The Daily Explorer

June 6, 2010

The Roof of the World

Kathmandu, Nepal: June 2010

MOZZIE BYTE (Editor): A warm welcome back to all our Daily Explorer readers and greetings to those of you who are joining us for the first time. For new readers, Ray has been living nomadically for about four and a half years since he left England in November 2005. He has visited or lived in 16 countries and we have been publishing news and stories about his journey throughout that period. You can find all of these in our Previous Issues archive. Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you to enjoy, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com), ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com

Our latest issue has been put together by guest correspondent Seymour Peaks – our Alpine trekking expert, who first appeared when Ray completed the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp treks in 2008. He re-joins our team to take us through the route and highlights of each of the 16 days of Ray’s epic 230 kilometre trek to Everest Base Camp and Gokyo Lakes. Ray has sent us a really fantastic collection of pictures for you to enjoy.

In case you missed our last issue, Po Scard caught up with Ray during his five-day visit to Hong Kong and followed him as he returned to Nepal. And he also provided us with an update about the ongoing troubles in Bangkok and the political problems in Nepal. Some of you might find some of the pictures disturbing. You can read it now at: From Hong Kong to the Himalayas

Above: In our last issue, Ray escaped the recent troubles in Thailand by visiting Hong Kong – the most ‘vertical’ city in the world – for five days before his long awaited return to Nepal, which has plenty of troubles of its own. If you missed it, you can read the full story now at: From Hong Kong to the Himalayas

With a full-scale shutdown of all businesses underway in Nepal, our intrepid explorer was unexpectedly forced to change plans on arrival, leaving himself less than 48 hours to make final preparations for his much anticipated trek to Everest Base Camp. “Kathmandu was like a ghost town when I got here” said Ray, after arriving in the midst of a six-day national strike, called by Maoist supporters trying to force the government to resign. “This was causing mayhem for local businessmen and tourists alike” he told me. “When I arrived at the airport, I knew something was wrong as I would normally expect to be swamped by taxi drivers and hoteliers all looking for business, but there were none to be seen. Although most local people would prefer to be open for business, the Maoists intimidated everyone into supporting the strike, threatening to destroy their property if they tried to open their shop or drive their vehicle on the road. The strike also meant no buses running or ATM’s working, as the banks were too worried about the potential for looting and rioting, which was a serious problem for me as I needed to take sufficient Nepalese Rupees up into the mountains to pay for my food and lodging for 2-3 weeks on my trek” explained our concerned traveller. “It was one of those great opportunities to just relax and go with the flow, knowing that it would probably all turn out alright” added Ray. (Editors Note: For further information about the Maoist protests in Nepal, visit the BBC News Website)

As it turned out, Ray managed to find one ATM working at the last minute and with the support of his trekking guide and the team at Asian Heritage Treks, also managed to assemble the necessary kit required for the demanding trip. “There was absolutely nothing to stay for in Kathmandu as everything was closed” said Ray. “I thought my best option was to get up into the mountains and avoid the whole situation completely. Luckily for me, the airport was still operating normally and I was able to get seats for me and my guide at short notice, to the tiny airstrip up in the mountains at Lukla, which is where most people start their Everest Base Camp trek from” added Ray. “From Lukla, my guide estimated that it would take us around 7 – 8 days to reach Everest Base Camp, depending on how well I would be able to cope with acclimitisation” explained our experienced mountain trekker.

“If you are someone who typically lives at low altitudes, which includes most foreign travellers, then going up into mountains has to be done gradually because above 3,000 metres (about 9,000 feet), your body needs time to adjust to a much less oxygen rich environment. The general rule is that you can only ascend a maximum of 500 metres per day and you also need to take a rest day every 1,000 metres. Some people do proceed faster than this, either because they can handle it OK, or they are not aware of the situation and start having problems as they go higher. In some rare cases, people have died through ignorance. Fortunately for me, my two previous treks meant I was very familiar with the brief and knew exactly what to expect” he told me. “Our plan was to pass through Namche Bazar on the way to Everest Base Camp first, then re-trace our steps back to Pangboche (see map below) and head up to Gokyo along the east side of the canyon, returning on the west side through Machherma to Namche Bazar and Lukla for the return to Kathmandu” explained Ray.

Above: Map showing Ray’s planned trekking route from Lukla to Everest Base Camp via Namche Bazaar – “We will also summit Kala Patthar (5,545 metres) at Gorak Shep before we return” said Ray. “At 18,204 feet, it will be the highest point I have climbed to so far in my life” he said with great excitement. Ray’s route will then take him through Pangboche up to Gokyo (upper left side of map). It is possible to take the more direct route from Dughla to Gokyo via the Cho La Pass, but it can be very challenging at this time of year, with plenty of ice and snow along the route making it unsuitable for anyone with little or no experience of these conditions – “I am happy to take an extra day and go the slightly easier way” Ray told me (heights on the map are shown in metres above sea level)

Day One

Although everything in Kathmandu was closed as a result of the general strike, there was a shuttle bus service operating from Thamel to the airport, protected by police, so that tourists were still able to make their flights. “The first day of our trek was pretty easy” said Ray. “After some short delays due to poor weather and visibility in the mountains, we took a rather turbulent, forty five minute flight to Lukla, which is relatively high up at 2,810 metres (9,200 feet). When we arrived, Madan (my guide) and I met up with Onil (my porter for the trip) and we trekked for a couple of hours to our first overnight stop in Phakding, which at 2,610 metres is at a slightly lower altitude than Lukla. This is perfect as far as acclimitisation is concerned, as you should always aim to sleep at least 100 metres lower than the highest point you reach during the day for the smoothest transition” explained Ray.

