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Everest Trek part II: The descent.

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If you’ve ever read or watched those movies that are made about those climbers who have climbed Everest, most of them are made strictly because something bad happened. Thousands of people, and I think it is up to tens of thousands now have made the summit of Everest, but yet the few movies out there as well as the books are about the ones who were part of a climb where people died. Well, according to the pro’s the most dangerous part of the climb is not making it to the top, but the descent. Well, I would like to mirror that part of interest as I and a bunch of people also went through the same ordeal. Now proportionately most of us had just done a package tourist trek to base camp or the vicinity while the more famous deaths occurred from actually climbing Mount Everest, none of us did the death thing, but were very proportionately trapped inconveniently for up to thirteen days. Maybe I should write a book about my experience, “Into Thin Air: Inconvenienced for up to 13 days”. Nice, I like that. I guess I’ll just write this post as a feeler and see what happens.

As the last post detailed the up and partial descent, I guess it would be as good as a start as anywhere.

From Namche Bazaar, I still had to walk about six hours to Lukla where the plan was to board a plane that could fly the one weeks walk in just around 45 minutes. The flight was a bit pricey at $121US, but with my Visa counting down, getting back with some extra time would allow me to get back to India without purchasing another $60US Visa extension. I ended up walking back with a couple of guys I met on the way up Tom (Aussie) and Saideep (Nepali). We had all been trekking for a while and were really looking forward to getting back to Kathmandu. As the piece de resistance, we got about half way when the skies opened up and made us swim the last few kilometers. When we got there, it was like finishing a marathon. Mostly though we were all ready to burn our boots and the words “fuck trekking” popped up quite a bit. I hadn’t bought a ticket yet and was quite happy when I got a seat on the first flight the next day. We decided to stay at the fanciest hotel available and I took a most refreshing skin burning shower. We celebrated with Yak steak sizzlers all around followed by beers and a coke for me. It was a joyous time. Before heading to our rooms we paid our tabs because it would be an early morning with no time for fussing about.

And then it began. We had to check in at 6:30am for our 7am flight out. Apparently there is an alarm that goes off at the airport, which was around a block away, when the planes take off from Kathmandu Airport. Bright and early we were up and ready to go. I had a corner room with wrap around windows so when I looked out I saw cotton balls. Not “cotton ball, cotton balls,” but the inside of a puffy white cloud. I shrugged it off as some occurrence that just happens but didn’t connect the fact that there would be a possibility that planes couldn’t fly through Himalayan style mountains without radar. Saideep and I met up and we took a slow stroll through the empty streets to the airport. There was no one around except for a sleeping security guard. Saideep woke the guy up and even without speaking Nepalese I could understand “Idiots- look around”. So we went back to the hotel.

Okay, secrets up. Much like the security guards ability to make very good sense to us, I am sure most people have got the jist of what happened next. For the next 12 days we would wake up, look out the window, groan, and go back to sleep. We were fogged in.

So how best to write about 13 days stuck into the Himalayas? I guess small stories. So here goes.

The story of Robyn: He trained for two years hiking around the neighborhood and using his free time to do as much trekking in the unfortunately low highlands around Sydney. It was going to be one of those life long dreams fulfilled. He and his buddies liked to do special guys only adventure trips. They planned on doing three weeks trekking to the much anticipated Everest Base Camp followed by doing the Goyko lakes circuit. All the high tech trekking gear was bought and plans were set. They even set it up for the wives to meet them on the way back down in Namche Bazaar for a celebratory party.

Off the plane, things just didn’t seem right. Out of breath and feeling a bit woozy he wrote it off as just a rough start. The trek to Namche was devastating, but the peer pressure kept him going. By the time he left Namche things were definitely wrong. The first stop on the trek was Tengboche and it was hell. AMS kicked in and it was a dreadful sleepless vomiting night. Even before sunrise he knew it was over. As soon as his friends were up he said his farewells and with the help of a porter he set off down the hill dazed and barely capable of walking. Three excruciating days later he made it back to Lukla. He checked into the best hotel in the village, called his wife to tell her he was coming home and confirmed his ticket for the next morning’s flight out since he had just missed the last days flight by one hour. He just wanted it over. No sight seeing, no resting, just end it, the first flight out of Nepal to get him home. 13 days.

