Tag Archives: Everest

Luke ~ Fun in Sibuje

There are times when words are not enough to describe a scene. Thankfully, when Christen needed some local knowledge on how to manage her traditional welcome scarves given to her at celebration at the school, this woman was on the task. We are also in great debt to Glen for teaching us his secret high altitude dance moves…

Luke ~ Life in Sibuje (part 1)

The first part of the trek was behind us. After three days of strenuous hiking on steep trails, fighting travel fatigue, stomach cramps, and diarrhea, a rest day in Sibuje was very welcome. In fact, I could not imagine a more serene and picturesque village.

Sunrise in Sibuje is a magnificent sight. The valley shown here is the valley we would follow the rest of the trek, all the way to Mera Peak.
Sunrise in Sibuje is a magnificent sight. The valley shown here is the valley we would follow the rest of the trek, all the way to Mera Peak.

Life in Sibuje is simple in many ways; easy it is not. The 16 families in Sibuje must work very hard for everything they have. They build their own homes and grow their own food, preserving many of the farming techniques used for centuries. They cook over wood fires that also serve to heat their homes. The hillsides surrounding the village are dangerously thin of trees, a result of deforestation for firewood over the years. To help prevent future deadly landslides (Karma’s Aunt was killed 20 years ago by one while sleeping in her home), villagers must walk at least an hour each way to gather firewood. People (mostly kids) are constantly making the journey back and forth all year long so that they have enough wood come winter.

Villagers have built terraces into the steep hillsides. Farming here is challenging, but it is how people have survived in villages like this for centuries.
Villagers have built terraces into the steep hillsides. Farming here is challenging, but it is how people have survived in villages like this for centuries.

Despite the hard way of life, the people of Sibuje have a warmth, friendliness, and happiness I have never seen before. They value hard work, family, and a light-hearted silliness that leaps into form as dancing and joking with friends, family, and guests. I have never felt more quickly and wholeheartedly welcomed by strangers into their homes.

The building on the right is the home of Pasang Sherpa, my friend and porter for the trek. After sleeping under the stars in the yard, I was awoken by Pasang coming outside. When he saw me, he immediately offered me a cup of tea. His hospitality and friendliness is unmatched.
The building on the right is the home of Pasang Sherpa, my friend and porter for the trek. After staying up very late photographing the stars and then sleeping in the yard, I was roused by Pasang coming outside. When he saw me, he immediately offered me a cup of tea. His hospitality and friendliness were a perfect start to the day.

Life in the village also seems uncertain. In the last year, two families have left due to hard times. Karma took us in the morning to talk to two separate village elders to get their perspectives on the village and the challenges they face. They know that their way of life is threatened. To help, they seek some modern solutions while holding fast totheir culture and tradition as they can.

Karma walks the group around a buckwheat field on the way to visit some village elders. Buckwheat is a mainstay in the village. The flour can be roasted in a pan and made into a thick porridge that is higher in protein than almost any other food. It also tastes amazing!
Karma walks the group around a buckwheat field on the way to visit some village elders. Buckwheat is a mainstay in the village. The flour can be roasted in a pan and made into a thick porridge that is higher in protein than almost any other food. It also tastes amazing!

The first home we visited was the home of one of the oldest families. The husband was out in the hills tending to their cows. We spoke with the wife, Pemdigi Sherpa. When we asked her age, she said that she is in her 80’s. It is difficult for many Sherpa people to tell you their exact age. Because many do not have birth certificates (a trip to Kathmandu is required by the father of a newborn baby to get one), and they use a different calendar, much confusion can arise.

Pemdigi Sherpa is a wonderful old woman. She quickly welcomed our whole group into her home for tea while chatting casually about the helicopters flying overhead all morning (a rare sight in the village brought about that day by the sad events happening on Everest). She smiled warmly as she recalled the first time a small group of tourists came to Sibuje, more than 20 years ago. She said she came outside one day to find several tents on the nearby terraces. She and her family were a little shy at first, but became quick friends with the adventurous visitors from strange lands. Ever since, tourists have been welcomed into the village wholeheartedly, although infrequently. Since Sibuje is off the typical trekking routes by a couple days and has no lodges, it is visited by very few tourists. Nevertheless, locals love to meet people from the outside world and hear about their lives.

