Friday, October 13, 2023

The Grand Finale: From Lukla to Kathmandu - The Journey's End

In Lukla, our stranded crew awoke to panicked knocks and the tireless efforts of our dedicated guides who had been working tirelessly to ensure our return. What was supposed to be a 7 AM wake-up call was disrupted by a 5:45 AM alarm, heralding the news we had longed for - flights were finally set to resume.
Airport-Mission Success: Cheers and Anxious Anticipation at Lukla
In a whirlwind, we hastily packed our bags while anxiously checking WhatsApp for updates on our fellow trekkers. Our arrival at Lukla Airport was met with the thunderous applause of excitement and the nail-biting tension of hope, as each of us yearned for a ticket out.

Amidst the usual airport chaos - tickets issued, bags checked, and passengers ready to board - we stood, waiting and praying for the fog to relent. With each plane that landed, our anxiety mounted. Each boarding call was met with hopeful anticipation, and as we stepped onto that plane, relief and joy washed over us.
Finally out! The Bittersweet Journey Home
As we boarded the plane, the feeling was nothing short of exhilarating. We looked out of the window, knowing that we would soon be back home, reunited with loved ones. However, a sense of dread crept in as we contemplated the impending van ride.

5 or 6 Hours Cramped in a Van
Upon landing, the stark contrast between the lowlands' heat and the high-altitude chill was palpable. The once-distant memory of the tiny Lukla airport now appeared in vivid reality. Ditching our trekking gear for shorts, we searched for a van.

An Unforgettable Van Ride: Laughter Amidst Motion Sickness

A van arrived, adorned with stickers and style, and we all scrambled to fit inside while someone expertly loaded our bags onto the roof. Unfortunately, the seating arrangement was not thoughtfully planned, and a few of us battled car sickness during this winding journey.

Zip, Zap, Zoom! A Chaotic Descent

The journey was marked by the sound of animated horn noises, a symphony of beeps and beeps accompanying every hairpin turn. On these roads, being heard was equivalent to being seen. The mesmerizing views beyond our windows, though briefly glimpsed, were concealed by our mosh-pit-like proximity to fellow travelers.

Kathmandu: The Urban Contrast
As we arrived in bustling Kathmandu, the stark contrast between the city's urban hustle and our tranquil trekking adventure hit us. For two weeks, we had roamed the mountains devoid of motorized vehicles, witnessing both cultural and climatic changes. The adventure was drawing to a close.

Trickle Down: Farewell to Fellow Adventurers
At our hotel, we reveled in the luxury of a long-awaited shower. Some of us began packing, while others bid their farewells. First, Steph embarked on her journey, followed by Stacey, leaving just six of us for a final dinner. In the early hours, three of our companions departed, leaving a trio of adventurers.

The Final Day: A Farewell to Remember

The last three of us gathered for dinner, and Jess prepared for her voyage to Japan. John and I, the last two standing, spent our morning reflecting, sharing stories, and embracing the profound insights gained on this remarkable journey. Then, I headed to the airport, leaving John behind.
Then There Was One: Alone Yet Inspired
John Graves was left alone, and a message came in over the chat, "…and then there was one, standing alone in the wake of our collective adventure. As I reflect on a year’s worth of preparation, the meticulous planning, numerous ZOOM calls, emails and texts of questions and concerns, I’m filled with mixed emotions—humbled by the magnitude of the undertaking and your trust in me, exhilarated by the success of the trip, and profoundly blessed by the friendships forged and the experiences that unfolded. The memories etched in my heart will forever remind me of our time together in… THIS IS NEPAL!!!!"

This Journey's Legacy: An Adventure for the Ages

This adventure was born from a spark of an idea four years ago, an idea that overcame the obstacles of a pandemic to become a life-changing reality. We formed lifelong friendships, reveled in fun, and embarked on a journey that has opened a new chapter for MSSE. If you're contemplating the trip of a lifetime, join us, and experience the world's wonders.

Special Thanks: A Grateful Farewell
This is our final post for the Nepal blog, and we extend our heartfelt thanks to John and Holly for making it all happen. To MSU, for fostering a program that allowed this remarkable adventure to flourish. To Krishma and Peak Promotion, for orchestrating a seamless trek. To our guides, porters, and yak handlers - Sonam, Furi, Dasi, Ngwang, Gaglea, and Rinji - thank you for your unwavering support. To our fellow trekkers, the diverse crew that conquered every step of the journey - you are cherished.

