The one frustrating thing about the end of this trip was trying to make it back for a meeting with ICIMOD and fortunately they were happy to reschedule. This morning I gave a brief presentation of my recent research and some preliminary results from our fieldwork, which was finished off by a brief overview of our bigger project goals by Milan. The presentation was very well attended and received, so a big thank you to those at ICIMOD who came out today. We continued the conversation over lunch at ICIMOD’s cafeteria, which was absolutely delicious. A special thanks to Pradeep Mool for organizing the meeting.
After the meeting, we took the car over to Boudhanath. Boudhanath is a huge stupa that was constructed a long time ago. I am kicking myself as I never made it there on my previous trips and unfortunately it suffered a great deal of damage during the earthquake and is in the process of being reconstructed. Nonetheless, it was a miraculous site to see and I will certainly make sure I return after the reconstruction is completed. Back in the hotel today is really a day of catch up and planning. I’ll be taking a bit of time in Europe to celebrate finishing my PhD, so I’m incredibly excited to get some rest. It’s hard to believe that just yesterday morning I was still in the mountains and tomorrow afternoon I’ll be on a flight to Spain. Fortunately, having a day here allows me to get my laundry done! It has truly been one wonderful trip and I was so fortunate to have a great team. To all those who were involved, especially those in my immediate group who I spent the last month with, we certainly accomplished a lot and I can’t thank you guys enough for your support. Also, for those who have been following along with me on this excursion I also appreciate your support from afar! It’s been my first endeavor into actively blogging on a trip and it’s made things quite reflective and enjoyable. I hope you enjoyed it. Until next time!
The entirety of today was spent in a car and was one of the most interesting car rides I’ve ever had in my life. The road of Phaplu to Kathmandu is full of constant bends and for the most part is about 1.5 cars wide meaning every time you pass someone on the road it gets a bit interesting. This is especially true when you are rounding a bend (honking to let anyone potentially rounding on the other side that you are there) with thousand foot drops on your side. We actually stopped one hour into the ride where a car had supposedly gone off the edge earlier that morning. Before that, about 30 minutes into our trip, we had to stop and wait as a 6 ft diameter boulder that had fallen into the middle of the road was removed using a series of long wooden poles, stones, and a hydraulic pump. The morning wasn’t too bad because we were still relatively high up and it was cool. From 11:00 onward, things were incredibly warm as we were driving along the Sun Kosi, which is at a much lower elevation and we had no air conditioning in the car. I shouldn’t complain as I had the front passenger seat all to myself, while the other six were scrunched in two rows of seats in the back – they sure are troopers!
The one benefit looking back was that it was quite fascinating to see the change in the villages and the different regions. It was particularly interesting along the Sun Kosi where there were a tremendous amount of rice paddies in the river’s flood plains. However, I am incredibly grateful to be writing this safe & sound from Hotel Tibet in Kathmandu. It feels absolutely wonderful after 11 hours in the car today to have safely returned and it’s time to get some rest.
Or perhaps this entry should be called the start of the road as we’ve finally hiked back to where the road begins and can take us back to Kathmandu tomorrow. I learned a few very interesting lessons today: (1) when they say the hike is 4-6 hours uphill, they mean that you are literally hiking straight uphill on rocks like stair steps and through little streams and mud for 4.5 hours, (2) they will try their best to make sure anything you could possibly want goes according to plan and they will work insanely hard to do this – only problem is realizing that you need to use your own reason to determine what is actually probably or not.
As I write this I feel a little guilty, it’s currently 8:30 p.m. and we just got into the lodge one hour ago despite our 5 a.m. start this morning. We had a break for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea along the way, so in total we were hiking for 11 hours today. The initial estimate of how long it would take us was 10 hours and that it would take the porters 12 hours. Therefore, we were expecting to get in some time in the early afternoon and hoping the porters (who are working tremendously hard) would get in around 5 p.m. The reason I feel guilty is the latest estimate is that the porters will be hiking for hours in the dark and get in some time after 11 p.m. tonight. That shouldn’t happen and I feel responsible for being the cause of that.