Above: Ray’s trekking guide, Madan Gurung (in black) boards the shuttle bus from Thamel to the airport. As a result of the strike led by Maoists, the bus was the only way for our intrepid explorer to make it to the airport – “It feels great to be trekking with Madan again. He is a really competent guide and excellent company, a bit like meeting an old friend” said Ray

Below: The Agni Airlines Dornier 228 aircraft (left) which flies regularly between Lukla and Kathmandu for around $110 is rather cramped, quite noisy and can be quite turbulent; much to the dismay of Madan and the other passengers making the forty five minute trip (right)

Above: The co-pilot checks to see that everyone is strapped in for the flight before departing Kathmandu. The pilots who make these regular trips have to really have their wits about them as they rely heavily on being able to visually guide the aircraft close to the mountains and find the runway at the tiny airstrip in Lukla ….

Below: …. The aircraft arrives at Lukla and carefully lines up for the small, steep uphill runway that enables these aircraft to stop in very short distances when compared with a normal airport runway. When the visibility is poor, people can wait 2-3 days at either end for a flight until the weather is suitable again

Above: The eight kilometre hike to Phakding is relatively easy and a nice way to start the 7-8 day journey to Everest Base Camp

Below: The route along the Dudh Kosi river is very green and lush at the lower altitudes and passes many things of cultural interest including these money stones (left) and the white stupa (right)

Day Two

Continuing along the Dudh Kosi river, Ray ascended 830 metres (2,700 feet) through Himalayan pine and cedar forests, to the celebrated village of Namche Bazaar, elevation 3,440 metres (11,300 feet). “The journey to Namche was pretty tough as there is a consistent uphill gradient and in the hot weather, it was very tiring” recalled Ray. It took us around five hours and by the end of it, I felt like my trek had really started. I also knew that we were stopping in Namche for an extra day to acclimatise so I had the bonus of a lay in to look forward to” he added. To get to Namche, all visitors have to enter Sagarmatha National Park and purchase a permit which costs 1,000 rupees (around £10). “The village of Namche is a historic trading post where Nepalese and Tibetan traders exchanged salt, dried meat, gold and textiles. Besides being a place to shop for traditional crafts, Namche remains the central trading post in the Khumbu, attracting Himalayan and lowland merchants” explained our trekker. “I noticed as we ascended through the different villages en route that the price of food and drinking water were also going up steadily. Everything you can buy up here has had to be physically carried up here by a yak or a porter, which obviously means it is going to be more expensive than in Kathmandu” observed Ray.

Above: Trekkers on their way to Namche Bazaar wait at the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park to obtain their permits

Below: Acute Mountain Sickness can be fatal if you are not aware of the symptoms or how to deal with them so there are plenty of signs to warn trekkers about it (left). Between Phakding and Namche Bazaar, there are five river crossings, with long, metal suspension bridges like the one here (right)

Above: Our trekker receives a warm welcome from a dzo (male) as he enters a small village on the trail – “They are a crossbreed between a yak and a cow” said Ray. “They can live at lower altitudes and are easier to handle when carrying loads. The dzomo (female) retains the fine milking characteristic of the dris (female yak). The visible difference between the two types of animals is very slight: dzos and dzomos are smaller and do not have the long shaggy hair falling from their flanks and sides as yaks do” he told me

Below: Yaks and dzo’s do not carry everything that goes up into the mountains. Porters can carry a staggering amount of stuff, like this girl who has probably loaded up with at least 30 kilos (left). While this slightly built Nepali man is carrying an 80 kilogramme refrigerator all the way from Lukla to Namche (right) – “It is unbelievable to see how tough and resilient these people are” observed Ray. “I found it quite tiring just carrying my own small rucksack, which only weighs about 5 kilos. And the guy with the fridge arrived in Namche a little over two hours after me, despite the fact he was probably carrying nearly double his own body weight” said our astounded trekker

Day Three

The village of Syangboche is about a one hour walk from Namche and at 3,720 metres, offers the perfect rest day excursion to aid acclimitisation. “The purpose of the ‘rest’ day is to allow the body time to adjust to the increases in altitude, which means less oxygen in the air. One of the things that really helps is to find somewhere 2-300 metres higher to visit during the day and return to the lower altitude at night to sleep” said Ray. And at Syangboche, we had our first opportunity to get a glimpse of the mighty Mount Everest, which is visible on good days from there, even though we are still 5-6 days away from Base Camp” he explained.

Above: Ray’s porter Onil is grateful for the rest day in Namche Bazaar as it means he does not have to carry anything for 24 hours and gets paid for the day too!

