Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I had a great time with the NASA Everest Team, but it's also great to be back!

I created a website to share some of my personal experiences and pictures. If you are interested, you can find the link at luciejohannes.com or here.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pictures and Video added to Blog

It was difficult to bring you all pictures and video during our trek as the internet access was pretty limited, which was unfortunate. However, pictures add a 1000 words so I decided to go back and add them to the previous blogs. In some cases I edited or added to the blog as indicated in blue text.

I hope you find this interesting enough to explore some of the older posts to get a better sense of what we were experiencing during our trek. Enjoy!


Home Sweet USA

Thursday - Friday, May 15-16
After near 40 hours of traveling most of us are back at home. All of us left Kathmandu together for Delhi (except for DJ who left the day earlier to get back for a family wedding), but several were staying a little while longer (from one day to one week) in India for various reasons. Those heading straight back to the states had a 14 hour lay over in Delhi waiting for our departure back to Newark.

Our trip back to Newark was on a new Boeing 777 complete with individual video screens and 100's of movies to choose from which passed the time nicely (between naps). Back on US soil it was not long before we searched the airport for Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and even A&W (some were cravin' burgers at 5:00 am!).

And then there were 5. Jeff Ashby departed for Denver, Jason Coyle departed for Minneapolis -leaving 5 out of our group of 17 on the flight to Houston. It was a little sad saying goodbye to folks we wouldn't see in a while, but promising we would stay in touch and making plans for visits.

Arriving home was nice. We were all excited to see our friends, family and pets we had not seen in three weeks. Sleeping in our own beds after weeks of sleeping bags was a comfort. It is benefit to arrive home on the weekend and give our bodies a few days to recover from the long travel in order to be refreshed for the coming work week as well.



Tuesday-Wednesday, May 13-14
Well, back to the crazy city life! It didn't take more than the bus ride back to the hotel from the airport to remember the chaotic life style in the city. The traffic laws are more than confusing, so it was nice to know none of us would have to go behind the wheel and find our way around.

We went back to the same hotel we stayed in at the beginning of our adventure - Hotel Manaslu. It is nicely situated a few blocks from the main streets of Kathmandu so it was a nice secluded area void of car horns and traffic. Since we arrived back in the morning, we had the rest of the day as well as the next day (a contingent day not needed) to unwind from the trek. It was good to have these days to take it easy. Several spent time by the pool reading a book, venturing out for those last minute gifts, or scheduling a massage to unwind. Much of what was needed was within walking distance from the hotel which was convenient.

On the last night we went to Tamal, a hip district in the city, for a bit of something we had all been craving - pizza! Tamal is a tourist area in Kathmandu that caters to travelers - from every kind of gift imaginable to the bar and restaurant variety fit for anyone. The pizza was fantastic and we finished it off with a bit of ice cream also available. It was a nice way to end the trip.

While we were all hesitant to end the trip, we knew we had a very early morning coming to catch the airplane back to Delhi. Some headed back to the hotel to pack and prepare; others stayed for one last San Miguel beer.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Namche to Phakding to Lukla

Sunday-Monday, May 11-12
The final two days of trekking brought us back to Phakding from Namche where we spent the night in another tea house, and then finally to Lukla where we would fly out of to end our trek.

Descending from Namche to Phakding we quickly passed many locations I remember the group stopping on the way up the second day of our trek to catch our breath. It was much faster heading down although a little harder on the knees. We crossed at least four suspension bridges again reminding me that there more suspension bridges on this day than the other days of the trek. We arrived in Phakding before lunch ending our trek for the day.

During lunch, we noticed our Sherpa serving one of our guides, Baldev, a cloudy white drink. Soon after we asked what it was we found ourselves being served the drink to quell our curiosity. The drink is called "chang" and is a Sherpa beer made from rice. It certainly was interesting to taste but hard to describe. Needless to say, it did not meet the palate of the group majority - I guess it is an acquired taste that we did not have the time for:)

After lunch we crossed the trail to a neighboring tea house for their touted apple pie. The owners were more than happy to take a few orders and begin making them from scratch - peeling the apples and kneading the dough. They welcomed us in the kitchen to watch and smiled as we were quizitive on how they prepared and fried the pies. The turnovers were very delicious and we enjoyed them to the fullest extent.