There’s no other way to put it than today’s hike was hard… extremely hard. We are all quite tired for the long days we’d been putting in getting down here and parts of the trail were quite muddy forcing one to slip and slide, but somehow we ended up staying on our feet! I guess all that practice on the glacier with loose rocks slipping underneath our feet has paid off. The uphill was one of the most brutal climbs I’ve done in a while. Leigh and I hiked in the Grand Canyon this past March and climbed from the river to Grandview Point in one day. That trek was pretty much straight uphill for hours and this one was quite similar. There were some spectacular waterfalls along the way and some beautiful flowers (some special lilies of which we were informed in the lodge that we missed!), but for large stretches I put my head down and just focused on one foot in front of the other and getting up the hill. Not to mention that it was quite hot with the sun and clear skies out (our flight today flew back to Kathmandu with no problems – we would have been on it and back in our hotel by 10 a.m. had we been patient and waited! Woops.), so my entire body was shortly dripping with sweat the whole way up. The 100% humidity didn’t help and it felt like half the time I was hiking with fogged glasses.
By the time we reached the top of the hill we still had 3.5 hours of hiking to go. From my state of exhaustion, this was hard to fathom, but we had a plan and with the end in site we made it to Phaplu just as it was getting dark enough to the point that it was difficult to see the road in front of you. I can only imagine how hard this day is on the porters and I apologize for it. The reason we started trekking was so that we could make a meeting in Kathmandu at 3 p.m. tomorrow. I believe the folks we were meeting with will understand. When we arrived at the lodge, we were all anxious to get moving. We had thought we had planned for an overnight ride back to Kathmandu. We quickly found out that this was not going to happen due to the danger of driving these winding roads in the dark and the number of drunk drivers that might be on the road.
Obviously, better to be safe than sorry, but it was a tough pill to swallow that we would not be taking off until tomorrow morning. Instead, we’ll be driving back to Kathmandu tomorrow in place of being back in time for the meeting. If I had known this was the case, we would have waited a day to see if we could fly and if it didn’t work, then we would have started trekking – instead I had opted for the sure thing, which in the end turned out to be a sure thing that it would not work… disappointing. Hence, I learned a valuable lesson that they will try and make everything work and that I need to wake up my common sense and realize when things will be too hard for the porters and when traveling will be too dangerous. Good to know for next time. So tonight is filled with a mix of emotions. We would have been in Kathmandu already had we waited on our plane, which is disappointing. We’ve been hiking from sun up to sun down, which was exhausting. Decisions I’ve made have forced the porters to work harder than they should or are paid to do, which make me feel guilty. At the same time, it has been a spectacular trip and these fleeting emotions of frustration will be gone in the morning or when we’re back in Kathmandu. With it being the last day of trekking, there should be feelings of joy and accomplishment – I’m sure that will sink in tomorrow as well.
Today was a long day and quite frankly all over the place. At 6 a.m. you could see across the valley giving hope that perhaps a helicopter could come and take us to Phaplu, but these hopes were quickly dashed within the half hour as fog completely took over. There are few options with respect to our return – we either sit around and wait for clear weather and hope a plane takes off for the first time in weeks or that we can get a helicopter cheap enough to take us to Phaplu where we can proceed to drive 8-10 hours back to Kathmandu OR we get hiking to Phaplu, which is 2 hard days away with quite a few sizeable hills. I decided it was better to have the sure thing, so we started hiking.
Shortly thereafter though, the clouds parted and we had some blue skies. Helicopters started flying in and out of Lukla making us all question the decision I had made. Fortunately, there is a helicopter pad in Surkhe, although after an hour of waiting around trying to arrange a helicopter we were still out of luck. Every passing helicopter was accompanied by strong feelings of longing, wishing that we were on it. After being in the field for almost a month now, saying that I’m tired is an understatement – I’m exhausted. Next year I need to remind myself that when I schedule a rest day for everyone that I need to participate in that day of rest as well. Nonetheless, with our hopes of a helicopter dashed we continued on the trail only to have new potential at lunch! A guy who we had seen in Surkhe said that he could arrange a helicopter – terrific news. After 30 minutes of phone call we were scheduled to have a helicopter in Puiyan, which was only an hour away. I’m not sure who was more excited, us or our porters, as they are also utterly exhausted by this point and time as well and saving 20 hours of hilly trail would have been very welcomed by them.
