Friday, November 30, 2012


A Painted Lady drinks her breakfast in Nepal's Annapurna Sanctuary.
The steep, stony trails of Nepal's Annapurna Sanctuary are lined with countless patches of flowers. Some grow wild, while others decorate the narrow yards of the people who live there. All the bursting blooms attract swarms of butterflies, as we saw one morning at breakfast. 

Above, an adult Painted Lady drinks her morning meal. Nearby, we sipped locally-brewed tea with yak milk and enjoyed the view. 

After Everest, we thought hiking again anytime soon was out of the question. Days later we're trekking in Annapurna. Such is life.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


One of four helicopters struggling to take off in the thin air near Lukla, Nepal.
Weather in the mountains is a fickle lady, as we found out at what we thought was the end of our trek. 

Thanks to a thick curtain of fog that welcomed us back to Lukla, we spent two days and nights there, waiting for a Kathmandu flight that never departed (no, it wasn't on Yeti Airlines). On the morning of day three, the sky nowhere in sight, we were forced to hike two hours down the mountain to join a crowd of other stranded hikers to hop a helicopter out, lest we all miss connecting flights scheduled for the next day. 

Small world story--while waiting in the cold on a remote hilltop in Nepal, we bumped into a guy from New Orleans, Tim Walsh, who's friends with our good friends Kristian and Emery. Over beers we toasted their recent wedding...congrats guys!

After waiting overnight, we finally hitched a ride with six Canadian hikers who'd been trekking for nearly a month. The flight was a bit terrifying, and it certainly wasn't cheap, but the views were stunning and we thankfully got a refund on the canceled flight.
Once out of the clouds, the views weren't bad at all, as seen from these terraced hills emerald green with rice. 
While stuck in Lukla before the flight, we managed to have a little fun, perhaps not surprisingly. Together with a crew of other travelers met on the trail, we ended up renting out the tiny town's theater, which more resembled a concrete bunker than a cinema house. The proprietor, a local Sherpa woman, thought we were crazy, but she still agreed to supply popcorn if we bought beer from her. In the musty basement, we watched Touching the Void, a documentary about two climbers who nearly died attempting to summit an unclimbed mountain.  

All in all, it was an incredible trip we were sad to see end. But it's time we moved on, hopefully to lower, more level ground, at least for awhile. 

The crew at Lukla's only movie theater, which we rented out for a night while we were all stranded.

The Lukla crew, which includes an Aussie, a Zimbabwean, a guy from Chicago, and a guy from Japan among others.
Touchdown in Kathmandu. We split the fare with six Canadians who'd' been hiking for four weeks. Fun, smelly times.

Monday, November 26, 2012


When it comes to naming its airlines, Nepal has a strange sense of humor. In the photo above--between an uncomfortable travel agent and a sliver of Kip's face--are the logos of the country’s flight providers.

One airline proudly calls itself Agni Air, pronounced “agony.” From what we heard, they boast the least legroom in the industry and their safety record is painful to read (keep reading...this gets much worse).

Then there’s Yeti Airlines, named for the mythical mountain-dwelling creature that’s much like our own Bigfoot. They guarantee on-time arrivals and incredible in-flight cuisine—it’s just that no one’s ever actually seen either in real life.

And then there’s the best of all—Buddha Air. Huge disappointment. Of the two flights they actually offer, neither will transport you to Enlightenment. Most folks take a pass and fly Kingfisher Air instead, which happens to be India'a No. 1 selling beer. No Enlightenment, but their in-flight service promises little agony, plus their planes and free-flowing beer actually exist, so there's that.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Khumbu Icefall Nepal
From Everest Base Camp, finally, with the infamous Khumbu Icefall in the background. Got lucky with the weather.

