A few days in Chitwan National Park … good bye Nepal

My journey from Bhaktapur was easy. I hired a local driver for the 20min ride to Sauraha for USD12 and picked out the royal park hotel for the coming days. I certainly earned my upgrade in accommodation. I got the room for USD27/night. It was magnificent. Large bathroom, nice large bed and balcony overlooking the green and well nursed gardens of the hotel. Around chitwan, all looked very indian (which indeed is only a stone throw away) and Hindu religion dominates in stark contrast to the Buddhist sherpa settlements in the khumbu valley.

Having a shower (i think i only had a handful proper ones in the 8 weeks i was in nepal now) was great. My selection of change clothing was limited though. While i carried my down jacket – utterly useless – i thankfully also had shorts and sandals. Freedom for my feet that had been trapped in heavy boots for weeks.

In the hotel i quickly booked up for the elephant safari next morning and jeep safari in the afternoon and headed out. Not far from the hotel on the riverbank is the chitwan bar & restaurant. Its run by a nepali guy for 13y now and his 6 month austrian girlfriend. I met two Catalan girls, who departed for Kathmandu next morning and a guy from seattle. Fun conversations over a beer watching the sunset about each others travel experiences ensued until a monsoon like heavy rain shower forced a relocation. We rescued ourselves temporarily under a small shelter on the beach before heading for dinner. after some sweet nepali wine, more discussions about life itself kept the discussion going. We were joined by kamal who runs Ever Wild Trek & Tours and my jungle walk guide to be. I was home before midnight, still tired and with a 6am breakfast to look forward to.

The elephant safari wasnt far away and outside the official national park. It looked promising initially. Mahood’s (7y trained elephant riders) were waiting for guests and i enjoyed a good coffee while waiting. Then came the shock. Once a three people jndian family and i were sitting on the back of the elephant, the mahood hit the poor animal frequently with an iron stick to make him obey. The elephant even started bleeding. Unacceptable and clearly not a recommended activity. I hear some European operators have already taken this offer off their programs. I salite that decision. Wildlife wise, it was a productive ride. Crocodiles, bambi / deer, two rhino’s, many birds and other elephants (with people riding them).

After 2,5hours i was back at the hotel and caught up with blogging and emails leaving me just enough time for a chicken curry lunch before joining the jeep safari. it was boiling hot as we took little ferry boats to cross the river and hop on the cars. We would see nothing bar jungle forest and a crocodile. Again, not an activity i would recommend. On the other hand, conversations with a danish and a columbian couple reduced my boredom substantially. Towards the end of the journey we all got a good rain shower. Heavens had opened, we had no roof until a cover was handed out. No animals, but some action at least. Besides, it is reasonably enjoyable to drive through the jungle.

Back in sauraha i booked my two day walking & canoe trip with kamal who was already waiting for me looking for business. Some USD200 was the price (so there were extras …). Since we would stay at a local village (madi) near the park, i check out of the hotel early. Then i headed back to the chitwan bar for some local riverfish (technically forbidden to be caught) and a bit of party and chatter with the locals and the austrian girl. Was fun. Not sure what her parents make out of this development … she had come here for few weeks holiday having quit her job to do so. Then her friends travelled home without her. Now she wants to get married to her nepali boy after 6 month or so. Partly visa related (hers has already expired as i write this). Her parents dont like it, but i guess love had its own mind. 

Cruising down the river in not yet too hot morning weather was fun. We had kamal, another guide, the skipper and myself onboard. A bathing rhino and several crocodile spottings were the result. I was slightly disappointed that the trip, which i had booked for 3 hrs, only last a little longer than two hours. It seemed like a two hour trip was just stretched a little longer. Then we started walking and kicked off with another rhino we had seen from the boat when we landed. Some good shots. We continued trough the jungle seeing a lizard, birds, deer … but no bears or tigers.

Just before lunchtime heavens opened again and we got soaking wet. I also slipped off a footbridge and filled my boots with fresh river water. We rescued ourselfes to a nearby army post and had lunch. In the afternoon we took a long and boring road to get to a watch tower to spot tigers. We managed a deer in three hours waiting or more before we aborted and continued on the long road towards a larger street (well, dirt road).

The bus we stopped took us to the park entrance. The ride was ahort but fun. A bus full with people, decorated in typical style inside with loud Indian/nepali type music playing. From there we crossed the river and followed it to the village madi (30mins walk).

