Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 10 – April 29th, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke around 5:30am and I spent the next hour writing in my journal about the previous days’ events. Morning tea was served around 6:30am so I turned my focus from my journal to getting cleaned up and packing my gear. The call for breakfast was around 7:30am and the food served was rice pudding (which I did not partake), cheese omelets, and fresh bread (which was in the shape of a B or 8).

We loaded up and started walking on the trail around 9am. The terrain was pretty typical but surprising there was a lot more climbing than descending. There were also a good handful of fairly level sections that were a very welcome break from going up or down. That was until we hit the stairs from hell again. I just don’t recall descending this many stairs when we were heading in the opposite direction a few days before. I thought the stairs would never end. There would be a flight of stairs and what looked to be a plateau or maybe a descent at the crest but it would just be a short jot around a boulder or a change in direction before more stairs.

small shrine on the trail

waterfall

I was given a reprieve when we stopped at Dovan, ~2286m, for a short break. We just took a little time to catch our breath and suck down some water and then we were off again. We hit the section of the trail where we were crossing small streams and creeks every 10-20m. We were also getting into the more tropical forrest region as everything got really green. We made it to Bamboo, ~2190m, after a little while hiking and took another break. Chris purchased a bunch of different juices for all of the trekkers. I think I had a mango drink which was alright but not great. While we were sitting around a picnic table someone pointed out a monkey in a Chhomrong nearby.

monkey in a tree

monkey 2

monkey 3

After taking a bunch of pictures of the monkey I went over to Karma and asked again what the name of that particular monkey was and he responded “dil-do”. If you go back to the second day of my trek you will see where I had talked with Karma about another encounter with a similar monkey and I walked away from that conversation with the assumption that the monkey was named a “dil-der-do”. So now with the name corrected this caused many crude jokes.

I looked up this monkey when I returned home and it’s a gray langur.

Having enough of the monkey and the monkey jokes we geared up and headed back on down the trail. On our way to Sinuwa there was a lot of construction to improve the path. This included the stairs that were being constructed as that we had passed when hiking in the other direction. Here’s a guy moving some very heavy wood along the path.

Nepali carrying wood

Speaking of stairs, we hit a ton of them on and they all seemed to be going up. Just when you thought there were no more stairs another set would appear. I kept asking myself why we were gaining elevation when we were supposed to be going down. I guess this is a Nepali joke on trekkers.

tree with blossoms

Here’s Sinuwa from a distance.

Sinuwa in the distance

There was a bird that came up in discussion many times along the trip. Chris had a long name and story behind why he had named it thus but I’m not going to go into that here. I’ll just refer to it as Chris’s bird. The goal was to attempt to identify this bird as we could always here it but we never saw it. That is until I captured this one make it’s tell-tale song.

song bird

Now you can see why it is so difficult to find in the woods. Here is a neat light fixture that I saw hanging in a guest house at the edge of Sinuwa.

Budha eyes light

Eventually we made it to Sinuwa proper, ~2340m. This is where we stopped for lunch which consisted of beans, curried cauliflower, peas, french fries, slices of cheese, and chicken sausage. Lunch was alright but I think the cooks were running out food stuffs and were just unloading whatever they had on us. Not that it was bad just that it seemed like something I would eat when I haven’t gone to buy groceries for a while.

After our typical post-lunch rest we continued our journey to Chhomrong where we would be stopping for the evening. The next two hours were extremely arduous. I thought after all of the ups and downs on the way to Sinuwa were going to be the hard part of the day but boy was I wrong. There were a lot more climbs and descents and in particular there was one climb and descent in order to go around the side of one mountain that was just killer. After that we descended all of the way down to the bottom of a river gorge. Long periods of going down can be very difficult on the body. I wasn’t out of breathe but my muscles would definitely start to ache. Once we got to the bottom we crossed the neat bridge that we had crossed before.

porter on the bridge

That’s my purple bag on the porter’s back with a bunch of other gear. My bag probably weighed 45lbs alone so I have no doubt he was carrying about 100lbs worth of gear.

We rested near the bridge because we knew that there was a very long climb up the side of the mountain to get to our campsite in Chhomrong. The porters arrived just after us, it wasn’t typical of them to be behind us on the trail, but then many of them decided to go for a swim in the river. Although it was really warm I did not really want to go for a dip in the glacier fed river. I just wanted to do the huge stair climb between the bridge and the campsite and conclude this day of hiking. I was already very tired of climbing steps but I got up and continued at a relatively slow pace.

water buffalo tilling

Eventually our group split up as those with more energy seemed to race ahead which left me with Thilo. Frankly, I think he just stuck around me in order to keep an eye on me which I very much appreciate. About a quarter or halfway up the climb to the campsite we encountered…

The cute snotty girl

Thilo and I were passing by a house when a little a Nepali girl came out onto the path to greet us. She was cute but very dirty with dried snot congealing below her nostrils. Apparently the snot thing is common among Nepali children that I witnessed. When she made eye contact with us she repeated one word “sweets” and held out her hand in a very overdramatic child-like way in order to receive whatever sweets we had to offer. We attempted to explain, in English of course, that we did not have any sweets. I expected that this would discourage the little one and that she would go on her merry way. Instead she dropped one hand and held out her other hand to offer a piece of plastic like those that surround toys or other small items to keep people from stealing them in a store. Basically she was trying to give us a piece of trash. When we signaled to her that we didn’t want the trash she dropped that hand and raised the the and repeated the inquiry “Sweets?” After Thilo and I both replied “no sweets” she switched hands again. This went on for a couple of more iterations but then she got distracted by a colorful, braided charm that Thilo had hanging from his camera. She began to admire and fondle the charm and with the little girl distracted I made an attempt at a getaway leaving Thilo to deal with her. I know I’m a bad person. Thilo saw my escape attempt and quickly followed in an attempt to get away from the little girl as well. But alas she was quick and she caught up with us and she grabbed a hold of a couple of fingers on Thilo’s left hand. It was adorably cute but I could tell that Thilo was very uncomfortable. She only held on for a dozen steps before losing interest and running back down to the house. As soon as we turned a corner and were out of line of sight of the house Thilo whipped out his sanitizing gel and used a bunch on his hands and the braided charm. I just chuckled.

We continued up the steps. Between the climbing and the heat I was constantly sweating and out of breathe. Thilo and I cheered each other on. Well really Thilo was mostly cheering me on. It just seemed like these steps were never-ending. When we finally reached the outskirts of Chhomrong the steps became more manageable as they were shorter and deeper and well made. We saw our campsite as it was the same one we stayed at the last time we were in Chhomrong. This gave me a goal which helped but I was extremely tired so it didn’t help that much. And then I finished off the last of the water that I was carrying. Even though we were close I would still need water as Chhomrong is rather larger. Because of its size it has more amenities than most of the smaller villages and so I began to think of purchasing a very cold soft drink once I reached camp. This spurred me along.

steps counted

Yes, it says 1585 steps!

Thilo and I made one final push and we arrived at camp. I dropped my gear and fell to ground to gather some strength and get my breathe back. After a minute or two I returned to my backpack, snagged some rupees, and then went on a search for a cold soda. I didn’t have to go too far as the guest house that was adjacent to our campsite had a little store with a refrigerator. I purchased a Sprite™ and it was probably one of the most refreshing drinks I had quaffed in a long time. The taste was still obscured by the Diamox™ but it was so good. I took the bottle back to the campsite and sat back down in the grass. We all relaxed and watched as a group of Nepalis and some foreign trekkers played volleyball on a court below us. I savored every sip of my soda but the bottle was small and went quickly.

Tea was served around 5:30pm and followed by dinner around 6:30pm. Dinner consisted of mushroom soup, mashed potatoes with some sort of red sauce, chicken, egg fried rice, and vegetable chow mien. Dessert was a fresh apple pie that was purchased from a local bakery in Chhomrong. It was alright but it wasn’t like the apple pies that someone would get in the USA.

The weather had changed some from when we arrived at camp. There was a slight bit of rain that hit us between tea and dinner and then the clouds really rolled in after dinner. I didn’t hang out in the dining tent for long after dinner and I went back to my tent. Sleep came very quickly but was not very deep and I tossed and turned through the night.

I was awakened in the middle of the night when I heavy storm passed through. The rain and wind were really strong but the lightning was really impressive. Even with my eyes closed I could see the light produced by the lightning and sometimes I could make out its shape. I always expected the thunder to quickly arrive after each lightning strike but the rumble seemed to always arrive much later than anticipated.

For the rest of the night I was in and out of sleep even after the storm was long gone.

People: Thilo Schumann

Thilo (Pingu) Schumann

Thilo is a very funny guy from Germany although I must admit that I didn’t get all of his jokes. Maybe something was lost in translation. He is a veteran on these Himalayan treks and a great photographer. He carried a lot of extra gear with him including a full tripod but that didn’t seem to hinder his ability to make it up to ABC and back. He was going to be Ben’s tent mate for the trek but due to Ben’s illness Thilo ended up spending almost all of the nights on the trek in a tent by himself. I’m not bitter about that or anything ☺. Anyway here are some pictures I have of Thilo.

Thilo and bamboo man

Thilo at Chhomrong

Thilo crossing a gate

IMG 4550

Thilo maintains a few sites including a blog, one for photos, He is also on facebook, twitter, google+, and flickr.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 7 – April 26th, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke the next morning around 5 to 5:30am due to a strong urge to evacuate my bladder. I got clothed enough to brave the morning’s cool air. We camped in a valley gorge so we the sun was still hidden this morning and I had to use my headlamp to navigate to the toilet tent. Thus far at every stop we had the use of the facilities attached to the guest house that was adjacent to our campsite but this campsite in Bamboo was different. I guess the sherpas hadn’t made the agreement with the property owners to let us use those facilities or the sherpas thought that the walk to the restrooms were too far. Anyway, they erected a toilet tent. Basically they dug a hole in the ground and then erected a slender but tall privacy tent over the hole. It was an interesting experience.

I returned to my tent and started to pack my gear and get ready for the day. The sun came up quickly and the tent had plenty of light. I was stuffing my sleeping bag into its stuff sack when I caught the sight of something in the corner of my eye. I gave it my attention and I noticed that it was moving like an inchworm across the top of one of the duffels. Except that it wasn’t an inchworm it was a leech. I was awestruck as I don’t recall ever seeing a leech in the wild and especially seeing it move over dry goods. It was move very quickly straight for me. I used my little notebook to pick up the creature and flung it outside of my tent. Not a second later I thought to myself “Why didn’t I take a photo?”

We were served morning tea around 6:30am and I was being very laxidasical and taking my time while I packed. I guess I spent too much time writing in my notebook or listening to music. I finished packing just after the call to breakfast. I actually didn’t hear anyone tell me that breakfast was on the table. It was between 7 and 7:30am and I ate toast and a fried egg. I guess I wasn’t super hungry that morning.