So off we went to Puiyan with the hopes of a helicopter only to see clouds slowly roll in and a light drizzle begin. Laxmi soon got a call that the weather was too poor for anymore helicopters today and our luxurious ride was canceled – bummer. After trekking until 6 p.m. (our latest day so far), we’ve arrived at our midpoint. Tomorrow, we’ll wake up at 4:30 a.m. in an attempt to hike 10 hours and get to Phaplu at a reasonable hour such that we can jump in jeeps and drive the 8-10 hours back to Kathmandu and hopefully not have to drive straight through the night… I guess we will see. It feels great to finally take the pack off and rest and it does feel good that we no longer have any remaining hope of a helicopter. The trails here are quite muddy and the trains of mules are frequent, so sometimes you aren’t sure if you’re stepping in mud or something else. And I almost forgot there are also leeches although tomorrow is supposed to be worse on that front – I only had one on my leg today, so I can check that off my bucket list. It’s certainly interesting to see the lower portions of the Khumbu. One part almost felt like a rain forest, which was pretty impressive until you realized after 20 minutes that rain forests are wet and that the path was going to be mostly mud for the next hour. It’s time for us to rest up and eat our fair share of dal baht tonight.
The hike from Namche to Lukla is an exhausting one that took about 6.5 hours with an hour break for lunch in Phakding. The last hour is mostly straight uphill and to make matters worse it started raining after lunch. This brought about an interesting dilemma – put on the rain jacket and pants and soak my shirt in sweat or not wear them and get it soaked by rain. I ended up switching back and forth constantly trying to stay comfortable. The good news is that we’ve made it to Lukla and after having a nice bowl of hot sherpa stew, the rain stopped, the clouds started to clear and helicopters started flying in for the first time in two weeks… perhaps we’re going to get lucky and be able to fly out of here tomorrow!
Tonight we’ll have a nice celebratory dinner with our guides and porters and eat our dal baht the local way – using our hands. It should be a nice night and hopefully these clouds will continue to clear such that we can fly out tomorrow morning! Fingers crossed.
So much for the lovely views that greeted us yesterday – today was all clouds, mist & rain. We woke up early, since we would be awake by 6:00 a.m. anyways and got started trekking from Debouche to Namche by 7:15 a.m. Fortunately, the rain was fairly light, so it never soaked through our jackets or clothes. The rocks were a bit slippery on the downhill, but this didn’t slow us down too much. Greta and I ended up making it to Namche in just over 3 hours, which felt like it was exceptionally fast, but on the major uphill we took our time and had a nice conversation.
The trail was actually quite lovely and many flowers are beginning to bloom. This was a pleasant treat as there really wasn’t much to see beyond the trail! Supposedly the clouds have blocked any flights from coming or going to Lukla over the last 9 days, so fingers crossed that they’ll part for us just enough for us to squeak through and get back to Kathmandu two days from now. Most of Namche is now closed, although they have installed a new fountain for which they had the opening ceremony today. The fountain will greet trekkers entering Namche, but we were unable to get close as there is a great deal of consruction going on down there are it appears people are working on renovating the stupa that suffered damage in the earthquake. Hence, after a brief walk around town and a quick visit to the market, the rest of the day was spent catching up on email and resting our legs for a big day tomorrow.
The big treat for tonight though is trying the local beverage called chang. I enjoy brewing beer back in the States, so I’m always curious to try the local beverages and understanding how they are made. Friends can attest to a rather interesting concoction of chicha that I made this past spring, where I had a dozen friends contribute the enzymes in their saliva to help brew a drink, but I digress. Anyways, Laxmi and I had a great talk over my last dinner at Imja, where he told me all about how they brew chang and still it into raksi. If I understand correctly, chang is a fermented millet drink, although I believe it can also be made with rice or barley depending on what is locally available. It has a milky color and a little citrusy flavor that reminds me of some sour beers I’ve had back home. It’s quite tasty and provides a nice warm sensation as it goes down – perfect for the cold temperatures up here. If I understand the process correctly, chang can then be distilled in clay pots, which creates the more common alcoholic beverage called raksi. I find raksi to taste like a watered-down whiskey. Anyways, it’s time to enjoy a couple glasses of chang with my dal baht, so cheers to a successful trip and a safe, on-time flight out of Lukla!
Besides feeling quite exhausted and being very ready for a shower, one of the things you realize on the way down is the view you are leaving behind. The view this morning, just like yesterday, was absolutely spectacular. I opened my curtains at 5:45 a.m. (we are sleeping in now after all) to the sun shining beautifully onto Ama Dablam. As I looked up valley there was a clear view of Island Peak sitting behind Chukung showing us what we were walking away from. By the time we finished breakfast and were ready to start walking down to Debouche at 7:15 a.m. the clouds were already rolling up the valley. Now the biggest concern is can we get a flight out of here! Supposedly there hasn’t been a flight in days due to the clouds, but I’ve got a good feelings we’ll get out of here no problems.