Pemdigi Sherpa tells tales of the first tourists to visit Sibuje.
Pemdigi Sherpa tells tales of the first tourists to visit Sibuje.

After having salt tea (a Sherpa mainstay) with Pemdigi, we walked through some more pristine fields and climbed some very steep (of course) hills to get to the home of Dorje Sherpa. Dorje is a man of approximately 65-70 years with a serious demeanor that can turn into a childlike laughter at the drop of a hat.

Glen, Dorje Sherpa, and Karma Sherpa get their 'silly' on.
Glen, Dorje Sherpa, and Karma Sherpa get their ‘silly’ on.
Quick friends; quick laughter.
Quick friends; quick laughter.

Dorje has done fairly well for himself and family. With that said, he spoke of many of the challenges echoed by everyone in the village. Water. It is a common refrain I have heard from people in the mountains close to the sources and from people all over Kathmandu valley. Access to fresh, clean water for crops and drinking is becoming a major problem. Sibuje gets its water, like many Himalayan villages, from a nearby stream. Unfortunately, during many parts of the year, the stream dries up – either because the source is frozen in winter, or because the fall and spring seasons are too dry. The summer months bring the monsoons. Once a welcome restoration of the moisture needed for farming, the recent intensity of monsoons has resulted in too much water and landslides.

Some of the local kids supervise the filming at Dorje's house. I was never short on helping hands.
Some of the local kids supervise the filming at Dorje’s house. I was never short on helping hands.

In addition to water, Sibuje is in need of electricity so that their kids can study at night. Sanitation systems are non-existent. The villagers are frequently getting sick from bacteria, and a way to more efficiently heat and keep their homes warm is needed. Infrastructure is not the only shortcoming. In order to help raise needed revenue for the village, many of the younger generation seek education so that they can work in the tourism industry when not working in the families fields. However, to get an education past third grade and to learn English, as absolutely necessary to succeed in tourism, kids must be sent away to a village half a day’s hike away to live with a host family. The expense is far more than most locals can afford.

Ang Rita Sherap and Andrew hanging out with the kids.
Ang Rita Sherap and Andrew hanging out with the kids.

Later in the day, we attended the local primary school, which teaches through grade 3. The teacher is funded by a foreign NGO, and his salary is sadly not guaranteed for next year. Regardless, Karma and the rest of us were invited to a celebration. A generous Japanese friend of Karma’s donated school uniforms for the kids, so everyone was in high spirits. The next post will highlight that wonderful afternoon when Karma got to bring them the uniforms!

Luke ~ Sibuje, here we come!

Day three started with a disconcerting rumble in my stomach, but I was starting to feel a little better. It seemed that the Cipro was starting to work its magic. I enjoyed the brisk morning by setting up my camera to take some video notes, and Christen basked in the warmth of her first hot bucket shower of the trip. When you have no plumbing, you get creative in the mountains.

Morning in Pangom was crisp and beautiful.
Morning in Pangom was crisp and beautiful.

The day began with a short 30-minute hike that was surprisingly difficult. Ah, yes… Everything is uphill in the Himalaya. We had early morning tea and biscuits at an overlook at the monastery where Karma’s uncle is the Lama. We could not go inside because of a flurry of construction work. Some Japanese businessmen had donated $100,000 for the renovation of this picturesque and remote Buddhist monastery.

Christen enjoying some company at the monastery.
Christen enjoying some company at the monastery.
Matt receives a gift of a scarf from the Lama to wish him safe travels.
Matt receives a gift of a scarf from the Lama to wish him safe travels.
Karma and his uncle, the Lama
Karma and his uncle, the Lama

After spending the better part of an hour at the Monastery, it was up the trail again. Thankfully, we did not have quite as much vertical gain/loss that day. As we were rounding a steep ridge, I marveled at the sheer depth of the valleys. It seemed that the mountains (still called ‘hills’ at this point by the Sherpas) rose almost completely straight up out of the rushing river thousands of feet below.

Along the distant ‘hills’, I could make out tiny little houses and row upon row of immaculate terraces hewn out of the steep hillsides. With no roads into this area, the only way is to go on foot. I marveled at the strength and ingenuity of the people who lived in these little villages dotting the landscape.

