How Hard Is It to Climb Kilimanjaro?

A few years ago I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa.  I have written about how I prepared, what I took with me, and how each day was from day 1 to reaching Uhuru Peak (Kili’s summit) to coming down the mountain.  However, one of the key questions I get is how hard was it to climb Kilimanjaro?  I also get that in a different way when people look at me like I did an almost impossible feat.  I get that it is not something most people do hence why it is a feat of a kind but to me there are crazier and/or harder things (it is all relative, isn’t it??).  So I wanted to share a little of my perspective on how hard is Kili…

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The first time I saw Kili outside of the Honey Badger Lodge

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A photo shared in my earlier post about what I took with me

A bucket list item that never was: Kilimanjaro

I never planned or thought of climbing Kilimanjaro.  It had never occurred to me, I had barely heard or read of people who did, nor was I a big hiker to begin with (my first multi-day hike ever had been the year before and I had never stayed at a tent in my life!).  I had hiked four days in Transylvania (Romania) the year before with Trekking for Kids (TFK) and, at a fundraiser for them a few months later, folks started talking to me about joining them in a few months to climb Kilimanjaro with TFK.  I considered the whole idea preposterous.  While I exercise regularly, I was not running half marathons (had done it once a dozen years before) nor doing bootcamps a few days a week nor anything of the like.  Climbing Kilimanjaro was for the super athletes of the world and I was far from a fraction of that though I knew I was in slightly better shape than the average person.  But, a lot of cajoling, elbowing me, and a couple (or 4) glasses of wine later, I succumbed and said yes, beginning to feel excited that I would attempt something so ‘crazy’ and out of character.  The next morning as I woke up and remembered the prior night’s events, I was asking myself why I had agreed to doing something like (instead of saying I’d think about it).  Well, I am not one to disappoint so I decided I was going to give it a shot after all not thinking I had what it took, expecting it took a LOT of training time I did not have, at altitude I could not spend time on, and requiring plenty more hiking experience at altitude or not that I did not possess…

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Ready to start the climb!

Getting ready for climbing Kilimanjaro

A million questions started swirling in my head.  How do I best prepare?  What do I need to bring with me?  What do I need to wear to deal with the cold?  Can I do anything to improve my chances at the exertion?  Can I do anything to help me be ready for the high altitude?  What did I need to know in terms of my personal safety?  How much was it going to cost me when it was all said and done?

I was fortunate to have been going to Kili with an outfit like TFK.  They provided a good bit of info and gladly answered all my questions as I researched things and acquired the things I needed.  I won’t repeat here all the things I decided to do in terms of preparation or to pack in terms of clothing and other gear; I will provide links to those posts below.  But I will address here the “how hard” question…

How hard is it to climb Kilimanjaro

Of course, you do not decide to hike to the summit of 19,340 foot mountain on a whim.  OK, perhaps if you are a superstar athlete or have the right genes you can… but most of us don’t fit that category.  Actually, I take that back even being a superstar athlete does not guarantee you will make it to the top.  Physical conditioning is only part of what is needed to make it to Uhuru Peak, the summit.  The other part, well, it is simply how your body deals with the high altitude and lower oxygen levels (for which you can do a couple of things that help a tad).  Nevertheless, you have to have an OK fitness level as you will be exerting your body through a few hours a day of walking and gradual climbs, mixed with some steeper climbs at certain points.

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Leaving the Lava Tower looks harder than it was (Day 3)

Training at altitude would help but, from what I understand, the body’s adjustment to altitude dissipates within a few days/a week so that may not be logistically possible for everyone (to go from training in high altitude in another continent and head straight to climb Kili).  I did not do any high altitude / long climbs as part of my training due to many constraints but certainly they can only help so if you are able to do some of that in the weeks before, then your fitness level will be better.

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Heading to Barafu Camp from where we would launch to the summit (Day 5)

Part of my training as I share elsewhere was walking on a treadmill on a high incline with a backpack loaded with twice the weight I would carry on the mountain.  It was an odd sight at the gym for sure but it helped physically if not just mentally…  That and the fact that I am in general good shape through routine exercise were in my favor but I still struggled summit night (who doesn’t?) and after the Barranco Wall.

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Climbing along (not up) the Barranco Wall had its challenging spots (me in orange!) (Day 4)

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A little while after the Barranco Wall (OK, an hour or so), we got hit by a little rain

So while Kilimanjaro was far from easy (each day I would end completely drained and able to move but barely), I feel it is a reasonable, attainable goal for people with a fair degree of training/fitness.  And, with all that, it will still all depend on how the high altitude hits each particular individual – and that cannot be predicted.

What was the hardest part?

It is a hard question to answer.  We are all so different.  My answer may not be yours.  Things I can think of include:

  • the cold,
  • the longing for a nice glass o’ wine or a beer (OK, I threw that in for comic relief),
  • the badly needing to get up to pee in the middle of the night (if taking Diamox – or not),
  • the constant packing and unpacking,
  • the not showering,
  • the bathroom situation at camp and on the trail,
  • the rocks to climb requiring longer legs than I have,
  • the having a sick tent-mate and wondering for days if you will catch it,
  • etc.

(NOTE:  Note food is not on this list.  I ate great stuff thanks to our great porters & crew!)

But all these things are “overcomeable.”  For instance, while I used wipies every day to sort of clean up after a day of hiking, I had no such thing for the hair.  Yet not even ONCE did I think that it had been days since I had washed my hair last (those who know me will know how incredible THAT sounds).  That’s what makes going up Kili something special.  YES, it is hard in many ways.  YES, physically, no matter how well trained (with those rare exceptions).  But the hardest part is the mental part when you wonder if you really can make it all the way and whether you want to on one of those moments you are too tired to think straight.  The hardest part is in keeping going, in putting one foot in front of the other when you think you can step no more.  And you can.  And you will.  And you will be so amazed when it is all done that you did it.  That you had it in you.  I never knew I did.  But I did.

