Trekking To One of the World’s Natural Wonders: Part Two

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So, I was feeling a bit off on this day, with waves of nausea and feeling okay washing over me. We were on our way to the village of Kunde today and I wasn’t the only one having a bit of trouble. Dean was in the beginning stages of feeling awful for a while, so he and Nara made their way to the hotel.

The rest of us went on an acclimatizing hike to allow our bodies to ease into thinner air and create more red blood cells that would oxygenate our blood making it possible to trek and just ‘be’ in the beautiful and mountainous setting. That hike took us to the famed Hillary Ridge (13,450 ft.). The clouds had started to move in pretty early on and by the time we were nearing the top, we had been swallowed up whole. We managed to escape with a few glimpses of the scenery we had left below, but for the most part we became part of the clouds. We took our packs off and trekked the rest of the way to the peak (13, 779 ft.). Things felt better as I got further into the day and I remember feeling good about the trek until we had to go up to get to our hotel.

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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler

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I was excited to be staying at the famous Hotel Everest View. This hotel is one of the highest hotels in the world at 13,000 ft. The views from the rooms are amazing, but are even better when standing on the rooftop as the sun comes up behind Everest. Only birds chirping while everything else is quiet…and I was there. Doing what I love to do. Taking photos. Taking everything in. Our stay was a wonderful thing with the most inspiring hot shower I have ever had (I even got to blow dry my hair!!!), fantastic food, what seemed like endless pasta and sauce (inside joke), yoga with a view to die for, and a breakfast with the best omelette I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, it required more up, and I felt physically and mentally depleted. It was one of those saying-expletives-under-your-breath kind of moments. Everything seemed to melt away once we arrived though.

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The next day was taking us past insane views of Ama Dablam (the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen), and bringing us to Tengboche Monastery. I was feeling back to myself for the beginning part of the trek. We all took a break, partook in some hot lemon tea, some Kind bars, gummies, raisins, and cashews. I was ready to go and set out in the first group because I knew I was slower and this part of the trek was all up and pretty steep. I wasn’t even 15 minutes into it when I felt a rumble. Warning: this following story of tummy troubles is mild and funny, but if you don’t enjoy that sort of thing, you should maybe rethink the reading of my blog or at least skip the next paragraph.

So, this happens to everyone at some point, whether you’re trekking in thin air or not. It’s a natural thing and something I don’t think we should be afraid to talk about or laugh about. Anywho, my tummy subtly let me know something was happening. I stopped in my tracks and debated in my head, very quickly, if it was worth mentioning. And then my tummy let me know what I had to do. It was not a hint. It was not a suggestion. I yelled to  Karl to tell him I was not feeling well, and he asked, “Top half or bottom half?” I replied with, “Bottom half.” He told me to run back down to where we had our break, let Nara know (he was still there and he could bring me back up), and use the facility there. I started out walking at a very brisk pace, and then I started to run. I envisioned the scene from Bridesmaids, and really didn’t want that to be me. I found Nara, and quickly explained my situation, and ran to the bathroom. It was a little hut, made from corrugated sheet metal and some other colorful material. THANK THE LORD it was vacant. I opened the door, and did my thing just in time. All of a sudden the horse that was standing just outside, let out a very agitated and loud ‘Neigh!’ It then moved around and the little bathroom started to shake! I was terrified that the walls were going to tumble to the ground as I was bare-assed and sitting on the toilet. Had this happened, everyone from the restaurant would have been able to see my bits and pieces! It didn’t. They didn’t. I was so relieved in multiple senses of the word, lol. That was my only incident on the trip. I felt much better after that, made my way back up with Nara, and even managed to catch up with the rest of the group which is amazing because this portion of the trek is “a bitch” (pardon my french).

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Poo patties used to burn instead of wood since that isn’t allowed in the park. Thought it was appropriate, lol!
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How poo patties are made.

YOU CAN START READING AGAIN IF YOU ARE AVOIDING THE LAST SECTION.

We made it to the monastery, just in time for the Buddhist ceremony, and as we got packed like sardines in there, I freaked out and decided to leave. If I had any further tummy troubles, I didn’t want to have to disrupt the ceremony and wade through all the people to get out and possibly not make it in time, wink! So we left before it was too late, enjoyed some tea, and watched Karl, Joe, and Kristen have a cake taste testing with five different types of cake available from the Tengboche Cafe. It’s amazing they have that available so high up! Baking is extremely difficult at altitude, so they had much respect from me! Following all of that, we headed down a bit to our lodge in Debuche, which was only about 20 minutes away. It was also the last place with electricity,  private bathrooms, and showers. At this point it was starting to get pretty cold and a shower was very shocking to my system, but I did it and as quickly as possible. I charged everything I could hoping it would last for the remainder of the trek.

