A Word a Week Challenge: Herd

Sue has set us an interesting Word a Week Challenge this week but I think I can come up with something a bit different. How many of you have encountered a herd of Yaks (if the collective noun for yaks is herd, that is)?

The first photo was taken on a beautiful morning as we moved above the tree line on the trek to Everest Base Camp and headed up the barren slopes of the Dhugla Ridge towards Lobuche. The second was taken at Gorak Shep as the yaks nonchalantly strolled amongst the little yellow tents belonging to the Everest Base Camp marathon runners.

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Suspended in the Himalayas

Suspension – the act of being suspended.

Suspend – to attach so as to allow free movement.

Literal sense – to cause to hang.

Example –Suspension bridges over the raging glacial rivers in the Himalayas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s well known in my family that I’ve never been terribly good with heights, it’s not so much the heights but the edges, put me near the edge and my knees start to go to jelly.

I’m the one who hid in the back of the campervan years ago as we drove precariously high up in the Swiss Alps and I’m also the one who declined to go up the Leaning Tower when we were in Pisa, so it will probably surprise my family to know what I achieved on my trek in the Himalayas.

As you can imagine, when you’re going up mountains, it’s difficult to avoid edges and ledges and when you have a bridge slung from two of those edges, and it’s the only way to get where you’re going, you don’t have a lot of options. Add in the tendency these bridges have to sway when there is more than one person on them, the lack of concern in these areas for safety issues and the very real possibility of meeting donkeys or yaks half way across and you can imagine my nerves, particularly as we encountered the first one.

After two weeks and a couple of dozen of these bridges I’d like to be able to say that I was almost skipping across them by the end, but no, I just learnt to look straight ahead not down and to keep walking.

Would you feel safe on some of these?

The first bridge we were faced with

The first bridge we were faced with

Hmmm ...

Hmmm …

Does this look safe to you?

Does this look safe to you?

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Lukla Airport – getting in and getting out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been in helicopters before, both times in the north west of Western Australia. The first time was over the Bungle Bungles in the Pilbara and on a separate occasion over the Willie Creek pearl farm outside Broome. What spectacular views of such an awe inspiring landscape.

There are unlikely to be any flights though in my travel future that will surpass the helicopter flight between Kathmandu and Lukla.

We weren’t expecting it, we were supposed to be catching a Twin Otter aircraft to take us up 2,860 metres into the Himalayan mountain range to land on a runway only 460 metres long and steeply angled at 12%. Now we’d all done our research, because after all isn’t that what Google’s for? And what had we learnt you may ask. Well, that steeply angled, short runway, actually the only runway, at one of the world’s most dangerous airports is sandwiched between a mountain and a deep river valley. The pilots, after navigating around the mountains and banking and descending through layers of cloud and mist have to throw their propellers into hard reverse when they land in order to bring the tiny plane to a stop before getting too close to the fast approaching mountainside. They have very wisely constructed a stone wall that proclaims ‘Welcome to Lukla’ between the end of the runway and the mountain, just in case a bit of a buffer is needed I guess.

Let’s not dwell on the reason for the burns on part of that wall.

To get out of there it’s then necessary to gun the engines and race back down the steep gradient hoping like hell to take off before reaching the 700 metre drop into the river valley at the end of the runway.

So, that was the plan. A scheduled flight through the mountains in a tiny plane and a memorable landing at this airport in the sky, the highest airport with scheduled flights in the world.

But so often when you’re travelling things don’t go as planned and when you’re dealing with mountain weather very close to the onset of the monsoon season well, you have to be flexible.

We were at Kathmandu airport by six, actually we were there even before they opened the doors, waiting in a queue that you could just tell was going to be rushing those doors as soon as they opened. We’d successfully negotiated the stampede, the rigmarole that was weigh in and the farcical security measures that saw men and women segregated, patted down and then allowed through into the departure lounge with an assortment of paraphernalia still in their pockets and we’d claimed a group of seats in which to wait it out.

But waiting it out at Kathmandu airport was tedious, by half past nine we were definitely a restless mob and weather reports indicated that our chances of flying today were slim. Kathmandu was fine, Lukla not so, clouds and mist were preventing aircraft taking off or landing there.

