Nepal · 14 Days · 38 Moments · October 2016

David Pavlak

Pete & Dave's odyssey through Nepal


We plan to cross the Cho La (pass) Sunday if weather and fitness permits. That will put us on track to our number two goal, Kala Patthar, best close view of Everest.
Clear sky this morning. Both slept reasonably well. Set off on the Sacred Lakes hike which brought us up to the limit of our ascent profile at 16,306 ft. Had a crystal day to experience the best view of Everest's south face in the Himalayas. Pictures can't capture it all. This particular place was our number one goal. The glacier was rumbling by. They're very dirty this time of year. Seen 5 of the 6 Gokyo lakes. The 6th would take us beyond our limits. Planning to summit Gokyo Ri tomorrow if we feel well. Couple hundred feet higher. Many people with Khumbu Cough up here. Broke into our cough drops today to keep our throats moist. Used 6 of our 180. Extreme zoom on Everest, can probably see the Hillary Steps.


Solar charger has been working great. The valley is considered kind of a sacred place. Thousands of rock cairns everywhere We're staying in the place that has the world's highest bakery - a nice treat. Actually got a hot shower, first in 3 or 4 days. Nepali food is pretty disinteresting especially when battling the altitude.
Set out for Gokyo in mist and a few snow flakes through tundra. Climbed above the clouds about 2 hours in when we began to see the first emerald pools of the Gokyo lakes. Stunning scenery everywhere. Altitude really slowed us down. Dave slept well last night but was especially tired during the hike. Peter didn't sleep much due to the common problem of two stage breathing. During acclimatization your CO2 level is good and that's what controls respirations until your brain notices that your oxygen is low and tells you to breath hard. During sleep this can wake you up every 5 minutes. Diamox keeps you in rapid breathing mode so you get better sleep and acclimatize more rapidly. It makes your fingers tingle. I'm feeling good but Dave is still a little tired. If we're comfortable tomorrow we may do a full day hike up to an adjoining glacier where you can have the world's best view Everest's south face. The ice starts just above Gokyo. Bringing Microspikes (like crampons) with us tomorrow.

2 days ago

If we sleep well tonight then it's on to Gokyo (15,612). The British docs Simon and Lucy recommended half doses of Diamox tomorrow and for a few days until we're caught up on the altitude. Our ascent profile is pretty safe but sleeping and eating will be easier. It was 30 degrees today so our room is probably 35. No problem for our good sleeping bags. Sitting by the yak dung fueled pot belly stove in our Lodge's dining room is pleasant. That has been how it was for the last couple of nights. The Sherpas are only allowed a short period each year to gather dead wood so it's pretty precious. Only dinner hour gets heat. There has been a lot of downtime each afternoon and evening, pretty boring and cold when the afternoon clouds chill things off. Everybody gets to bed early so they're up and out at daylight. Typical tropical split of 12 daylight and 12 darkness.
We visited the Machermo Porter Shelter & Rescue Post today. The route to Gokyo is especially prone to Acute Mountain Sickness because it is a gradual climb and there is no route that goes directly down to a low altitude. (We have helicopter evacuation insurance). It was only recently that many porters were able to stay in shelters and tea houses. They are also very prone to AMS because they are often flown up from low altitude to work in the high country, often without good jackets or shoes. IPPG is an organization from the U.K. that keeps a steady stream of volunteer doctors on site. It was heartbreaking to hear some of the stories. We plunked down all of the money that my Human Resources friends gave to me to donate. I was originally targeting schools but there is only one school up this high and it is well funded - the Hillary School is where the kids go, about 3 hrs from here. They board there.
Hiked through a cold fog, spitting snow, to Machermo(14,465ft) by way of Luza's peace pole. Tundra. Sherpa soup for lunch. No views today.

3 days ago

13,776ft at Dole after hiking 4 hrs from Mong La through forests of Juniper, Rhododendron and Birch. Crystal blue sky. Feeling good today after we both had slight nausea yesterday. Musk deer up close. Sherpa soup and lemon ginger tea for lunch. Dhal Bhat planned for dinner.

4 days ago

Had to stop at Mongla at 13,075 ft. because the views were too nice to head the mile downhill to Phortse Tenge. Hilltop Sherpa Lodge sitting on top of the hill. Big Golden Eagles flying around. Ama Dablam dominates the view. May see deer in the morning.