After breakfast we mulled around campsite as the sherpas and porters broke down the camp and got organized.

Dawa and the porters

We struck out on our hike for the day between 8 and 8:30am. Today’s theme was waterfalls. The entire day was in a mountain valley with the Modi Khola river below us on the right. The terrain started out as very rainforest like up until about lunch time.

IMG 4299 forest trail a common bridge

waterfall in bamboo

Everything was really green from the abundance of water. Some points of the trail had a lot of hanging moss on old trees and I felt like I was Indiana Jones in search of a small golden statue. The terrain wasn’t that difficult to navigate nor was it easy but at least the vertical climbing wasn’t too bad in the beginning. I was expecting a lot more climbing but I guess that would come later.

As I stated before there were tons of waterfalls and streams crossing the path. At one point we were crossing streams about every 10 meters or so. All of these small streams fed the waterfalls that fell to the river below. Now and then the path would descend a little bit so that we could cross a much more substantial stream across a rickety bridge like the one pictured above.

As there was only one trail to and from the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) there was a lot of traffic heading in both directions. This caused quite a bit of frustration as the path was not suited for bidirectional traversal. This meant that groups going in either direction had to stop a lot and in particular those going towards ABC had to stop more often. Sometimes it was a nice respite but many times it was just annoying.

A stream crossing the river below

Modi Khola river The path ahead

Even with this stopping and starting we were making great time to our lunch destination. We arrived at the Himalayan Hotel, 2900m, around 11 to 11:30am. Our sherpas had attempted to get us a table that was in a shaded area but there were many other trekkers and trekking groups and the choice spots for lunch were taken. We were sat at a table directly in the sun and the sun was high in the sky and unrelenting. As you can see from the previous picture the vegetation was a little more sparse and starting to brown out a little and therefore the sun had already been cooking us for a while. Lunch was served and we ate beans, bow-tie pasta, julienned vegetables, rice (which I did not eat), and Spam®.

After completing the meal I decided to explore the “hotel”. The Himalayan Hotel was just an oversized guest house with many rooms. The sky became overcast and I decided to attempt to take a short nap on a small patch of grass. I wasn’t really able to get any sleep but I rested my eyes and listened to the cacophony of chatter between all of the other trekkers that were giving the “hotel” their patronage mixed with the Nepali workers chatting and washing dishes. I wasn’t resting for 5 minutes when I felt a droplet hit my arm. After the second one hit me I got up and hurried to my gear to take it under cover and also get out my rain jacket.

As the rain picked up, although it did not turn into a full out downpour,  I became acutely aware of the international representation of all of the trekkers as they all donned their rain gear and huddled under whatever cover could be found. There was one huge group of either Japanese or Koreans. There were also many small groups of Europeans and Americans.

The rain stopped almost as quickly as it started. That was our cue to start hiking again. We all still wore our rain gear as the weather seemed to be rather unpredictable. One problem with rain gear is that it is typically good at keeping in heat. So as we hiked I started to get a little bit overheated. I think the rest of my fellow trekkers came to the same realization and we started to shed our outerwear.

The terrain above the Himalayan Hotel was much rockier but there was also a lot less traffic coming down the the path. My assumption is that the trekkers coming down from ABC or Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC)  had already traversed this section earlier in the day. The ups and downs were a lot more numerous and there was very little “level” walking in between them. In fact it was mostly ups. I was trailing in the back of the group with Chris and Karma again. The altitude and climbing were definitely not being friendly to me but I was better suited to this kind of activity than I was just a few days earlier.

plant unfolding the bleak beauty porter train IMG 4319 IMG 4320

As you can tell from the above photos it was overcast and a bit foggy. Also the trees were barely surviving. I guess during monsoon season this area will green up a bit. Here’s one with Chris talking about the area while Karma took the video.

Chris and Karma

At one point Karma pointed out some buildings off in the distance and stated that they were our destination for the day. This gave me a little boost until I saw what laid between our position and the destination. There was a huge climb up to a landmark named Hinku Cave followed by a descent and another big climb before reaching our destination at Deurali. Regardless I had a couple of goals set in my mind and I took one step at a time to conquer those goals.

The climb up to Hinku Cave was a little more treacherous than I expected. The path consisted of quite a bit of loose gravel as well as oddly shaped rocks that didn’t provide nice stable or flat footfalls. I was constantly thinking of where I was stepping because one wrong step and I would have twisted the hell out of my ankle.

I eventually got to the top of the climb that ended at Hinku Cave. My breathing was labored and while I rested my body decided to take the opportunity to have a coughing fit. Hinku Cave wasn’t really a cave as much as it was a large rock outcropping. It looked and smelled like it had been used for many years as a rest stop for pony trains.

Tendi guarding Hinku Cave IMG 4324

We waited until we saw Chris and Karma coming up to the cave. After a short break we headed down to a snow pack that we had to cross. It was above a fast moving stream and about halfway across there was about a foot wide hole that showed the rocks and flowing water below my feet. Let’s just say that I had a little bit of trepidation walking on this crossing.

 

the snow pack

There was another stream with falls, sans snow pack, that we crossed before our climb up to Deurali, 3200m. We arrived a little bit earlier than we had estimated but I know I was very happy to arrive regardless of making good time by arriving around 3:20pm. That was just the icing on the cake.

The next stream stream crossing

Tea was set up for us rather quickly after arriving. The temperature up here was a bit chillier but bearable. After tea Monika gave us a demonstration on how to develop film at altitude. I had never seen anyone develop film except the scenes of a dark room in movies. So this was pretty interesting and it seemed to be relatively simple and straightforward. I don’t think I’ll get into analog photography or at least anytime soon but if I do I think I will probably develop my own pictures.

After the demonstration I retired to my tent for a nap. It was a rather short nap and when I got up I decided to take a stroll around Deurali. There wasn’t much different in this village than the others that we had come across. I just had time to kill before dinner which was served around 6:40pm.

Dinner consisted of mushroom soup (I think this was the second or third time on the trek) followed by the main course of chow mien with egg, mixed tuna spring roll, chicken sausage (which I skipped), and mixed vegetables. I had seconds of the vegetables. The cooks and sherpas love to give out seconds. In fact while I was distracted Karma decided to give me a third helping. He really is a funny guy. Desert was pears and mango pieces.

After dinner I didn’t stick around long. I excused myself and went to my tent and crashed.

People: Clarence Chiang

Clarence and Dogfella

 

[Clarence and his buddy, DogFella]

Clarence Chiang was our lone Chinese trekker on this adventure as he hails from Hong Kong. His photography is absolutely awesome as you can tell from his site. He aspires to becoming a professional photographer and in my opinion he is there. He had a great sense of humor with a quick smile. An avid runner and scuba diver he was in the best shape of anyone on the trail excluding the Nepalis that is. I really hope to keep in touch with Clarence even if he does shoot with a Nikon. You can also follow Clarence on twitter or check out his great photos, especially his HDR pictures, on his flickr account. Here are some photos of Clarence although I didn’t seem to have many with his face. I actually had quite a few with the back of his head but that’s because he was always in the front of the group.

The front of the pack

Clarence and Tendi must have become good buddies because Clarence was ALWAYS in the front of the group. I think he actually pushed Tendi to go faster.

The group at the top

[At the top of ABC]

Clarence and Damion after breakfast

[Before breakfast]

Clarence

Even the Super Athlete Clarence needs to rest some times.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 6 – April 25th, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I began to rise around 5:30am as the sun was just starting to brighten the new day. I removed myself from my tent in order to stretch and use the facilities.

Fishtail

Annapurna

Chommrong Guesthouse

Volleyball court below camp

crow in flight

solo flower

Afterwards I was amazed at how nice the day and how superb the lighting was so I decided to take a few shots around camp. The assistant cooks arrived outside my tent around 6:30 with tea and washing water so I knew it was time to stop procrastinating and pack my gear before breakfast.

Fast was broken around 7:30 on the the dining table outside of the dining tent which had already been taken down. We had porridge (of some sort) with pancakes. I ate more pancakes than porridge but all of the food was welcome and delicious.

Camp was broken down for the most part around 8:30 and so we left and began our hiking for the day. Chommrong is situated at the top (or near the top) of the hill and so the first order of business of the day was a long downhill path to the river valley. We passed through quite a few smaller guest houses and villages. It took us just about an hour to get to the bottom of the gorge where the river cut through the area.

There was a really neat cable bridge crossing the river.

bridge

We took a break at the bridge as we would be climbing on the other side. There were a ton of stone steps as we had to regain the altitude that we lost on the way to the bottom of the gorge as well as a little more. We passed through some small villages and one had this cute sight that I had to capture.

cow and goat

At one point during our uphill journey we were almost run over by men carrying bundles of bamboo downhill. They were running at almost full speed with twenty foot long bundles over a shoulder. It was a bit scary as they rushed downhill. It seemed as if they weren’t in complete control.

bamboo porter

We were also passed by pony trains moving in either direction. I think I have described these pony trains before in a previous entry but I’ll do a quick summary. Basically because the locals can’t drive motorized vehicles up or down to the various villages this is the only method of getting supplies up the mountains and trash back down. There is typically a single man driving the train from the rear. He uses shouts and whistles and small rocks to direct the ponies although they seem to know where they are going. Here’s a video of one such pony train.

Here’s a neat shot of some peppers being dried.

Peppers

Rather shortly after that photo we hit the outskirts of Sinuwa. We passed through a few more guest houses before we got to Sinuwa proper, about 2320m in altitude, and then we stopped for lunch. Lunch was a cheese and carrot sandwich with beans, mac & cheese, and some corn. Just after we finished eating while we were relaxing, the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to drizzle. The rain stopped fairly quickly but then the temperature dropped and I started to get chilled.

We all noticed that there was a phone in this particular guesthouse because it kept ringing. There was a rather cute Nepali woman working the counter who would answer the phone and chat with the caller. We all guessed that the reason the phone was so busy was because she was on the receiving end. She must have been one of the most popular girls on the trail. We all had a good chuckle each time the phone rang.

We all were getting tired of chilling around Sinuwa but our sherpas were hidden from sight. After a quick reconnoiter I found Tendi watching so Nepali soap opera on a tv in another dinning area of the guest house. It was pretty funny. We got his attention and then proceeded to don our gear and strike out on the trail again.

We immediately hit another grueling uphill. There were quite a few trekkers heading in the downhill direction. Apparently after you get to the end you can basically run downhill. I, on the other hand, was sucking wind as I climbed and had to take a very slow and steady pace.

