Friday, October 3, 2008

Memories Frozen In Time

The long awaited photos from our trip are now available for your viewing pleasure. It was difficult going through 2000 photos and dwindling our cache down to the very best, but we did it and we hope you'll appreciate only having to view 1300 of the most spectacular (and sometimes repetitive) photos. Enjoy!!
Nepal : Kathmandu and Pokhara
Nepal: Annapurna Trek
Nepal: Everest Base Camp Trek

To my perfect travel partner

Thank you for handling all the haggling in India, allowing the mid-range hotel splurge when I was tired of cold showers and squat toilets, for letting me eat your meals when what I ordered was disgusting, for letting us hire a porter so I wouldn't complain about my heavy bag all those miles of trekking, for buying a Toblerone when I had had enough of Dal Bhat, for waking up and chatting with me when I couldn't sleep, for letting me have the best seat on our cramped India trains, for all this and so much more, Thank you.

I cannot wait for our next adventure.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Gear Review

Not wanting to carry my extremely heavy hiking boots, I decided to get something that I could both wear and carry through the shit-filled streets of India (where flip flops don't cut it) and hike through cold, wet, and snowy Nepal.
After walking through human and cow feces covered Indian streets and hiking 270 miles through the Himalayan mountains I must say that I was quite happy with these shoes. The North Face Ultra 104 GTX XCR are heavy trail runners that don't look completely stupid (like most running shoes) and allowed me to hike through snow, rain and mud. The heavy sole and gortex lining kept me stable and dry. I got a few blisters, but that's bound to happen any time you hike 10+ miles per day. Check 'em out here, cause they are worth it.

Underwear while traveling is always a hassle. It starts smelling like shit (literally, not figuratively) after a few days of hot and humid weather or long days of hiking. On a whim, I bought a pair of Exofficio boxers that had the tag line "6 months, 60 countries, 1 pair of underwear." It wasn't just a ploy. Even though I brought 3 pairs of underwear with me I wore these 9 days of every 10. On that tenth day I usually went commando. The underwear dried in hours after a thorough sink-wash and didn't retain smell - a must for those long days of hiking. If you are planning some months abroad or just hate changing your underwear from day to day, I highly suggest them.
Mylinh wants to give a shout out to her light trail hikers. The North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR treated her well - she especially like that the light color helped her spot leaches creeping up to her ankle. She escaped much more blister-free than myself (men are supposed to get calluses) and her soles gripped like no other, even on the slippery Everest base camp rocks. If you're a chick, check 'em here.


The one form of entertainment on the trail was reading. Here's a list of the books we read and our recommendations.

On the Road Jack Kerouac - A timeless classic. I didn't fully appreciate it when I first read it in high school, so I must suggest a second read after you've actually had some experience being out on the road. The joys and struggles of endless, aimless travel are beautifully captured and the historical context of Kerouac's post-WWII America is worth exploring. Highly recommended.

Dharma Bums Jack Kerouac - Another classic novel that inspired the "rucksack revolution" - essentially hippies leaving the streets of San Francisco and tramping through the mountains making up ridiculous haikus and drinking too much cheap wine. Best read while in, or dreaming of, the back country. The highly poetic prose makes for a fun read, but it gets a little ridiculous. Recommended.

The Last Lion: Winston Churchill, Alone 1932-1940 William Manchester - One of my favorite books of all time. A masterfully written biography of one of the central figures of the first half of the twentieth century. The author expertly weaves together quotes from personal letters, government documents and previously unexplored diaries to make an extremely captivating tale of Churchill's life. Even more interesting, the author provides the gripping historical background, which includes the build up of WWII generally and Britain's inside political follies allowing Hitler to invade half of Europe. Best read in conjunction with the first book in this two part biography, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory. Highly recommended.

Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoevsky - A book picked up on a whim just before an 11 day trek. It ended up being a highly readable classic that was fairly entertaining. At best it was a novel that delves into the depths of the human mind after a calculating murder and a look at Dostoevsky's critique of 18th century Russian utilitarian philosophy. At worst, it was a moderately interesting crime thriller. If you're looking for a classic, I'd recommend it, but otherwise I'd look elsewhere.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert Pirsig - A novel loved by some, but not by me. Essentially, a megalomaniac's tale of his and his son's motorcycle trip across the country as a background to an explanation to his shallow and plagiarised philosophical theories. The theories are largely lifted from eastern philosophy (like Taoism and Buddhism) and became so repetitive that it seems the author thinks people will accept his theories if he just keeps repeating them in tedious verbosity. The author comes across as arrogant and his philosophical system is mediocre at best and completely unoriginal. The Buddhist doctrine of Zen is not discussed at all and any discussion of motorcycle maintenance is glib. Not recommended.

To The Lighthouse Virginia Woolf - Supposedly one of the best novels ever written. One of the first to be described as using a "modernist" style and stream of consciousness prose. The book was an odd read. Every page took time to read and comprehend, but at 154 pages it never seemed insurmountable. The book explores human relationships among family and friends at their most basic levels while also showing the changing roles of women after Britain's Victorian Era. I was hesitant to read it at first, but now that I'm done, I'm glad I did. Recommended.

Sophie's World Josten Gardener - A novel that provides a outline of the history and theories of western philosophy that was both easy and fun to read. Written at a junior high school level, the book was a quick read and gave me a much needed update on the basic ideas of every western philosopher from Socrates to Sartre. I was disappointed by the inadequate coverage of my personal favorite Nietzsche, but life will go on. Recommended.

Lonely Planet Nepal - Good book; lots of up to date information, but the writers didn't do Nepal justice. The country is absolutely amazing. The scenery epic, the people nice and the food cheap and good. The book's dry tone downplays many of Nepal's greatest assets. Use the guide book, but be prepared for awesomeness far beyond the written descriptions.

Lonely Planet India - This book has the opposite problem that the Nepal Lonely Planet suffered from. The writers of the India guidebook make every place in India sound like these spiritual meccas of friendly people and good food. We found this to be nothing but hyperbole. Take everything written with a grain of salt and don't expect the magical place that these (clearly doped-up) writers describe. On a better note, the information regarding hotels and restaurants was decent and up-to-date. Be careful of hidden fees for any tourist activity (like visiting forts, mosques, etc.), the guidebook failed to mention some of these costs.


We bit our nails and nearly peed our paints anxiously waiting for our plane to Lukla, the trail head of the Everest Base Camp trek. This was try number three and Mylinh said that if we didn't get there on the third try then it was a bad omen and she wasn't going.

That wasn't a concern though because we walked out on the runway (for the second time) and boarded our two propeller plane and got into the air. The flight was a little bumpy (you feel everything in a small plane) and the landing was a little scary as it was a short uphill runway that ended with a flat dirt hill that the plane could potentially crash into. I thought the flight was fine, but those with even a slight flying phobia might feel differently.

The details of the Everest trek were very similar to those of Annapurna, so I'll refrain from repeating myself too much. As to be expected, the mountains were beautiful, the people friendly, the porters amazing, and the hikes challenging.

The only day that probably deserves particular attention is the day we actually hiked out to Everest Base Camp. First we got up a 7am to hike into Gorak Shep, the village before EBC. We got there around 10am and had an early lunch. Our guide insisted on getting on the trail to EBC by 11am because the weather can be treacherous later in the afternoon. He was right. Within an hour of hiking to the camp it started to snow. Usually, snow is not an issue. We lived in Boston, we've walked in the snow before - nothing to worry about. However, the hike to EBC is up and down (called "Nepali Flat") and requires jumping rock to rock. This poses a problem with slippery snowflakes.

I should also mention that the last 45 minutes of the 2.5hr hike is on rocks that are on top of the Khumbu Glacier. This means that the rocks we are jumping on are resting on ice and often covered in ice. As we hiked, the snow began falling harder and harder. It was cold, but not unbearable, so we kept moving toward base camp. In the end, base camp looked a lot like the trail 30 minutes before base camp - essentially, a big pile of rocks, except that at base camp there are tents set up for the people preparing to ascend Everest. At about this time Mylinh got a stomach ache, followed by an urge to take care of some business - let's just say that she definitely left her mark on EBC.

