When yaks attack

As the yak charged at me, only one thought flashed though my mind. Do I stay still or do I run? As it turns out, running away was a good idea. Being fast is even better.

We were fours days into our trek to Everest Base Camp. The week hadn’t started very well for my group. We were stranded in Kathmandu for six days, thanks to unseasonable bad weather and we spent the days waiting until 2pm to see if the flights were cancelled, then sat in cafes in the Boudhanath, people watching.

We had given up hope by Friday, but our guide, Hari, told us to get our backpacks. We were heading to the airport. And four days later, I had a spooked yak heading towards me.

It had ambled across the suspension bridge at a leisurely pace, when a tiny white terrier yapped and scared it. The terrier then bit it. But, thankfully, for me, I was well out of its way. The situation only took a few mins, but at least I knew to run away from yaks – no matter how young they are.

This wouldn’t be the last time I would be running away from yak trains on suspension bridges. At altitude, doing anything requires a lot of effort, so running away from four-legged horned beasts practically killed me.

The bad weather meant we had lost our acclimatisation days – bar one in Namche. We had contingency days built in, but that too got used up. It was going to be a hard and intense trek if we were to make it to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in time for the rest of my group to fly back to the UK for the 28th Nov.

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Off to Everest

As I write this post, I am sitting in three layers and a down jacket. My fingers have just about warmed up to write this post. So far, so good. Except my fingertips are tingling from the altitude sickness tablets (Diamox) which I have been taking for the past six days.

I’ve been getting this tingling sensation in random places, such as my chin, cheeks and tongue. That’s a weird sensation. Typing right now is a bit uncomfortable – the best way to describe it is when you have pins and needles in your legs from sitting down too long and you try and walk on it.

This is going to be a short post.

But I have good news. The weather broke after six days, and we managed to fly out to Lukla yesterday (Sat 19) in a small Twin Otter plan which seated just 18 of us. It was so small, the pilots didn’t bother to shut the door, and I saw the Himalayas for the first time though their window.

It is cheesy, but I honestly can’t describe the feeling seeing the mountains for the first time. I had a sense of elation and excitement as we approached the 460m runway.  I will post pictures up when I’m back in Kathmandu.

Our group has an acclimatization day at Namche Bazzar today. We’re currently 3440m above sea level and it’s cold! Namache is the gateway town to the Himalaya and is the main trading centre for the Khumbu region, which is in a national park.

Thankfully, we had glorious weather and stunning views of the mountains. We even saw Everest for the first time! In four days, we shall be at Base Camp.

We walked for about seven hours at a slow and steady pace, crisscrossing the Dudh Kosi, which means Milky River. The water was a beautiful green/blue colour and certainly lived up to it’s name. We walked beside the river for a while, which was nice, but as I’ve been drinking so much, it kept reminding me to go to the toilet!

Some parts of the walk were hard, but I’m expecting the next four days to be difficult. It was dusty and hot. Wearing my long johns under my trousers was not a good idea!

We passed many houses which we devastated by landslides, sherpas carrying doors on their backs and yaks carrying heavy loads.

To keep up with my fluid intake, I’ve taken a liking to garlic soup. Not only is it surprisingly tasty, it’s supposed to help with the altitude. I’ll take anything to not get sick!

This will be my last post before I head for Base Camp.

Driving in Kathamandu isn’t a good idea

There’s a secret knack to driving in Kathmandu. I don’t know what it is, but it requires nerves of steel, commitment and a death wish. As a passenger (and a foreign one at that), you need blind faith. The cars and buses don’t have any seat belts. They’ve been taken out. It is just as well that no-one is driving very fast – they can’t because it’s so congested.

There are as many scooters and motorbikes as there are cars. In fact, there are lots of bike shops along the main road of our hotel in Boudha. On a side note, I’ve also notice lots of pet and vet shops too. But back to the two wheelers – these bikes weave in and out of the traffic. As a driver, you need to have eyes like a hawk to spot them. We saw one stop a bus as it was turning into the backstreets. It didn’t wait for the bus to go. It just went for it.

The Nepalese drive on the left. That is one rule they do stick too, but other than that, it’s a free for all on the roads. Two lanes turn into three, you can over take on the left and right. We’ve seen traffic lights, which were red, but no-one took any notice. And you can forget about queues. It’s every driver for themselves out here.

My group and I took a tukuk to the city. A tuktuk here is a mini van with the seats taken out and a shelf put on the side of the van for you to sit on. Twelve people can cram into the back of the van – six on each side. It’s just as well the Nepalese are small people. We paid about 10Rs (about 8 pence) for a 15 min journey into Kathmandu. I’m currently staying in Kathmandu Valley.

