Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Days After

Sleep is one of the things that we all want to do- especially after the 80km, 40 hour force march that we pressed through in order to get to Lukla for our flight. And truly, we would sleep as much as we could, but there was also a need to rejoin the world and not even sleep was going to stop us from doing that.
After getting back to the Yak & Yeti and checking in to our rooms, I went through this amusing exercise of find-your-bag. Before I flew way back in March, we had all stored a bag at the Yak & Yeti for our return. Things that we wouldn't need on the mountain, but would need when back in Kathmandu. Only I didn't have my check bag tag anymore, that thing was long gone. So I had to convince the hotel porter to look through all their storage rooms, and wouldn't you know it? They have several. Upstairs, around the corner, in the front. Finally, in the last room- the one closest to the lobby entrance, I came across my bag and one of Willies that he had forgotten that he had stored. Fortunately for him, I saw "WILLIE" scrawled across the side and grabbed it to ask. Otherwise, he'd have a little time capsule waiting for him when he returns next year.

We staggered upstairs to the 4th floor and I immediately jumped in the shower where I turned the water a murky brown but stayed put for almost 30 minutes as I felt strength return to my muscles. That shower felt so incredibly good, it's almost impossible to put into words. I looked over at the pile of dirty clothes and swear that they were so dirty that they could almost stand up on their own. Willie had worn his shirt like a badge of honor.. proudly telling everyone that he had worn the same exact shirt before we left, up and down through the summit push, back at Base Camp, and then all the way back to Kathmandu. Well, he told everyone except that snobby Flight Attendant, who would have probably freaked out anyway.

Meeting downstairs in the hotel lobby, we all laughed at our clothes. For me, they barely stayed on and I had to use a piece of 550 Cord to keep my jeans up. It looked like a wrinkle bomb had gone off and hit all of our clothes, which had been packed for two solid months in duffel bags. Everything was piecemeal given that most of our clothes and gear was still days behind us and trapped in Lukla. Bridie, a New Zealander, told us that her "Jandles"- I'm sure I spelled that wrong- a.k.a. flip flops, fell into that category and as a result had to dress up with her hiking boots.

From that point forward over the next several days, we embarked on a series of events that are best told separately. So here's a quick compilation of some of the more memorable things that happened to our team over the days back in Kathmandu:

Fire & Ice

Our first stop was the pizza joint "Fire & Ice", where all three of us chowed down heavily on real pizza, fresh vegetables, and actual ice cream. Holy cats, was that good. By the time we were done, we were filled to the gills on foods we had been talking about for weeks.

Over the next few days there was plenty more Fire & Ice, sometimes with the team, sometimes with Henny and Dad, who really enjoyed the environment there and found the food really good also. While there though, we did bump into a laundry list of the Who's Who of Himalayan climbing. Carlos, that crazy Spaniard who almost died on Lhotse if not for Willie giving him a separate bottle of Oxygen still walks around like a vegetable. Some Swiss guy we met enroute to Everest and who has been in the mountains for years, sacrificing several fingers and half his face to frostbite in an Everest North Ridge storm a few years back is there too- complete with a black nose.. or what was left of it, thanks to another storm- this time on Makalu. The first mother/daughter team we bumped into several times is there in the back, some of the Fuzzies appear. As the flights from Lukla slowly manage the backlog of climbers looking to get back to Kathmandu, Fire & Ice is one of the few places that everyone heads in order to get food that has been craved for months now.

Dad Comes to Town

While the gang went shopping for needed items, I met up with Henny and we trucked off to the airport- again. Only this time, I was there to meet dad, who in an incredibly lucky feat of scheduling had purchased his plane ticket to get to Kathmandu on the exact same day that we returned. Literally arriving four hours after we did, dad came strolling in from New Delhi and how awesome that we coordinated that so precisely. Henny took him sight seeing to places like Swayambunath Stupa while I returned to the hotel to pass out in a real bed, in a real city. Wow did that feel good.

But over the next several days, dad goes out sightseeing with Henny or joins us for team events that help him get to know the team and who we have been spending time with since March. Some dinners, like the one at the Dwarika's Garden of Dreams, involve Sherpas, the team, and Francisco's parents, who have been waiting patiently in Kathmandu since the 20th for our return.

