Walk vs Ride: The horse ride from Hell

Night in Namche (Please note that this photo was shared by another trekker)

Night in Namche (Please note that this photo was shared by another trekker)

Namche Bazaar
November 15, 2013

Allow me to begin by vowing to never ride a horse in the Himalayas again. Yes, I’m aware it sounds completely exciting and adventurous at first, but the moment you get on the back of a horse like the one I had the displeasure of riding today you will find yourself questioning the idea.

I woke up, gave Mingma the money for the horse ($150US), and watched the rest of the team hike off after breakfast. Shortly afterwards, an older gentleman pulled a horse up to a short stone wall. The horse didn’t look happy. Mingma directed me onto the wall and I swung my leg over. It wasn’t too comfortable but at least I wasn’t walking on my knee. The horse neighed as her bell (all the animals wear bells to warn trekkers they are coming) rang when we “took off”. Mingma told me Cami would follow me and carry my pack for me. If there was anything I needed, I was to tell him. I was also instructed on how to properly hold the saddle. When we went up, I was to hold the front of the saddle (a simple English one) and lean forward. Going down meant I needed to hold onto the back of the saddle and lean back.

After five feet, we started to descend. It wasn’t long before I passed the group on the trail. They all laughed and waved. I thought it was fun too until the stupid horse slipped a little while walking on the edge of the trail. My heart dropped and I think it may have stopped for a minute. Alain took a couple of photos as we passed.

Coming on horseback

Coming on horseback


And going on horseback

And going on horseback


The trail went up and then went down. I held on for dear life the entire time (I didn’t want to fall off the horse) so I have no pictures of the actual trail. My fellow trekkers, though, took some pictures along the way while they were together so I do have those pictures to share of the route. When coming to a steep part, going up or down, the horse often stopped. I felt the same way—I wish we could just stop and be done with the ride, but I rented the horse for the entire day and I was going to get my money’s worth.
An example of the path we took today

An example of the path we took today

Cami asked me if I wanted him to take a picture of me on the horse. I declined and told him I really didn’t want to remember this. We arrived at our lunch spot about an hour before the others. I sat outside in the lodge’s courtyard and sipped on tea as I waited. I was also able to pull out my book and read for a bit. I’m not sure if I mentioned the book I’m reading, but it’s called “Touching My Father’s Soul” by Jamling Tenzing Norgay. His father was the Sherpa that summited Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. He was asked by David Breashears to come along when he filmed the IMAX film Everest. The book discusses the season on Everest (one of the worst on record). Amy recommended the book to me. She told me to bring it with me on this hike. I know why now. Norgay talks about some of the places we have been so it is an enjoyable read.

I finally heard the group coming up the trail. I was so glad to hear and see them! We were ushered upstairs to the lodge’s gathering room. As we ate, we could hear the horse’s loud neighs, or protests as I like to think of them. Then Amy was able to persuade Eisha to sing a song. She sang Adele’s “Someone Like You”. I had no idea she could sing like that but it was absolutely beautiful. Her voice rivaled that of Adele’s.

Lunch Break = Break from Demon Horse

Lunch Break = Break from Demon Horse

Soon it was time to say goodbye to the group, but first I had to get on the horse. I was shown to another stone wall but the horse refused to get close enough for me to swing my leg. The old man didn’t really understand but Mingma tried to turn the horse around and come back to the wall closer. It refused. Alain tried pushing the horse to the wall and I was able to eventually get on. When the horse was let go, she neighed and side stepped and sort of bucked up. Luckily I didn’t have that much longer left on the beast.

Along the way, we passed some trekkers. I told them walking was the way to go, not horse riding. We crossed a suspension bridge. I’ve heard people talk about how nerve racking it could be but imagine going across one on a horse! If I fell off the horse I’d be a goner for sure. The horse, again, stopped and would have to be pulled. I often found myself hyperventilating because the horse just loved walking on the edge. Cami would ask me if I was okay and I’d nod my head. I finally asked him if he could ask the old man to guide the horse away from the edge. Cami asked him but the horse didn’t really care for the request. We passed our yaks on the way. That wasn’t fun. The man kept trying to pass the yaks on the narrow path but a yak would get in the way. Eventually, he was able to get around but not before scaring the crap out of me yet again.

I could tell we were getting closer to Namche because I recognized the Sherpa Museum as we passed it. I sighed with relief as I saw us near the lodge…until Cami turned one way the old man kept walking. He said he was going around the monastery—it was an easier route for the horse (at this point though, it didn’t matter). Then he still kept going pass the lodge and Cami told him he needed to turn the horse around. Well, common sense would suggest one turn the horse around on a wide area, but nope. Not here! The horse was turned around on the stairs. The narrow stairs. I closed my eyes as the man turned the horse around. Finally, I could get off the horse. My knee was killing me but I was happy to be off that beast.

A view of our lodge from afar

A view of our lodge from afar

I was able to take a shower after getting to my room. I needed it and I know from our previous stay that their showers were pretty good compared to the other lodges. The water was hot and wonderful. I was able to borrow some shampoo from Tanya (bless her) and wash my hair. It was wonderful. Tiffany was also taken to the clinic by Amy because of her cough. You could tell she wasn’t up to par at lunch today. She was given some medicine and should start feeling better in a few days.

At dinner, I told Amy to look into a helicopter for the remainder of the way. I’m upset about the whole thing. I wanted to finish this trek on my own but I don’t want to hurt my knee any worse. I called dad and told him. I didn’t want to call mom or dad before now because I didn’t want to worry them anymore than I needed to. Dad told me I should be proud of the progress I’ve made and I should be proud I reached my goal of getting to EBC. I felt better after talking to him. It will be my first helicopter ride, but I’m sure it’ll be fine. Helicopters are pretty common up here from what I’ve seen. I’ll fly from here to Lukla and spend the night tomorrow night while the team hikes to Monjo and stay there. They’ll meet me in Lukla the following day. I’m not sure what I’ll do on my own in Lukla, but it should be okay. Perhaps I’ll get some souvenir shopping done!