In the mid afternoon, we came around a corner to see a spread-out cluster of little homes and bamboo cow sheds cascading down the mountainside. On one border, a sheer cliff hugged the trail. We were finally in Sibuje, Karma’s home village, and it was even more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Karma's parents home is in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Life in Sibuje is far from easy, though. Villagers literally live off the land. If they want a home, they must build it themselves.
Karma’s parents home is in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Life in Sibuje is far from easy, though. Villagers literally live off the land. If they want a home, they must build it themselves.
Some of Karma's parents' neighbors enjoy their view perched high upon the cliff.
Some of Karma’s parents’ neighbors enjoy their view perched high upon the cliff.
Tsongba helps Karma's mother, Kima, prepare our evening meal in her home.
Tsongba helps Karma’s mother, Kima, prepare our evening meal in her home.

Luke ~ The second day always seems the hardest.

When starting a new adventure, it usually takes me a day to begin to hit the rhythm of the new routine. The long, complicated journey from Seattle to the Everest region ensured that the first day of trekking was a bit of a blur. By the time we started up the trail on day 2, the reality of the trip finally started to settle into my simple brain.

Glen started our day by describing the route to all of us over breakfast. This was a morning ritual that began more formally (with a mini white board and contour maps) and gradually loosened up throughout the trek as we all got the hang of things and began to realize that the map was about as accurate and precise as something that may have been drawn up on a napkin in a Kathmandu bar… Thankfully, Karma and the rest of the staff showed their worth time and again along the trail. It seems they had every turn, rock, and stream memorized as well as the backs of their hands.

Tsongba (son) and Pasang (father) made a wonderful porter team. They were the two who Christen and I hired to carry the myriad of camera and personal gear we needed to make the film and keep us warm and safe. They began as our porters and quickly became our family too.
Tsongba (son) and Pasang (father) made a wonderful porter team. They were the two who Christen and I hired to carry the myriad of camera and personal gear we needed to make the film and keep us warm and safe. They began as our porters and quickly became our family too.

The day was to start with a 3-hour climb up a high ridge (about 2500 ft gain, if I recall) to a pass where we would have tea. The main trail had been recently washed out in a storm, so we would have to take a much steeper trail, practically straight up the ridge.

Christen was all smiles as we began our hike in the morning up the high ridge.
Christen was all smiles as we began our hike in the morning up the high ridge.
Andrew was just getting warmed up by the demanding morning.
Andrew was just getting warmed up by the demanding morning.
Rose was always finding puppies along the way. This one was at the top of the pass where we had tea.
Rose was always finding puppies along the way. This one was at the top of the pass where we had tea.

After lunch, there would be a couple more, slightly smaller, ups and downs until to our destination for the night. We were to stay in a home in Pangom, about a 30-minute walk from a monastery where Karma’s uncle is the Lama. We saw no other tourists throughout the day. However, we did see many local villagers carrying all sorts of loads on the steep trails. The cargo on their backs varied from huge baskets of piglets to firewood. Their way of life makes even the most demanding American life look easy.

Local villagers go about their day carrying huge loads between villages.
Local villagers go about their day carrying huge loads between villages.

Glen explained before the trip that it is not a question of if you get sick in Nepal, it is a question of when. I guess I must have wanted to get it out of the way early, because I was feeling terrible all day. I had picked up one of the dreaded digestive system bugs. After much discussion at the meal table about how everyone’s stomach and bowels were doing, Glen made sure I started my regimen of Cipro (warmly referred to as ‘Vitamin C’ during the trek) and Imodium. When I mentioned earlier that the reality of the trip was setting in, I meant that day 2 took on the tone of “Wow, I have some really tough hiking to get through, and I already feel like my body is revolting to the concept.” Oh well, all you can do is take it slowly and enjoy the view.

Christen's strategy of putting on her bunny ear muffs was a good one for feeling a comfort from home when utterly exhausted after a steep climb.
Christen’s strategy of putting on her bunny ear muffs was a good one for feeling a comfort from home when utterly exhausted after a steep climb.

As I brought up the “caboose” into Pangom, as Christen liked to call our habitual place bringing up the rear of the party, I never felt more happy to reach a destination. Each stop along the way felt more separated from the hectic life in America. I was finally earning my place, however temporarily, in a simpler life. As I settled into the daily ritual of washing my feet and socks, I looked out over a sun-swept terrace of buckwheat. My body was aching from whatever bug I ingested, but my soul was beaming with peace.