Done. Here's Everest by the numbers, with a few pictures as a Photo Friday Bonus:
  • Days: 14
  • Distance hiked: 125km/75 miles-ish
  • Max altitude reached: 18,209 ft (Mt. Kalapathar)
  • Mt. Everest altitude: 29,029
  • Blisters treated: 8
  • Garbage bags filled: 22
  • Average cost of hotel/tea house: $2.50/night (with shared bath, no heat, and requirement for guests to eat at hotel)
  • Showers taken: 3 (Liz is high maintenance)
  • Cost of a hot shower: $5 near base camp; $3.50 at trail head in Lukla
  • Number of yaks dodged and seen: Lots
  • Avalanches witnessed: 6
One of a handful of avalanches we saw while trekking. This one shook the ground as we watched from a safe distance.
Liz haggles with a lady selling bells that hang around yaks' necks. The sounds of the bells, whose clappers are made of yak horn or bone, can be heard all along the trail and warn trekkers to move aside to let the hairy animals pass.
Sale made. Looks like the lady wasn't too happy with the deal...but she was...and so were we, especially Kip, who tied the bell to his bag and rang it every time we rounded a curve in the trail to warn hikers we were coming. 
No roads here, which means everything moves on the backs of people, yaks, or mules. Here, two sherpas carry heavy loads--one hauls water barrels and a metal chimney, the other transports an iron furnace. Loads can top 250 lbs.
    A dream realized--Kip drinks water from Mt Everest via glacial melt from the Khumbu Icefall.
    Liz gets some soul purification as a few local porters pass by on their way down the mountain.
    A Tibetan Snowcock strikes a pose near Everest Base Camp. While at EBC, we also saw two mountain hawk eagles, a pair of red-billed choughs, and another species we've yet to identify. Kip also spotted Nepal's national bird, the Danfe, in the underbrush further down the trail.
    Prayer flags wave overhead as Kip appreciates the view. 
      Rob the Zimbabwean vet, TiAgaram the guide, and Vim the porter on the trail with Kip. We hiked with these guys for a few days, and they also graciously helped us out on our trail clean up

      Thursday, November 22, 2012


      Thanks, readers! Only a couple of hours away. Following the signs. 

      Whooo hoooooo!! After many miles and nearly two weeks, we finally made it up to and safely back from Everest Base Camp! Or at least, we made it down to Lukla (and its unforgettable airport), where we're fogged in with lots of other trekkers. 

      No matter--we're celebrating, thanks to lots of readers who've bought us drinks and coffee on the site (THANKS, EVERYONE!). Tomorrow, we'll toss out a few numbers and photos from the trip. 
      Liz celebrates with a sip of Mt. Everest whiskey at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall. Yes, that's a real brand. And yes, it was worth all the trouble packing it up the mountain. Thanks, readers! We also drank a lot of coffee and tea, too.

      Wednesday, November 21, 2012


      The ornate entrance to the Tengboche Monastery.
      What trip to Mount Everest would be complete without the blessing of a monk or two for safe passage?  The famous "monastery in the mountains" is one reason we ended up in the village of Tengboche, the same spot Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay stopped by on their way to becoming the first climbers ever to summit Everest in 1953. 

      The other reason is the tiny settlement lies at the top of a lung-aching, unrelenting, steep up-hill we had been climbing for four hours, making it the perfect place to stop for the night.

      Tengboche (altitude 12,700 feet) offers incredible views of Everest and surrounding peaks, particularly for the early riser (Kip). It also provides great motivation for a strenuous day of hiking. 

      After resting our weary legs for the night at one of the two guesthouses in town, we were greeted with stunning Himalayan sunrise views from our window. We are officially spoiled. We know.

      Kip and the monk in Tengboche Monastery. 
      Up before breakfast, we wandered over to the famous Dawla Choling Gompa (Tengboche Monastery). The fame of the monastery derives from the numerous Everest expeditions that stop to receive a blessing on their way to base camp. 

      We figured it couldn't hurt. 

      Inside the monsatery, we met a young, bald monk in robes, and a matching red down parka. He invited us to watch the 6 am morning prayer/chanting service, where we watched from the back of the room as 30 monks of all ages chanted from their prayer books, had a tea break, and started again. 

      When they were finished, and we filed out of the room, our monk friend then presented each of us with a Tibetan prayer scarf and a blessing for safe passage. 

      We thanked him, snapped a few photos, and headed out for what turned out to be the most difficult days of the trek.
      A pile of mani stones with Ama Dablam (22,467 ft) in the background.

      Monday, November 19, 2012


      People eat yak in Nepal. The beef-like meat is served so many ways, it's reminiscent of the scene from Forrest Gump when Gump and Private Pyle are talking about all the ways to cook shrimp--there's yak kebab, boiled yak, grilled yak, yak stew, fried yak, yak mo mos, peppered yak steak--the list goes on and on.