Resting in Namche at the lodge

Resting in Namche at the lodge

A hike, a sore knee, and a blessing

IMG_2912_zps0a58ae24

Dingboche to Pangboche to Tengboche
November 14, 2013

Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be walking tomorrow. My knee is much worse. I’ll get to that later though. First, I want to tell you about one of the most amazing experiences we had today.

We left Dingboche this morning, saying goodbye to Mingma’s parents. Mingma’s mom offered us all katas as we departed, wishing us wonderful blessings as we went.

The group with Mingma's parents

The group with Mingma’s parents

For lunch, we stopped at the town of Pangboche. After eating, we headed to the oldest monastery in this region. It was beautiful. The colors remained vibrant and the moment you enter the monastery you could feel history oozing from the intricate carvings and masks.

Pangboche Monastery

Pangboche Monastery


Pangboche Monastery

Pangboche Monastery

But even as we left the monastery, our experience in Pangboche wasn’t over. Mingma told us we would be visiting Lama Geshe, a very intelligent gentleman, a Ph. D., and an authority on Buddhism. Mingma told us, if we would like, we could offer our kata scarves with an offering and he would give us an offering in return. We all leapt at the chance. Someone helped me fold my kata and I placed some rupees in it. I entered the receiving room where Lama Geshe sat with a huge (and genuine) smile on his cheery face. He accepted it, tossed the money to the side, placed the kata scarf around my neck, and then took a red thread and tied it around my neck. As he placed the red thread around my neck, he pulled down on the knot allowing us to bump foreheads. I’ll admit I chucked because the other lama had not done that. But this guy took his time, never rushing us through. In the short time we met with Lama Geshe, I could feel his warmth and spirit. He truly wanted to teach us and answered questions (translation by Mingma of course). He even passed around scripts that were over 600 years old (I held them gently and quickly passed them to my neighbor). Before leaving his company, he gave us bookmarks with a blessing he wrote on it. It reads, “Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hung Hri”.
The translation:
Give Up all intentions to harm others from your heart.
And do your best to Benefit them all.
If each and everyone feels the Universal Responsibility to do so,
We will all enjoy the feast of Peace.

The experience is just one I will never forget. It made me realize how lucky I am to have been able to do this trip, that my disease didn’t stop me from this moment, that I am able to share this trip with my kids—kids that may have never realized that they can see the world until hearing about this trip. I know my words are choppy and far from eloquent right now so please forgive me, but the adventure and everything I’ve encountered thus far on this trip has caused me to see things differently these days.

Lama Geshe

Lama Geshe

Okay, back to the hike. Yeah, the hike after our visit to Lama Geshe definitely got more difficult. Luckily, Nima once again carried my pack (he’ll probably be glad when he doesn’t have to do that anymore!). I mean, the last mile or two (after passing Dewoche) was almost too strenuous and ridiculous! It was one of the steepest hikes up. I eventually stopped and turned to Eric. I told him to find me a yak I could impale myself with. Now, walking on relatively flat ground was okay for my knee. Going up hurt. Going downhill hurt worse, I’ll admit. But I thought I was going to die on that hike up. I’m pretty sure Mingma finally grabbed my hand and pulled me the last half hour up the hill. I knew I had no choice but to go up…where else would I go? Well, I suppose I could have stayed at the nunnery.

Amy telling me to keep  moving (just one of the million times she told me to)

Amy telling me to keep moving (just one of the million times she told me to)

Later tonight, after dinner, I’ll be calling my insurance company to ask about their policy regarding international helicopter evacuation. I’ll try a horse tomorrow (if it’s possible) because I don’t think I’ll be able to continue on my knee like I have. I really don’t want to have lasting damage and never be able to hike like this again. I mean, this experience in the Himalayas has been spectacular and I don’t want this to be my last time hiking this grand mountain range. I almost fear I’ve torn my meniscus—no, I’m not a doctor, but it feels like how my mom described her knee when she tore her meniscus. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it’s just a sprain and easily fixed with some rest.

After I did arrive at our lodge, I plopped down next to Alain. He leaned over and asked me about the knee. He told me he wasn’t sure I’d make it to base camp when we first started this trek. The first couple of days were difficult for me. I’m sure some people would have been offended by this but not me. I smiled and told him I questioned whether or not I was going to make it at first too. But I told him I’m a very determined and stubborn person and that’s what got me there. I think I showed a few people to never underestimate the underdog.

Dinner in Tengboche (I'm at the far end discussing my options)

Dinner in Tengboche (I’m at the far end discussing my options)

The beginning of the end…Dingboche

IMG_4476_zpsa95657ac
November 13, 2013
Our morning started off with some sad news. Christopher had a rough night last night. He woke up dehydrated and informed Amy and Eric this morning. After a consultation, it was decided that he would be evacuated by helicopter. We were all upset to see him go. During this trip, he has been such a strong force and someone to admire (he is 75 years old and such a wonderful conversationalist…he understood the need to explore…he “got” it). He’ll be greatly missed. But as we say goodbye to him, we are able to say hello to Ann-Marie again today.

We say goodbye to Christopher

We say goodbye to Christopher

Well, we started our “descent” today, and to be honest, I can’t help but feel a little sad about it all. In a week’s time, I’ll be heading home…saying goodbye to this cast of characters I’ve come to know as family. I’m trying not to think about this, but the moment I push it out of my head, the thought seeps back in.

We left the altitude of Gorek Shep after Alain, Eric, Atman (or should I say Yakman?), Cami (Sherpa), and Mingma returned from hiking to the top of Kala Patar. They had gotten up at 4 am to summit and made it back to the lodge at 8ish. I could tell they were tired and I did not envy the men for having done it. More power to them. Then we began our hike to Lobuche for some lunch…where Alain fell asleep.

The lesson here: don't fall asleep while surrounded by troublemakers.

The lesson here: don’t fall asleep while surrounded by troublemakers.


