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Lukla to Namche Bazaar, Himalayas

April 21, 2009

I have lost track of what day it is but about two days ago we left Kathmandu for Lukla. Our Yeti Airlines flight was delayed 4 hours and we were overjoyed that we actually got to leave that day. It was a short flight on a small plane, not unlike my many Molokai Air Shuttle trips, except for the Lukla airstrip. Holy shit! The runway is angled upward between a cliff and a mountain, so you land at an incline and race up toward the mountain where there is a large stone wall at the end of the runway. Departing should be equally exciting, as you take off toward the cliff. There is no room for error, obviously. It was fantastic to finally be in the mountain region, where the air is clean and the landscape spectacular. We had a short 3 hour hike the first day to the Sherpa village of Phakding. Along the way were high mountains and deep gorges, terraced villages with farm plots, ancient stone carvings, stupas, and prayer wheels, with a raging turquoise river below. The trail was busy with yaks, mules, dogs, trekkers, and sherpas carrying insanely large loads on their backs fastened by a strap around their heads. In Phakding we stayed at Hotel Beer Garden. I ordered a hot shower for 250 rupees (~$4.00). At best it should have been called a "luke warm shower after 10 minutes of warming up." Stepping out into the cold air with my wet body, I have never been so cold in my life. Ever. Not even close. I seriously thought I was going to die before I could dry off and put my clothes on. It was not pleasant. And the cold will get much, much worse as we ascend ever higher.

Today was supposedly one of the hardest trekking days, even though we're only at about 9,000 ft. elevation. What makes it worse is that I am hiking with a group of 20 year-olds and sherpas. It was supposed to be an 8 hour hike and we did it in six. Bastards. Even the sherpas were amazed at how quickly we arrived at Namche. I really thought I had trained enough for this, but apparently not. The first part of the day was not too bad. The scenery was fantastic, with the trail winding in and out of villages and over the milky turquise Dudh Kosi river, with towering mountains on both sides, and an occasional waterfall spilling down to the river. I lost count of how many suspension bridges we crossed. The afternoon hike is what killed me. Up and up and up continuously. And I'm talking straight up. Almost vertical switrchbacks in some sections. Stone stair after agonizing stone stair. I thanked God for the yak caravans that forced us to stop and smash up against the cliffside so they could pass and I could catch my breath. The steep ascent dragged on for about 2 1/2 hours. I lagged behind in the group, huffing and puffing, heart racing, thighs on fire, sweat dripping down my face in the freezing cold. I am humbled.

Namche Bazaar is an amazing place. The whole village is arranged vertically on the cliffsides, with more stone steps connecting the shops and tea houses. And everything is terraced. I am actually feeling great after completing such a hard core hike, but a little scared of what is to come. I can't imagine doing what I just did at 18,000 feet, which is what will happen at Kala Patar. I settled in to my tea house, where we will stay for two nights, as we must do an acclimitization hike tomorrow - climb high and sleep low. Good times. Or as my Aussie trekking partner Marty would say (as he does about 500 times a day) "Happy Days."

Tags: himalayas, lukla, namche, nepal, travel, trekking

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