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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Audio Dispatch

via Satellite Phone

Working on a Sat? While on vacation?

Part of one of my roles while here in Nepal is to provide technical support for Alpine Ascents' communications and blogging. So today I spent a fair amount of the Saturday "working."

Steve and I were up early - me at 3:15 AM and Steve a few hours later. With a breakfast gathering scheduled for 8 AM, I thought I might grab a workout at 6 but after throwing on my workout gear and heading down the basement fitness center I discovered it doesn't open until 7 AM. No longer in Seoul with the 24/7 fitness center... Since that didn't give me enough time, I settled for a shower. As it was, we were still about 45 minutes early for breakfast.

But that's all good because several other climbers, guides, and staff were also already down for breakfast. Steve and I sat down with guide Jose Luis and Lapka Rita Sherpa, the sirdar and lead guide. Lapka has been with Alpine Ascents since 1996 or so and lives in Seattle. He was also on the climb or two ahead of us on Aconcagua in 2010. Steve climbed with Jose Luis in Ecuador in late 2010 so it was a very lively chat with lots of questions and catch up.

Also at breakfast was Julie who is one of Island Peak climbers and a friend of Pedro and Lara whom Leslie and I have been working out with in our Mountain Conditioning group fitness class for several years. (While I'm on the subject of MC - instructor Carl Swedberg is AWESOME :-)) Guide Eric was also down.

A bit later the base camp cook, Jennifer and expedition leader, Garrett join us. All in all we sit around chatting and drinking plenty of coffee, and slowly eating until about 9:30am and then it was time to work. Steve and Julie headed out to explorer Thame, while I grabbed my tech gear and headed up to the AAI command center (aka Garrett's room).

With no less than seven of us on and off and moutains of equipment and gear crammed into the twin room, we spent several hours working on setting up and checking out comm gear and computer setup ups. I gave Garrett a quick iMovie tutorial and he praticed a few media processing and uploading workflows to ensure efficient operation while on the mountain. EBC trekking and Island Peak guide, Ben, arrived in Kathmandu and showed up before lunch. Others were busy with their other important pre-trekking details, like Jennifer checking materials inventory lists and researching recipes. Quite an operation and so many details - certainly a treat to see these professionals at work behind the scenes.

Joe and I headed out to buy some SIM cards at the local NCell cell phone shop. Joe helped me pick up a super, super cheep package that allows me gigabytes of 3G data and very low cost voice minutes that I promptly put to the test with a call to Leslie! We went scouting out for solar panels but the shops were closed. Back to the command center for some more configuration and check outs.

With a break for lunch in the hotel restaurant, we met 'Billy' who, along many other things, is the main person behind Himalayan Experience's (HimEx) blog. You might recall HimEx and their leader, Russel Brice, as the featured guide service in the Discovery
Channel's terrific "Everest: Beyond the Limit" reality series. There was a lot of talk about all of the high profile expeditions on Everest this season. There will be a larger media spotlight on Everest this year compared with the past few seasons. That's climbing media so you have to look in the right places. Here's a couple of links:

After lunch, Steve and Julie were back from their walk about and I said, 'Hello, got go back to work!"

We sorted a few more things out and headed out to the patio for a succesful check of the two SPOT position tracking devices I provided for the Everest / Lhotse climb and the Island Peak climb.

With that, Garrett and Ben headed out to Thame for some more shopping and Steve and I hung out in the lounge and the room until about 8 pm when we ventured out for some pizza and Everest beer at Fire & Ice, likely the best pizza place in Kathmandu (I'm told). I was really good - I read that the woman who started this restaurant years ago imported her own computer-controlled Moretti Forni pizza oven and that's why the pizza is so good.

My "working" Saturday is offical done and so am I.

A Perfect Beer

A local Kathmandu brew


Friday, March 30, 2012

The Yak and Yeti

The Yak and Yeti looks like it was once a super nice hotel, now it has a nice well worn feel to it. It's cool. Wood and brick.

I spent a little bit of time on the patio before the wind kicked up. It's quite nice. Although only 3 hours or so in Kathmandu and I'm already looking forward to breathing mountain air!