The next morning we headed for Lukla. In the end we would spend more time ascending this day since the elevation of Lukla is at least 1000 feet higher than Phakding. During this day we say many new groups on the trail heading out to trek where we where coming from. You could see the wondrous smiles on their faces and knew now from experience having spent the previous weeks on the trail that they were in for a trek of their lives and would not be disappointed in their expectations.

Arriving in Lukla was a little bittersweet. We were now at the end of our trek - somewhat exhausted but not quite willing to let the majestic peaks out of our view. At our tea house we all toasted over a beer the incredible trip we just finished and spent some time reflecting over our experiences.

After lunch we headed to the Monastery in Lukla - there was a festival being held where the monks put on a show of chant, music and dance. While we were there the "band" came out of the monetary and situated themselves in a balcony and began with chant and drums. This was followed by a fairly long program of cymbals and dance. It was a little hard to follow but there was certainly a pattern or format for which the monks were familiar with that kept them in sync.

In the evening we closed the trek with a large bonfire behind the tea house and broke out some more S'mores to enjoy.

Our flight out of Lukla was early the next morning. Five prop planes all landed back to back within 5 minutes of each other, and after quickly loading them with passengers and cargo, we all took off within 5 minutes of each other. My guess is that this time of the day was the most dependable and the airlines used this to maximize their productivity. After one last view of the mountains we stepped on the plane. It was fun to get back on the Yeti Airlines Fokker 100 and scream down the short 8 degree slope runway into the valleys of the Himalayas.

We didn't exceed 12,500 ft altitude during our flight back to Kathmandu and initially many of the "hill" peaks were above and right next to us. In about an hour we touched down in Kathmandu and we were all back to the city life with all hiking behind us.


Khumjung to Namche

Saturday, May 10
We had a pretty easy day going from Khumjung back to Namche. The towns are fairly close together and mostly required going downhill. The days trek lasted less than two hours and we were in Namche by 9:00 in the morning. This was the earliest we had arrived at any of our destinations and we had the rest of the day to ourselves.

Being a Saturday, Namche was hosting their weekly Bazaar. To try and describe the town a little better, it is nested between two adjoining "hills" and takes the shape of a horseshoe with many terraced levels. The Bazaar was located at one end of the horseshoe and took up about three tiers. It was a little smaller than I had originally imagined, but it was very interesting to walk through and see the local goods being sold and bartered. The items ranged from food to clothing - it was less of a Bazaar for tourist goods but more for the locals with the necessities for living in the region.

Most of the afternoon the group spent recovering from the last two long days of trekking. We all had an opportunity to take a hot shower again which was comforting. The village also afforded another good opportunity to visit the little shops for unique gifts to bring home, as well as a bakery with good snacks, coffee, and western style music.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

"I'm sorry, it can not be done!"

I have to recap a pretty funny scene on the trip when we were in Dingboche. As I mentioned on my previous entry, we were going to try to deep fry bite-sized Snickers bars as a surprise to Laurie and the rest of the team. I thought I had an agreement with the cooks that we would try to fry these suckers when I made my last entry, however I apparently wasn't talking to the head cook at the time.

We were confronted by a man (the real head cook) who simply refused to believe that we could fry anything other than potatoes. "It can not be done!" he told us (over and over). "The batter will never hold and you'll just make a mess in my kitchen!"

Pulling out every ounce of negotiation skills I have (which was tough since I had no idea if this would actually work), the head cook was finally convinced to try just one. We coated it with flour and water and dropped it in. The cook sat in the back shaking his head at first, but slowly started to inch his way to the pot for a closer look. The look on his face when we pulled out the sealed, golden brown chocolate nugget after 3-4 minutes was priceless. It was like he had witnessed a miracle. Needless to say, we later dropped the whole bag in and had enough to feed the team and the whole kitchen staff. I'm telling you, these guys in the kitchen were shocked. I can only imagine their reaction if they strolled through any carnival-town, USA.