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The next day was one of my favorites as we got to go to Jangbu’s village and have lunch in his home that was prepared by his mom. Jangbu had left the day before to retrieve his family’s Yaks to bring to Debuche so we could load our bags onto them. A few of us, myself included, got the opportunity to load the Yaks up. I watched a few people do it first and learned a few things to make it a bit easier. I was a natural! Got the bag tied to the Yak in no time, with the help of Jangbu and his Dad. I think I may have another calling in life! I’m pretty good at making the guttural noise to keep them in line, too. Just sayin’. They were easily the most beautiful yaks I had ever seen and Jangbu takes much pride in them. We also met Lama Geshe, had items blessed, and received a blessing cord from him. He gave us wonderful advice on life: be good to others, respect others, and get rid of the bad. Although we didn’t get a translation of everything that was being said at times, I always understood. I think we all did. The experience moved myself and others to tears. In the moment, I felt very connected to my parents and got the sense that they would be proud of me for taking on the challenges and adventures that I had. It was a good feeling and I gained a little more closure that day.

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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler

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Lunch was beyond wonderful and unending! As soon as we finished the potato pancakes, fries, boiled veggies, pickled veggies, or Dal Bhat, our plate or was replenished with more and it was impossible to clear a plate. Karl and Nara eventually convinced Jangbu’s mom to stop giving refills just in time. I thought my stomach was going to burst! We had some homemade milk tea and rice beer with our meal which I really enjoyed, giving both an enthusiastic thumbs up. To burn all the calories we just stuffed ourselves with, we turned some music on and had a dance party! It was a fantastic afternoon! The smile on Jangbu’s mom’s face was amazing. It was an honor to be invited into their home and have lunch. We took a few group photos and as I was saying goodbye to Jangbu’s mom, I gestured to my tummy and then grinned as wide as possible. She just laughed and hugged me, giving me a memory I will never forget! A very special and unique experience that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t with Anywhere+.

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The next day was a big day as far as elevation gain goes, around 4,000 ft.  There were a lot of high clouds suggesting that it wasn’t going to clear up, so instead of trekking up the Chokkung Ri Ridge we decided to do the peak right next to us. Chokkung Ri has amazing views of the Khumbu Valley, Makalu, and Lhotse, but since it would be covered in cloud, there was no point to go all that way when we could gain about the same amount of elevation where we were already, but I was feeling really good. I felt strong and Chokkung Ri was still on the table, but we had to leave immediately since it was around 9 hours roundtrip. I agonized over it for as long as I could and decided I wanted to try. Jangbu, Karl, and I got our packs together and headed out.

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Jangbu and I left first, Karl would catch up. So, Jangbu is like the wind. He’s insanely fast, and I think he just forgets that the people he guides are, well, not. I tried to keep up with him, breathing so hard, my face had to be sooooo beet red. I was sweating profusely. Thank GOD Karl showed up when he did. As he walked up to us I was in the middle of asking Jangbu if this was going to be our pace for the rest of the hike…I wasn’t going to make it if it was. Karl started laughing, as he heard my question, and said, “No, but we do have to keep a faster pace than normal to make it there and back in time” We continued to talk about it and I got nervous about being able to do it at the pace we needed and making it back in the time we had. Karl had confidence in me, but he also worried I’d waste myself getting there and be unable to make it the next day to EBC. We decided to head back to meet up with the rest of our group and finish the day out with them. We  traversed across a section that Karl had never done, and he named it the Marcella Herington Traverse. During this portion we reached an elevation of 15,200 ft. and it was the highest I had ever been, leaving behind my summit of Mt. Elbert at 14,442 ft (from Colorado in 2009). It was not an easy route, my ankles were really feeling the angle at which we were trekking at, and I felt like the day had got the best of me. I felt defeated and like I wasted Karl and Jangbu’s time.

