[RD] The Everest Basecamp Trek

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by warpus, May 18, 2020.

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  1. Samson

    Samson Deity

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    I think many different green vegetables get translated cabbage if there is not a well known english word for it. I have been told many different plants are cabbage that do not look like what we call cabbage here.

    I was wondering about booze. Does that get flown / yakked in, or do they ferment some local produce?
     
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  2. tjs282

    tjs282 Stone \ Cold / Fish

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    Cabbage?
     
  3. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Yeah, many of the local dishes feature plenty of greens that seem cabbage-like. I tried to google what crops are usually grown at these altitudes in Nepal, and got a variety of different lists, so I decided to not push the thought any further.

    A lot of the beer and other bottled or canned liquor gets flown in and is carried to its final destination by Yak or sometimes donkey caravan. Most of the teahouses we stayed at had beer, whiskey, and rum on the menu, including familiar to us brands like Tuborg, although most beer brands were local ones like Everest. There is local booze that the locals make as well - Raksi. It's a traditional distilled alcoholic beverage made from rice or millet, and is often used in festivals, religious rituals, and social events.

    I did not touch any alcohol on the trail though and my friends largely abstained as well. There is some conflicting information out there about the effects of alcohol on your body at high altitudes. A lot of people abstain from alcohol on the trail because your body is supposedly more sensitive to it, leading to much quicker intoxication and other unwanted side-effects.. However, the science seems to imply that this is all an urban myth.... Our Sherpa guide said that we should probably avoid alcohol, because the only thing it can really do is make your overall hike a worse experience - never better.. Why give your body even more to deal with when it's in such unfamiliar and demanding conditions? We mainly stayed away from caffeine for the same reasons. I brought instant coffee packs with me that I left behind on the first day of hiking
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2020
  4. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Feeling welcome in unfamiliar lands



    It should come as no surprise that life at high altitudes in the Himalayas is much different than the comforts of sea-level North America.. Some people do experience a bit of a culture shock when doing this hike. The combination of the unfamiliar culture, language, terrain, food, music, the effects of the high altitudes on your body.. and everything else can be a bit overbearing for some at first.

    It doesn't take long to get used to how welcoming and helpful the local Nepali and Sherpa people are though.. I can only speak for myself, but I was over any sort of culture shock effects after just a couple interactions with the streets of Kathmandu.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2020
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  5. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Super Moderator Supporter

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    Did you have an opportunity to learn anything about Tibetan Buddhism while trekking?
     
  6. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    We did visit a Buddhist temple along the way.. and there was a museum in Namche Bazaar.. but other than random tidbits that I've shared, I'm afraid there really isn't much. Religion was something the locals seemed to keep to themselves for the most part
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2020
  7. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Arrival in Phakding
    and the end of day 1

    This seems to be the last photo I took with my camera on this day, so this must have been right outside the teahouse we were staying at. I remember us sitting down right outside and resting after a tough hike, possibly because the tables inside were being cleaned. Phakding is one of the lowest parts on the trail (2610m) and this first day was supposed to be the easiest of all the days heading up.. and yet there we were, sitting down, slumped over, happy to have finished that day's hike. Spirits were high, but all I wanted to do was get a warm meal in me and get some rest so that I can recharge and be ready for a much more difficult hike the next day.



    Our guide always called ahead to make sure we had rooms waiting for us by the time we arrived at the preferred teahouse each day.. This was one of the advantages of having a Sherpa guide with us. He took care of a lot of the interaction with the local staff, including making all the arrangements for accommodations.

    We usually got 2 rooms to share between 3 guys, so we'd rotate who got the single room that day.. The single rooms were always smaller and there were always 2 beds in the double rooms, so the only real benefit was the extra privacy and not having to listen to someone else snore.. but everyone always wants the single room, and on the very first night that honour fell to me.

    The teahouses were for the most part unheated wooden structures that were not very well insulated. The only heat you could find was in the common room, which had an oven in the middle burning yak dung. Still so close to the trailhead though, here in Phakding this teahouse was more like a proper building. My room on the second floor and was rather spacious and came with a big cabinet and a nighstand.

    After arrival at the teahouse we would usually get an hour or two of downtime, after agreeing on a dinner time. During this time it was common for people to stick around the common area and read or play cards.. or go online.... but it was also fairly common to go to your room to take a short nap.. In some of the larger villages you could also find bars, pool halls, cafes, and other places to spend your time and money.

