Monday, April 9, 2012

Kathmandu to HOME!

Friday April 6 - Sunday April 8
Kathmandu...To Home!
After another fitful night with that convulsant cough, I finally made it down to breakfast to say goodbye to Jeff and Linden.  Lucy and Corell had been up for a while already, no real surprise, and they were mostly packed.  I had yet to localize all the gear I'd spread out in an attempt to air-dry it after our soaking walk to Lukla.
Saying goodbye is not easy for me...and this one no better, except that I was able to, somehow, spare the boys my tears.  Think I was too busy trying not to cough all over everyone.  I had written them each a letter... a standard operating procedure for me, it seems, with them... to share some thoughts and more private thanks.  As if I don't allow myself to be vulnerable enough during these climbs, I add to my vulnerability by putting thoughts into print.  Some people will think me foolish, and while at times I agree, I prefer to think of all this vulnerability and owned-up-to-thoughts as keeping me "real" and honest.  Guess one day I'll find out how foolish I am...
After our goodbyes, which left me in a melancholy state, it was back up to the room to pack.  Lucy and Corell were finished more quickly, and checked out...while I struggled to organize my thoughts... much less my bags. (And now was the time for a few tears...) At some point, I reached a break-through moment when the end was realized, and then I went in search of Lucy and Corell.  We ended up meeting by the pool for lunch, before deciding to go for a walk to Bhoudanath- the large Buddhist stupa we'd seen during our Kathmandu tour weeks before.  
Since we were no longer "shopping", all our bags packed and weighed, the walk took on a different feel.  The streets were so dirty, the air thick and cloudy- you could see the pollution- and so many people were wearing what I call "street masks"- surgical masks- that they used to filter the air.  They were sold in streetside stalls, in produce stands, everywhere.  There were surgical blue/white or green/white masks like the ones we use in the US in the ORs...but there were also masks using prints of all kinds- animals, sayings, babies... and there were masks of all sizes- for babies on up.  I watched a mom and her two teens debating about which mask would work for her baby daughter- and it seemed to be a big discussion- pulling out several hangers of masks from which to choose the perfect one.  Imagine living where you'd have to filter every breath you breathe?  Made my cough more understandable- bronchitis inflamed by the nastiness of the streets.  One more day in which we couldn't have enough hand yesterday, we wanted to bathe in it!
After a couple of hours of walking around, we headed back to the hotel.  I tried to avoid putting my wobbly head on the pillow and focused on finalizing packing while Lucy and Corell nibbled on petit-fours in the lobby.  I finally checked out after waiting forever for the bell-hop to come  and hoist my mammoth bags...and grimmace he did.  We met for a dinner in the hotel restaurant, which was surprisingly good- except that I ended up leaning over and sleeping at the table.  They woke me in time to meet Sigar for our ride to the airport.
The rest of the trip is somewhat of a head foggy and my patience thin...dealing with the overweight bags (go to the bank, get $600 in Rps, no USD, no Credit card...then come back...) checks x...3, I think...then a 5 hr flight to Doha (slept), then 6 hrs in Doha airport lounge (slept) and then the 14 hr flight to Dulles (slept, mostly).  I did manage to rally to watch a film Jeff had recommended: Machine Gun Preacher- which I did find interesting and apropros of all of the talk we'd had on the trek re child slavery in Africa and elsewhere.  I wouldn't call it deep sleep, but with the bronchitis and foggy brain, I was pretty out of it for most of the trip.  Couldn't even keep my eyes open for the last 45 min stretch to Richmond.  Our families met us just past security...and it was so wonderful to see them all!  (Just wish my Blaise had been there as well- but she's off having fun in Phoenix.)
Once home, I attempted to share, but I succumbed to sleep around 11 pm, and slept until 5 pm today.  So much for Easter mass- cannot believe I slept through it.  Hopefully, though, I'm on the flip side of this illness, because life will come at me fast tomorrow...
As far as a "post-mortem" from the trip...haven't gotten that far.  The illness has definitely slowed me down, body and brain.  I'm certain that there is more, percolating around inside my cerebral vault...but it'll have to wait until thoughts coalesce.  Perhaps tomorrow.
For now, it is great to be home, with family, on a real bed with fluffy-but-firm down pillows, with food I can unrestrictedly eat, and without the hand-sanitizer-paranoia that followed us throughout our trek.  An amazing trip, but I'll think about it more tomorrow.  For now, back to slumber land...


