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Archive for September 23rd, 2009

Made it: the Himalaya

Langtang to Kyagin Gompo 3800M
Angin beat me by a ball in a game of high altitude billiards; “How did they carry that pool table up here?”
Yaks walk freely around the village and community members pick up semi dry Yak piles and place them on rocks and the stone wall cracks of their shelters- later these very dry dung disk will be used as fuel for cooking and much needed winter heat. Men spilt wood they carried from the valleys below, and women weave beautiful died Yak wool garments on ancient hand looms.
Today is an acclimation day thus we only climbed 400m.  Tomorrow we will day hike to nearly 5000m up the Tsergo Ri for views of the 7000m mountains that now surround us.  I made it, I am in the Himalaya.
Toured the local Yak cheese “factory” (rock and timber shack) complete with wooden presses, drums, and wood/dung stove, used for cheese and curd production. Also noted some very high quality stanless steel containers that arevused in some obvious important sterilization process.
The vines that prevented my further fall, extracted a small price and left me with some festering sores complete with small pieces of broken thorns below the skin; one above my left eye, and one on left ankle are particularly puffy and infected. I opened them with my Swiss Army, flushed with alcohol, and applied some triple antibiotic cream – all good. The bruise on my hip is impressive; the size and color of a very black Whamo frisbie.
Hiked a bit with Stephanie and Courtney of Australia today. Both are taking a year off between high school and university education to do community service work in Nepal.  This is called the “Gap” year down-under and strikes me as a fantastic time to bring some perspective to a young persons life. They are great and provided me so much insight on the “real” Nepal. They are also 25 years my junior and carry 25 kilo less fat than I – keeping up was a real effort. Have also been hanging with Thomas from Denmark. Thomas is a professional sail boat captain when he is not “working” and I am awe struck as going to sea is also a life long dream; so here we are, sitting on the top of the world and we are talking about sailing the worlds oceans.
The guy chopping wood has been at it for 6 hours straight.
Our lodge host is wearing traditional highland Nepalese/Tibet clothes made of tightly woven and beautifully dyed yak wool. Her hair is worn in a tightly woven braid that reaches nearly to the back of her knees, and she sports a pair of white high-top basketball shoes.
9-24-09
Kyagon Gompo to Tsergo Ri 4984m
As I came over a ridge with my heart trying to escape my chest, I suddenly remembered “Their brands were still on fire — their hooves were made of steel, horns were black and shinning, and their hot breath you could feel – plowing through the ragged skyyyyyy, and up a clouded draw”. But these were not the Ghost Riders of Marty Robbins and later Jonny Cash, rather they were the yaks surrounding me in the mist as I attempted to reach the summit; the scene was eerie as it looked like steam was boiling from their nostrils in the thick, cold, early morning mist. Further along we saw a ancient man milking the yaks in front of an crude structure consisting of stacked rock walls and a makeshift roof of cloth, thatch, plastic, and metal. I could see yaks up, down and across this incredibly steep and forbidding landscape and assumed this was a summer herding camp; “No, they live here full time”, Anjin assured me. I don’t think I am going to get up this thing once, let alone live and work here.
“Slow sir, slow sir, we make it, must slow go, we long time”. When I finally reached the prayer flags and a new personal high elevation, I had the exact same experience of reaching the California/Oregon border during my 2006 thru hike; I was suddenly overcome with emotion.  As I looked up, crying while releasing so much emotion accumulated over the last 2 years, the clouds parted for a minor second to reveal the highest places on earth: “We are here, we have always been here…do not worry”.
That was hard, really hard…steep, high, hard. My future plans include tying to climb a mountain that is a thousand meters higher…I don’t know, I am not as strong as I used to be; brain says climb, body says: “bite me’. I do not quit easily, but today I almost quit several times and to combat this, I broke the climb into 20m increments; if you can not go any further after you go 20m further you can quit, repeat, repeat, repeat, for the last 200m and ultimate summit.
I have not been eating well, and while I have been heading John’s advice that “It is a brave westerner who farts in Asia”, today I had to let it go. Dal Bhat was having its way with my lower intestines. Angin kept saying: “Good health” as I produced enough methane to light Kathmandu and maybe Deli as well.  My constant response was “Dal Bhat”.
I know that many, some would argue most, stomach aliments result from hand to hand food contact, so when the young girl held out her hand and offered me a piece of yak cheese I paused momentarily. Then I suddenly realized that this obviously poor family was sharing what little they had – “dawn jya baud” (thank you).  It was obviously cheese, but that is all the good I can say about it. This offering came as a result of deciding to stay at the much smaller tea houses (plank with a thin mattress for sleeping, squat toilet down the hall, and available food) that dot the landscape along these ancient trade routes.
Also staying here is a Japanese guy, who through his work at an NGO in Nepal, speaks credible Nepalese and understands nearly all of it. Everyone else in the house is Nepalese. I struggled with the conversation and felt left out until I realized I had photos; photos of South Korea and photos of Nepal, photos of far away places for these mountain people. The kids loved the show as my Japanese friend provided the translations.
Less here in the mountains, but when I walked the back alleys of KTM I saw women pulling lice from the heads of their obviously uncomfortable and crying children. A bar of soap, if available, can fix this problem. WTF is wrong with this picture?
I don’t feel so good – suffering from altitude, food, poor hygiene. I could sure use a burrito at sea level. But then again,  all of those burritos and pizzas instead of spin class sure did not help in climbing that bastard this morning.
9-25-09
Kyagon gompo to Bamboo 2042m
I write this entry under a thatched roof where the hens, roosters and I take shelter from the rain. Walked a knee jarring 7.5 hours today after awaking to a magnificent sunrise amongst the mountain giants. Coming down slope we spotted a troop of howler monkeys who put on quite an acrobat show.  More impressive however were the large white faces cousins who demonstrated amazing prowess as they moved from tree to tree with their young clutched to their chest.
People are people are people. My Japanese friend pulled me aside, and as often seen in Japanese politeness, expressed to me that I might want to consider taking a more direct leadership role with my young porter. “I have worked here for 10 years, I understand the language, I understand the caste system, and it is best for you to understand this is a business relationship where you are the boss.  Your porter is a good man, but he like so many here is a desperate young man.  You must manage that; manage the expectations, manage the relationship”. This council came as a surprise and, well, not a surprise. I had seen some indication of conflicts arising  (where to stay, how far to hike…) but attempted to simply go with it. I also had a nagging thought that I new somehow he was right. A friend had told me to be careful on this trip; not physically, but emotionally as I needed to understand that the hugely disparate economics can complicate human interactions. These competing priorities was a primary reason, I later deduced, why we hike so far today -Anjin, was trying to set us up for an early return to KTM.  I did not really mind as I need to get more fit, but I do plan on taking a bit more of an active role in how things will be done going forward. That said, I know that Angin much prefers to stay at tea house within his same caste system so I told him that was fine, but I would be deciding, after consulting with him, how far we walked each day.  He told me that today would have only been six hours if we walked faster.  I looked him in the eye and said: “No, you know I walked very fast, do not mislead me again”. Enough said.
We found the scene of the accident today.  After looking at it carefully, I do not think I would have ever made it into the river as there was a big flat rock I would have hit first.  So that earlier assertion was and exaggeration. Now to not break anything or even survive that initial fall can still be described as: “flipping lucky”. Upon examination, I am certain that the only thing that saved me was that the fall was not completely vertical.  Rather, like a motorcycle or ski jump landing area, I hit a sloped, wet, and very very slippery ramp. This allowed me to bounce and continue to fall as the vines slowed my progress. You know, I always thought it was cool that cats had nine lives; now I am not so certain as I did some calculations and I have to be getting very close to that number.  Thus I now choose to think that I have as many lives as I am supposed to have…hopefully quite a few.
Only in Nepal could something be so backwards and broken. Or is it? I awoke disturbed from an odd dream and spent most of the day reflecting on it.  In my dream, I had needed to apply for a permit to live……a what? After standing in the queue for a good third world time, I was told “Sir, you can not apply for a living permit, without being in possession of a dying permit”.  Looking incredulously at the clerk I replied “What, why the hell is that?” to which he looked shocked and simply said “Sir, no live permit before die permit”. Hours on the trail drove home the point: You can only live after recognizing you are going to die.
I think I am actually sitting in the chicken coop; as night falls I have birds trying to roost all around me. No, a young girl just collected each bird and put them under a wicker basket.
Langtang to Kyagin Gompo 3800M
blue roof langtang

