Tag Archives: Lukla

Christen ~ Rabbit Trap

Bit from the letters ~

“Flamingo legs are an asset, right?”

“Good quote- “Get on your knees and thank God you are still on your feet.” I hope you are still on your feet.”

“Be you. Be safe. Be nothing else.”

~
Pasang 2

The last two days was going down to 11,000 feet and then up over a difficult pass that exceeded 15,000 feet and finally down to 9800 feet into Lukla, where we had begun the trek.

Prayer flag sky

I have learned that the ascents take physical strength, which is harder on me, but they make you pay attention. It makes it less likely you will fall on the inclines.

Descents are different. The descents are mental. You must keep your mind focused on the steps you are taking because you find your mind wandering much more easily on the declines, which makes you more vulnerable to slipping or tripping. For someone who is prone to daydreaming, this can be tough for me, but I will take the mental over the physical any day.

However, the real challenge for someone as clumsy as I am, it turns out, is when you get to the bottom and you stop paying attention altogether.

I made it through the trek without slipping and falling, without injury, and without getting sick, neither traveler’s sickness nor altitude. (Luke was kind enough to do all of those well enough for the both of us.) That alone was cause for celebration, and we did just that. The staff and the trekkers sat down to a celebratory dinner, followed by some impromptu dancing.

Being in Lukla again meant a return to internet access, as well, which let me call people to let them know I was not dead, (a bigger worry for some people than one might have guessed.).

I finished these calls in the pitch black of night (for the almost 13 hour time difference). With little to no electricity, pitch black has a different meaning. Your eyes do not adjust and all you can see is what is lit by the pinhole of light from your headlamp in front of your feet.

After taking this pinhole of light to the outhouse, I made my way back to my room by way of a narrow flight of uneven, and sometimes loose, stone stairs. In my attempt to not stumble on them, I did not notice that the left side of the stairs was lined with twirling barbed wire. (For what purpose, I still do not know.)

Forward and downward motion does not combine well with catching your left leg in barbed wire in the dark. As the rest of me went forward, my left leg pulled up behind me, which effectively hung me upside-down by my left ankle. As I did not know yet that it was barbed wire, my first coherent thought was something roughly akin to, “Did I seriously just get caught in a rabbit trap?!” I started laughing because, well, what else can one do when one is hung upside-down in the middle of the night.

Being rather lanky, it makes my ankle a long ways away, as I tried to do upside down sit-ups in an attempt to free myself from whatever briar patch in which I had found myself. Every time I tried to reach for it, it pulled tighter around my ankle.

Realizing I would not be getting myself out of this, I attempted yelling for help, to no avail. As I sat staring at the sky, hanging off the side of a stone wall, dangling above a flight of stone stairs, I realized that I was stuck here until the sun would come up in a few hours and people would start waking.

I did the only thing that seemed logical. I went to sleep.

I cannot decide if it is fortunate or unfortunate that there is no photographic evidence of this. It is likely much more hilarious in my mind, as I picture the first people who came around the corner that morning and came upon a girl, bundled in a black parka, hanging upside-down, sleeping like a bat.

I hope my rescuers found it as funny as I do, before they woke me up to help me down.

As a friend lovingly said before I left, “I can see why they want you to come on this trip. You are absurd.”

Thank God for getting that tetanus shot before I left.

Bits from the letters ~

“…what might you need, right now, at some unknown yet moment…perhaps 2am Himalayan time, under a starry and frozen sky…”

“Love was real.
‘Love is bigger than whatever you have experienced, so far’
Someone told me that once.
So, you go and look at the sky…”

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Luke ~ The return to Lukla

Two entire days in a row of actual rest can have a strange and unexpected effect when on a multi-week trek in the mountains. My legs had not felt worn out or sore at any point on the trek. However, my legs were stiff and sore when we hit the trail to make our way back to Lukla. This was a nagging detail in the back of my mind, because our two day return to Lukla would be arduous. Our return would be shorter, because we were taking a “short-cut” over the Zatrwa La pass. However, we would have to descend first to about 11,000 feet and then climb up and over a very steep 15,120 pass feet before descending down to Lukla at 9800 feet. “Nothing like waiting until the end to do a burley pass”, I thought, as my legs begrudgingly worked their way down the trail.