And this is the face of happiness at 19,340 ft above sea level, with my family close to me.

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At Uhuru Peak – the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro!!

How to Pack to Hike to Everest Base Camp

My hike in Nepal a couple of years ago along the route to Everest Base Camp (EBC) was a great experience.  Hiking in Nepal is unlike my experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or trekking in Patagonia‘s Torres del Paine.  In Kilimanjaro and on the ‘W’ circuit in Patagonia, one is walking along areas where humans do not live:  they are parks.  But to get to Everest Base Camp, one walks along hamlets and a rare town that either pre-date the route’s popularity due to hikers or that arose due to the demand.  Either way, the result is the same:  one gets to experience Nepalese hospitality and customs in a way that enhances the experience; it is not simply a hiking experience, a physical challenge.

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Taking a tea break during a sunny day at a teahouse

Trekking to Base Camp or just a view of Everest

In my hike, I did not have the time off work (yes, I have a regular job with the usual constraints on vacation time!) to be able to get to Everest Base Camp and return.  That was OK with me.  In the trek I joined with Trekking for Kids, there was an option to only go past the Tengboche Monastery to Deboche and then turn back around.  (Note: if you are interested, Trekking for Kids is planning to return there in late 2018 with both the full trek to EBC or the shorter one like I did called “Everest View”, see here more more details on that trek.)

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Deboche – not a big place at all!

While it would have been cool to see EBC, I was not crushed; I was just glad to be able to see Mt. Everest in person (and discover the more proximate and impressive Ama Dablam!) and experience the trekking route.

Considerations driving the packing list

Preparing for hiking along the route to Everest Base Camp was not vastly different than some of my other hikes…

The route to EBC continually goes up in altitude as one goes along (no surprise there!).  The trek itself, if you start in Lukla (the one with the crazy airport), starts at around 2,800 m (9,300 ft).  EBC itself sits at near 5,400 m (17,600 ft).  So that right there will make it cold, like with Kilimanjaro (particularly at night).  Add to that the fact that heating at the teahouses where one stays at is ‘limited’ to be generous (one exception: we stayed at a proper hotel in Namche Bazaar):  the rooms are not heated and the common space where one eats meals and hangs out before heading to bed only usually have a tiny stove in the center.  So, cold weather gear and clothing was key (again, no surprise there).

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The stove in the teahouse’s main room is a popular spot…

As with Kilimanjaro, you have to mind the amount of stuff you bring along as there will be limitations on what can be carried by the support staff.  So being smart about light items, re-usable items, and the concept of “just enough” vs. “just in case.”

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My “packing list” in a visual format 🙂

It is worth noting that some teahouses have a tiny counter that may sell some basics but I would not make my plans with that as the approach to packing – it could be hit or miss. Namche Bazaar, along the way, will have plenty of the basics available (including some medications) as a backup to anything forgotten.

Clothing and Footwear

  • Upper Body and Legs:  The main point to the clothing to be taken is to stay warm and be comfortable first and foremost.  Layers are key to both.  Base layers for the torso and legs, with an added layer for extra warmth, and an outer layer for the coldest of times are the basic framework for the clothing plan.  Wind/Rain top and bottom layers are also important though rain itself was not the biggest of factors when I went; I’d recommend the top having a hood.  Using wool as the material of choice is highly recommended:  it provides excellent warmth while wicking moisture away (keeping you from smelling and helping with the re-use of clothing items…).
  • Feet:  The boots you will need should be, as expected, able to trudge through mud, ice, snow and the like – and be very comfortable.  Liners and woolen socks complete the “outfit” for you feet.  Nothing here is different than for most hiking scenarios in cold weather / high places.  You could also bring a pair of solid walking shows (vs. boots) so you can take a break from the boots.  The initial part of the trail does not necessarily require boots so you could do this if you have space.  Also, you will need some shoes to wear at the teahouse every night so these walking shoes could serve that purpose perhaps.
  • Hands:  Again, nothing terribly surprising here but because of the great and sustained cold temperatures, a hardy pair of gloves is a must.  You may also want to bring lighter gloves as it is not always freezing cold (lower altitudes or inside the teahouse at night).
  • Head:  A skull cap, balaclave or ski hat are a must – keeping the head warm is very important, as we all know.  You may also want to wear something at the teahouses (or even when sleeping as it is cold in those rooms!).


Gear and other practical items

  • Sleeping bag:  While you will sleep on beds in the teahouses, they are not necessarily clean and the cold may be too much for the provided linen.  So a sleeping bag rated for very cold weather is important to bring.  I just brought the one I used in Kili which was 0 degrees Fahrenheit rated.  Very much needed!
  • Night light:  When headed to the bathroom in the middle of the night, this may facilitate a lot of things… like seeing in your room, seeing in the toilet, etc.  Don’t forget batteries!
  • Pillow:  A small pillow would be helpful though teahouses tended to offer pillow.  I had my neck pillow for the air travel but I still used the teahouse-provided ones – covering them, of course…
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Typical sleeping quarters in a teahouse

  • Trekking poles:  Parts of the trek are steep so trekking poles are most helpful providing lift, stepdown, and balance support.  Mine have shock absorbers to help when going down – most helpful for me to protect my imperfect knees!