None of us really wanted to lose a day and have to make it up somewhere along the trek, and there was no guarantee that the weather would be any better tomorrow.

To cut a long story short, there was no way any plane was going to get there today and the only option was to pay for helicopters to take us in. In a way it was a disappointment not to be landing on that runway but the flight through the mountains in the helicopter certainly made up for it.

At the end of the trek, after another weather induced delay of nearly two days, we did get to experience that airport and go hurtling down the runway to watch it disappear beneath us as we took off over the valley.

An amazing experience, flying in and out.

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Waiting patiently for a flight out.

Waiting patiently for a flight out.

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One Hell of a Walk – Base Camp Day

The wonderful guys who got us there.

The wonderful guys who got us there.

I know I’m jumping all over the place with my posts on my trek to Everest Base Camp and this one is totally out of sequence, but I’m writing them as they come to me, if I had to do it in order it may never happen. So today, maybe, is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Today was the day we had all been anticipating for months, the day that all thirteen of us  had been training for and the day that we expected great things from. Did it deliver? Overwhelmingly, yes.

Everest Base Camp had been my focus for the last eleven months, the planning and training had taken over my life for almost a year, every step I’d climbed, every track I’d walked, every kilo I’d carried in my backpack, were all aimed squarely at this day. I’d spent hours researching the clothing and the gear that I’d need, talking to others who had done the trek and sales people who knew the technical stuff about boots and hiking poles and water bottles. I’d agonized over how many t-shirts I should take and whether I’d be able to cope with the toilet facilities (or lack thereof) and I’d worried that my training wouldn’t be enough. I probably knew more than was good for me about Lukla airport and altitude sickness and those who had died on the mountain and  now here I was, only a couple of hours away from my goal.

The altitude had made me restless during the night, actually I had lain awake worrying about the lack of oxygen at nearly five and a half thousand metres and the possibility of breathing problems and the fact that I was alone with no one to keep an eye on me – not good thoughts in the middle of the night, and then I was awake before dawn listening to the sounds of other trekkers setting off early so I was a touch tired this morning. But then, this was nothing new. I was tired most mornings.

It was a glorious Sunday morning as we set off with the sun reflecting off the high peaks above Gorak Shep.

It was one hell of a walk along the ridge from Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp but this day gave us some of the most stunning scenery and views of the most majestic mountains that we had experienced. It was difficult to watch where our feet were going when our heads were continually veering to the right to gaze at the continuous panorama.

How did I feel when I finally achieved my goal?

Overwhelmed.

Arriving at Base Camp was a very emotional moment for me and inevitably the tears flowed. It had been hard, at times more than hard. I’d struggled, I’d cried and I’d laughed but I’d also been determined. Determined to achieve the goal I set myself almost a year ago. I wasn’t going to give in.

Here’s just a part of what we saw that day and what I think probably had a deep effect on all of us.

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Something Special

The day we headed for Base Camp the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Blue skies with whispy clouds and warm enough not to trouble us too much. The mountains reached up to the sky particularly on our right and before too long Everest came into sight.

About an hour before we reached Base Camp we were presented with an awesome sight, although everything we’d seen so far was awesome this was right up there with the awesomeist.

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As I’ve since found out it was a circumzenithal arc. A what you ask – well, to those of us who are scientifically challenged it was an inverted rainbow. But apparently (according to Wikipedia, so correct me if I’m wrong) it has nothing to do with rain but is caused by the refraction of sunlight through horizontally-oriented ice crystals.

Pretty cool huh – thought you might like to see it.

A Journey Of Epic Proportions

DSCN1251Epic – that’s the only way to describe the journey I just took, no other adjective can possibly do it justice.

This trip required more of me than I’ve ever been called upon to give. Physically I’m shattered, mentally, I’m still trying to catch up. But how do I explain it to you? How do I put into words something so momentous?

Over a number of posts I’ll at least try.

This was one amazing place. Here in the Himalayas, the earth has pushed up these mountains creating valleys and peaks, green on the lower slopes and a moonscape once above the tree line.

