Himalayan Pilgrimage

An Everest Sunset - The sunlit one in the centre is Everest. (click to enlarge)

An Everest Sunset – The sunlit one in the centre is Everest. (click to enlarge)

 

It’s been a long absence whilst we were in Nepal – their limited hours of electricity availability made Internet a little tricky and then there was the lack of it on our trek. I can assure you though that we’ve had an abundance of adventures and there are many stories to tell. For now I’ll start with the biggest adventure we may ever have – our trek!

Truthfully, every day was blog worthy. I’ll do my best not to bore you but consider yourself forewarned – this could be lengthy. So get settled and enjoy the read from the comfort of where you are seated as NOTHING about our time was comfortable.

 
After lunch and a heck of a mountain climb.

After lunch and a heck of a mountain climb.

Our choice of trek was in the high Himalayan Khumbu region. Of course it’s one of the most difficult circuits (we seem to have a knack for this) but in our defence we chose it as friends had told us it is the grandest and most scenic region in the Himalayas.

I can certainly tell you that the Himalayas are without a doubt the most incredible mountains we’ve ever seen. Every day we were astounded by the beauty and grandeur that surrounded us but … Like most things in life, there is a HUGE and I mean HUGE, HUGE, HUGE price of admission!

Our Porter - these guys are different animals to us regular folk.

Our Porter – these guys are different animals to us regular folk.

We both consider ourselves relatively fit but as we had been warned – fitness is only a very small part of the equation at the altitudes we were trekking at. The significant reduction in oxygen has an enormous effect on the body, so much so that at our very first stop, Namche  Bazaar with an elevation of 3440m, we were already seeing people being helicopter evacuated out due to mountain sickness. We saw many more helicopter rescues during our 19days, driving home the fact that what we had undertaken was serious business!

Rough Nights - this isn't an exaggeration all those layers were necessary!

Rough Nights – this isn’t an exaggeration all those layers were necessary!

Every day was very similar in its structure and could probably be equated to a type of bootcamp. Even on the supposed ‘rest/acclimatisation days’ they had us trekking up mountains for 4hrs in order to gain enough elevation for our bodies to acclimatise. We’d wake up at 6am wondering just why the heck we thought it was a good idea to trek the Himalayas (couldn’t the postcards suffice?!). Drinking water from our bottles that had been sitting by our beds and overnight become half frozen. Then it was about psyching ourselves into departing the warmth of our sleeping bags in order to get dressed. Now I’m ever so grateful to my sleeping bag for keeping me warm but for the record, I never, ever, EVER want to go somewhere that requires me to sleep in one of those things again! Sleeping bag = COLD indoors and colder outdoors= largely uncomfortable.

Then there was the packing of the sleeping bag that comes with lots of huffing and puffing when at altitude. I know this sounds absurd and when we got down from the crazy elevations we were at I couldn’t understand what my problem was, but up there where we hovered around the 5,000m mark for a week, it was a significant morning chore that wore me out.

More huffing and puffing in order to get our large bag packed and closed before a breakfast of champions and off for the day. Generally we’d trek for 6-9hrs per day climbing mountains so steep that our bodies would be parallel to the earth, our feet sliding backwards under us making us wonder if we were gaining any ground and all at a pace that was almost comedic.

Real Work - a common sight as this is how most things get transported in these areas.

Real Work – a common sight as this is how most things get transported in these areas.

Everyone moves SO slowly at altitude – it’s commonly referred to as the Himalayan shuffle. I can’t even begin to describe just HOW much effort it took to walk up those mountains. You quite literally have to talk yourself into taking the next step and if we had an option of a few stairs or a hill, then we’d go out of our way to take the hill as the exertion required for steps is simply huge!!

Not only were there mountains to climb, we also crossed glaciers, scrabbled over boulders big and small as well as got to learn about and experience the Nepali mountain peoples culture as we went through the various villages. There was lots of prayer wheel spinning and walking around the left side of of Buddhist religious monuments and stupas.