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    Very steep heading to Namche Bazaar

  • Water:  Treating water is very important and the Steripen is the most practical way (in my opinion) as within a couple of minutes you have water that is safe to drink and tastes normal.  Batteries are the big thing here – bring plenty as you will use this device a lot and others may ask to borrow it; add to that that batteries deplete faster with the cold and high zones you will be traveling through.  Of course, you will need a bottle with a wide neck to be able to properly use the Steripen.  I also will add that I used a Camelbak bag inside my backpack as it was easier and better to sip water through the attached hose than to drink gulps out of a bottle that had to be taken out…


  • Wipies/Tissues:  These are multi-purpose… Clean up after a day’s hike if the shower facilities are not available/too busy/too-dirty.  Also, you could use these if there is not toilet paper available (or dry…) around.  Or other general cleaning purposes!  [I will say as a parenthetical observation that I’d rather use the portable toilet tents used in Kilimanjaro than some of the indoor toilets these teahouses had… the portable toilets were cleaned daily and did not smell as bad and the area under them was just earth, not a dirty indoor floor…]
  • Towel:  A small quick dry towel is important as teahouses do not offer towels.  Quick dry is very important as they will not dry quickly enough overnight, especially with the air so cold.  Along with that, bring your own soap and shampoo…


  • Medications and first aid:  The items here are more specific to each individual’s circumstances but perhaps something to help sleep, something for altitude (like Diamox), something for an unexpected bout of digestive issues (CIPRO; a couple of folks got very ill in our group), something for pains/aches (like knee pain… Ibuprofen was my choice), something to help with treating blisters, etc.  Talk to your doctor about anything specific to your needs.  Also, the Center for Disease Controls in the United States offers travel advice specific to each country and regions within – your doctor should know about it or be able to look it up upon your request.  The route to EBC is unlikely to have too many of the typical tropical diseases (yellow fever, malaria, etc.) due to the climate but you do enter Nepal at a much lower altitude.
  • Personal items:  The usual suspects toothbrush, toothpaste, sunblock, lip balm, deodorant, floss, hand sanitizer, etc.  Whatever you normally need (and your roommate would appreciate you using!).
  • And, of course, duct tape!  Prevents blisters from developing too much, fixes broken things, and who knows what other needs!  I roll mine either on a pencil or on the trekking pole to save space.

I leave you with my view of Mt. Everest!  Pin it to your board!

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Picturesque under a great blue sky!


If you are interested in getting a copy of my Microsoft Excel packing list, leave me a comment below and I will email you the list I used “as is” (no bells and whistles!).  Your needs may be different and I am not saying my list is exactly what YOU need but it may give you a starting point!  

 

Hike to an Inn in North Georgia

If you are a casual reader of this blog, you will know that I enjoy hiking near and far from my home.  One of the “near” hikes on my list to check out was the hike to the Hike Inn in north Georgia.  The Hike Inn can only be accessed by hiking to it hence the name (actually, it’s full name is Len Foote Hike Inn).  There is a service road leading to it but, as the name implies, it is for service, not for guests.  Guests need to do the 5 hour hike in and out.

The trail begins atop Amicalola Falls (about 1.5 hrs/70-mile drive from Atlanta) – a destination to check out onto itself with other trails and a phenomenally tall set of staircases if you want to walk from the bottom of the falls to the top.  On this day, we drove to the top of the falls where we would leave our vehicles.

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The top of Amicalola Falls – awesome place!

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The start of the Hike Inn trail

The Hike Inn is in high demand so you need to book it in advance.  It is well worth it.  The hike is not super strenuous and you are rewarded by a magnificent place to stay.

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Amazing detail of nature

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Along the trail

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Our arrival at the Hike Inn!

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The view from the Hike Inn – magnificent

The accommodations are basic (bunk beds) and you can get private rooms.  The bathrooms and showers are shared but they are actually quite clean and nice (especially when compared with how basic the rooms are).  The toilets actually do not flush but, instead, deposit the waste (nice wording, huh?) somewhere below where it is taken advantage of through processes that they staff will happily explain if you decide to take them up on the tour of the facility (it is actually worth doing).

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Hallway by the rooms

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Bath house building

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There are rules for the toilet

Actually, everything about the place is about taking care of the environment.  The inn offers dining service with support of volunteers who get to stay for free for their service.  The Hike Inn politely stresses the importance of not wasting food (only serve yourself what you need) and actually tracks clean plates’ count at the end of a meal.  The food is delicious and the dining area is an open space where you can meet other hikers.  Really neat.

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Dining area

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Menu of the day

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Chart showing how well diners have done

After dinner (or before), you can sit and relax in any number of places around the inn.  One of my favorites is the upper porch looking east-ish – I love me a good rocking chair with a view!  You can also go for short walks around.  Right in that upper porch area is a game room where people can congregate and play games or read a book.

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The living/game room

The best part of it all is sunrise.  If you wake up early enough (and I recommend it!), go down to the sitting area below and face east.  Bring a blanket.  And then enjoy a majestic sunrise if the weather cooperates.  It is the perfect way to end the stay before starting back on the trail down.  Next time I go, I think I may stay two nights to really enjoy the place and its surroundings!  I leave you with a series of photos from the amazing sunrise I witnessed!

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Chattahoochee River Hikes: Vickery Creek Trail in Roswell

Right by old town Roswell, a few miles outside of Atlanta‘s “perimeter” (an interstate highway that rings the city), is the Vickery Creek Trail.  There are about 7 miles worth of trails in this pocket of nature in the middle of Roswell.  A portion of the trails are near the creek (also named Big Creek) which hits the Chattahoochee River right by the entrance to the parking lot I used to hit the trailhead.  This area is also part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a collection of parks along the river which crosses Atlanta from the NE to the SW (sort of!).Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoVickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

The trail offers moderate hiking, with some fairly flat portions and a few climbs that I would guess are not too strenuous to the average person.  The trails are well marked (the blue square spray painted on trees) and well signed so one can make one’s way around pretty easily.  Because of the time of the year, what seemed to me to be mountain azaleas were in bloom (pinkish flowers). Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoVickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoVickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoVickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoflowers, Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo
What is cool about this trail is seeing the two waterfalls created by a small and a large dam.  The area around the larger waterfall is not large and one has to watch one’s step but it is a pretty spot.Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, waterfall Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, waterfall Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, waterfall Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, waterfall

There are also a covered bridge and a large span bridge further down which facilitate cross the creek to other trailheads and parking areas.   Whether you are here in Atlanta to go up to the mountains or just visiting the city, this trail is one of many easy to visit and yet offering a unique hiking experience!

