China – the Marmite nation.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste!

Is the grass greener on the other side? Is there a huge chasm in cultures? Is the so-called red menace meddling with the international community? Has America’s time as a world leader gone? Is China like Marmite in that you either love it or hate it?

I’m in China – and the only TV station I can see reporting much about the world is CGTN. OFCOM have ongoing problems with them. The state TV channels, CCTV (seriously) intended CGTN to tell the story of China and add a Chinese view on world news – with much culture mixed in. They’re entitled to their views. Let’s face it, the BBC often sugarcoats and chooses its own spins. Just like Murdoch’s empire, CNN and Fox News. Oasis had the album out, Don’t Believe the Truth, and that’s what we need to do more. Think on our sins, multiply it, and add a dash of common sense. Some of the opinion pieces are clearly labelled as opinions written by a mix of western and Asian correspondents. Many like Tom Fowdy may have been persecuted for his beliefs in years gone by, by the British government, just for the connection to the red side of politics. Has a pool of talent been forced to join the other side? Has the media industry become so one-sided that it cannot handle difference?

Since I landed on March the 26th, I have seen nothing but great organisation and techniques to prevent a rebound of infection and to suppress the outbreak. China has an aim of zero new cases. It’s since banned foreigners from entering China and steered one airline per country to one airport. Its returning citizens, like myself and other foreigners before them, are placed into strict 14-day quarantine hotels. We’re all monitored closely and any sign of trouble, will lead to a hospital stay and appropriate treatment. Lockdowns here have mostly been withdrawn and bit by bit, things are opening, even the epicentre of Hubei and Wuhan. There’s a fear of a second wave and officials are gradually easing things back to normality. The world can only watch, as few nations are close to this re-opening of a freer society. What day of quarantine am I actually on now?

It is worth noting that pre-COVID-19 outbreak there were few, if any, official TV or media outlets that had social media accounts. There weren’t many suppliers of personal protection equipment either, and now there are countless factories churning these out, so much so that the government in China is reacting to standardise and improve qualities by maintaining licensed products. As there is a gap in the market, and freedom permits, these things are normal.

It is really easy to bash China and to think about what their gains are, but right now, I’d have more faith in China than the stumbling bundle of turd that is Boris Johnson and his cronies. I wouldn’t look at Team America – World Police, because under the helm of Donny Trump, you’re more likely to get service from the living dead. As one nation tries to fly a flag of hope by being the only nationals to climb Mount Everest in 2020, the other nation mixes rhetoric in a roundabout of confusing advice to its citizens. Still at least ‘merica has the Cornish pasty.

Now, China is helping countless nations, including the USA. Information is being shared from the scientist community, and on the surface, it appears China is being more open than ever before. It does have damage limitation to deal with domestically. What nation doesn’t?! On the flipside there is a huge distrust within the west. Algeria calls China ‘true friend’; doctors flew to Italy; Ireland via Huawei; and the list goes on. What’re your thoughts?

Cats may be carriers and infected, according to Huazhong Agricultural University and another team led by Shi Zhengli from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 5G is getting the blame. Such a drug is the known cure, because Trump said so. Stop it! What really worries me are the conspiracy theories and the insane amount of dirt being thrown around. It wasn’t made in any military or civilian laboratory. Can we see the wood for the trees?

Reports of Nigerian forests being logged for gain, winning new followers, or reporting on Xi Jinping’s whereabouts can be spun by any media, in any nation. Chairman Mao, once said something along the lines of, “Making the foreign serve China” but has any western nation not had its fair serving of other nations overseas? More to the point, right now, internationalism is rife and if you tour any major city in Asia, you’ll find Union Flags, ‘merica fast food chains (the known ‘merican embassy being McD’s). The commercialisation and rapid imposing of English language and trade links galore cannot be hidden. We’re interconnected like never before. Why can’t China have a bit of that? Or India? Brazil too? The whole world is over-populated and resource is limited. Competition and clashes are inevitable. Have you always got on with your neighbours? Or, a tax-backed Liverpool FC?

Either side of the world, a nation will have an ideological spin. Many nations look after themselves and preach to their own audience, or use missions, and state backed councils to drive their cause. Some criticise and deconstruct themselves to allow evolution. Many are globally reachable. China is here, and here to stay. It may offer censorship and avoid certain topics, but now it is beyond the Great Wall, and finding a home alongside The Daily Mail, South China Morning Post, and The Telegraph. A once strictly controlled media now has a place within the free press. That’s an already muddle up and messed up free press controlled by gaining parties and sectors with vested interests. So, is there anything new to skewed news angles?

There are advantages and disadvantages to different ways of living. There are pros and cons for traditions. The benefits and losses of one side of the story may be a contrast to the other. One gain opposes one setback. A profit and reward could seem great, but what about the loss? A desirable plus in one set of words, could mean a minus and negativity over the way. Are you for or are you against thinking about each side of an argument?  What you choose to believe and choose to understand is up to you. Just don’t be a knobhead.

In closing, I recommend everyone reads and enjoys Laura Gao’s comic take entitled, The Wuhan I Know. Put aside ignorance and really enjoy it. Its Manchester’s twin city. When this all blows over, I will visit Wuhan. Why not?

Just don’t read The Sun!

Harry Farthing’s SUMMIT: A NOVEL.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

34451979._SY475_What’s not to like about a novel that pits those wrapped in conflict against Nazis and Neo Nazis? I picked Summit up in a bookshop on the windy alleys of Kathmandu’s Thamel district. By the time I had picked up the book, I’d already read many travel and, or, climbing books themed around Nepal. The selling point was the capital letters reading as: A NOVEL. The blurb gave me an impression of a thriller tapered with reality and facts. The author Harry Farthing’s personal experiences flow amongst the words. It has heart and science.

The battle of man’s ability of mind and body against the elements – and in this case Mount Everest have thrilled generations for decades. This novel methodically and fastidiously details truth alongside fiction and slaps the reader with two warm characters, each with their own weaknesses and conflicts. The darkness of the early chapters builds upwards like a mound of cold and deathly snow ready to collapse in an avalanche of disaster. Just as I thought that I’d guessed the ending, something unexpected arrived. The central climbing characters of Josef Becker and Neil Quinn both tell the backdrop of Europe full of division in two very different eras. It revels in achievement and defeats equally, highlighting a telling cost for those who seek to go endlessly upwards. The coin is firmly flipped over to reveal a darker side of Everest, so infrequently spoken of, yet somehow there, always there in the shadows.

Beautifully written and meticulously researched, Summit follows two climbers across two continents as their stories and movements intertwine across history, culminating in one final push for the top of the world. This is the author Harry Farthing’s breath-taking debut novel and it certainly has been an ambitious and epic piece of compelling modern fiction. It isn’t hard to imagine a fast-paced stage play, a TV series on Netflix or a movie to follow the book. The novel itself may well be a challenge to adapt, but the pages flick over and over with ease. Those who like mystery, treachery and well-written characterisation should lift up Harry Farthing’s Summit: A NOVEL. There’s a place on my bookshelf now for Farthing alongside such well researched novelists as Michael Crichton et al. Not a bad investment of 500 Nepali rupees. My only regret is not reading this sooner!

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Leave only footprints. 请只留下脚印

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

Run boy run sang by Bugzy Malone featuring Rag N Boneman is a soulful grime song. It shares its title with Woodkid’s Run Boy Run as featured on the album The Golden Age. There are so many songs that have the theme of escape or running away. Think Everybody’s on The Run, as belted out by former-Oasis man Noel Gallagher. You’ve got to love yourself these days. Bruce Springsteen sums it up with his song, Born to run. Either way, running right now feels as if a knife is embedded deep into my right calf. I’m certainly in no hurry to pick up the top 100 running songs albums or exercise megahit CDs that usually line the shelves in the run up to Christmas.

So, in order to occupy my recovery with a target, I’ve been digging around. And it all makes sense. Everywhere I look there are hints. In recent weeks I have seen shoes presenting the brand of Khumbu. A message appeared in my inbox from Srirang and Livia about their springtime plans. China had a recent movie release called The Climbers, focused on very early Everest expeditions. There was even an email in my junk email box from Everest Windows. On WeChat, I received a message from a Sherpa friend. But, above all that, my heart is longing for the glory of walking amongst the Himalayan mountain range. There is a deep-seething hunger that hasn’t gone away since the day I stepped from the bus onto the soil of the Jiri road in 2017. Seeing those mountains stretching west, east, north and climbing from the clouds of Nepal, on that bus journey has captured me. I read of many people, famous and unknown to the masses, that returned year after year – and everyone I met there had either returned or had immediate plans to come back. Whether it is the spirits of the mountains, the allure of the nature or the warmth of the people, Nepal gets into your skin. A small country with a big heart.

Deep down, my heart is torn. I want to go home and see family for Christmas, yet circumstances have worked against me. My sister Astrid will probably be most disappointed, but she’ll be the first one I’d like to take away in the summer holidays of 2020. I wish I could be there for all my family but I’m selfish. I want to see and do more whilst I still can. There should be plenty of time to make good memories in the future. You can’t have it all. The world is too big and too diverse for one lifetime.

So, Makalu, Manaslu or a trek near to Annapurna called are now on my radar. Makalu is a serious beast and February is noted as being too cold to attempt that trek. Plus, it has an offshoot trek that can get you back onto the path to Lukla – the famous Everest trail. However, that’s proper mountaineering actually – and rope climbing. Not quite the rambling I wish to do, right now. As a route it looks amazing, with diverse tropical valleys, temperate zones and then some serious Himalayan tundra. Plus, you get to see the world’s highest mountain range from a new angle – and all those glorious peaks in between there an India’s Sikkim.

Tumlingtar 285m – Mane Bhanjyang 1440m  – Chichara 1980m – Num 1851m – Sheduwa/Sedua 1500m – Tashi Gaon 2100m – Khongma/Kauma 3760m – [REST/ acclimatisation] – Dobato 3700m – Jark(Yak) Kharka 4800m – Hilary Base Camp 4800m – Makalu Base Camp 4870m – and back again…

Manaslu really seems inviting. There is need for a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) [USD50-100 +15/day over 7 days] because it touches the sensitive regions of the Tibetan-Chinese border. You also need the Manaslu Conservation Area permit [NPR2000] and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) entry fee [NPR3,000]. There are quoted trekking times of 14-22 days, depending on fitness and whether you explore the Tsum Valley. If that is the case then this area could allow time to fly to Meghauli Airport and get over to Chitwan national nature reserve. Rhinos and mountains. Tempting, very tempting.