Thursday April 5
We had an "extra" day built-in to our schedule for "contingencies" -be it bad weather on summit night or difficulty getting out of Lukla.  Fortunately for us, we didn't need the contingency day on the trail, and that enabled us to use today to see a bit more of Kathmandu.
After a fitful night- due to my cough becoming consolidated into a bronchitis- we had a later breakfast before setting out.  We caught a cab to Bhaktapur- a nearby city, one of the three (Kathamandu, Patan, Bhaktapur) in this valley.  Bhaktapur is known for its "old town"- narrow streets, limited motor access, multiple temples, and more authentic way of life.
Thanks to Linden, we knew to set a round trip price for our cab ride, and to ask the cabbie to wait while we were walking around.   As soon as we opened our doors, we were accosted by young men who wanted to be our guide.  They were so persistent, but we kept telling them we'd be fine with our book as a guide.  It is uncomfortable, to say the least, to walk around marked as a tourist.  I, of course, readily blended in, but Lucy??? Not a chance!  (Okay, not a chance for me either, but at least I'm brunette!)
Durbar Square in Bhaktapur, like Durbar Square in Kathmandu, is a collection of temples and palace buildings.  The temples look a bit disorderly, all jumbled up and plunked down in what seems to be a random fashion.  Some are stone, some are red brick, but almost all have some form of intricate carving over the doors, on the door frames, and on the roof struts.  Some of the carvings are reportedly "adult-themed" (at least in the US), and we spent a bit of time searching for "erotic elephants"... But alas, we couldn't find any.
As we walked along, we were still accosted by locals offering to be our guide.  A young boy, who looked about ten, began tagging along with us, offering to show us certain sites.  He spoke English pretty well, and repeatedly informed us that he didn't want any money.  His name is Samir, and he is actually 12 years old, the same age as Colman, Christopher, and Thurston.  He told us he had an exam at 2- and he had to study at 1.
He was articulate as he talked about how the differing religious communities worked/lived together.  He showed us a temple to Shiva, Hindu God of destruction and creation, and explained part of the worship ritual- animal blood, food, money. In an alcove across the alley from the temple, there was a butcher-and a practice which, to us westerners, was abhorrent.  Flies covered the ground, and the many carcasses of chicken and water buffalo were also black with flies.  
We followed Samir to the funereal ghats by the river, where we also saw the footsteps of Krishna, Ganesha, and Vishna.  I was politely, but promptly scolded when I attempted to match my footprints to theirs...silly me.  As if my feet could fill those of a god...
These funereal ghats and worship areas were similar to those we'd seen at Pashuputinath during our first tour of Kathmandu.  It's amazing how something/someplace so...almost revolting? us could be so holy and precious to others.  What a different mentality it takes to appreciate...and, perhaps, how restrictive I am in my personal views.  It does make me think.
Samir was very informative, and chatted with us about life, about the different religions, all the while taking care of us- "Please no talk to people. Not good."  "You like the water? I don't."  "Be careful...". Turns out he has two older brothers (of 7 other siblings) who are currently guides in Kathmandu.  Seems Samir has a path to follow.
He showed us the Temple of Three Gods: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and, in the same square, unabashedly showed us the Kama Sutra bas-reliefs on another temple wall.  He's a cool one...
At this point, he asked if we would please buy him a book.  Don't know how he pegged us, but peg us he did. ( Candy, drinks, money, no way.  But books?  Lead on! )  So I asked him to show us what he wanted, and then we'd decide.  Privately, we whispered that we'd die if he pulled out a dictionary.  We went up to a small bookseller, and he went right up to the seller, pointed to a book in an upper right corner bookcase, and she pulled it down.  3000 Rps...or $36. And, we were not so surprised to see, it was a Nepali-English hardback dictionary.  He could have been scamming us, but he was clever.  We really believed he wanted this book for himself.  After agreeing to pay for it, of course, he seemed to treasure it, looking at it,  before tucking it up under his shirt.  We told him we'd like to sign the book, and so he un-shrink-wrapped it, and showed us a page in the back on which we could scribe.  Don't know if he planned on tearing out the page and re-selling the book, but 3000 Rps was a lot for an 1.5 hr tour- even a great tour.  We prefer to believe that we've helped him break free of some of the constraints of poverty- by helping with his English education and his path of Guide-dom.
At the same time, Dhan, our taxi driver who had been tagging along for the past hour, was well aware of the money we'd given over for the book, and for the tour.  He and Samir had been like big/little brothers...walking in conversation, heads sometimes if Samir was coaching Dhan on Bhaktapur. For us, our time with Samir was a highlight...a warm fuzzy feeling in the midst of the filth and need.
Dhan drove us back to our western oasis in the Hyatt, where we dined by the pool. A short while later, we were met by Tik Bahadur Magar- a minister whom our friends Laura Wright, Anne McElroy, Kit Bredrup, and Eva Clarke had met on their recent trip to Jerusalem.  Tik took us by cab to his home, about a 40 minute ride to the south, to the city of Patan (which adjoins Kathmandu; and, with Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, is the third of the three cities in the Kathmandu valley).  There we climbed three floors to his flat, and met his wife, Bina Tamang, and their children and their orphaned children.  They have three children of their own, and they have "adopted" three children whom they've met as they've been out in the villages spreading the Gospel.  Bina chatted with us more, telling about their missionary work, and about her family which, as I understand it, had been Ghorka, but then fought that role.  People in her village survived the Ghorka "invasions" in their village because all the young people had already fled, so there were none to impress into the Ghorka army.  So the villagers fed the Ghorkas each time they came through, and prayed for them to leave.  They told us how difficult it had been, and still is, to be Christian in the small villages, and how they were treated cruelly.  Bina went on to say that it is much better in Kathmandu.  Tik now leads a church of about 120 people...on land which the government "allows" them to purchase, but then they cannot bury people on it.  Christian burials are still problematic in this city- a government "catch-22" where they are "supported" by being allowed to purchase land, but not "supported" in being restricted re its use.  So, many Christians are buried outside of Kathmandu, in the small villages.  Tik and Bina were warm and lovely, offering us tea and fruit, and, I hope, glad that we came for a visit.  It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, a beautiful glimpse at the world of this man and woman who forge their way, step by step and one by one, closer to God's heaven. 
A life lesson for me, who has so much, and who does so little with what I do have.
And, after all that, Tik prepaid for our cab ride back as well.
The cab ride home was interminable, filled with back roads and quick turns as the driver attempted to avoid the rush hour traffic.  It took us about an hour back, and the whole time it seemed I was hacking and coughing.  The air of Kathmandu is far from lung-healthy.  By the time we returned, I was foggy and beat.  I put my head down for a nap, and was out.  I tried to rally for dinner, but I was barely present...and instead tried to eat something while I watched Corell and Lucy consume their Indian feast. Wish I could have enjoyed it as well, but it was beyond me.
And so, it's bed-time, after popping more meds and some Phenergan cough syrup to, hopefully, help me sleep...

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Wednesday, April 4

The Lukla airport is an amazing place. We got up early, had bags packed and by the door by 06:30. Breakfast, and then... The Lukla Limbo. We had "reservations" on the second set of flights out this morning, but those flights to Kathmandu depend on flights arriving from Kathmandu first. Clouds and weather impede egress. And so, we waited. The toasted trekkers made an appearance, but I'm wondering if they lost anyone due to a hangover...