How Can You See Atlanta’s Carpet of Green? Pine Mountain!

Atlanta is known for its crazy traffic and challenging airport.  But it is also known for the carpet of green that covers the city far and wide.  A week ago (or so), I was looking for a new hike not too far from the city and new to me.  Thankfully, we are not lacking for good hikes within 30 mins of the city (and if you expand that to 1.5 hrs, the possibilities are endless it seems!).

I opted to go north on I-75 to climb Pine Mountain in Cartersville.  The 4.6 round-trip hike was of moderate difficulty and not heavily trafficked.  When I arrived around 9:45 AM, the small parking lot of Main St. (not even a quarter mile from I-75) was pretty full.Atlanta, hiking, Georgia, mountains, nature, outdoors

The trail has a West Loop and an East Loop connected by a pass where the summit is found.  We hiked the southern end of both loops and the returned via the northern loops.  It was beautiful terrain and, with trees still not fully covered with leaves, one could see much further around which is one of the things I enjoy about hiking in colder weather.

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Trail Map

What I enjoyed about this hike, beyond its accessibility for this city dweller was that it offered a great view of the carpet of green that is the greater Atlanta metro area.  In the distance I could see the faint skyline of downtown, Midtown, Buckhead and Sandy Springs with Lake Allatoona in the foreground.  I have to say, this was a neat hike easily fitting in a half day.  I leave you with pictures from the hike and the view though the skyline is too small for it to show well on the photos so may not even see in these photos.  Beware:  a lot that looks like just green forests actually hides neighborhood after neighborhood in greater Atlanta!

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The double hump mountain is Kennesaw Mountain, a famous Civil War battlefield

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Of course, the highway (I-75) is not too far away!

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Lake Allatoona

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Hiking in Nepal: To My Turning Point – Deboche (Day 4)

After a restful and relaxing day in Namche Bazaar, it was time to hit the road for the last leg of my trek before turning back.  As I explained in an earlier post, I was shy a few days in my vacation bank so I would not be going all the way to Everest Base Camp this time.  Day 4 would take me past Tengboche with its beautiful monastery to tiny Deboche.  This day would represent the highest altitude I would reach in this trek, a hundred or so meters under 4,000 m (or some hundred or two feet under 13,000 ft.).

The day would start climbing up out of the half bowl that is Namche Bazaar past the museums and great viewing point I described on the Day 3 post.  And we could also see in the distance the two hanging bridges we had passed on our way to Namche Bazaar.

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Looking back at the spot from Day 3 from here we saw Everest

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The hanging bridges

Then we skirted the side of mountains on a beautiful and changing trail that offered us a new and closer view of Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse than the prior day’s.  We passed a stupa/chorten honoring the sherpas of Everest.

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Headed towards the stupa with the best backdrop!

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Detail of the stupa

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Beautiful and colorful detail of the stupa

Later on we had the best view of my favorite mountain in the area:  Ama Dablam.  It looks like it is a person with two arms and flowing robes!  Pretty darn cool.

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Ama Dablam!

Of course, as we did every day, we stopped for tea at a tea house.  Mint tea or lemon tea – I could never decide which was my favorite.  Sometimes one, sometimes the other!

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Loved admiring typical Tibetan architecture during tea time!

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Lemon tea, anyone?

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Typical outdoor area of a tea house

The team guides and our lead discussed whether to make the push for Tengboche (which involved a serious climb) for lunch or to stop short of the climb to have lunch and rest.  They decided to eat before the climb.  I was torn.  On the one hand, the sooner we got to Tengboche, the sooner the hardest part of the day would be behind us and then lunch would feel more lackadaisical.   I also would not be doing the hardest part of the hike on a full stomach.  But, on the other hand, it would delay eating lunch by a good bit.  So, I didn’t mind which way they decided.  Now having seen Tengboche, I think the spot by the water where we stopped for lunch was perfect for rest and recovery prior to the climb.

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Part of our lunch – soup and rice!

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Toilet in a very scenic place at lunch (you can thank me later for not putting a photo of the inside…)

Overall, that day we would cover about 4 miles (6.5 km) and were expected to be on the trail for about 6.5 hrs.  The most exciting part of the day was when we came to the top of a slope to find ourselves in fairly flat ground looking at the Tibetan Tengboche Monastery through the foggy afternoon.  It was not only a beautiful sight but very surreal.

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Entrance to the monastery (more pix on the next post)

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Lots of color and detail

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We entered the main prayer room but no photos allows – and I respect that

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You better follow these rules – especially no kiss!

Right past it, we stopped at a tea/coffee house before embarking on the short last hour (or less) to our stopping point for the night in Deboche.  With the hardest part of the hike for the day over, it was very enjoyable to kick back and sip away!

Once we got to Deboche, the teahouse was one of the sparsest, most austere of the teahouses I stayed at in this trek.  Being that we were higher, it was colder and the place had one tiny stove in the center of the dining/living room (as do most teahouses).  I definitely stayed more warmly dressed, even through dinner, as I tried to keep by body heat in me.

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View towards the trail from our room

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The rooms were basic but who needs more? Except heat…

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Yeah… heating was very limited and crowds formed

The evening was nothing short of frigid.  There were two toilet rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. But the one upstairs was a Western toilet with a tank that would not fill.  I found it more effort to flush it so, in the middle of the night, I would walk down the very steep staircase to the non-Western toilet room, though by doing so I had to walk further in the cold of the night.  All indoors but, trust me, it was FRIGID; not sure there was much of a difference between inside and outside.  Thank goodness, I had the slight sleepwear and, more importantly, the right sleeping bag!!

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Yeah, that’s our ice-covered window in the morning…  Yes, it was THAT cold.

From this point out, the destination changed – back to Lukla for the flight back to Kathmandu!