We arrived just before sunset. Nice house with more than 10 rooms and a roof terrace overlooking the river and its surrounding  flatlands. There were a few people speaking english, we had some beer and the local rice wine (roxy) and the guides had some jungly weed to smoke. Good fun and great to get the feet up. Highlight were the freshly made potato fries – absolutely excellent. 

We got up 5.30am to get to the tiger spot early. There we met a french couple that shared our tiger spot already the day before. We would wait six hours during which we saw a rhino & baby crossing the river, a slosh bear running the other direction, a wild boar family and some hunting birds. Just the tiger remained elusive.

We tried at a deserted tourist resort nearby (tiger tops) and saw more rhinos near/in a water hole. No tiger. Still, a stunning place though my guide violated any cient safety rules there is by going there. Rotten staircases and paltforms. I didnt mind. We beiefly returned to the former spot without luck until i called it quits. It was my son’s 7th birthday and i needed network coverage – back to the village for another, bigger night at rewa river view lodge. Great time.

Then it was time to leave. Back to kathmandu, see rory, jon and Tim and have a little party and some souvenir shopping. The last night i spent talking for a long to to Lyn from brisbane. Really good chat of two people that love hiking. The reggae bar for some great live music. Time in nepal for me was up … now i just need to get my luggage checked in (well over my allowance again!)


You The long way down from Lhotse summit …

We spent about an hour at the top and switched oxygen bottles. I run on 3 liters for good measure. At last the way down should be a lot quicker and 3l get you 5hours plus and safely to camp 2 my sherpa advised. At 8am i was on the descent with Pemba.​​

​We overtook two climbers in the couloir that were probably afraid of ice and rock that our steps kicked lose. My gloves came under real strain from the ropes (i would subsequently give them to Pemba – despite all their holes they are workable). At daytime you get a better view of the couloir and magnificant views of the surroundings. Stunning and enjoyable. Progress was still slow given energy reserves depleted. One always underestimates how much strength it takes to go down steep hills.

Half way through Pemba told me that he had been ordered to go to south col. Presumably to fix the missing oxygen bottles we had encountered when we hit our camp 4 (his english is limited). After two hours we reached the camp, boiled a drink and he left. I had to carry my sleeping bag to camp 3 (not planned) and was by myself (not planned). Not sure what drove this decision to take away required ressources from me to be honest. One of so many issues during this expedition – just this time they impacted my safety directly.

After camp 4 I walked slowly down despite oxygen. After some 3hours i finally got there. On the way i met karl from germany again. He is a friend of scott and does everest unsupported, as he told us over tea and cookies in camp 2 on our failed first summit bid. Then i escaped some injury. While waiting to abseil down, a guy jumped the queue. Initially i was upset. However, when a guy in front of me let an oxygen bottle lose that shot like torpedo into my direction only to be stopped by my waiting feet … i was quite relieved not to be abseiling and get the 3kg bottle into my face. Disaster one averted.

Once at C3, i brewed some much needed water. While pemba is a strong though more junior climber, he doesn’t stop you often enough to replenish energy (too time focussed). I felt it. I got some water and chocolate in and rested on the last bit of oxygen. 

Some time later Pemba was back from south col. probably surprised to still see me at camp. He took the sleeping bag and seeing his heavy, double rucksack load i let him set off to camp 2 – todays final destination. I rested a while longer and continued down without oxygen but with a lighter pack.

What a difference that made. Completely exhausted and without my flow of fresh air. I took ages just to get going. I literally moved meters in minutes (i was still above 7000m). But there was time i thought. 4.30pm it was or so. Then i went down the wrong side of the lhotse face – where people come up. Abseiling difficult yet my only way of making any progress. Tight lines (so you cant put figure of eight in to abseil) in came on top. I spent a long time on each rope section before i mastered it. Chatted with folks coming up and down including the guide of one of the deceased on everest. I even took all my Dex steriod tablets in hope to get an energy boost (they reduce swelling – so no help). Only after sunset in complete darkness i was down the face. It was nice to watch, but it was getting cold and late. I ate snow lacking water. Mainly candies i had left to go on. Now the flatter, but longer section back to camp 2 awaited.

