Ascending Everest Basecamp


“The mountain always wins. You never win. Occasionally it just decides to let you through.”

With all that has been going on in Nepal in the last month, it has been an emotional time for many, including me. I have worried and feared for friends that were in Kathmandu, I have seen other friends of mine lose loved ones. It has taken a huge toll on many. While for myself, for those who didn’t know, I was evacuated out of Dingbouche on the way to Everest Basecamp with pneumonia and acute pulmonary edema. I was incredibly lucky to be in a place where I could be evacuated or otherwise I could have died. After my stint in the hospital I met someone also evacuated and he said to me ‘the mountain always wins. You never win. Occasionally it just decides to let you through’. This has resonated with me for a while considering the incredible misfortune people have been suffering in Nepal during the earthquakes. It has given me time to reflect on my own trek while I was there before everything went sour for me. The following is the first 8 days of my trek to Everest Basecamp.

Pre-Trip

We didn’t start on the best of notes. The day before we were due to leave I came back to find my friend on the bathroom floor dying of a chest infection. I went to the pharmacy, bought her the best antibiotics I could get my hands on and then fed her paracetamol to lower her fever while I sat in the bathroom with her with hot water steaming out the bathroom while I rubbed tigerbalm on her back and tried to pound some of the crap out of her chest.

The following day, despite still being a total mess we got up and went to the airport as a group to get our flight to Lukla. But there was a thick fog over Kathmandu that day and our flight was delayed until the fog lifted. We sat in the airport for four hours before they said the fog had lifted enough for us to leave. We got onto the bus that took us out to the tarmac to wait for our plane only to be turned around and told that we had had our flight cancelled due to bad weather in Lukla. It was somewhat a blessing in disguise. We got to go home and rest for another day.

Day 1- Kathmandu to Lukla, Lukla to Phakding

Better luck than the day before and the skies were crystal clear and we managed to take our flight to Lukla. We were told that the best kinds of views are seen from the window on the left side of the plane so we rushed our way in to get prime seats. I had never seen anything more spectacular in my life than the view of the mountains as I excitedly flew next to the Himalayas on my way to Lukla.

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The scenic flight from Kathmandu to Lukla with amazing views of the Himilayas.

Before I knew it we were approaching the runway which is pretty much a strip that runs on an incline uphill from a sheer drop at the beginning of a cliff, to a cliff wall at the other end. I could see how it had gained the reputation as being one of the most dangerous airports in the world.

 

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The airport runway in Lukla. Cliff drop on one end, cliff face on the other.

After eating lunch, it was time to start on our way towards Phakding, our first destination for the evening. It was a relatively flat and easy walk and along the way I met the most adorable boy who was drawing with permanent markers. He drew a watch on my wrist with red permanent marker to match his watch that he was wearing and for the rest of the trip I wore that red watch until it eventually rubbed off. Every time I looked at it, it made me smile.

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My new friend drawing me a wrist watch in red permanent marker so I can always tell mountain time.

We arrived in Phakding and checked into our tea house. After dinner it was time for a rest. It had been a long day.

Day 2 – Phakding to Namche Bazaar

It was the first day of solid hiking and as my friend was still not feeling a hundred percent it was a slow day. The views as we progressed along the trail became more and more spectacular as the day progressed. For lunch we stopped in a village where there was a small boy who was believed to have been reincarnated from one of the elderly men in the village down the way. He apparently can tell you who his mother was and other family members from his previous life. Incredible story.

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The young boy was reincarnated from the older man on the left.

As we continued on, we arrived at the foot of the town of Namche Bazaar, the town that was later to be the epicentre of the second massive earthquake within the region. We were staying near the top and it was starting to get dark. It was a long slog up giant staircases but we eventually made it. The night was spent hanging by the fire and playing Monopoly (in which I behaved like a five year old competitive child and won everybody else’s money and properties).

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Giant bridge crossing in massive winds across a canyon.

Day 3 – Day hike to the Everest View Lodge

Acclimatization day number one. We started in the morning in decent enough weather on the climb up to the Everest View lodge. About half way up it started snowing and the weather turned and became freezing. Eventually we made it to the top and sat in the lodge drinking tea and soup, somewhat disappointed that our first ever view of Everest was not going to happen due to the haze covering all of the views. It did have a very eerie and cool feeling to it though.

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The town of Namche Bazaar.

On the way back down we got lost as there was so much snow we couldn’t see the path. At one point we went the wrong way and then had to back track. I fell over in a super muddy patch and got my pants incredibly dirty and yet still laughed the whole way. It was a great day and I was settling well into the routine.

