Hello folks! Yes I know I was supposed to update from Kathmandu, but the past few days have been such a mad rush that I’ve had no time. I’ve been super tired running around these past few days and up until today, I’ve either had no sleep, or been surviving on 4 hours a day. The night before I flew to Kathmandu, I squeezed in a final training session fuelled by plenty of paranoia about fitness. Did a spinning class, a 15km run and then a weights session, followed by no sleep that night and on the plane, making for a very woozy brain that was in no shape to form a coherent blog entry.
Shall do a quick day by day update to fill you guys in:
Arrived in Kathmandu and it looks exactly the same! It’s my 4th trip to Nepal in 5 years and other than the amount of traffic on the congested roads, everything is the same, down to the street hustlers trying to sell mini wooden mandolins. Some of the shopkeepers actually recognize us, down to when we last came and for which climb.
The first thing we did was to check out our barrels of gear that had been air freighted earlier, to make sure that nothing was missing. We’re organizing our expedition logistics together with an american outfit known as “International Mountain Guides”, which uses a local nepal climbing company, “Great Escapes”, to organize things on the nepali side. So upon arrival, we went to the store at the Great Escapes office and man was i amazed. The store was the size of a HDB living room and it was packed full, literally, from floor to ceiling with all our stuff. Talk about a heavyweight expedition. The rest of the day was pretty much spent packing and buying up last bits of equipment and the odd knick knack. I’m terrible in Nepal. I have a great weakness for traditional Nepali and Tibetan silver jewelry and I end up buying heaps of earrings and bracelets cuz they’re so intricate, they’re nothing like what you’ll normally find in Singapore and totally affordable. Plus, I like to think that I’m single-handedy shoring up this cottage industry.
I totally love Nepal. It’s seriously a mess, it’s dirty and small, but also very very colourful and the ppl are really hospitable. Despite the sleepiness, fatigue, aching muscles and foggy brain, boy, did it feel good to be back!
Dinner was at this fantastic pizza place called “Fire and Ice”. It’s almost like a pre/post expedition ritual to eat there. The pizzas are the thin crust, wood-fired variety, are huge and cost like, $6 each. Cheers to cheap and good food in Kathmandu! We also met another all- womens team at the restaurant. They’re from Croatia and surprise surprise, they’re climbing Cho Oyu too! Looks like we’ll be seeing more of them very soon, and I thought we were the first team of the season to arrive.
It’s good to arrive early by the way, not that it’s a kiasu Singaporean thing. Cuz Cho Oyu is such a popular 8000er, the base camp is usually chock full of climbers. This autumn season’s estimate of climbers is 700, I kid you not. Hence, arriving earlier means being able to choose the best site for base camp and eventuallly, being able to climb and get off the mountain ahead of the general fray, so with some luck, we’ll be able to avoid dangerous bottlenecks.
More packing today (there’s never an end to packing it seems) and there was some free time in the afternoon so I took a cab to Nepal’s famous Monkey Temple (it’s the one with the buddha eyes on the white stupa that is always photographed on the cover of travel guides) and made a prayer for a safe expedition. Let’s hope I have accumulated enough bits of good karma for whoever is up there to watch over us. Lihui has taken a really practical approach to divine intervention and says she will pray to whoever is closest at the moment.
I also bought books from “Barnes and Noble” haha. It’s great!!! Thamel, the touristy part of Kathmandu, where we do most of our shopping and eating, has wonderful stores that stocks original books that cost half of what they do in kino and there’s classics and most of the prize-winning fiction titles, plus the mandatory climbing books. I actually managed to buy Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum” and Kiran Desai’s “The Inheritance of Loss”. I bought 4 books in all, bringing my book tally for Cho Oyu to 12! More to read during recovery periods at base camp.
In the evening, we celebrated Joanne and Peh Gee’s birthdays at this rooftop restaurant with a name i can’t remember. We had fantastic HUGE HUGE HUGE grilled steak for like $7! We ate steak to puking point. Thanks to the huge numbers of ang moh visitors to Kathmandu, the locals have learnt how to make a really good steak. So prior to the dinner, Lihui, Yihui and myself took a detour to search for a birthday cake for the two and we ended up with a cross between a stale brownie and a bar of soap. I should have known something wasn’t right when the “cake” landed on the tray with a solid sounding “thwack” when Yihui took it off the window display. Fortunately, no one died.
We finally moved off to Tibet on a 5 hour road trip by bus to the border at Kodari. We had a lunch of traditional Nepali “dahl bhat”, which is a mountain of rice with green curry at a small eatery by the side of the road. We also met our sherpas and surprise surprise, one of them, Jamling, climbed with yihui and myself on Island Peak in 2004! I’m feeling totally confident about our sherpa team. All of them have summitted Everest at least twice and they’re super experienced, so we’re in good hands.
After lunch, we walked the rest of the way into Tibet. It was kinda surrel to simply cross the “Friendship Bridge” and there we were in Tibet, China. Even the signs switched from Nepali to Chinese over that 50m span.