5 days ago

Moving up to Phortse Tenga tomorrow, back up to 12,750ft. It will take 4 days to reach Gokyo in order to avoid AMS. Planning to stay at the following places in order: Phortse, Dole(13,308),Machermo(14,408), Gokyo(15,583). Wifi may be tough. This is more backcountry than what we've been doing, but still very trekker friendly.
Big hike today up to 12,729 ft, higher than either of us has ever been. Visited Everest View Hotel that has great views of Ama Dablam and Everest. Continued to Khumjung which has been amazingly rebuilt. Largest town in the Khumbu. Hillary sponsored a school there. All the schools still closed for the holiday. Big yak bulls came down the street and even the Sherpas ran for cover. The caravan yaks are really naks (hybrid females), much more easy going. Feeling very good and ready to move on.

6 days ago

Going on a long acclimatization hike tomorrow, then back to Namche Bazaar for one last night in a town. Going to Khumjung and Khumbu, both hit hard by the quake. Hoping to find a way to donate to schools there but most are still closed for the holiday.
Pete and Dave on acclimatization hike.
Small acclimatization hike above Namche past helipad. Sagarmatha Park Visitor Ctr. Pose with Tenzing Norgay in front of Namche's sacred mountain Chomolungma, Nepali name for Everest (our first look). Sagarmatha is the Sherpa and Tibetan name.
First look at Everest. Lhotse showing in this picture.
Morning view from Namche Hotel. Yak steak for dinner last night was great. Yak steaks are really buffalo in Namche, but that varies by region.

7 days ago

View from Namche Hotel. Big farmers market tomorrow, it's a big deal once a week where sherpas come from miles to sell their stuff.
More crazy bridges (check out the two in the picture) and awesome scenery as we climbed the 1,600 feet to Namche Bazaar. 4 hrs, mostly crude steps straight up.

8 days ago

Ang dawa Sherpa in front of his lodge.
First peak at a larger mountain above the lodge. Beautiful up and down stroll to the entrance to Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park. Many suspension bridges along the way. First look at one of the higher mountains. Already made the trip worthwhile. Lodging at Buddha Lodge tonight, free if you eat. 49 degrees in our room last night but warmer at the Buddha tonight. Acclimatizing a second day at 9,175 ft before tomorrow's 2 hour climb to Namche Bazaar at 11,500.

9 days ago

Decided to leave for the mountains, had enough city. Caught an 8:30 flight to Lukla, world's hairiest airport. Only one kind of short take off and landing plane can land on it. Beautiful 6 mile walk at about 9,000 feet. Stayed at a nice new lodge in Phakding for $1.85 (really) but spent $20 on dinner and breakfast. Met a couple of Brits and a couple of Aussies drinking beer on a deck in town. Discovered Collin and Carl lived 2 blocks from where my dad (Peter's) grew up in Leeds. Funny story about Carl and a box of matches. Cracked us all up but not for general audience. Collin had a major headache next day due to beer and cigs at altitude. We've been sticking to lemon tea.
Sherpa Lodge Phakding. Can't control the first picture in the series for each journal entry, so there you have one of the nicer shared toilets in Nepal. Not sure if we want to show you the other end of the spectrum. Will ponder it.

10 days ago

Toured greater Kathmandu today. Temples, funeral pyres at Pashupatinath, Mother Theresa's home for poor and sick outcasts.
Peter tries to blend in (he's in the grey shirt). Our friend Shaila who operates Mi Casa, our Kathmandu inn, working on the 10th day of festival Dashain, most important family holiday. Great guy.

10 October 2016

Sherpa beer before we head to the mountains and really can't drink. Dave pretending he drinks again. My bindi is running.
This might mean Sherpa crossing.
Our room in Kathmandu, Durbar Square on Dashain, most important festival of the year with sacrificed animals given to monks, Peter tagged by a holy man.