I'm convinced that, if I pass through Dingboche in 10 years, this place will be frying everything under the sun. Tourists and locals will flock from afar to experience the "one of a kind" deep fried Snickers bars. This humble little tea house will tranform into an ostentatious, gold-plated, Vegas-style hotel with search lights and valet parking (for your yak).


Deboche to Khumjung

Friday, May 9
We hiked up to Tengpoche which was a pretty steep ascent. Once in Tengpoche it is a steep descent back down into the valley of the Imja Khola river. Most of the trek brought us through Balsam Fir and Rhododendrum so the trail had a pleasant pine scent surrounded by blooming flowers.

Once we crossed the river it started another good ascent up to Khumjung. Once in Khumjung we settled into a tea house and sat down for lunch (omelets on bread and mushroom soup). The food on this trip has been very good and accommodating. In the evening we were able to have Yak steak, which was very good (and our first red meat of the trek)!

In the afternoon we walked around some of the nearby trails that brought some more spectacular views of this somewhat large village. Khumjung is where Tenzing Norgay lived for a while, and is also where Edmond Hillary established a school for the children. We walked through the school grounds and I was impressed to see a computer classroom. It was only a small stone walled classroom, but given the remote location of the village it was encouraging to see technology being brought to the children.

We also visited the Monastery which contains what is claimed to be a Yeti skull. The Yeti, or abominable snowman, is considered to exist in the mountains although rarely seen. The Monastery was similar in style to the one in Tengpoche but a little smaller. It was very colorful with statues representing certain parts of the religion. The Monastery also contained the largest prayer wheel I have seen to date. It stood about 10 feet tall by about 5 feet in diameter. In the center of town there were more prayer wheels - 144 to be exact! They surrounded two Stupas. We spun the prayer wheels to release good prayers for the remainder of our trip.


Lobuche to Deboche

Thursday, May 8
Today we dropped 4000 feet from Lobuche to Deboche, which sits just beneath the hill of Tengpoche. It was one of our cooler temperature days as the sun sat behind the clouds for most of the day. We traveled about 9 miles and much of the trek was downhill, although we did have a few steep climbs intermittently. We followed the Lobuche Khola river which was flowing much stronger than it was on our way up. The cool wind for the first half of the trek was head strong, but as we climbed out of the valley through Pangboche we became more sheltered.

We stayed at the Ama Dablam Tea House which is one of the nicer places we have been in to date. It reminds me more of a lodge with two stories. It even had western style toilets and sinks, as well as an outdoor hot shower. These are features we have been without for much of the trek.


Mt. Everest Base Camp

Wednesday, May 7
It took two hours to reach Base Camp from Gorak Shep. To get there we continued along the lateral moraine of the Khumbu Glacier with spectacular views of the Khumbu Ice Fall, Mt. Everest, and Base Camp as we proceeded. Base Camp looked like a small village comprised of an expanse of various colored tents. As we approached we got a much better vantage point of the Ice Fall which falls between Mt. Nuptse on the right and Diamond Peak on the left.

We trekked through Base Camp to first go touch the bottom of the Ice Fall. It is much larger than one could imagine with bottomless crevasses and towering ice columns. Clearly a very technical challenge to maneuver through. As we looked up the Ice Fall we could see climbers (very small figures) throughout heading up and down.

Scott Parazynski found us there and it was very good to see him. He was very excited to see us too and explained his ascents up through the Ice Fall as well as climbs to Camp I and Camp II.

As we were about to head back to Base Camp (merely 3 minutes away) a large portion of a glacier caved on a mountain ledge adjacent and to the left of the Ice Fall creating an avalanche that lasted about 2 minutes. Within seconds the snow plume created by the ground impact drifted over us giving the appearance of a light snowfall. This was a very unique experience to see, being so close to a large avalanche, but Scott mentioned it is a common occurrence here at Base Camp.

