Last night, spent in the small village of Paiya in the Bee Hive Lodge, was one of the longest nights of my life. I went to bed pretty early, about 8 pm, after a dinner of Sherpa stew, a tasty rice and vegetable glop. My room felt bitter cold and very damp. It was made of stone with a door, two tiny windows, and two tiny beds with very thin mattresses. I couldn’t get warm, even though I have a -10 degree C sleeping bag and my thermometer said it was about +10 C. I tossed and turned until I had to pee, which meant going outside, sown some steps, and into the dark squat toilet. Finally I drifted off.  In my fitfull sleep I dreamt that I woke up and it was pitch black and I had no idea where I was, and I had no idea where any lights were. It was if I had gone totally blind. Then I awoke for real and it was pitch black in that cave of a room, and I had a for-real panic attack, complete with hyperventilation and silent screams. Slowly I came to the realization of where I was and where I kept my headlamp under the pillow. Turning on the headlamp only slightly eased my panic. I spent they rest of the night tossing and turning trying to breathe normally. The thin mattress let the cold in from below and added to my sense of doom. I almost fell asleep when it was time to get ready for another day of hiking.

The Dudh Kosi is down there somewhere, you can see my trail in the upper left.

The day’s hike was pure misery in spite of some spectacular scenery. Not enough sleep together with my lingering cold that was threatening to turn into a cough made the going very slow. By mid morning the rain began. Our route contoured high on the north slope of the Dudh Kosi River, then plunged down 700 m to cross a tributary stream, then back up 400 m.

This rugged region is incredibly populated.

Soon we came to the intersection of the trail down from Lukla, where 95% of the trekkers fly into. Suddenly, my lonely trail, that had been populated by more donkeys than humans, became a virtual superhighway of trekkers fresh in from Kathmandu on the flight into Lukla. We ate an early lunch, then made the long trek northward to Pakding, a large trekker’s town of nothing but tea houses. My tea house is large, with a gas hot shower, and a very large heated dining room. I splurged on a coke for nearly $3.50 to go with my dinner of chicken nuggets and French fries. I’m in a much nicer room tonight so I am hopeful I will avoid a repeat of the panic attack.

Rain and Mud

The rain stopped today long enough to grab one picture.

Note, I am writing this post on March 10 USA time, March 11 in Nepal. I have WiFi at my tea house tonight, but is way to slow to do anything but check email. I will post this when I get a good internet connection (Might be Kathmandu).

Today I awoke feeling miserable. My nose was running – a full blown cold. The weather added to the misery, clouds floated amongst the surround peaks, and valley below me. A light drizzle was falling as I got my self ready for another day of walking.

On the map, todays hike looked like an easy day with no serious climbing. My goal for the day was Paiya, really a series of stone buildings scattered along the trail which contours high on the east slopes of the Dudh Kosi River. I have learned that the trekking map I am using is not very accurate. Today we climbed and climbed and climbed. Instead of contouring we were climbing up and around east-west ridges between the tributaries entering the Dudha Kosi from the east. Every time we would come around one of these ridges, I thought we would level out, but instead I would see the trail climbing high onto the next ridge. In the end, we gained over 1000 m in elevation, only to give back 300-400 m as we descended into a tributary valley where Paiya lies.

As we rounded the last ridge, Paiya appeared across a tributary valley. It looked quite close, maybe 20 minutes walk. My guide said 2 hours! I soon found out why. The descending trail was on a very wet, north-facing cliff face, and carved into the gneissic rocks, in places making a C-shaped notch. The path was a jumble of angular rocks imbedded in mud formed from the rain and donkey piss. Mostly piss. I had to easy my way down stepping from angular stone to slippery angular stone. One misstep and the best I could hope for was a face plant into donkey poo. If I went over the edge, the vegetation might slope me down a bit, but the rocks a 1000 ft below would stop me. In places the trail was only about 2 feet wide. The rain kept my camera in my pack the entire day, I think I took one picture.

We are now sitting around the wood burning stove at the Bee Hive lodge. We were treated to locally grown, fresh pop corn, the best I have ever tasted. Looking forward to my dinner of Sherpa stew.