      Yes, there's even a YakDonald's. We checked it out--similar to its western counterpart, if you want quality food and flavor, head elsewhere. 

      But still, there is a fast food joint in this world named YakDonald's. That's pretty funny. Unless, of course, you're a yak.

      Friday, November 16, 2012


      A horse rises with the sun at the high altitude settlement of Gorak Shep. From here, trekkers hike three more hours to Everest Base Camp or, for the more ambitious, two hours of heavy breathing straight up to the 18,000-ft peak of Kalapathar with its views of the world's tallest mountain.

      The air is so thin, just walking a few steps makes you gasp for breath. But it's also as clean and clear as any you'll experience, and the views of the mountains at this altitude makes the pain of the previous 10 days of hiking more bearable. That and a nip of Mt. Everest Whiskey, perhaps.

      Thursday, November 15, 2012


      Two boys walking home from their village school taught us once again just how contagious cleaning up can be

      It was Day Four of our trek to Everest Base Camp. As part of our "1 of 7" activities, we had been picking up trash along the trail. Yes, even on a trek to the world's tallest mountain--and passing through some of the most incredible scenery on the planet--people manage to throw trash on the ground, ignoring the well-maintained trash cans/baskets along the way.

      We had tied plastic bags to our backpacks and were filling them with candy bar wrappers,  water bottles, empty tobacco packages and all types of other items tossed by local porters and foreign trekkers, as well. 

      As we passed through a tiny village, two kids approached us in matching school uniforms--navy wool sweater and grey pants. They stared at our plastic bags, smiling. Then, one of them stuck out his hand and asked for rupees.

      In Kathmandu, lots of street kids will ask you for money. It's a pretty common occurrence. But out here, it doesn't happen.

      Feigning ignorance, Kip pretended he didn't understand the boy. Instead, he smiled and said, "rubbish." He motioned the boys closer and showed the two what was inside our trash bags. At first, they didn't get it, so he pointed to a piece of trash nearby and repeated, "rubbish" as he picked it up and placed it into the bag. 

      He repeated the process again, and that was that...the kids joined us for the next kilometer or so on our clean up mission, helping us pick up trash along the trail until they got to the turnoff to their house.

      For the following days, we would be joined by lots of well-meaning folks happy to give us a hand. Like our new friend, Baptiste, a hilarious Frenchman who donned his own garbage bag while walking the trail (thanks, Baptiste!). And like Rob from Zimbabwe and his Aussie girlfriend Jolai who we ended up hiking with for three days (thanks, mates!). We even got their guide, Tiagaram, involved, chastising porters for throwing their garbage on the ground.
      The rock-climbing, trash collecting Frenchman Baptiste helps Kip take out the trash.
      It takes a lot to change people's behavior. It wasn't so long ago in the US that people saw no problem with throwing bags of trash out their car windows. Thankfully that has changed. 

      Behavior on the Everest Trek is hopefully on its way toward change, too. Because of the incentive program started in 1994 by American mountain climber Brent Bishop, the garbage and used oxygen bottles left behind by Everest expeditions have been cleared from the high camps and summit of the world's tallest peak.
      Us at Everest Base Camp, holding a sign that reads, "1 of 7 EBC Clean Up 2012." 
      Judging by the numerous guides and hikers that said "thank you" upon seeing the trash in our bags, and those willing to pitch in and help clean up, we may be a trash-free trail the next time we decide to punish ourselves into another 12 day trek.

      With a little help from the next wave of hikers, hopefully the trek up to Base Camp will see the same result.
      Kip the garbage man headed up the trail.

      Tuesday, November 13, 2012


      Watch clouds engulf Lobuche's 20,000-ft peak.

      The Himalayas tower far above everything. Even clouds often struggle to reach the summits of the world's tallest mountains. 

      Yet, in the right conditions, a quick-moving storm can engulf the highest of Himalayas in a matter of seconds, as seen in the time lapse series of images above.

