Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nepal EBC Trek

I managed to convince a couple of friends to go on an Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar trek with me over the Dec hols. I had been there about ten years ago, and I had unfinished business to complete. There were five of us and we decided to maximise the time we have in Nepal and chose to skip the annual Singapore marathon. We flew off that morning as many of our running friends were chugging their lungs out. I was very much looking forward to the trip, it had been many long and stressful weeks leading up to this.

A trek to EBC and Kala Pattar takes minimally 12 days. Throw in a buffer day for the weather, and another 2 days to fly in and out of Nepal, and we are looking at a 15-day (minimal) itinerary:

4 – 18 Dec 2011  ITINERARY:

4-Dec: Day 1 – Arrive in Kathmandu
5-Dec: Day 2 – Fly to Lukla (2800m) , Trek to Phakding (2650m)
Day 3 – Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3400m)
Day 4 – Namche Bazaar rest day, short acclimatisation hike
Day 5 – Namche Bazaar to Tyangboche (3900m) and Deboche (3700m)
Day 6 – Deboche to Dingboche (4200m)
Day 7 – Dingboche rest day, short acclimatisation hike
Day 8 – Dingboche to Lobuche (4900m)
Day 9 – Lobuche to Gorakshep (5150m), then Everest Base Camp (5350m) after lunch
Day 10 – Gorakshep to Kala Patthar (5550m, highest point), descend to Periche (4280m)
Day 11 – Periche to Namche Bazaar
Day 12 – Namche Bazaar to Lukla
Day 13 – Spare day (for flight delays or extra rest day)
17-Dec: Day 14 – Lukla fly to Kathmandu
18-Dec: Day 15 – Depart Kathmandu

This itinerary allowed for proper acclimatisation, but our descent was a bit of a rush. We actually got to Lukla by Day 12, but could not get onto a flight out to Kathmandu. For those 'proven' above 5,000m, you could potentially remove the rest day at Namche. Some people chose to climb Kala Patthar after lunch in Gorakshep on Day 9 and trek to EBC in the morning of Day 10 instead.

We were very lucky in that we could fly out to Lukla right on schedule. Flight delays between Kathmandu and Lukla are very common because of the fog. When a small window of clear weather opened up, all the airlines scrambled to send flights out on the 35 - 45min flight. The flight is memorable for first-time visitors to the Everest region, the aircraft is a dodgy-looking propeller plane, squashed and tiny. But don't worry, the pilots are amongst the most experienced in the world, simply because the Lukla landing strip is such a short one, any miscue and one would overshoot into the mountains or off the cliff. :) The runway is deliberately sloped so that the planes make use of gravity to brake or takeoff. (Tip: If you are flying from Kathmandu to Lukla, sit on the left hand side of the aircraft so that you can see the mountain range as you approach Lukla. On the return, sit on the right hand side.)

In the initial days, we were greeted with lush greenery, endless suspension bridges over rapid rivers (shudders to think how cold the water would be) and many stupas and prayer wheels. Nepalis walk around those objects of blessings in a clockwise manner. We were on a teahouse trek (ie. staying in the lodges rather than outdoor tents). On our first day's trek to Phakding, our porter overshot the lodge and almost reached Namche. He had my and WH's duffels and had all of us worried when it was nearing sunset and our things were nowhere to be seen. Our assistant guide and another porter went back down towards Lukla to look for him, while our guide went upwards towards Namche. Someone finally found him and it was a huge relief when he showed up with our duffels. 

The food in the teahouses was generally the same. One could get the usual dal baht (rice with veg and lentil soup), fried rice/ noodles, momos (like gyozas) toast (if there was bread), eggs, pizzas and chicken or yak steak if there was meat. The menu was the same over 12 days, the only difference being the prices in the right hand column. Things got more expensive as we trekked higher, since everything had to be manually transported from Kathmandu to Lukla to wherever the destination was. It was amazing to see teenage boys carrying supplies up the mountainous trails, their steady cadence and assured footsteps putting us to shame. I saw one boy who had 2 boxes of Pepsi on his back, each containing 9 x 1.5L bottle, amongst many other things. The Pepsi alone weighed close to 30kg. On the average, each porter carried 50 - 60kg of duffels (approx 2-3 bags), and easily outwalked anyone of us.

Anyway, back to the food. After a few days of staring at the same menu, we ran out of options and appetite. The comfort food we brought from home offered much relief. Ikan billis, preserved olive veg (the kind that goes with porridge), green chilli (no sambal in case the stomach churned in high altitude), Japanese sesame seasoning flakes, preserved bean curd, and lots of savoury chips and nuts. Bah kwa would have been nice but we forgot to pack it in. Oops.

We trekked through awesome scenery and up-close views of famous mountains like Ama Dablam, Chola East, Lobuche, and of course Everest. At one teahouse, my window had a perfect view of Ama Dablam (I called it my ice-cream cone because it was shaped like a semi-licked Mac cone!). We got to Gorakshep in the afternoon and decided not to attempt the Kala Pattar summit in case we did not have enough time. We opted to trek to the Everest Base Camp instead. Our guy gave us a turn-around cutoff time of 3pm so that we had enough sunlight to get back to the tea house. It was a mad dash, literally! But we made it the base camp in about 2h, a lot less time than usual. So I finally saw what EBC was like. That was the closest that I had gotten to Everest. *dream...*

The next morning, we set off for Kala Pattar at 430am. Kala Pattar meant "Black Rock", so there it was, a rocky peak at about 5,500m. There was enough moonlight but it was cold. I wore my down jacket and shell. Not as windy or brutal as Aconcagua, but still enough to numb my toes. We got to the summit just slightly after day break. The last stretch to the peak required some scrambling, and it was only a small area to house so many trekkers. Unfortunately, we missed the snow on our trip. Typically, the EBC would have been all white and snowed under. One would have witnessed snow from Tyangboche or Dingboche. But that year, it was zilch. EBC was exposed rocks, brown and grey throughout. Kala Pattar was similarly drab. :(  Perhaps that was why the weather was so chilly, the cold before the snow.

The summit day was a very long-drawn day. After descending to Gorakshep and getting some lunch, we rushed downwards to Periche. We arrived there close to 5pm, a full 12h cycle since we started off in the wee morning. One of my friends enquired about horse riding the rest of the way, and it was a whooping USD300! So we walked on and took about another 2 days to trek out to Lukla. However, there was a backlog of flight delay and stuck passengers who were waiting to fly out. So we had to stay an extra night and could only fly out to Kathmandu 2 days after reaching Lukla.

It was a very fun trip, especially when the company is good. You learn a lot of things about one another that you don't get a glimpse of in urban fast-paced Singapore. I was pleased that we ended the trip with more converts and fans of the mountains, and we started to dream of our next destination. Ahhh, put me in the moutnains any day! :)

You can view our trip photos online. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmasy Runs

It was a short week since we got back from Nepal. I had two runs with MF club and then another short one on Xmas day. The weather was gloomy for most days, with the clouds dumping on us with a vengeance. It was certainly a wet chilly Xmas. The runs were ok, but not great. I suppose I have yet to get back into the groove. I doubt I will be able to harness the energies to tackle triathlons for a while, getting kinda lazy. And the mountains still beckon not matter how long I go away from them.