Turn Towards Everest

Note that this post is being written on March 9 (actually March 10 here). The internet is glacial here so I will post this at the first opportunity.

Today actually was a pretty short day, as promised by my guide. Our route took us down down down from the last major north-south ridge. We ended up at the Dudh Kosi River, the major river running south from the Everest region. At the bridge we were also at the lowest point of the trek at 1500 m, lower by 500 m than where we started! Upon crossing the river on a long suspension bridge, our trail turned north.

Crossing the Dudh Kosi, then it’s a left turn toward Everest

No more up and over high ridges, from there the route follows the river up stream towards Everest. There will still be plenty of ups and downs, mostly ups; I have about 4000 m (more than 2 1/2 miles) of vertical elevation to gain to reach Everest base camp.

The Dudh Kosi River

An update on my health. My legs seem almost fine now, my little toe is still firmly attached and not causing any trouble, my left heal is much better thanks to a morning taping job and a strong dose of anti inflammatory. However I seem to be catching a cold, my throat is sore, and I am a beginning to get stuffy. Fortunately my cold is happening now, during some relatively easy days, and not up at high altitude.

My tea house for the evening is in Kharikhola, perched high on the east slope of the Dudh Kosi River. I was able to take a hot shower, which felt nice after hiking the last hour up to here in rain. I’ll keep this post short so I can get some rest and hopefully chase away this cold.

Unexpected Luxury

Note: This post was written on March 7 but will be posted on a future day when I have a stable internet connection.

Today was a long day, so this will likely be a short post. We climbed over a high pass, Lamjura La, which is the highest we will be for several days. At 3500 m elevation (about 11,500 ft) the climate there is decidedly cooler. Small patches of what looked like relatively fresh snow flanked the trail. We arrived at a small tea house for lunch just below the pass at 11:00 am and with the sun, the temperature was quite comfortable. As we ate our lunch, clouds began building and the wind blowing. By the time we crossed the pass, the clouds had obscured the sun, and a stiff wind made it feel quite cold.

11,500 feet high but in the foothills. Lamjura Pass is in the distance.
Your hero at Lamjura La.

The descent down to the village of Junbesi was an endless slog down a deep valley. The start of our descent passed through a mossy, magical forest of pine and rhododendron. Farther down as we approached the Junbesi river, I was surprised to see road-building activity once again. This road came up the river from the south. Our trek is essentially a eastward march directly across the topographic grain defined by the southward flowing rivers draining the high Himalayas. Hence our route is 90 degrees to the topography and therefore intensely up and down. However, in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake, the road-building frenzy utilized the north-south valleys to access these rural areas hardest-hit by the earthquake.

It was a long slog down from the pass, but through some nice forest. Gokul, my porter, is for scale.

As we approached Junbesi from above, we could see the new road, passable but still under construction. Junbesi also had power from a generator downstream. The town is much more prosperous than the small villages along the ridge lines. Our accommodation for the evening, the Ang Chokpa lodge, was a very pleasant surprise. I got a large room with an attached bath AND hot water in the shower. I was even able to access a reasonable town-wide WiFi for about $5, although it went down before I could post this. I’m writing this sitting around the wood burning stove in the toasty common room while digesting my spaghetti dinner (a nice change from dal bhat). Tomorrow looks like a relatively easy flat day on the map, but I have learned that Nepali flat means up down up down up down….


Up and Down Up and Down

There is literally no place flat in the Himalayas, and today’s march from the jJiri to Bhandar proved the point. I climbed over two passes, through three villages, crossed one large river, and passed countless homes destroyed by the 2015 earthquake. My guide said it would take 6 hours, now I know to add 25% to his estimate as the old man factor. We left at 7:30 am, and arrived at Bhandar at 4:30. That included a 45 minute lunch stop at a small, dark lodge perched next to the trail.

Our lunch stop for the day.

