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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Update from Pheriche

Greetings from Pheriche.  By this point, you should have seen my two spot posts that showed my locations in Pangboche and now Pheriche.  The towns are pronounced pangbowchay and ferichay - both en route to Everest base camp.   I'm doing really well these days.  No problems with altitude or illness so far and I hope it stays that way.  I fear the illness more than the altitude now.  Each day moves along in the same way.  I get up to the morning black tea served by our kitchen staff.  We get out of our sleeping bags and head to some central place for breakfast.  The meals are filling and nutritious.  I like the food and find it good enough to keep me interested in eating.   Next, we all head out for our eventual destination.  From Namche, we headed to Pangboche - about a 15k trek that took roughly 4.5-5 hours.  It was a beautiful hike.  We did not gain much altitude but we had to climb and descend several steep hills.  I took roughly 200 pictures during the day so I hope to upload them today once my tablet gets a full charge.  Once we got to Pangboche, we all peeled off our gear and settled into the common room for tea.  I think there were roughly 3 hours that separated the first from the last expedition members.  Some took their time and ate at the bakeries en route while others pressed on without much stopping time.  I took a rather casual approach stopping for pictures and water breaks.  The sights were too amazing to pass up. 

Pangboche consisted of about 20 buildings - perhaps more.  Each had the same rectangular stone arrangement and tin roof.  There were bakeries, internet cafes and lodges located in the "city" limits.  Several of us walked over to the bakery where we sat for multiple pots of black tea.  A pot has about 1 liters so we were sufficiently hydrated after the tea break.  After our tea, we headed back to the common room in our lodge and ate a huge meal of vegetarian dumplings and french fries.  What a great meal!  I ate several rounds and felt great afterwards.  The accommodations were outstanding as well.  Each of us had a bed in a structure without nylon walls.  Yep, we slept inside.  In Namche, we slept in tents for two days or rather three nights.  I love tent sleeping but if a room is available, I don't mind a bed from time to time.  Pangboche gave us luxury.  We even had pads on the beds.  Life couldn't get any better.  A great meal and a great night sleep meant that I was one happy camper. 

We woke up to the same tea routine and breakfast that consisted of the usual cereal and egg sandwiches.  Just after breakfast, we headed up the hill to a small temple where we got our expedition blessed by the local Lama.  The ceremony is called a Puja.  It was quite an affair.  We all sat around while an old guy dressed in maroon and gold North Face branded clothing spoke in the local Nepali dialect.  He gave us his blessing after we paid him some honorarium but he said we needed to conduct our big Puja on May 1st at basecamp.  Dan immediately asked questions about the date and the potential problems of not going up the hill to acclimatize.  You see, the Sherpa will not violate the Lama's wishes but the Lama assured the Sherpa that it was OK to climb higher than EBC provided we come down for our ceremony on May 1st.  That late date would greatly affect our climb if the Sherpa were not allowed to ascend beyond EBC.  Needless to say, we all sat intently listening to the outcome of Dan's conversation.  All seems to be well with the timing though.  Our Sirdar (the head Sherpa) assured Dan that he and his compatriots would be allowed to climb above EBC.  We all felt some relief but as we have grown accustomed to the constant changes in Nepal, our relief may be short-lived.  Stay tuned to that update....

After our ceremony, we all pushed off for Pheriche where I am now.  It is now almost a full day after I arrived and I am getting ready to head out to Dugla - our next stop.  Yesterday's hike was a casual 1-2 hour trek through some amazing areas of lush grass and rolling hills.  As you can see from my spot update, we gained a little altitude (roughly 300 meters or 1000 feet).  It was an easy day to Pheriche.  I walked alone because I wanted to pace myself and take in the sights at my own leisure.  NBC has a huge contingent heading up the hill to video Joby jump off the summit in his squirrel suit.  There were about 200 yaks carrying huge loads of camera equipment.  I believe the NBC folks are flying up to base camp (from now on, referred to as EBC for ease).   Hopefully they don't get sick by the sudden change in altitude.  Speaking of NBC, I saw a 12 year-old kid lugging a huge white ABS plastic case that was marked with "Team lift required" and then a sticker with the weight posted as 144 lbs or about 70 kg.  I was impressed by his strength and endurance.  Our kids ought to take note that they don't have it hard.  I have plenty of pictures of that kid to show my son.  Hopefully, he will gain some appreciation for the ease of his life to date.

Throughout the entire trek, I wore flip flops and shorts.  Many people comment on my choice of footwear but I assure them that these are my usual footwear.   For those of you who know me, you might wonder what else I would wear.  My entire outfit remained unchanged throughout the trek.  Yep, I am starting to stink a bit but the Action wipes help kill some of the foul stench.  The only outerwear that changed on my body was my upper-half coverings.  I wore the same base shirt throughout but put on my thin smartwool top along with my puff sweater (synthetic downish top) over that.  Some may care about the clothes so I figured I would post that in my update.

The weather has been divine so far.  Each day starts off a bit chilly but warms up quickly with the sun.  My apparel of choice works well for the weather.  Even the evenings are relatively warm.   We hear that the weather in EBC is really cold and the sky is socked in with clouds and occasional snow fall.  We feel great as a group and have no reservations about our pace or the conditions.

Speaking of the kitchen staff, these guys work their collective tails off.  Most of them are kids below the age of 18 and they all hope to become climbing Sherpas.  I learned a ton by just chatting with the climbing Sherpas with my friendly tent mate Neal who serves as translator.  Additionally, Dan provides a little more detail to the stories.  Here is what I learned to date...

A kid becomes a lowly cook assistant at the age of 12 and serves the expedition members for all meals.  These kids lug equipment between stops on the trek and clean all the dishes/flatware, make the tea, boil water, and do all the scut work.  If a kid shows promise by working hard, they get an opportunity to lug kerosene up the hill.  That job is not for the faint of heart.  Kerosene burns skin and constantly sloshes around the jug and spills a bit as the jug moves.  These kids will move the jugs up from basecamp to the higher camps as needed.  If they do that job with some level of skill and do not get ill, they get to port equipment up.  The entire process works just like an apprenticeship in most other professions except for the fact that being a climbing Sherpa is a tough job that pays well but offers more danger than most other professions - save for the drug-selling gangs in the US. 

As for me and my climbing team, we are all doing well.  I am starting to settle into a groove.  Today is the last time I will have reliable internet so my posts will be much shorter.   Expect the updates daily - at least via my spot.  Thanks for following....