    Dinner always began with our guide bringing us menus in English and then taking our orders. He wrote them all in a kind of journal that is left behind at the establishment as a way to keep track of finances.. but also to present a final bill to us after the next day's breakfast. So as you sat there in the common room, you could get things like coca-cola products, chocolate bars, beers, pringles.. and each time you did, a new entry would be added in the book under your name. You pay up for everything, including accommodation, right before you depart the next day... and as the days go on, these products get more and more expensive, as the yaks have to carry them further..

    Our guide ate all his meals with all the other Sherpa guides, and from what I understand they always ate the same thing for dinner - Dal Bhat. This consists of steamed rice and a cooked lentil soup, plus a couple other side dishes, depending on locale. A sort of saying has developed, "Dal Bhat Power, 24 hour" signifying how the local population use Dal Bhat as a sort of fuel to get through a busy day's work or a long hike through the mountains.

    After dinner we always had a short meeting with our guide during which he would run down the next day's hike for us. This was important because he would tell us what sort of conditions to expect, including the weather and hiking conditions. This allowed us to make better decisions when deciding what to put in our daypack and what to stuff in the bag the porter was carrying..

    All in all the first day of hiking was a success, with no problems along the way.. but it was also a bit eye opening.. We were basically at the lowest part of the trail in terms of altitude, this was supposed to have been one of the easiest days, and yet at the end of the day I felt a bit drained of energy.. Even so, I drifted off to sleep in relatively high spirits.. for I had the single room and I couldn't hear anybody snoring
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2020
  8. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Super Moderator Supporter

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    Yes! having a local around to manage the local stuff can make all the difference. You can skip most of the pain in the ass stuff and focus on why you are there. :)
     
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  9. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Exactly, and on a challenging hike like this you really do want to focus on the walking, your personal health and well-being, and not much else.. The last thing you want to have to deal with when you finish a demanding day's hike is having to look for a teahouse with enough rooms to accommodate your crew.. In the case of a teahouse being packed full, you'd have to move on and try your luck with the next one.. And once you find a teahouse that will accommodate you, you then have to haggle with the hosts about the cost... I can't be certain that we always got a great deal (since we had a Sherpa negotiating on our behalf).. but the price we were quoted always seemed more than reasonable. No doubt our guide gets kickbacks from bringing business to the teahouse, but I think if you compared what we paid for accommodations vs an independent hiker.. we'd probably come out on top.

    The further you get away from the trailhead, the less teahouses you will also find in the villages along the way.. So the closer you get to basecamp, the more likely it will be that a teahouse you come across is full.. Now, in the case of an emergency, teahouses will always find room for you.. but that means you might have to sleep in the common room with all the guides. This usually isn't an issue at first, since there's so many villages and random teahouses around.. but later on they get quite sparse..

    Instead of having to worry about any of that, we always just waltzed right into the teahouse our guide lead us to, put down our bags, and our rooms were almost always waiting for us. No interaction with the local staff needed, aside from saying hello. It was a great feeling to be able to sort of just check out mentally right after arriving at our destination. As far as I'm concerned this was well worth the $10 a day we were each paying for the services of our guide... and this was just one of the many things he did for us along the way. I tell each and every person asking me for advice about this trail - get a guide and you won't regret it. It's money well spent.

    Our Sherpa guide was also pretty good at math, from what I could tell. It was his job to add up all of our expenses and give us a final bill the next morning. The math was always spot on, whenever I looked. Remember that the Nepali numbering system is different from what we use - and he was using our Arabic numerals here, making it no doubt more difficult for him. All the itemized purchases were also written down in English, all done by our guide as well. He didn't let us down once and always seemed to have our best interests at heart. He was always on his toes and alert mentally speaking.. something we were not at all, since the high altitudes really tire you out.. Having someone local look after your interests at all times was just a great feeling. It allowed us to focus on why we were there in the first place, like you said, without having to worry about the logistics.
     
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  10. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Into the High Mountains
    Day Two of the Hike Begins

    On this day we would be hiking to Namche Bazaar, which is the main trading hub in the region. It's often referred to as the Sherpa capital and lies on the side of a hill; the lowest point in town at about 3,440m above sea level.

    The hike begins at 2,610m in Phakding, so you gain a decent amount of altitude on this day. There is some up and down on the trail as well, so you end up descending 365m and ascending 1,130m overall. This is the day when you leave the foothills behind and enter into the high mountains.