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A wild yak on the mountain on its way down in the snow.

Day 4 – Namche Bazaar to Debouche

I woke up not feeling the best. I was starting to cough a little and my lungs were starting to hurt. We walked the first part on the flat and for the first time I laid my eyes on Everest. She popped her top out from behind a bunch of other mountains. As far away as she was, she was daunting and beautiful. We sent our porter ahead to buy some boiled eggs from a local place and we ate those as a snack before the hard work began… the massive uphill climb to Tengbouche.

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Stunning views from the trail after my first view of Everest.

I struggled. But I kept on going at my own pace with my earphones in and I actually made decent time. At the top I was fairly spent and we tried to go to the Tengbouche monastery but it was not open. I had a rest on the stairs out the front and then made my way down the hill another twenty minutes to Debouche where we sat around by the fire, drank lots of tea and went to bed early.

 

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The monastery at Tengbouche.

Day 5 – Debouche to Dingbouche

I woke up feeling great. The rest had done me good from the day before as had the cold and flu tablets I took to try and kick my symptoms overnight. The hike for the most part of the day was fairly flat along the edge of the mountain ridge towards the holy grail of mountains. Towards the end it was getting very windy and two of my group members started to feel unwell. One of them started vomiting. The altitude was kicking in

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One of the most incredible views I have ever seen in my life.

Eventually we arrived in camp at Dingbouche and got settled in. I bossed the others into drinking heaps of water and got the nurse from the volunteer medical centre to check them over. They both were diagnosed with moderate altitude sickness. I had a test myself and my oxygen levels were normal. My heart rate was getting pretty high though and was 124. I assumed this was somewhat normal for me as I have high resting heart rate anyway. I took a couple of photos on extended shutter of the mountains in the dark and went to bed.

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Stunning moonlight views from Dingbouche.

Day 6 – Dingbouche Day hike

Up early and time to do the acclimatization hike. I was feeling good until I started and as soon as I started uphill I started feeling the effects of the altitude. Breathing was harder. I felt so ridiculously fatigued I didn’t know if I was going to make the top of the hill at 4700m. I kept plugging away at it slowly, determined. I knew that if I couldn’t make this I couldn’t make basecamp and I was determined to do it. I watched everyone else sail up the hill past me and felt rubbish about it. I eventually got there. I sat for half an hour resting and looked out over the most spectacular views. Then I started my descent.

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Completely spent and enjoying the views from 4700m, the highest point I would reach during the hike.

Once I got back to the teahouse I sat with two minus twenty sleeping bags on trying to get warm drinking a 2 litre thermos of hot lemon. I tried to read my book and couldn’t concentrate. I still felt incredibly fatigued and was trying to stay awake for the afternoon and do what I needed to to ward off altitude sickness. Eventually I caved, ate dinner and went to bed.

Day 7 – Getting evacuated from Dingbouche to Kathmandu hospital

At one in the morning I awoke to severe coughing with the realization that I was coughing up handfuls of water. High altitude pulmonary odema had set in and I knew I was in a very serious situation. After a night of trying to be calm and conserve oxygen we sent for the helicopter and they evacuated me back to the hospital in Kathmandu. The dream of getting to Everest basecamp this trip had died. But I knew I would be back to finish what I started at some point later, because I hate not finishing what I started.

If you haven’t read already, check out my blog post “This Week I Almost Died” for a more detailed account of what happened when I got evacuated off of Everest Basecamp trek.

 

 

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Shit I Learned In Glasgow

Despite only being a whirlwind five days in Scotland, I spent most of it sitting in my friend Paul’s kitchen drinking wine and eating cheese or painting sunsets terribly in the studio drunk on wine. I did however do the odd museum tour and in the grand scheme of me and learning, I learned quite a few odd and interesting things.

Sir Roger

Sir Roger is a famous Glaswegian elephant who went on heat, got a bit violent and then they were forced to shoot him in the head. In the awesome tradition of not letting go of things we love, Sir Roger was then stuffed by a taxidermist, preserved in arsenic and formaldehyde and put on show in the Kelvingrove Museum (ps. Kelvin as in the man who did the Kelvin scale of absolute temperature… science nerds rejoice!)

 

 

The famous Sir Roger complete with broken trunk and bullet hole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Roger of course is a children’s delight. So many of them can’t resist touching him all the time and one child accidentally snapped off his trunk….. so then they glued it back on. Poor Roger.