Hiking in Nepal: Namche Bazaar and a View of Everest (Day 3)

After the grueling climb to Namche Bazaar, it was REALLY nice to arrive at the Khumbu Lodge for a two-night stay as an acclimatization day for the group headed to Everest Base Camp.  I liked the Khumbu Lodge as it had all the amenities I “longed for” (sounds so dramatic!) and the staff and service were great.  I think the group as a whole liked it a lot.  Good start to our time in Namche!  (No, I did not get a free stay or perks for writing this.  I, like my companions, really liked this lodge!)

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The Khumbu Lodge in the center of the photo

We sat in the dining room catching up on Internet-based things and rested before showering and getting ready for dinner.  I loved the almost 270 degree view from the dining room and the spaciousness of the room.

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Namche Bazaar from the dining room

Namche Bazaar is the most sizable town on the route to Everest Base Camp.  It is nestled on the side of a mountain, carved on its sides sort of auditorium style.  Its alleys are covered with steps and unevenness so one better pay attention – no smooth sidewalk in sight!  (I exaggerate perhaps just a little…).  Of course, it is loaded with souvenir shops but also all the practical places needed for life as a local and as a trekker (drug stores, food markets, coffee shops, etc.).

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A typical ‘street’ in Namche Bazaar

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View over Namche Bazaar

Our schedule had us doing a short hike on the morning on day 3 to a point at the edge of the town, high up, with a fantastic view of Mt. Everest in the distance with Lhotse next to it (the world’s fourth tallest mountain).  We spent a good bit of time on photos and just enjoying the beautiful spot and sunny day.  The short hike was  steep so it was a good warmup for day 4 when we would exit past that same point.  There was a small museum at the top of the climb that was well worth the time to check out and learn more about the area.

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At the monument honoring Sherpa Tenzing Norgay

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Everest on the left and Lhotse on the right

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Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam on the right

Coming back down we made a stop at another local private museum, the Sherpa Culture Museum, at a place where Sir Edmund Hillary had camped on his way up and that he later visited a few times when a hotel was established.  It had a neat collection of household items from the region and also a short movie as well as a souvenir shop (the other one was a public museum with no shop).

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Ticket to the Sherpa Culture Museum

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Map on the Sherpa Museum ticket

Sherpa Culture Museum

Sherpa Culture Museum

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Typical Tibetan design in a window at Namche Bazaar

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Yep, this is the real thing. Good for burning in a stove…

Later that day, I was thrilled to discover Hermann Bakery where I ate a nice pastry and enjoyed a latte.  Plus, we got to used a very fast Internet connection (that I could also tap from my hotel room!) which always makes me happy.

This last photo will be the image of Namche Bazaar that sticks with me forever – a gorgeous spot in the Himalayas!

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View from the lodge’s dining room

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Read on:  Day 4 – To my turning point: Deboche

 

Hiking in Nepal: On the Way to Namche Bazaar! (Day 2)

On Day 2, we left our teahouse in the tiny spot of Tok Tok (9,000  ft / 2,800 m) at around 8:45AM to head, following the route to Everest Base Camp, to Namche Bazaar, a rather bigger town than most in the area (actually, THE biggest).  This would have us climb over 2,000 ft in the last 2.5 hours of the hike that day, a rather ambitious and challenging effort (except for the super fit and those used to the altitude, perhaps – I fell under neither success category…).

Leaving our spot in Tok Tok, we stood for a group photo as one of the trekkers was not continuing beyond Tok Tok.

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Group photo!

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Our first bridge of the day was right outside the teahouse – watch out for the pack animals!

On the trail to Everest Base Camp…

Soon thereafter, off we went walking on terrain that was becoming familiar to us:  rocks, dirt, steps, pack animals, farms, debris from the earthquake, reconstruction, and the river.  It is a rugged but peaceful terrain; except when the pack animals come – at that point you make a quick move towards the inside of the trail, not the side facing the steep dropoff!  On this day, we would cross the river four times if memory serves me right.

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Steep climbs every day!

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Pack animals: these were carrying a very light load

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Typical stop for trekkers

Entering the Sagarmatha National Park

Later that morning, we officially entered the Sagarmatha National Park (which is the park where Mt. Everest sits) via the Jorsalle gate (which is right outside of Monju on the way to Jorsalle).  There was signage offering good advice for trekkers in dealing with acute mountain sickness (there are always those who are unprepared…).  More importantly we passed a traditional kani gate which incorporates prayer wheels and colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings.  This gate marks our entrance in the sacred valley of the Sherpa (a term that refers to an ethnic group, not a job, as we learned…):  the Khumbu.  I loved the rules suggested to those who enter the valley (see photo).

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The kani gate marking the entrance to the sacred valley

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Ceiling painting

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Wall painting and the ever-present prayer wheels at the kani gate

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Warnings about acute mountain sickness

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Follow these rules!

Breaks from the trail:  tea and food

While the actual walk is rewarding despite the challenging parts, one of my favorite moments is when we stop 🙂  Yes, it is about getting a break from the effort.  But it is also about the camaraderie over that cup of tea, lemon or mint with the latter being my favorite.  As we all have different paces, non-walking time is when we get to share with those we don’t keep up pace with (or those who can’t slow down easily!).  After tackling the first mile (which was not a walk in the park), we made a restroom stop at Benkar but did not even sit-  this was not our morning break for tea.

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Brief stop to use the ‘facilities’ and take a snack out

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Resuming our hike with a nice downhill

So we trudged along and, after we entered the Sagarmatha NP, we later hit our morning break at Monju (or Monzo) at a place that I would stop at on the way back to Lukla.  The outdoor terrace was very spacious and comfortable (perhaps because we were the only ‘crowd’ there) and the temperature was great so we enjoyed sitting in the terrace sipping our tea!

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Tea time in Monju!

And then we proceeded to Jorsalle where, not 30 minutes later, we would have lunch outdoors by the river at a teahouse there.  It was a great stopping point right by the trail (as most are).  It was a good break before the final push, and I mean PUSH, to Namche Bazaar – we would be starting a serious vertical climb over a rather short horizontal distance.  Heaven help me!  We left our lunch ‘resting place’ at around 1 PM.