Soti khola (710m) – 14km Machha Khola (900m) – 22km to Jagat (1340m) – 20km to Deng (2095m) – 19km to Namrung (2900m) – 10.5km to Lho Gaun (3180m) – 8km to Samagaun (3500m) – [REST/ acclimatisation: Pungyen Gompa or Manaslu Base Camp ] – 8km to Samdo (3690m) excursion to Tibet border – 6km to Dharmasala (4450m) – Larkya La Pass (5220m) 24km to Bhimphedi (3590m) – Gho (2515 m), 26km to Tilje (2300m) – 19km to Chyamche  (1410m) – Besisahar – and back again…

The third option is Dhaulagiri’s base camp trek which a friend has recommended highly. Highly being an appropriate word because it will be quite amongst the clouds. Ranked 7th globally, Dhaulagiri (धौलागिरी) stands at a dramatic 8,167m. The massif is the highest mountain within a single country’s borders. Dhawala (धवल) translates to dazzling, white, beautiful and giri (गिरि) is mountain. Its parent peak is K2. From 1808 until 1838 it was listed as the world’s highest point until Kangchenjunga was surveyed. Dhaulagiri I’s peak has a sudden rise. In just 30km of distance it juts up a staggering 7000 metres from the Kali Gandaki River to the southeast. The south and west face have equally dramatic 4000m rises too! The climbing history is dramatic and marked with deaths. The south face has never been completed. Plenty of contours on the trekking routes too. Might be worth further consideration and research

Trek Beni to Babichaur ( 1000m / 3280ft ) 6-7 hrs; Babichaur to Dharapani ( 1565m / 5134ft ) 7 hrs; Dharapani to Muri ( 1850m / 6068ft ) 6.5 hrs; Muri to Boghara ( 2050m / 6724ft ) 7.5 hrs; Boghara to Dhoban ( 2630m / 8626ft ) 6 hrs; Dhoban to Italian Base camp ( 3500m / 11,480ft ) 6-7 hrs; Rest and Acclimatization day; Italian Base camp to Glacier camp ( 4250m / 13,940ft ) 5 hrs; Dhaulagiri Base camp ( 4650m / 15,252ft ) 4 hrs; Acclimatization day; Dhaulagiri Base Camp to French Col 4 hrs; Hidden Valley Camp ( 5000m / 16,400ft ); Hidden Valley to Yak Kharka (4200m / 13,776ft) 6 hrs; Yak Kharka to Jomsom ( 2,715m / 8,910ft ) 7-8 hrs

 

Yesterday, as part of the recovery from my calf muscle tear, I hobbled up Baiyunzhang (白云嶂) in Huizhōu (惠州). It is 1003m tall, and in warm sunshine it certainly felt every metre as high, as we’d started from about 150m. Nick, Milly and Almog made good company on the dry walk upwards. The golden meadow at the summit was worth the wander having stumbled up dry dirt paths and tested my aching calf muscle beyond that of what I should have done. Around the uneven loose sands and slippery pathways birds tweet away and snakes slither through the undergrowth, oblivious to those who walk the well-defined path upwards. Unlike the sun-exposed first and last sections of the path, the middle section is under canopy. Here mosquitoes dart in front of your eyes, more keen on your warm blood than your desire to trek upwards.

Leave only footprints.  [ 请只留下脚印 qǐng zhǐ liú xià jiǎo yìn ]

The trail up Baiyunzhang (meaning ‘white cloud sheer ridge’) is sadly surrounded by so much discarded litter and rubbish. It is sad to see. Passing fellow hikers on the route, they all had bags and pockets. There is no excuse for trail waste. Perhaps we should all greet each other along the route with a phrase, “Leave only footprints.”  [ 请只留下脚印 qǐng zhǐ liú xià jiǎo yìn ]

Huizhou’s other mountains for hiking are: Luofu Mountain (罗浮山), Nankun Mountain (南昆山), Xiangtou Mountain (象头山), Jiulongfeng (九龙峰), Lotus Mountain (莲花山), Baima Mountain (白马山), Wumaguicou (五马归槽), Baiyunzhang (白云嶂), Honghuazhang (红花嶂), Xieyan Top (蟹眼顶), Pingtianzhang (坪天嶂), Wuqingzhang (乌禽嶂), Axe Stone (斧头石), Xianren Village (仙人寨), Guifeng Mountain (桂峰山) and Sanjiao Mountain (三角山).

Next weekend I am looking for a hike in the Shenzhen area. Perhaps Maluan Shan Mountain (马峦山, address: 深圳市区东北方向约50公里的龙岗区坪山街道马峦村 – Xinxiu metro statio) or Dananshan (大南山) or the pretty looking peak of Wutong Shan Mountain (梧桐山, address: 深圳羅湖區梧桐山村 – bus 211 from Cuizhu metro station exit B2). So, with this all in mind, I’m going for a walk now and a little think…

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Contemptible. Ridiculous.

“A woman in what is still a man’s world” – Right Honourable Harriet Harman QC, Labour MP

Prime Minister Theresa May cried! Grenfell? No. Windrush deportation? No. Foodbank uses? No. NHS cuts? Deaths of homeless sleepers? No. Childhood poverty levels? No. Self-sympathy tears? Yes. And they wonder why some believe those in power are lizards!? Her legacy is, at best, contemptible. No place for her on the positive walls of history are likely. She has until the 7th of June to fix the unfixable.

“She has, just for a moment, allowed her emotions to show” – Ken Clarke CH QC

Party politics is fallin apart, left right, and centre-right. Instead of two huge party rivals with the odd group picking off the spoils of war, we have the most divided United Kingdom ever. Okay, well maybe less than before actual unification in 1284 (Wales annexed by England), 1536 (Wales, legally part of England), 1603 (Scotland joined and Great Britain was born), 1707 (all parliaments acting as one Kingdom of G.B.), 1801 (U.K. of Britain & Ireland) or 1922 (Ireland set free, less the Northern bit) dependent on your view of when we actually came together. And ever since then, we’ve been together-ish. Alienation and independence, devolved assemblies – and the odd campaign for Free Scotland aside. Completely unified. Like Manchester Utd under David Moyes/Louis Van Gaal/Jose Mourinho and possibly Ole Gunnar Solskjær in the months to come (if my bet pays off).

“Tories ‘have nothing to offer the country'” – Nick Boles MP, former Conservative Party member

 

It is sad to see Everest and Nepal grabbing negative headlines too. Two deaths on the south side and one on the Tibet side make for a strong argument for lottery-style permits – or at least a longterm permit scheme, whereby those who climb enter a waiting list or something to avoid congestion towards the peak. If you’re in a queue, it isn’t a challenge worth doing. My condolences to those sho succumbed to the challenge, but they should never be risking their lives in a queue. That’s ridiculous!


 

Sunday, will see the E.U. election results for our local elections. I didn’t vote. It isn’t easy to vote if you are overseas. Also, the E.U. elections to me has always seemed like a waste of time. Doubling up for the sake of it.

The Great Pyramid of Nepal?

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

It could be argued that too much looking back is bad for the soul. Well my mind is also investigating a possible wander to Détiān pùbù, Bǎnyuē pùbù [板約瀑布, 德天瀑布]. This is located the Daxin County, Guangxi and Vietnam. The Lanning Nandong station may be a useful starting point. The Green City awaits. Then there is Zhēnzhū Tān Pùb [珍珠滩瀑布] too. Oh and Huáng Guǒshù Pùbù [黄果树瀑布]. Anyway they all need further research, and now I can carry on telling the tale of this year’s trek in Nepal.


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4th February 2019

The early morning pathway from Namche Bazaar is wonderful. However, we set off at 1130am, touching the afternoon. Having sat in Namche Bakery eating apple strudel and celebrating Ishwor’s Not-Birthday. Srirang and Livia had checked Facebook and assumed the date of birth he had published was his birthday. Turned out it wasn’t. Not that a candle in some chocolate cake wasn’t fun. We sweet off late having shared a fun morning with a birthday party that wasn’t quite right. We walked for a short time and enjoyed lunch at Kyangjuma in a lodge’s garden that I’d previously ate at two years ago. Thamserku was in clear sight and Ama Dablam lay dead ahead on the trail just beyond the Tyangbuche (3860m) brow and the huge monastery.

The owner of the lodge talked with me about how his dog, that I met two years ago, had been eaten by a snow leopard – and the two similar dogs were that dog’s offspring. We talked about the New Year celebrations in Sherpa culture, his hair being died and general local information. Stupas were soon, once again being passed on the left, as we bid our farewells and descended downwards to a river crossing.

We passed Thunki Tanga, which like everywhere seemed to have many variants of spelling. Funky Thanga seemed the best name. Completing the checkpoint registration, we began the slog of a climb up to Tyangbuche. Here we met Albert from Spain, who had walked from Thame. We also met a Sherpa man who had climbed Everest on several occasions when he was a few years younger. He’d walked from Lukla that day and would head as far as Pangboche. One hell of a jaunt! Our destination would be Deboche – and ideally at the Everest Lodge.

May people refer to this part of the trail as ‘Nepal Flat’. You really speaking only gain about 330 metres of altitude. There are woods galore, steep valleys and on this day the bright sunshine gave lovely sweeping clear views. Everest and Lhotse had been dead ahead for some time, until we sank down to Phunkitenga (see, another spelling!) – and here it was all up for a few hours.

On arriving in a darkened Deboche we checked into Paradise Lodge. I have a few tiny criticisms of the name. It was too cold to consider as a place of nirvana, but the warm log fireplace gave glory, I guess. The twelfth Dal Bhat was adequate for filling the belly.


5th February 2019

Today’s walk bid farewell to trees somewhere just beyond Pangboche and touching Otso village. The trail is the first day of true discomfort. You adjust and pace yourself with much more care now. The air is getting noticeably thinner. You concentrate on slowing your pulse and breathing with more effectiveness. There is touch of anxiety about me. This is where in 2017, I reached. And not much higher.

Deboche to Pangboche and finally Dingboche (4410m) is a photographer’s dream. There are gompas, vast valleys, huge rockfalls, streams and views of Ama Dablam up close. Then, as you climb into the valley that holds Dingboche, you see the mountainous borders of China with Island Peak, and Nangkartshang looming overhead.

My sleep that night wasn’t bad. No headaches and a confidence that this would be the year. Maria wanted to go on today. I insisted that we acclimatise. Over-confidence can be your downfall. Breathing normally is on the cards for tomorrow. Dal Bhat the 13th, was certainly no nightmare. It would assist on the battle against altitude-related doom.


6th February 2019

Coaxing the morning breaths into a steady rhythm, I tucked away breakfast. Last night we met Rhys and Al, who had travelled from Wales to climb to Everest Base Camp for charity. This morning we set off together to go up the neighbouring mountain. Nangkartshang is an unwelcoming rocky mountain lined with grass at first sight. The walk started vigorously. Our bodies would need the climb up, feel the strain and then sleep low. Every step would soon be an exertion and the higher we went, the harder it felt. On reaching the summit and ledges, the views are out-of-this-world yet remind us that we are on this world and we’re quite small. The cold air and clash of bright warm light make for an up and down body temperature. I regret wearing the down jacket – yet later, I was thankful for this piece of clothing.

As we descend the valleys beneath us fill with cloud. It filters from many directions and eventually covers the sky blotting out the fading evening sun. Winter is coming, so they say and the next day we will wake to fine flakes of snow. Everyone at the lodge talks in whispers of a big snow storm in the region over the next three days. A couple, from China, who are descending talk about a Pyramid lodge to stay at. We take the details and set that as tomorrow’s aim. But will the snow be too much? At least the fourteenth helping of Dal Bhat would surely help get me there.


7th February 2019

Dingboche to Thukla started in light snow. The snow eventually faded yet the sky remained jaded. My cynical mind remained open to further snowfall. The great sweeping plains above Dingboche, lay beneath mountains to the right shoulder, and beneath my left shoulder, a drop down to the river valley below. The left side view of Taboche (6495m) and Cholatse (6440m) gave a dramatic slant to the world. Cho (lake), la (pass), tse (peak) are Tibetan words. They’re impressive peaks and highly photogenic. The ravine of the Khumbu glacier folds away as we ascend to Thukla (spelt in numerous ways, as always) and onwards to Lobuche. The climb is gradual and striking. There are remarkable pathways cutting through the snow. But, before the bigger climbs, we stop for lunch at Thukla.

Upwardly walking in clouds and snow is unearthly. It heightens your senses and brings the imagination out. Beyond the cloud could be a sunny day, Godzilla or the Manchester City reserve team. You have very little way of knowing. To quote Meat Loaf, ‘what you see, is what you get’.