A population has infiltrated this landscape and adapted to its guidelines. There are no roads, no vehicles, no wheels. If you’re going somewhere you walk, often days to visit relatives, if you need something it’s carried there, by people or yaks. Building and roofing materials, food, gas canisters, furniture, it’s all taken up manually.

Some of the tracks are in a reasonable and easily negotiated condition, more often than not you’re scrambling over boulders, climbing hillsides of loose gravel, slippery beneath your feet, or ascending hundreds of roughly made steps running with mud and yak poo.

As we got higher the altitude began to grapple with our bodies. Mainly sea level beings some began to feel the effects and need medication, all of us felt the lack of oxygen and understood that the only way to do anything up here was slowly.

The weather at this time of year is tempremental at best. The beginning of the monsoon season saw the clouds beginning to roll in during the mid afternoon and obscure our surroundings, by the time we reached camp the air was damp and the view generally non existent.

But then most mornings we would wake to a crisp, clear sky with the mountains overseeing our campsite. They surrounded us, they dominated, they were simply breathtaking. Our cameras clicked as we were struck by the beauty and the sheer awesomeness of what we were seeing.

How do you wake in a morning, in these surroundings and not be changed in some way?

Our whole group made it to Base Camp, a major feat in itself as approximately 30% of those that set off don’t make it that far.

That I’d made it overwhelmed me and it took a while, sitting on a rock gazing across the Khumbu Icefall that I’d seen so many times in pictures, for me to compose myself, dry the tears and actually be able to join in the celebrations and the photo opportunity.

Here’s just a sample of the squillions of photos I took, more to follow.

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Lukla - streets of mud!

Lukla – streets of mud!

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And THIS is Mt Everest!

And THIS is Mt Everest!

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Countdown to Kathmandu: A Break in Transmission

The time has come ….

2-everest-base-campIn a little over 24 hours I’ll be heading off into the great unknown on my way to Everst Base Camp and I’ve been deliberating and cogitating and mulling over a dilemma that I have.

Should I or shouldn’t I?

Do some blog posts while I’m trekking in the Himalayas that is.

Several of you have asked if I will. There are internet cafes in Kathmandu and even some half way up the trail at Namche Bazaar, or so I’ve heard, so it should be possible to get something onto this blog.

In a way I feel I owe it to all of you out there who have been diligently following my preparations and encouraging me every step of the way, it’s been great to have you behind me. And those of you who’ve very kindly responded to my pleas and donated to the Because I’m a Girl campaign, again I feel that I should at least keep you updated as I go along.

But!

This is a journey that I initially planned simply for myself. It wasn’t something that I was doing so that I would have something to put on the blog, it wasn’t something that I needed anyone else to understand. It was just for me.

I know why I’m doing it and yet it’s something that I find very hard to articulate. How do I explain why, in my 60th year, I want to head for a country that I’ve never before been interested in visiting, fly into one of the most dangerous airports in the world in a tiny plane and walk in an uphill direction for ten days, sleeping in tents with no regular toilets, risking exhaustion and altitude sickness just to reach a remote, cold place at 5500 metres above sea level, and then turn around and walk back again?

I don’t think family and friends really understand why I’ve made such a madcap decision, why, at my age I don’t stick to the comfort of hotels and resorts, some came out and said as much, others humoured me and possibly didn’t think I’d go through with it.

Anyway, I’m on this trek to breathe in the experience and to wonder at the majesty of the landscape, so …

I’ve made the decision not to do any blog posts while I’m away. I don’t want to get stressed out feeling that I have to write something or struggle with technology in far flung places (technology is not my strong point at the best of times). I want to be able to relax and reflect and just take in my surroundings. Time for sharing with everyone else when I get back.

But you will all be with me, there on that mountain.

My grandchildren will be there, in my heart, as will my daughters and my dad and I’m sure mum will be watching over me. Friends I’ve made recently, both on line and in real life, friends I’m no longer in touch with and those that I’ve known for many years, anyone who has touched my life and got me to where I am today, will be right there with me.

Thanks for all your good wishes and encouragement and I’ll see you when I get back 🙂 xx