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Approaching Jorsalle, our lunch ‘town’

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Lunch time in the sun!

Bridges crossing the Dudh Kosi River

Before I get to the monster climb…  This day was made fun by the many bridges low and high, short and long we would cross.  If you are not a fan of suspension bridges, this may not be your favorite day but the most important thing to mind are the pack animals, not the height of the bridges!  Here are some images from the “day in bridges.”

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Pack animals have right of way – if you are smart!

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Lovely scenery from the bridge’s vantage point

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One of the smaller bridges we dealt with

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Beautiful spot (notice the prayer flags)!

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Loved walking this close to the Dudh Koshi River

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And then we got to this… (the bottom bridge is closed now)

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And we are about to walk across the highest one!

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View down from the highest suspension bridge

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View down from the highest suspension bridge

And our awesome endpoint:  Namche Bazaar

The route to Everest Base Camp is not a steady uphill.  No place ever is (even Mt. Kilimanjaro has its downhills as you climb) but this was as much going down as you have gone up in many stretches.

In fact, this day, on a 5.3-mile (8.5 km) route, our net climb was around 2,300 ft (about 800 m) – we climbed much more (upwards of 4,000 ft) and descended a good bit.  But after lunch what we faced was mostly a severe uphill, especially after the last suspension bridge (the highest one).  And the trail was very rugged to boot.  Hard stuff.  I didn’t know how I could finish it.  And remember, we were climbing to our end point at over 11,300 ft (3,400 m) so the thin air was having an impact (as a reference point, once in Namche Bazaar, we would be at 67% oxygen level vs. sea level!!).  I had to stop every now and then just to catch my breath especially after a stretch where the ‘steps’ (rocks) were higher. Not knowing how much more I really had was both a blessing and a curse.  Certainly I would not want to know how much more most of the way but maybe during the last 30 minutes I would have wanted to know that Namche was THAT close.

With the incredible climb at the end, Namche Bazaar could not have come sooner.   So, it was awesome when we rounded a corner about 2.5 hours after lunch and we saw this town incredibly nested in what looked like mother nature’s own amphitheater:  Namche Bazaar!  It was a photo op moment for sure and we had earned the rest day coming up on Day 3!

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I shall name this photo: “The first time I saw sweet Namche”

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The moment I stopped when I rounded the corner – best moment ever!

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My trek roommate and I celebrating we had survived

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Check out other related posts!

Hiking in Nepal: Lukla to Tok Tok (Day 1)

My trek in the Himalayas followed the route to Everest Base Camp.  I only had two weeks’ vacation so I was short one week to make it all the way to “EBC” since my visit to Nepal included an extra number of days to help in the re-building of a school that was destroyed during the April 2015 earthquake in the village of Kumari.  It was a great trip and I did not want to miss seeing Everest in person.  Making that decision was not the hardest part, figuring out what I need to take was!  (Read here for how I packed for the trek!)

However, I went on this trek with Trekking for Kids because I knew some of the folks going and it was not a bad time to be away from work (is there ever a good time??).  So my trek was going to be from Lukla to Deboche, past the Tengboche monastery.  As it turned out, that ended up being a good choice since my stepfather died back home the day before I left Nepal for home.  But, before that turn of events, I was already glad I had chosen to not go all the way.

Day 1 took us from Lukla (2,860 metres (9,383 ft)) to Tok Tok (2,760 metres (9,o55 ft)). While an overall descent, there were plenty of climbs and descents along the way!

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Our starting point and ending point for day 1

Starting the trek:  getting to Lukla

Starting the trek in Lukla required first getting to Lukla.  As I shared in an earlier post, either one does a local bus and then a few days’ hike to get to Lukla or one flies into one of the “most dangerous” airports in the world:  Lukla (LUA).  I did the latter for a couple of good reasons:  that was what was pre-planned by Trekking for Kids and I didn’t have enough vacation time anyway!

You can read the details in the earlier post but the short of it is:  I made it to Lukla alive and without too much suffering 🙂

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The Lukla airport – a very short and dramatic runway!

Getting the trek going:  leaving Lukla

After we landed in Lukla, getting our bags was a piece of cake (the airport is tiny, after all).  From there to our breakfast stop (at a hotel we would return to at the end of the trek) was a very short walk (Lukla is tiny, after all).  We got there and, as we had left Kathmandu at the literal crack of dawn, we proceeded to have some breakfast before heading out.  Our guides had to sort our things with the porters we were picking up in Lukla so we had ample time.  I can’t really recall what I had but nothing too heavy as we were leaving for a few hours’ hike.Everyone was itching to go and, when we finally did, I think we had a little bit of adrenaline flowing!  Close to leaving Lukla, we came to our first gate and prayer wheels and the backdrop was phenomenal in the deep blue sky ahead.  It was a sign of the great day ahead!

Though we started the hike at over 9,000 ft, we warmed up pretty quickly as the hike progressed.  It felt so good!  Hamlets in this part of Nepal are charming probably because of the color applied to the window and door frames and we started noticing this early on.

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Approaching a hamlet

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House along the trek route

We crossed our first hanging bridge on this day (one of two hanging bridges that day).  It was not too high (I am not afraid of heights, thankfully) and it was certainly long.  We would follow this river all the way to near Namche Bazaar.  We also crossed another bridge, a truss one, that day.  I noticed that some parts of the route, as it passed through small “hamlets,” were paved with stones while others were dirt paths.  It was nice to have the variation in the route – just like it was nice to have all the uphills and downhills mixed.

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Approaching the Dhudh Kosi River and the hanging bridge

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Beautiful waters, courtesy of glacierland!

Buddhist faith along the route

Along the way we passed different-sized prayer wheels and collections of Tibetan tablets (in sanskrit) that are so iconic and that speak to the concreteness of the faith in that region of Asia.  I tried to not miss spinning prayer wheels and we certainly made sure we passed the “monuments” on their left as tradition/faith requires.