Amy and me on the way to Dingboche

Amy and me on the way to Dingboche

The hike to Dingboche was not too bad…except for the excruciating knee pain. As the day progressed, it just got worse and worse. I actually started off the hike in the front part of the group—a rarity—but as the day went on and the pain grew I had to hobble towards the back. At some point, I thought I would cry. About an hour away from the lodge we were staying at, Amy could see how I was struggling physically with the pain so she had Nima (poor guy) carry my pack for the rest of the way. I relied heavily on my trekking poles but they can’t only do so much. Eventually we made it to the lodge and I was able to rest. The funny thing about this lodge is that the gathering room is upstairs on one side of the courtyard and in order to get to our room, we had to go down those stairs, go across the courtyard, then up another set of stairs. It felt great on my knee.

Mingma with his parents at their lodge in Dingboche

Mingma with his parents at their lodge in Dingboche

The lodge we’re staying in tonight is actually owned by Mingma’s parents. Scattered in the gathering room is pictures of Mingma and his family. The lodge offered a feeling of coziness and love. Well, I can’t say our room’s bathroom offers coziness. It’s a squatter toilet, but that’s not the problem. It’s all the ice surrounding it! Talk about slippery. Poor Tiffany has been keeping her phone in a wool sock to protect it from the cold; unfortunately, it fell out of her pocket while in the bathroom and it fell at the “hole” area. I think the whole lodge knew how disgusted she was by this. Needless to say, she threw the sock away while thanking her lucky stars that the phone was covered when it fell.

I was able to see Ann-Marie when I made it to the lodge. She looked much better than the last time we saw her. Yesterday, she hiked and stayed in Pheriche. She also visited the local clinic. The moment I saw her, I dug out the rock I picked up for her at base camp. I think she appreciated the thought.

At dinner, Sherry (the amazing chef) made us a cake! This is the third cake we’ve had on this trip. I’m starting to like this. I am amazed at what he can do at such a high altitude with limited kitchen supplies.

I took the time to discuss possible options with Amy and Eric in case my knee is worse tomorrow. It may be possible for me to take a horse. I could also take a helicopter. To be honest, though, I’d rather ride a horse than a helicopter because it’s cheaper. I overheard someone saying that Christopher had to agree to pay like $3000 because he had to agree to a stay in hospital once he got to Kathmandu. I can’t afford that! And I would feel bad asking my parents for the money since they just paid that amount in July for my dog’s MRI (don’t ask…the important thing is that the dog is fine now). I have Global Rescue in case I need an evacuation but that’s really for life threatening emergencies. Eric says that I could always hope my blister (he’s been treating it for me) gets infected (apparently that could be life threatening) or perhaps I could get impaled by a yak. I told him that the yak impalement seems a bit drastic but I would keep it in mind.

Lobuche to Gorek Shep to EBC!! Worth it all!

November 12, 2013

Today (11/12/13—which will make for a nice tattooed date when I get the EBC tattoo) we started our hike at Lobuche. During the night, it got pretty chilly and I thankfully only had to use the bathroom once (again, those bathrooms are death traps!). Upon waking up, the first thing I noticed was the fact that I no longer had a headache. I felt great. The second thing I noticed was the fact that today was the day we would be hiking to EBC.

As we were getting ready to go down for breakfast, I noticed some activity coming from Ann-Marie’s room (she was across the hall from Tiffany and me). Eric and Amy were both going into her room. At breakfast, we learned that due to her persistent headache and the fact it was getting slightly worse the higher we climbed, she would be going back down to Pheriche instead of continuing on with us. We would see her in Dingboche when we go there tomorrow (we’re at Lobuche again tonight). When we found out about Ann-Marie, I have to say I had mixed feelings. I know it’s got to be heart-breaking to make it this far only to be told you have to turn back. But then again, this is health related, so is there really a question? I don’t know what I would do if I was in that situation. A lot of us were upset upon learning she would be going back and not joining us at EBC.

Map Time at Lobuche

Map Time at Lobuche

Before getting to EBC, we had to hike to Gorek Shep for lunch first. Gorek Shep is just under 17,000feet while EBC is at 17,585feet. I flew to Gorek Shep. I did pretty well holding my bag for almost the entire way and then it was carried for me. The terrain was rocky and icy in some spots and snow surrounded us. My left knee started to hurt a little (it actually started hurting yesterday a smidge), but I wasn’t going to let it bother me seeing as I was so so so close to EBC. I’ll have to admit, I had to pee along the way, so did Tanya and Tiffany. The girls found a nice rock and told the guys to turn around (and like gentlemen, they did). It was the first time I peed in snow and I know this sounds crazy but it was an exciting moment in my life. Unfortunately, it probably wasn’t so exciting for the local walking pass us at the time. In all fairness, he wasn’t in view when we first dropped our pants. Soon, we made it to Gorek Shep and we all piled into the lodge, full of anticipation. I don’t even remember what we ate for lunch I was so excited.
DSC02128_zps7c91faa9

A nice smooth break from the usual rough terrain.

A nice smooth break from the usual rough terrain.

We were instructed to bundle up thanks to the strong winds and cold temperatures. Tomas led the pack, often going ahead of us. I’m sure he was like the rest of us, battling our own demons and reasons as to why we were doing this hike. But Tiffany, Tanya, and I were relatively close to each other. My pack was carried for me—I don’t think that was ever a question—and Tiffany’s pack was also carried for her. Tanya, who I should nickname the Beast, carried hers as she has been doing the entire trip (How does she do it?).
_DSC9505_zps697b078d

Hiking to EBC

Hiking to EBC


Almost there!

Almost there!


Khumbu Glacier

Khumbu Glacier


WE MADE IT!!

WE MADE IT!!

The trail was full of hikers coming back from base camp. We also passed a lot of people struggling to make to base camp. The closer I got, the more excited I got. My heart was pounding—not from the lack of oxygen (or should I be correct and say the pressure from the altitude?) or exhaustion. I was running on pure adrenaline. The trail was getting icier and rockier the further we went. We crossed some rocks, pushed past some people (that’s right, I was actually faster than someone). Then, over a little hill, there it was: a marker identifying Everest Base Camp. In all actuality, it was just a pile of rocks, but symbolically it was so much more.