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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler

We managed to catch the rest our group and I continued to go up until I reached 16,000 ft. My achilles were on fire so I took a rest, fueled up, and decided to head back down to the lodge. This day brought about all of my insecurities. I worried I wasn’t going to make it to EBC. I hate failure. I hate not finishing what I start. My negativity was crushing. I pulled away for the afternoon and did some journaling which seemed to help me address my feelings of failure and help me see how silly I was being. The only thing that could stop me from finishing the trek was myself. There will always be those moments of self-doubt, pity, and negativity, but I’ve learned to see past them and pull myself out of the doom and gloom. The challenges, the suffering, the uncomfortable circumstances that come with hiking/trekking have taught me many valuable life strategies. I’ve grown as a human being.

Our next day was initially a bit tough and we were on our way to Lobuche (16,070 ft.). I hate starting out with a steep incline, but I eventually found my breathing and my pace. Much of our group was suffering from tummy troubles and I’m sure this day was fairly miserable for them, but they all got through it like champs! We evevntually made it to the Sherpa Memorial, a place that pays respect to all the climbers and high altitude workers who have lost their lives on Everest. It was very sobering to be there, to see all the memorials of people with first and last names, dates of birth and death, photos, loving words left by loved ones that will forever adorn these final resting places, and the many prayer flags flying in the wind…I definitely had somber moments as we walked among the memorials thinking about these people who lost their lives in such an extraordinary and beautiful place. How could anything bad happen here? I can’t share much more than that because the rest isn’t mine to share. All I can say is that when it’s my time to go, I hope I have as beautiful of a spot for my final resting place.

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To lighten things up a bit, we took some group photos, sat and enjoyed the magnificent view, and Yoga Joe “flew” a few people.

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We arrived to our lodge in Lobuche (16,070 ft.) after an hour and had a short break with some tea (of course) and lunch. Karl, Josh, Kristen, and I then went on a short 30 minute walk. The clouds had rolled in and visibility was poor. We hiked up a hill and over to a large “boulder” we climbed up on top of for photos and silliness, which continued as we sang Destiny’s Child “Independent Women” on the way back.

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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler

Video and commentary courtesy of Karl Nesseler

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We made an early exit the next day to climb to the top of a ridge where Yoga Joe flew some more of us, myself included. I was a bit scared at first, but then reverted back to my gymnastic days and it ended up being a lot of fun. We arrived to our lodge in Gorak Shep (16,940 ft.) and not long after, we headed up the “hill” to Kala Pattar where we were hoping to catch the orange glow of the setting sun on Everest. The weather had different plans, as clouds started to roll in. We got some peeks at the peaks, but missed having a clear and vibrant orange Everest. It was super cold after sitting there for a bit, so another impromptu dance party happened as we all took ‘shots’ of our energy goo. We danced our way down and all met up in a group hug while “Come and Get Your Love” was playing. That was one of my favorite memories of the trip…all of us together with our headlamps dancing in the dusk of the day.

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People had not been feeling good, some suffering more than others. My roomie Jo had a hard night ahead of her, and I was worried for a while. I didn’t sleep very soundly, maybe got 2 hours, so between wanting to be available to her if she needed me and hearing a possible avalanche that night, the sleep was very minimal and I was a sleepy, sleepy lady . Fortunately, Jo was feeling a bit better the next day. We were supposed to be on our way by 7:30 am, but because people were still recovering from illness, we pushed it back an hour. I woke with a gnarly headache and some nausea, but I mostly attribute it to a sleepless night. I tried to eat as much as possible, but the food wasn’t tasting good to me. I had to bargain with Karl to exchange bites of toast for Ibuprofen. We then left for our last day of trekking. It was very bittersweet as I was ready for a break, but the idea that our group would never be together in this place, in this way again was really sad because I had grown to love these folks very much. Only they can understand what the trip was like and what it meant.

It was only a few hours to reach Everest Base Camp, but a lot of us were feeling miserable so a fairly easy day was difficult. I could have kicked myself for not eating more. There were a lot of sections where we were stepping on boulders and balance was needed more than ever. It required more energy than I felt I had at times. I tried not to focus on the negativity and instead take in the surroundings.