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Sanskrit tablets and a stupa

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A prayer wheel asking to be spun

A hiker has to eat!

Along the way we stopped for lunch at a beautiful spot where the route made a 90-degree angle.  The place, the Wind Horse Lodge and Restaurant was a perfect spot, idyllic, for the stop.  We sat outside at tables on the small lawn, graced by marigolds along the edges.  Until clouds rolled over and it started getting cold.  We promptly found tables indoors and the lunch was pretty darn good:  fried noodles and rice along with fried mini empanadas (my Latin roots betray me as that is not what they call them there!).

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Lunch!

Ending our hike in Tok Tok

Bellies full and feet rested, we proceeded on our hike.  I try on these treks to not study the route we are going to take as I don’t want to be “expecting” the next stop or calculating how much longer we have to go – I want to enjoy the moment though, I admit, at times when I am feeling tired, I start trying to figure out how much longer I have to go 🙂

We arrived at our teahouse in Tok Tok (River View Lodge) and, as usual, it is a great feeling to hear the words “We are here” when we arrive at our resting place for the night!  It was a tiny spot nestled between a hill and the river.  I wish it had been a tad warmer to stay outside in the evening.

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My room at the teahouse

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The dining room (aka, hanging out room) at the teahouse

In the end, it was a spectacular first day trekking in the Himalayas and I slept well that night!  I leave you with one of my favorite views from that day!

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Just magnificent

 

Flying into Dangerous Lukla Airport in Nepal

I recall seeing a few years ago a TV show about the world’s ten most dangerous airports. Tegucigalpa, St. Maarten and a few others made the list.  And so did Lukla, Nepal.  Lukla is the typical starting point for anyone trekking along the route to Everest Base Camp, or to other points in the Himalayas. The alternative to the 35-min flight to Lukla (LUA) from Kathmandu is a long bus ride plus a few days of trekking to reach Lukla. I was not thrilled at the prospect but there really was no realistic choice.

Heading to Lukla

The Lukla airport was built by none other than Sir Edmund Hillary himself in 1965 to facilitate developing the trekking business the local population needed; it was just a dirt airstrip until just 1999.  Flights in and out of Lukla (a town of a few thousand inhabitants perched high at around 2,840m / 9,300 ft above sea level) mainly fly in the morning when the weather and visibility are what they need to be for a successful flight (read: does not crash).  Only planes that can handle short takeoff and landings can operate from Lukla as the runway is only 1,500 ft long.  Flights can easily be canceled for the day if the conditions are not right which could be more than one day in a row, leaving hundreds stranded in this small hamlet.  So beyond the flight involving a “dangerous” airport, one gets to worry about will the flight even go and what happens to the rest of the itinerary if the day is bust…  In any case, there are several airlines that run flights continuously in the morning to and from Lukla.  It is like a bus service of sorts with planes making quick turnarounds at either airport to take advantage of the right weather.

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Boarding pass to Lukla

The domestic terminal in Kathmandu is small and easy once you get past the chaos of getting to the airline counter and checking in.  After being dropped off, we walk along a covered walkway to a building in the back past a new building under construction.  The old building was old indeed but it was functional.  Once the flight is called (other Lukla flights were called too), we stepped out and there were 2-3 buses awaiting to take people to their planes.  It was a bit confusing and finally someone pointed us to our bus based on our boarding pass.

The plane sat maybe 20 people and we were not full.  I got a seat on the left so I would be facing north (towards the Himalayas).  Unfortunately, the windows were very dirty which assured that photos would not be National Geographic material (that is my excuse anyway…).  Gosh, if they’d let us, I would have gotten off the plane pre-takeoff and cleaned my window!

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The taller Himalayas via dirty window

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At times, the ground was not far below us…

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Small village – one can see the local stupa left of center

Before taking off, the flight attendant (yes, there is one) checked our seat belts were fastened and handed out hard candy (to choke on when the plane jumped?? no, thanks) and cotton balls for our ears.  That and getting us in and out of the plane was all she had time to really do on such a short flight.

Dangerous Airport?

The danger reputation stems from the fact that the runway starts at the edge of the mountain and runs uphill (a 12% grade) until either the plane has stopped and turned or, it has met the wall.

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The full runway (control tower on the right)

I have read and was told by a pilot that part of the issue with landing is that the uphill nature of the runway (the far end being higher than the end nearer to the pilot) can trick the eye giving a false sense to the pilot of the aircraft’s vertical position before landing, potentially leading to accidents.

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A plane meets the wall

On the reverse (the takeoff), either the plane catches air at the end of the runway or it drops when the runway runs out until it catches lift.

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See what I mean about “up or drop” (Source: www.theaustralian.com)

Truthfully, and maybe naively, neither landing nor takeoff worried me. What worried me was the turbulence that can be encountered on the way to and from Lukla.  Not helping with things was the name of our airline:  Tara Air.  I was happy until someone pronounced it “terror” air which sent images flying all across my brain of a small plane jumping around due to high winds – a terror inducing ride ahead?  Tara Air, Lukla, Kathmandu, Nepal, flight, airline, airport, Himalayas, trekking

Upon boarding, I looked into the seat pocket in front of me and found the air sickness bag which left no doubt as to what its purpose was…Tara Air, Lukla, Nepal, air sickness bag, vomit bag

The flight into Lukla had gone very smoothly – no turbulence at all!  And then we started circling.  I was thinking to myself:  “so close and now we start circling” – was it weather-related, I wondered?  The delay turned out to not be about fog or weather issues and we experienced no turbulence. Lukla airport only has four parking spots for the planes so we had to wait for a plane to take off to get a spot.  The flight back from Lukla was also completely smooth giving me a 2-for-2 no-turbulence flights.

Back to landing in Lukla:  it was pretty darn cool as the small plane’s cockpit was open to us so we could see the runway ahead as we landed – or the mountains we were flying into before that!