We watched the planes land, the sound hitting a few milliseconds after the touchdown, and then witnessed as one by one they decelerated coming up the steep incline to the loading area. And then when they took off, it seemed as if each plane almost nosedived as it descended the runway and then glided off the end. Lucy laughed and shared her mental image of all the occupants raising their hands and saying, "Wheeeeeeeee!" as they went down the hill. Still makes me laugh. I can't remember what time we were called, but at some point Lhakpa came into the tea house dining room, and we were off and up the hill to the airport. Once there, it was chaos: weighing bags, checking bags, pseudo-security ("Do you have knife in bag?" and the not-so-frontal stroke-down we'd enjoyed in Kathmandu), and the hurry-up-and-wait. We finally boardedo the twenty-seat plane, and were down that hill and in the air within a matter of minutes. (and yes, we threw our hands up in the air and yelled, "Wheeeeeee!" Hopefully Jeff and Linden didn't notice our maturity.) I was on the "wrong" side of the plane this time, as all the big rock was on the right hand-side of the plane. Well, that is, when you could see rock. After about fifteen minutes, I noticed the clouds surrounding us, and wondered how the pilots were navigating without sight. There were some bumps and the window got really cold a few times. I distracted myself by writing, so I didn't focus on the flight-except to register that it seemed to be taking longer than the arrival flight.

After we landed and retrieved our bags, Linden and Jeff shared their concerns about the flight- that we had circled around, gone from clear air pocket to clear air pocket, flown higher (that explains the cold blasts through the window)- and their worry that we'd have to return to Lukla. Fortunately, all ended well. And we retrieved all the luggage-half of which was mine.

We stopped by theYak and Yeti, our previous hotel, to pick up our "stay bags" and our lock-boxed documents. From there, we hit the Hyatt hotel to avail ourselves of some higher-bar service and amenities. After some check-in snafus, we met by the pool in our finest trekking wear- Lucy in snowboots, Jeff in long johns and heavy "summit" socks, and Corell and I in (dirty) trekking pants and long shirts. Only Linden was dressed appropriately. Regardless, there we were next to sunbathers- but the sun felt great, the food was good, and both were sorely needed.

After lunch we spent a few hours unpacking our bags (to dry out all our wet gear), and discovering what we had left behind in our "stay" bags several weeks ago. I could barely remember packing my stay bag, and so I enthusiastically emptied my bag, pulling out ziplock after ziplock of toiletries, electrical, and miscellaneous supplies. I was nearing the end when I pulled out a bag which contained a thick brown mass which was leaking brown fluid over other contents. Being such a great scientist, I poked and prdded and bent and squeezed in an attempt to discover what the heck it was. I couldn't smell too much because I've been so congested due to the smoke and smog and dirt. It looked like an amalgam of manure and mud...liquefying. Purely nasty. So, as good friends must, I decided to share my good fortune with Corell and Lucy down the hall. Oh, if you could have seen Lucy's face when I showed her the bag! Then Corell admitted to finding a gross gift in her stay bag as well. Hers, she said, looked a bit furry, like a snake, and she had been busy the previous ten minutes chloroxing everything in her bag. At this, I started laughing so hard I fell to the hall. It cracked me up so... It was just too damn funny and I was enjoying the sick humor of it all so much that I couldn't think straight as to what it could be. It was just foul. Corell was disgusted, and Lucy went straight to her "stay" stuff searching for similar stash.

I went down to meet Linden in the lobby, and could barely tell him the story because I was laughing and coughing so hard. When Lucy and Corell joined us, we walked to the Hyatt entrance to hail a cab. Along the way, Linden, ever-thinking (and in this case, just a wee bit of a spoilsport)(or, as he says, a "Sherlock"), asks us what we did with the marigold leis he had given us as we arrived at the airport in March. We nearly stopped in our tracks. That was it. Mystery solved. For some reason, in our packing panic of the night before we left for the trek, we had decided ( now here we disagree on who started this... She says me and I say she) to save the leis. So I put mine in an unzipped Baggie (hence the dripping brown liquid of my discovery), and she had put hers in bare. Science experiment concluded. Both methods of lei storage are imperfect, but the zippee protocol yielded a semi-gelatinous, semi-solid, liquefying, disgusting brown mess. Don't try it.

So, a little bit melancholy because the mystery was solved and we couldn't continue playing "what if?" games, we piled into a cab and headed back into the city toward Thamel, the tourist district. Linden showed us the route to our "celebration dinner" restaurant, The Roadhouse Cafe ( where we had dined before we left on the trek), and then pointed us in the direction of Durbar Square- the location of many palaces and the home of the current, pre-pubescent living Goddess.

We haggled and shopped, and finally made it down to Durbar square as it was turning dusk. We walked along, marveling at the architecture which had a distinctly pagoda style. We saw a large painted wall relief of the Hindu god of fire (Shiva?) where several people were purchasing votives from nearby sellers and then going up to the statue/relief and anointing themselves or doing ablutions.

We finally had to retrace our steps back to the Roadhouse Cafe, and into the melee we dove. Dodging cars, bikes, rickshaws, motorcycles, and people in this distinctly Hindu area, we felt it was as treacherous as descending Island Peak in the snow. It was astoundingly crazy, overstimulation extraordinaire, and still we pushed on- following fearless Corell. And then, we were back in Thamel. And the noise and the people and the vendors and the cars and the rickshaws were...gone. What a difference a block makes. We rushed into the restaurant 15 minutes late, and I think the boys forgave us.
Delicious pizza for dinner, and we solved all the world's problems. Linden presented us with our "Summit Certificate" (20,300 ft!!!), and both he and Jeff said some sweet things-and now here I am, in the hotel lobby at 1:30 AM because the WiFi doesn't reach my room. From Lukla to Kathmandu, what a day.

We are one step closer to to all!!

Sent from my iPad

"Feet, Feet, Feet"

Tuesday, April 3

"Feet, Feet, Feet"

We began our day in Namche, again seeing some of the climbing royalty whom we'd met the evening before. We snagged a quick photo with Dave Hahn before loading up and heading down and out.

As we were walking down the dreaded Namche Hill, we were talking about how fortunate we had been with the weather. At that point, Jeff said, "If it rains from here to Lukla, I'd be okay with it." Within fifteen minutes , the heavens opened. Thanks, Jeff. (To his credit, he did assume full weather-god responsibility for the onslaught.) While we dodged a downpour, the thunderstorms and heavy rain did make for some speedier walking. Not to mention interesting bridge crossings, as the bridges were rain-slicked metal slats. On one bridge, I kept feeling this nudge on my right side, and when I finally lifted up my eyes, for a nanosecond, off the slippery bridge, I realized it was Corell trying to slip by me to get off the bridge. Seems our imperturbable 'Rell doesn't like thunder and lightning and metal bridges all at the same time. Fortunately, with the 3 foot fencing on both sides of the bridge, I wasn't in much danger of slipping off.

