Back to Civilization
We awoke today to find that the skies had cleared - it is amazing how as technically advanced as we have become nature can still triumph over us. But this morning, nature is on our side. The flight home was surprisingly uneventful - the fear we all had on the flight in is gone and in spite of knowing that taking off from the "most dangerous airport in the world" is as dangerous as landing there we are all calm and looking forward to returning to the chaos of Kathmandu. I have promised the others that I will have a shower that lasts for at least 30 minutes and we shall see. A lot of my gear has been donated to the Sherpas - an act of generosity to be sure but I will be honest and say that I was convinced that the smell of trekking would never be truly removed. We have had such an amazing journey - the Monks, Everest Base Camp, and of course summiting Kala Pattar. Our laptops are filled with amazing data and I have been to the highest mountain in the world - a dream of mine since I was a young boy learning about Tenzing Norgay for a school report. I wonder if I shall ever return to this amazing place?
Our arrival into Kathmandu is a drastic contrast to the mountains - the number of people, the noise, and the confusion is almost overwhelming. The comparison of the Kathmandu Guest House to the lodges we have been staying in is almost surreal. I will sign off now as the long shower I mentioned is calling my name and then a very, very long nap.
The picture says it all. The most "dangerous" airport in the world is closed due to fog. We are sad as we all awoke at 5:30am hoping to fly out of here, but now, we are going to spend the day in Lukla. It's safe to say there is nothing to do, but at least a bit of relaxation and unwinding is welcome after all the miles we have put on our feet.
A Journey Over
Jeff Zala and I walking through the park gates at Lukla - the end of our journey. Although our horizontal distance was nothing like the Camino, our vertical climbs have been impressive. For the record, our summit of Kala Pattar means JZ and I have climbed the second highest mountain in Canada. The hike from Phakding to Lukla was uneventful, a long quiet day of reflection for the most part. Nepal is an incredibly beautiful country, at least the Khumbu Valley, and I feel privileged to have come here. A preliminary analysis of our EEG data suggests a success - our results show impairments to cognitive function with altitude and there is no doubt the EEG patterns of Buddhist Monks differ when meditating relative to rest. Without a more careful inspection lab in the Krigolson Lab I will not say more, but I think it is safe to say that we have some very publishable and novel results. I will keep updating the blog for a bit more, we are not quite home yet, and I will also publish our findings here first, but for now thank you for following the journey - it has been a most amazing experience.
Today we left Namche and trekked through the Sagarmartha National Park enroute to Phakding and tomorrow Lukla. We were silent most of the day, walking silently, as we gazed at the beauty of this place and pondered memories of the amazing times we have had here.
Back to Namche Bazzar
Nothing like starting the day with a 650 foot climb (200 m) up to the Hillary Lookout to make one feel like you are on top of the world!
And to top that off? A visit to the Khumjung Monastery to see a Yeti Scalp!
Followed by a fairly steep walk down to get us back to Namche Bazaar...
And what better way to end a long day's trek? A pint of Guinness at the highest altitude Irish Pub in the world! The "Irish Pub"!
Today we trekked from Pangboche to Kunde - a long seven hour day. Just over 10km, but a lot of vertical which pretty much doubled the distance. It seems so strange to be heading home already after coming over this bridge and this route not that long ago.
The high point of the day would have been on the descent from Tengboche - a nasty long hill that we climbed just a few days ago. Jeff and I were at the back of the pack with our head Sherpa Nima, when he got a little grin on his face and asked us if we wanted to try the "Nepali short cut". He proceeded to turn off the main trail and head pretty much straight down - Jeff and I leaped frogged to the front of out team, crossing this bridge 30 minutes before anyone else. I am fairly certain the trail we took would not have been approved by Parks Canada!
More prayer stones, these ones beside the trail on the route to Kunde. When they are in the middle of the trail (right picture), tradition dictates one always walks to the left of them,
On the left, our destination, the neighbouring villages of Khunjung and Kunde. On the right, one of many reasons for Kiwis to be proud - the Hillary School in Kunde.
Where do trekkers stay in Nepal? "Tea houses" Tea houses are lodges and vary quite a bit in terms of comfort. The one pictured here is where we are staying tonight. The rooms are simple and small but very clean. A room will typically have two single beds and just enough space for gear. The facilities are down the hall and hot showers cost extra - as does wifi and simply charging an electronic device - electricity is a commodity that is for sale in this part of Nepal. As one gets farther up the trail and closer to EBC the lodges become more and more frugal and more and more expensive. In Kathmandu, a bottle of water costs 50 rupees - at Gorek Shep near EBC it costs 350 rupees. Why the jump in price? As you will recall everything is carried up here on a Yak or porters back.
Inside the tea house - the common room is the hub of activity where all meals are served and people sit and unwind. The rooms are not heated so the fire in the common room is a huge draw. And of course, the tea!
