Thursday, November 3, 2011

Namche Bazaar

Interesting few days to say the least. To start with from new experiences to recalling old memories.

During a 6 hour wait at KTM, I passed time by meandering among tons of haphazardly strewn cargo, climbing gear and immensely bored passengers. In a way this wasn't all bad, as Tshering introduced me to a restaurant I had no idea existed and even spent time on the airport roof when not chased off by a band of local monkeys that took great pride in badgering people and rummaging through unattended bags. Somewhere during all this I was given a five minute alert to grab gear and head to a mini pickup that would take a team of five Americans & Canadians from Mountain Gurus to an awaiting helicopter. All great guys- fit, strong and eager- it seemed like a solid fit and in short order I had joined the team easily. We drove a short distance to the LZ and then crammed as much gear as possible into an awaiting bird before boarding ourselves, sardine-like, into the passenger compartment. With a whine of turbines and whiff of JP5, we were quickly airborne and heading north-northeast as the city disappeared beneath us.

What appeared to be simple haze in Kathmandu quickly became foggy, pea soup clouds once airborne. Using GPS and following rivers that hug craggy, rugged valleys torn from the earth and forced skyward, our helicopter crabbed its way through passes that seemed barely wide enough for our rotor blades as the pilot waypointed his way to Lukla and an LZ that appeared no more than 30 seconds before landing. It became quickly clear that there was no way a fixed wing could safely travel to, let alone land at the worlds most dangerous airport in these conditions. Over the coming days we realized just how lucky we were to even have had this rare rotor opportunity as now everything has been grounded for five successive days with no plan to get operations moving until Monday soonest.

After being inserted, we immediately stepped off and began our odyssey. Hot, humid and cloudy, the valley loomed above us as wisps of clouds clung to nooks and crannies, waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet and the whole experience a very Lord of the Rings feel. We continued moving about 3 hrs that day before pulling into Ghat, just beating an oncoming squall that we knew meant snow up ahead.

The next morning, we set off over several hours for Namche Bazaar, the capital of the Khumbu Region that sits at 12,000'. The trail to this storied destination continues on through one minor village after another, up and down, one countless step after another. At times the trail passes over wire and aluminum bridges suspended hundreds of feet above the raging and milky white Dudh Kosi river, carrying mineral rich Himalayan meltwater hundreds of miles to the coast. Finally, several hours after leaving Ghat we arrive at the final bouncing and bobbing bridge before beginning the long, 1,500' slog up, up, up on the final push into Namche. Sweat streaming and lungs aching I find it funny to look over to a local Nepali teenage girl who is ambling along at the same pace, in lime green & pink sneakers while chatting away on her cellphone to someone.. Either a boy, or one of her friends about a boy. Completely fine and not at all out of breath it makes me impressed yet again at how people here are completely adapted to this environment.

Finally we arrive into Namche and are awash in the sights, sounds and smells of this little horseshoe shaped, cliffside city that bustles with activity. Within 30 minutes we bump into a Nepali woman who lived in NY before marrying a Sherpa and moved here, from Queens, to Namche Bazaar. Talk about an adjustment. She tells us that she did the hike from Lukla once, and will never do it again.. So it's strictly air for her going to <-> Kathmandu. None of us can blame her.

After meandering the endless corridors of shoppettes and restaurants we arrive at our hotel- the top end Hotel Camp de Base. This place is like a lap of luxury and its a great score to stay here. Hot showers, comfy beds and good grub await as we acclimatize over the coming days. The team relaxes in, has dinner and chats away about things to come. They are all great guys- three from the US: California fire fighter, an inspirational speaker from Commack NY and a Professor from Colorado. Two are in construction and hail from Alberta Canada although one is of German descent. I love these sort of teams as it keeps things real and enjoyable.

Off to bed for an enjoyable and relaxing night sleep of funky, high altitude dreams!

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