It was a day of "feet, feet, feet". Whether Jeff's, Linden's, Lucy's, Corell's or my own, feet filled my view. I did managers look around a few times, and was surprised at the loveliness of cherry blossoms, cabbage patches, stone walls, and daffodils. Even saw pLinden, he of the "get off the bridge if you see a yak coming toward you" advice, deciding to play chicken with a yak on one of those slick bridges. We watched from our safe perch at the distal end of the bridge as Linden squeezed by the yak, using a top- heavy porter ahead of him to block out the yak. Luckily, he made it over to us, but not without some commentary by our crew!

And so, in our shells, and in the pouring rain, we walked on. My blisters from the day before had rebloomed, and each heavily-weighted downhill step sent pain shooting up my legs. Nothing I hadn't dealt with before. Taping or no taping, those blasted blisters burn.

Jeff and Linden stopped as few times to say hi to their incoming friends- one of whom is photographer/ mountaineer Jake Norton- someone I'd love to talk with, but alas, not on the trail, in the rain, at ~9000 ft. Later in the morning, Jeff stopped at a small tea house to hide from the thunder and lightning. The woman running the small teahouse seemed rather startled to see us- as did the six or so young men who were already seated. We treated ourselves to tea, and listened to the thunder. After an "appropriate" rest interval, we walked back out in the rain and walked as quickly as we could to Phakding where we stopped at the "Apple Pie Teahouse" for a hot lunch and the hope of warming ourselves. The lunch was hot, but we remained chilled and wet throughout our stay- which made it almost impossible to head back out.

After lunch, we had to tackle the "Lukla Hill"- a "treat" I was hoping would give my aching and blistered feet a rest from the downhill punch and slap they'd been subjected to all morning. Once again, I surrendered my pack so that we could move faster as a team. We walked up that hill in our best "heading to the barn" mode, and we made good time. Once in Lukla, we unpacked our bags to allow some of our wet clothing to dry a bit. How ironic that each of us had chosen that day, our last on the trail, to ignore the plastic bag liners we'd been using before now to keep our clothes dry in case of rain. We sure paid for it- but thank God it was our last day.

After showers and some organization, we met for dinner in the toasty warm dining room. After our dinner, we had the excellent good fortune to witness other trekking groups celebrate the end of their trips. A lot of beer was flowing, and they were soon dancing around, lifting others up in the air so that heads nearly missed the ceiling, dropping trou, and pretty much acting like fools. It's a testament to how beat we were that it took Linden's comment, "I am not going to watch anymore of this!" to galvanize us into leaving the room. Beware of toasted trekkers- it's an ugly sight!

There wasn't much commentary on the trail today. Usually, the front 2-3 people can hold a conversation while I, usually in the rear, can barely hear above my own huffing and puffing. It has made for some solitary trail time for me- a fact that never ceases to sadden me because my best memories of the trail are the conversations I've had and the relationships I've either forged or deepened. This time around, with the physical struggle I've had, and the relative separation that resulted, my relationship ties have been pretty minimal. It's not as much a bummer for my relationships with the Richmond girls because I'll see them at home. But here we've been on the trail for almost three weeks, and it feels as if I've barely spoken with Jeff and Linden. I can sometimes hear them up front talking, but I can rarely discern what is being said. That is probably my greatest disappointment on this amazing 3+ week adventure. I can't exactly say why it matters so much to me, but it does. Perhaps it's a curse to always want deeper and stronger relationships with those I care about, but in my mind, it feeds my soul and gives my experience depth and meaning. At any rate, they are special men, and I will cry when I say goodbye.

Love to all....

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Namche Bazaar

Monday, April 2
Namche Bazaar

I made it to breakfast on time today- and again had boiled eggs and bread. That makes about 30 boiled eggs I've eaten while in Nepal. Think that beats the number I've eaten in all my years prior. Some are good, some not so much. The worst were those soft boiled eggs I ordered for dinner in Deboche. Turned me off eggs for a while, or until I realized that there are few choices here in the Khumbu. The "Khumbu menu" looks to be the same pre-printed form, as if every tea house in the valley is part of one giant chain. The only difference is the name and drawing on the cover, and the slight variations in preparation.

We've decided to share our culinary tour of the Khumbu. Phakding has the honor of being the place NOT to eat veggie momos (dumplings) or garlic soup. Namche Bazaar's Camp de Base wins for best "chicken chilly", Tengboche wins for best bakery (although this is a totally biased selection as Linden thinks the girl in the bakery is the most lovely girl in the Khumbu...), Pheriche wins for best Dal Bhat, and Jeff says for bet nak cheese sandwich and tomato soup, Deboche wins for best French Toast. Moving up the valley, Leboche wins for their "Sherpa bread" ( fried bread with rosemary-the closest we'll come to Italian food!) and Gorak Shep wins for...not much. Once in Chukkung, we decided that, in fact, Chukung wins for best Dal Bhat. While its yet to become too competitive, food is important at altitude, and so, we focus on food.

Lucy and Corell approached Linden this morning with a novel idea- they asked if we could go for a long walk today. Linden, ever agreeable with our crew, acquiesced like the gentleman he is. Meanwhile, Lucy entertained us with her dream from the night, and Himalayas and Vegas and long bats and nominal clothing. I believe she and Renee win for most creative slumber. We walked for several hours, and ended up back in Namche Bazaar- the village nestled in the crook of an elbow, terraced to make life difficult for us low-landers. I would like to think that those days up at altitude would help me walk/climb at altitude, but I've found that my respiratory rate still shoots skyward upon climbing the streets.