Everywhere you turn - WOW!

Everywhere you turn – WOW!

Ideally we arrived at our overnight destination mid to late afternoon and would settle into one of the VERY basic lodges or as they are more commonly known as, ‘teahouses’ for the remainder of the day.

Hmmmm….I can’t resist, I just have to give you a brief rundown of our accommodations:

There is a common area/restaurant that everyone gathers in after their trekking as it’s the only area heated with a fire and we were all pretty darn hungry! It was generally a pleasant enough space and nice to share stories with and meet fellow Trekkers, a few of whom we crossed paths with more than once.

Then we have the rooms…what they’ve done is build a big four walled building and partitioned the rooms with 3mm thick plywood. Inside the rooms are two single beds against either wall with anywhere from half a metre to a metre between them – depending on how ‘luxurious’ the place. Oh … and there is zilch heating in there.

Desperate Times

Desperate Times

Toilets! Were generally of the squatting variety, communal and as an aside, I don’t think the Nepali people have learnt much about cleaning toilets. I insisted on the toilet being indoors when available but one night we did have a tin shed in the middle of a field that housed a simple cut out hole in some wooden boards… ‘Eco-friendly’ is the mantra I had to keep repeating to myself to get me through that one! It was snowing that night too, just to add to the splendour of it all.

The Pit

The Pit

Only a few more bathroom mentions and I’ll be done….Luxury was a sink with a little running water coming from a bucket but as we got higher it was simply a sink so as we had somewhere to spit when cleaning our teeth – in their defence, it simply gets too cold to have piping for running water. Final cleaning teeth option was to stand outside with every layer of clothing we had with us on since it’s -25deg and then a charming spit by the wall.

In those 2mins of cleaning teeth time my hand became frozen cold, so much so that I had no feeling or dexterity in it for the following 10mins. The outdoor option did have some upside in that the stars of an evening were stunning, with the milky way clearly visible. In the morning to have the distraction of being surrounded by the huge snow capped Himalayan mountains was magic and made it all seem worthwhile.

Snowy night in Gokyo.

Snowy night in Gokyo.

Now, I haven’t mentioned showers because for the most part there simply were non- this was far less of a problem for my Brit husband than it was for me Winking face. We instead had a love affair with baby wipes as well as hand sanitizer. On day 16 when we arrived back in Namche Bazaar we requested we stay in a lodge friends had told us had private bathrooms and in the space of 36hrs I had 4 deliciously long and hot showers!

Rock Bottom - once the pipes thawed out I could wash some clothes.

Rock Bottom – once the pipes thawed out I could wash some clothes.

Back to arriving at the tea houses…not much of the day was left when everyone heads to bed at 8pm exhausted, thermals on, water bottles filled with boiling water for an extra bit of comfort in our sleeping bags. After the lengthy performance of zipping ourselves up into our fleece liners followed by sleeping bag we’d reflect on our day whilst watching the condensation of our breath lit up by our torch – oh I won’t bore you with that one too, suffice it to say electricity isn’t abundant up there.

I mentioned plywood walls earlier…what this means is that we had 3mm thick plywood between our bed and whoever was sleeping in the bed in the room next to us. Talk about privacy – NOT! I certainly had my fair share of snoring men that I slept next to the worst of whom was a monk, he had a very unique tune going which had us giggling for a good while Smiling face with open mouth.

And we made it!

And we made it!

So where did we actually go I hear you ask. Here are the highlights with the elevations (for those who have the understanding and interest) and a little commentary:

Brutal Kala Patthar climb.

Brutal Kala Patthar climb.

1. Kala Patthar – 5,550m. That’s pretty darn high and a very challenging 1hr 45min climb. It takes some people up to 3hrs so we did well. It was the closest we came to seeing Mount Everest and was freezing on top! To give you an idea of JUST how cold, I was wearing two layers of thermals, a very warm fleece jacket with a down jacket on top, 2 pairs of gloves and 2 fleece hats – keep in mind I put all this on AFTER the huge climb too. We stayed awhile to witness an absolutely magical sunset with the peak of Everest turning golden and then pink. The climb was without a doubt worth it to see this kind of beauty.