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The view out of the cockpit

Leaving Lukla, the plane actually took off the ground before the runway ended so no drop was experienced, maybe to the chagrin of those in the plane who love roller-coasters – but not me!  Here is a video of my own takeoff – notice when we leave the runway before it ends (it is a noisy video so make sure you are not at max volume!).

In the end, as you may surmise, this was a far better choice than the bus and the walk 🙂  And now I can say I “survived” one of the world’s “most dangerous” airports!

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Happy flyer

How Does One Pack for A Trek in Nepal?

In about 6 days, I leave on a trip to Nepal.  Once again, I will be trekking with Trekking for Kids to improve the lives of children around the world.  This is a special trip for several reasons, one of which is the devastation from the April 2015 earthquake calls for the world’s support for this developing nation.  It has been long enough where our presence will not be a hindrance to the important efforts that happen immediately post-earthquake.  Our aim is to fundraise the monies needed to re-build the school in the remote village of Kumari, pretty much destroyed during the earthquake and still not recovered.  The school serves about 400 children and we got news this week that the building permit and plans were approved by the local authorities.  If you would like to contribute, please visit my fundraising page and donate, nothing too small (or too big!).  After we visit Kumari and spend a few days with the kids and doing some projects, we will depart to do a 5-day hike that, weather permitting, will allow me to see Mt. Everest in person.  I will not be going to Everest Base Camp as it takes an extra week that I cannot afford with work but that’s OK.  I will get to spend time with some folks I have trekked before and I am looking forward to that!

So the point of the post was to share with you how it looks to pack for this type of trek with multiple elements to it.  This is my spare bedroom, all loaded with my stuff.  Now, to figure out how to fit it in the orange bag on the left and the hiking backpack that will serve as my carry-on piece.  Wish us luck!

hiking, trekking, packing, Nepal, trip, travel

 

Trekking the W Circuit at the Torres del Paine: Day 5

After the fun of day 4 with all the wind and beautiful views of the lakes and the Torres del Paine, the big day finally arrived:  no, not because it was the last day of hiking but because it was the day we were trekking up to the lagoon to see the peaks close and personal.  But it would all depend on the weather as there could be rain or cloud coverage over the iconic conical (alliteration!) peaks.  The morning light showed everything looked good – and majestic!

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Samsung Galaxy, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

View of the top of the range

About an hour later, the light had changed and a rainbow appeared.

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Samsung Galaxy, photo, trekking, travel, rainbow

Rainbow nicely framing the massif

The Refugio Chileno

Trekking from the Refugio Chileno, where we had stayed overnight, back to our exit point at Hotel Las Torres would be about 9 kms.  But before starting on that, we would go up to the Mirador Las Torres, about 4 kms away and mostly going up about 380 m to reach the lagoon at around 875 m above sea level.  So, in total, this day would be 17 kms worth of distance covered.

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

The main lodge at the refugio (nearest to us, the dining room)

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

The refugio also offers space for camping, if that’s your thing!

I have not mentioned how the refugios work.  They usually have rooms with several bunk beds (stacks of 2 or 3), shared bathroom facilities (with private showers), and communal dining (usually scheduled as not everyone fits at once).  I am not saying they are super clean but they were generally better than expected.  The meals were acceptable if not good and wine and beer were always available.  I gained weight in this 5-day hike!

Getting to the Mirador Las Torres

Alright, back to the hike.  The route up was not always a nice path, there were a couple of spots with makeshift wooden bridges to cross small streams.  But that all added to the fun of the climb.

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Rickety bridge…

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Another bridge

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Enjoyed all these bridges!

Of course, going up was more fun due to the expectation of arriving to the top mirador (viewing point), of getting as close to the Torres as possible.  Returning to the Refugio Chileno, by comparison, was slightly less exciting but probably more tranquil.

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Peaceful trails

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Roaring waters

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A very unique tree

So, while the weather had been iffy in the morning, it improved as the climb up happened.  Sadly, we did have some cloud coverage at the top of the towers as you can see in the photos.  We heard that they cleared up later – just the nature of the weather down in Patagonia:  you never know!  Though mildly disappointed, it was still a great feeling to make it up there.

hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

For those who may need coordinates…

hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

The beautiful lagoon and cloud-covered peaks of the Torres del Paines

hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

My roommate Dave and I – ’til the next trek!

And then leaving the Torres del Paine National Park…

Once we returned to the refugio, we did the usual (pit stop, eat something, etc.) and then picked up our stuff and started to make our way out of the park and our phenomenal 5-day hike of the W circuit of the Torres del Paine.  The vistas continued to be breathtaking all the way until the end of the hike, pretty much.

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

Looking along the creek/gorge near the Refugio Chileno

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

Just beautiful!

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

Leaving the gorge area

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

One final bridge and it is over… 🙁

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

Looking back before the final short stretch…

I was on the front group and I ran into the Hotel Las Torres, where the bus was picking us up, to make a pit stop when I spotted the bar.  And that’s when I remembered how, upon finishing descent from Mt. Kilimanjaro, one of my fellow trekkers, Len Stanmore, and I grabbed a beer (I wish I could have added “cold” as an adjective but it wasn’t…) to celebrate.  So I ordered a beer for me and fellow trekker Paula who was there with me and we celebrated completing the W circuit in proper form!

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Done and cheers!

With this, I end the series of the hike in the Torres del Paine National Park.  It is as beautiful a landscape as there exists in this planet:  the Chilean Patagonia.  I have been blessed with seeing it once as more of a tourist (in 2010) and again, fulfilling a wish I had since 2010, of returning to trek the W circuit so I could see everything further up close than in 2010.  I am lucky guy indeed.

lagoon, hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

A happy trekker

 

Go back to day 4 of this Patagonia trek!

——————-  Check out other treks    —————–

Kilimanjaro

Romania

Camino de Santiago

Nepal

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