Operation Human Being

The next morning, Willie, Bridey and I headed off to Tranquility Spa to try and become human again. Recommended by Henny, this was the ultimate in recovery and every Rupee I spent there was well worth it.

The spa offered a 90 minute "Trekkers Massage" which we jumped on. Because Willies and my faces were falling apart, we also jumped on the facial, which was a good move. Although, I think the lady who was mopping layer after layer of dead skin off our faces didn't think so. She must have been freaked out for sure. I the same room, Willie and I laughed at each other as we passed out a dozen times, both snoring away as more dead skin came off.

Like a caterpillar emerging from it's chrysalis, we woke up at the end of the facial and looked in the mirror. New men. Only a little dead skin still on the ears, and Willie's nose is still destroyed around his nostrils. But hey, all in good fun. I gave the lady a huge tip to help with the trauma counseling she's probably going through as I write this, and then we were headed off to our next stop in Operation Human Being: haircuts!
Willie knows some barber in Thamel District- likely from the last 10 years of climbing here where he'd come in looking like a Yeti and the guy would put him back together. So we came around a corner, and sure enough. This guy took one look at Willie, a huge smile crosses his face, and without even asking starts heading into the Barber Shop. We had our hair chopped, and then asked for a straight razor shave. Ahh.. how awesome.

When we finally returned to the Yak & Yeti, Francisco's parents saw us and were like "wow!" Totally different. It was such a dramatic improvement that they carted Francisco off to the same spa shortly thereafter.

Back to Everest

One morning, when the sun had barely crested the horizon, Dad and I headed back to the airport's domestic terminal to take a Mountain Flight. Offered by Buddha Air, this flight takes off out of Kathmandu, flies along the Himalaya and then returns to Kathmandu. The turnaround point is Mt Everest, and everyone on the plane oohs and aahs when they get close enough to spot the highly recognizable peak. It's on the Top 10 of tourist must-do's for Kathmandu, although I have to admit that the more recent Mountain Flights are now tourist driven and have become a bit more cheezy than they used to be. When I first took the Mountain Flight back in 2000, you flew so close to the top of Everest that it felt like you could reach out and touch it. The pilots circled the giant peak three or four times, allowing everyone on board to come up to the front and take a look through the wind shield before the plane turned and flew back toward Kathmandu.

When we were climbing though, the only plane I heard was the Chinese one circling to take pics of the torch up top. How could that be? I know there are planes zipping around out there. Well, today the Mountain Flight stays wayyyyy to the south of the Himalaya, like almost over Lukla. No wonder I couldn't hear any planes. The pilots still allow people to come up front, but when I did? I was given about a 30 second view when you almost needed binoculars to see the mountain. After 30 seconds? "Ok, please take your seat." Wtf? Yes, you see the mountain. But also, yes- it's that far out. No wonder I didn't hear any planes while climbing. Hopefully with his telephoto lens, Dad was able to snap away and hopefully get some good pictures. As for me, I was just surprised to be looking at the summit again after just 8 days.

As the plane descended, it became push-our-crap-on-the-tourists. T-shirts in hand, Unfriendly Flight Attendant #2 came around and tried to sell to everyone- myself included a T-Shirt that in big, bold letters on the front says "I Didn't Climb Everest But It Touched My Heart" with a cheezy silk screened image that looked like it hadn't been updated since 1980. I mean, honestly. Dad told the FA when we were looking at Everest that I had in-fact climbed it, but I guess she felt in her own little world that I still thought a 1980 T-Shirt was a worthwhile buy.

Anyway, it was fun looking at the mountain again and just like our summit day, it was crystal clear perfect out. Good news to those on the mountain, sitting on the summit at the very moment we were snapping away with cameras.

Award Ceremony

We also had a medal ceremony on what turned out to be the First Annual Sagarmartha Day Celebration.. or something like that. They put all of the Everest summiteers on one side of a banquet hall, and then had all the Nepal Mountaineering Association big-wigs.. you know, every one of the guys who made our lives miserable during that torch debacle.. sit up on a podium. Then we had to sign in so they knew who was present, and I took a pic of the sign-in sheet because I thought it was cool that we were signing in right behind Apa Sherpa, the World Record holder in summits- 18 this year which is out of control.