Below: The Everest View Hotel at Syangboche is one of the best places to get your first sighting of Mount Everest if you are trekking to base camp. Unfortunately for Ray, as this picture shows (left), there was too much cloud obscuring the mountain on the day he ascended there – “We still had a decent cup of tea and met some great people there” said Ray. “To get to the hotel, which I was told has rooms at around $200 per night, either means walking there or being flown into the tiny Syangboche Airport, which at 12,200 feet claims to be the highest airport in the world (right)

Above: Almost everyone trekking in the Khumbu region will visit Namche Bazaar, as it is the gateway to the high Himalaya. Visitors are likely stay at least one night, if not two for altitude acclimatisation. The village has many shops and lodges where one can find almost anything required for trekking, although prices are higher than in Kathmandu – “Fortunately, there is even a german bakery selling fresh coffee and pastries, as well as a book exchange” added our traveller. Returning from Syangboche, the descent appears to be almost vertical as Ray’s guide Madan re-traces his steps (bottom left) 

Below: Besides being a place to shop for traditional crafts, Namche remains the central trading post in the Khumbu, attracting Himalayan and lowland merchants

Above: Because of the high altitude, there are some dubious claims made by traders in the Everest region – “This business owner claims to operate the world’s highest ‘Modern Hair Dresser’ (left). And if you see Yak steak on the menu in any restaurant, be aware that it has come from the butcher in the Bazaar, where the non-existent standards of hygiene and cleanliness are very different from what you would expect elsewhere in the world” observed Ray

Day Four

The tiny village of Tengboche (pronounced Teng-bo-shay) was the destination on the fourth day of Ray’s trip to Everest Base Camp (see map), which is around 15 kilometres away from Namche. It takes around four hours to reach at a steady pace. “We ascended another 420 metres (around 1,400 feet) after leaving Namche to reach an elevation of 3,860 metres (12,683 feet). I was starting to get a slight headache at this point, which is nothing to be concerned about. I had the option of taking diamox, which is a drug that many alpine trekkers and climbers use to speed up the acclimitisation process” Ray told me, “but as I knew that one of the side effects of taking the drug is that it makes you pee excessively, I decided to hold out and just take headache tablets instead for a while to see if they would do the job” he recalled.

Tengboche is the cultural and religious center of the Khumbu region and the highlight is definitely the monastery. “We were allowed to attend the afternoon Buddhist ceremony to witness and hear their prayer rituals, which felt like a very special honour” said Ray. The Monastery at Tengboche is one of the most well-known in the world as the Rinpoche is revered throughout the Buddhist community and has authored a number of books and essays. At present there are 60 monks within the Tengboche Monastic community and it is expected to increase. This number is quite high as in 1993, there were only around 30. This perhaps reflects an increase in the availability of funds to support the monks.

The vistas from Tengboche are spectacular. “We came up on a very cloudy day so could not see any of the high peaks” said our trekker. On a clear day, you can spot Thamserku and Kangtega to the south and Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam to the north. I went to sleep that night praying that the visibility would be much improved so that we might get our first sighting of Everest the following morning” added Ray.

Above: “Do you know the way to Tengboche?” hums Ray (to the tune of “Do you know the way to San Jose”)  as he passes this sign

Below: In Tengboche, Madan (centre, black) warms up by the heater in the tiny lodge which was home for the night (left). The inside of the lodge is typical of the type of places that you will find on the trek – very basic but warm and with some good, wholesome food. Not so typical, and a treat for Ray, was finding this cafe with fresh Lavazza coffee (right)

Above: The entrance to the Buddhist monastery at Tengboche. In 1934, an earthquake destroyed part of the building, which was re-built by the monks and the local community. With the increase in mountaineering and tourism that followed, the outside world came to know Tengboche as a symbol of peace and beauty. So when the monastery was destroyed again in 1989, by fire caused by an electrical heater, Tengboche was already internationally known and loved, so not only the Sherpa community, but also people worldwide committed time or money to the reconstruction project

Below: Slowly Tengboche monastery has been rebuilt under the skilful guidance of Tengboche Rinpoche, the acknowledged incarnation of the founder Lama Gulu. Particular care has been taken so that at each stage the traditional proceedings have been followed. In 1993 in a grand prayer ceremony, the new monastery was consecrated. New wall paintings by the famous Tibetan painter Tarke-la adorn the shrine room. They depict the Bodhisattva lives of the Buddha with skill, beauty and clarity. The newly constructed monastery is slightly larger than the old one and is built in stone rather than wood. In particular the courtyard (left) and storerooms are larger to provide more room for the monks’ activities. The main building consists of the prayer hall (right) which is dominated by a huge statue of Sakyamuni Buddha which is two floors high – “Although the temple is beautiful both inside and out, my dominant memories are of sounds – the chanting of the monks at Puja, and the sounds of the bells, drums and horns that woke me early in the morning” recalled Ray (Photo, right: Mick Canning)

Day Five & Six

The second acclimitisation stop and rest day was at Dingboche, some 15 kilometres further and around 3-4 hours away. “As we were ascending above the 4,000 metre threshold (13,120 feet), I was expecting the headaches to continue, as they hadn’t really eased up overnight” said Ray. “However, all of that paled into complete insignificance when Madan excitedly (and quite unexpectedly) banged on my door at around 6.15am, urging me to come outside and take a look at something. I was still rubbing the sleep out of my rather red eyes when I realised that the clouds had all virtually disappeared, the sun was shining and there right in front of us was the tip of the mighty Mount Everest for all to see – it was my first sighting of the mountain in Nepal, having previously seen it once before when I travelled to Tibet a couple of years ago” explained Ray. “It was a very exciting moment” said our global nomad.