Our last night in Khote was beautifully clear.
Our last night in Khote was beautifully clear.

Just before lunch, we made it to Takto. It was clear that the members of the group were starting to move more at their own pace the last couple days. Matt and Andrew, being the fastest and strongest, were far ahead of the rest of us. Christen and I, like usual, were still bringing up the caboose. We still wanted to keep moving, though. We opted to move ahead of our porters while they ate lunch and eat snacks as we hiked. It felt good to get a little bit ahead, since we frequently had to stop to rest. The trail after lunch started the very steep climb toward the Zatrwa La pass.

Pasang, as always, makes his way down the trail with uncanny ease and grace.
Pasang, as always, makes his way down the trail with uncanny ease and grace.

As we continued to climb, the view behind us opened up to staggering perspectives. Mera Peak was prominent in our sight. It was almost as if it were saying goodbye to us. The sun was warm and bright, and the clouds were big and fluffy. Once again, though, the weather started to cloud up very rapidly and temperatures dropped as we continued to climb through mid-day.

As we climb toward the Zatrwa La pass, Mera Peak says farewell.
As we climb toward the Zatrwa La pass, Mera Peak says farewell.

In the early afternoon, Christen and I appeared to be nearing the top of the steep climb and crested a ridge. I had gotten myself into trouble with Christen several times by suggesting that we were nearing the end of the day’s hike or the end of the uphill sections when we in fact were not. I almost ended up losing my life on this day. I made the very poor decision to tell her that I thought we were nearing the top of the pass. Not only was I wrong, we had several hard climbs left before reaching our destination for the night, Thuli Kharka, and a significant climb the next morning before reaching the pass. As we continued hiking (upwards) throughout the day and the next morning, Christen seemed to emit a little steam from her ears every time she looked my way.

As we got to Thuli Kharka, I made sure to give Christen a little space to protect myself. She cheered up quickly, though, as we made it to the lodge. There was an interesting group of people hanging out, highlighted by a Polish team that had a professional classically trained pianist as their chief diplomat. We had lots of fun comparing trekking stories and drinking tendencies with our Eastern European brethren.

As we were all laughing at one of Christen’s jokes, a porter with another group staggered up to the lodge with a load that was at least three times his size. I asked him how much it weighed, and he said it was 60 kg (132 lbs)! So much for legal weight limits for porters… They are supposed to carry no more than 35 kg (still 77 lbs). I was again glad to be working with a company that believes in fair work conditions.

Sunrise at Thuli Kharka, just below the Zatrwa La pass, gave us the perfect start to our last day of trekking.
Sunrise at Thuli Kharka, just below the Zatrwa La pass, gave us the perfect start to our last day of trekking.

On the morning of the final day, the weather was cold and bright. We were all anxious to get going, though. We had all been through a lot, and getting up and over the last big obstacle was all that was on anyone’s mind. The landscape was very open. There was no-where to hide from the wind. As we neared the top of the pass at 15,120 feet, the wind grew bitingly cold. The trail was also slick with snow in spots. Our normal routine of going fast on the descents had to take a back seat. The last day of hiking would prove to require just as much mental attention as any other.

The group anxiously works its way up to the Zatrwa La pass on the last day.
The group anxiously works its way up to the Zatrwa La pass on the last day.
Pasang, Christen, and Karma enthusiastically hike upwards.
Pasang, Christen, and Karma enthusiastically hike upwards.
Karma enjoys the view as we work our way up higher.
Karma enjoys the view from the Zatrwa La pass.
Pasang takes a break on the descent towards Lukla.
Pasang takes a break on the descent towards Lukla.
Pasang and Christen prepare for the descent to Lukla.
Pasang and Christen prepare for the descent to Lukla.