Langtang

Angin beat me by an eight ball in a game of high altitude billiards; “How did they carry that pool table up here?”

Yaks walk freely around the village and community members pick up semi dry Yak piles and place them on rocks and the stone wall cracks of their shelters- later these very dry dung disk will be used as fuel for cooking and much needed winter heat. Men spilt wood they carried from the valleys below, and women weave beautiful died Yak wool garments on ancient hand looms.

Today is an acclimation day thus we only climbed 400m.  Tomorrow we will day hike to nearly 5000m up the Tsergo Ri for views of the 7000m mountains that now surround us.  I made it, I am in the Himalaya.

Toured the local Yak cheese “factory” (rock and timber shack) complete with wooden presses, drums, and wood/dung stove, used for cheese and curd production. Also noted some very high quality stanless steel containers that arevused in some obvious important sterilization process.

The vines that prevented my further fall, extracted a small price and left me with some festering sores complete with small pieces of broken thorns below the skin; one above my left eye, and one on left ankle are particularly puffy and infected. I opened them with my Swiss Army, flushed with alcohol, and applied some triple antibiotic cream – all good. The bruise on my hip is impressive; the size and color of a very black Whamo frisbie.

Hiked a bit with Stephanie and Courtney of Australia today. Both are taking a year off between high school and university education to do community service work in Nepal.  This is called the “Gap” year down-under and strikes me as a fantastic time to bring some perspective to a young persons life. They are great and provided me so much insight on the “real” Nepal. They are also 25 years my junior and carry 25 kilo less fat than I – keeping up was a real effort. Have also been hanging with Thomas from Denmark. Thomas is a professional sail boat captain when he is not “working” and I am awe struck as going to sea is also a life long dream; so here we are, sitting on the top of the world and we are talking about sailing the worlds oceans.

The guy chopping wood has been at it for 6 hours straight.

Our lodge host is wearing traditional highland Nepalese/Tibet clothes made of tightly woven and beautifully dyed yak wool. Her hair is worn in a tightly woven braid that reaches nearly to the back of her knees, and she sports a pair of white high-top basketball shoes.

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