We crested a set of stairs and then we were on relatively flat land for a while. I took the opportunity of actually being able to breathe normally to also take some pictures.

bird in a tree

small red spider

trekkers

Thilo on the trail

trail and flowers

We had a long downhill trek over lots of wet and muddy rocks as the little bit of rain we had was still dribbling through the cracks and crevasses of the mountains. This made the trail a little bit more treacherous but I didn’t have any major stumbles or twisted ankles. Then came a section where a bunch of Nepali men were actually improving the trail by building a long set of stone stairs. They only had a small portion completed but the stairs were wide and well done. Some of the trekkers gave donations to the workers. I didn’t have any cash available but I figured the others gave plenty :-).

After we got out of the construction we had another short uphill and downhill and then we hit the outskirts of the village of Bamboo, around 2300m in altitude, which was our destination. As we went through one of the guesthouses there was this cute baby goat standing on a chair near a table eating pea husks as his owner was removing the peas from the pods. I took a few pictures but this is the best one.

goat and peas

Chris and I were trailing the pack when we came across this cute goat. Anyway, we continued on to the camp and arrived just before 4pm. Around 4:30 we had tea in the dining tent. During tea Chris explained the ins and outs of tilt-shift lenses and let us play around with the one attached to his camera. Around 5pm Chris held a workshop on how to use Lightroom. I really got a lot out of this workshop but I should have taken notes as I know that I have forgotten about half of what he went through. I’m kicking myself.

I think dinner was set around 7pm but maybe it was 6:30. We had Dal Bhat with curried vegetables, green beans, mushrooms, stewed tomatoes and cabbage salad with carrots. The food was good and filling. As dinner was wrapping up we were informed that the following day we would be gaining about 900 meters in altitude in 6 to 7 hours. My legs were sore but I had no doubt that I would survive the next day. Although I also had no doubt that I would probably be hating life while climbing that altitude.

People: Ben Murray

Benicio in Nepal

[I’m “borrowing” this image from Ben’s own blog as I don’t have a good one. Thanks Ben!]

Ben comes from down under. Our only Australian on the trip was an infrastructure technician by trade and enjoys mixed martial arts when not behind a camera. I enjoyed the limited amount of time that I was able to spend with him and I felt horrible for the all of the stuff that happened to him at the beginning of this trek. I’ve explained most of what happened to him on the trip but here is a spoiler. He didn’t stick around Kathmandu therefore we didn’t get to meet up again. Instead he attempted to get an earlier flight back to Australia after hanging out in Kathmandu for a while. His trip back made a stop in Thailand at which point he was stranded for a few days. This guy just can’t get any breaks. Anyway, he did make it back home and his health is back to normal.

Ben napping at the airport in Pohkara

Ben has some absolutely gorgeous photos on his site and flickr account. Ben even blogged his Nepal experience. You can also follow him on twitter.

Gear: Pants

I bought and brought a whole bunch of different pairs of pants for the trip. I knew that I would be wearing them for multiple days and possibly getting rained or snowed on. I also knew that they would need to be comfortable for long sessions of hiking. So here is my roundup of the pants that I had.

Patagonia Duck Pants

This pants are comfortable. I actually saved these for the last day in Kathmandu and the flight home. I wanted to be comfortable as long as possible. The pants are orangish brown and I need to wear them more often but I definitely recommend them. I’m not certain how well they would deal with regular hiking wear and tear.

Gander Mountain Expedition cargo pants

Hated these. I wore these one day! Basically, they didn’t fit right, constantly fell down, and rubbed in the wrong places. Maybe I got the wrong size but I don’t recommend these. I guess you get what you pay for and these were relatively cheap.

Columbia olive convertible trekking pants

I’m not certain what the name or model of these pants but I really liked them. They are nylon and light. I wore these for multiple days and was completely comfortable in them. I did have to use a belt with them as they did not include an internal belt or any other waist cinching mechanism. My only complaint was that I bought ones that were slightly too long and the bottoms of the pant legs would sometimes get caught below my heel. I did take advantage of removing the pants legs on the second day of trekking as my legs were getting quite warm from the constant exercise. There are buttons on the belt loops that I couldn’t figure out where their purpose is. If anyone knows please let me know.

Mountain Hardware Runout pants

These slate grey pants are cotton and very hardy. I was told that I should have had only synthetic as they are lighter and dry faster if they got wet but these pants were great. I wore them for multiple days and didn’t have any major issues. They fit well although there are lots of seams and those seams could be felt when walking or bending. I wore these on my trip to Kathmandu and for a couple of days afterward. Regardless I totally recommend these.

The North Face trekking pants

I have two pairs of these pants. One is khaki while the other is dark grey/black. I wore both of these pants for multiple days each and they were very comfortable during the hiking. As with the Columbia pants above there was no internal belt but there is a little bit of elastic. The elastic would be fine if I was wearing these casually but as I was hiking and in particular going up and down mountainsides therefore I used the belt to keep them from slipping down. Again like the Columbia pants I purchased pants that were just a tad too long and had the same issue with the pant legs catching on my heels every once in a while. I would recommend these highly.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 5 – April 24th, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke around 5:30am and the sun was already starting to rise to the point that it was already light outside. I decided that this would be a great opportunity to switch the clothes that I had been wearing for the last few days. Yes, that is correct that I had been wearing the same clothes for multiple days. That is just the way it is done when trekking or backpacking. You just don’t have space to carry a new outfit for every day.

I changed and it felt so nice to be in fresh clothes. The accumulation of sweat and dust on my previous clothes wasn’t horrible but it was definitely nice to change. They didn’t smell that bad either. Or maybe I just reeked so much that I couldn’t tell the difference. Either way no one had mentioned anything.

The assistant cooks came around to the tents at around 6:30 with morning tea and washing water. Somehow I messed up my drink request and I ended up with hot milk tea. But I drank it with the minimal of fuss. I then proceeded to pack my gear albeit slowly. I’m not certain why I was being lazy but I just didn’t rush into things this morning. While packing I found a little critter crawling around the tent.

tiny spider

I wasn’t sure what kind of spider or if it was poisonous so I just collected it on something or other and flung it outside of the tent.

Breakfast was around 7:30am. The sherpas had broken down the dining tent but set up the table for breakfast out on the lawn with a scenic view. Of course the sun was coming up from that direction so I decided to sit facing away from the view so as to not blind myself. The food served was pretty typical for the trek. We ate Spam® and potatoes with toast and curried vegetables. I ate a very decent amount. I guess all of the hiking from the previous day had increased my appetite. I had mustard on my spam and snack dressing (thin ketchup) on my potatoes.

After breakfast we milled around and chatted for a bit.

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[Ben, Jon, Clarence, Karma, and Chris]

Chris and Jon

[Chris showing Jon his analog camera]

Analog Camera up close

[Analog camera up close. You can see Jon’s face in the right top lens]

Chris then gathered us for the group photos since Jon and Ben had rejoined the party and we had everyone there. We took a few of all of the trekkers, the organizers and participants. Then we took a few with all of the trekkers and all of the staff; sherpas, porters, cooks, etc. Chris had us do different poses or facial expressions.

Afterward we broke apart and Ben, Jon, and Sonam said good bye as they were going to be heading back to Naya Pool in order to head back to Kathmandu. Ben’s health had deteriorated to the point where it did not make sense for him to go further. Their plan was to hang out in and around Kathmandu until we returned from the trek.

We left camp around 9:15am for what was determined to be an “easy” day.

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The first couple of hours were all downhill and I have a distinct feeling that the mountain was telling us something.

middle finger

The weather was nice and cool and a bit overcast. This made it really nice for hiking. Well for a little while at least. We had crossed over to the more arid side of the mountains and so we were not in the rainforest type of ecology. In fact it was mostly terraced with small villages and farms. For some reason Karma and Tendi had us break quite a bit as we were going downhill. One long break, seemed like fifteen minutes, was followed rather quickly by another long break with only about 10 minutes of walking in between. We don’t usually question the sherpas as they are the experts but this seemed excessive. I took some pictures while we were on break. There were a couple of teenagers hitting a volleyball back and forth on the lawn in front of the guesthouse that we were taking the break at. I guess you have to do something to break up the monotony during the days when there aren’t any people residing the rooms.

Fishtail

valley

landslide

[You can see the path way down below as well as the rockslide on the other side]

Bee Hive

[This is a bee hive in a hollow log]

Eagle and raven

[eagle and raven]

stupa on the path

[Buddhist stupa near our path]

The cloud cover started to become more sparse and the heat started to increase while we were on one of these breaks. And there was no real shade. We all urged the sherpas to continue and so down into the valley we went. It was really dusty as the trail going down was mostly a dirt path, in other words no stone stairs, and it was really dry. The descent into the valley didn’t take that long but the path was different than we were used to and it was the longest continuous downhill that we had happened upon. At the end my I was starting to get a slight twinge in my knee that I know from experience meant that I was not hiking downhill correctly.

We stopped for a break within sight of the bridge that would take us across the river at the bottom of the valley. There were stone stairs on the opposite side that meant we were going to be climbing a lot.

We got going again and we saw some porters with another group traveling in the opposite direction with colorful balloons attached to their backpacks. It took me a while to figure out what the significance of this was. Apparently it was Easter Sunday and someone had decided to decorate the porters. I’m not certain they were happy about it.

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Here’s the bridge that we had to cross.

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After the bridge we started climbing the stairs. We passed through a few clusters of homes without the obligatory guesthouses. There were women out beating some sort of grain from whatever they harvested out on the stone areas outside of their homes. This was in the path that we were walking on so we didn’t have much room between the grains and falling off the ledge going down the hill. I’m not certain what kind of grain it was as I’m not versed in what different grains grow in different regions of the world. It looked similar to wheat but was the seeds were black while the stalks were gold.

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After seeing these women at work we came upon a really shocking surprise. A volleyball court! Granted it was just a flat dirt area but it had a large bamboo cage around the field used to keep the ball from rolling down the mountain side.

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This one threw me for a loop. I just never expected volleyball to be a popular sport in the mountains. I guess this explains the kids hitting the ball around earlier. They were practicing. As the trek continued up to higher altitudes we came across other volleyball courts with lot’s of off-duty Nepali playing. By the way, the trail went right through the volleyball court. I guess it’s similar to playing street hockey or stick ball in a street. It’s more about the convenience of the location than the intermittent interruption by car or in our case trekking group.

We stopped for lunch a short while after passing through the volleyball court. Lunch consisted of bow-tie pasta, rice, beans, and this canned fish in a red sauce. I ate everything but the fish. They just did not look good in the least. I’m usually a pretty adventurous foodie but I just didn’t feeling like pressing my luck while on this trek. We took a rather long break after lunch.

We struck out again on the way to Chommrong. Most of the next hour was uphill until we hit the outskirts of Chommrong. We took a nice break to allow Chris and Karma to catch up with the group before continuing on.