    Click here to see an interactive 3D view of this day's hike

    At first the trail follows the Dudh Kosi river like on the previous day, crossing it several times.



    As for what happens in the morning, there was a bit of a routine for that as well. I would wake up to my phone alarm going off right in my sleeping bag, at relatively early hour. The reason I slept with my phone in there is that it got really cold at night. Cold enough to drain the batteries in my phone and/or shut it down. I also usually had a thermos with hot water in the sleeping bag, by my feet.. but by the time it was morning the water was already cold. I also had an emergency alarm clock with me, a small one I had bought in Japan.

    I would quickly jump out of my sleeping bag and get undressed. Then I would wipe myself off with baby wipes. This was my morning shower.. and it had to be quick, because it was really cold. After the "shower" I put on all the layers for that day's hike, already prepared for me the previous evening. Next I would tend to the meds and consume a high altitude (diamox) pill, a blood pressure pill, a low dose aspirin pill, and from what I remember I was also taking an electrolyte pill and a vitamin pill (but that could have been later in the day)

    Next I had to pack up my daypack and get it ready with everything I needed that day. This included any extra layers, a hat, gloves, the first aid kit, some snacks, energy chewables, sunglasses, gopro, extra batteries, and so on. Everything else had to be packed into this sort of duffel bag I brought with me.. and every day you had to mix it up a bit due to the changing conditions.

    Then it was time to run to breakfast, with the bag for the porter if it was ready.. Technically it had to be ready right after breakfast, but packing takes so long you have to start well in advance.. (sometimes the previous night)

    After breakfast you pay up your tab in the local currency and buy any last minute snacks for the road. You also have to remember to refill your drinking water. You can do this by purchasing water that was boiled and then cooled overnight. You throw a water purification tablet in that just in case.. I had two 1L water bottles with me and I always also added 1 little baggie of emergenC vitamin C powder to one of them. Vitamin C is supposed to help with mild forms of altitude sickness. It's also supposed to help with the initial negative effects you feel after first scaling to high enough altitudes, such as the headaches.

    At some point you can hopefully find some time to brush your teeth. Then the guide looks around and when we all seem to be ready to go says something that sounds more or less like "Gem Gem", which means "Let's go". And we go
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2020
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  11. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Super Moderator Supporter

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    What were the bigger nicer buildings across the bridge in the photo?
     
  12. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Looking at a map that's still a part of Phakding. Those are lodges, a Sherpa farmhouse, a bakery, and the others I am not sure, but some could be residential. About 8,700 people live in Phakding.
     
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  13. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    The Sherpa Porters



    Here you can see a Sherpa porter in action, carrying 3 bags that have been tied up together. Seeing these feats of strength on the trail was pretty mindblowing at first. From our point of view it was tough carrying just a daypack with you.. These guys were carrying much heavier loads every single day.

    Recent studies have shown that on average Sherpa porters carry almost 90% of their own body weight.. The heaviest load one of these studies identified was a porter carrying 175% of his own body weight. Porters in that study weighed anywhere between 44kg and 66kg..

    The porters don't really have a special way of walking, as that's been analyzed as well. Their muscles are apparently a bit more efficient at processing oxygen than ours are, but there is no special trick to what they're doing. They just load up the weight and they go.. and the number of injuries is surprisingly rare.

    You might think that the porters are muscular men in their late 20s or some such thing, but nope.. Our porter was a little guy, in his early 20s, if not younger. Fairly thin and a bit scrawny even, you would never guess he'd be able to carry our bags without any problems.

    Every morning the porters tie up all the bags they have to carry. That's another thing they are really good at.. Not once did I see a porter having issues on the trail.. All the bags are always very secure and balanced well enough to make carrying them easier. There is also usually a strap they attach to the front, which a porter will put on his forehead. This seemed to be a fairly common strategy, whether it was a Sherpa porter carrying 3 bags or a Sherpa villager carrying building supplies.

    It's worth reminding the reader that our Porter was given $50 USD at the beginning of the hike. Out of that he has to sort out his own food and accommodations for the 2 weeks or so that the hike takes.. Whatever is left at the end of the hike (plus the tip) is his salary.
     
  14. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Super Moderator Supporter

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    I hope you tipped bigly. :) If a porter carried three packs, did he get 3x $50 at the start?
     
