! HE WAS A MACHINE.
We cruised to the famed Namche Bazaar village and spent two days, three nights there to acclimate to 12,000′. What an amazing place! The main village in the Himalayans and it was just magical to be there. It also gave us our first view of Mt. Everest!
Our First sighting!!!!!!! That’s Everest!!!!
Namche Bazaar! The Rudy Project Star Dash glasses were critical to protect our eyes from the high elevation rays and all the dust and junk on the trail. Grab a pair at a serious discount. Use the link here and make an account and you’ll get a big discount on any Rudy Project product.
That’s Everest over my right shoulder. Ama Dablam in between us.
We chose a trek that was longer than the traditional up to Everest Base Camp and back, which is typically 10 days. We had 3 weeks to play with, so we chose to trek to the beautiful Gokyo Lakes at 15,000′ and also summit the Gokyo Ri peak (17,500′) which is a small peak just above the Gokyo lakes village. That was an amazing day and both Diane and I were super strong all day, setting fast paces to Gokyo Lakes and then we felt strong all the way to the summit. No headaches, dizziness, nothing. Amazing views of Everest, Cho Oyu and many peaks in Tibet (China). Spectacular.
The Emerald Green of the Gokyo Lakes
Summit of Gokyo Ri with Everest in the background, Gokyo village is visible to the left of the cairn. That’s the Ngzoympa Glacier behind us. The longest Glacier in the world. It’s covered in rocks! Prashant, kneeling and BB also crushed it up the climb!
Gokyo Lake and Village with Cho Oyu in the background.
From there, we climbed up and over the Cho La Pass at 17,780′ , which is just an amazing hike up and over the pass. It took about 2.5 hours to get to the top and then we put on micro-spikes for the hike down the glacier on the other side.
That night, we stayed in a small village called Dzongla and it was cold! (Below freezing in the room). The places you stay at along the way are called Teahouses and they are basically hotels with a common dining room and then small rooms for everyone. The walls are plywood (bring your earplugs), there is no heat and only electricity as long as the batteries are charged from the solar panels. The bathrooms are rough most of the time, being “Squat” toilets, which means there’s a hole in the floor and you squat over it. Be sure of your aim! A few of the teahouses we stayed at were luxury teahouses and they were truly nice. In room bathrooms with actual toilets, hot showers, electric blankets and electrical outlets to charge our devices. The Mountain Lodges of Nepal were pretty darn awesome, I must say. We stayed in this one, while in Monjo. Lodge in Everest Region I Mountain Lodges of Nepal
The inside of a typical teahouse. This one was in Machermo, on the way to Gokyo. BB is teaching me some new words in Nepali. We set a goal to learn 100 words in Nepali while we were there. We ended up learning nearly 300 and could even speak some phrases much to the amazement of some locals. 😉
The only thing that is heated in the teahouses is the main dining room. There is a “wood” stove in the middle of the room that is fired up every day at 4pm-ish. Wood stove you ask? Where do they get the wood from? Well, there is no wood up here! The fuel is Yak Poo! Yes, Yak Poo. There are “Yak Poo Hunters” that go out, and collect Yak Poo, put it in a bag and then sell it to all the teahouses and locals. The Yak Poo is dried into patty’s (if not already dried) and then burned. It needs a little accelerant to get started (usually diesel fuel which makes the whole room smell like diesel for the first hour), but once going, it heats the place up.
A pile of drying Yak poo! The heating source for every home and teahouse!
Here’s a really cool video from some folks that did the Cho La pass just like we did and made a great video of it. Worth a watch, just to see the scale of the pass.
From there, we made it to Lobuche where we had a wonderful meal (all the meals were really good to be honest!) of Dal Bhat and homemade pizza! That night (and the previous night) I didn’t get much sleep and I was not breathing at night and then my body would jerk me awake and I had a feeling of panic and suffocation! NOT fun. So, this night, I slept from 8:30pm to midnight and then just stayed up all night the rest of the night as I was too afraid to go back to sleep! I told Prashant about this and he said I needed to start taking Diamox (high elevation drug) immediately as this was a symptom of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). I felt fine during the day and was strong on all our hikes and no other symptoms. I told him I would start after we get back from Base Camp that afternoon. Nausea is a side effect of Diamox and last thing I wanted was nausea on the hike to EBC!
Cakes and coffee with Prashant and BB at Gokyo Resort- 16,000′
The hike to EBC went super well and we again, were super strong passing 100’s and 100’s of hikers. It’s great to be fit, endurance athletes that are properly acclimated! Many are just moving along in slow, slow motion struggling with the elevation, whereas we were moving in a normal fast walking pace. We made it to Gorekshep, which is the last outpost of a village before EBC. We had lunch there and watched the circus that it is. There are constant helicopters landing on a tiny platform, wild Sherpas riding horses, yaks walking around with massive loads pooping everywhere, people in all kinds of thick down jackets, porters carrying massive loads, tents, hotels-ish, and rocks and views and views and views. What a wild place. There is no water here, so all the water must be brought in by porters and yaks. Porters do the majority of the work along the trails. You will see 100’s of them each day. These people are incredibly strong. They carry massive loads all hunched over with a strap around their head to help take the weight off their back. Many times, they are just wearing flip-flops or running shoes and they all sleep in porter teahouses together at night. It’s usually one big room with cushions on the floor, everyone sleeping together under blankets. They don’t carry anything extra, no sleeping bags, extra clothes, food, etc. Truly impressive people.