My eyes started to tear up as Mingma offered to take my picture at the marker. I took about five photos between my camera and phone—well, Mingma took the photos. Then I moved over so Tanya could have her moment as well. I went to sit down for a moment to take it all in and pulled out my phone to call the two most important people in my life, my parents. Our conversation was short because of the temperature. It had to be below zero. I was wearing about five or six layers and I was cold. As I put my phone away (in my sports bra to keep it warm—don’t judge), I picked up about 7 rocks. I plan on giving one to my nephew (Wesley), my parents, keep one for myself, my aunt and uncle helping out my parents while I’m away, my BFF and cousin (Carrie), an extra just in case, and one for Ann-Marie. Finally, Mingma came over to where Tiffany and I sat. He asked if we were ready to leave and head back to Gorek Shep. The sun would be setting soon and I didn’t want to be caught on that terrain in the dark.

Proof I made it to EBC!

Proof I made it to EBC!

As we were leaving, we saw the rest of our group make it up. I looked for Amy but I found out later she had walked back to the lodge with Francois since he decided not to hike all the way to EBC (he had been here before and decided to head back). As we walked back—Tiffany, Tanya, and I—we saw a couple of people slip. One gentleman slipped on ice and went over some rocks but he was able to get up and get moving eventually. Another man was in a hurry and caused a mini rock slide along the path so we had to meander our way down very carefully.

Before we knew it, we waltzed (I felt like I was floating on air) into the lodge to our table for some hot cocoa. Francois was sitting there and made Tiffany and me some crackers with peanut butter. Amy joined us and we hugged. I got all misty during the moment because I felt like she had been with me every step of the way, believing in me when I came so extremely close (mere millimeters away) to giving up on myself. She pushed me and never allowed me to quit. She was even teary eyed as she told me how proud she was of me. It is a moment I will never forget. I will always be eternally grateful to Amy for what she has done for me on this trip.

As the night wears down and I try to get ready to turn off the headlamp, I can’t help the smile on my face. I’m proud of myself. I can hardly believe that after four years of struggling with this stupid autoimmune disease, I made it to EBC. Last year, I thought this sort of thing was over for me. And look. Look at what I did today…the past few days. The whole thing inspires me. I can’t wait to get home to share this with everyone…the ups, downs…every step, groan, laugh, tear…everything.

Tomorrow, we start heading back down and it has suddenly hit me that I’ll be leaving Nepal in a week. I’ll try not to think about it for now and will just enjoy every moment.

V for VICTORY!

V for VICTORY!

Pheriche to Lobuche…Almost there!

November 11, 2013

My day wasn’t tough until I got here, in Lobuche.

The hike was fine. We gained about 2,000feet in altitude and I am feeling it. Before I forget, I want it to be known that I did carry my pack the ENTIRE way today.

It definitely got colder the higher we climbed and the patches of snow got bigger.

Look at the ice!

Look at the ice!

The path started out rocky and hilly. We crossed a small bridge about half way through the day’s hike. Afterwards, we had a picnic lunch among the rocks and snow. All during lunch, we were glancing at the path we would take after eating. It was up.

And up we go...again.

And up we go…again.


Chris taking a lunch break.

Chris taking a lunch break.


Picnic Lunch

Picnic Lunch

Going up, Ann-Marie stayed in the back with me. At one point, though, her head just pounded. Amy told me to go on, sending Sonam with me, while she and Erik took care of her. She did make it to Lobuche and I was glad to see her walk through the lodge door when she did arrive. I know she’s been struggling because of the headache. It’s tough when you’re dealing with altitude. You want to go on so badly, but sometimes you can’t because your body just won’t let you. I would hate for Ann-Marie not to make it to EBC. I’ve gotten to know her and she’s a lovely person. I hope she gets better.

The hike up was worth it, though. All along the top were chortens, or memorials, for climbers and sherpas who perished while climbing in the Himalayas. As weird as this sounds, I could feel the spirits of the fallen. I could hear them…whispering in the wind and singing in the flapping of the prayer flags. It was strangely peaceful as I walked around. One thing I noticed was that quite a few of the deceased died on the way down after successfully summiting. The memorial really does put things a bit more into perspective. As I was standing there, I said a small prayer to myself—thanking God that I had made it so far without any problems and thanking Him for all I’ve been blessed with.

A chorten, or memorial

A chorten, or memorial

I was thrilled to get to the lodge in Lobuche. By the time we got to the room, my head was pounding. I hadn’t had a headache like this in forever! After getting to our room and setting up our bags, Tiffany headed down for tea. Me? I lay down for just a second before Mingma came to fetch me since I had not made it down yet. I crawled out of bed, went to the bathroom (which was really a death trap with all the frozen ice on the floor), and plunked down at the table. Today, they had put out some ginger tea so I went with that instead of the usual hot chocolate. It helped my headache a little until the drapes were pulled back and the setting sun blared into my eyes. The pounding started again so I moved to the bench next to the window so the sun wasn’t in my eyes. I socialized a little, but it was hard. Amy let me put my head in her lap and that lasted for a few minutes. I kept it plain at dinner because I thought it would help the head. During the medical checks, my vitals were all good so I’m sure by the morning, my head will be fine. My head has no choice but to be fine because tomorrow we’re scheduled to hike to Everest Base Camp tomorrow!

The lodge in Lobuche

The lodge in Lobuche

But for now, I’m turning the lights off and going to sleep this headache away!

Tengboche to Pheriche (I’m finally starting to get the hang of this!)

60892_10202409810945257_1330940220_n

November 9 & 10, 2013

We started early yesterday. As I started walking, I went to feel for my red thread from the other night (when we had an audience with the third highest ranking Lama). I figured it would be safe since it was tied. Unfortunately, I was wrong. It wasn’t around my neck. I was upset about losing the thread-not because of the thread itself, but because of the significance of the thread and the memory it held to me.

Shortly after we begin walking, we veered off the path towards an old stone structure. We were taken inside a courtyard and instructed to take off our shoes. We were shown into another ritual room where Buddhist nuns were chanting. It was beautiful. Come to find out, this was Dewoche Nunnery, the first Buddhist nunnery. As I sat among my fellow trekkers (there was no one else in the room besides us and the nuns), I glanced down to look at my camera for something; out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something red hanging down from one side of my neck. It was my red thread!! The one I thought I lost. I quickly retied it—more tightly this time—and continued to relax to the sounds of the chanting.