The cloud lifted and a strange black square shape could be seen. From this parapet a stream of colourful flags fluttered down. They formed a line stretching to a shrouded stockade to my upper right side. These ramparts appeared to be stones stocked one upon another and squared off with rough edges. The first two stupas formed a gateway from the pathway leading up from Dughla.

To my left, the flag of New Zealand fluttered. Rob Hall, of the famous Adventure Colsuntants was marked here. From the 1996 climbing disaster on Everest was the Mountain Madness Everest Expedition leader Scott Fischer. Both bodies of these remain on the South Summit of Mount Everest. There are others from this and groups of other deadly climb attempts. There are touching tributes, grand notes and plaques. I tried to read as many as I could. I was spellbound. It was sad but also life-affirming. It made me ask questions and think things that I seldom think or have never thought. The cloud drifted out to reveal lines of cairns and stupas. Suddenly, I was in a living graveyard. I felt that I was in a dizzying field of tombs, like the iconic Sad Hill Mexican standoff (which was filmed in Spain) in the the movie The Good, The Bay & The Ugly. Dizzying is a word that I have used lightly before. On this occasion, it felt apt for my vertiginous and flighty state of mind. I thanked the Gods (all of them, that others respect and worship) for people remembering the fallen, doing the thing that loved the most. But, does anyone really want to die doing the things that they love?

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More than 290 people have died attempting the Everest peak – or assisting those who climb it. Official statistics of deaths amongst the trekking population, that go to see Everest, are unknown. It is expected to be around 4-5 people a year, from altitude sickness. Crevasses, mountain sickness, being struck my your own icepick as you fall, avalanches, exhaustion, death by Serac, disappearance, falls, drowning, heart attacks, blood clotting, exposure to the elements, rope accidents, and others reasons for not wanting to climb Everest may have deterred me. For climbers, they must climb. Those lucky enough get to trek and explore wonderful places with blotched histories and wonderful moments. This is the spirit of nature. It takes and it gives.

On reaching Lobuche we step into the Oxigen Lodge and have a brew. We decide the snow is lighter and crack on for Pyramid. It should be around an hour away. Lobuche is a near barren wasteland. It is unwelcoming and borderline unfunctional. This town is notorious with early trekkers and climbers as being the place where everyone inhaled yak shit dust from early fireplaces. It has improved dramatically in recent years but still has a feel of drabness. The frozen toilets, a stream full of ice and a pocket in the snow with a dozen stray puppies gave an air of menace. Here you are expected to tolerate the simplest of simple accommodation – complete with ice. The trite options surrounded by inclines mark the start of the really, really dangerous glaciers – so we didn’t hang around too long.

After about 30 minutes we reached a ginnel, a short passageway to our left. Two clear signs pointed towards EvK2CNR and SHARE. It is possibly mothballed by the Italians, but it seems active. We walk the pathway for about 10 minutes. We had to cut through the reasonably deep snow. On arriving the squat brick building with a glass pyramid looked lifeless. On opening the door, it was far from lifeless. A dozen or so noisy Chinese voices mixed with a few western accents. We met Spanish Albert, Al and Rhys once again. Amongst the crowd were many friendly porters and guides. The lodge manager pointed us to the warmest room on the entire trail and apologised that the solar panels were too deep under snow, so the internal heaters were not working. It was more than comfortable. A bucket shower and all meals were inclusive – for 4000 NPRs per person, per night. That’s £26GBP or there abouts. Luxury in an amazing setting.

The Pyramid International Laboratory/Observatory is a high-altitude research centre. It has the aims of promoting sustainable development within mountainous areas. It is there to safeguard high altitude ecosystems. These areas for some of the most fragile in the changing world. There are works on the wall. I sit reading through them on eating Dal Bhat 15 and trying to find City’s score versus Everton away. The score flashes up. City’s title battle continues. Spanish Albert is also happy. His Barca team avoided defeat against Real Madrid.

#12 DEBOCHE 0830 – DINGBOCHE 1530 ~ 10km
#11 NAMCHE BAZAAR 1130 – DEBOCHE 1800 ~ 12km
#13 DINGBOCHE: Nangkartshang & back ~ 5km
#14 DINGBOCHE 0800 – PYRAMID ~ 11km

To be continued…

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Namche Bazaar (is the place to find me)

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

Yesterday I played 7-a-side football with my new team Dongguan Raiders F.C. Sporting our bright pink kits we had another victory. Our team has played three games this last week with two wins and one midweek friendly training game against Murray’s F.C. Our team has Chinese, Italian, Serbian, German and Ukrainian players – alongside the token Mancunian. On Saturday, I also joined Murray’s F.C. in our game at Zhuhai against the Guangzhou Phoenix team. We won 8-2. It now means a draw or win against Zhuhai, in Dongguan at the month shall be enough to claim the inaugural Guangdong Super League. Football shall move into the sidelines for me now. I have 88 days to train for my debut Spartan Race. I opted for the killer 13km Super option. That involves 25 obstacles too. It is a challenge. Am I ready? No. Will I be ready? I’ll do my best to be. The trekking in the Himalayas tested me mentally and I feel that anything is possible. The arrival of the next challenge is always welcoming. After that, I’ll need a new challenge. Suggestions please. Of course, I’m still looking back on the time spent in Nepal…


31st January 2019

One week of trekking was to completed today. The walk from Kharikhola, via the Karila Pass (2730m) to Paiya (2730m) started with a reasonably steep climb up towards Bupsa Danda. Here made for a good brew stop and somewhere to enjoy the view. From Kharikhola’s Magar people to panaromic views of valleys and looming landslides, to Sherpa settlements and the Bupsa Danda village itself, heaven could easily have been placed on this spot of Earth. The hilltop is delightful.

From there the trail is up and down, but really gently. In fact it is the closet to a day’s walk being flat on the entire wander so far, and later to come. It feels like deception. At the end of the walk, we settled down a for a night’s sleep in a lodge. Here we met a trekking nurse who volunteers in Nepal, having retired from work in Germany. Her partner and guide, from Nepal spoke German and they were accompanied by several porters. We spoke at great length about porters and guides leaving Nepal for better opportunities. He seemed quite aware that many Nepali people are trapped in Qatar. Political and visa issues have been a problem. He mentioned the reduction in porters has resulted in an explosion in the mule population. The destruction to the pathways in two years was clear to me. A country ravaged by natural disasters, civil war and political turmoil now had to contend with horse-donkey hybrids smashing up a great Himalayan trail.


1st February 2019

Leaving Paiya that morning we headed towards Surke. At Surke, Livia, Srirang and Ishwor went up to Lukla for supplies. We carried on up the pathway to Phakding (2610m) passing waterfalls, frozen streams and increasing numbers of lodges and houses. Around the sacred villages of Ghat, large boulders cast shadows over the pathways beneath. Some sported sproutings of trees and the odd leafless giant. Almost every rock had faces of lichens and bedcovers of moss. Beyond every short mountain towered ridges of snow-capped peaks. Eventually the trail met the main pathway from Lukla towards Everest Base Camp. Here we noted a huge difference in footfall. More people, more often. Now we were in the home straight. The business end of the greatest most popular and well known Himalyan trail. Also, those we passed by on their way up had some similarities. Most looked fresh and clean. Some had minor altitude exhaustion, having arrived a few thousand metres up at the modern and recently legendary Lukla airfield.

Under grey skies we plodded onwards. The pathways seemed to level on this day, and we stopped for lunch at a Sherpa family’s lodge. Reading the family’s walls of certificates and talking to the owners was quite interesting. The owners’ son is a pilot based at Kathmandu – on rescue helicopters. They regularly see him flying overhead. Their daughter is also overseas in Switzerland in the hospitality sector. Mountain people seldom leave the mountains, it seems.

From the moment we passed Surke to the upper levels of Phakding, the numbers of stupas, gompas, murals and mani stones seemed to explode. This region is known as extremely sacred. The Nepal version of the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Many prayer wheels had been turned, so much so that my fingers became dirty from the dust. The clear signs of mules everywhere to be seen. The most obvious being the pathways under repair.

The modern looking Sherpa Guide Lodge was our stay that night in Phakding. We paid 3000NPRs for a shower each, twin room and food wasn’t much more on top. I’d seen this pine-looking wood and clean-cut brick building under construction two years ago. We were the only guests this time. The daughter of the owner was in charge. The next day she was due to head to Kathmandu to see her parents. The walls featured awards and commendations of her father’s achievements, photos of their family lifestyle and traditional prayers from Buddhism. It was a pleasant place to eat Dal Bhat number nine. The views of the near-Alpine looking region sat outside in total darkness. The roar of the river drifted away as I slipped into a deep untroubled sleep.


2nd February 2019

Phakding to Monjo (2835m) wasn’t too far. A few hours to the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Sagarmartha National Park. Having a gander at the monthly tourist record really shows how few people explore outside of the peak seasons (March-April & October-November). It also makes me feel like peak season may be a tad too busy to enjoy the freedom of the great trail.

As you enter the Khumbu subregion it isn’t hard to see why the Lonely Planet guide ranks it as the sixth best region to visit globally. This patch of northeastern Nepal has mountain scenery at every turn. Colourful Danfe birds resemble pheasants. The national bird can be seen amongst a whole host of colourful birds, mountain goats, musk deers, and other wildlife. The colourful guesthouses fell away as we entered the park, having paid our 3000 NPRs and a deposit of 1000 NPRs for a new tracking GPS card. Good idea. Less lost people in the Himalayas. Over one of the Dudi Kosi river’s many footbridges and we pass through Jorsalle (2740m), stopping at the last hut overlooking a river below. Here some yummy foods were required. The final hike upwards after luch would be near brutal. Over another bridge, we crossed down onto the river-accompanying pathway, up to some steep scary steps, and then to the final bridges looking up at the Namche pathway. Up the valley, Everest, Lhotse and a face of mountains hid away in clouds. We wouldn’t be seeing their beauty on this day, but Oasis sang, someday we’ll find a brighter day.

The Dudi Kosi river flows from the Mount Everest massif, just east of Gokyo Lakes and flows south, beneath Namche Bazar before heading west of Lukla. It was the same river heard during a night’s sleep at Phakding. Each bridge over the river seemed to always be occupied by flowing mule caravans. They were a bit pongy.

One last push, up the brow and around into the horsehoe-valley of Namche Bazaar (3441m), some energy was needed. Posters for the last edition of the Tenzing Hilary Everest Marathon and stickers offering all manner of expedition group, from nations so numerous the writing and logos blurred into a mesh of hieroglyphics. The downhill marathon is held every May 29th. Count me out. The maximum entry is 250. I’ll let those who want it, have a crack.

Over the last few hundred metres of walk, we met Nawang Chhiring Sherpa. He said that his lodge, Mt. Kailash Lodge, was free to stay at as long as we ate our meals there. He wasn’t pushy and seemed quite welcoming. As he guided a Taiwanese couple up the hill, we talked a little with them. Maria now had Mandarin-speaking company. An easy decision, and in hindsight one with zero regret. We would spend a total of two nights there on the way up and one on the way down. We’d recommend it to everyone too. Srirang, Ishwor and Livia joined us for the second night. The room wasn’t too cold too. Dal Bhat TEN was yummy with a crunchy prawn cracker on the side.