We arrived in Namche around 3:15, and we all took off to our rooms for...showers! I got mine scalding hot and after 5 days without, it was such a pleasure to don clean clothes.
Once clean, Lucy, Corell and I went walking "down-town" to do some shopping. We haggled over prices and were hassled by over-zealous bank card denials. Argh!
We were late for dinner because of all the credit card snafus, and we're horrified to learn on our hurried arrival that the entire table had been kept waiting for our arrival. We felt pretty bad about that. The dining room, so empty two weeks ago, was packed. The First Ascent team was there, and there we were, loping in like schmoes. At the table? First American to summit Everest-Jim Whittaker, his son Lief Whittaker, his wife Diane, climbing guru great Dave Hahn, Melissa Arnot, videographer Kent Harvey, and trek photographer/videographer Ken... Seven Everest summiters at the same table, And then there were the three of us. Dum di Dum di Dum.

We had fun at dinner, but we were a bit insulated from the climbers. We were down in the non-climber, LOL crowd. Luckily Ken talked with us, so we didn't feel quite like aging losers. We had a lot of fun laughing at ourselves, and, for the first time, felt like celebrating a bit. Which we did, with laughter and the finest bottle of "Everest Water" we could find.

Tomorrow, we hope to wake to warmer temperatures- temps where our sunscreen doesn't freeze ( you'd think that'd been figured out by now!)- and the long walk to Lukla.

Hope all. Is well back home--- we are getting closer step by step!

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Sunday, April 1st
April Fool's in Pengboche
After our exhausting summit day on Saturday, I collapsed in my tent, and slept from 7 PM to what I thought was 6:15 AM. Dead to the world, I awoke when the cook tent crew called out, "Namaste! Tea?". Still oblivious to the time, and feeling pretty good about my chunk of sleep, I headed/slid down the treacherous "path" to the outhouse--the plastic bag in the rocks. Upon my return, we were being called to breakfast, and at this point I realized I had messed up. Bags were supposed to be tent-side, and my tent was filled with the explosion of the day before. And so, after another breakfast of boiled eggs and toast, the team had to wait for me as I shoved stuff into my bag.
That meant for a later start than we'd hoped, and we had hoped to make it all the way down to Pengboche (where Lama Geshe had blessed us with the kata scarves on our way up valley). While descending from high camp, the sun was warm and reflected off the snowy rocks. We commented that we were all glad we hadn't tried to make it down to base camp (our original plan) immediately upon our descent from the summit. While I could never speak for Linden, Lucy, Corell and I all felt a bit ragged after the climb.
We spent hours walking down the rocks, then hours walking through the rocks, until we reached the more fertile altitude of Pengboche. What began as a warm day turned rather quickly into a cold, windy one. It felt as if we were racing to our new destination- and perhaps we were.
Surprisingly, we didn't discuss the climb much at all. Sometimes it is very awkward to hold a conversation with someone a few feet ahead of or behind you, and facial expressions and intimacy are easily lost. Linden did mention that that was the longest Island Peak summit day he's had. We clocked in at 13:15 hours tent flap to tent flap. Our descent took a lot longer because of the snow- which made the footing, already precarious, even more so.
And so on we motored, reaching Pengboche by around 4:15 PM. We had been eagerly awaiting calling our families, as we'd yet to reach any of them. We were also eagerly awaiting showers, but, as Lucy says, "Showers are overrated," and we elected to forego them. No, that wasn't altitude-induced psychosis, but rather a realistic appraisal of the risk of a cold trickle of a shower and an outdoor hike back to our rooms in the cold. At some point, we rationalized, cleanliness was just stupid. When we saw Linden a bit later and he cautiously informed us of his no-shower choice, he seemed relieved that we wouldn't give him too much grief.
After checking out our plywood rooms, we were delighted to find adjoining rooms with a shared bath. How awesome to not have to go down the hall! The air was thicker and warmer since we had dropped down about 3300 ft. On our way back up to tea hour, we heard our names called, and there was Jeff! He had booked it from Everest Base Camp to walk out with us. He's amazing. And what a treat! And I guess Linden felt like the time was right for sharing, because after telling us for weeks what his dress would be for the next day, he admitted to not bringing long johns with him. While he must have suffered in silence, we are fortunate temps were not colder than they were. I'd have frozen without mine!
After an average dinner of Sherpa stew, vegetable fried noodles, and fries, we were able to call home for the first time in days. It was so great to hear from everyone- and so great to tell them that we'd had success. It is also funny to realize that although we summitted two nights ago, we still have a long walk out to the plane from Lukla to Kathmandu.
Hope all is well back home!!
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Island Peak!

Saturday, 31 March
Imja Tse (Island Peak)
Our day began at 01:45- with a slight shaking of our tents. We had forty minutes to take our meds, brush our teeth and hair, use the facilities ( down a treacherous stretch of rock- probably one of the scarier things about our trip- so sure each time that I'd snap an ankle!), and get dressed. Sounds like plenty of time, right? Obviously Linden thought so...but the three of us were pretty flustered by the time we gathered in the cook tent ( the warmest place around..) for breakfast. We were all pretty nervous, and still futzing with our clothing and equipment. I've done this several times now, and this pre-summit time still seems like chaos. Getting dressed includes hat and helmets and headlights and four layers up top and three below, and levels of mittens and boots and gaiters and hand warmers and toe warmers and water bottles and snacks and extra layers and, and, and.

I wore my stylin' down pants to breakfast because we'd all planned on wearing them to start with, but dropped them before we left camp. Lakpa and Phura joined Linden as guides-but I think they were surprised we were attempting a summit bid. After all, Phura had been carrying my pack for over a week so that I could be better rested for the climb. Regardless of why, it still made me feel like a schmuck.

We ended up warming up a bit while we crowded into the relatively warm cook tent for our eggs, toast, and for me, grits. After breakfast, I hurriedly shed my down pants, and we hit the trail at 03:30. The night was clear, the stars were out, and it looked to be a fine night for climbing.

I fell in step in the weakest link spot, right behind Linden. We climbed the rocky trail, now coated with ~2" of snow, until our first dark, cold break. Jeff had told me to shoot for 400 calories per break to keep up my strength-, and it was damn difficult to do, between chewing, and chewing, and drinking, and adding layers, the break time ( better referred to as a "maintenance" time), flew by. Lucy and Corell are so strong, and my greatest fear was not being able to keep up. Luckily for me, Linden has now had plenty of time evaluating me and my pace, and he kept to a pace I could mostly handle.