Eventually, we had to move on. I saw a hill coming so I instinctively moved to the back. It’s just second nature to me now. The only time it backfires on me is when a fellow trekker stops to take a picture and I pass him. I feel bad that they get stuck behind me, but at this point, they should really know what to expect when letting me pass.

The trail

The trail


Letting a yak pass

Letting a yak pass

I think yesterday was one of my favorite lunches: chickpeas (yummy), a spicy soup made from some sort of greens (don’t tell my mom because I won’t eat greens at home when she cooks them), potato salad, grilled cheese (a favorite classic), and for the first (and last) time, I tried cous cous. I tried not to eat too much. I don’t want to get any stomach issues (I’ve heard rumors that some are starting to suffer from stomach ailments); besides, I’m not used to eating this many calories at home! I need to watch it!

Once we got back on the trail, I started to struggle again. BUT I didn’t let it bother me this time. Amy stayed with me, however Ann-Marie (who is really just a delight to have in this group) joined us in the back. She’s been suffering from a slight headache since Namche (I think). She’s been advised to take it slow. To be honest, it was nice to have some company back there. Maybe she’ll stay back there when we hike to Lobuche too (not that I wish for her to suffer from a headache again). It wasn’t too long before I gave my bag away—I’m seriously considering a bag burning ceremony when I get home. Tarik was kind enough to be the one to suffer with it for the rest of today.

When we got close to the town of Pheriche, the trail evened out. Patches of snow were scattered about, but the trail was easy. I was even able to catch up with some of the other trekkers! What a feeling to be actually walking in with people!

The lodge is quite nice. Well, the gathering room is at least. The rest of the lodge is freezing!!! There’s a fireplace in the center of the gathering room and it makes it all nice and toasty. The moment you leave the room and walk through the swing door, the cold slaps you in the face. Our room has a single bed and a double bed, plus a private bathroom. Well, it has a toilet. There’ s no light in the bathroom, but it does have a nice window that looks out onto a field—I even saw a yak grazing out there earlier. I’m sleeping in the double bed while Tiffany takes the single. In an attempt to solve the space issue (the issue being that these lodge rooms are usually tiny), I shared the bed with our two duffel bags. It’s not too bad. I still have plenty of room to snuggle in my sleeping bag.

Last night was Mingma’s birthday. As a group, we came up with a plan. Ann-Marie just happened to have some balloons, oddly enough, so Tanya and I blew four or five up and then hid them under our jackets. Chris had some spare paper and a Sharpie so we made a card that all the team members could sign. Tanya and I then purchased a candy bar from the lodge to accompany the card. After we ate our dinner, the boys brought in a cake. Alain stood up and got the room singing Happy Birthday while the balloons came out! I think Mingma was touched by our spontaneous celebration. I, personally, thought it felt good to finally be bringing a smile to his face after all the help he’s given me on this trip…so far (because let’s face it, I’m sure I’ll need tons more help before this trip is over).

Last night was cold!!! I think it got down to about 25F. That’s cold, folks. The temperature gauge doesn’t even go down that far in Tampa, Florida. Here is the list of what I slept in so you have a better idea of how cold I was: sock liners, wool socks, long underwear, mittens, down jacket, two thermal shirts, fleece pants, and a hat. Now, I’ll admit, some of the layers came off during the night, but I tell ya, this has been the coldest night yet.

This morning, we went for an acclimatization hike. Behind the lodge, there is a ridge. That was where we were heading: the top of the ridge. I was daypack free this time…because Nima took it even before we left. I don’t think I would have taken the stupid thing at all if I had known we wouldn’t really need it (all I needed was a water bottle really). The hike up wasn’t too bad compared to some of the inclines I’ve encountered on this trip.

Hiking to the ridge

Hiking to the ridge


href=”https://mountainsworththevalleys.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/pb090095.jpg”>View of Pheriche from the ridge View of Pheriche from the ridge[/caption]
View of Dingboche from the ridge

View of Dingboche from the ridge

The ridge is between two villages: Pheriche (where we were currently staying) and Dingboche (we’ll be staying there in a few days). The towns look relatively small from this height, a scattering of buildings here and there for the most part. Also on the ridge were markers with prayer flags. I still think the prayer flags flittering in the wind is one of the most enchanting sights. I can’t wait to put up the flags I bought outside my window—I hope it emits the same feeling back home!

Top of the ridge

Top of the ridge

Our hike was only a couple of hours long, but enough.

Tonight, before dinner, Erik, Amy, and Mingma showed us a demonstration of the portable altitude chamber they carry on the trek. This is in case someone has major issues with altitude and needs immediate evacuation. Unfortunately, I lost our room key and was frantically searching for it so I was late to the demo.

Portable Altitude Chamber

Portable Altitude Chamber


IMG_2853_zpsc9f5d3a2[

Tomorrow we hike to Lobuche. In two days, we’re scheduled to hike to EBC. I can’t believe that we’re so close! I really think I may do this! As I look out the window now, even though it’s dark, I shiver with anticipation of the whole thing. A couple of days ago, I questioned my decision in coming here. I considered turning back and quitting. But now? I know that there’s a very good chance I’ll make it.

Khumjung to Tengboche…A Blessing

Tengboche

Tengboche


November 8, 2013
What a wonderful day! That’s right, folks, you read that right. I had a great day! Not one breakdown!

The hike really wasn’t that bad today. We gained just over 1,000feet in altitude. It was long, steady, and I told myself to accept the fact that I’d be slow and probably would need help of some kind. I think the moment I accepted that, I was good to go. Sonam ended up carrying my daypack for two-thirds of the way and Mingma stuck with us. Sure, I’d reach the rest of the group when they’d been resting for about five minutes so my breaks were normally half the time of the others, but I was cool with that. I just couldn’t allow myself to think about it or else I’d psych myself out like yesterday.