Arrival in Kathmandu

Definitely a different country. As soon as I stepped off the plane, the so far clockwork-like travel grinds to a halt - I sort of saw that coming with the dubious looking paperwork and forms that were necessary.

The entry line to process the visa application was one hour and 45 minutes! Then it took 15 minutes to locate my two bags in the huge heap of luggage. Once outside its the attack of the taxi men. "Need a taxi?", "Taxi, Sir?", "Best taxi, can I take your bags?',...

Some random guy comes me. "Mr. Kurt?" Immediately I'm not sure if this is the guide service's man in Nepal or another hustler that might have read my name off my bag. He looks a little young. My suspicions are mostly gone when he mentions the actual name of the man in Nepal, Jiban. He grabs one of my bags then pulls me off the side of the flow of people traffic where he stacks my two bag and says "wait here." I'm thinking that he is going to bring the van around, but instead he comes back with a cell phone and hands it to me - Jiban.

I can't understand much of what Jiban says but I gather that the guy and what now looks like three of his buddies are either going to drive me to the hotel or take me to a hotel shuttle van. They grab my two bags and after talking to some the taxi men for a bit, head off across the small parking lot. I follow them over to a van marked Yak and Yeti Hotel. The driver tells me that he is going to take me to the hotel after we wait for another passenger. The two guys that carried my bags over are now asking me for money. The smallest bill I have is a ten and that was no way $10 worth of portering. I say, "I don't have any small bills, sorry." And they say "Give us twenties!" So I'm like no way, here's a ten, split it, now beat it.

With my gear loaded in the van, I wait. After a while, the driver wanders off. About a half hour later, he comes back closes all the doors, starts it up and we take off for the hotel. ? I'm wondering what happened to this other person we were waiting for. After a little bit, his cell phone rings, he pulls over, talks for a bit, and then makes a U turn and heads back to airport. And we pick up the other person. Okay. And then finally we are actually on the way to the hotel.

The city streets are insane. Lot's of garbage, rubble, people everywhere, cars, trucks, motorcycles all over the road. Chaos in motion (mostly). I saw a cow going down the road and cars were beeping at him.

At the hotel Yak and Yeti I was met by Joe from Alpine Ascents. I got checked in, bags to my room (another $10!), and now on the Interwebs.

Planning to head down to the lobby in about 20 minutes to say hello to Garrett and the guides as they will be having a guide meeting.

My roommate and great friend, Steve Richards, who I first met and shared accommodations with on my Aconcagua climb in January 2010. will be arriving a bit later this evening then I think we are all going to dinner.

More on the hotel itself later.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Traveling to Nepal

The adventure kicked off yesterday with the type of air travel I like best: uneventful. 20 pounds of various electronics and a month's worth of off-grid drugs (prescription, mind you) went thru the TSA without a blink.

The Korean Air 777-200 took off on time and I soon got comfortable in my deluxe economy first-class seat (aka on the aisle with an empty middle seat). My inflight entertainment was the billionth showing of Anchorman on my iPhone.

Overnighted here in Seoul at the airlines provided accommodations at the Hyatt Regency Incheon. Not too shabby. Barely got my bags dropped before I conked out for 8 hours. When I woke up, there was not much to do at 3 AM local, so I grabbed a workout to continue sculpting my guns.

Shuttle to back to the airport in an hour and then on to Kathmandu at 8:30 AM.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day by Day Itinerary

FRI Mar 30: Arrive Kathmandu and check into the renowned Yak and Yeti Hotel, a cornerstone of the Kathmandu scene.

SAT Mar 31: Kathmandu. City exploration and gear shakedown.

SUN Apr 1: Kathmandu. All trekkers and climbers gather together for a welcome dinner. Most will arrive on this day.

MON Apr 2: Kathmandu. From the centrally located Yak and Yeti we begin our exploration of Kathmandu. While modern by Nepalese standards, Kathmandu is a sacred city to both Hindus and Buddhists. Our tour is an important introduction to understanding the cultures which lay ahead. Kathmandu is prominently featured in both Buddhist scriptures and Hindu texts such as the Ramayana. Our tour includes the 3000-year old Swamayabhu (monkey temple), the great Stupa of Bodnath and the chaotic Hindu temple complex of Pashupatinath. This temple is home to many Hindu ascetics or Sadhus.