In Tibet, we transferred to 2 Toyata land cruisers and made our way to Zhangmu, a Tibetan border town. suffice to say that cleanliness or orderliness are not top on the priority list, but at this juncture, we’re all so used to grimy sleeping places, rickety wooden floorboards and hole-in-the-ground toilets that no one batted an eyelid. Hey, it’s all part of the climbing experience in the himalayas. No 5 star Chamonix ski resorts here.
Plus I have something else to crow about!!! Our communications system works!!!! Even though we had to take turns leaning out of the window in a precarious position, with the satellite phone and mobile satellite moden held exactly due West in order to get a signal. So now we have internet on the go for future updates once the team arrives at Cho Oyu advanced base camp! (digress: Cho Oyu’s original “base camp” is actually just a stop over point and expeditions typically make base at advanced base camp, about a day’s climb up.
We woke up at the ungodly hour of 3am to move out by 4am on the 4WDs to the next Tibetan town of Nyalam. There are roadworks going on , which means that the roads are only open for a certain number of hours a day, hence the early start. The road condition was so bad, I can’t even begin to describe it, although I must say that after a few years of climbing in Nepal and China, nothing is too horrible anymore. So even on a 4WD, the bumping was so bad I fell off my seat a few times. Yihui and Joanne, sitting by the left and right windows, received a copious number of hard knocks on the head. To illustrate how bad the road was, the mini bus that took our sherpas was so heavy in comparison to the 4WDs that the mini bus couldn’t get past some of the pot holes and rock piles. At one point, all the sherpas came down and had to manually clear the road of rocks and boulders in the freezing rain, just so the mini bus could proceed.
Although I must say, there were the exciting moments when we literally drove through waterfalls coming off the mountain. At the first waterfall we drove through, Yihui forgot to wind up her window all the way and got wet. Haha. Also, there are the gushing rivers that crossed the partially completed roads that we had to drive through and it was pretty exciting to go downhill, splash into the river for a bit and come up the other side, all the while bouncing about like shrimp in a pan.
So now we’re at Nyalam at 3650m. The food is good and everyone is eating like starved refugees, which is a good sign of acclimatization that I hope will continue way up higher. We all average three bowls of rice each at every meal and double plates of whatever is served. I think we’re beginning to shock the locals who probably haven’t seen girls eat this much.
This afternoon, we went on our first acclimatization climb up to 3980m onto a small ridge. It was a pretty good 3 hour trip, tiring enough to get our hearts pumping and the muscles moving to aid in the production of red blood cells. Active acclimatization is the way to go to speed up the body’s adjustment to altitude by producing more red blood cells. Our two trainers and mentors who are along with us for the climb, were really pleased at how well we handled the challenging terrain and at how quickly we’re adjusting to the altitude. Yay! Tomorrow, we’ll be heading up for another acclimatization climb, but longer, for about 4 hours and we hope to cross another ridge and maybe we’ll get to see Xixabangma if the low clouds clear.
I think this is possibly the expedition that I’ve felt the best about. We’re all getting very efficient at moving out and taking care of ourselves and when we arrived at Zhangmu and Nyalam, I think the sherpas were surprised to see us carrying our own duffel bags up 4 storeys to our room, all managing well without help. Totally proud of how efficient everyone is on this climb. I suppose with the experience of past climbs behind us, everyone is very much in sync. Best of all, because this time the team is really small, with only 5 climbers, it’s a nice cosy atmosphere and at both Zhangmu and Nyalam, we got 5-person rooms so everyone is merrily together. Cramped, but enjoying the camaraderie.
At this moment, everything is going well and the only dampener, literally, is the weather. It’s been raining almost 24 hours a day since we arrived in Kathmandu and according to the locals, this is the first time in a billion years that it has rained in Nyalam. I’m crossing my fingers that the rainfall is the worst manifestation of this year’s reported La Nina over South Asia. I’m hoping that by the time we actually get to Cho Oyu, the weather will clear up.
So I’m blogging from an internet cafe in Nyalam right now to save on the data allotment on our comms system, so this may be the first and last detailed blog entry till I come back to Nyalam after the climb.
In the meantime, check out http://www.humanedgetech.com/expedition/swe1/ for progress updates from the team. Thanks to uber cool contact 3.0 software, we’re able to send dispatches and images really quickly from our satellie internet system.
Do check back here as well for my personal updates and click on the links on the right to go to the blogs of my other lovely team mates. I like Peh Gee’s header photo the best and she actually managed to look cool. By the way, “Hannibal” refers to the famous Carthaginian general, not as in “Lector”. I also like Esther’s header background alot. Very Mondrian/Lichtenstein-esque.
Miss everyone back home loads, especially daddy kyo who I hope is wasting away, pining for me intensely. which I doubt. Haha. Blog again soon!
Seeya guys soon!