The hike passed through pleasant pine forests, interspersed with small family plots growing wheat, rice and potatoes. All of the plots we terraced on the steep slopes. Most of the plots were only a 2-3 meters wide, with a drop of a meter or more down to the next terrace. My mind boggled at the though of how much labor this took, not to mention the DIY irrigation engineering.

Shivalaya.  The climb out of this village was brutally steep.

This region felt the brunt of the 2015 earthquake. Many (most) of the homes are made of stone and became piles of rubble. Now construction is rampant. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the government, inundated with foreign aid, went on a road building spree. Only a few years ago, getting to Bhandar involved exactly what I did today. Now two new roads service this town. These are only roads in the sense that one can navigate them by truck or 4×4.  They have been scraped into the hillsides, switch-backing up and over passes and down steep drops. My foot trail crossed one of these roads multiple times on the way up and over the day’s second pass. Ankle-deep dust on these roads meant I wore a silky tan coat by the time I arrived at Bhandar.

Many of the lodges have not yet been repaired in Bhandar, the one Is am staying in, Shoba Lodge, was built recently – out of wood instead of stone. I had a nice proud moment when I arrived at the lodge when the other trekkers staying here said they took 2 days to get here to my 1. I did a few imaginary fist pumps. Fortunately, the lodge had a gas hot water heater hooked up to a shower head, so I got the dust off me. Now I’m awaiting for my ration of dal bhat to arrive. I’m thinking I will sleep well tonight.

Highway of Death

I feel lucky to be alive tonight. I have survived the most dangerous part of my trek, the 200 km drive to Jiri. But let’s start at the beginning…

My guide, Bahkta and my porter, Gokul (who is a slightly darker version of the Marlboro man), met me at my hotel at 8:00. We also had a driver who I am pretty sure is in training for the Indianapolis 500.

From the left, me, Mario Andretti, the Marlboro man, and Bhakti

Our car was a small Toyota sedan, and we all clambered in and headed out into Kathmandu’s traffic. I asked to sit shotgun, and man, was that a good choice! Bahkta and Gokul stuffed themselves in the back. The first hour was spent getting out of Kathmandu. On the outskirts of town we passed mile after mile of brick factories; the Nepalese were busily creating the tools for their own demise during the next big earthquake. The traffic was stop and go, mostly stop. Finally we emerged onto the the Aranko Highway, a route built by the Chinese in the 1960s that connects Kathmandu to the Tibetan border. After a couple of hours we branched off onto the B.P. highway, a new road built by the Japanese that connect Kathmandu to the southern lowlands.

Let me describe these roads: hair raising (if I had any), vomit inducing, ass-puckering and pee loosening doesn’t begin to do this route justice. Nominally 2 lanes, in reality it would be a generous bike lane in the US. Often, when a truck and a bus pass, both vehicles would slow to a crawl, and inch past each other with mm to spare, horns a-honking the entire time. The road climbed and fell, often with shear drop-offs. Guardrails? Who needs ’em! My driver drove like he was late for his wedding (more likely his funeral). With incredible skill he passed all manner of slower vehicles with inches to spare between us and oblivion. And all this describes the first half of our route.

About halfway, we made a quick stop for lunch – delicious dal bhat and curry.

A delicious lunch, Dal baht, the 24 hour fuel

Fear makes the best spice. After lunch, the route crossed a bridge and followed the Tampa Koshi River to the north. The road was now an ancient, nominally paved, single lane trail, pot-holed and washed out by floods over long sections. The road demanded 20-30 km per hour, my driver insisted on 50+ km per hour. Any on coming traffic was negotiated via a game of chicken; we won more than lost. The road then left the river and climbed, and climbed and climbed. Finally, we reached Jiri at 3:30 pm, for a 7 hour 30 minute time – probably my driver broke his own world-record. Jiri turns out to be a rather dismal village at the end of the road. Main Street is a wide but rough dirt road. We checked into a small Sherpa guest house. I bought my crew a beer, and we had another meal of dal bhat. I feeling at once excited and apprehensive about the coming trek. Tomorrow it begins.