Initially i walked slowly (extremely slowly). That was until my dry cough got so bad that i thought i cracked a rib (only pulled muscle as it turned out). I couldn’t carry my bag anymore and wondered if it was time to ask for help. My team i couldn’t, as clients didnt get radio’s on summit day different to prio trip chat (well, most of them don’t work anyway) and my sherpa support wasn’t there.

I decided to drag on. Thirsty. At some point around 8pm a member of our camp2 kitchen came to help. We were still slow, but with him carrying my rucksack we moved faster. I went straight to bed when we got to camp at 9.30pm. It took me 5 hours from camp 3 down (sherpa take 3h up!). My life was probably not very much at risk (given some other climbers around even after dark), but something in the setup went wrong big time. My guide, as i discovered later, didnt even know about this situation. He was busy chatting to the press about the hillary step that appearantly is gone.

Next day Pemba took my bag and we made in 4 hours or so through the icefall to base camp. The icefall was in a horrible state and melting/collapsing across the board. Extremely unsafe. We pulled at least three anchors. Many more were out already. Some ice screws we fixed again. One large section on which i was about to walk (30m away) collapsed. Good i walked slow! 

Base camp was deserted (the other three clients now on their everest summit push). Tim still busy chatting to global media about the hillary step. I contemplated a chopper to get me out quick (shared about usd900), but ended up hiking down. It took me two days with some stops and a little getting lost near phakding and two hours in the morning the day after. Speed no longer my forte. I did bump into reinhold messner just before namche (and his film crew for a movie on ama danlam). Quite fitting since lhotse was the last pf his 14-set of 8,000ers (probably my last too). Once in lukla, I got lucky and caught a 12pm flight to kathmandu and on to bhaktapur. 

Medical damage assessment: the main issue was my chest problems, but more humid air would fix that quickly. Fingers and toes were still there, just the two big toes a little bit numb (faded within days). So overall, not much to report. Thankfully.

Idea was to head to chitwan national park for safari and more humid air to cure my chest infection. Local temperature +40 degrees – a 80 degree delta to the summit of lhote. But at least there was life! I couldn’t do more tea houses and hiking for now. I needed a holiday ;o)

Moving up to camp 1 tomorrow; jumar/ladder training and a photo shoot filled the past 2 days

Tonight’s sleep will end early as we will convene for 3am breakfast and 3.30am departure to the Khumbu icefall. We leave early to avoid the heat of the day that not only brings sunburn, but also higher risks of avalanches, serac fall and potentially traffic jams with other teams. 

The weather looks ok albeit the forecasts suggests 30cm new snow. Its generally quite warm for the season and every day and night we are listening to a concert of avalanches and serac falls. Scary sometimes though they usually sound worse than they are. 

The aim tomorrow will be to gain c700m altitude from base camp to camp 1 at 6,000m, stay two nights and then move up to camp 2 (6,400m) for another night’s sleep. We’ll be cooking ourselves in C1 and all the team is next door picking their snacks and rations as I write this. We all probably underestimate how much our hunger will disappear at altitude. But heh! We can stash excess supplies anytime and consume later on the hill.

It will be tough going through the icefall at night and to altitude levels few of us are yet acclimatised for (only Steve has been as high when summitting Mera Peak and Lobuche East, my personal highpoint so far 5,800m). Take some painkillers for the headaches! 

Today and yesterday we have been preparing further for the technical challenges ahead. First, using ascender devices  (or jumars) that are used to ascend the fixed lines especially in steeper sections and safe abseiling techniques (it won’t be straight uphill to the top). Not too difficult though cumbersome to operate with mitts. 

Second, we practiced how to cross ladders safely. These are prevalent in the Khumbu icefall and the Western cwm to bridge crevasses (some as deep as 50m or 80m). The longest vertical ladder Tim has encountered was made up of 13 (!) individual ladders. Will be fun and probably shaky!

Our morning finished (would you believe it) with a photo shoot. We all served as models for the sunglass & goggle review of Tim. Steve Brown was the man behind the camera as usual. Some cool pics in a stunnig environment. 

P.S. the beard keeps growing!

5,800m test hike; bye Mo & Zena

Having rested and waited out fairly stormy weather we decided to go for a climb today. Mo and Zena said goodbye and made their way towards Loboche and will probably climb up to Kala Patthar (5,500m) for some great views of Everest & co. Will miss you both! 

Our hike took us through base camp (25min to entrance from our site … more if you get lost) and then pretty much straight up the hill. The terrain featured loads of boulders and slippery underground. 