3rd February 2019

If ever I run away to get away from it all and not tell anyone where I am heading, then Namche Bazaar is the place to find me. I’d consider it the picture-perfect position to retire too. This morning, after a full belly, we had coffee and hired some thick down jackets. Following that we enjoyed a leisurely stroll up to the Everest View Hotel. The first of our altitude acclimatisation days was neither taxing nor boring. With lunch at the Everest View Hotel we peered through limited gaps in the clouds at Everest itself, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. To the east the tips of Thamserku (6623m) permeated from the drifting clouds. We’d walked by the sprawling grass runway of a near-silent Syangboche Airport and by yaks patrolling the high pathways. Through snow-lined fields and up a ridge to the mansion-like stairway of the grand hotel.

Thamserku is one of my favourite mountains to observe. Thronged by trees until around the 4000m mark, it was littered with snow and rocks thereafter. It has two almost identical peaks that resemble little horns. It is bulky and broad. With throngs of cloud circling high up, it is very atmospheric.

Excitement seemed to erupt from nowhere. Here I was looking up at vultures! Actual vultures gliding over away from dark cloud, towards gaps in the lighter cloud. Very much like Pterodactyls flying in a Jurassic Park movie, their broad wingspan effortlessly glided into the thickening clouds. Almost as soon as the elation began, it was over. The descent to the Sherpa Life Museum was swift and easy. The museum itself was interesting and full of photos. The colourful way of the Sherpa people is finely illustrated – and it also includes a mountaineering room with photos of those who have scaled summits throughout the region.

The charm of Namche Bazaar is multi-layered. West of the village is Kongde Ri (6187m) and other rolling hills around the basin of the village. Thamserku (6623m) looms to the east. The horseshoe-shaped village sits across many layers. It is almost as if someone carved the land to face the sun at sunset. Through the village centre sits recently renovated water features and statues. The eyes of the stupa face in four directions with helicopter pads in almost every direction. There are buildings of old rock, and timber structures amongst inconspicuous and understated concrete builds. The unobtrusive nature of man in the elements of nature and the rhythm of life is throughout the grounds. Cows and stray dogs walk the narrow passages. The silk road feels more short-gauntlet and less mammoth-journey here. Around 2000 people live here at the busiest point of year, yet during deep to late winter it feels sleepy and at rest. Save for helicopters and freight cargo flights, little sound of machines can be heard. Dal Bhat XI sat in my sleeping belly, ready to power the next new day.

#7 KHARIKHOLA 0900 – PAIYA 1730: ~ 7km.
#8 PAIYA 0900 – PHAKDING 1730: ~ 10km.
#9 PHAKDING 0800 – NAMCHE BAZAAR 1630: ~ 7km.
#10 NAMCHE BAZAAR – EVEREST VIEW HOTEL & GENERAL WANDER: ~ 10km

 

To be continued…

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

 

 

Lamjura La II: The Return

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

 

 

27th January 2019

In some ways the challenge of Lamjura La made me feel nervous. Last time round, it was not easy (see 2017’s post entitled Toils and rewards). Departing Sete (2900m) with a belly full of breakfast we started the walk at 0640hrs. The murky morning unveiled valleys below us and a clear pathway upwards. Rays of sunshine shit out from dark clouds covering Pikey Peak mountain and snow lay on the higher grounds that we approached. The cardamom plantation and streams by Kinja were long behind us. Chimbu village’s primary school squatted in a small area above the pathway but squeezed so tightly to the mountainside that a playground seemed barely possible.

A steady rhythm of one foot after the other didn’t matter. The most appropriate adjective is relentless. It is a tough, tough day. Moss-lined forests broke away and eventually a small hamlet appeared. By 0840 we arrived in Dakchu and spent half an hour so eating omelette and enjoying the view. After leaving the Sonam Guest House’s quick servce and reasonable prices, we headed off. The steam on the roof of the guesthouse, made way for a few rooftops of snow, and many places coated in the cold white stuff. Here the road reappeared and swept over the pathway time and time again. The snow went from light, to knee-deep quickly. A sudden drop down for twenty or so metres revealed an icy lake. Soon, we were heading uphill again. The mani stones became caked in snow. With the brighter sunshine, it wasn’t too cold. We stopped for another brew and snuggled two cute puppies. Beyond that we had yet another rise to clamber up. The trees became taller, wider and sparse of green leaves. The ancient landscape could have filled a Tolkein-fantasy novel.

Passing a stack of flat-packed wood, it seemed the same browny-grey cat was there exactly two years ago. The dramatic landscape smoothed off and we were at the start of the pass. The first few huts and buildings were crumbling. Spirit levels not included. The new road swallowed the original pass. This was for once, a good thing. The old pathway was narrow. The new pathway didn’t feel like the earth would fall away, despite the near waist-deep snow. Here, I had to add my thick snow gloves. The shadow of the mountain added extra chill to the occasion.

It was 1600hrs and we were in deep snow – and hungry. One single lodge, on Lamjura La, was open, high up at 3530m. We ate fried macaroni with rice and drank piping hot black tea. It was needed. The giddy puppy darting back and forth made it more of a game than a meal. The dog’s owners, a young family with a very young baby in a box, affixed to the head by a rope headband. Soon after we started eating Ishwor, Srirang and Livia arrived. After they drank and we had finished our reunion, we set out into the deep snow. Alongside us was an 80-year old Sherpa woman and her granddaughter.

We trudged slowly through our newly cut snow pathways for an hour or so to the final edge of the pass (3530m). Here a closed house, that I had black tea and a chocolate bar last time round, stood closed. The drift of snow covered one side. We took the odd photo here and eventually began our descent. The warm fire of the last lodge was now a distant memory. Light ws fading fast. Snow and hail began to shower down on us. The moss-covered trees on a rapidly steep descent hid the pathways below. The furrows and tracks resembled that of a toboggan run. Forest firs and rhododendrons cast out little sound and the air felt still despite a roaring blizzard rolling over the treetops. After a lifetime of torch-waving and some twists and turns below forest canopy, the pathway emerged by a few small houses. Many more steps were needed before the glow of the village of Junbesi could be seen in the valley below. I was at the point of utter exhaustion. Thirsty and without a single drop of water from the two litres available.

After some painful final few kilometres in a timeframe that seemed not to end, we arrived at Junbesi (2700m). The Apple Lodge made us dal bhat (#5) immediately after we arrived close to 2100hrs. Food was in the belly and an aborted attempt at a hot shower was had. The water was 60°C or 0°C – and could not be set between. In bed we all went, shattered.


28th January 2019

The following morning, Linda reported her blisters and some minor foot injuries. Livia and Srirang were knackered. Ishwor joined them for a rest day and another British couple, who had attempted Pikey Peak strolled by and said hello. A light lunch and by 1400hrs, Maria and I carried on, but not too far. At the Everest View Hotel, there was a view of clouds and a warm ginger tea to be had. Still we gently walked on, until reaching the Sherpa village of Solung at 1730hrs. Here was stopped for a brew, to be told that the pathway ahead was firmly frozen and a nightmare to pass. We accepted an invitation to stay at a Sherpa family’s home. Nawang and his wife Pupa lived with one of their three daughters. The 31 years old daughter cooked for us. They had attended a Sherpa wedding with Pupa’s older sister. The wedding procession was going on as far as Kharikhola village. Nawang was a former guide and porter. He claimed to be 80 years old but seemed much younger. From their farm came fresh milk, great vegetables and yummy eggs. Dal bhat number 6 was delicious. The best, so far, and in hindsight, the best overall.

Stories of Nawang’s hiking days, Sherpa lifestyle and the village’s culture stretched to quite late. With a frehs glass of hot milk in our bellies, we retired to the bedroom. The house, from the outside looked like a British detached two-up, two down. Downstairs half of the building served as an agricultural place and the other hald as a washroom/tool shed. Upstars the kitchen area had beds for four and the main social area. A second room, without curtains over the window (there is no invasive streetlighting), and a huge poster to the Tibetan flag and Dalai Lama stood. Maria, from China slept under that. I had the cool air drifting on over me from the window frame. Still it was a pleasant enough place to sleep. Very homely.


29th January 2019

The morning light crept through the windows. A cracking chapati with egg breakfast and wonderful milk tea set the day up well. We bid our farewell to the lovely Sherpa family and began the trek down to the villages of Ringmu. The ankle high bench of the previous lodge’s stay was a pleasant memory by now, as aches returned to pleasantly conditioning legs. I didn’t miss the playful grey cat that scratched my left hand as I slid into my sleeping bag though.

On this day the snowy peaks started to appear far closer. Ice lined waterfalls and melted under glorious beams of brightness. Numerous abandoned building ruins stood side by side their replacement housing. The scars of the 2015 earthquakes visible all over. Into a valley we walked, with huge prayer paintings that Google probably took inspiration from for its logo choice. Over a bridge meant one clear thing. The downward trend of the morning’s walk was now going to be an uphill strain. No pain, no gain – as they say. Passing orange-bellied rustic bird foraging in the damp dry ground a plateau revealed a dramatic landscape with fields towered over by nearby Himalyan peaks.

On finishing a brew in Ringmu, we passed by a ruined ghompa and mani stones. It looked dramatic on my last visit – but this visit it was surrounded by patches of scattered snow. Here we began the ascent to Taksindu (3000m) and walked through a monastery gate atop the peak, before a reasonable incline towards Taksindu monastery. The monastery looks shiny, bright and new. It was mostly a building site two years ago. On passing here, after a Mountain Man nutrition bar, the snow set in. Fearing a blizzard we moved down the mountain side at a steady pace, struggling over icy lips and frozen mud. Flocks of birds swept close to the ground, foraging whilst they could. At 1500hrs we arrived in Nunthala (2330m). A lodge was selected, one of two open in the sleepy village. Almost as soon as we dropped our things in the third-floor room, the snow stopped. Soon after a snow-swept Linda joined us with a French guy resembling Floki from the TV series Vikings. Dal bhat number 7 was greatly appreciated. Here we met a Bulgarian man, heading back from Everest Base Camp, who warned of serious levels of snow and struggles ahead. Nothing a warm brew couldn’t fix.


30th January 2019

The day had been intended to be a long one, ending in Bupsa Danda, but why rush things? From Nunthala we left at 0900hrs. A late lunch around 2pm was had in Kharikhola (2040m). Scarcely an hour later and we set down for the night at the Tashi Delek lodge (meaning hello in the Sherpa language), in the same village. We’d spent just under an hour dropping books with the Classrooms in The Clouds-supported Kharikhola Secondary School (with an attached tiny primary school). We’d even ate lunch at the Headmaster’s family home and met his son, and engineer of the mechanical kind. His friend was also an engineer, set to travel to U.S.A. to further his studies. After being shown their school grounds, a library and their new primary school buildings, we took some photos together and bid farewell. We walked a whole 250 metres in the village before meeting Srirang and Livia with Ishwor. We bunkered down for the night.

Classrooms in The Clouds have a short but rich history in Nepal. They prove that donations can make a real difference. £8.00 makes a day’s salary for a teacher. £10.00 will find three Nepali books. £15 will find three reusable menstrual kits for young women in school. Aside from sounding like just a charity appeal, they deliver. Their mouths put money and resource into action. Their expertise works with Nepali parteners, on the ground, focusing on education support, great quality new classrooms, teacher sponsorship and community work. They support their partners and their teachers. They have linked to the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. If students can study and leave school with the School Leaving Certificate needed, then Nepal will reinforce from within. At places such as Lukla, Bakhapalam, Majhgaun and Kharikhola. My feeling is that, every kid needs to experience school. How can we inspire without a pathway? The early Everest expeditions gave us the gift of some of the finest Himalayan trail to tread upon. This gift needs repaying. Think global, act local? Ecotourism is more than not bringing food from home. Bring something rewarding and leave a place better. Just like picking litter up at the beach. There’s a classroom in the clouds just waiting to be imagined.