As we made our way down over 5000 vertical feet to Lukla, we were greeted by many trekkers climbing up the pass. They were taking the shorter route to Mera peak over the Zatrwa La pass instead of the more gradual climb we took on the start of our trek. While their route is more direct, it is much riskier for altitude sickness. Many of the trekkers we met were going from Sea Level where they lived to Lukla (9800 feet) to the top of Zatrwa La pass (15,120 feet) in the matter of a couple days. We had run into a trekker several days earlier who had tried this aggressive itinerary and had to cut his trip short due to altitude sickness… I am glad we saved this pass for the end of our trek.

The view from the top of the Zatrwa La pass is breathtaking.
The view from the top of the Zatrwa La pass is breathtaking.

Just as we were working our way down from the pass toward our lunch stop, a hail and rain storm rushed in from seemingly nowhere. Once again, we were fortunate to be walking up to the tea house just as the deluge began. Thankfully, Glen had one more opportunity to break out his stylish plaid golf umbrella.

Just as we did through the whole trek, Christen and I decided to get our money’s worth and arrive last in Lukla. As we slowly worked our way through the farms dotting the mountainside, silliness prevailed. It seemed like we were in a constant state of goofing around and dancing. Everyone was in a fun mood despite the wet weather.

Dawa walks toward Lukla after lunch.
Dawa walks toward Lukla after lunch. We had crossed the mountain ridge in the background earlier in the day.
Pasang, Christen, and Karma break out into spontaneous dance.
Pasang, Christen, and Karma break out into spontaneous dance.
Lukla welcomes us back in style with a beautiful view.
Lukla welcomes us back in style with a beautiful view.

The last night of a trek is always special for one reason or another. In our case, the trekkers decided to do something nice for the porters and guides. Through the entire trip, they had been serving us at every meal. Matt had the brilliant idea that we should take a turn serving them dinner. The thought was nice, but the lodge owners were (understandably) weary of letting a group of clumsy, untrained, western tourists into their kitchen. We settled for a compromise. We had all of the staff order what they wanted off the menu and had a large meal all together to celebrate. They even let us buy the beer (and Red Bull for those who do not drink).

Kami, Matt, Ang Rita, and Dawa loosen up with Everest Beer and Red Bull.
Kami, Matt, Ang Rita, and Dawa loosen up with Everest Beer and Red Bull.

What started as a warm, relaxed dinner with friends turned suddenly into a West-meets-East dance party, complete with Everest Beer, Cheap Canadian Whisky, Red Bull, traditional Nepali music, and yes, Justin Bieber. Christen even joined the staff in a confusing, if not mind-numbingly lengthy, traditional Sherpa dance. It may be what drained all of her energy leaving her vulnerable to the rabbit trap that would snare her in the middle of the night… but that is for another blog post.

Kami makes the appropriate face when sampling Canadian Whisky.
Kami makes the appropriate face when sampling Canadian Whisky.
Karma catches his breath while waiting for the Justin Bieber reprise.
Karma catches his breath while waiting for the Justin Bieber reprise.

Once again, the weather in the Himalaya were to show us yet again how little we have in our own control. Lukla has a notorious airstrip. Not only is it nestled deep in a valley between a mountainside and a cliff, the weather frequently decides to muck up the flights. As we made our way off to bed (except Christen who was preparing to get caught in the rabbit trap), we all crossed our fingers for the weather. Flights had been cancelled for the previous three days. Glen told us that if we faced cancelled flights, our fallback plan was to hike an additional two days to where we would rent jeeps. Then, we would have to ride over treacherous roads for 18 hours a day for two days to get back to Kathmandu. I was crossing all the fingers I could. The jeep ride did not sound as much fun as it did when discussed in ‘theory’ at the start of the trek.

All of our fears were for naught, though. We woke to a beautiful morning with partially cloudy, but clearing, skies. Our flight back to Kathmandu was to take off as planned. The general theme of our trip had been ‘timing’. Because of weather, groups who were as little as one day on either side of us failed to make their entire trip without a hitch. Mother nature was very kind to us indeed.

Our final morning in Lukla was one to remember.
Our final morning in Lukla was one to remember.

Christen ~ From Zero to the Himalayas

After some weeks of transitioning my position at work into the next hands, trying to organize for this trip, and putting my physical home, once again, into storage, I was grateful when my normal inner calm returned as I sank into my seat on our flight out of Seattle.