“At Dingboche, which sits at an elevation of 4,410 metres (14,500 feet), it was getting harder to breathe and each step to reach the village felt like it was requiring additional effort from me” recalled Ray. “We had most of the afternoon and evening to rest and the owner of the small lodge even had a couple of Everest DVD’s for us to watch as we ate that evening. The following day, Madan had planned a small excursion to assist with my acclimatisation, which involved a fairly steep ascent into hills surrounding the valley, taking us up a further 200 metres for a couple of hours before returning to sleep for the night at the lodge. I could definitely sense the physical workload was increasing at this point and was continuing to take Ibuprofen to ease the constant headaches which are common to most visitors in this part of the world” added Ray.

Above: Look at the centre of the picture and you will see a ‘W’ shape formed by two mountain peaks. The one to the left is Mount Everest – only the top is visible from Tengboche. The peak to the right is Lhotse, which is slightly smaller than Everest, even though it appears in the photograph to be taller

Below: Ray took this close up shot so you could get a better look – the spray effect to the right of Everest is caused by strong winds at 29,000 feet blowing snow from the top

Above: Our trekker encounters a couple of yaks on the way to Dingboche – “Male yaks provide the major means of transporting goods in the high-altitude Himalaya and the Tibetan plateau” explained Ray. “They can carry up to one hundred kilograms of cargo over precarious trails and snow-filled passes. In the mountains between Nepal and Tibet, long yak caravans are a common sight. The lead yaks are well trained animals who respond readily to their owner’s commands and know the trails without faltering. The main cargo brought from Tibet is rock salt, dried sheep meat, wool, saddle carpets, worked silver, and Chinese manufactured goods such as shoes, thermoses, flashlights, and tea cups. Often these traders sell their wares in the high valleys, but if they decide to trade at lower elevations, the loads are transferred from the yaks to mules and horses. Rice, tea, sugar, kerosene, and cloth are carried on the return trip” added our trekker

Below: Madan (bottom left) leads the way into Dingboche, elevation 4,400 metres, for a day and half of rest so that Ray can acclimatise before making the final push for Everest Base Camp which is about 1,000 metres higher up

Above: Ray’s little two hour excursion during his ‘rest’ day took him high above the valley in which the village of Dingboche sits, for some spectacular views

Below: “Madan made me work hard some days, especially on day six as the climb in Dingboche to the stupa was particularly difficult” said Ray, “but that is what makes him such a good guide – he pushed me just enough to ensure my body was being conditioned for what was coming so that I would definitely be able to do it and enjoy it” said our traveller

Day Seven

The penultimate day before the last leg to Everest Base Camp; the 12 kilometre hike from Dingboche to Lobuche, which sits at an elevation of 4,910 metres (16,100 feet). “You will see if you look at the map that our arrival at Lobuche positioned us within just 2-3 hours of Everest Base Camp from our departure the following day, so you can imagine I was feeling pretty excited that evening. But also very tired as we ascended around 600 metres on the way up, which was not only pretty exhausting but technically over the recommended daily ascent limit. That meant we had to go for a further walk to a nearby ridge in the afternoon some 150 metres above the lodge, so that we could return to sleep at the lodge at least 100 metres below our highest point of the day” explained our weary trekker.

Above and below: This site just above Dughla is a shrine to people (foreigners and sherpas) who have lost their lives attempting to summit Mt. Everest. Each cairn has been placed in remembrance of somebody and everyone pays their respects as they pass through

Above: Ray purchases another bottle of his favourite “Sherpa” brand mineral water (left) as he attempts to stay hydrated – “High altitude makes the kidneys work overtime as they try to compensate for the lack of oxygen, which means you pass a lot more water than usual” said Ray. Meanwhile, his guide Madan and porter Onil (right) tuck in to a bowl of noodle soup to replenish themselves after a strenuous trek to Lobuche

Day Eight

Waking up at 5 am, Ray set off from Lobuche to reach Gorak Shep (see map) for some breakfast, drop off bags and head for Everest Base Camp just 1-2 hours away. “The trek from Lobuche was relatively easy as we were only gaining 200 metres in height over a distance of ten kilometres. I was feeling in much better shape as I had been taking diamox for 24 hours and it was starting to really kick in” recalled Ray. “Once we had dropped our bags off in Gorak Shep and eaten some food, we were ready to depart for the final leg to Everest Base Camp and the realisation of a dream I had been envisioning for many years – it really felt like that day was a day of destiny” admitted Ray. “The trail into Everest Base Camp is on a high ridge for most of the way, so even from 4 or 5 kilometres out, we could see the enormous Khumbu Glacier and we recognised the tiny specks of colour beside it as the temporary village of tents at the base camp. Luckily for me, May is probably one of the best months to visit base camp in terms of the atmosphere, as it swells with hundreds of climbers in expedition groups, all of whom have been waiting for the perfect window of weather to make their summit attempts. This year, most of them were leaving base camp between the 15th and 25th May so there was a good chance I might actually get to meet some of the climbers and find out how they were feeling just days prior to their departure” said our global explorer.