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It was a perfectly clear, sunny day. I was this tiny ant of a person amongst the landscape of rock, shifting, moving, and towering over me. How I even deserved to be in this awe-inspiring place, with people who accepted me, welcomed me without hesitation, I can’t figure out. I found a new love and passion for being outdoors, for testing myself, for pushing myself. I am forever changed and I finally feel like I am taking advantage of being alive. If I died tomorrow, I would be proud of what I have done. I would have no reason to come back and haunt anyone or anything. No unfinished business for me, for the most part, lol. Once we reached EBC, we took photos and hugged. I started to cry because I didn’t know I’d be able to do this. I started to cry because I didn’t want it to end. I started to cry because I didn’t want to leave this place or these people. As I was editing this, I realized I just glazed right over arriving to EBC. It’s not that I’m not excited to talk about it, but “Trekking to EBC” became much more than just doing that. The entire experience was important, not just the destination. Arriving to EBC was actually a very tiny part of everything that this adventure was composed of. Anyone with moderate fitness can do this, it’s not easy, but it is very do-able.

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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Do you see the tiny ant people!!!???

We had a nice break on the glacier, with snacks and water. A few of us wandered with Karl down the glacier as he talked about what it’s like when summit season is in full swing versus now. As we were walking over sections, you’d sometimes hear the ice crack, or rocks slide an tumble underneath you. It was definitely disconcerting, but the joy in my heart overruled any bad feelings.

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We started making our way back and noticed a line of trekkers backing up in a region that you don’t want to be caught in. Perched on the hillside are ginormous boulders the size of small houses that could tumble down at any moment. Some of these people even stopped on purpose to take photos.  Once the line of people had moved on, Karl ran ahead to make sure that the next round of people coming from the other direction stopped and waited for our group to pass so to avoid another back up of people. He spaced us out so that if anything did tumble down, “we won’t all die.” I was first to go and a bit nervous. It was uphill and I went as fast as my little legs would allow. I reached the top sweaty and panting for air. Once everyone made it, the real sick ones got horses to take them the rest of the way. It was very entertaining to watch.

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Once we got back to the lodge, a few people decided to give Kala Pattar another chance. I wanted to go so badly, but instead listened to my body and rested. It was clear and the mountains did glow as the setting sun hit them. We had a beautiful  view from where we were. My day ended on some very sweet notes with the sweetest of people.

The next day we started our trek back to Lukla….(record scratch)…just kidding! We were getting back to Lukla in style via helicopter rides! It was my first time and it was super cool! We waited for three or four hours for them to arrive at the helicopter landing up a steep hill. No one wanted to venture back down after making the “hike” up, lol. We were all spent. The helicopters finally arrived after having to wait for better weather conditions and small group by small group we were flown all the way back to Lukla in about 20 minutes. How about that.

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Baby’s first avalanche, lol.

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We had free time in Lukla, dinner, beer and then we all went to bed. We were all too tired to really celebrate. We also had an early morning as we caught the first flight out of Lukla to Kathmandu. Jo and I wised up and slept in our clothes we were wearing for the day to avoid the shock of getting out of bed and putting on cold clothing. Worked like a charm. Breakfast was had and then we navigated through the chaos and kookiness that is the Tenzing-Hillary Airport. I wasn’t as nervous to fly back, but we did have to get the plane off of the ground in 1,500 ft. Karl offered me a “last bite” of a Snickers and I of course took it just in case we did die. At least I’d go out with a mouthful of chocolate! We had another beautiful flight with an interesting landing (a bit of swerving/zig zagging). The next day and a half was spent getting clothes washed, packing, shopping, and spending non-trekking time with each other.

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My heart was breaking as our departures got closer. I could have ended my travel right then and there because nothing was going to top this. I almost did, but I knew I needed to finish what I started. I think about Nepal every single day. I miss the craziness, the quiet, the peacefulness I felt there, the warmth, the simplicity, the beauty…I hope to get back there by 2019, and maybe spend a few months doing something worthwhile there, something that can benefit others. I would also love to see the school in Bigu, that fundraising is underway for, rebuilt. This trip made the world bigger and smaller at the same time. Going to all of these places is not impossible. We all have commonalities, even with a language barrier, that we can seek and find in one another. A smile and some laughter can communicate wonderful things, as well as a willingness to understand each other and to learn something new. I am so grateful for this trek and what it brought to my life. I am still in contact with everyone and have met up with them at least once, except for Yoga Joe…it’ll happen at some point though, I’m sure 🙂 So go out and experience the world, maybe even do it alone!! You will come away with some of the most important epiphanies of your life and you will have no regrets with spending money on making amazing lifelong memories!

Next stop, Australia!!

4 thoughts on “Trekking To One of the World’s Natural Wonders: Part Two

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