Pace wise, Steve (Australia), Jon and Rory took the lead. I was much slower and formed the challenger group by myself. Its just that every step takes effort and if you go to fast you burn. So take it slow. I arrived some 20min after the leaders – not too bad for a 400m altitude gain. We were now at 5,650m. Steve (photo) arrived 10min after me and Billy turned around half way still struggling to find his breath. Blake didn’t start at all and continues to nurse his ankle(s).

After a brief eat & drink rest in a thankfully sheltered place (winds were super strong sometimes throwing me off balance), I continued my way higher. Only the guides Tim and new arrival Scott (assistant guide) did the same while my fellow climbers returned to base camp.

The way higher led onto even more slippery terrain and so I tried to climb using the larger boulders. After less than an hour we got to 5,800m. Great views of Everest summit, Lhotse and the entire base camp neatly located next to the massive Khumbu glacier.

The way down was mixed. First, I did twist my ankle (still hurts, but not much swollen). Second, the traffic into base camp picked up massively with loads of trekkers around and slowing things down. Finding our camp wasn’t easy either as the sun had melted snow and ice to the extent that the whole scenery changed. Amazing! 

Afternoon and evening were quiet, as most of us were tired. Still waiting for better wifi.

Life at Everest base camp

I am lying in my tent and the winds are (still) shaking my tent. The sleeping bag is very comfi and I had a cery good rest without any interruptions. In today’s post I wanted to shed a little light on how we spent time here at Everest base camp having been here now for three nights and given it will be my home potentially until late May.

The camp is I reckon some 2km long and situated directly on the Khumbu glacier and very close to the actual icefall with all its crevasses and constantly moving bits and pieces. Each team has claimed their territory and in some cases defend it vigorously (I leave out names here for now). Mingling with other teams seems like a no-no so far. 

Within each camp there is some key infrastructure:

  • Mess tent: Arguably the heart of the camp. Here we spent most of our down time to eat, play (monopoly deal being king), chat and do briefings.

  • Kitchen tent: Good food is key and so far we been catered for well. More importantly even is a constant supply of hot water. 

  • Storage / communication tent: here you can find a lot of snacks, dry food for higher up, commincation and charging gear and stuff you don’t wanna keep in your tent (like climbing and high altitude kit).

  • Toilet tent: Men usually use for no2, women no1&2. The collective output goes into a barrel that is replaced when needed. Fellow hiker Mo had her tent blown away while in action – scared for life (but hilarious) ;o) 

  • Shower tent: operated with heated water from the kitchen and a pump. Looks simple, feels great!
  • Sleeping tents: the only bit of real privacy. Required for such a long trip. Sherpa’s have the same tents than we do, but share.

  • Sherpa mess tent: Common area (when not in kitchen) and eating quarters. Surely a few card games go down here too. 

Beyond the individual camps there are communal places such as the Everest ER tent (emergency & rescue) staffed wit experienced doctors, nurses and rescue pilots, the Sagarmartha pollution and control committee (SPCC) that houses the ice fall doctors (fixing the ropes to the summits), the radio and wifi station (Usd50 per 1GB, ncell also available but patchy) and several heli landing spots for transport, rescue and supplies in & out of the camp. 

Daily rountine

On non-climbing days (and there will be quite a few), we usually start with breakfast at 8am though hot drinks are being provided from 7am. The offering varies from porridge, pancakes, muesli to french toast, fried and boiled eggs and sometimes even bacon (like yesterday).

Afterwards we typically have the first session of games, take a stroll, do some washing or things like reinforcig tents.

Lunch is served around noon. We have often potatoes (fried, boiled, even salad), rice (cooked, fried, with veg etc), cooked veg, tuna, sardines, sausages, traditional dahl bat … plenty of stuff. By the time we had our pudding it will be 1.30pm or thereabout. More games after or a nap ;o)

3-4pm we use for briefings either on general issues or the next day. This goes hand in hand with some munchy stuff like cheese etc and more tea. More games and wifi if you must. We try to limit wifi from 3pm though a poor connection often takes care of that ;o)

Dinner is 6pm and is followed by the hot water bottle supply for the night ahead. We usually hit the sleeping bags between 8-9pm. Depends how long our monopoly deal thirst lasts and what is ahead the day after. 

Then its time to get cosy in your tent, read a book and to report to dream land. Nite, nite …