That day had been interspersed by numerous mule trains and lots of inhaled dust. The trail has been battered in the last two years. A quaint lodge at the foot of a hill from Nunthala had made way for a mud-spattered filthy mule resting point. Many plants including various fruits and vegetables could be seen today. The contrast between temperate, arid and mountaineous climates was very clear. The splashings of colour, the blue skies and the icy mountain peaks give a sensual overload to the eyes. Dreams could be seen here and there.

In the evening, we met Srirang, Ishwor and Livia. We ate Dal bhat number 8 and talked the evening away, occasionally pinching a look at the clear sky full if stars outside – and the Milky Way lines. Not a bad way to hit the icy cold pillow, as the walk up Bupsa Danda loomed overhead.

#3 SETE 0640 – JUNBESI 2100: ~ 15km.
#4 JUNBESI 1400 – SOLUNG 1740 / #5 SOLUNG 0830 – NUNTHALA 1500: ~ 17km.
#6 NUNTHALA 0900 – KHARIKHOLA 1500: ~8km 

 

To be continued…

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Upwards in 2019.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae,

Welcome to 2019.

Einstein’s theories are bobbins. Kent is a car park. Queen are number one, again. Hair is allowed to be grown by choice and we’re being made to watch it. Earth is scarred by more than Brexit. Welcome to the year 2019. I’ve just clicked off from The Funny Thing About… Bigorexia. Russell Kane presented it. He hit the nail on the head and the hammer-in-particular he was chatting about is body dysmorphia in males. We’re all expected to look like the cast of The Only Way Is This Is Essex In Chelsea. So, after that little show I gave Jayde Adams on grief, smart little series with tough, tough topics. Privilege, being little, being offensive and online trolling are also covered. Well worth a look and listen. Made by ITN productions, it is available on BBC’s website. This is what happens when all I can find in the sports news is a story about an assumed 90 year old cycling cheat.

One word that is scary fear. And not, the James Bond meets Jurassic Park kind of petrifying. The year ahead could be a scary one if we all get too weighed down by politics, news, the environmental disasters and the problems of plastic. So, what is there to look forwards to in 2019? Game of Thrones ends too. Must look up Killing Eve and the next instalment of True Detective. I didn’t see The Bodyguard, made by BBC. Peaky Blinders should be back soon too. The War of The Worlds is also being made as British TV series – finally!

I had started writing this yesterday, ahead of hearing of a new series of Luther. BBC released a few teasers. I’d downloaded it and watched it in a state of man-flu. The Heavy’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf’ is one song that I’ve really enjoyed from this series – and its wonderful closing credit choice of songs. Paul Englishby’s input on the scoring also adds a very emotive soundtrack. Red Titanic and their song ‘White Rabbit’ (dubstep version) is deeply emotive. Grinderman’s Palaces of Montezum is ace too.

Back to Nepal.

TV and news aside. In this month on the 22nd, the planes wheels will be touching down on Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. Having already seen Swayambhunath on the large stupa, the Kathmandu Durbar Square, and Pashupatinath Temple, I need to look at things to do in the city. The Birenda Museum was quite small, but closed, on my last visit. The Aircraft Museum doesn’t appeal – set inside one old former Turkish Airlines aircraft. Information on the Mahendra Museum is limited. The Narayanhiti Palace could be interesting but I’m hoping the Colt M16A2, Glock 19 9mm pistol, and other guns of June 2001 by the the penultimate King of Nepal (King Dipendra). He was Eton educated. Say no more. Should have attended North Trafford College or Reddish Vale School – he might have learnt some respect. At least his successor had the decency to be abolished. The Narayanhiti Palace could be a weirdly interesting spot. I wonder if Japan’s Knight Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum awarded to King Dipendra will be on display. Maybe the National Museum of Nepal will be more fruitful. Maybe my footsteps will find the Natural History Museum this time round. I’m growing quite excited by a return to Kathmandu.

The rambling plan – section 1

Despite my residual man flu symptoms (sneezing, aching muscles, headache, testicular pain and so on), I am in full planning mode for Nepal. The plan will loosely resemble the below. Give or take a few parametres. The first part is get the trekking permit, bus ticket and start the small matter of 200kms of walking… only then will it be clear as to the what is possible. Last time I started from the village of Jiri, but this time I hope the trek can start a little further up, but it must involve Kinja and the Lamjura Pass as they were stunning. A further starting point may allow a day to be sat in hand, in case it is needed later.

KTM: COLLECT TIMS http://www.timsnepal.com/
Kathmandu to Jiri (6 to 8h by road) Bus #5064? 0530am?
[DAY 1] Jiri 1951m – Ratmate – Chitre – Mali – Shivalaya (New Sherpa Guide) 14km [5.5H] Gaurishankar Permit 2000NPR
[DAY 2] Shivalaya  – Deorali 2705m – Bhandar 12km [5H]
[DAY 3] Bhandar- Kinja 1630m – Sete 2575m 15km [6.5H]
[DAY 4] Sete – Dagcha 3220m – Goyam 3000m – Lamjura Pass – (3530m) – Junbesi 2675m 15km [11H]
[DAY 5] Junbesi – Phurteng – Ringmu 2730m – Numtala 2360m 17km [9.5H]
[DAY 6] Numtala – Khari Khola 2100m – Bupsa Danda 2340m 10km [7H]

The rambling plan – section 2

The difficult part starts about here. The former section will have geared the muscles and mind. Here the key will be acclimatisation – and adjustment to an increasing altitude. Garlic soup will be on the menu.

[DAY 7] Bupsa Danda – Kari La – Paiya 2730m – Surkhe 2293m 14km [7H]
[DAY 8] Surkhe – Muse – Nurning –  Phakding – Benkar – Manjo (Monju 2835m): 1000rs entry fee at Sagarmatha National ParkJorsalle 15km [7.5H]
[DAY 9] Jorsalle – Larja bridge 2830m – Namche Bazaar 3440m 5km [4H]
[DAY 10] Namche Bazaar
[DAY 11] Namche Bazaar  – Phunke Tenga – 3250m – Tengboche 3860m 12km [6.5H]
[DAY 12] Tengboche –  Deboche – Pangboche – Dingboche 4360m 10km [6.5H] 5am ceremony
[DAY 13] Dingboche: Nangkartshang Gompa
[DAY 14] Dingboche – Duglha – Lobuche 5020m [ 1 day]

The rambling plan – section 3

This will be the toughest planned route. There is no margin of error in time. If a day can be gained before here, it will be an unexpected miracle.

[DAY 15] Lobuche: Gorak Shep 5357m/5140m – Kalapathar – EBC 5357m
[DAY 16] Lobuche – Dzongla 4840m/5545m [4H]
[DAY 17] Dzongla – Cho La 5420m – Thangnak  (4765m) [7-8H]

Crampons-5am start.

[DAY 18] Thangna  – Gokyo 4750m [4.5H]
[DAY 19] Gokyo – Gokyo Ri (5360m) – Pangka (4455m) or Machhermo (4410m)  [5-7.5H]
[DAY 20] Machhermo – Himalayan Rescue Association – Dole (4200m) – Phortse Tanga (3600m) [6H]
[DAY 21] Phortse Tanga  – Mong – Namche Bazaar [6H]
[DAY 22] Namche Bazaar-Phakding- Chauriharka – Lukla [6H]
[DAY 23] Lukla Airport-KTM

Then a day’s rest, some food, maybe a wander and a flight back the next day…

The rambling plan – let’s get ready to ramble

Between now and then there is much to do. Recovery, training and to double check my insurance cover is adequate. It isn’t mega-hard to prepare for, but it isn’t a walk in the park. Well not Scotland Hall Road Park [Newton Heath, Manchester], anyway. Less danger but more yaks, though. It isn’t a marathon but it does share some similarities. The biggest one is the need for stamina – both mental and physical. You are able to do this – but can you do it? That’s upto your mind. Attitude and altitude are similar words and probably make a good marketing slogan.

The thing about the Everest Base Camp trek is that every year young and old people walk it. The thing to remember is that it comes with easier distances, longer wanders and optional extras. Slow and steady wins the day. There is no race. Only your time constraints bind you. Many complete the up in around 8 days with just 3 days down. That’s allowing minimal acclimisation and elevation adjustment. The golden rule of not staying 300m more each day can be achieved. The problem with just 11 days on foot, is that the views and the feel for the place can’t fully be savoured – and the local life can’t be fully appreciated. I’d hate to waste a view.

This next week I must wear in my walking boots (two pairs) to work out which ones are best suited. Then, I need to buy some duck tape for emergency repairs to said boots. My rucksack I already know to be comfortable and bigger than the Vango Sherpa 65L bag I had last time. This Vango 90L bag may be a bit excessive but I don’t plan to take the 25Kg I carried at the last walk. They’ll be a few practice treks and even one with Here! Dongguan magazine at the Dongguan Botanical Gardens this weekend. I won’t be overwhelmed by training like last time, and it will be a fun process getting myself readily mobile again. I won’t be Usian Bolt. Proper practice and prepartion prevents piss-poor performance. After all, fun is supposed to be enjoyable, right?

High altitude sickness, lower jetstreams, increased bad weather… these are things you must have in your mind, be prepared to accept and meet with bodily adaptations or call it quits. A response will be needed and if you’re fit enough, you’ll rise or fall – or best just turn yourself around. The first discomfort will need pushing through. The second too. There may be more. After that, it is amazing how far you can go. Endurance grows rapidly. Difficulty and challenges may increase but you become stronger and most ready to it.

My recovery will need some aerobic exercise. I have football, cyckling and some jogging on the next 12 days of things to do. I must be able to breath and focus. The recent man-flu hasn’t been ideal. Difficulty and duration will be built up again – and hopefully I’ll feel more viking than mouse. There will be steps and one park already have my name on it. The park with my name on it and I will be good friends soon.

The strength of mind to enjoy a view, rather than bend down and try to catch breath, will be a motivation. Our bodies are designed to walk. They’re dedicated vessels for this kind of activity. This is why the park with my name on it, will see some running, some rest walks, some lighter jogs and some step sprints. I will run my balls off. Fatigue will know my name. I may do a few lunges and squats to get the lactic acid boiling. Stretches before and after will be normal.

Things to be mindful of include: time to prepare; time to adjust; increased nutrition (calories and protein); dynamic stretches in the morning; static stretches at night; and

The Himalayas await…

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr

If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

‘If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…’ (Read ’em and Weep lyrics by Jim Steinman/sang by Meat Loaf)

Where are the great writers? They are everywhere. Songwriters, scriptwriters, playwrights, newspaper correspondents, comedians, bloggers, and authors. Great writers are everywhere. I am nowhere near them. I just enjoy writing and have ambitions. The popular writers spill off shelves in major bookstores, on eBook devices, and fill newspaper reviews about their works. The modern classics and classics get published in varied and often colourful editions. Some copies get graphic novel versions or huge distorted modifications to lure in new and old readers alike. Books are wonderful and shouldn’t need a World Reading Day to attract a soul. Impressive braille, audiobooks and many other delightful formats, such as large print, keep penned words open to the widest possible audiences. And, then there are translations! Some of the Harry Potter novel serials have reached 80 or so languages, including Scots, Hindi, and Chinese.