      One of the images from the time lapse video showing Lobuche 
      It was sometime before midnight on a blustery night two days' trek from Everest Base Camp. Bundled in all our clothes, we hiked a few minutes from camp to check out the stars before bedtime. Here above 16,000 feet, the wind chill was near zero. The cold, thin air made breathing difficult. 

      After watching a cloud bank crawl slowly through a nearby valley, we set up the camera to try out time-lapse photography. Every 30 seconds for 15 minutes, we took a photo of the scene above, as clouds engulfed a pair of 20,000+ peaks before our eyes. 

      Pros typically use a tripod and a remote control for time lapse shots...we used a pile of rocks, a wool hat, and a frost-bitten finger. The results, while not exactly pro-quality, we felt were worth posting anyway.

      Hope you enjoy.

      If you like this one, here are a few others (taken by pros) that are way better: time lapse nature photography

      Monday, November 12, 2012


      OK, we'll totally come clean--over the past week, we haven't taken a single shower. Not one. Despite hiking five hours a day, uphill, with heavy packs. 

      This isn't funny, nor is it, unfortunately, a total rarity for one of us (Kip). But know that it's still not something we try to do very often. Perhaps this is why the animals like us (Liz) so much. 

      Showers are available on the hike to Everest Base Camp, though. They can be found near yak pastures, in outhouses and under waterfalls. These are all cold showers, mind you, and the nighttime temps hover just below freezing usually.
      Not sure what puts the "whow" in "shower," but for 500 rupees ($4), we decided not to find out. If you're wondering, we also steered clear of the water per "litter" and the "Super Deluxe Room," which was overpriced at $5 US.

      Yet even at altitudes of 15,000 feet and above, some hotels have figured out how to offer up luke-warm showers. They even brag about these luxuries in restaurant menus, on signs advertising their rooms, and sometimes atop the shower stalls themselves. 

      To take advantage of one though, you have to have a keen eye and often a creative mind to recognize them under their pseudonyms, a few of which we caught on camera. 

      We are guessing this sign meant to read "Geyser Shower," but we did see a few old geezers on the trail. Perhaps this shower was just for them. And yes, Internet is available up here, though pricey and slow.
      Since neither of us got our tetanus booster, we decided to pass on this tempting offer.

      Sunday, November 11, 2012


      No matter where we go, animals gravitate toward Liz. Stray dogs, feral pigs, even schools of fish 100 feet underwater. Sometimes it's as if she's a cross between Ace Ventura Pet Detective and Steve Carrell in Evan Almighty, except way better looking (says Kip). 

      Which is why going anywhere with her can take hours extra if any type of animal is within a quarter mile of us. Why should the trail up to Mt. Everest be any different?

      We struggle uphill past a mule loaded with 100 kilos of rice, and Liz stops ten minutes to scratch his head. She sees an emaciated dog reeking of yak dung and she walks over and gives the smelly pooch a hug. And of course, the animals love it, costing us even more time.

      Here are just a few examples of the countless Liz-caused delays cleverly disguised as animal encounters that we've already experienced on the trail so far. 

      Yet another puppy-caused "delay."
      We called this horse Tina Turner because of her hair.
      A baby goat or "goatling," as Liz called him, asked Liz to scratch his tiny horns. 
      Kip finally gave up and tried out a friendly "Liz style" hello to a baby yak. As noted in the photo, the yak was not amused.

      This young yak wants to know where Liz is.

      Friday, November 9, 2012


      An elated Liz stands next to the Tenzing Norgay Memorial Stupa as the tip of Mt. Everest peaks from behind a snowy mountain far above. Tenzing Norgay was the local Nepali Sherpa who, together with Sir Edmund Hilary, became the first person to summit Everest in 1953. This photo of them just after the climb is in guesthouses all along the trek. 

      The stupa is outside the town of Namche Bazaar, the largest town on the trek, where it's possible to catch your first glimpse of Mt. Everest.  Catch a glimpse we did. It is impressive, but we tried not to think about how far we had to go to get to the base. 

      Looking forward to more spectacular views along the way.  

      Wednesday, November 7, 2012


      Like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie the narrow, wobbly suspension bridges on the trail to Everest Base Camp are about as scary as the flight to get here was. 