This was my view as I washed my socks.
This was my view as I washed my socks.
The homeowner we stayed with helping his calf get some of it's mother's milk.
The homeowner we stayed with helping his calf get some of its mother’s milk.

Luke ~ Coming up for air

Christen has had a flurry of activity lately on the blog. While I have been bouncing from one shoot to the next in Kathmandu valley, she has been working non-stop to update you all on how the trek unfolded for the teams shooting the Karma Documentary and participating in the trek.

We just said a momentary goodbye this evening to Christen; she has boarded her flight back to Seattle. Since I have a minor break in the production schedule, I wanted to begin to share some of the photos and thoughts I had along the trek. I thought I would start out with a photo essay about our late arrival (and very brief layover) in Kathmandu, our landing in Lukla, and our immediate launch onto the trail.

I will be continuing to film in Nepal over the next several weeks to round out the stories of many of the wonderful people who make tourism a reality in this country. Stay tuned. More to come!

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After a lengthy journey (with the bonus of a surprise extended lay-over in China), we were welcomed to the Kathmandu international airport by this sunset.

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Even though it was the Nepali (Hindu) New Year, the streets of Kathmandu were practically deserted by the time we finished our final gear check at about 1:00 in the morning. This rickshaw driver is having a break after a very busy night.

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Lukla is the launching point for many treks in the Everest region, including ours to Mera Peak and the popular Everest Base Camp trek. It is a small bustling town sitting atop a ridge hosting one of the worlds most dangerous landing spots – Tenzing-Hillary Airport. We were only here long enough for breakfast, yet it was obvious that tourism has fueled the vast majority of this community’s economy as it has grown over the last 15 years.

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Many farmers from rural surrounding areas wait outside the gate of the airstrip, hoping to be hired a porter for a trek. Prime season is only a few months in the spring and fall, and the competition for work is high.

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After breakfast in Lukla, we hit the trail. We were quickly schooled on the concept of “Sherpa flat”. If your day starts and ends at relatively the same elevation, the trail is said to be flat. However, you will still likely climb up and down ridges that can be up to 3000 ft throughout the day. From this vantage, you can see our rocky trail on the right. Lukla is the village on the ridge halfway up the distant mountain, between the trees. Our lunch spot was at the bottom of the valley by the river… Sherpa flat.

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Christen and Karma were enjoying the sun on the trail earlier in the first day.

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The children along the trail were very excited to see us. Our trekking route took us through areas seldom visited by foreign tourists.

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Karma was always making sure Christen and I were bringing up the back of the trekking party safely. We liked to think we were the slowest members because of needing to stop to film, but the others possessed far more trekking and mountaineering prowess. Here, Karma is radioing ahead to Glen that we are learning how to walk in the mountains properly – small steps.

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After a first day that seemingly lasted for weeks (including all of our international travel mishaps), we finally reached our first lodge in the Himalaya. The sunset gave us a mystical glimpse into the typical weather patterns we would see most days. Clear mornings would suddenly cloud up in the afternoons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luke ~ Meet the Staff

When people come home from trekking in the Himalaya, there are always many praises sung about the strength, friendliness, dedication, and overall super-human feats accomplished by the porters, guides, and cooks. It is said again and again that visiting this breath-taking part of the world would not be possible without their undying support. Our trip was no exception.

Not only was our staff exceptional in every way, they all welcomed us in (sometimes to their own homes) as family. I wanted to take a brief moment to introduce our wonderful team.

One thing I would also like to note: many porters working in the mountainous regions of Nepal work for companies who do not properly outfit them with suitable clothing, do not pay them a fair wage, and frequently ask them to carry loads far in excess of the legal limit of 35 kg.

Karma is trying to change these norms. Karma strives to ensure that his staff are properly clothed, fed, paid, and insured. He understands that taking care of his staff means that his guests will be well taken care of too. He does not allow his porters to carry loads above the limit. In fact, he tries to limit their loads to 25 kg or less. It may mean that a trek could cost slightly more with his company, but a trek with his company means that more local people are employed. It also means that they will be employed in a safe and fair way.