As we climbed, we saw a couple of light trails behind us. A group of big, burly Russian men passed us during the first hour but we caught up to them near he end of the second hour on the rocks. Never underestimate the strength and perseverance of women! There is an exposed rock ridge, marked by cairns visible from high camp, just before "crampon point" and the glacier, and that is where we tagged them. As they breaked, Linden led us further onto the snow, to the place where he and Phura had stashed our glacier gear earlier that afternoon. What was supposed to be a "healthy" break turned into a long break- almost an hour- which was hard for us all to believe. At close to 19,000 ft, everything was slo-mo. From trying to eat those snacks, drink water, add crampons to our boots, use the facilities, again, time flew. I often, in shades of Kilimanjaro, felt like a baby bird to Linden and Phura's Mamma. You'd think I'd improve in the self-care-at-altitude department, but I have such a long way to go...

Now cramponed, we roped up to head out onto the glacier. There was some mild-moderate incline to tackle, but most of our glacier time was traversing. Regardless, it was exhausting. We saw the Russian team ahead of us, and we leap frogged them once more as we headed into a break. At this point, Lucy clued me on that we were almost at the base of the headwall- a clue which thrilled me because I thought we had more to go. After dropping our packs, we walked the last bit to the headwall. Phura and Lhakpa had already placed a fixed line up the headwall, so one by one, we tackled it. I was up first with Linden, then Phura and Lucy, followed by Corell and Lhakpa. The wall was...500+ feet...up. Pretty daunting, but I had Linden to help me. Move the ascender, step up, move the ascender, step up. Worked pretty well except for the many times when no matter how I tried, I couldn't reach the next step up without digging in my front points. That's when Phura would step up from below and streeeeetch my leg up and then I'd pull on the ascender and he would boost me. Sometimes Linden would pull me up as was exhausting. We kept inching up the headwall, and every few steps I'd look up...and we were no closer. At one point, I told Linden that I needed to pause and get my breath, and he replied, "C'mon, you know you want this!" and he was right. I thanked God several times for the STPT workouts and my (relative) upper body strength. It saved me when my legs weren't enough.

Finally, after about two hours on the headwall, we topped out onto the summit ridge. My memory may be faulty, but that ridge seemed about a couple of feet across at it's widest part. With huge drop-offs on both sides. We clipped onto the fixed lineup the summit, and put one foot in front of the other. About twenty minutes later, I reached the summit and Linden clipped me onto the summit line. The summit was about 8x10, and there were about 12 people crowded onto the small plateau. We took some photos, Linden gave us the big mountain IDs, and then we began our descent. Coming down off the summit, with our arms wrapped around the fixed line, was pretty freaky, because that's when I truly noticed the exposure on both sides of the summit ridge. Pretty soon, we began our rappel down that 500 ft+ head wall.

The clouds had moved in on our ridge walk and summit time, so we were anxious to get off the ridge and down the headwall. Corell led, with Phura on belay. Lucy followed, but ran into a bit of difficulty as she rotated on the line and hit her ribs, twice. And she hit hard. Meanwhile, up on the ridge, I waited with those Russians- who at this point were chomping at the bit, and none too sportsmanlike. They actually pissed me off. There was Lucy, hurting 30 feet below us, and Phura had to hold them off. And to top it off, they had put their fixed lines up using Phura's, so that the lines overlapped several times on the route, hence the "roadblock".

I waited for a few of them to go before Phura waved me on. And so, down I went. It was tricky for me because of those overlapping ropes, and because of all the erratic ice.
I would go for awhile, stop, then go again. At the bottom of the first belay, I was then shifted over to "fireman's belay" as Lhakpa greeted me and stayed behind me all the way down. All in all, Linden said we spent as long on the descent as on the ascent...but I can blame the rude Russians for a part of it...

Once off the headwall, we walked backed to our parked bags, took a quick break, and then set off over the glacier, stepping over a few crevasses. The snow was falling pretty steadily by now, and I was glad that I had at least stopped at the top of the approach on the way up to notice the breaking dawn. It had been a gorgeous pink tinged with purple, framing the mountains. Unfortunately, most of our walk down was in the snow, so mountain visibility was minimal. Each of us was "short-roped" to a guide on the way down because of the slick terrain. Upon reaching crampon point again, we were greeted by porters from high camp with hot tea, coconut biscuits, and our trekking shoes. With the increased snow on the ground, the rocky trail down would prove even more treacherous. For me, at least, that was true, and I spent the better part of two hours hunched over my poles, trying to distribute the weight so that I didn't wipe out. There were also multiple times when I slid down rocks on my rear because I couldn't see a good foothold.
And, as all good things must do, the descent finally came to an end- Phura and I reached high camp at 4:45 PM- a 13:15 summit day- and the dubious distinction of being Linden's longest summit day on Island Peak. Woo hoooo!
After a quick dinner, I hit the bag, and promptly crashed.
It was great to be down, but we still have miles to go before we sleep...
By the way, a "summit" feels great!!!
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Island Peak High Camp

Friday, March 30
Island Peak High Camp

We had dinner by candlelight last night, and our music was the wind, whipping all around us. Our cook Yubaraj treated us with pasta, roasted tomatoes, and cauliflower. Really not a bad way to dine at 16,500 ft. We talked for while about today, and our summit bid tonight. Can't believe it is finally here- this has been a two week long approach and it feels like it. Mostly, we are worried abut the middle-of-the-night cold and then that huge head wall. I am pretty excited about the headwall--- just hoping I have the stamina for it. The summit ridge is pretty exposed, dropping off on both sides, but we will have fixed line (anchored to the wall by ice screws) to help us from the base of the head wall to the summit.

I had a difficult night of sleep last night, woke up again with the "short lung syndrome." Bummer. Guess I should have taken some Diamox, but I forgot. At any rate, I got up, walked around, trying to move some air. It was very frustrating. Finally, I dove back into My sleeping bag and slept for a little while. My bag has felt a little shorter these past few days as I've been stuffing my cameras and electronics in the toe. Hopefully that will help battery longevity up here. In Chukkung, I spent $5 per hours for charging my iPad, and the battery power went from 47% to...47%. Last night I used some of the battery power I brought with me which worked pretty well.