After the break as we were going along the path we came across a couple of water buffalos. I have no knowledge of the demeanor or temperament of these animals especially when encroaching on their personal space so I attempted to give them as wide a berth as possible. But I also decided that I needed so up close and personal photos.

Water Buffalo on the path

This buffalo decided to stand up and look agitated. Probably because he was resting on the path that we walking on.

Agitated buffalo

This buffalo didn’t mind us walking by as much.

lying buffalo

After another 30-45 minutes we were in Chommrong which is a huge collection of guest houses and supporting businesses. There were restaurants and bakeries as well as a clinic and some other government installations. This was by far the biggest village we had hit since we walked through Bharenthanti on the first day. We made our way through the myriad guest houses and to our campsite. The campsite was on a cliff ledge that overlooked a volleyball court and had Fishtail and two of the Annapurna peaks in the distance.

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I was in such a need to drink something other than tea or water that I purchased a cold Sprite. It was so good. I didn’t care that there was a little bit of an off taste due to the Diamox. My only problem was that it was too little.

We relaxed around camp until dinner. It started to threaten to rain and even sprinkled a little. It cleared up before dinner which was pizza with cauliflower, beans, and chow mien with mozzarella. We finished up with peaches. We chilled in the dining tent while the weather outside turned to light showers again.

People: Shaun Chemplavil

Shaun

It’s a small world after all. I wonder if Disney will come and attempt to sue me for saying that. Anyway there is a reason I bring that saying up and that reason is named Shaun Chemplavil. A Las Vegas native he moved to Florida and in particular to Orlando. That’s right he lives within minutes from where I reside. I don’t know exactly how many minutes as I don’t know exactly where in Orlando he lives but having someone from the same metropolis on the trip was a big coincidence. But wait there’s more…[I think I can get sued for that too]. He is a member of a photography meetup group that I am a member of and we had actually met at one event. I know, crazy, right? He’s a great guy with a great sense of humor. And he definitely looked out for me along the trek.

Check out his flickr account to see his great photos.

Here’s Shaun prepping for a shot.

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Here’s Shaun at the only sign signifying the Annapurna Base Camp. He wanted proof that he was there.

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On our return trek Shaun was nearby with his blue trekking poles.

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Some days just take the smile away.

tired Shaun

But then it returns.

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[I had to make blurry subjects in my pictures as part of an assignment]

Gear: Various Head Coverings

I brought a wide variety of head coverings for everything from sun protection to keeping my noggin warm. I also brought items that I was going to try in order to keep the dry dusty air from bothering me too much. I’ll go through all of the items.

Baseball Cap

I had a standard baseball cap that I had bought at a UCF football game because I had forgotten to where one and the sun was killing me. This cap had served me well for a couple of years and so it deserved to be brought to the ends of the world as well. Overall it worked well protecting from the sun and helping to keep the sweat from my face. After a while the cap became saturated with sweat and stopped it’s function of keeping sweat out of my eyes. It also became hot and uncomfortable after extended use. One other negative is that the brim gets in the way when taking pictures so the hat must be turned, lifted or removed which can be annoying.

OC Goretex brimmed hat

I have had this hat for quite a few years but rarely wear it in Florida because it gets hot really quickly. It provides the most sun protection of everything I brought and folds up nicely. The lining would tend to get saturated with sweat and always stayed quite warm. I think I only wore this one day and it worked well but then I ended up shoving it into my backpack.

Buff®

This is one of those things from Survivor® that the contestants have. It’s basically a tube of cloth that can be used for many different types of clothing but mostly on the head. I initially purchased this to be one of the things that I tried for a dust guard to cover my mouth and nose while in Tibet. I ended up using it as a headband or just some sort of head covering. It did an awesome job of sopping up sweat and when one end of the tube would be saturated I could reverse it and use the other end of the tube. Now that I have written that out I have realized that it probably doesn’t make much sense. Oh well. I really like this item and when using other head covers I would sometimes switch them out for this. I usually kept it tied to my backpack in an easy to reach location so that it could dry out but be handy. One negative is that it didn’t provide any sun protection for my face.

Bandanas

I brought along two bandanas and I used them just about as much as I used the buff. I had brought these along as general purpose gear as well as having the special purpose of dust guard as I described for the buff. I never did use them for that purpose. They weren’t as versatile as the buff nor did they sop up as much sweat but they did well for a while and then were swapped out. Just like the buff these did not protect my face from the sun.

Skullcap beanie

By far my favorite cold weather headgear. This maroon beanie I always keep with my winter clothes for when I’m traveling outside of Florida. I don’t think I have had much use for it in Florida. It’s soft and comfortable and keeps my head warm. It does tend to soak up the sweat over time and definitely had that issue on this trip. I wore this anytime it was chilly enough or my ears were too cold.

Fleece headband

I brought a fleece headband that I had bought when skiing, because I had forgotten my aforementioned beanie. I wore this one time when we were on our way back from ABC and my beanie was too wet from sweat and rain. Everyone seemed to think it was funny. But it kept my ears warm and that made me happy.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 3 – April 22nd 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I was awakened by the assistant cooks knocking at the door of our room with tea around 7:30am. They also brought wash water to the room was was a nice touch. I was feeling better than the day before because I wasn’t completed stopped up. Anyway, I washed my torso and brushed my teeth and then started to re-organize and pack my gear. We were told the previous evening that today was going to be a rather short 2-3 hours of hiking and would basically be a rest day. Basically we would be heading to and stopping at the destination that we should have hit the evening before.

We had a relaxing breakfast around 8-8:30am although I know I ate well I don’t recall what we had. As we ate a local merchant displayed his jewelry and knick knacks for our shopping pleasure.

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Apparently anything you buy will bring good luck.

Right around 9am we got ready and hit the trail. We were still in the temperate jungle area but it was a rather cool morning. I’m not certain exactly what altitude we were at but my guess is that it was around 2500-2600m.

Something that I have been asked a couple of times is what are the colorful banners that seem to appear strung all over the place. These are Buddhist prayer flags. My understanding is that the idea is that there are prayers and blessings written on the cloth flags. The flags are hung across breezy areas and as the flags flutter in the wind their messages float along in the air and spread the prosperity. The flags stay strung up until the cloth deteriorates on its own.

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This area of Nepal isn’t very Buddhist. Most of the people in this area are Hindu but many of the people that come to this area are Buddhist and bring along and hang the flags. Typically I saw them around the bridges and in the villages.There were some locations where the flags were so numerous that they couldn’t flap in the breeze. I’m not certain what that means but I guess the intentions were valid.

While we were at the lower altitudes in this jungle like ecosystem we would see these weird snake looking plants. They almost looked alien as they just popped out of the ground without any leaves other than the main stalk. Here is a picture of a couple of them.

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Sometimes there would be a cluster of them and sometimes there would be a solitary plant. At first we thought they might be a pitcher plant but it doesn’t seem to have the same look as the family of pitcher plants that I found while searching. I have no idea what it is but it was neat and eery at the same time.

As we continued our hike I kept noticing that many of the trees and plants were blooming and new growth was budding on some of the plants. I wasn’t the only one to notice the pretty rhododendron flowers.

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As we walked we came across this interesting creation.

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It’s some sort of Hindu shrine as I assume based on the trident on one of the wooden posts. The trident is a symbol for Shiva. I took this picture because I found it interesting that a religious shrine would have an empty Coke® bottle hiding behind the tablet. It just struck me funny. Here’s a photo without the bottle.

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As we approached Lower Ghorepani I just happened to look up at one of the hilltops nearby and to my surprise there was a huge communications tower.

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You’ll also notice that there are a ton of prayer flags up there as well. I guess maybe they believe that the prayers will catch a ride on the microwave signals and travel even further. Just a little aside, I pass within feet of this tower the next morning.

We reach Lower Ghorepani and take a rest on the outside of one of the guest houses. Thilo decides to pull out of the super bounce balls that he had brought and play catch with a young Nepali boy. They would bounce the ball back and forth but most of the time the boy wouldn’t catch it and then he would have to chase it all over the stone walkways and sometimes down the hillside if it bounced wrong. The boy was probably four years old and his little sister was probably a year or two his junior. The sister was just happy to watch. Here they are.

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These two were both cute. Everyone was taking pictures of the action including Karma who had Jon’s video camera.

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At one point the siblings’ older brother, probably 8 or 10 years old, came by and seemed a little bit jealous that he couldn’t play. He was in the middle of doing chores.

I took the rest period time to look around for interesting and creative shots. This is what I found.

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After our short break Tendi and Karma both said that we just a little while longer in order to get to our stopping point. About 30 minutes of hiking (climbing stairs mostly) and we made it to Upper Ghorepani (Ghorepani proper) and our camp. It wasn’t even 11:30am.

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Here’s one of the dogs around our campsite when we arrived.

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Shortly after we arrived at camp the weather started to turn for the worse. The breeze picked up and the temperature dropped. Then it started to mist. It had been overcast for almost the whole day but now it seemed as if the clouds were dropping to our elevation. It started to drizzle and we quickly stowed our gear as well as grabbed some coats and ducked into a meeting/dining room. The assistant cooks provided us with tea to warm us up as the room that we were using was not well insulated at all. It did keep us dry and kept most of the wind out but it still got rather cold. The sherpas brought in a propane lantern to attempt to provide some heat to the room but I don’t think it was all that affective. It started to rain pretty hard and then it turned into sleet. Finally it decided to snow. It wasn’t the flaky kind of snow because it was still raining. Also the snow didn’t stick on the ground but it was there.

Around 12:30pm we had a very surprising lunch. It was pizza. The cooks have figured out a way to cook pizza at altitude and it was pretty good.

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We also had chicken and rice but the main item on everyone’s mind and fork was the pizza.

The rain and cold weather continued throughout lunch so Chris decided that we should have a workshop session on exposure. We talked about the basic concepts of exposure and then we got into the details of the zone system and how it can be used with our digital cameras. The rain stopped for a bit and it got a little bit lighter out. We decided to do a practical lesson based on the exposure session.

It was still very chilly out but after a short while it started to drizzle again. We all took shelter back in the meeting room again except for a few that decided that it would be a good time to take a nap in their tents. The rest of the afternoon was spent conversing over various interesting topics ranging from music, television, computers, and whatever else we could geek out about. We were able to watch Himalayan TV, a.k.a. looking out the big windows on one wall of the meeting room. That’s where we saw hit show’s like the “Chicken Confuser” and the “Chicken Confuser Confuser”. We also discussed the “Big Fart” which was an extremely serious topic for the Himalayan Plateau. I can’t really go into details about the plots of these shows or else they would just become banal. Although if you ask nicely then I’ll describe each. We became masters of trivial discussion and we killed time quite easily.

