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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Start of Our Trek! April 2-6, 2017

Sunday April 2, 2017 

Jess and Chris Bombardier
"Do not imagine that the journey is short; and one must have the heart of a lion to follow this unusual road, for it is very long… one plods along in a state of amazement, sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping."   Farid ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds: A Sufi Fable

The climb begins! I'm accompanying Chris Bombardier of Denver to Everest Base Camp, where Chris will stay till end of May in the attempt to be the first person with hemophilia to summit Mt. Everest! (www.bombardierblood.com)

Day 1 of our base camp trek started at the Yak and Yeti Hotel in Kathmandu at 4:15 am. I was up, packed and ready to roll by 4:45 am. Ryan Waters, the team's mountaineer guide, and lead Sherpa Tashi loaded everything into the bus and we were all off to the airport: me, Chris and Jess Bombardier, cameraman Rob Bradford and seven other climbers.

Laurie Kelley in Lukla
The sky was dark, the streets of Kathmandu empty. Security was easy. The flight to Lukla was only 45 minutes; this is the famous airport with about the shortest runway in the world! The flight got extremely turbulent at one point. We disembarked at Lukla and it was stunning. 9,000 feet high with soaring snow-capped peaks surrounding it. My first impression were all the faces of the young Nepalese men, hoping to be chosen as porters, peering at us eagerly through the mesh-wire fence at the perimeter of the tiny airport. It was only 7 am . We walked up the steps and met Lukla.

Lukla is a village, teeming with small shops on cobblestone streets, displaying everything you need to trek. Mixed breed mountain dogs lounged on doorsteps in the sunshine, women set up their wares outside their shops. There was an abundance of restaurants and hotels. It was thriving. We all gathered upstairs at a restaurant for breakfast and tea. I had hot muesli—delicious, and "milk tea," which is creamy and thick. 

We walked about town while waiting for Rob's luggage to arrive. I bought a used fleece buff, which I needed later. We visited a monastery there, which was amazingly beautiful. We also strode up to a stupa, to see the fluttering prayer flags with the Himalaya as a backdrop. The name Himalaya means home (alya) of snow (hima).


At last the lost luggage arrived and we started hiking. We walked a whole 15 minutes before we had to stop at the Everest Forest Gate to get permits. A small yak stood waiting. The sun was getting stronger already and soon we were sweating. We went downhill and much of the trail reminded me of those in New Hampshire. It was very rocky and uneven, tricky to navigate. The trail led to a huge valley with a river that ran with silvery turquoise water. Porters dodged us as they hurried by with huge loads, secured by plastic band across their foreheads. Some only wore flip flops on these rugged trails.
Everest National Park
Chris and Ryan watch the yak caravan

We hiked for a little over an hour, passing little villages with shops and "mani stones," huge black rocks with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum  ("Hail to the jewel in the lotus") carved into the stone and painted white. We stopped for lunch at a wonderful outdoor restaurant in the heart of hills.
Mani Stones: "Om Mani Padme Hum"

We set out again at 2 pm, over long, metal suspension bridges that sway over deep gorges. Lacing them were prayer flags in the colors of the world: blue for sky; white for air; green for water; yellow for earth; red for fire. Down rocky courses, up hills, always hiking to the left of the stupas or mani stones, the clockwise direction in which the earth and the universe revolve, according to Buddhist doctrine. We were warned about the many yak caravans. They stop for nothing. When you hear the cowbells jangling on the necks of the yaks, you must step aside, preferably against the stones or hill, and not near the edge of a trail, where you might get pushed off!

Laurie Kelley and Chris Bombardier on a
suspension bridge
There is so much traffic on the trail; it's not at all what I expected. We pass through village after village. A writhing fence made of  thorn vines borders one trail. Above crows caw loudly like old men with a joke: ha HA!

I climb one steep section and am winded! At 3:30 pm we reach our first tea house, quiet though rustic. My room is upstairs, four walls, a green rug, a little table and two little beds. I have a view of a beautiful mountain. It's cold; I'm sweaty. There's one communal bathroom for the whole floor. And... I have severe heartburn. 


Tuesday April 4, 2017


We had climbed 2,000 feet yesterday, which took us about 5 hours, the longest day of the trek. After arriving at the tea house, I changed clothes to keep warm. The dining room has little tables around the perimeter, all wood but very cold. All I ate was porridge for dinner, not feeling hungry. As soon as I was done I went to bed. 

