Friday, October 19, 2007

16 Days in the Himalayas

Since this is covering 2 weeks, I won't bother with a day by day replay of what I did. Instead I'll hit on some of the highlights and then talk about what you need to do to set up your own trek. The trek I did was the Gokyo Lakes/Everest Base Camp trek.

Gokyo Lakes
: Six days after leaving setting off from Lukla, Tashi and I reached the Gokyo Lakes (4790m). They're a set of 3 crystal clear glacial lakes surrounded by incredible mountains. The view from Gokyo Ri (Ri=peak) was amazing. It's the view in the Everest region where you can take in all of the big peaks in one shot. Although its not as popular a destination as Kallapatar and the Everest Base camp, every guide will tell you that they think it offers the best views. That being said, I was a victim of weather. By the time we made it to the top at 7:30 in the morning (after fast 1.5 hr climb), all the views to the east (Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and Pumori) were clouded over. Luckily, I still got some great pics of the Lakes, Thamserku, Khangtega and Cho Oyu.


Cho La Pass: Most people who climb it (and are just trekking) will tell you it's the highlight of their trip. The guide books said that Cho La is no joke. It's a steep climb across boulder fields and snow covered rock before you make it to the top at 5330. From From the Gokyo side, you want to start early...around 0600 to make it up before the snow softens. Besides the fact that this was the highest I went while carrying my pack (all the other big climbs were day hikes), it's also pretty slippery on the way up. If there was any more snow, I would have wanted an ice axe and crampons. I definitely wouldn't have felt good about doing it from the other direction (Everest base camp to Gokyo).


Kallapatar: We started off staying in Lobuche (1.5 hr fast hike to Gorakshep). Initially, I wasn't expecting to climb Kallapatar that day. But after I finished lunch, I was pleasantly surprised that the clouds never closed in on Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse...although they somehow clouded up everything else. After a touch hour's climb, I made it up completely out of breath...the alititude topped out at 5550. But the views were incredible. Here I was looking at the biggest mountain in the world with my own 2 eyes. This was what I came for. Since the rest of the mountains were fogged in, we went up the next morning...for some reason, I wanted to be up there super early and we left at 0450. This put us up to the top at 0600. Although the sun was already shining on some of the lower peaks, it took a very, very cold hour before it finally made it up over Everest a good hour later.

Chukung Ri: On the way down, we stayed an extra day in Dingboche to do a side trip to Chukung Ri. From Dinboche, it's a long climb of 1100m and it also tops out at 5550m. The last 150m are a fun scramble to the top. From there, you get excellent views of Makalu, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam.

Setting up a Trek:
There are a lot of options for setting up your trek. First, if you're traveling solo, don't be afraid to do it on your own. If you choose to stay in the lodges, they're a very social place where its easy to get to know people. I met people from all over the world...suprisingly few American...but lots of Germans, Australians, Poles, and Czechs. Although I got a guide, its not at all mandatory to have one. The trail is pretty easy to follow and there are lodges at least every 1-2 hrs along the trail. Unless you're going outside of peak season (Oct-Dec, March-April), you can pretty much just follow other people and you won't get lost. Going without a guide will save you a lot of money.

So why would you get a guide? If you're going alone, having a guide does provide someone to help you if something goes wrong. More than that, I also found a guide to be very useful with giving me a better insight into the history and culture of the area. I got to meet his family and we stopped at number of his friends' houses.

If you do decide to hire a guide, you have 2 options...you can either hire one from an agency in Kathmandu ($15-$20/day) or you can hire one when you get to Lukla or in one of the other towns along the way ($10-$15). The guides you get through an agency will probably speak better English and the agency will be there to help you out if anything does go wrong. After a negative experience with a guide named Nima Gurung, I ended up just getting my guide when I got to Kathmandu...trust me, its really, really easy to set up once you get here.

I went with Trek Nepal (http://www.treknepal.com/). Unless you've got a big group, I'd just set it up once you get here. The big advantage to doing it once you get here is that you get to meet with your guide before you put any money down. Things to look for are their language skills, experience on the trek you're doing, and where they're from (best if they're from the area where you're doing the trek). Besides deciding whether to get a guide, most agencies will offer you a full room and board package. That's generally $18-$25/day on top of the guide fee. I didn't get it and averaged $15-$20/day on meals and lodging.


Lodging/Food: In terms of lodging, you have 2 options. You can either stay in the teahouse lodges along the trail or you can camp. The lodging option is significantly cheaper and it's the option I went with. Most of the groups who were camping just camped right outside of the lodge...so I'm not really sure why you'd go with that. It didn't really look like real camping to me. Personally, I really enjoyed most of the lodges. They all had a really nice big common room that was ringed with windows and benches. In the middle was wood/yak dung stove that was used for heat. They were just great places to chill out and read a book or talk with your fellow travellers.

That being said, they’re not the Ritz though. The rooms are pretty spartan. Except for a few super posh ones, they don't come with private bathrooms and hot showers are extra. But they are really cheap...expect to pay about $3-4/night. The food at most of them is pretty good. The most suprising part is the sheer variety of food they serve...everything from traditional Nepali to Chinese to Italian. I found it pretty amazing to be eating Apple Pie at 5000m halfway around the world from home.

Since there wasn’t any refrigeration, I actually went vegetarian for most of the trip. My main staples were Dhal Baa...Rice with Potatoes and Lentil Soup. The big advantage with that is you get unlimited refills of rice and lentil soup. My other favorite was sherpa stew...a stew with potatoes/rice and vegetables. Tea is a big part of the culture...for the first time in several years, I actually kicked my coffee habit. I really took a liking to their milk tea...hot milk with black tea and sugar. Pollution (from garbage) and deforestation are big issues up there.

So for water, I mainly used purification tablets (iodine and chlorine) and would only use boiled water when I was in a hurry. Since everything needs to be carried up, beer is really expensive up there. But they do have a good local drink called Chang. It's a homemade Rice Beer that tastes a bit like Sake and has a pretty good kick.

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3 comments

3 Comments:

Blogger powstash said...

great photos Doug! And some amazing information here for would be trekkers to Nepal (like myself) It sounds like getting a guide not only gives the solo traveler the chance to have some direction on where to go what to do but it also sounds like you end up with a truer feel for the people and the culture.

Great report. Thanks for posting it.

10/19/2007 9:27 AM

 
Anonymous jmal said...

If you don't mind me asking, how much did this trip cost you, ballpark?

10/19/2007 10:43 AM

 
Blogger leisterbrau said...

Jmal...not counting airfare to Nepal...it cost about $900 for 16 days including flights within nepal, guide, food, lodging and tip for the guide...without the guide it would have been more like $450-$500

10/31/2007 2:16 AM

 

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