 

Christ Of Saint John Of The Cross

 

This famous painting by Salvador Dali is also now housed in the Kelvingrove. Once upon a time a few moons ago, some crackpot who thought he was Jesus decided that he didn’t like the portrayal of himself within the painting. Of course the only acceptable way of dealing with such an offensive representation is to go to the museum and throw a brick through the painting. If you look closely you can see where the painting went through repairs.

 

 

The famous Salvador Dali painting equipped with square rip from the offended real Jesus’ brick.

This, however was not deemed enough by another group of crackpots who went to the museum and shot bullets at the painting with a gun. Jokes on them though, the Dali is now housed in bulletproof glass. Epic fail.

 

McDonald’s Is Technologically Apt

 

So I wander drunk into a Maccas at midnight and have a massive flip out when I discover that not only can you order your food on a giant touch screen before you get to the counter, but once you have your drunken cheeseburger and fries, you can sit and play angry birds and other cool games on a touch screen computer. You can also do some Facebooking if you feel so inclined…. what is this socially antisocial world coming to?

 

 

Drunken cheeseburger and Facebook in the upscale McDonald’s.

Painting

 

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend my time with two exceptionally talented brothers that are painters while I was in Glasgow. This opened my world to art galleries and exhibitions I would not otherwise have experienced. It also allowed me one afternoon to sit and paint with a canvas. I learned firstly that drunken finger painting is fun. Secondly I learned to look at things in a context of colors and shadows more. It is incredible to sit and watch my friend Paul paint and to watch his brain process where colors and paints go. Awesome 🙂

 

 

My glorious painting. Now an exceptional masterpiece on a bathroom wall for hilarity’s sake

GOMA Statue And The Traffic Cone

 

Glaswegians have such a good sense of humour that a traffic cone constantly lives on the head or some other part of the statue outside of GOMA. Apparently the council will remove it but someone always climbs right back up there to deposit yet another traffic cone in its rightful place, statue head.

 

 

The GOMA Statue and it’s glorious traffic cone hat

Glaswegians Kick Arse And Balls

 

Once upon a time in Glasgow at the airport there was an attempted terrorist attack. A few guys decided it would be a good idea to fill a Jeep with some fuel canisters and set it on fire whilst driving it into the front doors of the airport. The guys in the Jeep got out and were tackled by some locals. One awesome Glaswegian kicked a guy in the balls so hard he broke his foot. Local hero! And now you can’t approach the front door of the airport by car, you get dropped off a hundred meters back from the entrance.

Well, that’s it! Until next week! 🙂

How To Get Away With Excess Luggage

For those of us who travel quite a lot and like to be prepared by carrying everything that we may need on our trip, the frequent pain of excess luggage in airports always manages to crop its ugly head. And as airlines are getting progressively more frugal with what it is that they allow you to travel with, the cutting down of things becomes harder and harder. Sure you can buy everything you need when you get there, but then you are going to have to wind up throwing it all away and then buying new stuff when you get to the next destination. The added cost of doing this can be painful. So here are a few tips and tricks from someone who not only loathes airports, but also loves to get through them cheekily carrying more than she should.

Where They Check Luggage Weights

There are two places they check luggage, at the front desk when you are claiming your ticket and checking your bags on, and at the gate before you embark on the plane. Sometimes in foreign countries I have seen luggage weights be checked before you enter the security area. So it is best to hide your weight best as you can before you walk through the airport door and leave it there until you get to the security checkpoint. Once through security, chuck the stuff back in your bag for a while for a bit of comfort and then make sure you resume original position of hidden goods when you get to the gate if they look like they are checking peoples luggage weights.

Be Nice To The People Working Behind Check In

I was told once that you catch more bees with honey. And is indeed true for excess luggage at airports. One time I got super mad because I was five kilos over and willing to pay for it but they told me I could not take another bag or pay the excess. I was tired, shitty and generally grumpy. It certainly didn’t get me anywhere except for throwing all of my clothes in the rubbish bin. The woman behind the counter was a bitch and I certainly didn’t help things. So where possible, find a counter with a person of the opposite sex, be happy, jovial and polite and flirt. Sometimes they will let you off with being a couple of kilos over. If this doesn’t work, then it is time to hide some stuff. It is quite difficult to hide luggage in your check in as that goes on a scale and that is as it is. But on your body and in your carry on is where you will get away with your weight. As I will explain in this glorious section of carry on luggage.