The story of Josh. An American doing a round the world trip in an extended American vacation. Unlike many other nationalities where a round the world trip is usually a year, he could only eek out a two month stretch. Just finishing British Columbia Law School and starting a new job, promising his girlfriend that since he would be missing four of their friends weddings, he would definitely be back for her best friends wedding, and their move in together would follow the day after. Time was running short so he planned a fly into Lukla, a day walk to Namche Bazaar to see the entrance to the Himalayas, and the following day to walk back to Lukla for a flight to Kathmandu and then the connections to get home.

He had some built in free time but four days of no flying cancelled those out. A local business man suggested faking an injury and having a helicopter fly up and writing it off to insurance. A light bulb went off and things seem to be possible again. Who cares about the money? A very pissed off girlfriend and falling behind on life had more value than cash. The plan was to just pay for a rescue/private helicopter to come up and take him down. Raj a British medical student needed to get back for a National Guard trip before his term started. He quickly volunteered to cover half of the $3500US cost. Four days later they were still in Lukla as even helicopters couldn’t make it in. One of the few situations where money did nothing. The wedding was over. The moving had to be done without him. The new job was becoming pressure. They finally did make it out after eight days when it was found that a rescue helicopter heading up to Everest Base camp to rescue somebody had gotten forced down about a two hour walk away from Lukla. After a day of phone calls and the offer to fly the local businessman and his friend with them, they were able to charter that helicopter to take them back to Kathmandu as they were not able to go farther up the mountain.

The story of the British Boy Scouts. Approximately 36 scouts with chaperones as well as guides and porters arrived into Lukla the day before their assigned fly out schedule. Day four meant that their chartered flight back to England had to be cancelled. Booking a flight for forty people to England without knowing for sure that they could make it was a big risk. Costs were stacking up. Parents were pushing for what was being done. Two Russian helicopters were stuck in Kathmandu indefinitely. They eventually got approval by the troop commander back home to walk the three days to a neighboring airport where either a plane or helicopter might possibly be able to fly in. They still had two days wait even after making the hike out.

Assorted short stories:
Tom (The Aussie)- Not so much of a story early on as we ended up hanging out a bit grabbing all the English language videos we could find, playing pool and hanging with a couple of Scottish girls, as well as eating a shitload of food. His heartbreak story occurred on day 10 when we woke to find a crystal clear morning. It was the day. Everyone in the village and all the foreigners were lined up at the airport ready for their planes to take them away. While waiting in the departure lounge I noticed that he and Saideep were nowhere to be found. They were on a different airline so I wasn’t concerned. After a while the alarm went off at the airport and soon we saw planes flying around the airport. The first two planes were from the same company and they landed dropping off passengers and picking up new ones in not more than ten minutes. It was sheer joy on both sides. The third plane to come in was from my airline. I was on the second flight of that airline so I watched the lucky high dollar tour group people get on the first flight and take off. The next one was mine. Cheers went up when the green underbelly of our plane came into view. Cries of joy turned into despair when the plane circled a couple of times and then fog closed the airport. I was disappointed and didn’t think it could be possible to get worse than that. Well, I was wrong. Tom and Saideep following our hotel manager’s instruction to just re-use the prior days boarding pass, did not check in. They just assumed that their ticket would be valid. Things changed when they attempted to go down to the departure lounge and the security would not let them through. Even though they were there from day one, since they did not check in, their spot was given away and they ended up watching not just one, but both of the flights that they should have been on take off without them. Talk about pissed. Tom ended up splitting a helicopter with the Scottish girls the day before everything cleared up and everyone was flown out.

Duug- An American, Harvard graduate, currently studying for his Phd in Asian religion at UCLA. Hated trekking and was supposed to have been home to spend time with his parents before going back to school. Ended up getting a flight on his eighth day, one day after missing the last helicopter. He was also on my flight which on day 10 flew by close enough so that we could see the company logo, but was not able to land and had to fly to another airport. Began to hate Nepal and the people. Very erratic behavior once the discouragement set in.

Peter (Dancing Bear)- Extreme hippy studying Philosophy at Cambridge. Was already missing intro to classes and ended up walking back to Jiri. Jane my trekking buddy couldn’t handle the stress of waiting for two nights and ended up going with him although she ended up getting a flight with the Scouts at the other airport.