Once we arrived at Tengboche, the views were spectacular! We’re talking a 360 view. Outside our room at the lodge, Tiffany and I had a perfect view of Everest, Lhotse, and Lhotse Shar.

After enjoying some popcorn and hot chocolate, it was time to visit the Tengboche Monastery. We were to have an audience with the third highest ranking lama. It took five minutes to reach the monastery. Mingma’s cousin took us in and directed us to a small courtyard. As we took our shoes and hats off, Mingma and his cousin brought out kata scarves for us and they folded the scarves for us.
IMG_6082_zps50b2f7fe

The directions were simple: offer the folded kata to the Lama with a monetary offering. He would take it and then return the blessing to us.

Dave went in first and then I followed him. I didn’t want to be the first person because I didn’t want to mess up! I figured I could just do what he did. After Dave left and was directed to a side bench in the room, I walked up to the Lama. I bowed as I offered the kata scarf. He returned it to me by draping it over my neck and adding a red thread with it. I then went over to sit with Dave. Once we were all finished with our offerings, we were allowed to ask respectful questions while Mingma translated for us. I was in awe of the tranquility the room offered. I don’t think the group has ever been so quiet . We learned that Buddhism is more of a philosophical approach to life instead of it being just a religion. The audience with the Lama was short, but he graciously took a group photo with us—one I’ll cherish.

The group with the Lama

The group with the Lama

Upon leaving the Lama’s receiving room, we put our shoes back on for a brief walk to the main building. The shoes went off again and a most magical moment occurred. We entered and were shown to the side. Inside, Buddhist monks chanted and went about their rituals. The room was crowded with onlookers, curious people, and other trekkers wanting a glimpse into this life that’s so different than ours. We were instructed to take a seat on the floor. Some of the floor was covered in thick rugs. I took a seat on the freezing wood floor, however the man next to me (who I think was a local) was sitting on a rug. He leaned over and told me to take his seat while he went to stand in the back. I was touched by this small form of generosity…my toosh was also grateful since the room was so cold. I closed my eyes as the chanting offered a relaxing, beautiful vibrating. The whole experience was calming.

Tengboche Monastery

Tengboche Monastery

Upon leaving the monastery, the sun was beginning to set and the peaks gleamed like fire.

After being blessed by the Lama

After being blessed by the Lama


Dengbochegroup_zps9d452f64

That night, after dinner, some of us decided to step outside to view the stars. I remember when I was climbing Kilimanjaro, I looked up at the sky when we were camping at Shira. The sky was filled with a billion stars. Even at home, now, I look up at the sky, hoping to see the same. Of course, I don’t. I haven’t found anything that compared to that sky I saw at Shira…until now. The night sky over Everest twinkled. Matt even pointed out the Milky Way to me. I wish I could capture the image on film, but even film wouldn’t be able to evoke the same feeling of wonder and awe as this sky does in person.

I have learned a major lesson. I will admit, Mingma gave us this advice on day one but I found it difficult to follow. As you’re walking, don’t look up where you are headed. Rather, look back at where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished so far. In the beginning—which seems like such a long time ago even though it’s really only been a few days—I kept looking up the hills that I still had to walk and struggle up. Maybe that’s why I had such a terrible time with it all and got frustrated. If I had only looked at what I’d already accomplished and walked up, perhaps I would have had an easier time mentally. This can be said in life too. We’re always so busy looking at what tomorrow will bring that we forget to enjoy the moment and reflect on yesterday. I vow to stop grimacing at the trail ahead and instead begin to give myself a POB (pat-on-the-back—What can I say? I’m a teacher.) for what I’ve already been able to do.

Namche to Khumjung…Frustration, here I am.

November 7, 2013

So, I didn’t think today was going to be that bad, but in truth, I hit the lowest point today. I was ready to quit…more so than yesterday.

My morning started off well. Breakfast was cinnamon rolls and they were delicious. Next, we went to our first Buddhist monastery. It was next door to the lodge we’ve been staying at. The monk in charge had a round face and he looked happy. And I wouldn’t say it was a jolly sort of happy, but rather a content sort of happy (if that makes sense). Inside the monastery, it was much more elaborate than I could have imagined. It was colorful and full of beautiful statues of Buddha. Butter candles were lit at the altar and yellow boxes full of handwritten (and a few modernized typed) Tibetan scrolls from the 1300’s were stacked along the walls. In a courtyard, brightly covered walls surrounded an open space. In a small area, juniper incense burned. I’m told we’ll get to visit other monasteries and I’m excited to experience the peace that I’ll surely find in them as I found that same feeling at this one.

Namche Monastery

Namche Monastery


Scrolls from 1300's

Scrolls from 1300’s

Then our hike began…so did the disappointment in myself. Three-quarters of the day’s hike was uphill and I struggled BIG TIME! Shame, discouragement, disgust. Again, I found myself at the end of the group. Well, the group was way ahead of me (or at least it felt that way). I told Amy I was finished with mountains and that I was going to stick to flat ground from now on. She told me I wasn’t. Near the back, it was just me, Amy, Danu (one of the assistants), Sonam, and one more assistant (I should know his name because all of the Tusker crew was introduced to us last night, but it was overwhelming!)…I kept my daypack on though. I didn’t want to be the weakest link. I kept hearing that red-headed British host lady from that game show telling me, “You ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.” Amy could sense my frustration and see that I was giving up on myself. Bless her, but she tried to give me a pep talk. She basically told me she knew I had a mountain lion waiting inside of me and it would soon come out (now, if I was in a better frame of mind at the time, I probably would have corrected her and said snow leopard since they are around these parts). She went on to tell me that our group was unusually fast and efficient on the trail and the fact that I could somewhat keep up with them was a positive. I was reminded that where I lived didn’t offer good training hikes (I live in Florida and thus no mountain ranges to go hike). Also, the fact that I was only 15 minutes behind and not an hour behind (like some people on these group hikes) was another good sign. She told me not to give up. If I had not been given that pep talk, I probably would have walked away or thrown myself off the side of a small cliff so I could be medically evacuated. Luckily, I took a little me-moment after the day’s hike and now all is well…for now…until tomorrow’s hike and I struggle again.