And to Chat GPT: A Grateful Thanks

Before we sign off, we extend our gratitude to Chat GPT, my digital companion, for helping me craft these posts right from my phones.

A New Chapter Begins: Seek Adventure
As we bid Nepal farewell, we urge you to chase your own adventures, for this world is a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be uncovered. Until next time, safe travels! 😉🌍✈️

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Lukla Chronicles: Waiting in Limbo with Bated Breath

Our day began with bright hopes and soaring spirits, only to be struck by a heavy blow - the dreaded news we had all feared: no flights were coming in. Panic subtly crept into our collective psyche as we grappled with the uncertainty that now loomed over our journey.

Waiting in Limbo: An Agonizing Pause

The hours stretched endlessly as we collectively grappled with the uncertainty of what lay ahead. Travel agents scurried to adjust flight plans, and a sense of restlessness hung heavy in the air. We took to the streets, indulging in some retail therapy, and engaged in games to distract ourselves from the mounting anxiety. But beneath the surface, we were all awaiting news of our next steps with bated breath.

The Helicopter Option: A Glimmer of Hope
A flicker of hope appeared on the horizon when the possibility of a helicopter evacuation emerged. As the mist slowly encroached upon Lukla, it seemed that a helicopter might be our lifeline. We steeled ourselves for the possibility, ready to pay the price for a chance at escape. But then, a sudden twist of fate - the call came in, and the helicopters were grounded, their flights to Lukla canceled.

The First Six: Departure Amidst Chaos
Amidst the chaos, a glimmer of good news emerged. A group of six had the opportunity to catch a helicopter - a sliver of hope in the prevailing uncertainty. They embarked on a treacherous journey to reach the helipad, an hour away on foot. Upon landing, their adventure continued with a grueling four-hour drive to the hotel, navigating the chaotic traffic of Nepal's streets. Their urgency stemmed from international flights awaiting them later in the evening, propelling them into the heart of their departure.

The Next Three: Facing the Unknown
The rest of us waited, our collective fate hanging in the balance. Some among us were eager to take the helicopter down, yet logistics demanded that groups be combined to ensure efficient transport. And so, the next trio departed, their uncertainty echoing in our hearts.

Tom Rides Alone: A Brave Solo Departure
Tom, fearless and determined, faced the daunting journey alone. He joined a group of five French travelers in need of another rider. His departure was met with a tumble along the muddy trail, but resilience shone through as he met with the other three travelers, each step drawing us further away from Lukla.
The Waiting Game: In Hopeful Slumber
As we bade farewell to half our group, the rest of us waited. We wandered through the town, explored its nooks and crannies, and enjoyed an early dinner. But with the setting sun came an early slumber, fueled by the hope that flights would finally depart come morning. Our collective breath was held, for the culmination of our journey lay just beyond the misty horizon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Lukla: Awaiting Clear Skies Amidst Uncertainty

Our day began with a twist of fate, as Pemba, our gracious host, delivered some disheartening news. Lukla had been shrouded in a three-day veil of fog, grounding all flights to and from this vital gateway to the Everest region. Anxiety hung in the air, but we chose to forge ahead with optimism, determined to face whatever challenges lay ahead.

"Carry Me Back" Bags: A Kilogram of Responsibility
Our trek took an unexpected yet meaningful turn when we encountered "Carry Me Back" bags. These simple bags held a profound responsibility - each one contained approximately one kilogram of trash collected from higher reaches of the trails. They were destined for Lukla, where they would be recycled and properly disposed of. It was a poignant reminder of our collective responsibility to preserve the pristine beauty of this extraordinary landscape.
The Warmth of Our Guide's Home
On our journey to Lukla, Sonam, our unwavering guide, extended a warm invitation - into his own home. Located on the path to Lukla, his home became a welcoming sanctuary. Sonam's family was busy preparing momo dumplings, a treat we were fortunate to savor. We gathered around for tea, and the gratitude we felt was immeasurable. Sonam's children greeted us with smiles, and his son, Samir, led the way with infectious enthusiasm as we continued our trek to Lukla.
Arrival in Lukla: The Journey's End and New Beginnings
Our arrival in Lukla marked the culmination of nine consecutive days of trekking. We had come full circle, returning to the place where our remarkable journey had begun. We celebrated this momentous occasion with a well-deserved cup of tea and settled in to rest. 
As evening descended, we transformed the restaurant into a lively dance floor, raising our voices in song and laughter. The celebration was spirited, a reflection of the incredible bond we had formed over the course of our adventure. After all the revelry, we retired to our accommodations, hearts filled with hope that the clouds would part, allowing us to continue our journey home. 