Ooosah…

Seattle to Vancouver to Guangzhou to Kathmandu to…Nope, wait, the flight from Guangzhou, China to Kathmandu, Nepal is cancelled. There goes our one buffer day to pick up need supplies for the trek. (Thank you, Glen, for handling that for us.) A night in a hotel in Guangzhou with our fellow waylaid passengers meant we met a great group of people who were excited for their upcoming adventures. One of many great things about meeting other travelers-by-choice.

One of these was a fellow who is guiding a Discovery Channel film crew up Everest to film some dude base jumping off the summit in a squirrel suit…as you do.

We finally get to Kathmandu on Monday evening (having left Seattle on Saturday morning), in the middle of the Hindu new year celebration, hauling suitcases, backpacks, and gigantic duffel bags full of donation clothing, through the packed streets.

We get to our rooms, start organizing what needs to go where, and having Glen pare down our trekking items into necessities-only. By the time we are done with this (and a quick glance out on the streets at the tail end of the new year celebration), we have three hours left to sleep.

No, wait, scratch that. Luke and I are still a little wired from traveling. After giggling like 8 year olds at a sleep-away camp when we should be sleeping, we get about an hour and a half of sleep, before getting up at 5am to catch our flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, and begin our first day of hiking.

We would not want to make any of this easier on me, would we.

 

Lukla plane

Lukla: “The most treacherous airstrip in the world”

I had been looking forward to this flight all week, since I had learned of its reputation. I was pretty disappointed by the uneventful flight and the gentle gliding into the landing. (The flight from San Francisco to Medford to visit my brother, John, in Ashland, OR, was by far more exciting.) I resigned myself to the idea that not exciting was ultimately better than too exciting, and moved on to the rest of the day.

Lukla airport first day 1

As porters were being organized, Luke and I opted to add two personal porters for our packs. This was a decision for which we were grateful every single day for the rest of the trek, not only because of the weight of his camera gear and my inexperience, but because it meant we provided two more people with an income for those few weeks. $250 well spent.

16,500 feet, here I come

For the rest of our group, all avid trekkers/outdoorsy people, the attitude was, “What? It is just walking.” As we started hiking up the inclines soon after we began, I would have to disagree. It is more like endurance Tetris with your feet, stepping on or around rocks, that may or may not be stable, with each step. I am not the most graceful person on flat ground, so my “training” may have been improved by that dancing video game that lights up dance steps on the floor for you to follow. No matter.

I was pleased by the muscle memory of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Less pleasing was the overpowering sound of my breathing seeming to have my eardrums in a wind tunnel.

The several hours of hiking on this first day (on an hour and a half of sleep, and two days of travel from the other side of the world) became a repetitive cycle of sucking wind until I could no longer listen to the sound of it, stopping to slow and recalibrate my breathing, and starting again, along with a fairly steady passing by people with hands pressed together in front of them, “Namaste.”

Biggest lesson learned on the first day of hiking: You cannot climb a mountain the way you climb a long flight of stairs, taking it two or three steps at a time, even if you are built, as my mom would say, “like a flamingo”. Hiking, it turns out, is much more of a trudging thing than a sprinting thing.

Trekking 2

Trekking 4

Trekking 1

Trekking 10

Trekking 7

Trekking 8

Namaste (You knew I would have to talk about it, didn’t you.)

Not having been a participant in yoga, Namaste is not a part of my vernacular, nor am I certain of the definition. Not having access to the inter webs here on the mountain, I am going with my vague recollection that it means, ‘The divinity within me greets the divinity within you’.  In a ‘God is in everything and everything is God’, Spinoza, sort of way. I can dig it.

It is an interesting perspective of respect in a culture that operates openly on a caste system. As I find my way up these mountains, I am met at every turn by someone greeting my inner divinity, most often by children who are too young to understand the implications of where they might stand or my being considered casteless.

Worn out, in need of sleep, and with several more hours of hiking scheduled for tomorrow (and the day after, and the day after, and the day after…), my inner divinity bids your inner divinity, Goodnight.