      Instead of facing angry villagers, like Indy did, we have to dodge belligerent yaks and overburdened Sherpas carrying massive loads that look far too heavy for the swaying wood, rope and wire span we share above icy waters rushing far below.

      Only 100 or so miles and lots more bridges to go.

      Tuesday, November 6, 2012


      The 15,000-foot view from our flight to Lukla, Nepal, home of the world's most dangerous airport.
      If you want to trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, chances are you'll be flying into Lukla's Tenzing-Hilary Airport. Deemed "the most dangerous airport in the world" the airport sits at nearly 10,000 feet, features a single runway less than 1,500 feet long (most commercial runways are more than 5,000 feet) and is built on a 12 percent slope that on one end collides with solid rock and the other falls off steeply into a deep valley. 

      It's not exactly leisure travel, but considering the alternative was taking a rickety bus for 10 hours along dangerous mountain curves, followed by four days of hiking uphill, we decided to take our chances. 

      A twin-prop plane preps for the downhill take-off from Lukla's airport at 9,100 feet.
      However, before we could defy death by landing at the airport, we first had to survive an hour-long, knuckle-whitening flight from Kathmandu to get here. This is the same flight that crashed in late September this year, killing all on board.

      Nervous would be an understatement. 

      From our seats in the well-used, twin-prop plane, we did see some stunning views of Mt. Everest. Yet we also got unwanted pilot's-eye views through the cockpit, where the captain and co-pilot wove skillfully between swirling storm clouds, dodged soaring vultures, and let the wings skim dangerously close to the peaks of some of the world's highest mountains.

      On our flight, one person cried, two passengers hurled, and three on-board screamed out loud when we hit turbulence on our approach to Lukla. We'll let you guess which of us was included in the aforementioned stats.

      Upon landing (and kissing the asphalt runway much too intimately), we grabbed our heavy backpacks and headed quickly up the dirt and stone trail into Lukla. In addition to the flight, we had been awake since 5 am, and we had six hours of uphill hiking ahead. We needed a drink.

      Our celebratory coffee on making it to Lukla alive and kicking-off the long trek to Base Camp.
      Thanks for the drink, readers!
      Considering we hadn't yet had breakfast, we opted for two strong Everest coffees and some fresh apple strudel from a nearby bakery (thanks for the contributions, readers Todd and Tori P, Alison J, Ben P, and Lindsay N!)

      With our caffeine fix and some time to calm our nerves, we headed up the trail, starting a 12-day return trek to Everest Base Camp. Seeing as Kip refused to buy a map or hire a guide or porter, we'll need all the luck we can get. 

      The son of the bakery owner gives us the thumbs up as we hit the trail to Everest Base Camp.

      Monday, November 5, 2012


      So much for truth in labeling. We saw these "pistachios" in Tibet's answer to a 7-11 convenience store. They were hanging right next to the vacuum-sealed chicken feet, hard boiled eggs, and yak jerky. 

      How many things can you find wrong with this picture? 

      We see at least six "incorrect" or amusing things about this packaging. How many can you find?  We'll post ours in the comments in a day or two. 

      Sunday, November 4, 2012


      On the downhill run from Lhasa into Nepal, roads are lined with arid plains dotted with goats, cows, miles of barley, and the ruins of thousand-year old structures that are slowly melting back into the earth (see two "mounds" in the middle right). The golden fields stretch for miles until they collide with rolling hills that morph slowly into mid-size mountain ranges--in a land where 18,000-foot peaks are "mid-size"--and finally, into the Himalayas. 

      It only took us eight days, but we finally got a decent photo that included Mt. Everest (at least, our guide assured us the peak in the background is the highest one in the world). 

      On toward Nepal and a trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp. We hope.

      Friday, November 2, 2012


      It's hard to believe the color of Tibet's Yamdrok Lake is natural. But it is. 

      The sacred, sapphire-blue water appears exactly as the photo above was touch ups or highlights added or needed. After this quick stop for pictures and some Himalayan views, we drove down the winding road to the lake's edge, where Liz, naturally, took off her flip flops and ventured into the chilly waters. 

      At 14,470 feet (4,410 m), the lake is one of Tibet's highest and largest. The Yamdrok is also, according to local legend, a female guardian of Buddhism, and its shores trace the outline of a scorpion. No idea if the two are related.