2. Everest Base Camp – 5,364m. Funnily enough this was the easiest climb we did. Everest isn’t visible from here but the ice fields there are a pretty cool sight to see.

Exploring Everest Ice Fields.

Exploring Everest Ice Fields.

3. Cho La Pass – 5,370m. Lots of Boulder climbing and a big, icy/snowy and slippery glacier to cross. Worst punishment was the descent which was almost vertical and filled with scree that had me reverse crawling down the mountain in order to feel like I wasn’t going to risk a limb. I felt justified in doing this when we saw a woman somersault down after a slip.

4. Gokyo Ri – 5483m. This was without a doubt the most difficult climb – BEYOND steep and never ending. All layers on at the top again but the views were simply magic not only are there mountains to see but lakes too. It was my favourite view spot of the whole trip.

View from Gokyo Ri.

View from Gokyo Ri.

5. Renjo La Pass – 5,360m. Again, stunning views at the top and our final big climb so we had a huge sense of accomplishment and relief when we reached it – appropriately celebrated with our packed lunch of boiled eggs, Tibetan bread and yak cheese Smiling face with smiling eyes.

The Last Pass...c'mon you can do it!

The Last Pass…c’mon you can do it!

So there it is, a relatively brief low down of our biggest and most memorable adventure to date! It was the hardest yet most amazing thing we’ve ever done and it must be said one more time that the Himalayas are out of this world, jaw dropping stunning and magical AND we feel no desire to go back for seconds Smiling face with open mouth.
And here's to a job well done!

And here’s to a job well done!

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11 thoughts on “Himalayan Pilgrimage

  1. Just amazing – words escape me! Such an experience for you guys…..

  2. Marcus says:

    You guys are hard as nails =) Kudos

  3. Yee-Liu says:

    Totally stunned and I got to say you are both completely bonkers for doing it! That said, Michael the most fab pictures especially sunlit caps – so thank you for these unbelievable pictures. Although not sure you really had to go to such heights to prove what a fantastic photographer you are. OK I’ve got to make this my new screen saver now.

    I am not sure how you managed with the sanitation facilities and with the amazing story. That said, I am quite liking that new man look – somewhat Yetti and rugged. I have got to say neither of you look at all bedraggled (you just look as if you gone walking in the park) and that you have accomplished one of the greatest feats and wonders of the world! Congratulations to you both on your death defying adventure.
    Love,
    Yee Liu xx

    • Hi Yee Liu,

      That Yetti look is a bit of a sore point for M, he went to the barber in Namche upon our return as there was head hair too!! It was worthy of a before and after TV show 😜.
      We aren’t sure quite how we survived the lack of sanitation – the first night I had to take myself aside for a talking to as all that was going through my head was’how many more day?? When will it be over?’ Can’t believe im saying this but it was worth it. XO

  4. Gary says:

    Great blog post and incredible pictures. Thanks both of you!

  5. Philippa Sandall says:

    Hi darling I thought it was about time I heard from you! So glad you are safe and sound. Where and what next??? Do we get to glimpse you in Sydney some time? Much love to you both Philippa

    • Philippa!!
      Lovely to hear from you. What’s next….regrouping in Bali right now and we have lots of ideas but nothing set in stone. It seems the road could be our home for another year but we’ll take it as it comes. As for a Sydney visit it’s also on our list of possibilities but nothing planned. Love to you and hope you are holding up well! Xx

  6. Pat Bishop says:

    Thanks for that; was wondering where you were with Lorraine yesterday; makes me long to be young again but I could never have done that I think; the Tatras were my level. But I can see it was worth it from those photos! I am trying for the MA again but struggling!
    Love and good wishes, Pat.

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