On the way to Khumjung

On the way to Khumjung

So, besides a mini-meltdown, the hike was pretty nice. We kept Ama Dablam in our sights. The trees started to get more shrub and bush like instead of being actual trees. We walked along a grassy plain that not only provided a nice grazing area for yaks from the government’s yak farm, but also doubled as a mini airstrip.

Yak field airstrip

Yak field airstrip

Part of the trail today was muddy. Amy slipped once or twice and Danu stayed behind me. When I felt my foot slip and slide, I felt his hand pushing my daypack to help propel me forward and up the trail. Maybe he could just push me the rest of the way?

Eventually, I shined when the trail went downhill instead of up. I flew past the others. In fact, I was one of the first five to reach the lodge. I know, it isn’t a race. It just felt nice not to be last.

Waiting for the group to join me at the lodge.

Waiting for the group to join me at the lodge.

There are two lodges here. The lodge we’re staying at is okay. The gathering room where we ate lunch was warm! The hallways and rooms, though, weren’t so much. Our room was like 50F at 3 o’clock this afternoon. The toilet is actually across the hall from Tiffany and me—score! This way, we don’t have to walk down the hallway…it’s almost like having one in our room, but not.

For lunch, we finally dined on yak. We ate yak burgers and I am happy to report that they are actually quite tasty.

Throughout the day, we’ve noticed the same helicopter fly around and around the Khumbu region. It is suspected that a documentary is being filmed about the area. Hmmm, who knows? Maybe you’ll be able to see me in the documentary?

After lunch, we rested (it was a short rest) and then headed downstairs for an afternoon hike. While we were waiting for everyone in our group to join us, a man walked up with a beautiful yak. It was probably one of the prettiest yaks I’ve seen. It looked like he was delivering something to the lodge owner. Mail, maybe? No clue. Soon, everyone was ready and we went to the Khumjung Gomba…another monastery, but not just any monastery. This one had the alleged yeti skull. The skull looked like a furry cone head, to be honest.

Forget the Pony Express. This is the Yak Express!

Forget the Pony Express. This is the Yak Express!


The "Yeti" skull

The “Yeti” skull

We then took a mini acclimatization hike and I did okay. I didn’t have my daypack, just a water bottle. I noticed Sonam stayed close to me…guess he pulled the short straw. While hiking up, I did get a slight headache. That was my first issue with altitude. For now, the headache has gone away and I hope it doesn’t come back.

The weather started to turn cool and misty as we headed for the Khumjung School. The school was built by Sir Edmund Hillary (as in, THE Sir Edmund Hillary…the first man to climb Mt. Everest). It was actually the school that Mingma attended while growing up. He would walk over from Namche daily to attend school. If that had been me, I probably would have been a dropout.

Khumjung High School

Khumjung High School

Tiffany and I headed back to the lodge pretty quickly. I was COLD! And the thermometer said it was only in the 40’s. Whatever. You can see who the Florida gal is in the group since I’m trying to adjust to the cold weather.

Tomorrow, we hike to Tengboche. Not really sure what to expect on the trail, but I plan on having a better attitude and accept the fact that I’m slow.

Namche Rest Day~Yay!!

Me enjoying the moment!

Me enjoying the moment!


November 6

REST DAY! Yay!

I’m so glad we had a rest day today. It’s allowed me to forget yesterday’s struggle and focus on the now.

I woke up to the sounds of bells this morning. All the pack animals wear bells to alert people of the location of the animals. I didn’t mind it so much since we were allowed to sleep in this morning. This morning, instead of choosing to drink hot tea at our wakeup call, I requested hot chocolate. Yep, that was a good choice. Think I’m going to stick with that for my morning routine. Tiffany went the hot chocolate too. I’m sorry, I know it’s wrong, but that’s one of the reasons I love these sort of trips. I can eat everything I want and I don’t have to worry about the consequences! If only real life was like that.

After breakfast, Mingma took us on a day hike. I took the opportunity to ask if riding a yak or horse to EBC was a possibility. He said it wasn’t and that I could do this. We followed Mingma along the hard dirt trail until we came to a ridge. We turned the corner and there she was…Everest. It was freaking Mount Everest! I was looking at the tallest mountain in the world. In front of Everest, Lhotse and Lhotse Shar stood. To the right was Ama Dablam. They were majestic.

Everest is back there somewhere!

Everest is back there somewhere!


Everest, Lhotse, Lhotse Shar...stunning!

Everest, Lhotse, Lhotse Shar…stunning!

Mingma was showing us all the peaks and then he pointed behind us. From the distance, we could see the double suspension bridge we walked across yesterday. You could see how far we had come…with the knowledge that we still had plenty far to go. He also showed us the local helicopter pad. It’s on the side of a mountain. I hope no one needs to resort to the use of a helicopter!

Suspension Bridges

Suspension Bridges


The heli-pad

The heli-pad

On the way back to the lodge, we went to the Sherpa Museum. The museum offered a look into a traditional Sherpa home. We took stairs up to the main living area. Off this area was a prayer room. The colors were vibrant and I could see how the room could inspire a feeling of peace. Next, we went to another building honoring those who have successfully climbed Mt. Everest. It was amazing to see how many people have been successful. I was awe-struck as I glanced at the faces of the people who had been there before me and went on to accomplish this unbelievable feat. Before we left, we viewed a slide show about the Sherpa culture and life in the Khumbu. The imagery was beautiful (I really need to find a new word to use because I have a feeling I’ll be using it a lot).

Sherpa Museum

Sherpa Museum


Sherpa Museum Prayer Room

Sherpa Museum Prayer Room


Waiting for the slide show to start. Who has the popcorn?

Waiting for the slide show to start. Who has the popcorn?

We stopped at the gift shop because some of the trekkers wanted to purchase pictures from the slide show (which were taken by the museum’s caretaker). I purchased a chess set for my brother, a key chain, set of prayer flags (I plan on hanging them outside my window at home), and post cards. While I was paying, I heard a small commotion outside the store. Apparently Alain, one of the trekkers from Montreal, went to use the toilet…he stepped in the “hole” and his boot was now a shade of brown. Guess what the brown really was?