It was soooo cold this morning- and Linden cautioned us about under that can make it difficult for us to keep warm. I laugh to think about Sasha's comment that, " We have to lose weight on this trip, don't you think?". Not with all the carbs and candy I've been eating trying to fuel the tank. Impressive.

We had a leisurely start today as we only had to hike an hour and a half up to "high camp"- a perch on the side of the hill. I could definitely feel the altitude today. The clouds came in, bumming us out because it may mean a cold and sunless climb tonight. We are keeping or fingers crossed. Soon after we arrived in high camp, the cooks came to the tent door with some hot Tang. A treat. The sun was shining and for a brief moment, all was well in the world.

We settled into our tents, which includes localizing the site of the toilet-du-jour. Today's version is tucked in behind some rocks, about 100ft below Lucy and Corell's tent. It'll make for difficult access in the night. But in "Leave No Trace" fashion, all solids waste should enter the bag so that it can be packed out. Do not envy the porter whose job that is!!

Yubaraj soon called us for lunch, and we dined with a view- on a mat under an awning attached to the cook tent. And we froze because the clouds had covered us. I forgot that it is Friday, and actually ate a piece of what looked like fried Spam- only because I'll need all the help I can tonight. Not to mention the porters going up to the glacier, cutting out huge chunks, and then carrying it down in their wicker baskets so that we Yubaraj could meIt it for drinking water. A lot goes on in support of climbers. It all wasn't as bad as I thought...which is saying something at 17,500 ft!!

Since lunch we've been in tents while Linden and Phura went upon the trail to check it out, and to stash some gear at "crampon point"- the point at which we will stop and put on our crampons before heading out onto the glacier. They will probably do this climb twice tonight, what with the assistance they'll be giving us. It has gotten colder and snow has begun to fall. Linden just suggested we do a snow dance to stop the snow.
Good news is that the route is in "pretty good shape"...

We have a couple more hours before our "summit talk" with Linden and then dinner. We plan to leave around 1 AM, with a summit around 8-9 am.

I'll be baaack...

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Island Peak Base Camp

Thursday, March 29
Island Peak Base Camp

Last night I felt as if my sleeping bag was closing in around me. I awoke around 3:30 AM, glad to have had a few hours of Ambien-less sleep, but then couldn't fall asleep again. It felt as if my "short lung syndrome" had returned in full force. ("Short-ness of breath" has taken on a new meaning for me.) Unable to take deep breaths, I'd try pressure breathing and sitting bolt-upright in order to move some air. And all the while, sweet Corell slept away. I must have also been a bit dehydrated because, even in my fabulous -40 degree bag, I couldn't get toasty warm. And then it was so cold this morning that I didn't want to get out of the bag at all. Desperately wanted a foley catheter, or to be a guy, just for a few minutes! And tonight, we move higher up in elevation, and into tents... BRRRR!!

I made a quick sat phone call home this am, and caught Blaise still up late, doing homework. Can't believe I won't see her until after her spring break, a week after I return home. She asked me how I felt abut the climb, if my spirits are up, and if I feel good abut it. She is just one of many rooting for my "success" on this mountain, and for that, I am most grateful. It is hard to be away from them for so long, and I miss them so. At any rate, the phone call made me a bit melancholy, and, added to new-and-improved-gut-distress, it made for a difficult first hour on the trail.

We didn't have far to go today, a few hours up the valley, wrapping around the side of Island Peak, and gaining about 1500 ft in elevation. We are now at 16,500 ft, and while it doesn't feel like our recent altitude reach of 17,000 ft in EBC has helped me, it must have.

We slowly climbed up the valley, watching Island Peak grow closer. Along the way, we kept hearing the quacking of ducks, which Linden says are actually pheasants. Pheasant under dome, anyone? Wonder what delights our base camp cook, Yubaraj, will dream up for us tonight?

Our base camp site is the farthest one up the trail, again. On the positive side, that means just a few minutes less of a climb to high camp tomorrow, so all is well. Once we hit camp, we made our way into the dining tent where hot tea and hot pineapple Tang/juice awaited us. (Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!) Lunch soon followed- grilled cheese, hot curried potatoes (yum!), coleslaw with carrots, and some smoked-fish salad which I didn't have the stomach to try. It is amazing how one's appetite diminishes at altitude -- right now, I am still Wheat Thin Dreamin'...

After lunch, I felt so cold, and we separated to set up our tents. Lucy and Corell are sharing this time around, and I am hoping that my medical kit boxes will keep me warm. Right now, they are proving useful as a back rest while I write this blog entry. Don't know how much off-gassing they'll do, but hopefully it'll all be for the good, and for some heat.

This is a wind-swept, desolate camp, and there are perhaps twenty or so other tents sprinkled around. There is what looks to be a latrine a bit down-camp, and another a bit beyond us. The latrine closest to us was locked, with a sign on the door reading "Do not use until March 2012." By the powers that be. Well, it is now late March, and our porters took a crow bar to open the door. Not sure what the penalty is for Breaking and Entering Latrines, but these guys don't seem too worried. The latrine is supposed to be for solid waste, and liquid waste is to be sprinkled around camp, literally. Very different from EBC where we had a tent for each. I am not sure if there is much benefit from this latrine...the platform is built up so that one of those ubiquitous blue barrels fits neatly just below the hole in the floor. With the wind whipping up through the valley, and through that hole, it'll be might cold taking care of business. (Again, the bowels references...can't help it, it's a way of life here in the hills...)

So here I am, in my tent, surrounded by my stuff, listening to the wind whip it's way through. Dust and dirt are everywhere, and everything is coated with a layer of it. I watch a corner of my tent lift in the wind, but I rest secure knowing that my gear and I are far too heavy to mobilize. One of the cooks knocks, and, in shades of Kilimanjaro, I am served hot tea and crackers in my tent. I am still cold, though buried in four layers and my sleeping bag. I will definitely be sporting my down pants and parka for dinner tonight! I just hope I can stay warm through the night.