And then it was medal time. Yayy! We all received a medal for summiting. I wonder if I can wear it on my Dress Blues. Something tells me that the answer is no.

Rum Doodle

Finally, we hit Rum Doodle, a local bar/restaurant in Thamel made famous for its affiliation with the climbing community. Rum Doodle is a fairly short satire from the 50s about the ascent of a 40,000' peak by a bunch of goofballs. If you haven't read it, it's truly a fun read. The restaurant, however, is chock full of climbing memorabilia, including autographs by famous climbers like Edmund Hillary, Barry Bishop, Reinhold Messner, etc. We added to their wall of fame with our own sign, which our team autographed and designed:

A week later, several of us met up again at Rum Doodle for dinner and spent close to an hour looking for our team's foot. We found it, jammed way in the back and completely out of view. Upon closer inspection, we realized that this was a result of us just writing EVEREST on it, not adding in the critical descriptor of "expedition" or especially "summit". So, with tenacious Henny leading the way we fixed the sign and with hammer in hand nailed it to the most conspicuous place possible- right by the front desk on the stairwell where someone will need a ladder to remove it.

Anyway, the deal is that if you are an Everest summitter, you can fill out a form and then receive free meals for life. They have you sign a read board that is chock full of signatures, and then you are part of the Rum Doodle fraternity.

How great to be back in civilization! No on to Bardia National Park to search for wild Bengali Tiger...

1 comment:

nepalwriter said...

Sherpas are the true heroes of Everest. Without their assistance, very few would reach the summit. To learn more about this amazing tribe, read Beyond the Summit by Linda LeBlanc. Details of Sherpa culture and religion are interwoven in a tale of romance and high adventure. The story has something for everyone: a love affair between an American journalist and Sherpa guide, conflict between generations as the modern world challenges centuries of tradition, an expedition from the porter’s point of view.

Below are selections from reviews. To read the complete ones and excerpts go to

Beyond the Summit, is the rare gem that shows us the triumphs and challenges of a major climb from the porter’s point of view. The love of two people from diverse cultures is the fiery centerpiece of a novel that leads its readers through harshly beautiful and highly dangerous territory to the roof of the world. Malcolm Campbell, book reviewer

Conflict and dialog keep this gripping story of destiny, romance and adventure moving from the first page to the last paragraph. LeBlanc has a genius for bonding her readers and her characters. I found I was empathizing in turn with each character as they faced their own personal crisis or trauma.
Richard Blake for Readers Views.

A gripping, gut-twisting expedition through the eyes of a porter reveals the heart and soul of Sherpas living in the shadows of Everest.

A hard-hitting blend of adventure and romance which deserves a spot in any serious fiction collection. Midwest Book Review

LeBlanc is equally adept at describing complex, elusive emotions and the beautiful, terrifying aspect of the Himalayan Mountains. Boulder Daily Camera

LeBlanc’s vivid description of the Himalayas and the climbing culture makes this a powerful read. Rocky Mt News Pick of the Week

A rich adventure into the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom. Fantastic story-telling from one who has been there.

This is the book to read before you embark on your pilgrimage to Nepal. The author knows and loves the people and the country, and makes you feel the cold thin air, the hard rocks of the mountains, the tough life of the Sherpa guides, and you learn to love them too. This is a higly literate, but also very readable book. Highly recommended.”
– John (college professor)

Memorable characters and harrowing encounters with the mountains keep the action moving with a vibrant balance of vivid description and dialog. Literary Cafe Host, Healdsburg, CA

This superbly-crafted novel will land you in a world of unimaginable beauty, adventure, and romance. The love story will keep you awake at night with its vibrant tension and deep rich longing. Wick Downing, author of nine novels

Such vividly depicted images of the Everest region and the Sherpa people are the perfect scenario for the romance and adventure feats narrated. It’s a page-turner, so engrossing you end up wanting to visit Nepal! Not just novel, but perfect for those seeking to get acquainted with the culture of this country.
By Claudia Fournier (América, Bs. As., Argentina)

Available through Barnes and Noble, Borders,,, and the web site