Carry On Luggage

Gone are the days of 10kg of carry-on luggage. Majority of the airlines now have opted to move this down to 7 kg. So what that pretty much means is put a small notebook computer and a charger for it in a backpack and you are only a couple of kilograms off your weight limit. So here is my advice for excess in carry-on luggage.

Items you are wearing do not count as a part of your weight limit

The amount of people I have seen going through airports looking like the abominable snowman dressed in all of their clothes is hilarious. Massive puffer jackets going out of tropical countries is indeed laughable but for the most part, your clothes won’t weigh more than a couple of hundred grams each item unless you are taking a massively heavy item of clothing. So in this case I suggest wearing the heaviest shoes that you own (for me that is often hiking boots or snow boots) and wearing clothing that is comfortable and loose but has a stack of pockets. This will help with phase 2.

Items in your pockets are also not attributed to your weight limit

Anything that is heavy and small goes in the pockets. I am talking about phones, point and shoot cameras, money (especially coins), and other electronic gadgets that might be fairly weighty. Your friends here in this endeavour are the money belt around the weight and around the neck. While these are supposed to be ‘concealed’ while travelling for safety, I usually wear something stupidly baggy and put my money belt stacked with my passport, all coins, phone and ipod in there if I need to get luggage down. I carried my water purifier in my pocket as that weighs quite a bit too (oddly it is shaped like a dildo and I get quite strange looks from people with regards to what this is… quite humorous).

Keep books and water in your hands as books can often be weighty and nobody thinks twice about telling you to put a book in your bag to weigh it as it is seen as something you are using to pass the time. If worse comes to worse, hide heavy books in your jacket pockets or in your pants.

One time when I was travelling in Warsaw, Poland with Ryan air I was concerned about my carry on weight limit. So after I got through security, I put my laptop computer down the back of my pants underneath my giant winter puffer jacket (which didn’t look so odd given that it was -16 degrees Celsius at the time) and got away with it. Automatic 2-3kg loss out of my luggage. They will never check your weight at security screening, only usually at the front counter and before you get on the plane at the gate.

Look Like You Aren’t Carrying Much

Most people get these exact to size carry on suitcases and jam them full of stuff. Nothing says ‘check me I am heavy’ like a jam packed carry on suitcase. I on the other hand prefer to travel with a smaller 40L backpack. I fill it up with a stack of heavy items that are small and dense and then compress the bag down so it looks like I am only carrying half of the bags capacity. This looks to people like you wouldn’t really be carrying excess because you didn’t bother to fill the bag up. You still have more space right?

Sometimes I have gone through with around 15kg in my carry on backpack and as I am strong and can pick the bag up and make it look effortless nobody asks questions. Which leads me to the next aspect. When you pick up your bag, make a conscious note to not look like you are struggling with it. If you look like it is heavy when you are picking it up then it will be seen to be heavy to others.

In some countries this is easier to get away with than others. In places like Indonesia where the women are not very strong and don’t do very much exercise in many parts, the men will look at you carrying a backpack and assume that because you are a woman you aren’t very strong and as such the bag couldn’t be more than 7kg. I was literally the only person in this cue that wasn’t stopped and I was sure it was because I was a woman with a backpack and not with a wheely suitcase.

Prepare What You May Need To Hide, Part With Or Pay If You Get Caught

Last but not least. If you run the risk of getting caught, make sure you are either willing to pay for or part with what you have packed in your carry on if you are over. That means like I said before, cameras, passports, wallets and phones in pockets. I usually carry my less than 100mL foundation in a glass bottle in carry on as it is heavy and if I have to part with it so be it. Books usually go in the carry on, if I have to leave them for someone else then again so be it. And I usually pack some crap clothes I would be happy to part with in there too. But, if you aren’t willing to part with things, make sure you have another jacket with deep pockets and get stuffing your things in there.

Happy travelling! And may the odds forever be in your favour at airport check in and security!

Readjustment To Western Civilization

After spending such a large amount of time sick while I was travelling around Asia (of which there are more stories to come, I just haven’t gotten around to writing them down yet) I was done with it. Never before had I wanted the Western comforts of home more. And by Western comforts I am not talking about things like mummy and daddy and a room to myself as much as I love these things. But my first request getting off the plane was steak. Lots of steak. And brie cheese… my Achilles heel.