Monday, October 9, 2023

Machhermo to Namche Bazaar: The Epic Descent

Rising with the sun, we embarked on what promised to be a monumental journey - a seven-hour hike from Machhermo to Namche Bazaar. This hike was a formidable challenge, one that we had wisely split into two days during our ascent. As we set out, the anticipation hung in the air, mingling with our excitement.
Our hike was peppered with moments of wonder and camaraderie. For lunch, we perched atop a hill at a place aptly named "Hill Top." Our furry friends, a cat and some amiable dogs, joined us briefly. 
Donna, in her candid fashion, expressed her hope for no more staircases - a wish we could all relate to. But as we left our lunch spot, we ventured straight into the enigmatic embrace of the clouds. The landscape stretched out before us, shrouded in mist, making the journey to Namche an ethereal experience.
The Arrival at Namche: Embracing the Mystique

When we finally arrived in Namche, our spirits soared. We had traversed a considerable distance, and the sense of accomplishment was tangible. A well-deserved cup of tea rejuvenated us as we set our sights on planning for the evening. There was a mix of desires among our group - some eager to shop, others seeking relaxation, and a few adventurers yearning to explore for one last day.
But before our evening unfolded, Pemba graciously invited us into his prayer room. Inside, we were greeted by the sacred artifacts of his ancestors, carried over generations when they migrated from Tibet. It was a profoundly special moment, one that allowed us to glimpse the rich tapestry of culture and history that permeated this region.

Namche Dinner: Preparing for What Lies Ahead
Our day concluded with a hearty dinner, and we gathered around to discuss the plans for tomorrow. The schedule was set - a 7 AM breakfast followed by our journey to Lukla. There, we would await the verdict of the weather gods, hoping for clear skies on Thursday that would allow us to continue our adventure.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Summiting Gokyo Ri: Chasing the Sunrise over Everest

At a staggering 3:30 AM, our adventure began with the energetic bustle of trekkers gearing up for an ascent like no other. In the quiet pre-dawn hours, there was no coffee or boiled water to be found. The mission was clear – we needed to conquer Gokyo Ri before the morning clouds obscured the majestic view of Everest. Headlamps lit up the path as we trod through the darkness, crossing Gokyo Lake 3 and embarking on the seemingly vertical switchbacks that would take us to the summit. 
Amidst our group, we had an unexpected companion - a small dog we affectionately named "Gokyo Dog." The ascent was challenging, a three-hour vertical climb that pushed our limits. But just when fatigue began to creep in, something magical happened. 

The sun started to rise, casting its warm, golden glow over the peaks of Everest. We were granted the incredible privilege of witnessing a sunrise over the top of the world. 
And then, it happened – we reached the summit of Gokyo Ri! After seven days of trekking, we had finally conquered this towering peak. The views that greeted us were nothing short of breathtaking, and the camaraderie among our group made the moment even more special. There couldn't have been a better set of fellow adventurers to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with.
The Descent and Our Circle of Kindness
As we began our descent, the reality of the morning hit us – we hadn't had our much-needed cups of coffee yet! The trek down took half the time of our ascent, and the sun now bore down on us. Our cold-weather gear was quickly shed as we sweated our way down. At last, we reached our haven, had our caffeine fix, and indulged in a well-deserved breakfast.
But it wasn't just food that nourished us on this morning. It was a circle of kindness that wrapped around us as we gathered in the dining hall. You see, today was Mary's birthday, and in the spirit of the day, we went around the table sharing our gratitude and reflections on our journey. Smiles turned to tears of happiness as heartfelt words filled the room. Greg and a few of us lightened the mood with some comic relief, but truthfully, there couldn't have been a better group of people to embark on this remarkable journey with.