‘muckle, beefy-boukit man wi a stumpie wee craigie’ (Mr Dursley in Scots, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

The novelists aren’t a bad place to start. I find Sir Arthur Conan Doye and H.G. Wells have caught my eye more and most from the considered classical writers. The Valley of Fear and The Sign of the Four are two of the former writer’s most gripping examples.

superfudgeLooking across the metaphysical divide at female writers, there are some wonderful writers in Mary Shelley (Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus; Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843), Elzabeth Gaskell (Cranford), Val McDermid (Trick of the Dark), the Poet Laureate for Great Britain Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Enid Blyton (The Island of Adventure), Edith Nesbit (Think Five Children and It, and not Stephen King’s It), Agatha Christie (By the Pricking of My Thumbs), Betrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit and 22 other similar tales), and Judy Blume (Fudge-a-mania and books that hist topics such as masturbation, racism, bullying, menstruation, divorce and other such family topics). But, most importantly, when I pick up a book, it isn’t based on the author’s gender.


now that daysIn my childhood, my varied reading included Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; Jack London’s White Fang, The Sea Wolf; Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood; Felix Salten’s Bambi; Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; and a set of World Encyclopedias given to me by Mr Andrew Jones, in my final days in class 5AJ.

‘Now that days are colder, now that leaves are down, where are all the chipmunks at the edge of town?’ (Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder)

roald dahlAs I grew from size 9 shoes to size 12 shoes, I picked up such reads as Eoin Colfer’s Benny and Omar, and soon discovered Michael Crichton. J.R.R. Tolkien was read with vigour. The college years involved Roald Dahl’s complete works getting a read. Douglas Adams and George Orwell added to the vibrant multihued reading material. I even had a crack at the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickins. Amongst the known names, I recall reading two pieces that really caught my attention. The first was about CJD and prionic diseases. The title was rather welcoming, Deadly Feasts: The “Prion” Controversy and the Public’s Health by Richard Rhodes. There is a real detective feel to this book. It zips from cannibals in New Guinea, cattle globally, young people in America, Britain and France – and beyond. It really makes you think and carries a powerful warning about beef, and eating meat. That being said, I carried on eating meat after a year’s experiment as a vegetarian.

‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words.’ (Roald Dahl’s The B.F.G.)

wewishThe second covered a dark period of recent history and journalist Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (the link directs to chapter one). The theme chronicles the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, in which an estimated 1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed. What shocked me, was how neighbours turned on themselves and the psychological effects followd. It skirts on the political challenges of survival. It is gripping and full of pain. I even had a crack at the complete works of one William Shakespeare. The dramas make for tough reading but nevertheless their importance and influence is beyond comparison.

‘At least fifty mostly decomposed cadavers covered the floor, wadded in clothing, their belongings strewn about and smashed. Macheted skulls had rolled here and there.’ (Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda)

aberAt university I switched into daydreaming mode and the movie popularity of The Lord of the Rings led to a re-read of everything J.R.R. Tolkien. Between daydreaming, textbooks and general procrastination of university work, I found little time for reading. There was always something shiny or distracting. However, I did read through the entire available works of Michael Crichton and the brilliant noir writer Malcolm Pryce – his Aberystwyth Mon Amour series being topical to my location.

‘That’s the trouble with people like you, Knight, you only know how to mock. How to break things. You don’t know how to create anything. You never did.’ (Malcolm Pryce, Aberystwyth Mon Amour)

JurassicparkJurassic Park had been on and off my bookshelf since my mother bought me an omnibus edition, with the novel Congo included. The distinctive movie red, yellow and black logo made for great artwork but within the text was something more appealing. Scientific facts mixed with imagination and fiction. Like every book I have read by the late Michael Crichton, there are technical descriptions crossing the genres of action (Prey), science fiction (Micro), thrillers (Disclosure), and medical fiction (Five Patients). One of my favourite pieces has been Eaters of the Dead [a tale of Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s own interpretation of his genuine voyage north and his understandings with and reflections of Vikings], however the posthumous release of the 1974 penned piece Dragon Teeth [fossil hunters in the historical fiction form] comes close. But then, Pirate Latitudes, as action goes is damn exhilarating. Whilst the movies and series versions of some of his works never live up to the style of his writing, I hope that those who watch them gain enough curiosity to pick up the books. 200 million book sales is too few for such a great writer.

‘All major changes are like death. You can’t see to the other side until you are there.’ (Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park)

ducksFollowing university, I dipped in and out of books like rain lashing the rooftops of Manchester. Ian Fleming’s great travel novellas sporting a certain James Bond gripped me for a while. Every shadow writer of that spy-battering ram has been read since. From BBC’s The Fast Show, comedy writer Charlie Higson has delivered great slices of young Bond novels for teenagers and a series called The Enemy. Well worth of a read. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert should be reviewed by the #MeToo movement. Forget 50 Shades of Gray! George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four actual reads as a documentary and doesn’t seem like fiction in one way! The entire works of Christoher Brookmyre was far more than an Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks – more like All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye. Every book of his will grip you tight – don’t be fooled by his colourful covers.

“People are islands,’ she said. ‘They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate. Even if they’ve been married for fifty years.” (Ian Fleming, Casino Royale)

psychoIn China, I have been limited to the works of Andy McNab (notably the Nick Stone and Tom Buckingham series) alongside other odds and ends found on bar book exchange shelves or tucked away collecting dust in book shops. I have found time to re-read Peter Pan, by playwright J.M. Barrie. Johnny Marr’s autobiography Set the Boy Free, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (which wasn’t to my enjoyment, and the riveting Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The complete works of Jon Ronson (I thoroughly recommend The Psychopath Test) have been perused. The Welsh neo-journalist loves a good debunk or conspiracy to grip and twist until all the juices ooze out into the pages. Hunter S. Thompson (Hell’s Angels) would be proud of his works! I wonder if Jon Ronson has booked a firework-clad funeral for his future passing.


touchMy obsession with Mount Everest has drawn me to a related selection of books. I read most of these in the shadow of the mountain during January 2017. The following works were all written following the 1996 disaster in which many climbers and sherpas lost their lives.

“Ultimately, the Buddhist teachings say, misfortune happens less often to those whose motives are pure.”  (Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Touching My Father’s Soul: A Sherpa’s Sacred Jouney to the Top of Everest)
  • Into Thin Air: Death on Everest – a well-known climbing disaster book by Jon Krakauer;
  • The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev;
  • Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, penned by Beck Weathers;
  • Touching my father’s soul: a Sherpa’s journey to the top of Everest, by Jamling Tenzing Norgay;
  • Climbing High – a lesser known read by Danish Psychological Counselor and climber Lene Gammelgaard;
  • The Other Side of Everest by Matt Dickinson.

If you piece together the events on the mountain based on the accounts and reports received soon after and long after, you will be no clearer as to what happened – other than it being a monumental mess of tragic proportions. The best of the bunch for me, was Jamling Tenzing Norgay’s account, as it touched on the spirituality and complexity of Sherpa and beliefs within the shadows of the highest mountain peak on our Earth. It also explored his relations and the effects of living in the following of his father Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.


“Colonel Vivian had convinced himself that Ivor Montagu’s enthusiasm for Ping-Pong was a cover for something more sinister.” (Ben Macintyre, Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory)

mincemeatSince that rambling holiday to Nepal, I have picked up Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat at Murray’s Irish Pub in Dongcheng. Since then Double Cross, Agent Zig-Zag and just this week Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War have followed. For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, was a book I read in 2008 and didn’t enjoy quite as much as his other well-researched and fine-tuned storytelling. Facts and simple description, even criticism and questioning of reported myths bore at you like an angry wolf. They are real page turners, not bogged down by over-complicated technical terminology and wordings unnecessary. The Times columinist cuts a good read up and builds a remarkably fascinating picture of moments in history. I guess with an extra day of freedom each year, he has extra time to write. His birthday being on Christmas Day. Some other writers lose their focus and clutter text or fill pages for fun. Every page of Macintyre’s work is blessed by an assiduous and attentive hand. His mind has carved questions in reported stories and embellishments that others may have accepted. When it comes to knowns, he wants the reader not just to read, but use the full force of their frontal lobes.  Next up, I will re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. To pick that particulatr gem up will be like revisiting an old friend. Another good friend could even be Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Not a single movie version has touched on the depth of that epic adventure!

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

Sagamartha: Realm of wonders

The next morning, I felt energised, I practically skipped back enjoying the wonderful views and stopping more frequent to take it all in. Wonderful. At Khayangjuma I stopped at Three Sisters Lodge for lunch and enjoyed talking with the owner. I bid my farewell and strolled on into the nearby Namche Bazaar. After a struggle finding lodgings, avoiding the Yak Hotel of my previous visit, I found the Kala Patthar Lodge. I checked in. No hot showers due to frozen pipes. I had only showered in Jiri, Sete and Bupsa Danda by that time. 15 days, 3 showers. They did however provide me with a bucket full of hot water. It was bliss. I felt clean again. That evening I talked with two Australian ladies hiking up the trail. I also invested in a new book. I ploughed through Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, inside 24 hours. A very good read.

My hotel didn’t have a recharge point for my phone. I opted for a cappucino, cake and a pot of black tea. The afternoon disappeared pretty fast in Sherpa Barista Bakery. I enjoyed plush leather seats and my book. I was the only customer and the two staff present were very welcoming.

I ate at Cafe de 8848 once and enjoyed good teas alongside wifi access for free. They show the Sherpa movie daily at 3pm. Well worth a gander. Very revealing movie. Lovely views from the balcony bar.

I clambered from my lodge up the pathway to Everest Base Camp. This time I opted for a lefthand spur, towards Khumjung.

Rising over the ridge, the land flattened, a plateau of sorts, with the odd boulder. The cargo airport, Syangboche (3750m/12,303ft) stood to my left. A Russian helicopter, lacking beauty in design, unloaded wood and busy Rai porters dashed back and forwards. Two red-beaked choughs dug soil and fed in the foreground.

I passed along a field resembling a golf course green and approached the Japanese-owned Everest View Hotel (http://www.hoteleverestview.com/). Part James Bond baddy lair, and part paradise, this hotel is state of the art. In 2004, the Guinness Book of World Records listed it as the Highest Placed Hotel in the world. The blurb online says, “With a view of Mt. Everest from every room, visitors can immerse in this mesmerizing scene in luxury.” That is impressive. I had a milky tea and steak sandwich, taking in the view. It truly is an astonishing location with superior unmatchable panoramic views of the region.

The monastery in Khumjung (3780m) was undergoing a refurbishment. The supposed yeti skull inside was not on public showing. My inner skeptic grew. Over the valley floor from the monastery, the Khumjung school was built by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust in 1961 stood closed. 350 students share the limited classroom space from pre-school to secondary school. Some have gone on to university and studies overseas. The stone-walled village sits at the base of Mount Khumbu Yül-Lha. This 5761m tall mountain has never been summitted. Said to be a god, it is a fiercesome looking sharp and dry looking gargantuan crag. Bamboo spikes stand festooned in prayer flags honouring the overlooking god.

I trekked on towards Khunde (3840m). Sign posts pointed me to the  Khunde Hospital (founded in 1966 by Sir Edmund Hillary) and the Sir Edmund Hillary view-point. From here I went rock-scrambling down the valley into Phurte before hiking back to Namche Bazaar. Red and blue Himalayan pheasants, vultures, eagles, Himalayan Tahrs and a possible leopard footprint added much nature to a wonderful walk.

I entered Namche Bazaar’s horseshoe-shaped bowl from the western ridge, having climbed from the north-eastern ridge. The masses of mani stones, prayer flags and fading light made for a very spiritually powerful twilight. The following day I read several books and relaxed all day. I chatted with a convalescence group of trekkers. Eight trekkers had fell ill on various stages between Namche Bazaar and Everest Base Camp. Their guide group had sent them back with one porter to spend a few nights at Namche Bazaar’s Kala Patthar Lodge. A Bulgarian, a Costa Rican, a Newzealander and an Australian went into a bar… it was a very international.