Meet the Porters

Left to right: Dawa Ungle Sherpa, Ang Rita Sherpa, Pasang Sherpa, Sonam Sherpa, Sila Rai, Chongba Sherpa, Sagar Garung, Kami Sherpa, Surya Rai, Karma Sherpa
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***You can donate through the GoFundMe campaign, as well as share the link and encourage others to donate:

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Luke Mislinski Photography

14821 SE 181st Street
Renton, WA 98058

Christen ~ On a mountain near Everest

Sibuje 5

On the second night in Sibuje, some of us opted for sleeping on the lawn, under the clear sky, far from any light pollution. It meant a gentle awakening as the sun began the day from behind the mountains. Breakfast was served picnic style on a tarp on the lawn. So far from everything and 8,000 feet above the sea, it felt like a morning just for us.

Then, a phone call for Karma came. The day changed. That feeling stopped.

As the information came, in spurts and through language barriers, all feelings stopped.

An avalanche on Everest. Only Sherpas on the mountain there. Not Sherpas. Porters. Guides. Staff. Not all staff are Sherpas. Only staff on the mountain there. No tourists. No clients. Clients were lower down the mountain waiting to summit later. Probably 100 local staff up there during the avalanche. Seven of those are from here in Sibuje. Not sure of the death count. 12? 20? 16? No names yet. Biggest mountaineering disaster in history. Worst case math done in the head. Seven less incomes in this village would be devastating.

This morning has now become-

What we were doing when Everest fell…

Entering Sibuje - hiker silhouette

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Donate to the film. Any and all contributions make a difference.

 

***You can donate through the GoFundMe campaign, as well as share the link and encourage others to donate:

http://www.gofundme.com/karmadocumentary

 

***You can donate through PayPal here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

 

***You can send a check to:

Luke Mislinski Photography

3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

Luke ~ Meet the Trekkers

Now that the team has just finished their trek through Karma Sherpa’s home region in the Himalaya, we wanted to introduce everyone to you.

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Karma – Sirdar (Head Guide). Karma is a co-founder of the Karma Project. He was always quick to offer a warm smile, sudden dance move, and velvety “Good morning, breakfast is ready.” that drew even the most weary trekker out of their cozy sleeping bag. He was also the most ticklish member of the trekking party.

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Glen – American mountaineering guide. Glen is Karma’s good friend and a co-founder of the Karma Project. Sure to be future host of “Poop Talk with Glen”, he made certain to assess each team member’s health status during evening meals by ascertaining the nature of their bathroom visits.

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Luke – Producer/Director. He is a long time photographer, first time filmmaker. Luke is as graceful as a gunslinger with a tripod, but clumsy as a toddler on his feet. Luke hopes that if “Poop Talk with Glen” does not flush out, he can convince our fearless North American leader to recreate the 70’s TV show “Guy on a Buffalo” as “Glen on a Yak”.

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Christen – Art Director. Christen thrives on meeting new and diverse people. She discovered the psychic nature of her tummy on the trek, which always lead her accurately to each day’s destination. One would be quick to say she is the reincarnation of Pooh Bear, had Jack Kerouac not already designated Pooh Bear as God.

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Matt – Matt is a Canadian who actually does not play hockey. His back country and mountaineering prowess is matched only by his infectious smile and affinity for living as far away as he can from the 9-5 grind. He also knows how to properly use the letter “O”. He is a man who braved the coleslaw and lived to tell about it, consequences be damned.

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Andrew – Andrew is the Yin to Matt’s Yang. He is a machine on the trail and atop the glacier. His graphic stick figure art would be right at home on many of the racier temples in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. Just when you begin to suspect he does not speak, he stuns your funny bone with a one-liner uppercut.

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Rose – Rose is the Buddha of French Canadians. The only thing more impressive than her wisdom beyond her youthful appearance is her incomparable toughness. She can warm your heart, open your mind, and out trek anyone, even while suffering from days of traveller’s sickness. She is a purveyor of the wit and wisdom found on the pages of the literary masterpiece, “The Ascent of Rum Doodle.”

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Becky – Becky possesses a potent combination of a deep and loving respect for geology with a keen set of wilderness skills. Her dry sense of humor and laser like focus provided a counter balance to the group’s generally silly antics. She is perfectly suited to high altitude trekking. As elevation was gained, so was her strength and humor.