Dodh Kosi River
We were up early in the frigid air. I was shaking as I got out of my warm sleeping bag. The hike today was not hard but so crowded! You actually were rubbing shoulders with other people along the trail, trying to avoid the powerful yaks as they passed. The scenery was beautiful. Soaring mountains, snow-capped, rising above the pine trees. The rushing Dodh Kosi river is the color of sea-glass. We became sweaty hot when we stepped into the sunshine but as soon as we hit shade it became chilly. The well-defined trail rambled up and down, mostly up, then down a dirt path as we strolled through another village. Sometimes you even had to wait in line to ascend an area!

We stopped for lunch this day at a small, touristy restaurant, and a border collie collapsed at my feet. I offered it rice but it wasn't interested--village dogs are that well fed. I had a hearty lunch of rice and sauce. The sun was searing!

We headed out again and passed through pastoral scenes: stone cottages, cabbage fields, women hoeing. Everywhere prayer flags fluttered. At some point I lost the group and just hiked amidst all the other tourists of different nationalities. We did come to a huge suspension bridge, the one portrayed in the movie Everest. It's over a 200 foot gorge with the crashing Dodh Kosi river below. It buckled and swayed under us, making us feel like we were in a funhouse. 

I breathed heavily and took it slow; my lower back started aching. Maybe I overloaded my backpack? Even Chris took my jacket to spare me some weight. Pasan, one of our sherpas, offered to carry my pack finally. Bless him! Now he was carrying about 50 lbs. in weight while I had none. And still I struggled. Yaks walked ahead of us, blocking the trail and mercifully slowing us down.

After an hour we made it to Namche Bazar, a famous stop over for trekkers. I could only think about crawling into bed. Chris made me feel better by saying that the group only had arrived 10 minutes ahead of me, but it felt like an hour.

My small room had three cots, and… a private bathroom and shower! And hot water. It was 4 pm and I laid down and drifted in and out of sleep. I didn't realize it but I was being slowly overtaken by food poisoning.

Tashi and Pasan later look in on me, and brought me garlic soup, which they claimed was good for me, thinking I had altitude sickness. But nothing smelled or tasted good. Even water didn't appeal to me. Ryan came in to check on me and I was bundled in bed, up to my chin, drained. I took two sips of water and immediately vomited. Everything passed through me till there was nothing left, all night long. It was a miserable, long night. The attacks came so violently. I started thinking dismal thoughts: I'm weak, I can't even master 11,000 feet! I have to give up trekking. Chris will never want to climb with me again. 

In the morning, I don't ever remember feeling so dehydrated. It's a panicky feeling. I only wanted a tangerine or apple; so Tashi found some for me, and I gingerly ate them. Ryan gave me an anti-nausea pill which did the trick. Finally I could drink water and keep it down. Nothing ever tasted as good as that tangerine. 

I rested all morning in bed. Later, I joined our climbers for lunch, where I only managed one piece of toast and tea.  Even the short walk up the stairs to my room tired me out. It was luxurious to lay on a cot, two piles of fleece blankets on me. By evening, Ryan came to visit again, and we talked options. The best one was for me to stay in Namche an extra day and catch up with the group in two days, on Friday (their rest day). I would have one Sherpa with me. I felt badly being the weak link, then learned also that Rob had been ill as well.

Wednesday April 5, 2017

I felt so much better when I awoke at 7 am. I said my goodbyes to the group, and Tashi hugged me good-bye as they all left. Back in the room, the last thing I wanted was to crawl back into bed. That was a good sign. And after two hours I was hungry again. I showered with steaming hot, solar-heated water, for a last shower in who knows how long. 

The Nepalese all want me to stay warm. Put on a hat. Drink garlic soup. Have tea. Such lovely people: quiet, respectful, kind. You never observe loud, brash, self-important behavior. 

3:44 pm. We're back from our little trek up to the Sherpa museum. The walk was hard at first. Slow, slow, step by step. I had to get my breathing right; my quads burned. The stone steps up to the museum are ragged and well traversed, decorated with yak dung the whole way up. Lhakpa, my personal sherpa, is so thoughtful. He took my camera, my coat and hat, whatever I didn't need. He dropped my hat accidentally, then retrieved it and meticulously dusted it off. The vista at the top of the hill was obscured by clouds but at least I saw the statue of Tenzing Norgay, the first person known to summit Mt. Everest, along with Sir Edmund Hillary.  

