Monday, February 5, 2018

TREKKING EVEREST, Guest Post by Owen Floody



Everest with the famous Khumbu Icefall; view from
Kala Patthar

Our friend Owen Floody has embarked on numerous treks in the past year and a half, including the ambitious "Ultimate Everest" trek in the Himalayas. Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. He is a frequent contributor to The Intrepid Tourist. Here is the report of his Everest trek and a few of his excellent photographs.
 
Since my retirement in mid-2012, I have completed 12 international treks.  Of these, the longest and most demanding was Wilderness Travel’s “Ultimate Everest”, a trek that extended over 25 days in November-December of 2016.  My group of five trekkers assembled in Kathmandu and spent several days exploring this and other sites and royal cities in the Kathmandu Valley.  We then were flown to Lukla, where the trekking began.  The trek’s initial leg took us to the vibrant town of Namche Bazaar.  Beyond this point, our route followed an elongated loop, with the town of Lobuche at its far end.  At Lobuche, we spent several days following a spur out to and back from the Mount Everest base camp before circling back to Namche Bazaar along a different route.  Though we had hiked from Lukla to Namche Bazaar at the trek’s start, all in my group opted to return to Lukla by helicopter.  In addition to its obvious attraction of ease, this provided a very useful bird’s eye perspective on some of the terrain through which we had trekked.  Except in Kathmandu, we stayed in basic lodges and were fed well by our own traveling kitchen staff.
Everest (marked by the leftmost cloud) is just behind the Nuptse Ridge, with Lhotse to the right and below the larger cloud formation
As you would expect, views of Everest and other Himalayan peaks (especially Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Nuptse) were a primary goal and achievement.  However, the closest and best views of these (e.g., Everest with the famous Khumbu Icefall ) were not easy to come by, requiring climbs to 17,500 ft (at Gokyo Ri) and 18,365 ft (at Kala Patthar).  To some extent, but only this, the earlier parts of the trek prepared us for later demands by exposing us to gradually increasing altitudes.  For example, our lodges on days 4, 8 and 12 were at 11,270, 12,650 and 14,100 ft, respectively.  And Lobuche, the gateway to the base camp, sits at 16,200 ft.  Still, there is a significant difference between 14,000-16,000 and 17,000-18,000 ft and all of us found our highest climbs to be very challenging, even with the help of the Diamox that we took to ward off altitude sickness.  One tip I would give future Ultimate Everest trekkers is to strenuously avoid exposure to colds or other illnesses borne by fellow travelers.  All in my group paid the price for failing to do this.
Icefield at the top of Cho La Pass
Most of this trek’s figurative highpoints coincided with literal highpoints.  These included the aforementioned views of Ama Dablam, Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse.  In addition, I very much enjoyed the Cho La Pass, Ngozumba Glacier and some of the mountain views near the town of Dingboche. 
Views from Dingboche
In contrast, I found our visit to the Mount Everest base camp to be anticlimactic: The time of year at which the trek runs is not the Everest climbing season so that the base camp amounted to a sign-posted rock field, not a bustling climbers’ village.
Mani Rimdu Festival
On the other hand, an unexpected personal high point was the opportunity to see the Mani Rimdu Festival in Tengboche, as we passed through this town.  This visit was an option on just one of the season’s three Ultimate Everest treks and I would strongly urge any future trekkers to take advantage of the opportunity, if available.  
The festival highlights a set of 16 masked dances performed by the monks at the Tengboche monastery.  These dances depict the establishment of Buddhism in the Himalayas, partly by representing the struggle between the legendary Padmasambhava (aka Guru Rinpoche) and demonic forces.  They were complex, incredibly colorful and provided the opportunity to hear traditional Nepalese musical instruments and music.
All told, this trek was very demanding but also unique in both artistry and landscapes.  What other trek can boast sightings of two of the four tallest mountains in the world (Everest and Lhotse) that begin early and continue to improve as you approach the ultimate destination more and more closely?  If this sort of experience appeals to you and you’re ready for the challenging altitudes, then this trek belongs on your bucket list.

1 comment:

Karen Minkowski said...

Congratulations, Owen, for these remarkable achievements - and especially for having such fun in your retirement!! All the best to you,

Karen