Journey to Machhermo: Familiar Sights and the Company of Dzos
Our trek continued, leading us towards Machhermo. The sight of Gokyo Lakes 2 and 1 filled us with nostalgia, although some things seemed strangely unfamiliar despite our journey a few days prior. We even caught up with our trusty Dzos – the hybrid beasts of burden, part yak and part ox, who tirelessly carried our supplies from place to place. Eventually, we arrived at Tashi Dele Lodge, where we enjoyed a well-deserved lunch and indulged in a refreshing nap.
Dinner Celebration: A Sweet Surprise for Mary's Birthday
Our evening unfolded as we gathered for tea and placed our dinner orders. Cards were played, laughter echoed, and reflections on the trip flowed. But as darkness settled in, a delightful surprise awaited. A cake, baked in Gokyo, emerged to celebrate Mary's birthday.

 We all savored a slice, and Mary generously shared with everyone, including the dedicated teahouse staff. As the night quieted down, trekkers retreated to their beds, knowing that the next day would bring a seven-hour trek, another step in our epic journey.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Leaving for Gokyo: A Day of Sunny Adventures

Once again, we were greeted by the warm embrace of the sun as we opened our eyes, signaling the start of another thrilling day in the Himalayas. We kicked off our day with a hearty breakfast accompanied by the soothing sips of milk tea. However, today was no ordinary day; today was the day we embarked on our journey to Gokyo, and excitement was in the air!
Trail Signs and Lake Views: A Scenic Celebration
As we hit the trail, we couldn't help but notice the signs that marked the path to Gokyo, and a sense of jubilation washed over us. The anticipation built with each step, and when we caught sight of the first lake, we couldn't resist stopping to soak in the breathtaking scenery. With ice-capped peaks in the backdrop, the landscape looked surreal, like something out of a dream. The second lake further fueled our excitement, but it was the third lake that signaled our official arrival – Gokyo, we had arrived!
Gokyo and its MSU Connection

Our arrival in Gokyo was more than just a destination; it was a connection to our very own Montana State University. Gokyo holds a special place in the heart of MSU, with Mary Hubbard from our institution playing a pivotal role in a study here, supported by none other than National Geographic. This study delves deep into the fascinating history preserved in the mud of the Gokyo valley.

"The history is in the mud" - A National Geographic resource showcasing MSU's involvement in the Gokyo valley. Watch here: [History in the Mud]

Acclimatization Hike: A Glacier Surprise

Following our tea and lunch break, it was time to acclimatize – hike high and sleep low, they say. Little did we know that this hike would hold a delightful surprise – a glacier! (For those seeking a quick glacier knowledge refresher, a glacier is a slow-moving, massive river of ice formed from the accumulation and compaction of snow over thousands of years.)
The glacier stretched as far as the eye could see, a stark reminder of the ever-changing landscape. It was mind-boggling to realize that the very spot where we stood was once part of this immense ice flow. We snapped some incredible photos, celebrated our discovery, and began our descent as mist began to shroud the glacier and lake.

Dinner, Games, and National Geographic Dreams
Back at our cozy abode, some of our fellow trekkers introduced us to an array of entertaining games, from euchre to taco cat goat cheese pizza and Snurts. Others found solace in reading or unleashing their creative side through painting. As the day gave way to night, we had the privilege of listening to John share insights on how to join the National Geographic Fellowship, recounting his own adventure to Svalbard Island.

With departure time set at a brisk 4 AM, we all retired early, eagerly anticipating the next day's adventure. Our early departure had a clear mission – to catch a glimpse of the mighty Everest. Stay tuned for more thrilling tales from our Himalayan escapade!