When I last visited in 1986, Kathmandu had a population of 400,000, today this exploding city is now an order of magnitude larger with over 4 million inhabitants. Today I toured some of the famous landmarks of the city with a driver and guide. Dubar square, a couple of famous temples, and a cremation site along the river.

View of Kathmandu from Swayambhunath Temple

None of this impressed me much, but what did was the incredibly lasting impact from the earthquake that struck Nepal nearly 3 years ago. Over 9,000 people perished in that temblor, but it could have been far, far worse. The earthquake struck at noon on a Saturday which is Nepal’s Sunday. Schools were closed, children were out playing in the streets and parks, and businesses were shuttered. But the property lose was unbelievable. My driver said that in his village only a single house was left standing and that house became a field trip stop for building engineers. Bricks are everywhere. Piles of recycled brick, neat stack of new bricks, and many piles of broken bricks that no one has yet bothered to haul away. Construction is everywhere, yet still has so so far to go. Dust. Oh the dust. A perpetual yellow haze hangs over the city and coats everything left outside. In spite of all this, the tourist district is bustling again; Nepal is open for business.

Scenes from a shaken city

The drive today also reminded me how aching poor Nepalis are. The homeless are everywhere and by comparison the cardboard shacks inhabited by SoCal’s homeless seem like palaces. My tour guide said that over the last 10-20 years, there has been a mass migration from rural Nepal to the city where hopes for a brighter future collided with the harsh reality. Yet in the face of hardship, the Nepalis remain upbeat. My tour guide talked proudly of how Nepal is now a democracy after years of incompetent governance in a country run by kings.

I spent the late afternoon completing my supply shopping, and having a last beer and pizza in relative civilization. Tomorrow morning I will be drive about 185 km (8 hours!) on the Araniko Highway, arguably the most dangerous section of road in the world. I checked it out on Google maps and all I can say is that I hope I can ride shotgun.

The Adventure Begins: Bangkok to Kathmandu

After 32 years, I have finally returned to Kathmandu. I left Bangkok about 11 am after stuffing myself with 3 Krispy Kreme donuts and a cup of Starbucks (my waistline hopes they never open a KK franchise in Chiang Mai, the rest of me does). My flight was delayed by about an hour as we entered a holding pattern south of the city, then waited another 30 minutes on a taxiway while waiting for a parking spot. Although my memory has faded, it seems that not much has changed at Tribhuvan International Airport, it is still tiny and rather chaotically ad hoc. The trekking company I booked with had a driver dutifully awaiting my late arrival, and we drove slowly through the dusty, dusty streets, lined by piles of debris and bricks seemingly still leftover from the Earthquake 3 years ago. I arrived at the small botiqueish Dom Himalaya hotel in about 30 minutes. I was warned to tell the front desk 5 minutes before I showered so that the could turn on the hot water. Yes, I’m back in the third world.

With the remainder of the day free, my first step was to find an ATM. Here’s where my adventure began. My transaction went normally until the screen said “take your cash”, then it flashed “transaction cancelled”. My card reappeared, but before I could grab it, the machine slurped it right back inside. Then the screen reset to “please insert your card”. I could almost see that damn machine smile at me for offering such a tasty morsel. To make matters worse, I got an email from my bank in the US notifying me that I had just withdrawn 35,000 rupees or about $340. So now I am standing there with no rupees, no ATM card, and the bank had just closed 15 minutes prior. I was forced to dip into my emergency dollar cash reserve, which I was able to change into rupees at a nearby money changer. I guess I’ll be waiting at the bank door at 10 am tomorrow morning.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting a local SIM card, and picking up some odds and ends for my trek. Kathmandu is very different than I remember it. Back in 1986, the streets of the city had more sacred cows than cars. Now the cows have apparently been banished to be replaced by a cacophony of sacred cars and motorcycles. One nice thing though, the main part of the Thames area is a maze of walking streets, no cars. That made for a very pleasant shopping stroll amongst the myriad of small shops selling trekking gear. I finished the evening with a fine meal of Indian food at the Third Eye Restaurant.

A romantic candlelight dinner for one in Kathmandu.