At one of the lulls in the precipitation, Damion and I ventured out into the village of Ghorepani. This village was much larger than the previous ones that we had visited. There were quite a few foreigners huddled under overhangs or inside dining areas of the guest houses. We went to one shop and I bought a postcard for my mom and a Fanta®. Apparently Fanta and Coke or the only soft drinks that make their way up the mountain paths. It tasted very weird but that is one of the effects of Diamox® apparently.

Since I mentioned ®, the brand name for Acetazolamide, I’ll tell you about this drug that I was taking in order to help reduce the possibility or effects of altitude sickness. Basically any time that you increase your altitude rather quickly you become susceptible to altitude (or mountain) sickness. Your body over time will get adjusted to the altitude and change the way that your blood handles the decrease in oxygen but if you ascend quickly you can get really sick. This drug helps your body adjust faster and therefore reducing the risk of getting sick. But of course there are side effects. One is that for some reason it changes the taste of carbonated beverages such as Coke. This is an annoyance but nothing indicative of something gone wrong. Another side effect is that you get “Diamox Tingles”. I would describe this as something like a mild case of “pins and needles” that a limb gets if it has fallen asleep and it is being moved again. These tingles aren’t just in the limbs. They can be anywhere on the body. For me they tended to hit right after we stopped hiking for 10 minutes or so and usually in my fingertips and heels. It’s a really odd sensation but again it’s nothing bad just annoying.

After wasting the day away we finally had tea followed shortly by dinner. The supper consisted of chow mien with some sort of red sauce. We also had veggies and probably chicken sausage but that last one is just a guess. The food was ok but we were all still full from lunch as we all overloaded on pizza.

After dinner we were informed by Karma that we would be getting up at 4am in order to hike up to Poon Hill for the sunrise. He told us that it would be chilly and that all we would need is our camera. Karma also told us that if the weather was bad in the morning that we would be allowed to sleep in. We hung around the table for a bit but then all turned in early due to the early morning. It was quite a bit chilly so I actually made some use of my sleeping bag instead of just using it as a blanket. I spent some time listening to an audio book until I passed out.

People: Damion Wilson

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Damion hails from Maryland and this is his second trip to the Himalayas. He was my roommate/tent-mate for the majority of the trip and I thank him for dealing with my B.S. and snoring. His recently acquired addiction to Angry Birds was only fueled by my assistance when he asked for it (and sometimes when he didn’t). He was very popular as we trekked because he had a bunch of interesting technology within plain view of anyone passing by on the trail.

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Here you can see his GoPro camera strapped to his forehead that took a picture every 30 seconds and that is connected to a battery pack and a solar panel that you see just behind his right shoulder. Everyone wondered what the device attached to his head was and would accost him and make him explain. To us he seemed like RoboCop or some other cyborg with all of this equipment. Damion also had a desire to get a really good water/waterfall shot.

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He’s a very good guy and I hope to keep in touch with him as we both made it to the top of Annapurna Base Camp.

He typically posts his awesome photos on his flickr account.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 2 – April 21st, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I was awakened by the sherpas around 6am. They were providing morning tea. Tea as I described before could be any number of hot drinks and I think I had hot chocolate on this particular morning. We also got hot wash water in a bowl which I used to brush my teeth.

The order of things in the morning is wake up with tea and wash water. Followed by about an hour to get ready for the day and pack your gear. Then breakfast while camp is broken down. Then after everything is ready to go we don our trekking gear and head off for the day.

This morning it didn’t take me too much time to get my gear packed. I guess I was just ready to get going with the knowledge that it was going to be a long and difficult day. After I packed I had some time to take some pictures. This picture shows the camp being broken down before we sat down for breakfast.

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Also, a local Nepali brought out a bunch of jewelry and accessories for purchase.

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I purchased a yak wool belt (the very bottom right) because I needed a belt as my pants liked to ride downward as I walked. It’s really neat in that it can be tied in many different sizes although untying can be a pain in you are urgent to use the restroom.

We broke fast at around 7am. I wasn’t hungry at all but I knew I had to eat something. I consumed a fried egg, some chopped potatoes, and half a piece of toast slathered in Nutella. I didn’t really finish anything but I had my fill. I was still full from the previous night’s dinner.

We started hiking around 8am and it started out pretty easy. We walked through a couple of small villages/guest house clusters. I guess I should explain this a little bit better as this is something that comes up often along the trip. The villages weren’t typically a cluster of houses together. They were more of a generalized area that didn’t have any type of defined borders. There were houses all around the hills in these areas and along the trekking path there were small clusters of guest houses. These were typically two story structures with about 6 rooms for rent, an associated dinning area/restaurant, a little store with drinks (soft and hard) and other sundry items. The guest houses were typically white and blue with blue roofs and they had a central water faucet that seemed to be fed from some mountain spring uphill from the village. Most of the time the path going to/through the guest house cluster was paved with nice flat stones and stairs. Here is an example that I saw shortly after leaving our campsite.

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After passing through this guest house cluster we started to climb lot’s of stairs. I always seemed to be out of breathe. At our first break I gave my spare water bottle to Tendi, the sherpa at the front of our group, in order to help lighten my load. We continued our trek. I rather quickly dropped to the rear of the group with Chris and Karma as we were taking our time. Taking our time was the only way to keep moving without being out of breathe every 2 minutes. I felt so slow but it worked.

Well, there was one good thing about being slow. Sometimes you see stuff that the rest of the group missed out on. For instance can you tell what I took a picture of here?

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Give up? Here’s a little bit of a better picture.

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And then he launched…

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And he was gone.

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I asked Karma, the sherpa at the back of the group, what they call that type of monkey and he said “dil-do”. I did a double take as I thought I misheard him. I asked again and he repeated the name. You have to understand that Nepali people when speaking English tend to speak the syllables rather quickly so I thought I might have still misheard him. So I asked Chris if I heard right and he said that Karma said “dil-der-do” and not “dil-do”. And so that is how I referred to this monkey for many days on the trek.

We continued to climb stairs for the next couple of hours. In this picture you can see the terraced farms as well as some paths. We hiked on the lower path earlier in the day. I hope that gives some idea of how much altitude we had gained.

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The blue building to the bottom left was a school and we heard the children doing some sort of drills out in the courtyard as we were going along. The sound just travelled throughout the mountains.

I started to see stairs as being evil. Every time we hit a new set of stairs I was thinking to myself that these were stairs to hell except that they went up. Chris was also having a tough time but he still had concern for my health and would check up on me quite often. He also provided some trekking hints which I graciously accepted. Well as graciously as I could concerning the state of mind I was in. He also kept telling me to take my time which did help out.

One of my thighs decided that it had enough climbing stairs and started to cramp on me. It wasn’t serious but it was annoying. During our next break I mentioned my condition to Karma and Chris and Chris provided me with a packet of salts and minerals (electrolytes)  to mix with some water to drink. I drink about half a cup of warm water with the “strawberry” flavored mix. It went down but not easily. After resting for a couple of minutes we decided to continue our stair climbing activity. I took about 4 steps and then my stomach told me that it had had enough. I proceeded to spew for everything from my stomach. Luckily I had the presence of mind to move my camera to the side or else it would have been covered in vomit. I coughed up everything that I had eaten that morning and I think most of what I ate the night before. That ruined my taste for Nutella for the rest of the trip. In the process of bracing myself for a set of heaves I stuck my hand into a thistle weed. So I was hot, out of breath, constipated, vomiting, cramping and now I had sharp pains in my left hand. This just wasn’t my day.

After I stopped heaving I was actually feeling somewhat better. After a little bit more of a break I told Karma and Chris that I was ready to continue on. We ascended another 50m or so and everyone was waiting in a shaded patio at a guest house. Shaun bought me a warm mango juice which I gratefully drank although I can now say that I am not a fan of warm mango juice.

We continued on up the path for a very short while, maybe 20-30 minutes, and then we stopped at the next guest house and had lunch. I drank plenty of the “juice” that was provided but I barely touched the food. Although my stomach was feeling a bit better, I had zero appetite and when I attempted to eat something I just felt like I was forcing myself. I don’t even recall what we had but I do know that mine was relatively untouched.

As we relaxed and had tea after lunch the sky began to darken and it started to rain. Lightly at first and steadily increasing in intensity all of the way to having small hail stones falling from the sky. The porters and sherpas scrambled to get tarps to cover the bags and gear. Our group just stayed dry in the dining area. I decided to take some pictures.

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Almost every guest house cluster had some sort of variation on the following map. Most were hand-painted and didn’t look anywhere close to as nice as this one.

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Karma and Tendi came to us after the rain had basically stopped and informed us that because of the weather that we had to change our plans. I think it was mostly because we had slow people (me) in the group and we wouldn’t make it to our original destination before nightfall. So we continued on our way after donning our backpacks.

As we started hiking again I was feeling a bit better but my legs were still sore especially the one that had been cramping. I stayed at the back of the group with Chris and Karma but we were able to keep a decent pace. Frankly I don’t remember the terrain between lunch and our stop for the night but I do know that I was extremely happy to reach our destination.

We stopped for the night at a guest house and we were informed that we would be staying in a room and not in a tent. Before we grabbed rooms we relaxed in the dining area. Karma and Dawa were working out the details with the guest house owner so we just relaxed and had tea. Eventually we were told to determine which room we wanted and our bags were brought up. We had a short rest period where we were able to get settled into our rooms before we were called to dinner.

Dinner was dal bhat, also known as “Sherpa Fuel”, with curried vegetables and chicken. I don’t think I ate much as I was still constipated.

After dinner I think everyone was pretty wiped out from the day’s activity and we all retired to our rooms. The night was still pretty warm so I used my sleeping bag as a blanket. As the night continued the temperature dropped so I used more of my “blanket” to cover myself. I also woke up in the middle of the night and used the toilet for my first semi-success. After that I went back to bed and slept through the night.

People: The Sherpas

The word sherpa is a lot of things. It is a job description, a last name, a tribe, and a caste. On this particular trip we had a handful of sherpas helping us out from the Mountain Tribes trekking company.

The big man at Mountain Tribes, at least that I met, was Babu Sherpa. He organized the trip with Jon and provided the pre-trip logistics. He worked magic when the Chinese closed the Tibetan border and created the Annapurna trip within hours of the other trip being canceled. Babu was great and I wish I had spent more time to get to know him. I highly recommend his company to anyone wanting to trek or just explore Nepal and the surrounding areas. Babu is on twitter.

Babu’s assistant in Kathmandu was Depan. Depan helped with things like attempting to get our Chinese visas and making sure that we got to where we needed to go. He was also the last sherpa to communicate with me has he handed me off to a taxi driver for my trip back to the airport (and back home).

The first trekking sherpa that I met was Sonam. He met us in Kathmandu and flew with us over to Pokhara and stayed at our hotel. I believe he assisted Babu in planning the Annapurna trek. Sonam stayed with Jon and Ben when they had to leave the group on the first day of trekking. He also helped Jon and Ben to catch up to us a few days into the trip and then helped them back to the start of the trek when Ben’s illness relapsed. Sonam was always quiet when he was around the group so I didn’t have much interaction with him.