Thursday April 6, 2017
Last night in Namche. I went to bed at 8:30 pm after a brief dinner I had no heart for. Just half a bowl of vegetable soup, an egg, a slice of apple and potato slices. Although we are still in Namche, I had to have my room moved, as I was not supposed to be here last night. My new room was tiny, ground floor, in a poorly made shed-like abode. The walls are paper thin and I could actually here every sound, even breathing, of people next door. I read for a while, tried to sleep, but it's too noisy. My heart seemed to be pounding in my chest from the altitude. I slept from 11 pm to 1 am, then the village dogs started their infernal barking, up to three bouts an hour. I was up for good at 5 am.

I felt better today despite all. I sat outside in the sunshine, waiting for Lhakpa, watching the comings and goings. Finally we stepped out. Lhakpa had to carry his backpack and my rucksack. He's only 29 and couldn't weight more than 130 lbs. This was a huge load to carry. But if I struggled with my jacket, he was there to help. 

Then we started, straight up the steps at a 45° angle. I was already winded and we had barely started! I felt like an old car that tries to turn over on a cold morning, and after a few tries, gets started but needs time to warm up. Yaks passed, cow bells jangling. It was a sky-blue day and the Khumba valley opened below us to an incredible vista. This trek would take us to the Tenbouche monastery and eventually Dingbouche. We walked at a slow pace, no rush. 

There were long sections of uphill climbs, through pine trees. We slogged away, step by step. I'd pause to breathe and let porters hike by. It's amazing how much the porters carry. One porter carried enormous slabs of plywood, four sheets at about 8' by 4', and he all of 5' tall. Another old porter carried a washing machine box on his back, and a rucksack, and another box. It was three times his size. 


Eventually we came to a clearing where I saw my first glimpse of Mt. Everest! Stunning! Clouds fluttered and streamed from its peak like the numerous prayer flags we saw. The mountains defy description. Brown barren rock mountains in the foreground, seemingly strategically placed to lead the eye to distant Everest, so coldly beautifully.

Prayer wheels
Downhill, uphill. The trail was edged by juniper and other conifer trees. I plodded at a yak pace. Except that yaks passed me! The yaks are enormous, shaggy-furred cattle creatures with huge horns. After lunch we clacked over the metal suspension bridge with spectacular views on either side. Even coming off the bridge, going slightly uphill, my quads burned. We saw prayer wheels that turned eternally, hydropowered by the river below it; as they spin they send their prayers off to heaven. 

There was a lot of uphill trekking and honestly we all struggled. Sherpas, porters, women, men, young, old, Japanese, Hungarian, Spanish… we all moved like in slow motion. The sun seared us, but the mountains called us.
 Lots of dusty switchbacks, up and up. Occasionally a yak plodded down, bareback, its load deposited at base camp. I was so slow I separated from everyone, including my Sherpa.  Finally, around 3 pm, we reached the Tenbouche Monastery, at 12,687 feet, founded in 1923.

Lhakpa was no where to be seen. So I waited in the shade, and gazed at the amazing, peaceful monastery. I was amused to see the shaved-head monks walking about in their crimson robes, with Nike sneakers on. I went inside the monastery, removing my dirty hiking boots. Outside, the most peaceful of scenes: grass, stupas, three beautiful horses grazing until three rowdy dogs chased them. A helicopter landed, sending a yak scurrying, depositing a trekker. Fluttering prayer flags provided bursts of color everywhere. Inside, a sole monk chanted prayers, fingering his beads, while trekkers like me sat quietly around the perimeter on mats, waiting. The room was brightly painted with scenes of Buddha.

Back outside, I found Lhakpa. This was not our final destination, so we kept walking, another 15-20 minutes to Dibouche, passing a well-defined and treacherously rocky route, lined by deciduous trees, Finally our tea house, "Rivendell," named after the Lord of the Rings home of the elves. I saw a big room, private bath. We would give it a one-star, but to me it could not be more four-star! Hot water… simple pleasures. I was deliriously happy!

(Read part 2 next week!)


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