The trek from Dingboche to Debouche is fast on the way down. Unlike the next couple days, this one is pretty much straight down. The only uphills were over in a couple minutes, just enough to let you know that you were still at altitude and the air is fairly thin, but nothing that stops you from talking. Today’s hike went especially quick as Jonathan and I had a nice conversation for the first 1.5 hrs until my alarm went off and I had to excuse myself because it was time to call Leigh. This was certainly one of the beauties of going downhill and being so close to the cell phone tower in Tengboche, I was able to talk to Leigh for an hour as I made my way all the way to Debouche. I know some nature enthusiasts might say that I wasn’t appreciating the trail or soaking in the experience, but after 17 days apart it sure felt good to be able to take out my cell phone and give her a call – definitely made my day.
We ended up getting into Debouche around 10:30 a.m. We started joking (half seriously) that we might as well continue on another 4-5 hours to Namche seeing how we’d still get there in the early afternoon! However, it’s good to take your time on the way down to give the knees a rest and the real reason being that going from Dingboche to Namche would be a huge strain on the porters. They’ll already be working very hard in two days to go from Namche to Lukla, so it’s good for us to take our time now such that they can maintain some energy as well. The other luxury at Debouche besides the beautiful forests is the hot shower. I enjoy roughing it (if you can call having bed tea, washing water, and three meals cooked for you each day roughing it) and scrambling all over the glacier each day, but it feels quite good to be clean. I’m going to savor this feeling until we continue on to Namche tomorrow.
What a spectacular day for many reasons. Today was the first day where the surrounding mountains finally said hello in the morning. I woke up at 5 a.m. to clear skies and sunshine. As I looked out my window I had a beautiful view of Ama Dablam. Alina, Greta, and Jonathan must have crossed their fingers last night and received some luck because their sunrise of Everest from Kala Patthar was a success. I was just happy to soak in the surrounding scenes before heading off on Lhotse today. Unfortunately, at 7 a.m. when I went onto Lhotse to start working misty clouds rolled on through rendering my laser range finder useless. We decided it would be best to head up to the source and hope for clearer skies along the way, which turned out to be the case. Off and on for the next 4.5 hours on Lhotse was sunshine and mist, then more sunshine and some mist – pretty unique weather up here to say the least! Fortunately, with a bit of patience and a bit of luck of my own, we were able to get it all done.
We returned to Chukung by lunch time and I'm not going to lie it felt quite good to be finished up with fieldwork. After 17 days with a single day of rest of Dingboche, I’m quite exhausted. As I walked from Chukung to Dingboche, our resting point for today, I was filled with joy. The fieldwork, while having some ups and downs, was truly a success. I had a huge smile on my face and for the first time in a while I decided to put some headphones in as I hiked. As I listened to my ipod, I sang and from time-to-time busted out a few dance moves here and there. What a wonderful day.
The morning skies were full of clouds and rain as I woke up without an alarm before the bed tea arrived at 5:30 a.m. After being up here for 3 weeks, sleeping is quite easy as you no longer have to worry about breathing hard just by getting up in your tent in the middle of the night. Everything was broken down and ready to be shipped downhill by the time I finished with my washing water and got out of my tent. Laxmi needed to get a few things in order before we left, so it was a late departure at 7:30 a.m. The only thing on today’s agenda was retrieving the pressure transducer, which monitored the lake level, and walk down on the terminal moraine to see any changes and see how the lake lowering project was going.
I was quite impressed at the work being done at the outlet. There must have been at least 30-40 people chiseling bricks, moving them to where the gate will be constructed, or working on the rebar to be placed in the concrete. Laxmi told me that the Army camp goes through 30-40 kg of rice per day… that’s a lot of work! It seemed as though the project was making good progress, which was great to see. I’ll be anxious to see the finished product the next time I get back to Imja, which is planned for May 2017. After taking a brief break at the outlet, we made our way back down to Chukung. This time without the flood, the journey was quite quick! I was thankful because my legs were exhausted from the last 4 days work and especially from yesterday. Laxmi joked that I should be tired after my work on the glacier, especially in the cold weather yesterday. It seems like the cold weather is here to stay for a while. I guess at 5000 m the high hovers somewhere around 40 when the sun is blocked by the clouds – not like the warm summer temperatures I get to look forward to when I get back to Austin!