TUE Apr 3: After final administration requirements, we fly via Twin Otter to the landing strip in Lukla. Weather permitting, this flight offers outstanding views of the eastern Himalayas. In Lukla, we meet and join our Sherpa staff, load the yaks and begin the ascent to base camp. Our first day is an easy walk to lush environs of Phakding, located on the Dudh Kosi river. Hiking time: 3 hours

WED Apr 4: We follow the Dudh Kosi, ascending 2,300ft/700m through Himalayan pine and Doedar cedar forests, to the celebrated village of Namche Bazaar (11,300ft/3444m). The village of Namche is an historic trading post where Nepalese and Tibetan traders exchange salt, dried meat, gold and textiles. Besides being a superb place to shop for traditional crafts, Namche remains the central trading post in the Khumbu, attracting Himalayan and lowland merchants. Our group spends two days in Namche affording us the opportunity to acclimate, visit local markets and spend time with friends in town. On the hike we capture our first glimpses of Everest and neighboring peaks. Hiking time: 5-6 hours

THU Apr 5: In the morning the group takes an acclimatization hike, gaining 1000' to take in the vista on the patio of the Everest View Hotel. In the afternoon we have time to visit sights in Namche Bazaar, including the Sherpa museum and local marketplace.

FRI Apr 6: Perhaps one of the most fascinating days of the trek, we travel to the village of Thame (12,464ft/3800m), off the main trekking path. We have the unique opportunity of visiting the home of Lakpa Rita Sherpa, our Sirdar (lead Sherpa). His family has been a mainstay of this small community, raising yaks and farming. This gives us an intimate view of Sherpa culture while visiting a traditional home. Interestingly enough, a number of famous climbing Sherpa have come from Thame. The ‘Thame’ experience is one rarely afforded to trekkers. Hiking time: 5 hours

SAT Apr 7: Waking early we climb to the Thame monastery and further explore local Buddhism. We tour this 400 year-old gompa and learn about its inner workings and the lives of its monks. As we tour the monastery we discuss the wall paintings and artifacts that are central to Buddhist practice. Before departure we will hopefully have the opportunity to meet and receive a blessing from the Thame Rinpoche (head priest). From Thame we walk to the beautiful village of Khunde (12,400/3780m), one of the largest villages in the Khumbu and home of Sir Edmund Hillary’s hospital and school. The day’s walk is moderate and rather pretty, winding through thick cedar forest. Hiking time: 6 hours

SUN Apr 8: We continue on and climb to the village of Tengboche (12,683ft/3865m), the cultural and religious center of the Khumbu. At the monastery we attend Buddhist ceremonies and rituals performed by local monks. Vistas from Tengboche are spectacular. The jagged peaks of Thamserku and Kangtega stand to our south as Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam are visible to the north. The Monastery at Tengboche is one of the most well-known in the world as the Rinpoche is revered throughout the Buddhist community and has authored a number of books and essays. In the past our groups have had an audience with the Rinpoche and received his blessing. Views from this locale (one of the finest on earth), include Kwangde 20,293ft/6185m , Tawachee 21,457ft/6540m, Nuptse 25,843ft/7876m, Lhotse 27,883ft/8498m, Everest 29,035ft/8850m, Ama Dablam 22,487ft/6854m, Kantega 22,235ft/6777m, Thamserku 21,674ft/6606m. We take time to visit the community Sherpa Cultural Center and excellent nearby bakery, and descend slightly to lodge in the village of Deboche. Hiking time: 4-5 hours

MON Apr 9: We climb to the village of Pheriche (13,907ft/4238m) which is not far from Dingboche (a village en route to Island Peak). Pheriche has become famous for its high altitude research center. The center attracts world renown physicians who acquire data to analyze the effects of high altitude on human physiology. During our stay we visit the research center and learn more about the effects of high altitude on Himalayan climbers. Hiking time: 4 hours

TUE Apr 10: Pheriche. Additional rest day acclimatizing and hiking.