9 October 2016

Doha, Qatar
We're on our way and I wrote the long intro on "questions" on the plane between JFK and Doha, Qatar. Qatar Airways is top shelf but the price was great. We had taken the train from Rensselaer to Penn Station and then on to a Howard Johnson's to spend the night. This morning we took the quick Air Train to JFK. All went smoothly. Amtrak was $84 pp round trip, plus another $6 each for the train to Jamaica and the Air Train. 12 hr flight to Doha then 3 hrs layover before the 4 hr flight to Kathmandu. I'm struggling a bit with this journaling app but I think it will be good when I figure it out. The phone keeps swapping words as I type so you may see some odd words here and there. Some of this blog is going to be boring because I'll be doing some equipment reviews and other details that only Nepal trekkers that I share this with may appreciate.
Seventh question -What group are you going with? Pete & Dave are freewheeling it because we're such world renowned travels. Seriously, the major trekking routes are fairly straightforward and people do this all the time. We can pick up a guide or a group along the way if needed. Guides are very inexpensive and very helpful for learning the culture and history in Nepal, but for navigation we're trying to be independent. Similarly for porters. A Sherpa porter is very affordable and they really need the work, especially following the quake. We really want to do the work ourselves but may break down if we're under the weather or feeling guilty. Our plan to relieve guilt is to donate to every school we pass. I read that this is a reliable method of getting funds in the right hands. A $10 donation goes a long way. When I mentioned this to 4 people in HR one day they all threw $20 bills at me. I hope to post the 4 school pictures later.
Sixth question - how can you afford this? Nepal is an inexpensive place and I'm in a happy place following 35 years of saving, thanks Bernie Burns, and the recent sale of our home. I also had saved up vacation time that will cover most of the period. Nepal is very cheap once you've paid for the $1000 flight. A nice hotel with breakfast in the heart of Kathmandu is $34. Out in the country trekkers usually stay in tea houses (lodges) for under $15 per double room, including meals for 2. We'll also be camping, which is available in most places for free, a modest donation to the local school is encouraged. More on donations later. The high altitude and cold will limit our tent camping on the EBC trek above the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar - by our choice. We will camp above 14,000 only if the tea houses are full.
Fifth question - how do you get 7 weeks off? Dave retired this year at age 57 with his NYS benefits, lucky dog. I'm blessed with great bosses. I credit Michele Walsh, our VP of Nursing, for encouraging me to pursue this leave with my boss Scott Bruce, now stuck with my work, and our CEO Vic Giulianelli who seems more excited about it than I am. These folks have provided incredible support and understanding. I'm very thankful to have worked with Vic for the past 35 years. He has carried forward, and elevated, the nurturing environment that associates enjoy at St. Mary's. Gretchen, Mike and Allysia - thank you so much for covering for me. The place is in good hands.
The plan for the trip developed as I read more than a couple of "trek Nepal" books that I will try to acknowledge when I can dig them out. Everything was bounced off Dave but he really prefers me to plan. I also read incredibly detailed blogs all over the web, Rough Guide, Lonely Planet &TripAdvisor were especially helpful as were numerous independent blogs. Just type in "Can I pick up Diamox in Namche Bazaar or should I bring it?" and you'll get good answers. The Everest Base Camp Trek is one of the most widely discussed trips in the literature. Both the popularity and the degree of difficulty turned me off initially and sent me more toward the Annapurna Region which is slightly more tame and has some options for getting away from the crowd. Ultimately the EBC Region won first place with us because of the world renowned views and because I discovered a loop that would take us away from the busy route for much of the trek. We may end up in Annapurna as well, 2nd half of trip.
Fourth question. So who's going with you? The first person I asked answered instantly "Hell yeah, when do we leave?". Dave's been a great friend since we were 3. We traveled together extensively when we were young and found that we are very compatible travel buddies - except for that all night drive through Texas when Dave butchered MacArthur Park lyrics for 8 hours. It was the same trip where we learned a few things about altitude sickness on Grand Teton. Things like water is better than wine for curing the headache. Dave and I have been backpacking almost every other weekend since December - another blessing from my wife. We knew that we had to become accustomed to packing about 40 lbs over 11 hilly, rainy miles a day. More on that later, but we found that we're still good companions on the trail. We've also learned most of the latest ultralight backpacking techniques which make modern backpacking so much easier on us old timers. More on that too.
The next questions were... Is you're family going with you? No, my son is busy with school and neither Keaton nor Bernie had any interest in backpacking 150 miles through thin air in a region where toilet paper is a novelty. Bernie has blessed and encouraged this trip from the onset. She knows that it is important to me and she recognizes that at age 57 my window of opportunity would never be more open due to physical limitations. I love Bernie dearly for the support. I know that Keaton will get to Kathmandu someday too because he has an adventurous soul. Backpacking is much less important than girls and parties at age 19. Been there.
"Why Nepal!?!" It was the most frequently asked question since Dave and I decided to take the trip. It was almost always followed by the statement "You're nuts!". I really don't think that we're too crazy and I'll try to explain by answering the introductory question. Back in 1996 I read two unrelated articles that put me on the road to Nepal. The first was a discussion of countries that were poor, in need of assistance, inexpensive to live in, and tolerant of Americans. I had been looking for potential places to retire young and volunteer time at clinics where Bernie (my lovely wife) and I could apply our basic clinical skills to some good. Nepal fits the bill in all of these respects, plus some. The other article was Outside Magazine's 1996 preview of Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air" which turned me into a junkie for adventure non-fiction for then next decade. I have no desire to summit Everest, but I have every desire to see one of the world's beautiful countries.
Qatar Airways

7 October 2016

The boys setting out from Rensselaer Train Station.