Above: 5.30 am and Ray departs Lobuche for a brief stop in Gorak Shep en route to Everest Base Camp some 15 kilometres away. Although the day time temperatures are pretty warm, the overnight temperatures are very low, hence the snow on these small tents

Below: This picture was taken by Ray from 3-4 kilometres away and shows the huge Khumbu Glacier which curls around and up to the right of the picture. The glacier is riddled with deep crevasses and is arguably the hardest part of the climb for anyone wanting to reach the summit of Everest. The red circle depicts where all of the expeditions have set up their tents within base camp, which may be quite difficult to see. Mt. Everest is out of sight to the right of the photograph

Above: After eight days and around 100 kilometres of seriously tough trekking since leaving Lukla, our intrepid explorer finally arrived at Everest Base Camp, which is at an elevation of 5,364 metres (17,600 feet) – “Getting to this point was definitely the greatest moment in my trekking life so far” he told me. “When I did the Annapurna Circuit about 18 months ago, I went even higher, at 17,769 feet, but this felt much harder somehow, due to the terrain being much steeper in places. And with oxygen levels around 50% of what I would normally be used to, my marathon level fitness did not seem to give me any advantage at all” he told me. “As I entered base camp, I couldn’t help wonder what it might be like to climb the mountain itself, which seems an impossibility at this point in my life; that’s what makes it so compelling to think about it” admitted Ray

Below: A few of the many hundreds of tents at Everest Base Camp – there were around 26 expeditions granted permits to climb this year by the government, all departing during the second half of May, so there is always considerable congestion at the summit. For most climbers, the cost of going to the summit will be in the region of $65 – 70,000 dollars each and some of those may not make it all the way. They will have all spent around two months at base camp acclimatising. The oxygen level at 8,000 metres (in the ‘death zone’) drops to around 30% of normal levels which is why climbers allow as long as possible to get used to the rarified atmosphere. Luckily, they will all have the support of sherpas who are amongst the strongest and best mountain climbers in the world

Above: Ray sits and chats with a climbing sherpa at Everest Base Camp – “He was so excited” said Ray. “It was his first attempt to summit, going up with one of the expeditions. For the sherpas, reaching the top will radically increase their earnings potential as they will be sought after by any foreign climbers looking for the support of experienced, successful people who have been there and done it” explained Ray. “Having said that, this guy was just really thrilled about the chance to stand on the highest point on earth and he didn’t seem too concerned with anything else”

In late April, a team of 20 Sherpas went on a clean-up mission on Mount Everest to remove a lot of the garbage that has been left by expeditions in previous years and retrieve bodies of victims of the mountain’s “death zone” above 8,000 metres (26,000 feet), where oxygen levels are a third of those at sea level. The co-ordinator Chakra Karki wrote on the Extreme Everest Expedition blog that the priority of the sherpas had been to retrieve garbage from the death zone above 8,000 metres but that large quantities of rubbish had already been collected around 6,000 metres. There is no definitive figure on how much trash has been left on the mountain, but the debris of 50 years of climbing has given Everest the name of the world’s highest dumpster. “This real-time garbage exhibition will also force climbers to confront the ever-growing mound of leftovers,” wrote Karki. As well as oxygen canisters, the detritus includes food containers, discarded tents, ropes and backpacks — all of which will be put on display in an exhibition at Everest base camp.

The group also achieved one of the their “primary goals” of locating the body of Swiss climber Gianni Goltz, who died attempting to climb the mountain without oxygen in 2008. Other corpses on Everest include those of New Zealander Rob Hall and American Scott Fischer, who were guides on the mountain during the infamous 1996 disaster described in the best-selling book “Into Thin Air”. Since 1953, there have been 300 deaths on Everest, according to Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. Many bodies have been brought down, but those above 8,000 metres have generally been left to the elements – their bodies preserved by the freezing temperatures. “I met an English climber at Namche Bazaar who was responsible for removing one of the five bodies that were found coming out of the melting glacier during the week we were there” said Ray. “It was quite a grizzly story and I am not sure that it would be a good idea to repeat it here ” said our rather squeamish trekker.

Above and below: For those readers who are considering having a go at the world’s tallest mountain, these pictorials show the route to the summit. It was reported on May 28th that the spring mountaineering season ended with 347 climbers making it to the top. Among the summiteers, 157 were foreigners and 190 Nepalis. Nine Sherpas and a foreigner ascended Everest on May 5 to fix ropes. On May 17, 93 climbers including 41 foreigners and 52 Nepalis made it to the summit. On the same day, Nepali world cyclist Pushkar Shah climbed Everest. On May 22, Appa Sherpa, climbing with the Eco Everest Expedition, broke his own world record and reached the top for the 20th time. Arjun Vajpai, the youngest Indian Everester, also made his successful ascent on that day. And 13 year old Jordan Romero became the youngest person in the world to reach the top. May 23 saw 132 climbers including 62 foreigners and 70 Sherpas reaching the top. On May 24, there were 26 summiteers (13 foreigners and 13 Nepalis); and on the last day of the season on May 25, 18 mountaineers reached the summit. The government collected Rs. 220 million in mountaineering royalties during this spring season (around £2 million). According to government statistics, 3,128 mountaineers have summitted Everest to date

Above: “Brilliant” is how Ray described the experience of being at Everest Base Camp (left). Directly behind him is the Khumbu Icefall which has to be traversed to reach Camp 1 (see picture above). And if you get caught short, there are plenty of toilets at base camp, like this one (right). For our eco-friendly readers, all of the waste is collected and removed

Below: The Everest Base Camp sits on top of a giant glacier which is constantly moving and changing – “Nature is just so amazing” said Ray