After tea, Corell joins me for our devotionals, and once again I am moved. I guess it makes sense during Lent, a time to reflect on Christ's suffering, but so much of what we are reading is about being broken and wounded. One of today' s readings is about how weakness builds the soul. I have believed, for quite a while now, that we bond with one another, and with God, through our imperfections, our struggles, our losses. Our successes can trivialize our lives and our relationships, but through our journeys through pain and loss, we gain strength, commitment, insight, and we allow for the reception of love and devotion freely given. I am glad, in many ways, for the life I've lived, because along the way my pains have allowed me to be appreciative, in at least a small way, of the many blessings I have been given.

Ronald Rolheiser writes; "It is not that these (our death, our losses, our dark nights of the soul) are, in and of themselves, good; it is just that when we listen to them we grow deep. They build up our souls. Inferiorities and failures are not things to be buried as private and past shames. They are to be listened to. They are entries into the depth of our souls."

My time in the mountains (or time anywhere...) is a time of reflection, and awareness, as I've written before, of my own weaknesses. My prayer is that we all listen to our souls a little more deeply, and along the way, find greater compassion in each other's struggles. I know I yearn to be a better person, to have greater depth, to be kinder. I hope that this is a journey my kids can share.

I've obviously had a lot of tent time today...
Hope all is well back home...and love to you all!!!

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Wednesday, 28 March

Yak-dung smoke is heavy and caustic. Several times over the past few days I have been driven to use my inhaler because the smoke was so thick that I could feel my chest tighten. This morning it was so thick that I awoke coughing and gagging, my eyes watering. Bad stuff. We also noted why the laundry we'd had "washed" last time we were in Pheriche stunk so--- it was line-dried right over, you guessed it, a 4 foot pile of yak dung. Absolutely charming.

I was sad this morning as the group split up. Sasha (our "Jacket Queen" because she has one for every moment!), Laura, Jane and Renee waved goodbye as they walked out of Pheriche with Naga. For the three of us who remain, our thoughts and concerns shift to our next objective- the summit of Island Peak ~ 20,000 ft- a similar altitude to Mt. McKinley. We will miss everyone who has headed home just as we miss the rest of Team Waki- we wish they could have joined us on this wonderful trip.

On our way to Chukkung, our destination for the night, we climbed up the same hill which we'd climbed several days ago on our Pheriche acclimatization hike. This time, however, the going was much easier, such is the benefit of coming down from higher altitudes! We continued our "ridgeline dance" up the Imja Khola valley, underneath the watchful gaze of Island Peak. The relatively fertile valley soon gave way to a boulder- strewn scree-scape, and dust was the norm.

We stopped for a few breaks and the challenge has been to find interesting snacks. The teahouses up here sell: Pringles, McVities, Mars, Snickers, Bounty (a European Mounds bar), and Twix. In addition, most lodges sell 12 kinds of "digestive biscuits"- must be a European thing, although given the "digestive" issues in our team alone, perhaps there is a point... Sasha donated her residual Wheat Thins, and they sure hit the spot for Lucy and me. At this point, I am sick of chocolate. And most of my remaining snacks are...chocolate. Seems I tossed out most of the other snacks when I had to pare down my bags. And, my Nutella packets exploded all over my snacks- leading to an afternoon spent cleaning up the "diaper blowout". So now, I am kinda stuck with what I have- although Lucy and Corell have been most generous with their stash.

As far as dream foods? After two weeks on the trail in a foreign land, I crave...a medium rare prime steak and roasted vegetables- especially cauliflower. I was excited to eat the fried cauliflower Kumar served us up in Base Camp, but I hungered for so much more. In due time, because we have a mountain to climb! I am currently subsisting on Werther's, Ricola lozenges, and rice. My stomach keeps on fighting back against my current diet and I am constantly on the alert for increased "BR"s (bowel rumbles). It makes it difficult to pack up each day and hit the trail.

That brings me to another topic, though not an elegant one. Asian toilets. Whether simple holes in the floor to a pit below or a porcelain variety with bilateral ridges for foot placement, these things boggle my mind. Which way do you squat? Some have large barrels of water nearby to facilitate flushing but which block access, others have more room. Its awkward, at best- though often cleaner than many commodes with "seats." Guess that's why we haven't seen any reading material in the rest rooms... You are not welcome to stay, no matter your distress. Wonder what our guide acquaintance Brent would have to say about these facilities since he encourages "sitting on the throne" before every climb.

If it seems I am focused in bowel habits, I am. A bad turn can sideline a trek, but can end a climb. Even though I feel I have been extremely vigilant in the hand sanitizer department, just one mistake can be dreadful. And tonight is our last night in a tea house before our climb. As teahouses go, this one seems very clean. Most of them have had blankets, of some sort, and basic pillows. The worst teahouse, in Gorak Shep, had cracked concrete floors, rickety beds, and barely-there pillows. That was one dismal place. Our Chukkung teahouse has slate floors in the halls, three toilets (squatters all) and wood overlay in the bed rooms. For a little while, we were warm while the sun filled the room, but soon we found ourselves heading to the sunroom for heat.

I am still trying to accept the fact that I am trekking and climbing without carrying my own pack. Each morning, as I watch Phura load up with my pack in addition to his own, I feel horrible. I wonder what I am doing climbing if I can't carry the load. As it is, without my pack, I am still in a different "heart rate zone" than Lucy and Corell. Dropping the pack allows me to keep up, but still doesn't allow me to engage much, as talking consumes too much energy. So, I try to listen in on the conversations ahead of me- but with the wind and noise of walking, I can't hear much at all, and that can make for a solitary time. I do feel pretty foolish, however, walking in to teahouses and camps backpack-less. I keep telling myself that "pride goeth before a fall," and perhaps this sacrifice in pride will prevent a fall down that headwall on Island Peak!

We had a great dinner, but Lucy wasn't feeling well. We tried to coax her into eating something, but she just couldn't stomach anything. And then we watched one of the cooks pick up, bare-handed, a pile of yak dung from a large rice sack and dump it into the heater. That pretty much did Lucy in.

We are biding our time for the 8:30 PM mark so that we can head to bed, knowing it is going to be a cold night, and praying that Lucy feels better in the AM.

Ramro sanga sutnos!

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