Alain after he stepped in the toilet.

Alain after he stepped in the toilet.

Tomorrow, we will go to the neighboring monastery—our first visit to one. I’m excited as I’ve always been curious about Buddhism. Once we visit the monastery, we will hike to Khumjung. The monastery in Khumjung is supposedly in possession of a yeti skull. I hope I don’t get nightmares after seeing it! I once saw an episode of Unsolved Mysteries about Bigfoot and I had nightmares for a week! The hike, I’m told, will be steep, but our day won’t be as long as yesterday.

As far as weather, the skies have been blue and the temperature has been nice. Last night, my little thermometer said it was 45F at 9pm. Right now (5pm), it says it’s in the low 50’s.

My fellow hikers seem pretty nice so far. It’s usually day three that people really start getting comfortable with each other and let their personalities shine.
Here is the breakdown:
The team from Montreal (it’s a fundraising trip): Tanya (cherry, happy, mom to three kids), Ann-Marie (pediatrician, my age), Francois (nice, 45th birthday was yesterday and we even had a cake to celebrate), and Alain (exuberant, hilarious, good spirit).
Family: Jagdeep (“Pops”, high energy, dad to Eisha and Atman), Eisha (currently living in Chile, teaching), Atman (obsessed with yaks, “Yakman”).
14ers (a group of people who went to Colorado for training hikes on peaks around 14,000feet): Tom (from New Jersey), Dave (nice guy, very knowledgeable), Tomas (met on FB, recommended Tusker to him for his Kili hike), Matt (nice, very resourceful, sending SPOT tracking updates to co-workers for me), Tiffany (roommate, from New Jersey, fashion merchandiser).
Other: Erik (from Colorado, here helping Amy as a wilderness medical guide, funny), Chris (older gentleman, I believe he does something with documentary film making).
They are all strong individuals and I look forward to getting to know these fellow hikers more in depth.

Dining in Namche

Dining in Namche

Phak Ding to Namche…What was I thinking?

November 5

Wow. Whoever it was that told me today was the hardest day of the climb wasn’t kidding.

Our morning started with a wakeup call with hot tea. Then we were brought hot water to wash up with. It warmth felt wonderful! The night was a bit chillier than I thought it would be so I’m glad I treated myself to a new sleeping bag for this trip.

I dressed in layers for today’s hike. I knew the temperatures could fluctuate so I wanted to be prepared. I wore my camp shirt as a base, followed by a fleece and down jacket. Along the way, I warmed up so I had to delayer a little. The hike was pretty decent before lunch, but I knew what was coming: steepness.

Along the way

Along the way

We stopped in a village by the name of Monjo. On our way back down, we will be sleeping in Monjo for a night. For today, though, it was just lunch. A very good hot lunch. Along the way, Erik and Mingma decided my trekking poles were a little short. While we were stopped, they fixed them for me. They were perfect then! Just the right height. I did use the restroom and it was one of the first squatter outhouses we came across. A squatter outhouse, you ask. This is basically an outhouse that has a hole in the ground. I imagine I’ll be visiting a lot of these squatter outhouses since I’m on Diamox (while climbing Kilimanjaro, I had to pee about every half hour and it doesn’t usually give you a lot of warning before the pee comes).

Lunch in Monjo

Lunch in Monjo


The men waiting for the squatter outhouse in Monjo.

The men waiting for the squatter outhouse in Monjo.


Once lunch was over, we began walking again. It was steep. It was about this time that I decided to hang back towards the end of the group. Soon, I found myself to be the very last. Two of our assistant Sherpa were behind me and Mingma walked with us. He eventually took my water bottle to lessen my load. I’d like to say that made all the difference but the stupid daypack was still heavy. I’ll have to rethink the whole daypack packing system for tomorrow (of course, tomorrow is a rest day so maybe I’ll just rethink it for the day we hike to Khumjung).

Eventually, Mingma went on and Amy paired up with me. I still had two assistants behind me. One was Nima who soon took my pack. Amy offered to take it for a bit, and as she went to take it, Nima took it from her. I’m calling him my new BFF. I’ll admit it, I struggled today and feel a bit deflated now. I question whether or not my body can do this. Was I crazy thinking I could do this while dealing with Sjogren’s (my autoimmune disease)? Maybe it doesn’t matter how much you want something if your body can’t handle it. Maybe I was foolish in thinking I was strong enough for this. Or, maybe I’ll just keep trying and go until I can’t go anymore.

Along the way, we finally got to cross a few suspension bridges. Some were not too far off the ground and some were higher. At one point, there was a set of bridges. We were told we had to cross over the top one. I did fine with them…once in a while I would have to hold onto the edge. It was fun seeing the prayer flags and white scarves flutter in the wind.

Double Suspension Bridge

Double Suspension Bridge


_DSC8970_zps4d7178a1
_DSC8375_zps66988edb

We finally reached Namche. And then there were more stairs. Why do I get the sinking suspicion that I’m going to freaking hate stairs by the time this trip is over? The path, for the most part, has been dirt, except for the stone steps. I look forward—if I can finish this trek—to seeing how the trail changes the higher we go.

The lodge is nice. Again, we arrived and had hot tea. Mingma gave us our keys and someone showed us the way to our room. Here’s the kicker: Tiffany and I are like four floors up! I had more stairs to take before I could rest. Not sure who decided that one, but I don’t find it funny. I was able to send a couple of texts out but I think I’m going to pay for Wi-Fi so I can check my email, send email updates/pictures, and get on Facebook to see what’s going on in the world back home.

Zamling Our Lodge

Zamling
Our Lodge

After dinner, word came that Amy and Jagdeep’s bags had arrived via porter. Danu, one of our men, walked the bags up from Lukla today. And François does look better, maybe it was just a stomach bug. No one else seems to be having any issues with altitude at the moment. We are currently around 11,300feet. As today ends, I wonder what tomorrow will bring on our rest day?