By the time we got to the camp the snow was really coming down. As there isn't much to do but take a picture of some tents and grab some rocks as souvenirs (the only ones I got the whole trip, so don't expect nice presents) we spent less than a half hour at base camp. Luckily, the LIG South Korean Expedition team was preparing to summit Everest so there were actually tents and people at the camp; sometimes base camp is just a pile of rocks.

We headed back to our tea house and were glad to do so, as the snow kept getting worse. By the time we got back we could barely see 15 ft in front of us. Thankfully, our guide knew the way.

The rest of the trek was good, but also a little boring because we went down on the same trail we went up. However, now that the busy trekking season had started we did get a chance to meet a cool group of travelers consisting of canadiens, a recent GW law grad, a doctor from Germany and a couple crazy brits (one of the brits' father wrote the song "Downtown"). Once we joined the bunch it was definitely a motley crew.

At the end of the trek we were very glad to have done it, but were very donewith trekking, as we had been doing it for 26 days. We were craving all sorts of random food (a taco bell mexican pizza for Mylinh) and just wanted to get back to civilization - namely, Kathmandu. Of course things didn't work out as perfectly as we had hoped. The day we were supposed to fly out of Lukla the weather went from bad to worse and only four of seventeen flights took off. We were stuck once again, but this time in a small mountain town. Luckily, some of the friends we had met on the trail got stuck as well so we all bought bottles of whiskey and some overpriced cokes and sat in some random room behind a storefront and drank away our sorrows. Looking back it was a lot of fun, but we wetre pretty annoyed at the time.

I must make a specific mention of the terrible airline - Agni Airlines - we flew and how they screwed us. After having our flight cancelled we assumed (wrongly) that they would give us priority to fly out the next day. Our guide made it clear to them that we had to catch a flight later that afternoon. The first (of two) Agni planes landed and we all rushed to go outside, but in all their wisdom the airline decided to let passengers who did not have a previous flight cancelled go ahead of us. Then when the second plane came the weather got worse in Kathmandu and that plane couldn't take off. We were pissed. Both, Mylinh and I, and our guide started yelling at the pilot as he got out of the plane to drink his fucking tea. After much frustration and arguing the airline finally sent a different plane to pick us up that could handle the bad weather. It was a shitty experience and I warn everybody to NEVER fly Agni Airlines into Lukla. Try Yeti Airlines instead, all their flights took off fine.

As for a comparison of Annapurna and EBC, there were more similarities than differences. Overall, I probably liked Annapurna better because of the significant changes in scenery throught the trek and because it was our first. We thought that the hiking was more challenging on Annapuran and that the mountain villages were more authentic. The villages along the EBC trail felt constructed solely for the purpose of tourism. Everest probably had better views of mountain peaks and, of course, the accompanying bragging rights.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Everest Base Camp....Finally

Well, we did it. We got a flight to Lukla (trail head), hiked 120 miles to Everest base camp and back and made it back from Lukla on a flight to Kathmandu. It rained, it snowed, more flights were cancelled, but we did it. I repeat - we did it.

We just got back mere hours ago, so I will defer my boring stories about visiting the base of the world's tallest mountain until tomorrow. Right now, after 12 days in the backcountry, I need a shower.

Act 3

As we left the pass and descended down to the final 5 days of our trek the views were mainly high desert followed by jungles in the lower places. Walking through the desert valleys we faced major winds that slowed us down considerably, but with the end in sight we trudged on. We went to Marpha, the apple capital of Nepal, and made our way up to Gorapani on the second to last day of the trek. It was easily the hardest hiking day as it was all uphill on brutal stone steps. The final morning of the hike we ascended Poon Hill (about 10,000ft) for some spectacular views. Pictures will be posted soon.

Looking back on the trek, aside from the challenge of hiking and the spectacular views, the mountain life and culture was one of the most interesting parts. The people lived very simple lifestyles. They grew rice, millet and buckwheat along the hillsides and the lower villages had small apple orchards. Everything is carried up by yak, donkey, or most commonly, on people's backs. I've mentioned porters before, but the porters who carry up supplies deserve some special attention. The men (sometimes women) carry extraordinary weights and varieties of supplies to the people in the villages, including: full propane tanks, tree trunks stripped of branches, full wooden dressers, rocks, food, yak meat, generators, plywood, and anything else you can think of. This is all done on their backs with a strap around their head.