Taxis are little Suzuki Swifts that can fit three passengers. These have no seat belts, which for me is a bit disconcerting, but there hasn’t been any problems so far – other than taxi drivers trying to rip us off.

Crossing the road is an art form. For this, you need to commit. If you decide to cross, you need to keep on going, which is easier said than done. s tend to stop for anyone. I usually follow take the lead from a fellow Nepali, or wait for ages until I am confidant in crossing. I still feel the fear though.

Purgatory in Kathmandu

I’m hoping this won’t turn into a rant post…

For the past three days, all flights to Lukla – the gateway town to Everest have been cancelled. All we can do is wait. After getting up at 4am on day one, we spent eight hours at the domestic airport, hoping the weather would break. It never did. Day two was spent walking around Kathmandu and day three (today), my group and I are hanging around at our hotel. (Actually I snuck out- the hotel Internet wouldn’t load up any emails and had Facebook blocked – another source of frustration).

So, we’re just waiting for a phone call to say that the planes are flying. We can’t plan for anything as we need to go at a moment’s notice. It feels like Purgatory. The weather reports say Friday is promising, but still looks uncertain. It feels like everything is against us at the moment. Our guide – Hari – told us this has been the worst year so far. It was only recently, that hikers were stranded at Lukla for six days.

November, traditionally is one of the best months to trek Everest – that and May. It’s clear with stable weather, but as we know back in the UK – the weather now is so chargeable. It’s a case of sticking your head out of the window and hoping it would hold up.

The contingency plan so far is wait for Friday, then do the Ananapurna trail. Although, it’s supposed to be far superior to Everest in terms of views and enjoyment, I’ve been thinking of Everest for five years. I will be bitterly disappointed if I can’t completion my personal challenge. After all, I was unable to even start the Hastings Half Marathon earlier in the year thanks to a bout of shin splints and it feels I haven’t been able to finish any of my new years resolutions.

However, our hotel – Hotel Tibet International, Boudha is lush. We first stayed at it’s sister hotel, which was ok. My tv didn’t work, neither did the plug so I couldn’t charge my camera, but it was a bed for a few nights. As it was booked up, they let us stay across town. Now I have a tv that works, slippers, a dressing gown and a double bed all to myself. Plus my cold, which decided to rear it’s ugly head a few days before I flew to Nepal has cleared up.

So all we do is wait…

Helpful but random pre-travel tips

I should be packing right now. Instead I’m going to tell you about random, but helpful tips I’ve come across while preparing for various trips.

Consider buying a portable solar power charger with a USB connection. I’m taking a digital camera to Everest and I don’t want to be caught out without any batteries. As a very keen photographer, I’ve also bought along a film camera, just in case my main camera freezes up. Cold can drain battery power. It’s also green and free.

If you are going to a cold country, put you batteries in your pocket.

Cameras don’t like going from one extreme temperature to another. Pop it in a ziplock bag with a silicon gel packet and wait for it to warm up before using. Reuse the silicon gel packets when you buy most packaged products or just ask any shop. It will prevent condensation on the inside of the lens.

When buying a daypack, get one which clips on the front, rather than zips. It makes it harder for would-be pickpockets to get into your bag.

Take dental floss. Unhealthy gums could lead to a heart attack. Aside from that, it’s very useful for repairing your backpack. It’s been tried and tested by me! My backpack is over 10 years old now and has gone all over the world. It’s been patched with dental floss.

Don’t forget a sewing kit!

Register with the Foreign Office. They have a service called LOCATE and can help British nationals when there’s major catastrophe, as well as helping your family and friends find you if you go missing. If anything, it will give your family peace of mind, and for the five minutes it takes to fill out the form, you might be thankful that you did.

Continuing to be the voice of doom (or responsible), remember to photocopy your passport, insurance, etc, etc and organise them into a folder  and leave with your emergency contact. If something does happen, then they have everything to hand in one place.

Take a cheap mp3 player, not your expensive iPod.

Buy secondhand books from a charity shop. Not only are they cheaper than brand new, but once on the road, you can swap your dog-eared book(s) for another read. I’m going to see how far my books travel by asking the next reader to tell me where in the world they are by jotting my email address in the front of the books.

Ladies – pack non-wired bras. They’re easier to pack and you won’t bend them out of shape.

Skype is a wondrous thing (but only then the Internet is available). If you haven’t done so, sign-up for it now! In fact, sign-up all your family and friends. You’ll get free Skype-to-Skype calls. I’ve manage several two-hour calls on €0 for a while now.