  15. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Our porter gets the $50 no matter how many people are involved, from what I understand. He has a max weight he can carry, so it doesn't really matter to him how many people are in on it, as long as the weight is reasonable and the bags are manageable. In our case he was carrying bags for two of us. Our third friend decided to carry everything himself.. and as you will see later, that decision came with a bit of a price..

    It's very possible porters working for other companies get paid differently.. but I'm not really sure. In theory it would be possible for a porter to hang around the trailhead to find a client that way. Some people fly to Lukla and look for a guide and/or porter there on their own. That way the porter would eliminate the middleman and keep all the money paid, and be able to negotiate the rate as well. I am not sure how common that is. Hikers are advised to arrange their guide & porter back in Kathmandu.. but some do look for guides in Lukla, so probably porters as well. The problem could very well be that the porters do not usually speak English as well as the guides do. So it could just be easier for these guys to get their work from a travel company like our porter did.

    Overall we paid about $270 USD ($18*15) altogether for the services of the porter. It doesn't seem fair at all for him to only get $50 out of all that, and to then have to pay for all food and accommodations for the two weeks out of that amount as well. But then again, for somebody his age, probably hoping to eventually become a guide himself.. in that part of the world $50 can go a long way.. especially if you have friends along the way who will house and feed you, which I assume occasionally happened. Once you become a guide, you can make a lot more money, so these porters probably see this as a sort of stepping stone to a much better job. A sort of rite of passage..

    After the hike was finished we pooled whatever money we had left over and tipped the porter $50 USD total. So basically more than doubled his pay for the work he did. We did some research and this seems to be a bit more than they usually get, but it's also not easy to find accurate information online, so it's tough to say if that's true. He seemed quite happy, so I think we tipped him well though. Our guide got a $50 tip from each one of us, so $150 total. He was quite happy as well. The tradition is that you buy your guide and porter a nice dinner at the end of the hike, so we told them to order whatever they want. I wish we could have done more for them, they were just.. really nice people. I still chat with our guide on facebook sometime to see what he's up to.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2020
  16. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Views from the Trail
    On day two



    This is the only way to get to Namche Bazaar from Lukla, so you come across a decent amount of villages and buildings that have sprung up along the trail and river. Namche Bazaar is the region's trading hub and Lukla has the only nearby airport where planes can land, so the route sees a decent amount of traffic.
     
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  17. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Entering Sagarmatha National Park

    Sagarmatha National Park is a protected area and a part of the larger Sacred Himalayan Landscape. It was the first Nepali national park to be designated a Natural World Heritage Site. Sagarmatha is also what the locals call Mt. Everest.

    The park is an important bird area, being home to over 100 species of bird, as well as a number of rare mammal species. In order to get in you need to have a permit and a TIMS card with you, which are checked at this checkpoint by armed military officers. The Nepali army is stationed here, as well as in Namche Bazaar, in order to protect the park.

    Yet another benefit of having a Sherpa guide with us was that he took care of all of this for us. He took all of our permits and talked to the officers manning the checkpoint while we waited aside.



    A TIMS card is a Trekking Information Management System card that costs about $20 USD. These were introduced in 2008 in order to eliminate illegal trekking operations, as well as helping rescuers locate lost hikers and coordinate rescue operations during natural disasters. When you get your card your whole trekking itinerary is entered into the TIMS database. In the case of an emergency, authorities will be able to use this information to try to figure out where you are, so they can get to you. All this information also helps the Nepali authorities regulate trekking activities in the country.

    The permit to enter Sagarmatha National Park costs about $25 USD. We obtained both of these documents via the company I hired our guide and porter through.

    There was a bit of anxiety at this checkpoint, as we weren't exactly expecting to see armed military officers eyeing everyone up and down. But thanks to our guide, we did not stick around here very long. The smaller size of our group also made it easier to bypass some of the larger groups who were waiting here.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2020
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  18. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Super Moderator Supporter

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    Who is the guy in the broad-brimmed hat and orange pack that is always just in front of you?
     
  19. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    That's my friend Jeff, the guy who opted to not use the porter and carried everything himself. Take a look at his relatively bulky backpack.. Later on you will discover what was in there (although not until day 10 or so)
     
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  20. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    On we go..



    These carvings should be familiar to you now. It's the Buddhist mantra written in Sanskrit that represents all of Buddha's teachings in a short sentence that's repeated over and over. This is one of the first things you see as you enter Sagarmatha National Park.

    Up ahead you can also see the next bridge..
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2020
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