Back in the Base Camp we first went to the Indian Army tent as one of our trekking guides, Baldev, is good friends of the Indian Army Colonel who is leading an expedition of the Savehs, a wing of the Army. They were very accommodating and happy to talk to us. We sat in their tent for coffee and popcorn. Shortly afterwards we went to Scott Parazynski's location, the IMG (International Mountain Guides) camp. They have 20 climbers and around 40 Sherpas in their expedition, and their camp was very large with many tents. Scott showed us his personal tent as well as the gear he is using during this expedition. Scott mentioned that he has already been up and down through the Ice Fall four times and has reached as high as just above Camp 2 for his acclimatization climbs. He is looking forward to continuing his routines and eventual bid for the summit. We wish him luck.

After vising the IMG Camp, we went to a bakery tent. It was hard to believe, but this tent creates comfort foods such as apple pies, cookies, and cinnamon buns right in the heart of Base Camp. We sat in the tent talking with with Scott some more and enjoyed a few baked goods before we headed back out.

The day was getting late and we had a long hike back to Lobuche ahead of us, so unfortunately we had to say goodbye to Scott. I think all of us could have stayed much longer enjoying the impressive views of the Ice Fall and Mt. Everest right in front of us.


Lobuche to Gorak Shep

Tuesday, May 6
The trek from Lobuche to Gorak Shep followed along the lateral moraine of the Khumbu Glacier. Just before arriving in Gorak we climbed adjacent terminal moraines of the Changri Glacier which joins the Khumbu and crossed a stream of glacier melt.
After lunch and settling in at a tea house in Gorak Shep we climbed nearby Kala Patthar which brought us up to 18,400 ft, our highest elevation for the trip. It took two hours to ascend the mountain but was a fun accomplishment with a reward of outstanding views. Although it was a cloudy day we did get some good glimpses of Mt. Everest and Base Camp. Mt. Pumo Ri also screams into the sky right behind Kala Patthar.


Dingboche to Lobuche

Monday, May 5
After a day of rest in Dingboche we ascended to Lobuche. It was a gradual climb until we reached the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier where the climb was more intense. It is impressive to see how the Glacier can push the earth around to create the moraines - the forces are hardly imaginable.
Up on the terminal moraine we passed a memorial for climbers that have perished at one time or another climbing Mt. Everest. It was sobering and a clear reminder that there are dangers involved in the endeavor of summiting Mt. Everest. A familiar memorial was that of Scott Fischer, who among 8 lost their lives in a 1996 tragedy - written about in "Into Thin Air" and "The Climb" which I read prior to this trip.

Once we climbed the terminal moraine we trekked a little farther along the lateral moraine to reach Lobuche.

Once there, a few of us headed up the lateral moraine to get a glimpse of the Khumbu Glacier. The Glacier was pretty well covered by dirt and rocks so it didn't look like the typical glacier. You could hear the cracking and grinding of the ice as the sun and gravity played its part on top of the Glacier.

That evening we had a birthday celebration for "Wheels" with chocolate cake (compliments to the Sherpa cooks!) and a champagne toast.


Friday, May 9, 2008

On the way down

We made it to Everest Base Camp and are on our way back down! It was one heck of a hard push at the end. But before we went there we first did our own summit of a nearby mountain peak, Kala Pattar, topping out around 18,500 feet. The air was getting pretty thin up there, but it was definitely worth it. As Adam mentioned the views all around are amazing. The final hike in was difficult, uphill, and rocky, but we all made it to base camp, spent a couple hours there and then hiked back a few hours to our hotel for the night.

When we finally made it to base camp we were greeted by a very happy and active Scott Parazynski. He was bounding across the rocks as we were barely catching our breath. To see him so positive gave us all a lot of energy. We took a lot of pictures around base camp, and the Khumbu ice fall. That ice fall is the first leg of the summit of Everest, and Scott took us to the bottom of it to show us around. It's a very dangerous climb, so we didn't go very far. But while there we did see an avalanche, and got some good photos of the falling snow. We were safely far away (though some of us were still a bit nervous as we saw it coming in our direction!), but still got a nice little snow fall on us. Base camp is built on the Khumbu Glacier, so there was ice, rock and glacier melt all around. Amazing to be walking around on that glacier!