The next two trekking sherpas were Tendi and Karma. I’m writing about them together because they were always with us with Tendi leading the group and Karma tailing the group. I spent a bit more time with Karma as I was typically at the back of the pack but I had plenty of time to speak with both of them. They were both happy and had great sense of humor. Anyway, I got a few good pictures of these two.

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Karma on the left. Tendi on the right.

The final sherpa that I met on the trek was Dawa. He was the head chef and also made arrangements for our campsites. He was also in front of our group and typically is was way in the distant front. He always had a great big smile on his face and he surprised us a few times on the trek which I’ll explain later.

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He’s the one in the grey ball cap. I guess he wasn’t smiling as he was dealing with the porters this morning.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Pokhara and the trek begins

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke around 5am. Although I woke up easily I did not feel rested and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I took the opportunity as the sun was coming up to snap some pictures around the hotel. I think this first one is Annapurna South, which is one of the smaller of the Annapurna peaks.

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This next two I believe are Machapucchre (Fishtail)

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Around 7am we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant which I think consisted of eggs and toast and maybe some sausage. I don’t recall but I also don’t believe I was all that hungry. Sometime while we were in the restaurant Ben joined us and we found out that he had a crazy night. Basically his illness got to the point where Jon and Sonam took him to the hospital and the doctor their immediately put him on an IV drip. He also got a stack of prescriptions (wrapped in folded newspaper). He seemed in a little bit better spirits than the last time I saw him the day before but he definitely wasn’t 100%.

After breakfast I packed whatever I hadn’t packed earlier in the morning and brought my bags down to the lobby and waited as everyone else filtered in.

Trekkers gathering before the bus ride

Just after 8am our bus arrived and we started to migrate towards it. I saw something really neat in the garden right before hopping onto the bus so I took a quick snap. Can you see what I saw?

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It’s not the flowers, or the buildings, or even the wrought iron fence. Let’s zoom in a little.

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I have no idea how I saw this guy but he is pretty awesome. It seems to be an Oriental Garden Lizard but as I didn’t get a profile picture I can’t be sure. Anyway, I hopped on the bus and away we went.

The ride was pretty much what we had come to expect of driving in Nepal. It was rather early when we left so there wasn’t much auto or pedestrian traffic but that didn’t mean the driver hesitated to use his horn whenever he did come across another vehicle or person near our path. As we got outside of Pokhara the streets became bumpier and narrower which means that passing vehicles that are traveling in the opposite direction becomes even more perilous.

At some point early during the trip, Jon made his way to the back of the bus, re-arranged the duffels into a make-shift bed and immediately passed out. I guess he had had a long night hanging out with Ben at the hospital.

I lost track of time as we traveled to the trailhead at Naya Pool. I snapped a dozen or so pictures along the way attempting to capture something interesting but most came as a blurry mess. Here are some that survived the cut.

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The bus finally made it to what seemed to be a very popular area for trekking. There were lots of foreigners either getting into or out of vehicles. But our bus ride was not over yet. We continued down a rather narrow road crowded with people, parked vehicles, and loose animals. We made it down to a turn and the assistant driver (a.k.a. the guy banging the side of the bus) stepped out and attempted to help navigate the bus through the tight space. At some point a dog decided to duck under the bus and everything was halted until the dog ran out. We continued down a bit further and then we stopped to greet our sherpas, Tendi and Karma, and our pack of porters. We got off the bus and quickly all of our gear was unloaded and assigned out. By assigning out I mean to say that the porters discussed, argued (with smiles), and finally to what looks like compromises.

We trekkers donned our packs and situated ourselves for the hiking for the day.

getting ready for the hike

A playful dog decided to interrupt our preparations and get some attention from Jon.

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Jon had a little fun playing back with the dog.

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Shortly after this we began our walk. Here is a parting shot of what we left behind including the playful dog.

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At the beginning of the hike our elevation was approximately 1030 meters. I’ll be pretty much doing everything in metric as that is how everything there was written. This one time I’ll say that the conversion rate between meters and feet is 1m = 3.3ft. Therefore my starting elevation of 1030m was approximately 3400ft.

As we hiked a little bit I noticed one of our first views of the peaks from the ground. This is Macchapuchhare (I know I spelled it differently, welcome to the wonderful world of Nepali/English transitions) again.

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I just liked how the picture had the Fish Tail peak along with the Fish Tail restaurant.

We quickly made it to Birenthanti and crossed the river on our first bridge of the trip. Here is one of the only times I was in the front of our trekking group.

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Of course I was still behind the porters (notice the one on the right has a purple duffle, mine, as well as other bags). The porters who were all relatively small but all carried about their body weight. I have much respect for them.

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As we hiked on the first day we were typically near a river. Here are some waterfalls.

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The day was hot and we didn’t have much cover.

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Our first stop was at a guest house right around noon. It’s the place with the orange tarp in the distance. This was such a welcome sight as all of us wanted to get out of the oppressive heat. Even though most of the hike so far had been on relatively flat land, it was extremely welcome to have a goal in sight.

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And even better was the fact that we were going to be fed. This was our first meal on the trek.

first lunch

That’s right, Mac & Cheese. Accompanying the Mac & Cheese were chicken sausages (hot dogs), potatoes, and broccoli in some sort of dressing (I think it was mayo). The process that was typical for lunch was that we would arrive at our lunch destination and we would immediately get “juice” which was a warm to hot concoction of some sort of sugary drink mix such as lemonade, tang, mango or grape. Within a short amount of time prepared plates of food would be passed out to each of the trekkers. After finishing the meal the plates would be cleared and then various teas and other hot drinks would be available.

Now to the bad news. Ben had a difficult time with the short hike that we had so far on that day. His illness was still affecting him too much and the heat and dehydration were taking its toll. After some discussion between the trip leaders it was decided that Ben would go no further today. Ben, Jon and Sonam would stay at the guest house that we were having lunch at and determine what to do the following day. This really sucks that Ben was being told to drop out but he was not doing well and we all felt for him.

As we got ready to continue our trip we said our goodbyes to Ben and Jon and we were hoping to see them all again at some point later in the trip or in Kathmandu. We had hiked for about an hour and half before stopping for lunch and now we had about two to three hours to finish for the day. So we started hiking again.

The rest of the trip that day was grueling. At least the temperature dropped a little and it became overcast. We started to climb and mostly on stairs…

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And more stairs…

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I was so happy when I saw the following sight…

The first campsite

The porters and Dawa’s team (Dawa is the sherpa in charge of cooking and camp logistics) had arrived and set up our tents and the dining tent. I was so glad that the end of the hiking for the day was over. We stopped at Tikhedhunga which was at approximately 1480m altitude. This means that we climbed about 450m in the four to five hours of hiking.

Now for camp procedure. Typically when we arrive at camp the tents are erected and we are served tea within 30 minutes of arriving. Tea consists of a choice of hot beverages including black tea, mint tea, hot chocolate, bourn vita++, or instant coffee. Dawa provides both hot water and hot milk to create the beverages. Bourn Vita++, two flavors original and “5 Star Magic”, is a Cadbury product that is a nutrient rich drink for children.

I don’t recall what I had for tea on this day but I do recall not feeling to great because I was constipated and I went to lay down in my tent. I ended up taking a nap for about an hour with my feet hanging out of the tent door. I awoke and rejoined the group in the dining tent.

Chris decided that we would review our Patan assignments and critique each other’s photos before dinner. Just to refresh your memory the assignments were to get a picture of something with a clear subject that was not a human and to take a picture of a stranger after asking permission in some fashion. I had failed latter assignment as I never asked permission. I still provided two pictures for review and had them critiqued. The two that I choose were…

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I’ve done some post processing to these now but at the time I had not. I love the story told by the player-less chess game as well as its colors. The sleeping boy with the pink cast was interesting too although I couldn’t adjust the white balance better than what is seen here. I guess it’s ok.

Our review session continued almost up until dinner time. Just to kill some time and to explore a little of my surroundings I grabbed my camera and tried to find subjects to shoot. I guess I was too tired to explore too much.

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Another trekker

Dinner consisted of chicken and a whole lot of mashed potatoes and gravy. There were also vegetables. Even though I wasn’t hungry I knew I had to eat because I knew we would be hiking quite a bit the next day. I ate what I could. As the meal wound down I did as well. I was having a really difficult time staying awake which was probably caused by my lack of sleep the night before. Anyway, I got up from the table, went to my tent, and promptly passed out.

In the middle of the night I got up to use the restroom and I was amazed at how bright the moon and the stars were. If it weren’t for the moon I probably would have attempted to get some night shots. Ok that was a fib, I was just too lazy and tired to get my camera out and fiddle with the settings. Back to bed I went.

People: Monika Andrae

Monika Andrae

[I didn’t have a good picture of her so I’m linking to this one.]

Monika rounds out the set of trip leaders. She brought a lot of knowledge in the creativity and composition areas of photography. She also demonstrated how to develop film at altitude. Her quick wit and humor were always welcome additions to the group’s conversations. Monika has a blog and podcast that are both in German. I confess that I have only looked at the pretty pictures on her blog without bothering to translate to English.

Monika’s twitter and flickr accounts. She mainly tweets in German.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Kathmandu to Pokhara

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke at around 4:30am and then again around 5:30am. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I just laid there and waited until an appropriate breakfast time. It was probably around 7am when I roused and headed downstairs for breakfast with Damion. Most of the group showed up within 30 minutes or so except for a couple that had come down with some illness.

After breakfast we had a lot of time to kill before we had to go to the airport for our flight to Pokhara. I guess I should explain that. When the plans changed from Tibet to Annapurna it was decided that based on our schedules that we would fly to Pokhara. Then we would spend one night there and the next morning we would take a bus to the trailhead for the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek. The flight on this day was going to be around 2-2:30pm and we were going to leave for the airport around 1pm. So like I said we had some time to kill.

At some point Ben mentioned that he had to go to Thamel to get some extra trekking pants due to the fact that we were going to be spending more time trekking than originally planned. Also Jon had asked him to purchase one of the cheap knock off duffels that all of the gear dealers sold. Since I also had so business to attend to in Thamel I asked if I could join him. We grabbed a taxi and headed to Thamel.

The streets of Thamel

Once we arrived in that district we walked by a few shops but finally stopped at a little corner shop that had “North Face” gear. Although it should have really been called “North Farce”. Anyway, Ben tried on and bought some pants as well as a small duffel for Jon. I also bought a duffel as I knew my purple bag was just too difficult to pack with everything in it. So for 300 rupees (about $4.50) I had another bag to throw stuff in to. So mission one was accomplished.

