Tuesday, June 14, 2016

An attempt at 3 passes - Beginning of the hike

After having hiked to Everest and Annapurna Base camps, the big hike that was in my mind was the one that covers 3 passes - Renjo La, Cho La and Kongma La. And after my acceptable performance on the tough hike from Yuksom to HMI base camp with a 12 kilo backpack I decided to backpack through the 3 passes. Pretty lofty goal, I must say - in hindsight.

AD, a friend of a friend, lives in US and wanted to hike the Himalayas with me and when she reached out to me last year, I jumped at the idea and promptly booked the hike through my favourite agency in Kathmandu.

I started my usual training - Nandi hills hikes and climbing up and down the 15floors of the apartment building that I live in, all with an 8 kilo backpack. I also redid the 9 week Insanity program to build my cardio endurance. Between the time I booked my tickets and the trek date, we had two more members join our small group.

Four of us met in Kathmandu and after some last minute shopping for down sleeping bag rentals and water bottles and trekking poles, we met Pertemba Sherpa for an early dinner. He may require some introduction to those not into mountaineering.

His first taste of a mountaineering expedition came in 1970 as part of Chris Bonington’s team who made the first ascent of the South Face of Annapurna. His climbing skills so impressed his leader that he soon became a climbing Sherpa. When he made his first ascent of Everest in 1975, it was not by the standard Southeast Ridge, but by a much more technical route up the Southwest Face, where he reached the summit in overcast conditions with the climbing legend Pete Boardman. He climbed Everest again with a German team in 1979, and again with a Norwegian team in 1985. On this third and final climb he reached the top with his old friend and mentor Chris Bonington. *

* Source http://www.markhorrell.com/blog/2014/10-great-sherpa-mountaineers/

It was an honour to meet him and break bread with him. We had an amazing multi course meal at Thamel House Restaurant. At the end of the meal, we were all so full that we could barely walk back to our hotel. This time I had chosen a Trip Advisor recommended hotel - Hotel Friend's Home and it turned out to be great place - value for money and extremely clean with all modern amenities plus a good breakfast.

Long wait  on way to the aircraft - spent time clicking pictures
Next day as we left for Lukla, based on my past experience I was more than prepared for not being able to land there on the first attempt. However weather gods were benevolent even though air traffic control wasn't and after about 90 minutes of wait, we finally took off & landed in Lukla around 10 am.

Starbucks at Lukla

It was a bright sunny day - to the extent of being warm. Our porter met us at the Lukla airport, taking the group tally to 6 - 4 hikers, 1 guide and 1 porter (for the two additions - AD & I were still planning to backpack). We stopped for some masala tea at Hotel Numbur and left our return tickets there with the owner. The hotel is really good, is just next to runway and has the added bonus of being run by wife of a gentlemen who works for one of the key airlines that fly between Lukla and Kathmandu.

After this brief halt, we started for Phakding, our destination for the day. We cleared the Lukla check post around 10:45 am and inspite of walking slowly (it was first day of the hike and we were suddenly at 2800 m), we were in Phakding by 2 pm.

First suspension bridge on the trail
The two gentlemen with day packs were not tired at all and would have liked to go on. But having faced altitude challenges before, I vetoed the idea (also because my shoulders were hurting) and we checked into Sunrise lodge. Last time I had stayed at Beer Garden Inn which had really dirty linen and dingy rooms. This one was 100 times better, even had hot water in the attached bathrooms (yes we had taken "attached rooms" as they are called there) and had lots of sunlight streaming through the big wide windows.

After lunch, shower and rest, when lounging around in the dining hall, we got talking to this gentleman who was on his 15th hike to EBC. It was amazing to hear how amenities have improved, on the trail, over the last 2 decades. While I wasn't really tired, I decided to retire early as I wanted to rest up before the tough hike to Namche Bazaar next day...I knew it is going to be really hard with my 12 kilo backpack.


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