With my flight booked from Lukla to Kathmandu for the morning of 23rd, I opted to try and hike the full path to Lukla the morning of the 21st. I managed as far as Thadokoshi, and chose the Everest Summitter Lodge, ran by a Sherpa family. I felt sick on arrival but put it down to hunger, I had skipped lunch, trying to make Lukla in one day. Two days hike in one day was optimistic at best. It would have taken nine solid hours trekking. I was an hour shy as dusk set in. Bunking down was a good idea. I needed food. I ordered food. Spaghetti with cheese and tomato sounded simple. Before the food arrived, I went to the toilet, and vomited several times. Very odd, I just felt tired. Nothing else. I washed my face and returned to the dining lounge. I drank some black tea and tentavily probed the food. I ate a few pieces. I could eat no more. I went to bed at 7 o’clock, devoid of hunger. The middlest of family’s three boys had been in the lodge playing domino-rally with business cards. Entertained in a world where toys are marketed and sold with aggression, by something so simple. He looked happy. I felt guilty of the days when I begged my Mum for the lastest Lego sets or Ghostbusters figures. In talking to him, I learnt he was nine year’s old. In Nepal, children often lose school before they are teenagers. His younger brother slammed a glass window shut and opened it again. He repeated this until it became white noise. Their oldest brother was 15 year’s old. A porter, lifting anything from the airport to whereever it was required.

After a breakfast of porridge, I left Thadokoshi for Lukla. At Lukla, I lodged at Lukla Lodge. I had lunch in the lodge, Yak steak, then explored the village. I stopped at Starbucks Lukla. It was a rip-off branded coffeeshop with a delightful sunroom and a vast array of birdwatching books. I slumped into the leather sofa there and enjoyed a very good cappucino.

I walked around the Sagarmāthā National Park conservation office, eyes on a path marked Red Panda area. Glancing back at Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary Airport below. The short and steep airstrip’s tarmac twinkled in the intense afternoon sunlight. It had held the title of Most Extreme Airport for around twenty years. The 11.7% gradient, and dimensions of 527m (1,729 ft) × 30m (98 ft) and drop into a valley below at the southern runway end. The northern end being a mountain wall.

Friendship Youth Club F.C.’s field had to be explored. I left a bunch of Shenzhen Blues bags, badges and stickers there, with my SZB t-shirt. I donated all but a few of my clothes, supplies and boots to a Sherpa trust charity, figuring the materials will be of more use to local people than me in the sub-tropics of Guangdong. Later in the afternoon, John and Will rolled in from their trek, having reached Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp a few days after we last me. Fair play to them! Their flight was scheduled 30 minutes after mine.

Tara, in Nepali means green goddess, in Hindi it means star, in Catalan or Italian it means defect, in Gaelic it means queen and in Welsh it means goodbye. Flight TA144 sounded a tad omnious for me.

I boarded the Twin Otter on the side area of the runway. Two flights had already departed. Those planes, a Dornier Do 228 and a Let 410, had looked much more modern. My aircraft had a more rustic feel. I guess with 22 aircraft split between 5 domestic airlines, not counting Nepal Airlines, choices are few and far between. Tara airlines have a history of crashes, 4 in less than 6 years. Two of their eight fleet are no more, and sadly 45 people perished in two serious crashes.

Everest rest restaurant

Dropping down the valley to Deboche (3820m), passing a newly built lodge called Rivendell, drifting through low moss-cloaked trees, a plain to the left opened, beyond clumsily-stacked Mani stones. Inside a sign advised of a nunnery. It looked far poorer and less well-maintained than the monk’s residence at Tengboche Monastery. Perhaps this is a clear sign of inequality? The sign Parque del Retiro giving hints it was a home for those of later years?

After Milingga hamlet, I branched up the upper pathway into Upper Pangboche. I’d caught up with John and Will and they opted for the lower road into Lower Pangboche. My pathway swept amongst small Gompa after Gompa and Mani Stone walls, eventually reaching the village of Upper Pangboche (3985m). I passed around the walls of a square monastery, reported to hold a Yeti skull. I wasn’t allowed beyond the hall containing chanting and drumming, standing there admiring haunting sounds, “Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ…” (唵嘛呢叭咪吽). The very same phrase being inscribed into Mani stones, prayer wheels, prayer flag streamers,

I passed Pangboche school as built by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust in 1963. It stands at 4000m above sea level. Beyond this my path converged with the lower Pangboche pathway at Shomare village. I stopped for Sherpa stew and a sandwich, watching Will and John pass by on the lower pathway. Satisfied with my tomato sandwich, I trundled onwards. Next up, Worshyo, and into the broad and high-mountain surrounded Imja Valley. Rock falls and landslides marking almost barren terrain beneath the imposing beauty of Ama Dablam’s western and northern faces. Through huge empty plains and between mounds of loose rocks, over dirt trails and down a steep crevice, I crossed a bridge. Upwardly, the path became substantially drier and dustier. At the top of a valley-hugging path, the pathway cut inwards amongst debris of many mountains and their violent histories.

In the village of Dingboche, many lodges lined a stone-wall lane as wide as a car, yet without cars possible. Oh, and covered in thick ice. Exposed to the elements and at some stage flooded by flowing water, it marked a slippery pathway through a town. Thankfully the odd rock and patch of barren embankment stood out beneath the neatly placed stone walls (built after farmers simply removed obstacles to ploughing their fields). I walked through the village, noting most lodges as closed. After ten minutes, I heard my name; John and Will had opted for the Solukhumbu Lodge. I greeted them and met the owner, a Khambu Rai, a people from the Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills. He welcomed me and shown me to a plywood room. By now I was used to these sorts of basic rooms. The only luxury was a light switch. I rolled my sleeping bags out, prepared my torch and laid out clothes for the next day. It was only five o’clock in the evening, yet when night came in; light would be limited and the desire to get to sleep early, strong. Almost every night so far had ended in bed by 8 or 9 o’clock at night.

Sat eating pork curry, around a Yak-shit powered stove, with the Solukhumbu Lodge owner answering questions in a kind of politely curious interview of new acquaintances it felt cosy despite extreme cold lapping at the single-glazed windows. He told us how two men, porters, lugged and regularly lugs the slate base of snooker tables from Namche Bazaar (two days hike away). Each porter takes ten minute stints to lift the 150kg load before passing the load onwards. They rotate time and time again. 22km of carrying 150kg between two souls sounds as tortuous as climbing Everest’s peak itself! A sign had boasted “world’s highest billiard hall.” I hadn’t doubted that. They would earn 50NPR per kilogram for every item they lugged from Namche Bazaar to Dingboche. That was the standard rate.

The mule trains are only permitted as far as Namche Bazaar. Some yaks are okay here after, but not so many. Porters, human labour, make the bulk of anything. I ordered a Coca-Cola, priced 200NPR above the manufacturer’s recommended price. To pay five times as much, here, seemed justified. I’d seen people carrying crates of beers, boxes of Red Bull energy drinks, gallons of bottled water. If it was packaged or meat, it came from lower down the valley. Our pork curry’s meat came from a village south of Lukla, where the lodge owner’s family had moved from. They sought the busier tourist routes for their living, renting a lodge for the year and living off the income. His wife, two year’s younger than him, aged 27, sat on one side, breastfeeding their tiny chubby baby, massively-wrapped up in a down jacket and down trousers. The nearest school was Pangboche, 10km away, but they intended to raise their kid until old enough to be taught in Kathmandu, like most kids on the region. The Yak-shit oven crackled as the owner slid the lid open, dropping on dried yak turds. The lower oxygen levels make burning yak pooh quite difficult. It isn’t actually that flammable. Wood fires are not permitted, as they destroy forests – also at this altitude, trees are not present. Following a good natter, I retired to bed, with a 3L thermal flask of ginger tea.

I entered my room. It was freezing. Way below zero. Ice had formed on a sweat-lined ski hat I had left by my bed earlier. I dived into my sleeping bag, pulled up the zip high, placing an extra blanket in the room over my body. I wore my dust-mask and spare ski hat to sleep. Gloves on.

I have never had such a restless sleep. I needed to water the plants too often. I had an unquenchable thirst. Headaches squeezed my skull and seemed to strangle my thoughts. At 9 o’clock in the morning I took some paracetamol. I napped until noon. On entering the lounge dining area, warm sunlight beat through the window panes. John and Will had finished their breakfast and were playing backgammon. They were heading for an acclimatisation walk up to Chhukhung. I was not. My head, as much as I wanted to wander, was not right. My ears hurt, my nose and sinuses seemed clogged and unclearable. If I lay my head flat it felt much more painful.

Had I allowed my body time to adjust to reduced oxygen and changes in air pressure? I thought hiking from Jiri and two nights in Namche Bazaar was enough, having read numerous accounts and heard many pieces of advice. Above sea level, altitude sickness can occur at heights over about 2,500m (8,000 feet). The affects are mild usually. In the severe form, anything above 3,600m (about 12,000 feet) is possible. At 5000m, oxygen is at 50% of the level as found at sea level. I was warned that a loss of appetite and shortness of breath were warning signs. I had neither. I did have a feeling of unsteadiness and like I was going to vomit. But, it wasn’t so bad. I decided to rest. The dizziness of the morning swept away. I read a book and enjoyed the warm dining room, napping on the late afternoon to be awoken by the owner knocking on my door. It was almost seven o’clock when I awoke. I ordered spaghetti and tomato sauce.

The next day was not as bad. My head hurt a little and I would classify myself as having “reduced performance and coordination.” I packed my bag, brushing the thick curtain over the window, “Well, I’ll be damned!” I cursed out loud, to nobody. Two nights of sleep, with the window open. The outside extreme weather had been cuddling my breathing at night. Keeping me company, keeping me dehydrated.

With a slight freshness to my mind, I set off for Lobuche (4410m), determining I could make it. I would be okay. The cold harsh peak of Taboche loomed to my left. I thought, I could turn around if I did not feel better. Armed with excessive flatulation (I later learnt this to be a sign of altitude sickness), I soldiered on. And laboured. Really laboured. Sweating profusely in cold is not comfortable. Sweat freezes fast. I checked my hands for swelling. None. My feet were okay that morning, but now they felt unusually warm. Sudden fatigue, a wave of weakness, swept over my body at Dughla (Thukla). Standing at 4620 metres, my mind argued with itself. Go on? Turn around? The mountain pass suddenly felt a million miles away from life. A small hutted hamlet with little attraction. It was a place to pass through and not stay for more than a night’s sleep. I checked my pulse. It was rapid. Persistently rapid. My breathing had quickened and finding my resting level was proving difficult. In my lightheaded state, I heard the thud of a struggling helicopter coming from towards Gorak Shep. Another rescue helicopter. The fourth, I had seen that day. I was around ten kilometres from Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp.