WED Apr 11: Above Pheriche, the character of the terrain changes, and we begin to understand the starkness of the high alpine landscape. Our path climbs the terminal moraine of the Khumbu glacier and continues to the settlement of Lobuje (16,174ft/4929m), where we spend one night. This trail passes through a famous memorial which honors the many Sherpa who lost their lives in the high mountains. Lobuje is located on the flank of an old lateral moraine of the Khumbu glacier. Hiking time: 4-5 hours

THU Apr 12: The trail winds past the Italian Research Center through the high tundra and glacial moraine to Gorak Shep (16,924ft/5158m), the last inhabited area before Everest Base Camp. Gorak Shep presents a rougher environment and gives the trekker the true flavor of the nighttime rigors of mountaineering. In the afternoon we take a short walk up the moraine to look down on the chaotic Khumbu glacier and take in the closeness of these renown Himalayan peaks. Hiking time: 4 - 5 hours

FRI Apr 13: Arrival at Everest Base Camp.  We leave Gorak Shep and cross the moraine of the great Khumbu glacier to reach Base Camp, which lies beneath the sweeping ridges of Everest and Nuptse. Everest Base Camp at 17,300ft/5273m, is a sprawling tent city set amidst glacial debris. Here the climbers begin final preparations for their ascent of Mt. Everest. Hiking time: 6 hours

SAT Apr 14 - SAT Apr 21: Loose plans include:  troubleshooting issues, as necessary, with Base Camp communication gear, training with Everest climbers, an ascent of Kala Pattar (18,300ft/5577m), a small peak with excellent views of Everest, Nuptse and nearby Pumori. Many Everest photos are taken from the summit of Kala Pattar.  Also, potentially tackling other nearby trekking peaks such as Pokalde (19,049ft/5806m) and exploring other trekking routes back to Lukla.

I will be trekking out either solo (i.e. not with a group) or with just my friend that is climbing to Everest Camp II.  We will be supported by porters.  Should be very interesting.

SUN Apr 22: Enjoying the downhill walks we take our time and return to Namche Bazaar. This seemingly remote village is suddenly a center of commerce where we spend the evening and morning shopping, drinking coffee, getting shaves, sampling food and enjoying all the thrills of “urban” life. Hiking time: 8 hours

MON Apr 23: In the afternoon we descend the hill from Namche and enter the lower valley, returning to lush greenery and the Dudh Kosi river. This night's stay is in Monjo, just at the head of the lower valley. Hiking time: 3 hours

TUE Apr 24: Our final walk to Lukla takes most of the day. In Lukla we begin the process of readjusting to the lowlands and prepare for the flight back to Kathmandu.It is a memorable night with much laughter and general merriment. Hiking time: 5 hours

WED Apr 25: Early morning flight to Kathmandu (weather permitting) and we spend much of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the deluxe services of the Yak and Yeti hotel.

THU Apr 26: Free time to tour the city including the temples and sites of Durbar Square and the Thamel section.

FRI Apr 27: Early morning departure from Kathmandu.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Alpha Nerd Trekker

I will be carrying the state-of-the-art RainOn Adventure Tech field kit as I venture into the Khumbu.  RainOn Adventure Tech is a hand selected set of devices, apps, and accessories for location sharing, expedition dispatches, documentation, and entertainment.
The iPhone is the heart of the RainOn Adventure Tech field kit and acts as our field computer, media input, capture, and editor, communications device, and entertainment source (e-reader, music, movies, and games).

We are very excited to be using the mophie juice pack plus for the iPhone 4 and testing the exciting, new mophie juice pack powerstation PRO to more than double the battery life of the iPhone in such a stylish and cool case. Also the mophie's standard micro USB connector for charging means one less cable for us to carry. The same cable is also used to charge the zoomIt SD card adaptor and the standard Apple iPod cable is not needed in the field. In our opinion, mophie makes the best battery cases for iOS devices and we can't wait to check the performance to over 20,000 ft. in and around Mt. Everest.