Sunday, April 4, 2010

Khumbu Valley

Hi All, the last 6 days are really hard to put into words. I will have to do it over several posts because there is just too much to say.
First I would like to talk about the people here in Nepal. Their disposition is so calming, spiritual and an overall sense of wellbeing. At all times we are asked if we are ok, need anything else or want more. The city here is extremely safe because the people don't want any bad karma. I bought a bucket of KFC chicken yesterday and had 1 rupee for change so I left it on the counter. The exchange rate is 70 rupees to the $1. The woman behind the counter chased me down the street because she couldn't accept the 1 rupee. I told her to keep it and she refused. Are you kidding me? I haven't seen anything like it before. For all the thousands of people I have walked passed in the streets I haven't been bumped once. On the streets of NYC it's like playing hockey. The other day I had received some bad news. The Sherpa's knew I was upset, came over and gave me a big hug and said their thoughts were with me. The Nepalese people are just so kind. I can only think that it stems from their religious beliefs. Enough said.

Two days after our arrival into Kathmandu we grabbed our gear and flew to the Khumbu Valley. This is the headway for every South side expedition of Everest. It was going to be an exciting time because of its history and it was going to be our first time seeing the mountains. We boarded the tiny non pressurized plane that seated I think 14 people, 7 on each side for the town of Lukla. Little did I know this was going to be a 25 minute plane ride from hell. We took off at 4,200 feet of elevation and quickly rose rose to 12,600 to get over the mountain pass. Just as a sense of dizziness started to swirl around your head you realized that you are about to fly into humongous cumulus clouds. I asked the pilot if they use any IFR or GPS to direct them. He said nope, it's all in their head. Sweet. Our plane now was bumping around like a cork in the ocean and then we had the sudden altitude drop. I don't know how far we fell but my foot was in my mouth causing me to gag and you heard a whole bunch of comments from the passengers that can't be repeated here. I looked up at the GPS device on the dash board and the flight plan called for banking left. At this point the pilots looked at each other in despair, then agreed, and then proceeded to bank hard right with the nose down pushing you deep into your seat wondering if this is how you were going to die. At the last minute they straighten out the plane, are back on course and you can see the runway in front of you. Please pull up Lukla's airport because it has to be the shortest steepest landing strip in the world. 10 seconds later we slammed into the runway at full speed, the pilots put on full reverse thrusters only to stop 20 feet from the wall that would of turned us into an accordion. Applause resounded from the plane and then the pilot turned towards us and gave us the thumbs up. I was shaking so much I didn't know whether to puke, smile or pass out. I couldn't believe we had made it. Needless to say we were the last flight in as they closed the airport due to poor visibility. No Sh_t. I forgot to mention. Julio and I were the only Americans on the plane. The other 12 were Iranians going to climb Mt. Meru. I don't know why I find that interesting but I do.

So we made it to Lukla alive, I think we did, because what we experienced over the next 5 days was much like a dream. We grabbed our backpacks off the tarmac and headed out of the airport and were quickly met by one of our Sherpa's, Lapka Gelu. Julio and Lapka Gelu had summitted both Cho Oyu in 2000 and Everest South side in 2002 together so it was a warm welcoming back. Lapka Gelu noticed we were a bit shaken so he took us to a local tea house for some tea to settle our stomachs and tell us what our itinerary was for the next 5 days. We were now at 9,200 ft. and going to have a short 3 hour hike to Phakding. No big deal as it was mainly down hill with a couple of ups and downs. What you quickly noticed was that everyone knew Lapka Gelu. The man (42 years old) is a huge star here and as we walked the trail we were constantly greeted by people that wanted to say hello or have us in for juice. One man brought us up onto his bench in front of his house and had juice in our hands before we knew it. After talking to him for a while we were to learn that he was starting a software company in Naples, Fl. and also building ultra light aircraft in Kathmandu. What??? These people are far more enterprising than you would think. Clearly he wasn't the norm but it was nice to see some people are doing rather well. We arrived at Phakding in the early afternoon to give ourselves a little reading and journal time. During the hike you noticed that you were in the beginning of the valley and only given little glimpses of the surrounding mountains. Basically, you were following the river up into the valley that started to get bigger and bigger. At dinner Julio and I were feeling good and decided to change up the itinerary. If we only knew what we were getting into. The plan was to head up to the Kongde lodge over two days camping out on the way up. Stay there for two nights and then head back. Julio thought it would be better to see more of the valley and get to Namche Bazar which is the main trading post between Tibet and Nepal. Sounded good to me. Lapka Gelu just obliged. The next morning we headed out onto the trail like two kids ready to explore. Then we reached this town not too far out when Lapka Gelu told us to drink a lot of water and eat some food. Fair enough. After that he turned around and headed off the main trail and up some stairs. I joked with him that we were headed straight up the mountain. He replied, "Yes". Oh No. For the next 6 hours we climbed straight up. 4,500 feet straight up. We never saw another person for the next 2 days. Nobody was that dumb to take this trail except us. I am going to try to download some pictures because they will take your breath away. While the pain was settling into our thighs we stopped for lunch on this perch that overlooked the whole valley. It was worth the pain. At this point we were at about 12,000 ft with mountains towering over us at 20 to 22,000 feet and we were the only ones there! It was a 3,000 foot drop off from where we were sitting. The buzz of the altitude made it palpable. We then asked how much further to go? Lapka Gelu said, one more ridge! For the next several hours Lapka Gelu said, "one more ridge". He was about to have a revolt on his hands. When we reached 13,200 feet it started snowing with a cross wind that would almost knock you over. We told Lapka Gelu if he said "one more ridge" again that we were going to wish very bad karma on him. He smiled and said he could see the lodge. A very smart man he is except it was two more ridges over. When we finally reached the lodge both Julio and I were exhausted. I was dealing with the beginning stages of acute mountain sickness and wanted to get sick. Julio's stomach was bothering him but for the most part was fine. At this point it stopped snowing, the skies cleared and Lapka Gelu smiling said look: There they were!!! Time stopped along with all sound, temperature and pain. Right smack in front of us in clear view was Everest, Ama Dablam, Makalu, Lotse, Nuptse and others. A total of 6 of the tallest mountains in the world. The entire Khumbu range was staring at us right in the face. I will never ever forget that view. More later.


  1. unbelievable - can't wait to see the pictures. Hope you are adjusting to the altitude.

  2. Love the story...I remember flying into Lukla with similar seems to set the tone right with it's intensity! Can't wait to see and hear more...

  3. Stay safe and please keep writing, I am already addicted to your blog!

  4. World's Most Dangerous Airport,+Nepal,+LUA

  5. Great to hear from you Billy! The plane ride in sounds right up your alley.
    It sounds amazing already!
    Please be safe.
    Can't wait to read your next blog!
    Rob, Sue, Sara and Critty...

  6. Very cool, Bill.

    Sue gave us the link & I've read your whole blog.

    - Tom Cahill