El Dos Hombres Locos. One Costa Rican and one Chilean became the comedic relief. Their original plan was to fly in carrying enough food so that they could trek cheaply. They brought so much they had to hire a porter to carry just the food. The problem they ran into was that the Guest houses didn’t care about the cost of lodging since the bulk of income was off of the food. When the two found this out they thought they could bully there way with the locals. All this did was to enrage the locals and get them thrown out of lodge after lodge. The ability to bargain is just not possible anymore on these popular treks. They attempted to pull the same stunt in Lukla and were quickly banned at our hotel as well as most of the places along the strip. Our hotel was the only place to get cash advances and since the two had not brought very much, they were even worse off. Finally they were able to get the airline company to do an advance and so they were able to get some money. Of course they spent it all in two days buying pizzas and whiskey. In the end they conned a few other tourists to loan them money which I doubt will ever get paid back.

The Canadian Professor and his daughter. Another life long dream to visit Everest making it up to Lobuche before turning back. When I first met him in Namche he was extremely upbeat and sociable. They ended up walking to Lukla the same day as us. By day ten he was a mess. For the first week he was side by side with his daughter. By the end she was hanging with us at our hotel while he spent a lot of time sleeping or walking around in a bit of a daze. At first he was the dedicated budget traveler but when the opportunity for two seats on a helicopter came up he was on it especially since he could make his flight home and his daughter would only have missed one week of high school.

So in the end out of the hundred and fifty or so people stuck in Lukla, about one third ended up walking out either to Phaplu (secondary airport) or to Jiri. Eight helicopters at $3500US a piece carried four people each. Three flights made it in on day ten and ferried out about sixty people. And the rest of us made it out on five flights on day 12.

I am not sure what was worse, being stuck in Lukla after trekking, or being stuck in Kathmandu wanting to go trekking. I still think we were the lucky ones since I am sure a lot of people were not able to wait and ended up having to cancel their trekking plans, to Everest at least.

Through all of this what did I get out of it? Well, I now know or I should say it just has re-enforced the fact that I have the ability to sit on my ass and do absolutely nothing and am totally fine about it. I think that with this skill, I have a good future as a prisoner or working in a toll booth. I guess it helps having no responsibilities, plans, engagements, or dreams. Twelve days, ha, child’s play.



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3 responses to “Everest Trek part II: The descent.”

  1. judy says:

    Steve, your last paragraph had me rolling in the aisles! What a philosophy! Since there was kind of a comparison between Everest and McKinley among your cohorts I thought you might find this bit of info from a “Denali” brochure interesting. Maybe you already know this.

    “Mount McKinley is the highest mountain on the North American continent. Measured from the 2000-foot lowlands near Wonder Lake to its snowy summit at 20,320 feet, the mountain’s vertical relief of some 18,000 feet is greater than that of Mount Everest. Temperatures at the summit are severe even in summer. Winter lows at just 14,500 feet can plummet below minus 95 degrees F! During storms winds can gust to more than 150 mph. Permanent snowfields cover more than 75% of the mountain and feed the many glaciers that surround its base. The mountain’s granite and slate core is, infact, overlain by ice that is hundreds of feet thick in places.

    I was very satisfied to view it from quite a far distance!! And the dogs were a great comfort out there in the WILD! judy

    P.S. Ya, you should write a book!

  2. Marisa says:

    What an adventure! Sure is nice to not have to worry about getting back home quickly. I certainly would have opted for waiting out the fog rather than paying $3500 for a helicopter. Twelve days is nothing compared to $3500! I had problems breathing in Lhasa at 3650m so will just have to enjoy Everest vicariously via your blog. I’m anticipating more laboured breathing when I get to Cusco which is only 3400m. You’re one macho dude. Leeches are way cooler than mozzies. In fact they are used medicinally to reduce swelling and blood pressure.

  3. Mike says:

    Steve,

    I’ve been reading your posts for over a year and I apologize for not adding a comment yet. I’ll bet you have many more fans like me out there that you are unaware of. You are an inspiration and your posts keep me going through the work drudgery in between trips. Traveling for nearly four years is a dream, and you have truly set the bar. I hope you do consider writing a book about your travels. And no more trekking for awhile! It sucks for us to wait three weeks between your posts ;-P

    -Mike

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