Day Nine

Although reaching Everest Base Camp was a great moment for our global explorer, there was more to come. Adjacent to Gorak Shep is Kala Patthar (see map), which at 5,550 metres (18,204 feet) is one of the baby mountains compared to it’s bigger, snow-covered 8,000 metre plus brothers and sisters but nevertheless a challenge to summit for trekkers. “Climbing to the top of Kala Patthar was my ‘Everest’ summit experience, in much the same way that amateur football teams say that to be drawn against Manchester United in the first round of the FA Cup is their ‘cup final’ game” explained Ray. Setting off at 5am to see the sunrise from the top, Ray triumphantly summitted at around 7.15 am. “This is a new record for me, beating my previous highest point by 435 feet!” exclaimed a very happy Ray, who then returned to Gorak Shep for some much needed breakfast before heading back south to Pheriche. Trekking 4-5 hours each day is normal for visitors going to or coming from Everest Base Camp, but what made this day special is that it was the first day of the trek which was entirely downhill or at least flat! “It was such a relief to get the help of gravity for a change” admitted Ray. “Going down is always twice as fast as going up and about half of the effort, although it does put a lot more pressure on your toes as you tend to try and ‘brake’ your speed so you don’t run away with yourself” he told me.

Above: The huge snow covered mountain in the background makes Kala Patthar in the foreground look deceptively small, but at 5,550 metres it is no pushover and the summit is actually out of sight when seen from the Buddha Lodge where Ray was staying

Below: As the sun rises, Ray stands on the summit of Kala Patthar – at 18,204 feet, it is the highest point on earth he has climbed to so far in his life – “It just makes me want to go even higher” said Ray

Above: The dark peak in the centre of the picture is the view of Everest that Ray had from Kala Patthar as the sun was rising (left). And the spectacular views just kept on coming as Ray and Madan descended through this valley on their way to Pheriche in the distance (right)

Day Ten

This was one of the toughest days of the entire trip, as Ray chose to take the less travelled ‘local’ trail from Pheriche to Thare, some 20 kilometres away. “Most trekkers going this route take the west side of the canyon going north towards Gokyo from Pheriche, whereas I fancied taking the smaller, lesser used trail on the east side to get a different view going north and to make it a touch more challenging. Although he was initially a bit reluctant, my guide Madan eventually went along with my thinking – he had never trekked along the east side of the canyon before, so it was a new experience for both of us” recalled Ray. “This meant that we had to spend the night in a tiny cabin at a place called Thare, which is too small even to be classified as a village and does not appear on the map. It is literally a small cottage on a mountain path with a few yaks grazing on the slopes nearby and very, very remote. It took us over six hours to get there and we were pretty knackered” Ray told me. (Editors Note: Find Dole or Machhermo on the map above and Thare is roughly opposite on the other side of the river between the two).

Above: Although the journey from Pheriche to Thare was long and tiring, Ray experienced some of the best views of the trek that day. The small town that you can make out in the trees in the centre is Tengboche (see Day Four) and to the right of the photo, the brown line you can trace along the mountain is the ‘local’ trail used by Yak herdsmen to reach Thare and beyond

Below: The path from Pangboche on the way to Thare. The peak on the right is Ama Dablam, which at 6,814 metres is popular with climbers and although it is not as high as Everest by a long way, it is technically more difficult in places

Above: “We were the only people staying at the cabin in Thare” said Ray, “apart from an English chap called Mark who had walked for two days from Everest Base Camp on his way to a small medical clinic in Maccherma where he had been volunteering during the trekking season. This young Nepali chap was looking after the place and cooked a meal for us, then filled the burner with and set fire to some dried yak dung to keep us warm for the night” recalled Ray. Burning yak dung is normal in this part of the world. It is in plentiful supply and lasts for some time when used in this way. “I got quite excited when I arrived at the cabin because they had one Snickers bar for sale in the cupboard, but was soon equally disappointed when I discovered the expiry date on it was June 2008” said Ray. “The English guy from the medical clinic said it would probably be OK but I wasn’t taking any chances” he laughed

Day Eleven & Twelve

The Gokyo region is one of the most beautiful in or around Everest, thanks to the eye-watering collection of mountain lakes and the breathtaking views of Everest itself from the top of Gokyo Ri (see map).  “After leaving Thare, we crossed the river to the other side of the canyon just north of Machherma to reach Gokyo resort in four hours. We spent the night there before attempting our final big climb of the trip, to the top of Gokyo Ri at 5,357 metres (17,600 feet)” said Ray. “It took us nearly two hours but was worth the five o’clock start and every single, effortful, sweat inducing step” recalled Ray. “After our descent, we had some breakfast and set off for Dole (see map), which was about 20 kilometres away but it took us only 3-4 hours as it was mainly downhill” added Ray.

Above: The second of four lakes in the Gokyo region (left). Madan leads the way to the resort in the distance, at the foot of the 5,357 metre high Gokyo Ri (right)

Below: Gokyo Ri. You can see the trekking path to the top starting at the lake and zig-zagging up the left side as it disappears out of sight just before the centre. It generally takes around two and a half hours to reach the top

Above: For the last time during the 16 day trek, Ray and Madan reach a summit above 5,000 metres …….