When we got to Chukung I realized I forgot to pull the laser range finder out of the equipment bag, which meant there was little I would be able to measure on Lhotse Glacier. I was slightly relieved as I told Laxmi I really could use a day of rest. Tomorrow morning we’ll hit the ground running and get on the glacier. It seems like Alton and I both identified the same starting point of the Lhotse flood, which was a nice confirmation. Hopefully, we can be on the glacier for 4-5 hours of rainless weather before we turn around and start heading downhill. The only bummer about today’s rest day is the lack of internet! I was very much looking forward to reconnecting, but I guess I’ll have to wait one more day. Tomorrow should be a good one, especially with some fresh legs and a bit more oxygen!
Today, I was planning on finishing everything up on the glacier and whether it was rain or shine I was determined to make this happen – as you can guess it was rain. Out of the 8 hours we spent on the glacier today, it probably was not raining for perhaps 2 of them. That’s where the umbrella I purchased in Lukla finally came in handy as it was able to shield the dGPS computer and my notebook from getting soaked. We spent about 4 hours doing dGPS of another 25 points. Afterwards we made some slight alterations to the wind tower by removing the main wind speed and wind direction sensor and mounting it on the stainless steel AWS. It’s not that I don’t trust the PVC pipe to withstand a year’s worth of harsh conditions – okay, that’s exactly the reason… I wanted to hedge my bets and in case the PVC wind tower fell apart some time during the next year, I wanted to make sure that the main wind sensor is safe and sound attached to the stainless steel tripod. Fingers crossed the wind tower survives.
I also took the 2 hrs of cloudy skies to back up all the SfM photos I had previously taken. I have to check the numbers once I download all the photos, but I believe I took 1,000 photos over a 15 m x 60 m plot of land. Before I had taken the downwind and upwind sections on different days and I figured it couldn’t hurt to get them all in one fell swoop such that I can hopefully process them all together. It’s going to take an insanely long time to process, but I’m excited to see the end results. Once we finished up the changes to the AWS, the dGPS, and the photos, I downloaded the weather data and proceeded to the time-lapse camera to grab all the photos that we have so far.
As I was getting the time-lapse camera, the glacier/lake decided to speak out quite a bit! For a span of 5 minutes, there was just the sound of constant movement of avalanches and landslides in addition to what sounded like the ice creaking perhaps calving a little bit. Sadly, everything was so foggy/misty that I couldn’t see a thing. All I had was my imagination / curiosity trying to fill in the blanks as to what all the various sounds were. While we’ve been out on the glacier, we’ve seen our fair share of landslides into the lake from the lateral moraines. These hardly produce any wave and are quite harmless due to their small size. We’ve heard many avalanches, but have only actually seen one down Imja Glacier. It stopped as soon as it hit the debris covered area and was quite far away from us at the time, so we were quite safe. This was the first trip where I’ve really witnessed so much activity and I’m guessing it’s due to the time of year, where snow is starting to be dumped on the upper unstable portions of the glacier and consequently avalanches must occur fairly frequently.
Back at camp it feels a little bittersweet. It’s quite empty without my other team members and their tents have all been packed up and sent down. They even took half of my kitchen table! So now it’s just space for two people to sit across from one another. It makes me think of Big Brother (perhaps the newest season has already started!) when the main table shrinks as contestants get eliminated. Being solo up here certainly makes me ready to start heading down. Plus, over the last couple weeks we truly have accomplished everything we set out to do, which is a great feeling. When I’m back in the States, I always look forward to these trips – the simple life-style of sleeping in a tent and being off the grid, gives plenty of time to relax and think, catch up on books I’ve been wanting to read for a while, and focus on staying healthy so all the work can get done. The scenery is also unbeatable, granted during this time of year you really don’t get to soak it in like in non-monsoon months. It’s still quite breathtaking though and makes me feel incredibly grateful and lucky that this is what I get to study. At the same time, I do miss the little things – like some good clean clothes, bed sheets that don’t smell like some sweaty person has been sleeping in them the last two weeks, a nice warm shower, some fresh food like a chicken ceasar salad, having a bathroom that’s not a toilet tent, and most of all being able to get back in touch with friends and family. I’m anxious to hear how my dad’s Lyme disease is going and if he’s back on the trail. And most of all I can’t wait to catch up with Leigh and here how everything’s going. Being off the grid certainly has its perks and I love it out here, but after declaring this trip a success, I’m excited to get connected once again.