My second mission was to find the Thamel TB Hotel geocache. I enjoy geocaching and I absolutely had to log at least one in Nepal. I had planned ahead and grabbed four Travel Bugs (TBs) from a geocache in Orlando. A travel bug is a special kind of item that has a unique code associated to it and it can be placed inside a geocache with the express purpose of moving from geocache to geocache and being tracked along its journey.

So I dragged Ben with me as we went on a search for a very specific trekking company that was the keeper of this special geocache. I recalled from the description that we would have to go down a dark hallway and then up some narrow, dark steps to a second floor. The description was spot on and we made it to the office of the trekking company. There were four men in the office having a discussion so I quietly made my presence known and when they acknowledged me I then asked for the geocache which they handed over to me with a smile and then continued their discussion. I quickly signed the log and traded the TBs that I had for a fresh set of TBs to take home with me. Ben dropped in a business card. I then sealed the geocache, handed it back to the men in the office and thanked them. Ben and I then exited the building and continued to walk around Thamel.

Small Hindu shrine

As we walked around I tried to find interesting things to take pictures of. The following building is an example of the architecture in Kathmandu. Basically wherever there is a space in between two buildings a third building will be built. You can see that in the building sandwich below. You can also see a rather mild example of the way they handle the power grid a.k.a. wires everywhere. I should have taken a picture of where all of the wires in one area connect. It’s such a rat’s nest that I don’t know how it would ever work.

Building sandwiched between two others

Ben mentioned that he wanted to get one last good cup of coffee before starting our trek so he suggested that we do this at the New Orleans Cafe. I guess we were becoming regulars.

New Orleans Cafe

It was starting to sprinkle when we arrived at the restaurant so we choose one of the covered booths. Ben had a coffee and a chocolate brownie. I had a banana lassi and a chocolate brownie. The lassi and brownie were ok but not great. The rain came down a bit harder but we were safe under the eaves. Our short snack lasted just long enough for the rain to come and go. We finished, paid, and re-entered Thamel in order to grab a taxi back to the hotel.

Upon returning to the hotel I packed my bags and prepared myself for the upcoming travel. By preparing myself I mean that I sat around and waited and killed time the best that I could. I recall that I was having significant trouble gaining use of the hotel’s wifi. Anyway, the time passed and the group started to congregate in the lobby. Our bags congregated too…

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Our bus finally arrived with Sonam Sherpa and we piled ourselves and our gear in for the trip to the airport. The ride was as uneventful as all other rides around Kathmandu. In other words you are scared to the point of being numb every time there is a need to merge or cross traffic. We survived this trip and arrived at the domestic terminal of the Kathmandu airport.

As we walked through the parking lot to the entrance of the domestic terminal I noticed that there was a tribe of monkeys sitting or running along one of the walls and the trees that crossed the wall. This was just interesting although it was probably really a nuisance but it made me smile.

The security at the airport was interesting. Only passengers were allowed to enter the terminal so Sonam had provided each of us with a printed out “ticket” with our names but the security guard didn’t even look at them. To pass from the ticketing area to the departure lounge required us to go through a screening area where the security guards basically asked us if we had any knives or sharp objects, any flammable liquids or lighters, or any weapons. I had two “hand luggages” and they only asked me to open one of them and they looked inside without much care.

Before we went through security Sonam had collected our paper “tickets” and talked with the ticket agent and returned with boarding passes for Agni Air [“Fly the Friendly Sky”]. He had also collected our large duffels that would be checked through to Pokhara. After we passed through security we found out that our flight was delayed and so we had more time that needed to be wasted. As with many locations, that is pretty much all locations, in the area there was no air conditioning so the room was quite warm and stifling. I proceeded over to an area where there were working overhead fans as I assumed that moving air would help the a little. A few others of the group joined me and we either talked or sat in silence while waiting for the flight. Some sat a little more silently than others.

Ben dozing

Poor Ben was starting to get sick around this time.

I was a bit bored so I attempted to take some pictures around the departure lounge with my point-and-shoot but almost nothing came out. Here are the Himalayas in the distant.

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[and this was one of my better pictures :-( ]

Jon came around at one point and handed out snickers bars as a preflight snack. I decided to save mine for a later time and I ended up carrying that candy bar with me on the whole trek and then tossing it out when we returned to civilization. I was never in a snickers mood I guess.

Eventually someone called for the Agni Air flight to Pokhara and the group collected our bags and assembled at the “gate”. After we handed our boarding pass to the gate agent we went through another security check. This time they asked the exact same questions about our carry-ons but then proceeded to give everyone a quick pat down. We walked on the tarmac to our plane and boarded. The seating was basically a free-for-all but it seemed to work. I ended up in an aisle seat next to an American who I believe was doing missionary work. He was helping to build a school in the area around Pokhara.

As soon as we were seated the flight attendant came through the plane with candies and cotton balls. The latter was useful because we were on a turbo prop plane. Even before she was finished with this pre-flight distribution we were taxiing in preparation for take-off. As we were taking off the flight attendant came over the speaker system to tell us that we should have our seat belts buckled. After we were in the air for about five minutes the flight attendant passed through the plane with a plastic bottle of Pepsi and small cups, about the volume of two shot glasses. Her second pass was with a bottle of Coke. Her final pass was with a bottle of water. And that was about the time we started to descend into Pokhara. It was a very short flight.

The plane quickly taxied to the arrival terminal and we deplaned and headed to baggage claim area. It was a little chaotic but Sonam helped us grab our bags and we lugged them outside to the awaiting van. We got onto the bus and we had a relatively quick drive to our hotel just off the lakeside tourist area. Although this area had the same sort of touristy feel as Thamel it was a lot cleaner and seemed more laid back. Our hotel was the Candle Inn, “The hotel with a heart”.

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It was attractive from the outside with a nice garden area. The stairs inside were kind of neat.

Stairs at Candle Inn

But the best were the views but the clouds did not want to cooperate on this day. I did see a cute little owl land into a tree on the backside of the hotel but he didn’t want to cooperate either and let me take a picture of his face. See if you can find him in this photo…

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[Not exactly my finest photography attempt]

We all just relaxed around the hotel for the rest of the day. Except for Ben who progressively got worse as the hours passed. A small group of us went down the street to the lakeside strip where there were places like

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And various interesting scenes such as a snake charmer with a cobra. Of course he wanted us to take a picture of him so that he could get a donation to feed his cobra. I passed on that opportunity and instead took a picture of a dog sleeping on a bed…

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Shortly after Damion and I returned to our room Ben came in to our room sweating profusely and looking weak and asked us to track down Jon. I snapped up out of bed and scurried along the hall until I came to Jon’s room and I let him know how bad Ben looked. Jon immediately walked to Ben and Thilo’s room and started to take care of Ben. There was nothing else I could do so I got out of the way. It’s always bad to see someone who is not feeling well.

Not long after this the group (minus Ben, Sonam, and Jon) convened in the hotel restaurant for dinner. I believe we had Dal Bhat which is affectionately referred to as Sherpa Fuel. I could be mistaken on what we ate that evening because I wasn’t really interested in food. I guess I wasn’t feeling 100% either. Anyway, Dal Bhat consists of a large portion of rice (bhat) with lentil soup (dal) poured over the rice. It is usually accompanied by some curried vegetables (mostly cauliflower from my experiences) and sometimes with meat such as chicken. The reason it is called Sherpa Fuel is because it is basically the main dish that is eaten by the Sherpas and porters while trekking and I assume while not trekking as well. During dinner Jon and Sonam would be in and out as they were returning to help Ben out.

The mood was somber during dinner and afterwards we all just retired to our rooms. The bathroom that Damion and I shared was relatively disgusting. Well that’s probably too strong of a word but I did not want to spend any time in there. There seemed to be a leak in the toilet tank somewhere and the water was all over the floor and was slowly dripping down a drain hole. Drip…drip…drip…The shower curtain was rolled up and the bathtub/shower did not look inviting at all. There were no towels or even working lights in the bathroom.

I did not sleep well through the night. At some point I realized that the dripping had stopped. But that is a story for the next day.

People: Chris Marquardt

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Chris is the second trip leader as well as the primary instructor. He is a professional photographer and photography instructor. He also has a couple of podcasts, including Tips from the Top Floor, and this is where I found out about him and about the Himalayan Workshops. Chris and I seemed to gel quite quickly on the trip. I’m not certain if it was our similar sense of humor or the fact that many times we were stuck at the back of the pack because we were “taking our time”. I learned a lot about photography from Chris in both the formal workshop sessions and random questions as we trekked. Chris’s personality and charisma really helped the journey go smoothly and added a lot of laughs. Even goats liked him…

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[ok, maybe not enough to eat from his hand as Chris is trying to force here]
Chris’s twitter and flickr accounts.

Gear: The North Face Base Camp Duffel – large & “Power Purple”

This bag served me very well. I was able to transport everything on my gear list except for my travel pillow, my camera and my laptop which I carried in my backpack. I was able to pack about 45lbs worth of densely packed clothing and gear. Even my trekking poles fit which I was extremely happy about. The zipper was pretty difficult to shut once I was getting the duffel to capacity but I was able to force it without the zipper breaking. This bag held up to all of the abuse from the airlines and the porters. There was only one wear mark on the bag and that was due to the trekking poles pushing on the side of the bag and then the bag being dragged on that pressure point. That was definitely my fault and I made sure it didn’t happen after I noticed it. That wear mark never spread or opened up a real hole during the rest of the trek so the material can really hold up to abuse.

After seeing the size of the over trekkers’ duffels I kind of wished I had gotten one size larger (XL) just to have a little breathing room inside the bag. I ended up having to buy a really cheap canvas duffel because trying to stuff everything back into the Purple Monster everyday would have been a pain. Having the second bag worked out nicely but would have been unnecessary if my original duffel was slightly larger.

My conclusion is that this is an awesome duffel.

 

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Day 3 continued

Since January when I posted this I have preparing to travel to Nepal and Tibet for a photography workshop. I plan on documenting my complete trip on here and you, the reader, can find all of the entries by following this link. The workshop starts in Kathmandu, Nepal and then works it’s way north and west into Tibet by vehicle (probably Land Cruisers or other rugged SUV) with a goal to trek clockwise around Mount Kailash for 3-4 days. Then we planned to return to Kathmandu the same way we came. The full details are at Himalayan Workshops in the Kailash 2011 trip.

On the stairs to my plane in Doha

So when we last left our intrepid hero he was about to board the plane to Kathmandu in Doha, Qatar on April 17th at approximately 1:45am. My flight had been delayed to 2:35am but the boarding process includes taking a bus to the steps entering the plane so it takes a little extra time to board. I was able to get onto an earlier flight to Kathmandu and therefore spare more than 12 hours of waiting around the Doha airport.