Below: …… and they are rewarded with this spectacular vista over the lakes and the Himalayan mountains

Above: The view of Everest from Gokyo Ri is arguably even better than the one from Kala Patthar and one of the reasons that trekkers make the extra effort to go there before returning to Namche Bazaar and then home

Below: Madan and Ray called in at this medical clinic in Machherma (left) where they were shown around by Mark (right) whom they met in the cabin at Thare a couple of nights earlier – “He was such a nice chap. We wanted to see what he was doing there and meet his two colleagues. All of them recently graduated from medical school and saw this four-month volunteering opportunity as a way to gain experience and do some trekking in Nepal at the same time” explained Ray

Day Thirteen & Fourteen

With three days remaining to reach Lukla for his flight to Kathmandu, our trekker continued his descent from Dhole to Namche Bazaar. “This was a fabulous day for a couple of different reasons” said Ray in his despatches to me. “Sir Edmund Hilary was the first man to summit Everest in 1953. But perhaps his greatest achievement was what he went on to do afterwards, improving the lives of the Sherpa community in the Khumbu region for many years, until he died in January 2008 at the age of 88. The more I heard about the great things he had done, including building many schools and hospitals” said Ray, “the more I felt inspired to visit Khumjung and Khunde, which are two adjoining mountain communities fairly close to Namche Bazaar” added Ray. “He built both a school and a hospital here, and over time, the school has become one of the highest achieving in the country”. “When it was founded in 1961, it provided modern education to about 50 scrubby Sherpa children. Today, the school has grown to become a reputed high school with more than 350 students from all over the region, and the necessary facilities to ensure they get a decent education” explained Ray.

However, our global traveller was not so willing (at first) to disclose the second reason that this particular day had been so memorable, but he eventually told me. “Well Seymour, you know yourself that climbers and trekkers rarely shower every day, due to there being no hot water or feeling too tired. And as it is usually so cold, you don’t sweat as much as you would at lower altitudes. So a daily shower is not really necessary. Well, I took this to the extreme and had my first shower after 13 days since leaving Kathmandu and let me tell you, I really needed it” admitted a much relieved Ray. “In case you are interested, it is also a record for me!” he laughed.

Above: Our global explorer poses for our photographer as he continued his trek through the Himalayas, making his way from Dhole to Namche Bazaar via Khumjung and Khunde

Below: As Ray turns and heads off into the distance, you can see why this region is often referred to as “The Roof of the World”

Above: Madan and Onil stop for a five minute rest (left). There are many places to take a break along the trekking paths, like this little lodge near Phortse Thanga (right)

Below: Ray makes friends with this little Nepali boy whilst Onil takes another breather for a few minutes – “The kids here are so adorable” said Ray. ” I cannot wait to get to the orphanage in Pokhara after I have finished my trek” he told me (Editors Note: In our next issue, we will update you on Ray’s visit to the Namaste Childrens House and let you know how the $5,000 that was raised for them last year has been used)

Above: The Sherpa village of Khumjung (see map) is at 3,800 metres in a beautiful valley in the lap of the Khumbu-Yula mountain, respected as the protector of the region. The valley is surrounded by mountains on all three sides and is the homeland of much traditional Sherpa culture which has been blended with modern facilities and development – “If you do the Everest Base Camp trek, do not miss this place” recommended our trekker

Below: This statue of Sir Edmund Hilary was erected inside the school he founded in 2003 to mark the 50th anniversary of his ascent of Mount Everest (left). He built the Khunde hospital (right) in 1966 to provide modern healthcare to the Sherpa people of the region. It provides care for more than 10,000 people as well as medical services for trekkers – “Before this place existed, people up here could die from catching measles or a cold” said Ray

Above: The familiar sight of Namche Bazaar provides confirmation that Ray’s trek is nearly over and he will soon be very clean after a hot shower and on his way to Kathmandu – “We had a bit of time in hand so decided to take a rest the following day as we were all a bit fed up with early starts and sore feet” he told me

Day Fifteen & Sixteen

The journey from Namche Bazaar to Lukla, which took Ray two days on the way up, is mostly downhill and can be done in 5-6 hours. “We heard that there had been really bad weather in Lukla for a couple of days, which resulted in all flights to and from Kathmandu being cancelled. Knowing that there would be a huge backlog of trekkers wanting to get out of Lukla, which could have meant us waiting around for a couple of days, we were not exactly in any hurry to get there” recalled Ray. “So we took a fairly leisurely pace, but still arrived in the middle of the afternoon. We had ‘open’ tickets, which normally means you can take any flight as long as a seat is available. Under normal circumstances, we would expect to confirm our seat at 4pm in the afternoon for a flight the following morning, but we were fairly sceptical that we would be able to travel the next day under the circumstances. However, many of the trekkers hanging around had decided to jointly charter helicopters, which were still operating in the poor weather. At a cost of $500 per seat for the 30 minute flight to Kathmandu, these people must have had good reasons for taking the chopper. I was happy to sit and wait it out, but as it turned out, we found a seat on the first flight out at 7 am the following morning” explained Ray.