If you’re taking a mobile, turn off Internet roaming, otherwise you’ll come back home to a very nasty phone bill. I popped into my phone provider today just to make sure I’ve turned it off, otherwise I’ll be charge £8 per megabyte!

Turn on phone roaming, if you want to make calls (for emergencies for example).

Take things you can afford to lose.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. What other random, but helpful tips have you got?

Feeling the fear

I’ll let you into a secret. With only four days until I leave for Nepal, I am petrified. It’s not the fact I’m leaving for two months (ok, maybe a little bit), it’s the fear of failure. Of course I’ll miss all my friends and family, but they’ll still be here when I come back. There’s so many ways to keep in touch – Facebook, email, Skype, Twitter, telephone and texts. You can even write to me – send all letters to Kathmandu post office – although there’s not guarantee that it’ll get there. I am led to believe the post going into the country is better than post going out. It could be that I return home before any postcards and letters do.

But, back to my original point. I’m scared of not completing my hike to Base Camp and not fulfilling my epic dream. In all honestly, I would feel like a complete failure, and that’s never a nice feeling to have. My main worry is altitude sickness. Once the guide tells you to go back down, game over.

There’s two base camps – South Base Camp, which is the more popular of the two and stands at 5, 346m (17, 598ft) and, yes you’ve guessed it – North Base Camp – which is  in the Tibetan side and is slightly higher at 5, 545 (18,182ft). I’m going through the Nepalese side with an organised tour. If you’re interested, my itinerary is online. I wanted to go scale Everest from the Tibetan side – but by golly, is that expensive and the tours I found drove there. For me, that defeats the object of a challenge. Driving is too easy.

I’ve had altitude sickness before. Wanting to get off the beaten track to Machu Picchu, Peru, I opted to walk the Lares trek, which is shorter than the popular Inca Trail, but goes higher at 4, 560m and 4, 520m. It didn’t help that I go sick that day of the trek and had a temperature. It was too late to back out, so it was a case of getting on with it. All I cared about was putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t until my guide had put me on the back of a horse for the most difficult part of the trek, did I truly appreciate the Andes. I must have scared my guide everytime I went to sleep. Altitude sickness can be fatal. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, tiredness, and generally feeling unwell. I made it to Machu Picchu before the hordes of people descended, still ill. It was worth the illness. I had the place to myself, and it was fantastic.

For this trip, I’ve got pills! Acetazolamide to be exact. My leaflet says it’s a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor. Carbonic anhydrase – according to Wikipedia – changes the rate of the chemical reaction between carbon dioxide and water to bicarbonates and protein, so these pills stop this chemical reaction. Side effects (which affect less than 1 in 10 people) include dizziness, drowsiness, tiredness, feeling or being sick, headaches and changes in the way things taste. As long as I don’t get altitude sickness, I don’t care!

The other thing which is slightly alarming is the weather and  upcoming strikes. A quick check on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)today says that since 2 Nov, all domestic flights have been cancelled due to weather conditions, although normal services have resumed. There’s a planned strike on the 8 Nov in Kathmandu Valley and nationwide on 11 Nov. I came across this press release  today titled, Stranded Everest trekkers criticise Nepal officials. Let’s hope it all clears by the time I get there.

As much as I’m gung-ho about going, and looking forward to the adventure, I am nervous and apprehensive of going. Who am I going to meet? Will there be other people on my trip (On my Lares trek, it was just me, my guide, porter, cook and six alpacas.) Will I get on with them? What will I do after I finish the Everest trip? Will the weather make places impassable? Will I get to Tibet?

However, fear is not an excuse to not do something. If you’re scared, the more reason you should do it (well, apart from bungee jumping. That is one thing I will never do.)

Off to climb Mount Everest…

Ever since I found out November was one of the best months to climb Mount Everest, I’ve wanted to spend my 30th birthday on the mountain. This year, that dream is finally turning into a reality. The flights  booked, the trip arranged to Base Camp and the Lonely Planet book thumbed. By a stroke of luck (perhaps), I was recently made redundant from my job in PR. Ever the eternal optimist, I’ve extended my trip from three weeks to two months.

Take an arm-chair journey with me as I climb the world’s highest mountain (above sea level) and discover the wonders of Nepal and Tibet. I’ll do all the hard work for you, so sit back, relax, and take a look at my pictures. Comments are most welcome. In fact, please comment. The road can be lonely sometimes.

I’ve also taken my little friend Minkie along for the ride. Read her photoblog at Minkie is Here.

I leave on 11 November. And if you wanted to know, my birthday is on 24 November.