We're finally on our way back down, we all have a lot of energy. As the air gets thicker, and we're going mostly downhill so it's all much easier now. Tonight is being spent around 12,000 feet so compared to the summit of 18,000 feet the air feels thick! We feel great, and are loving the time, though are also looking forward to seeing home once again.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

"View is here, wish you were beautiful"

Have to give Jeff A. credit for that one, but I'm still laughing from it. :)

How do I even begin to describe this amazing place on my first (and possibly last) blog entry?! The sheer scale of the Himalayas is unlike anything on earth. Routinely I find myself gazing at a ridgeline 5-10k ft above me, only to see the clouds pass and expose a 25k+ peak towering above it. Most people (me included) have named our favorite thus far: Ama Dablam. It's apparently one of the toughest to climb and has an unmistable profile - steep ridgelines leading to a completely horizontal summit spanning 50 ft (or so it appears).

I've lost count at the number of bridges we've crossed as we zigzag across several raging rivers. One in particular was a suspension bridge that must have been over 100 ft above the river. The bridges however, are very well built and could easily handle many times its peak load on any given day.

The credit however, goes to the porters that carry the loads for us to have luxuries such as heated food and internet connections. One of the more noteworthy loads I've seen was a man carrying (by Wheels' and my estimate) 8 5-gallon jugs of diesel fuel. As if the load at that altitude wasn't enough, try walking in an inescapable cloud of diesel fumes. We also saw several people carrying 6 5/8" sheets of plywood appx 3' x 8' on their backs. No, there were no typos in there. I can only imagine what it was like carrying that "sail" when crossing the suspension bridge at 100ft in the air!!

Today is our rest and acclimatization day in Dingboche. We all did a 1-2 hr hike to get the lungs working, then came back to tea house at a little over 14k ft. We are going to try and surprise Laurie tonight with a deep fried snickers bar. After seeing the cooks' facial expression to my explanation however, who knows what we'll end up with. :)

Hope to be able to post again, but not sure about internet availability higher than this!



Sunday, May 4
After two tough days of hiking we are on an off day today. We just completed a short day hike up the river. The views this morning were absolutely amazing. We are surrounded by snow covered peaks.

We are getting much healthier as a group. It seems most of us are over the stomach problems, and we have a couple with colds. As we get higher we are all concentrating on taking good care of ourselves as to not get sick.

We are only two days hiking from Base Camp. We are hearing that it is very busy there and the climbers are getting anxious because of the ban on the mountain until May 10th. We have had such amazing views already and the best is yet to come! Hard to imagine.


This was one of our acclimatization days, so we would remain in Dingboche for an extra night. Most of us went for an hour trek towards Bibre to keep the muscles active and spend time breathing the outside air. This day also allowed an opportunity to wash a few items, although it is takes a long time for them to dry in the cool dry air. Thankfully the tea house burned the stove for a few hours longer at night to aid in drying our clothes hanging over it.

Other ativities that passed the time this day included playing cards, conversation, acting a little silly in sleeping bags, and purchasing Pringles which is a very common product available (along with Snickers) at most tea houses.

It snowed in the evening hours leaving a nice white blanket on the ground, but by the morning most of it will be melted by the sunny skies.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Tengpoche to Dingboche

Saturday, May 3
We woke up in Tengpoche for another good look at Mt. Everest. The very top juts above the ridge line of Lhotse which hides most of Everest from our vantage point right now. As the sun began to rise and clouds set in, which happened early, Everest again disappeared and would remain unseen for most of the day.

A Sherpa crew left for Lukla with all of our tenting gear. We will no longer be staying in tents and instead be staying in tea houses for the remainder of the trip. Our plan for Everest Base Camp is to do a day trip while staying in nearby Gorak Shep. Speaking of Base Camp, talking with several climbers who have been there already they say there is a good bakery set up believe it or not, but I am sure it is very minimal. We shall see.