Above: Ray and his crew left Namche Bazaar in no hurry to reach Lukla, knowing that the weather was very unfavourable for any departures that day or possibly the next

Below: These two pictures were taken by Ray about an hour apart and show two things – how quickly and unpredictably mountain weather can change and secondly, how impossible it is to land an aircraft at Lukla without decent visibility

Above: It’s a small world! Ray unexpectedly bumped into Olivier Dubois (left), a French Canadian from Montreal who he first met in Ko Samui, Thailand in 2005! – “He was working as a cook back then and is now editing video’s for trekking groups. It was a really lovely surprise to run into him” said Ray, pictured at Lukla airport on completion of his 16 day, 230 kilometre trek

Editors Note: Our thanks to Seymour Peaks for giving us such a vivid and detailed account of Ray’s Everest Base Camp trek. I spoke to Ray as he landed in Kathmandu who confirmed he was heading for the Namaste Childrens House orphanage in Pokhara. “I am so excited about going back there” he told me. “Together,we are going to spend the remaining $5,000 that was raised last year (when I ran the New York marathon) on things they really need. I first visited the orphanage in October 2008 and knew then that I wanted to help. So it has been a long time coming and now the wait is finally over. I know we can really do a lot to improve the lives of the kids there – and if we choose to invest our money wisely, sustain it for the long term” added Ray. “I would have liked to have gone there before my trek, but the monsoon season usually starts at the end of May or early June and it would have made trekking in the Everest region much more challenging, with heavy rain, muddy landslides and leeches to contend with. I am very glad I did the trek in drier, sunnier weather” admitted Ray. For more information about Ray’s global fundraising campaign, see his “Calling All Angels” Campaign. We will bring you the full story of his visit to Pokhara in our next issue which should be online in a couple of weeks.

Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you to enjoy, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com), ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com

MOZZIE BYTE

Above: Leaving Nepal for a better life: After three and half years of patiently waiting to adopt a Nepali child, Michelle Rosen, from San Francisco has just become the parent of this lovely two and a half year old girl called Sarala (left), pictured here just before leaving Kathmandu with her. They are both now in America, where we are sure Sarala will enjoy a great family life and be well loved and taken care of. Ray and Michelle, who also loves travelling, met in Thailand in 2006. Meanwhile, Ray has returned to the Namaste Childrens House orphanage (right) in Pokhara, to see what can be done with the money raised from his “Calling All Angels” Campaign last year. We will bring you the full story in our next issue!

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10 Comments »

  1. What an amazing experience. You are so fortunate to have the resources and time to complete such a wonderful project as climbing to Mount Everest Base Camp. Reading the tale made me wish that I’d been there with you.

    Comment by Paul Martin — June 7, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

  2. Ray… as always, you are on so many wonderful journeys; both adventurous and deeply spiritual dear friend. You look great, so healthy and vibrant with energy. Be well. Blessings and light,
    Shery

    Comment by Shery — June 7, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

  3. Spectacular. Awesome photos – and I can hardly believe it is actually YOU standing there amongst that magnificent scenery – what a world away from London. I was also inspired to see the picture of Michelle Rosen with Sarala in Kathmandu. A dream has come true. What lucky ladies to have found each other. More more more! xxx

    Comment by charlotte — June 7, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

  4. I enjoyed reading this blog and seeing the pictures, some of which are stunning. I really am an armchair traveller. I liked the attention to detail – all the elevations of the places you went and so on. I’ve read “Into Thin Air” some years back – that museum of stuff being collected high on Everest sounds like it will be interesting – and historical. Anyway – all the best to you – keep up the travels and reporting – never understood why you don’t do it in the first person as it seems an unnessary artifice, all your imaginary reporters- but thats my grumble. How about embedding some links to short films that you’ve shot on your mobile on in your camera on your travels?

    Comment by Mike Watts — June 7, 2010 @ 7:13 pm

  5. Hi Ray. What stunning photographs of Everest and surroundings, and a fascinating issue altogether. Please put my sister in Portugal on your emailing list – I have forwarded this issue to her.
    Lots of love
    Helena

    Comment by Helena Dennison — June 8, 2010 @ 9:20 am

  6. Every time I read a blog update I think it cannot possibly be any more inspiring than the previous one…and every time I am proven wrong! Have really looked forward to hearing about the Everest trip…..read most of it with a lump in my throat and just lost it when I saw some of the pictures. Definitely had more than just a few tears in my eyes! Much love to you my truly amazing friend xxx

    Comment by Angie Calder — June 8, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

  7. Dear Ray

    I’m glad you had such a great trek. The photos were wonderful and I can now see why people do treks in Nepal – I’ve never got a sense of the space and the amazing views before. And well done for all that hard work acclimatising! I had altitude sickness in the Rockies so I know it’s not very pleasant. Looks well worth it anyway. Look forward to the next instalment.

    Love, Jane

    Comment by Jane Harries — June 9, 2010 @ 11:02 am

  8. Truly amazing – you are, as always, an inspiration! Everest Base Camp is definitely on my to do list, one of these days… Looking forward to read about the orphanage! Take care, wherever you are!

    Comment by Janis — June 18, 2010 @ 9:36 am

  9. Hi Ray,

    It just amazes me the adventures that you undertake! The photos are awesome, as I am sure the real experience was even better. Good luck and keep safe.

    Comment by Marion Timmins — June 28, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

  10. Hi Ray. I’ve just read about your amazing adventure. WELL DONE! I loved your amazing photographs and am most impressed with your achievements. What determination you have! Good luck with it all and stay safe.

    Comment by Susie Moberly — June 30, 2010 @ 3:10 am


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