Gorekshep. Cold, desolate, no water, but cell service and internet as long as the batteries stay charged from the solar panels.
“This way to Everest!” – Kala Patthar in the background- The black pointy hill! The trail up the “hill” in the background is the path to the summit of Kala Patthar, 18,890′. Pumori is the beautiful mountain behind it (23,494′)
The hike from Gorekshep to EBC was about 1.5 hours long on a trail on the Khumbu glacier. The Glacier is covered by rocks and boulders, so you don’t really see snow and ice like you would on the glaciers in Alaska or Iceland, etc. It’s not easy going to be honest and you have to watch where you are stepping the whole way, not to mention dodging other trekkers, horses, mules, porters and other random things. It was a proper snow and wind when we got there and plenty cold! No view really, but I wasn’t worried because I knew the next morning, the weather was predicted to be amazing and we would get a view then. With the requisite photos taken and our hands frozen, we headed back to Gorekshep where we were staying for the night.
EBC! We made it !
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Diane staying warm in her -29C Down bag and down jacket. Gorekshep. The water froze in our bottles that night.
Gorekshep is the highest elevation you spend the night on the trek at 16,800′ and the Diamox did it’s job! I took a nap after lunch and Diane stayed up in the room with me to make sure I was breathing. Later that night, I took another Diamox and slept great until about 2am when Diane poked me awake and told me to wake up and take another one, as I hadn’t taken a breath in two minutes!!! She was scared! Holy crap. I took another one, laid awake for 20minutes for it to take effect and then slept great the rest of the time. In the morning, we got up early at 5am and headed off to summit our last peak of the trek, Kala Patthar, at 18,209′, which is above Everest Base Camp. The sun rises behind Everest and you get these incredible views of Everest, Pumori, Nuptse, the Lhotse Wall and mountains in every direction. This was the REAL destination to be honest, as the views here are just amazing, and you can see EBC below you in the distance. It was completely magical to be there. What a dream come true. It took 1.5 hours up and back for breakfast in Gorekshep. We then headed down for an 8 hour hike all the way back down to 14, 000′ in Dingboche. It was a big day. The biggest of the trip.
That black pyramid is Everest! On top of Kala Patthar!
Nuptse in the center and Everest on the left with the Khumbu glacier below. EBC is just on the left side of bottom of the pic near the snow.
We spent three more days hiking back to Lukla and it’s fast because you are super acclimated to the elevation, going lower all the time and then generally downhill-ish. Once back to Lukla, we spent the night and helicoptered out the next morning back to Kathmandu! Check out the video that Prashant shot of the helicopters playing musical chairs. WOW.
After Kathmandu, we flew to Dubai for some warmth and a “vacation from our vacation” for a few days.
What a contrast! Warm, clean, inexpensive, and friendly, Dubai is a warm place to visit!
Totals: 102 miles hiking, 85 hours. Average HR for 16 days –102bpm for Hunter, 100 for Diane.
I can’t say enough about how amazing Prashant and BB were for us. These guys are just incredible guides and 100% professional. Over the top crushing expectations all the time. We saw a lot of guides throughout our trip, and never once did we ever say to ourselves, “Wow, I wish that was our guide.” It was the opposite and we were saying, “I am so glad Prashant is our guide, we are so fortunate. He’s head and shoulders above the rest.” We researched for a long time about which guide company to go with and so happy with our decision to go with Highland Expeditions. The owner, Passang Sherpa, worked with us leading up to the trip to make it custom for us, Passang met us at the hotel in Kathmandu, gave us his personal number, took care of all the details and even ate dinner with us in our farewell dinner after the trip back in Kathmandu. Highland Expeditions is absolutely the best in the business.
Thanks to our sponsors : The Right Stuff which was huge in making sure we stayed hydrated and no cramps. Rudy Project, which hooked us up with the Star Dash glasses (make an account and you’ll get a discount) with high elevation lenses. Those were CRITICAL. UCAN sports nutrition, which kept our blood glucose stable throughout. Sports and Gadgets which helped us with the AMAZING Garmin Fenix 7x Pro Solar watches. These watches are the best watches we have ever had. They are packed with features. Get one and use PCG7 for coupon code from Sports and Gadgets. Check out that Elevation reading!
Of course Peaks Coaching Group! 😉 Thanks also to Diane, who was the most amazing partner that I could ever have and a joy to be with on all of our adventures.