[Sidenote: So many wonderful people were kind enough to send along letters for me to read on the mountain, so I thought I would include bits from them with these entries…]

Bits from the letters ~

“In the army we had a tradition. When we rolled out of our bunks in the morning, we would say “X, and a wake up!” “X” being the number of full days we had left before that final wake up and getting the hell out of there.

Let this be your mantra when you wake up, and you feel you can’t go on, which will probably be days 2 through 20.”

[…]

“Remember, pain is weakness leaving the body. Next time I see you, you will be the strongest person I know.”

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Dubois, WY
82513

Christen ~ We do not know what we do not know

Hey Mom and Dad, maybe skip this one. (I am going to bury the lead a bit to even give you more time to do just that.)

So, it has been established that I do not really have any idea what I am doing in all this. I knew it would be unlikely I could make this trek in my converse. I guessed I would need hiking boots, a backpack, maybe a new winter coat (since I have not lived in winter for a while), and probably some gloves and a hat. Apparently, there is a lot more that goes into a packing list than these.

For starters, you cannot just throw on a pair of comfy jeans for hiking in the Himalayas. (Okay, makes sense. Add hiking pants.)

In fact, you cannot wear anything that is made with cotton. (Okay. Add multiple layers of synthetic shirts for varying temperatures.)

ANYTHING made of cotton. (Okay, going against the well known mantra of women needing to wear 100% cotton underwear, add a couple pairs of wool men’s boxer briefs. Whoa, those are not cheap.)

And, then you need socks made for hiking. When I was trying on hiking boots, Trent, our helpful man at Second Ascent in Ballard, handed me a pair of socks and told me to make sure I put them on the correct feet. I thought he was messing with me. They are socks. Nope. There was a little R and L for right and left feet. (Add a couple pairs of expensive socks, so that you have socks to wear while you wash the others.)

You need different levels of coats for varying temperatures, long underwear for under those hiking pants, a pair of waterproof hiking pants to go over your hiking pants, a pair of gators for hiking in the snow to keep the snow out of said hiking pants, a headlamp for hiking in the dark, a pair of polarized sunglasses that can protect you from glacier blindness, face masks, goggles, lighter gloves, arctic gloves, and it all just keeps going…

All of this is fine and, of course, good (though expensive, which is inconvenient). It is good to be prepared.

Now, during all this this supply prepping, I have, also, been acquiring information prepping, as well. Not by my own choice. If I am going to do something, I do not really see how researching is helpful in cases where it is not going to change anything. In those cases, I am best when I focus on what I need to do now.

(On our hike the other day, I had to keep telling Luke to stop telling me the distance we had left to the top. It does not help me. I cannot climb the whole mountain at once. I can only climb what is front of me. If I continue to climb what is in front of me, I will get there, albeit slowly.)

(Mom and Dad, if you have not already, this is where you want to bow out of this. Truly.) With this in mind, I had not looked at the itinerary. It seems of little use to me. I cannot change it. It is what it is and I will deal with it as it comes. It, also, means that I had not looked into the various stops and had not been privy to this next little tidbit of information.

We land in Nepal in Kathmandu. After a couple days, we fly to Lukla, where we will begin the hiking bit. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, also known as Lukla Airport, happens to be (by many counts) the most treacherous airport in the world…

The most treacherous airport in the world…

When I was told this yesterday, I just started laughing…of course, it is. Why wouldn’t it be?

Oh, on a similar note, another thing I did not realize I would need. Evacuation Insurance. Again, makes sense, but…

There is a never ending list of things to get and to do (including, but not limited to, moving out of my place) and it does not feel like I am even making a dent in it, as much work as I am doing towards that every day. And, somewhere in all of this, I need to try to find time to go on some hikes at some point, which are just hours I do not have at the moment.

People plan for a year for these kinds of things. I have had a few weeks.

Oh, well. I know it will all work out. Things always do. However, if someone could, somehow, buy me just a couple more days, well…no matter. I am just going to take a couple deep breaths, and then get back to it, because I can only do what I can do.

https://karmadocumentary.com/2014/03/26/christen-invest-in-karma/

She Walks on Water 6

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Luke Mislinski Photography

3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513