The landscape during today's trek was the most visibly different. We started in a region with Rhododendrons and soon entered the Kumbu region which is more stark. The hillsides turned more rocky, shallow, and void of trees, with only small shrubs showing the dark green contrast.

A bridge crossing the narrow river gorge of the Imja Khola showed past and present - I was thankful we were crossing "present" as the old bridge looked a little sketchy! This was one of the many improvements in the trail that I have been noticing and been impressed with along the way.

The trek brought us through the village of Pangboche where a school was founded by Edmond Hillary in 1963. Further up the trail we stopped in Shomore for lunch (garlic soup, vegatable romaine noodles, and french fries) and hot tea.

We arrived in Dingboche at the tea house we will be staying at for the next two nights to acclimate some more. We are just above 14,000 feet now which is a higher elevation than most of us have ever been before, but everyone is doing very well. The tea house sits on the hill above much of the village so it is a very nice view including Ama Dablam in front and center. Tomorrow some of us will do a short day trek to help with the acclimatization and to keep the heart pumping.

Namche to Tengpoche

Friday, May 2
After a good breakfast (omelets today) we headed to Tengpoche. Vistas of Everest greeted us early but soon went out of view as the cloud cover soon set in. The trek to Tengpoche brought us through portions of Rhododendron forests which host beautiful flowers of many colors. I'm told there are up to seven different colors that exist in Rhododendrons. Several areas along the path were lined with them as we trekked through the region.

Ama Dablam's peak to our right continues to create wonder. It juts into the sky like a trapezoidal chisel with glacial ice that somehow stays resting on what appears to be a 80 degree slope. While it is hard to say it is the most unique mountain peak out here (there are so many) it is one of my personal favorites.

We arrived in Tengpoche after a good incline which again got our heart rates moving. Soon after we arrived it started snowing, but it did not last very long. Tengpoche hosts one of the most prominent monasteries in the region. We visited the monastery and one of the monks was very happy to tell us about the culture and religion. We gathered the group together and took our first group picture on the trek - what a nice looking group!

We ate well again for dinner and afterwards were surprised by Sabrina and Adam with the ingredients for Smores. After we stoked up a small fire on the plaza we continued to make and enjoy a great desert. It was very funny to watch the Sherpas try them for the first time. They enjoyed them!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

At Namche Part II

Wednesday-Thursday, April 30-May 1
As DJ mentioned in the previous blog, the hike from Phakding was a pretty strenuous one as we ascended over 3000 ft. to Namche. The hike took us past the Sagarmatha National Park Entrance and Tourist Information Center where we showed our trekking permits and got our bags inspected. At lunch time I had the opportunity to show the NASA tattoos I brought with me to two children playing nearby. I think they found the tattoos interesting and proudly displayed them!

When we arrived to Namche we started to settle in to our tents located in town next to one of the tea houses. Some of us took naps and others just sat in awe over the scenery as the mountains seem to screem over the sky. After dinner most folks headed for a good night sleep.

Indira, who owns the trekking company we are associated with, is hiking part of our trek with us for the first time. She will be going no further than Namche. In the morning (6:00) of day 2 in Namche she taught several of us yoga breathing exercises with some stretching moves as she explained it is very helpful in the mountains and healthy for life. After yoga it was time for tea (7:00) followed by breakfast (8:00). For breakfast this morning we had a hot rice pudding, omelets, and flat bread with jam. The meals vary, but are very accomodating given where we are at. It is usually a mix of some american type food and local food.

After breakfast we headed to a very interesting museum in Namche that illustrates the history of the mountains and culture. The museum sits atop a little hill, and when we reached it we saw our first glimpse of Mt. Everest! Lhotse was more prevelant as it sits in front of it from our vantage point, but still what a sight. You could see that characteristic peak with the jet stream whipping the snow off to one side. It was quite chilling.

Several of us followed up the trip to the museum with a short trek to the top of a ridge that overlooks Namche which also has a little basin used as an airport for helicopters and paragliders. The rest of the day will be used for more rest and a chance to explore some of the shops in Namche.

Tomorrow we are off to Tengpoche.