17 November 2010

Trekking up the Khumbu Region

We had 13 days in the mountain ahead of us, just to be able to get a good view of Everest (Chomolungma in the local language).  We were flying (again), but this time it was a short hop of 30 minutes from Kathmandu to Lukla, a small airport that connects the Khumbu region to the rest of Nepali civilisation.  There is no road there, simply a hiking trail.  You can get a bus from Kathmandu to Jiri, and walk for 4-8 days to get there, but we didn’t have the time (or will).

Plus, the airport is a sight to behold.  Planted onto a small strip of land, the runway has a 12% incline (or decline if you are where we took the picture above).  As the plane hones in to land, you can almost see the landing strip rising into the mountain (normally runways looks like it’s disappearing into the horizon).  It can only handle tiny single and double prop planes with about 12-16 people onboard.  The incline helps to slow planes down as they land, and to get planes up to speed as they take-off. 

The scenery on the flight was also amazing, with views over improbable farms on step hills giving way to mountains that even the Nepalese wouldn’t farm.

Our hike started pretty soon after we landed, when Raj (our guide) found a suitable porter, Kumar, among the hundreds of people crowding around the airport exit.  We felt kind of guilty having some carry our backpack for us, but it was part of the costs, plus, after less than an hour, we realised that Kumar had it relatively easy; some porters were carrying three or more backpacks, never mind those who actually transported stuff around the villages in the mountains.  Raj told us that some of them carry up to 160-170kg at a time.  A lot of them are the local Rai people, who, supposedly, have an extra strong muscle down the back of their neck (hence use the head strap to support the weight, see picture below).

When we arrived, I joked with Audrey about finding an Irish pub for a pint while I was here.  I needn’t have joked; I should have known there would be one.  It reminded me of the time me and a couple of friends headed to Gradiska, a town in Bosnia, on the border with Croatia.  As we crossed the bridge that crossed the river that separated the somewhat unfriendly neighbours, literally connected to the border checkpoint, complete with armed guards and barbed wire, was an Irish pub.

First day was a simple three hour hike to our first nights lodging.  We were now at 2650m, about 200m below the airport.  Sleeping wasn’t too big a problem, but the Diamox that we were taking was a strong diuretic, which meant getting up in the middle of the night to get to the bog.  Day two involved a 5-6 hour hike, climbing up about 650m to Namche Bazaar, where we would stay for a couple of nights to acclimatise.

Here we met Rune, a jovial Danish bloke, who we hiked along with to the top of our part of the trek.  He also came out with one of the best quotes of our trip, when, as we were talking about cheesey movies, he said:

“You’re talking to a man whose favourite TV show is Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

Apart from that, though, travelling up the hills with him was good craic and company for us, although he won rather too many cups of hot chocolate from us over a few card games, and Ludo.

We pushed on upwards on day 4, past the local airport (at 3750m, a pebble runway on suitable for single engine planes), and to a place called Dole.  It was a tough day, rising 500m before descending about 400m, and then back up another 500m.  Fortunately the next day was a relaxing two and a half hour hike to Machhermo, where we had another acclimatisation day.

The final (upwards days) day push to our target of Gokyo would have been so much nicer, had the weather played ball.  I haven’t mentioned much of breathtaking scenery, simply because we hadn’t seen much yet.  Whoever decides the weather had been unkind to us, and fog and clouds had masked the views of the jagged peaks, apart from the occasional, fleeting glimpse.

Still, it didn’t detract so much from the landscape around us; we were enjoying the nature, a great break from the dust and smog of Kathmandu.  The Dudh Kosi (literally translated as milk river, as it is rushing down so fast it looks white) kept us company from day one.  A roaring river, I’ve never seen one descend so quickly and for such a sustained period of time.  On our trek to Goyko, we left it behind.

Three lakes lead up to the hotels at Gokyo, each one more beautiful than the previous, with two beyond the small settlement.  We would spend two days there, hoping the weather would play nice so we could get a good view of Chomolungma.

The five of us finally arrived at the Namaste Guesthouse at 2pm, ready for a hot chocolate.


King prawn said...

Did the Irsih pub still serve guinness or would that be asking to much...