I decided to turn around. It was emotional. A really, really tough decision. I didn’t want my minor altitude sickness to become the reason for death by high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or Monge’s disease. Kala Patthar would have to wait. My nausea was close to that of wishing to vomit. I hate the feeling of wanting to be sick, but being unable to trigger a splurge. I could feel paresthesia, pins and needles. My body needed more oxygen. Welcome to the world malaise. I about turned. Passing through Nauma, Pheriche, Jamdang, Somsobuk, and Orsho, the path along the Pheriche Pass went almost unnoticed. As I approached Lower Pangboche (3930m), I watched as a helicopter landed, collected a man clutching an oxygen-cylinder on a medical stretcher. Only now, did I feel I made the right choice. Turning around was probably the wisest move of my life. If I didn’t think of loved ones and friends, I probably would have pushed myself. Too far. Having dropped from 4620m to 3860m at Tengboche, I could feel myself relax. The headaches lifted. I lodged once again at the welcoming Tashi Delak lodge. The log stove burnt well, filling a small area with heat and allowing for comforting conversation with Rai and Sherpa porters gathered alongside me. A group of Taiwanese hikers had aimed to go to Everest Base Camp but fell ill at Pangboche. They sat reasonably quietly, immersed in their glowing mobile phone screens. After a large meal of a yak burger, cheese spring rolls and potato chips, I slipped into my sleeping bag. I slept like a baby. All altitude sickness had gone.

Edmund Hilary, “Being comfortable at being uncomfortable.”

The lodge in Jorsalle’s dining room was long and rectangular. Freshly polished wood and paintwork leapt out at the eyes. In the centre at the foot of the dining room, a Buddhist monk sat. He sat all dressed in a maroon robe, and hat. An extra scarf and gloves, all maroon added to his complete maroon outfit.

The bedroom was ample and surprisingly spacious with a quaint window frame offering views of the river beneath. A solitary light switch again being the only technological advancement on offer. I didn’t mind.

After a short climb, fuelled by apple porridge, to Larja Dobham (2830m), I crossed a huge sweeping suspension bridge festooned by Buddhist prayer flags. Up the valley, snow-capped peaks of Lhotse and Sagarmatha towered above bands of yellow on brown sedimentary cliff faces. Sagarmatha is the Nepali name for the once named Peak XV. Deodungha is one of many local names, like Qomolangma (Tibetan name). Most mean “holy mother mountain” or in Chinese, Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng (珠穆朗玛峰). Sadly, some British folk, around 1857, decided to name the peak after a Welsh surveyor Sir George Everest, who actually objected to his name being used. It cannot be pronounced with ease by many native Hindi speakers of Nepal and nor could it be written. The name stuck. In fact, nobody pronounces Everest properly; it should be EEV-rist /ˈiːvrᵻst/ and not /ɛvᵊrᵻst/! This was the beauty of the English language evolution in action.

Clambering up a staircase of boulders, treading lightly so as not to disturb and possible wildlife, I spied many grazing Himalayan Tahr. These beastly-sized wild goats, of the order Artiodactyla, clambered beneath me foraging from the steep-banked grasslands on ledges not suitable for my weight. The males, much stockier, around 70kg and the females around half of that, moved with agility akin to a Kung Fu master. Following a period of calm relaxation observing the herd, I moved on, crossing the most dramatic of suspension bridges, draped in prayer flags and looking up valley on Mount Everest and her neighbouring peaks. Here two ladies touted me to invest in fruit. I paid 300NPR for a couple of near-frozen oranges and enjoyed the majestic views of Everest and the Khumbu region. As I waited, I once again met Will and John. We cantered up the steep and strenuous climb into Namche Bazaar.

I joined Will and John for a wander, dropping off my laundry at a nearby laundry-house. A miracle considering no flowing water in the Yak Hotel prevented showers and sink water. After lunch in Everest Bakery, sampling Yak steak and eating pizza, I wandered the basin of the U-shaped magnet town.

A late breakfast of apple strudel and my first cappuccino of the year in Namche Bakery were followed up mostly by rest and relaxation. No walking. I acclimatised with ease to the altitude but sought some time to read and enjoy the sunlight. Hiring a down jacket proven to be the most exercise I had that day. Cafe 8848 was a pleasant place to sit and write for a few hours.

The Yak Hotel, complete with a marauding Yak-cow hybrid outside, as if for display, was lovely and warm. No heating, just great insulation. Power points in the room allowed me to recharge my phone. The 500NPR Wi-Fi service and lack of showers (frozen) were luxuries I opted against. The first night, I ate in the dining lounge. Tough meat in the Sherpa stew ruined an okay dish, accompanied by a good potato rosti. I was told the room would be 100NPR per night, and found that 300NPR per night was charged for my two nights. The breakfast was basic and the staff, a mixture of good (one Sherpa man) and rude or disinterested (one Rai man). I came back to Namche Bazaar on the way back but opted not to stay at the Yak Hotel again.

Namche Bakery was recommended for good cakes. I sampled the apple strudel on three occasions. It could be argued that they make the best apple strudel outside of Europe. The cappuccinos are also very good. The sun-kissed windows look out onto an amazing picturesque view that could make your jaw drop.

On my first visit to the Everest Bakery, I had a sizzling yak steak and shared pizza with friends. A wonderful pot of black tea was supped. I returned to try it again, opting for a different pizza and a cake. Very good food indeed, with interesting walls coated in sports team memorabilia from Norway, the UK and beyond.

One night in Namche, I wanted to message some special friends and family. I was in a far-off place, they deserve assurance – and I craved a familiar vice. The hotel’s Wi-Fi was off.  I went towards other end of village to see if two open bars had Wi-Fi, but two stray dogs snapped at me. I thought that they wanted to play, but in dark, I can’t risk getting bitten. I retreated. Then I had to dart between free-roaming yaks in the narrow village pathways.  They scared the now snarling dogs away. I arrived back in hotel, safely out of the cold too (-15C outside).

 

My acclimatisation was going well. Signs of altitude sickness include a loss of appetite (I’m famished an hour after eating), and breathlessness (my recovery rate is actually impressive). I avoided overexertion (my planned routes are a day behind and I’m monitoring the distance and time trekking), drinking more than I usually would too, going higher each day, but sleeping lower. I was without facial or hand swellings, no headaches, which was odd because I nutted a door in the night going to the toilet, in Sete. I bled a bit.

Happy to be free of the Yak Hotel, whilst warm and comfortable, the food was terrible and the service equally poor. On amending my bill to something akin to proper and not the figures they quoted, I skipped on. Darting sluggishly between ice-covered staircases and sloping pathways, I reached the top of Namche Bazaar. An army helicopter thundered as it lifted off, coating all around in a thick matting of dust. I covered my eyes and throat to protect them from obliterating dust. Soon it passed. I was back on the trekking trail. Here were views of the 6,812m tall Amal Dabble, meaning “Mother’s necklace.” As beautiful mountains go, this is one of the most scenic peaks I have ever encountered. Pure artwork in nature.

Lhotse Shar, Taboche, Kang Talge, Selawa village, Phunke Tenga’s prayer water wheels, Tengboche Monastery and a panorama liked no other on arriving at Tengboche (3860m). . On the ascent upwards, I really needed to urinate. So, finding a quiet point, I darted behind a tall recycling bin, whipping out the necessary body part to eject the toxic yellow fluid I needed to expel. That surprised the young South Korean girl squatting behind there, doing the same. I almost hit her. I missed. The pressures made us wee in unison and avoid eye contact in embarrassment. I finished, glanced her way, said sorry and bid her a good day.

I clambered up the steep zig-zagging dusty footpath, opting for a rest at a tree that inspired a climb and held a natural seat-like branch. Here, I ran into John and Will again. We pushed on the final ascent to Tengboche, before sharing dinner and tales of this amazing trekking route. The largest Gompa in the Khumbu region stood bold amongst the village reflecting the beautiful moonlight of the night.

Tengboche Monastery has been rebuilt several times. Lightning strikes and multiple earthquakes haven’t managed to end its long history. At the top of a juniper-filled valley, it sits on a dusty plain with roaming yak-cow hybrids called… Possibly stray dogs sleep in the sunlight of the morning. The monastery looks almost mediaeval. It was actually built in 1923. I don’t know why they chose the jutting flank of land teetering over the Imja Khola River but they in essence selected one of the greatest Himalayan panoramic views in doing so. The Lhotse ridge, Ama Dablam, Everest and many more mountains star in a 360-degree view of brilliantly unique picturesqueness. Littered by wintering rhododendrons, bare of flower, and patches of ice it certainly had a feel of magic.

Winter is coming.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

I am sat here smugly sat here, with my cup of squeezy no-added sugar Vimto. I have less than two days before I feel myself soaring into the sky…

My flight to Nepal’s Kathmandu (via Mumbai, India) departs Hong Kong S.A.R. International Airport on Saturday the 31st of December 2016, at noon. I arrive local time in Nepal at 23:00hrs. Hopefully, I’ll have my baggage collected and be mobile before the year 2017 A.D. arrives. The 2966 km journey (as the crow flies) will take longer as a budget flight dictates the change in India. Jet Airways, I have heard, aren’t that bad, so here goes a journey into the unknown and unexperienced with an airline I know little about. An adventure awaits.

Just like Father Christmas has done in recent times, I have made a list of things to take, checked it twice, thrice and more times. Am I ready? I don’t know. Did I plan? Yes. Just to prove a point, here is my checklist

Water bottle/1L water pack

Nalgene/

 
Passport photos

Insurance

Additional risk insurance

Notify bank

Flights

 
Trekking poles  
Camera and accessories

Camera bag

 
Pens  
Toilet paper  
SteriPen  
Synthetic or nylon top

Pants. No cotton.

 
Bandanna  
Trail food  
MP3 player  
Sleeping bag  
Sleeping bag liners  
Cotton pillow case  
Wind breaker  
Wind pants  
Long socks  
Day sack
Batteries/bulbs/torch/head lamp
Swiss army knife
Sunglasses/goggles
Lip sun block
Sun lotion
Medical/first aid kit
Sewing kit
Wool socks
Sun hat
Woollen hats
Long Johns

Baselayers

Gloves
Gaiters
T-shirts
Down jacket
Waterproof jacket
Trekking boots
Trainers
Hiking pants
Hiking shirts (full sleeves)
Ruck sack
Towel

After three days in Kathmandu, I will begin my ascent. I will somehow get to a place called Jiri by car, jeep or bus. From there, I will hike from Jiri (1951m) to Deorali (2705m); Deorali to Sete (2575m); Sete to Junbesi (2675m); Junbesi to Numtala 2360m; Numtala to Khari Khola 2100m; Khari Khola to Surkhe 2293m; and Surkhe to Lukla 2810m. Nowadays many people abandon the old ways and fly from Kathmandu to Lukla. Not me, I’m walking as the explorers of old did. I’ve allowed 8 days for this journey. Some say it can be done in 6, but I guess they’re more Superman than I. There are a few alternative routes that bypass Lukla and head on to Namche Bazar (3.440 m) but perhaps the altitude gain is too great. My plan involves Phakding (2.610 m), Mojo’s Sagarmatha National Park Entrance around Larja bridge (2.830 m), and Namche Bazar (3.440 m), hopefully arriving on a Friday to witness the great Saturday morning market. Khumjung (3.780 m) looking over at Ama Dablam (6.856 m), Tengboche (3.860 m) for the great monestaries, Pangboche (3.930 m), Pheriche (4.270 m), Dingboche (4.410 m), Dughla (Thokla) – 4.620 m, Thokla Pass (4.830 m) and my final place for sleeping in Gorak Shep camp (5.140 m). Here I will trek to Kala Patthar (5.545 m) and Everest Base Camp (5.364 m) to gaze upon Everest (8.848 m). After a few hours of that, I head back to Kathmandu as fast as I can. Hopefully I’ll get a day in the city before flying back to Hong Kong S.A.R. with my onward road of China by the 29th of January 2017.

Months, weeks, days and hours of planning is about to begin… I’m both excited and nervous. I’ll miss those I love, dearly, as I do. But, dreams… dreams must be put into action, one by one.

 

 

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye