Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lukla to Phortse

Ann and I finally made the flight to Lukla from Kathmandu after going to the airport 8 days in a row.  The plane is a small twin turbo prop Donier that holds about 20 passengers.  The flight was spectacular with good views of the mountains including Mt Everest.  It is an exciting landing - you fly over a pass in the ridge that is visable in the background in the photo below just above the cloud layer.  The plane then drops down to the airstip on the side of the hill.  The reason the flight was cancelled for so many days was becase there were clouds in this pass.
Airport at Lukla
After we landed at Lukla which is at about 9,000 feet in elevation, we hiked for about 5 hours to the town of Monjo where we spent the night.  Monjo is at or below the elevation of Lukla because we dropped about 1000 feet from Lukla to the Dudh Kosi River before we started climbing again.  Along the way we came across many simple but beautiful Buddhist stupas (see post on Kathmandu) and piles of Mani stones.  Mani stones are rocks inscribes with Buddhist prayers.

Buddhist Stupa and Mani Stones along the trail
Along the trek between Lukla and Namche Bazar we crossed six cable footbridges.  Not that many years ago these bridges were made of vines and sticks and the new bridges make it possible to safely move people and cargo up the valley.  This plus the popularity of the trek to Mt Everest has made the Khumbu a relatively prosperous region in Nepal.

Ann on one of the cable footbridges over the Dudh Kosi River
On the second day of our trek we had to climb up about 2500 feet from Monjo to the village of Namche Bazar which is just under 12,000 feet.  We climbed above the tree line and began to get spectacular views of the mountains including the Kwangde peaks, Kusum Kanguru, Tamserku, Lhotse, Nuptse, and Mt Everest.  The view reminded me of the new route that Alex Lowe and I climbed on Kwangde Nup in 1989.  The upper part of the route is up the black rock wall visible on the peak furthest to the right in the photo below.
Namche Bazar and the Kwangde Peaks behind

We spent the night in Namche Bazar and on third day of our trek Ann and I headed to different places.  Ann went to the village of Kumjung with Liesl Clark and her children Finn (8), and Cleo (5) where they will be working at one of the Magic Yeti libraries.  Liesl and her husband Pete Athans have established several village libraries in this region of Nepal to help promote literacy.  I headed for the village of Phortse with Dave Weber, Kit Redhead, Pete Athans, Dave Burger, Dawa, and Chongba.  Phortse is the location of the Khumbu Climbing School and I will be able to get in a couple of days of teaching and a day of testing.  This is all that is left of this session of the KCS given that we are six days late getting here.  We had great weather on the hike to Phortse with views of the top of Mount Everest.

The top of Mt Everest behind the Lhotse-Nuptse wall on the left with Ama Dablam on the right

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stuck in Kathmandu

We have been stuck for 5 days in Kathmandu waiting for weather that allows us to fly to Lukla.  To land at the airstrip in Lukla there needs to be clear weather, and for the past 5 days it has been too cloudy there for us to land.  Each morning we get a wake up call at 6, eat a hurried breakfast, go to the airport where we check our luggage, and then sit around in the departure lounge until around 1:00 PM when the airline cancels the flight.   After being on this same routine for the past 5 days, Ann and I feel a bit like the Bill Murray character in the movie "Ground Hog Day" where he keeps having to relive the same day over and over. 

To entertain ourselves we have gone shopping for gifts, and read a lot.  Today we went to a rock climbing gym where we taught basic climbing to several of the Sherpa students who are also stuck here in Kathmandu  trying to get to the climbing school.

Ann experiencing positive vibrations from the Buddha bowl

Sherpa students on Kathmandu climbing wall

Hopefully we will have better luck tomorrow and not just a repeat of the same fire drill!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kathmandu World Heritage Sites

Yesterday Ann and I visited several of the Kathamandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  These are primarily ancient Buddhist or Hindu religious sites.  The first place we went was the Swayambhu Stupa.  A stupa is a mound-like structure containing  Buddhist relics, typically the remains of Buddha, that are used by Buddhists as a place of worship.  The Swayambhu Stupa dates back to the 5th Century where legend says a Buddhist follower planted a magic lotus that grew into a hill upon which the stupa was placed at the top. 

Swayambhu Stupa
Another popular name for the Swayambhu Stupa is the Monkey Temple. This is because monkeys are seen loitering all around the temple and are considered to be holy.  The holy man raising the hill was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and got head lice. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys.

Monkey at Swayambhu
The next place we went to was the Patan Durbar Square which was the town square for the ancient city of Patan that has now been swallowed up by the larger municipality of Kathmandu.  Most of the temples in the Durbar Square are Hindu.
Patan Durbar Square
 The most entertaining part of our trip to Patan Durbar Square was being guided by Shalu, Naren, and his brother Ruben.  Shalu was 11 and Naren about 9 and Ruben maybe 7.  Shalu and Naren's English was very good and they were very sure about all the history of the site and the names of the various Hindu gods. We kept having to fend off a series of adults who tried to exert their authority over the kids by replacing them as our guides.  But we enjoyed giving them a chance to practice their English, and being kids they had a way of describing their world that was pretty funny.

Ann with out tour guides
 The last temple we visited was the Boudhanath Stupa.  At over 130 feet high and 120 feet in diameter - it's size, the ambiance of its surroundings, and the care with which it has been maintained, made it our favorite of the day.  We sat on a balcony having a beer watching the scene below as pilgrims made repeated journeys clockwise around the stupa turning the prayer wheels with their hands as they walked by and counting the number of mantras they had recited with the prayer beads they were carrying.  Several monks stood at the end of small wooden platforms that they used to prostrate themselves before the shrine, and they never stopped the whole time we were there - it looked like an endless set of situps.

Boudhanath Stupa
 The final stop of the day was a trip to the barber.  For about $10 he gave me a nice haircut and head and back massage.

Edward Scissorhands at work
Ann is spending time tomorrow sorting the books that have been donated and shipped to the Asia Foundation office in Kathmandu.  They will take these books to the Magic Yeti libraries located in several villages in the Khumbu region where she will be working while I'm teaching climbing at the Khumbu Climbing School in the village of Phortse.  We will fly to the small airstrip in the Town of Lukla on Tuesday so we can begin our trek to the villages where we will be doing our work.

Hong Kong 23 Years Later

On our way to Kathmandu, Ann and I had a 12 hour layover in Hong Kong.  Both of us had been here on the way to Beijing in 1988 when I negotiated the permit and costs for our subsequently successful expedition to the North Ridge of K2 in 1990.  In 1988 Hong Kong was still a British colony, but in 1997 it reverted to Chinese rule.  It was interesting to see how it had changed now that it was run by a communist government.  It appears to have become even more capitalistic now than before!  The underground subway stations were filled with upscale western retail stores, and religious banners were allowed.
Modern Subway Station

When the British left, the Chinese government implemented a principle of "one country, two systems" whereby Hong Kong has a different political system than mainland China.  It stipulates that Hong Kong have a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign relations and defense.

Religious Expression is Allowed
With this lack of interference, Hong Kong has remained as one of the worlds leading financial centers with its own currency the Hong Kong Dollar.  It is also one of the most densely populated areas in the world with the resources to construct an abundance of high rises to accommodate everyone, as well as extensive subway and highway transportation systems, modern port facilities, and a new airport.  There is obviously a lot of money here and it seems that practicality won out over ideology - the Chinese obviously did not want to bite the hand that feeds it.

Lots of construction in a Global Economic Downturn

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Canadian Rockies Ice - So Far

Every ice climbing season in the Rockies is different.  When the temperatures drop below freezing each fall, the amount of water flowing over a waterfall or seeping through the rock can vary.  So ice climbs can be big and fat one year and nonexistent the next.  This year is no exception with the ice climbs on the Stanley Headwall thinner that usual and most of the classic routes in good condition.  A good place to get climbing information is at or  The photos below show conditions on some of the climbs I've been on this season.

Rob Smith and Jiro Kurihara on the first pitch of the Replicant
Juro Kurihara leading the second pitch of the Replicant
Jiro Kurihara approaching Kidd Falls
Jiro leading the first pitch of Kidd Falls
Sacre Bleu in lean conditions
Raphael Slawinski leading the thin ice on the first pitch of Sacre Bleu. Photo: Gery Unterasinger

Yours truly leading the fatter but steep second pitch of Sacre Bleu. Photo: Gery Unterasinger