I arrived at the airport only to have a dispute with the arsehole immigration officer who seemed to be concerned that as teacher I was going to attempt to work in the UK for the all of 2 weeks I am here with adequate funds and my old Canadian visa and onward ticket. In true Dano fashion I said to him “seriously? Your country would  sponsor me to come here and work and get paid as a teacher. If I wanted a work visa I’d have one already and you’d organize it for me. I’m her for two weeks to buy bras, eat steak and visit friends before working jobs I have lined up in Canada! Why would I lie?” He let me through. I am pretty sure he was just having an arsehole day. I wanted to tell him if the wind changed his face would stay looking like an arsehole but thought better of it, grabbed my passport and ran.

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After a ten minute interrogation, finally got my passport stamped!

So I got out of the customs area and am looking for signs of subway when I hear this familiar high pitched screaming “THOMAS!!!” At which point I am then throwing myself at my friend Tash with the railing in the way and there is screaming and crying for a 3 year reunion. At which point I then got annoyed with the barrier railing and knelt down to crawl through it with my pack still on and people staring at me while I tell her this immigration arsehole nearly wouldn’t let me in the country. She says to me “only you would make me laugh so hard being too lazy to walk around the rail and have a complaint come out of your mouth as the first words spoken… I love you!”

After getting back to her house we had a think… couldn’t figure out where to get the best steak ever but the place down the road does the best ever BBQ meat platters and I am all in! Brisket, baby back ribs, spare ribs, pulled pork… more meat than you could poke a stick at and more than two of us could eat in one sitting and being such a precious commodity, I wrapped the rest of that meat up and took it home for breakfast.

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My first meal… hordes of meat, coleslaw and sweet potato fries…. mmm… meat….

Protein was one of the many things I missed in Asia. Especially through Nepal and India, after the stress on the body from the pneumonia and secondary infections and then having to give myself intramuscular injections twice daily (a hilarious and not so hilarious story to come later – watch out for “Adventures With Needles”), I lost a lot of muscles and damaged muscle tissue. I needed protein to heal and protein in Asia is a measly scrap of chicken on a bone in a pile of curry sauce. And vitamins! I was tired, lethargic and felt shitty a lot of the time from diet. But here I was, munching down on meat and Sainsbury vitamin pills for every meal in England and became a force to be reckoned with. That force wound up in Marks and Spencers shopping for bras…. something I no longer owned and yet deemed necessary in this society.

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Protein shakes and vitamin pills. A woman’s guide to returning to normal health.

I will say this. I have a ginormous fondness for bras. When I was a teenager the only ones that fit me were horrendous grandma-type looking bras with inch thick straps and material that sat up near my collar bones. As fashion started to compensate for those of us well endowed, my love of pretty bras began. And so continued in M&S as I spent 2 hours in there trying to figure out what size I was now and what they have in my size and then pretty much trying on one of everything they had in my size. Plus matching undies because those were also novel in the unattractive teenage days. The ladies that worked in there stared at me for a long while trying to figure out who the disheveled looking woman in their store trying everything on was. I explained to them “I have been in India, all of my clothes smell and have holes in them, this crop top I am wearing is the only bra I own. I don’t know what size I am anymore”. It was like a state of emergency. They were both horrified and excited and helped me out and by the time I left I was quite a debt on the credit card and super happy with my giant bag of bras hanging off the arm down the street.

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Piles and piles on non granny bras 🙂 Ecstatic!!

So off to Primark. For those not English or unfamiliar, Primark is considered cheap and daggy, kind of like the Australian K-Mart and the North American Walmart but done up in a classier way and heaps cheaper. I headed here for basic tank tops, long sleeved tops and t-shirts. And then wound up with shorts, boob tubes, hoodies, bikinis, socks, underpants, leggings and the rest.  Another couple of hours later and I emerge from Primark swallowed underneath piles of bags I can barely carry and with waaayyyy too much stuff. My friend Tash says to me “but you deserve it! You haven’t bought things for yourself in a very long time! And you need it! And…. you don’t smell like India anymore thank fuck!”

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Just a few of the clothes and shoes I accumulated….

The next days were a hunt for shoes, jeans and accessories. I pretty much bore me new wardrobe in the first 3 days of being in London and then the guilt set in. These clothes were too pretty and nice for me to wear. I am a bum. I wear clothes with holes in them. Looking nice feels weird. What if I trash these nice clothes….. ugh…. people are obviously staring at me because I look so strangely normal now….  and so the readjustment continues…

After a couple of days I started getting used to it. My largest concern now is how to get all of this junk I have to Canada after going out of control. I can check an excess bag but after my adventures of getting it to Glascow on the all too familiar sleeper bus I am pretty excited about my next stop being my last stop for a while. Bring on more work and a bit of normality. Oh and more steak. Mmm…. steak….