Our last view of Everest as we leave Tengboche after a rest break on the trail. Tomorrow, Namche Bazaar.
Pangboche and the Journey Home
Yesterday after our summit of Kala Pattar we had a long trek back to Pheriche, bypassing Lobouche. It was a sad journey as we were leaving an incredible place that we only visited very briefly but at the same time we had such an incredible two days. Today, we had a very short walk to Pangboche - just under two hours - as a form of a rest day to recover from two very hard days of trekking and climbing. Pangboche is one of the larger villages in the area and a jumping off point for many trekking destinations. I am continually amazed at how warm and friendly the Nepalese people are.
Traffic on the road to Pangboche - porters and yaks! Trekkers frequently shout out "Yak Yak" so we can jump out of the way of the yaks, and more importantly, their horns.
Downtown Pangboche. You will note the lack of cars, traffic lights, side walks... just about everything, really :)
Prayer stones are found throughout the region - the local monks write out prayers to bring blessings and fortune. The stones are frequently seen in and around towns but they can also be found out beside the trails that are used to bring luck and health to the porters and other people walking the "roads" on this part of Nepal.
The high point of today was summit attempt - Kala Pattar (18,423 feet). About a third of our group is unable to make the attempt - a combination of fatigue and altitude sickness. My legs are tired but I am excited, even with a 4:45am start time. We have clear weather, the first time in days, and are excited for great views of Everest and the surrounding mountains.
Kala Pattar. It does not look that high but we start from Gorek Shep and an altitude of 16,900 feet and will climb just over 1500 feet to the summit. Pumori is in the background.
Closing in on the summit.
On top of Kala Pattar! 18,423 feet!
A clear view of Everest from the top of Kala Pattar. In the middle of the picture, the South Col. Just to the left of this, the Hillary Step. Just to the right, Lhotse. In the foreground, Nuptse.
On top of Kala Pattar. Everest on the left, Nuptse, and a great view down Kala Pattar and the valley.
Everest Base Camp
My first good view of Everest on the trail to Gorek Shep and Everest Base Camp - Nuptse is in the foreground. Although it is the highest mountain in the world, it is actually almost impossible to see all of Everest from the Nepali side.
The town of Gorek Shep where we will spend the night. On the left, the rocky mountain is Kala Pattar (18,423 feet) which we will summit tomorrow morning. Further down the valley, our destination, Everest Base Camp.
Everest Base Camp! The Khumbu Icefall is clearly visible - the route up Everest for the climbers is right in the middle of the picture just to the left of rocky formation covered in cloud.
Collecting EEG data at Everest Base Camp. As far as I know, the highest ever event-related potential study ever conducted - 17,388 feet.
Lobouche: A Hard Climb
Today was the hardest day of the trek – we knew we had to climb from Pheriche to Loubouche – a gain of 2300 ft (700 m). The journey started out with a gentle climb along the valley that Pheriche lies in for a few kilometers, but after that we began the climb to Dougla, a quick gain of 820 ft (250 m). We skirted the edge of Dougla and continued the climb to the summit – a gain of 1970 ft (600 m) over a very short horizontal distance. Our group did well and our training paid off – we stuck together and kept a slow pace designed to minimize the effects of altitude – exertion is our enemy as over exertion will greatly increase our chances of getting altitude sickness. The climb was not technical, but it was very, very difficult. However, we all made it up and at the top celebrated a hard effort.
At the top, we encountered the climbers’ memorials – the place where a lot of the people who have died on Everest are remembered. It was a somber reminder of the place we are in, a place where a lot have come to climb the mountain and perished. And then, there are the people who died just last year in the avalanche through Base Camp that went through a part of Base Camp.
Following our time at the memorial we struck out for Lobouche, another hour of walking but the incline was greatly reduced and after our successful climb from the Pheriche valley we quickly made it to our destination. The landscape has changed radically, the ground is rough and covered in boulders – the remnants of a glacier that retreated a long time ago. Lobouche is very small, it only consists of a few small lodges and a store for the trekkers and climbers that come through. Our lodge is nice, and we enjoyed a large lunch before we made the short walk to the Pyramid Lab – a weather station nearby that studies the weather patterns of the Himalayas.
Following our visit to the station we trekked back to our lodge and settled in for the evening. On one hand, we are all a little scared – tonight is our first night at a truly high elevation and all are afraid of the possibility of altitude sickness impacting our sleep – whether it be sleep apnea, headaches, or both. On the other hand, tomorrow we will trek to Gorek Shep and then to Everest Base Camp – the goal of our journey. My laboratory will set up and we will collect the highest ever recorded event-related brain potential data.
Olav Krigolson is a neuroscientist at the University of Victoria who has authored over 40 academic papers and given over 150 talks and presentations.