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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trekking to Everest

Dipak convinced me that it would be crazy to go up to Lukla for 11 weeks and not trek to Everest Base Camp. "You're halfway there!  This is once lifetime opportunity - you must do it."
He was so excited about it himself, and I had such a good time listening to his stories of the Sherpas that I just couldn't resist.  Most people pay upwards of $1,300 for the trip, but since I'll already be on the road from Lukla (where the trek starts) to Base Camp, and since I already have all the gear needed for the summertime trek and will be acclimatized to the altitude, and since I have such good connections with Nepali people, the price of the 10-day trek is only $479 for me.  There are four of us going together - all volunteers with RCDP* who I've met in the hostel here in Kathmandu. We've spent the week together in intensive language courses.  On Monday I'll be flying with Joanna from Singapore, Nate from Minnesota, and Emma from Hong Kong to Lukla. From there Joanna, Nate and I will walk an hour and a half uphill to the monastery, and Emma will walk downhill a half hour to her host family and the school in which she'll be teaching.

After about four weeks, Emma will have finished her project and Dawa, the RCDP Coordinator in Lukla, will walk with her up to the monastery, where we'll join them to continue up the mountain.  Dawa will be our guide all the way to Base Camp.  Having summited Mt Everest before and guided many other groups up to Base Camp, he's well qualified to do so.  We'll also have two porters - Sherpas who will carry our baggage.  All we'll carry is a day pack with water, snacks and a camera. Along the way we'll sleep and take meals in tea houses scattered all the way up to Base Camp 3 (we're only going to Base Camp 1).  This lessens the burden on our porters, who won't have to carry tents and cooking equipment.  Nevertheless, I'll still be bringing a sleeping bag because the temperature inside the tea houses is the temperature outside. There are no heating systems, besides perhaps the cooking fire.  What the tea house does offer is a shelter from the wind.  Even so, it only gets down to just above freezing in the summer - even at 6,000 meters (about 19,700 feet) - the approximate altitude of Base Camp 1.

I've really enjoyed listening to stories of the Sherpa people, and I'm looking forward to living with them for the next 11 weeks.  Though I haven't read any of the books published by Americans, Germans, Canadians and others who've summited Everest, I've certainly seen and heard of them.  I always imagined these had to be some of the toughest individuals on earth.  And no doubt they're fit.  But what I didn't know is that for every individual who writes a book about getting to the top, there's a team of guides and porters behind him or her who did the real work - carrying all the gear, setting up camp and navigating the route.  Most of these Sherpas have summited Everest 17, 18, 20 times. They bound up and down the mountain like gazelles - even when carrying three people's baggage - and porters are constantly going up ahead and then coming back down to check on the foreigners, then moving on up ahead, coming back down to see if anyone needs anything out of the bags. (The guide stays with the group the whole time.) One of the volunteers here is a French Canadian in med school and told me that Sherpas actually have more red blood cells than we do and are therefore able to take in more oxygen with each breath.  She said even after a week or two up there I'd start to produce more red blood cells, too!  

I'm glad I'll be spending about 4 weeks at 10,000 ft before moving up to 19,000 ft.  Hopefully my red blood cell count will increase sufficiently to ease the trek, and lower my chance of getting altitude sickness, which is really a serious concern as you can die if you don't descend to a safe altitude immediately.

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