I boarded the plane and proceeded to my assigned seat which was a middle seat (arg) against a bulkhead (double arg). I quickly pulled out the entertainment gear that I needed to stay sane; iPhone, iPod, and earbuds and placed my bag in the overhead compartment. Shortly thereafter an attractive woman came and sat in the aisle seat next to me. Things were looking up. We exchanged pleasantries and she let me know that she was an off-duty flight attendant heading home to Kathmandu. She then asked if I would mind moving over so that her friend (I believe another flight attendant) could come take my seat. I didn’t mind at all but I didn’t know if the window seat was already assigned. It was but her friend worked out the logistics with the guy that should have been in the window seat. Anyway, I got the window seat which I typically prefer and I was next to two attractive women. Anyway, they pretty much chatted with each other until the plane took off and then promptly fell asleep but not before letting me know that I could wake them if I needed to get out.

The flight was delayed again when we were on the tarmac until about 3am. This still means that I was leaving about 12 hours before my scheduled departure time. So I was really ahead of the game. The flight was pretty uneventful. I was able to watch the last 15 minutes or so of True Grit although it was a pain in the neck to fast forward through the entire movie to get to that point. I also watched Solaris with George Clooney which I thought I hadn’t seen before but I definitely had. I still watched it through its entirety. I was then able to get a little sleep or maybe it was just a semi-conscious state similar to sleep.

We were given a meal that was almost identical to the one I had for “dinner” on my previous flight. I really have no clue when we got that meal. Anyway, I do recall the pilot coming on after we crossed into Nepal stating that we couldn’t land due to weather conditions and/or traffic and that we would have to circle for a bit. Then 20 minutes later he came on again stating that we would have to land somewhere else like India. I think this was the harbinger for my day. Luckily, within about 5 minutes the pilot came on and said we were landing with no explanation. I would like to think he just said “Damn the consequences, I’m putting this bird down!” but I’m pretty sure it was more civil than that.

first glimpse of the himalayan range from a dirty window

There was a little turbulence during final approach but it seemed rather mild. We landed at Kathmandu Airport and when I was able I collected my backpack and various electronic devices and deplaned. Again we went down the mobile stairs to an awaiting bus that drove us a whole 100 yards to the international arrival terminal. The time must have been something 11:30am.

After getting off the bus I shuffled down a hallway or three with a throng of other passengers until we came to the Passport Control/Customs room. I had to fill out two documents the first being an arrival slip and the second being a entrance visa application. Jon Miller had given me a heads up on a conversation (either on skype or email) we had that I would probably need extra passport photos and $40 in order to enter Nepal. So with my forms filled out, the picture ready, the money ready, and my passport handy I got to wait in line for 45 minutes to an hour until my turn. While I waited I noticed many of the other foreigners (in the same line) scrambling to get the necessary items. There was a man with a picture booth who was willing to create passport photos for you at a “good price”. I should have asked what the actual price was. There was also a money exchange booth where many people exchanged their native currency into Nepal Rupees even though the signs above the Visa Application staff stated that they only took foreign currency and preferred US Dollars. Something interesting and yet annoying was that the money exchanger staff would ring a desk bell anytime they did not have someone currently exchanging money. For the longest time I couldn’t tell where the ringing was coming from but I had the time and somewhat the attention span needed to solve that mystery. Anyway, when I got to the Visa application staff I handed everything over and they definitely had a system of taking money. I don’t believe they asked me any questions. One guy took my money and handed me a receipt and the second guy looked over the application and stamped/signed everything.

After receiving my passport back I proceeded to the baggage claim. I looked high and low for my bag but it was nowhere to be found. I purposely bought a purple bag so that it would stand out and be easy to find. I started to get worried that it wasn’t there. I asked someone that looked like they worked there and they said that all of the bags from my flight were piled off to the side. Even though I had looked through this pile I looked again to no avail. This person then pointed me to the “complaints” desk. This desk was manned by two Nepali guys who both looked like they were in high school. The first guy, apparently the superior, immediately passed me off to the other guy. This second guy looked like a really young Nepali Mr. Magoo. From now on I’ll refer to him as Mr. Magoo because I didn’t catch his name and he didn’t have any sort of name badge.

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His English skills were worse than his eyesight and with my anxiety over losing my bag it wasn’t helpful that I couldn’t describe the word “duffel” to a man who should know what a duffel bag is. At least he understood “purple” or at least he didn’t let on that he didn’t understand that word. He brought me over to a chart showing pictures of luggage so that I could point one out that matched. There were probably 30 different shapes/types of luggage but nothing looked like a duffel. Maybe it was my lack of sleep or too much stress but I just could not pick one that looked even remotely like a duffel other than military style duffel but I didn’t want to pick that as it may have given the wrong idea. Also I looked at all of the other travelers passing by and none of them seemed to have duffels. This was not my day. Eventually, the superior called out some sort of id code and Mr. Magoo wrote it down.

Now this is just where the problems begin. I had no idea who I was supposed to meet at the airport, where I was staying, or any contact information in Nepal for anyone associated with the workshop. I had sent emails to Jon Miller informing him that I was going to be on an earlier flight but I had not gotten any responses. And now that I was in Nepal I had no internet access. So my stress level was skyrocketing! I had a stash of cash for emergencies but I was still trying to be optimistic. After filling out paperwork with as much information as I had (basically nothing) I asked if they could contact Qatar Airways and track down my bag. But apparently that is not their job. Their job is only to verify that the bag is missing and fill out this form. So not only am I anxious that my bag is lost and I have no one to contact but now I’m getting mad that they are basically useless at tracking down issues. When I stated to Mr. Magoo that maybe someone I was going to meet was outside waiting he decided to take me outside and help me look.

So we both walked out into what must be some sort of travelers’ circle of hell. Even before I left the room before the exit doors there were “information” peddlers trying to sell me hotel, trekking, misc information. And these were the sanctioned ones that were inside. Mr. Magoo and I exited and I was immediately asked by about 5 people if I needed a taxi. I had zero interest in getting into a taxi because frankly I had no idea where I was going. There were guys in uniform, I think security guards, with whistles that were trying to keep people from stopping on the sidewalks. across the street was a small covered platform with tons of Nepalis holding or waving paper signs for various trekking companies. I scanned across this sea of information and as my eyes scanned it seemed as if I was giving life to each and everyone of the people holding the signs. At this moment I seemed to have attracted the attention of a taxi driver who seemed to attach to me like a remora. I could not shake this guy and Mr. Magoo seemed to not care. After going back and forth through the trekking company touters and also scanning the arrival waiting room it seemed like I was going to be waiting for a while.

I decided to see if I had any information on my laptop that might help in communicating with someone…anyone…that I was in Kathmandu and stuck at the airport. After not finding anything on my laptop or within the paperwork that I had brought with me I was really getting mad at myself for letting this happen and I was getting a bit downtrodden. My remora kept by my side and attempted to help me but there was little that he could do. I resigned myself to waiting in the arrival waiting area for 8-10 hours until my original arrival time when there was supposed to be someone I could recognize to pick me up.

So there I sat waiting. After about twenty minutes or so my remora decided that there were better fish to attach to and left me. I was surprised that he stayed with me as long as he did. Whether out of genuine concern or selfish monetary interest it was interesting. From time to time I would get up and go out and scan the crowd to see if I recognized anything/anyone and then I would return to my seat. There were tons of “kids” waiting around in the same area and smoking. I don’t think they were there to pick someone up. I think it was people watching entertainment for them. After being in that hot stuffy room for about an hour or more I finally noticed someone that had potential to be someone I recognized. This had burned me earlier but I got up and walked to the exit. The I recognized the icons on his shirt and immediately knew it was Jon Miller. He was thinner than I expected but I immediately got up to him and introduced myself. He was very surprised to see me and he hadn’t received my emails because he was also traveling. That is when Babu Sherpa of Mountain Tribes arrived and greeted Jon and I. Jon and Babu have known each other for many years. I filled them both in on my situation and Babu gave me a card which I took back inside to Mr. Magoo and his superior so that they could add Babu’s phone number as the contact when my bag arrived.

I then rejoined Jon and Babu outside and we got into his car and headed to the hotel. My first experience on Nepal streets was a bit hair-raising but after all of the stress and lack of sleep I just attempted to relax. The traffic was crazy. There didn’t seem to be any rules of the road but I’ll get into that more another day. I saw monkeys, cows, chickens, and dogs along the way and in the road.

We made it to the Hotel Manaslu. Babu said that he would help get my luggage so I wrote him a letter so that he could pick up my luggage without me. I got my room key and I headed up to my room to rest. Jon let me know that he would collect me after he ran a few errands. So I rested.

I think I got about 3 hours of rest/sleep when Jon came knocking at my door. I collected myself and then we left the hotel and grabbed a cab to meet up with the rest of the group. We traveled to Thamel, which is historically the tourist area of Kathmandu, and we ventured into the New Orleans Cafe. The group had already been there for a while so I was introduced to everyone else. Chris, Monika, Thilo, Ben, Clarence, and Shaun had been hanging out at this restaurant for a bit having beers and lassi (a yoghurt smoothy type drink). I sat and ordered a diet coke and perused the menu. Everyone seemed very nice and we started to gel rather quickly and there were many laughs.

After a couple or three hours we rolled out of the hotel and grabbed taxis to return us to the hotel. My luggage had not arrived and this did not make me very happy. I returned to my room and got comfortable and tried to get some more rest. I was informed earlier that my roommate, Damion, would be arriving late in the night and I was hoping that with him my luggage would also be arriving.

At around midnight there was a knock at my door and I answered it while clumsily trying to get some clothes on. I opened the door to find Damion and Depen (Babu’s helper) standing outside the door. I greeted them both (I actually thought Depen was named Babu until I was corrected the next day). I asked about my luggage and he said that it had not arrived. Apparently Damion also did not have his luggage. After Depen left, Damion and I chit chatted for a short time before we both went to sleep.

People: Jon Miller

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Jon is the main logistical coordinator of the workshop. He created the concept of bringing people from all over the world to the regions of Tibet and Nepal after a life-changing expedition to an Everest Base Camp in 2003. He then worked with Chris Marquardt to craft the Himalayan Workshops to create the “Highest Photographic Workshop in the World”.

Jon’s focus is to capture video of the experiences on the trek in order to create his podcast The Rest of Everest. Coming from a career in tv and video production his podcasts are extremely high quality and show a side of the Himalayan people and culture and the trekking experience that you just can’t get without being there.

Due to some circumstances that were out of anyone’s control Jon was only available for a few days on the trip. It’s too bad because we didn’t get to spend that much time to get to know each other. I’ll go into more detail about what happened at the appropriate time.

You can follow Jon on Twitter (@restofjonmiller) or on Facebook restofjonmiller.

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Don’t worry, he wasn’t kicking the dog. They were playing tug of war with his pants!

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