Friday, October 6, 2023

Leaving Dole: Ascending, Learning, and the Chill Sets In

As the first light of day broke over the horizon, we awoke to a spectacular sight from our cozy haven at the Yetti Inn in Dole. But what really caught our attention were the helicopters zipping in and out for drop-offs and pickups before and after breakfast. An exhilarating sight, indeed!
Trekking Higher, Trekking Shorter
As we began our trek for the day, we noticed a curious pattern – the higher we ventured, the shorter our treks became. It's all part of the grand plan to help our bodies acclimatize to the increasing altitude. Trekking to our first stop, Lusa, took us just two hours, where we indulged in the most divine mango tea, a unanimous favorite among us.
From Lusa to Taehindle Lodge: A Flavorful Trek
Our trek continued to Taehindle Lodge, a mere hour away. After checking in, we savored some delightful tea and a hearty lunch before gearing up for a viewpoint hike. When we began the ascent, the viewpoint was enshrouded in mist, offering an otherworldly experience. While we couldn't see everything clearly, the thrill of hiking through the mystical fog was an adventure in itself. We then made our way back to the lodge, eager for more learning!
Jonathan's Seminar: Deciphering the Atmosphere
Jonathan took the stage to unravel the mysteries of how the atmosphere impacts our bodies, and he didn't spare any Celsius degrees in the process!
His mission? To help us understand why we feel the way we do at these elevations. The atmosphere at higher altitudes undergoes changes in pressure and the available oxygen (O2). At sea level, there's roughly 20% oxygen. Astonishingly, this percentage remains consistent regardless of elevation. However, what changes is the boiling point of water due to vapor pressure. At sea level, water boils at 212°F (100°C), but here in the Himalayas, where the air pressure is lower, it boils at 184°F (84°C). On the summit of Gokyo, it's even lower at 175°F (80°C), and on Everest, it's a mere 150°F (66°C). These variations arise from the air pressure pushing down on us at different altitudes.
Two relationships change significantly at higher elevations – pressure and available O2. It's the non-linearity of these changes that can pose challenges for climbers. Teahouses, for instance, are strategically placed to account for these factors. Even planes require longer runways for takeoff at higher altitudes due to these pressure differences. Additionally, there's a maximum elevation cap for planes.

The pressure at sea level amounts to 15 pounds per square inch (psi). As we ascend, the partial pressure of oxygen (O2) decreases. At sea level, it's around 3 psi, while on Everest, it's as low as 1 psi.

Kim's Dive into Altitude-Induced Pulmonary Edema
Kim took the reins to shed light on the effects of decreasing pressure on our bodies. One of these effects is pulmonary edema, which occurs due to constricted blood vessels that lead to leakage from the lungs. This leakage results from increased pressure on the walls of blood vessels. Normally, our blood maintains a pH of about 7.4, but in high-altitude environments, it tends to become more alkaline.

A Closer Look at Altitude Sickness

Here, let's delve into the three types of altitude sickness:

1. **Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Symptoms include headache, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea.
2. **High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)**: This severe condition is characterized by symptoms such as confusion, stumbling, and incoherence.
3. **Altitude Pulmonary Edema**: As explained by Kim, this condition leads to fluid accumulation in the lungs.

Hike High, Sleep Low: A Blood-Boosting Strategy

The mantra "hike high, sleep low" is the key to producing more red blood cells, enhancing our bodies' oxygen-carrying capacity. This strategy promotes blood cell production, which translates to more oxygen being delivered to vital organs. It also involves the production of chemicals in hemoglobin to help release oxygen and make blood thicker. At very high altitudes, individuals may even require blood removal due to excessively thick blood.

Jonathan's Personal Altitude Saga

Jonathan shared a personal anecdote about his battle with altitude sickness. On one expedition, he contracted food poisoning at 15,500 feet, which pushed his body to its limits. Altitude sickness felt like his brain was caught in a vice due to the mounting pressure. It was only after his fever broke three hours later that he started to return to normal. However, on the way down, he experienced High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), a condition that could only be treated by descending rapidly.

Dinner and Bundling Up: Facing the Cold
With the day's lessons complete, we prepared ourselves for our coldest night yet. We gathered our provisions and bundled up tightly to fend off the plummeting temperatures. It's only going to get colder from here, but we're ready for whatever the Himalayas have in store for us!
Stay tuned for more tales of adventure, exploration, and altitude-induced insights as we journey further into the heart of the Himalayas!

The Grand Finale: From Lukla to Kathmandu - The Journey's End

In Lukla, our stranded crew awoke to panicked knocks and the tireless efforts of our dedicated guides who had been working tirelessly to ens...