Best ever thread on The Standard

May 31st, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Someone called Geoff (note not brave enough to use his full name) at The Standard asked:

Why does David Farrar hate Winston Peters so much?

The answer incidentally, which I provide at the end of the 200 comments or so, is:

Best ever thread on The Standard. I love the side-track into astrology.

I guess it would be far too simple to ask me directly why I dislike Winston as a politician.

It goes back to the early 1990s when he defamed numerous people under parliamentary privilege, including several neutral public servants. He once made the mistake of repeating his lie outside Parliament and got done by Selwyn Cushing for defamation.

I was a member of the Young Nationals Executive that in 1992 (off memory) asked the Party’s National Executive to expel Peters from the party. So the conspiracy theories about Brendan Horan and the like are amusing, but rather off the planet.

I could also add on half a dozen other reasons for my dislike of Peters (which is rare – I like most MPs) such as his splitting up the Coalition in 1998, his lies over the Owen Glenn donations, his racist scaremongering against Asians etc. But we don’t have all day. Suffice to say my position on Peters has been rather consistent for 20 years or so.

But what I love are the various comments from the assorted commenters (again none willing to use their actual names) which include:

“Heard Farrar on RNZ today. Confirmed two things – he has a voice best suited to silent movies and he has nothing interesting to add to political debate. “

“yeah well they are all complete arseholes and we’ve all seen far, far too much of those hagged, wrinkled tory scumbags over the years so it’s entirely understandable we’ve ruled them out.
The problem with tories is they’re all psychopaths that hate the idea of people working together. Why would any sane person really care to listen to their stupid opinions??”

“Nah, it’s David Farrar. He’s a bad person. He’s working hard to make most peoples’ lives worse.”

“It is very, very simple and understandable, that David Farrar dislikes Winston and NZ First. They are the most unpredictable factor in the coming election. David Farrar is a Virgo by star sign, that means he likes order, control and such, and that is what leaves him in a situation, where “disorder’ and “unpredictable situations” just cause too much distress to him, he simply cannot cope with that.

So here we go, Winston is anyway the total “enfant terrible” in NZ politics, he may be in the game, he may not be, but for the fact nobody, least Fart(arse) aka Farrar can predict anything, it is an element that causes irritation and disturbance. Farrar better book another trip to climb another mountain, if he cannot bear the unpredictable and insecure situation.”

“Because winston is dashing and debonaire and is a hit with chicks while he farrar is a snivelling little tory kiss ass suckup with zits.”

“Farrar is a grossly over-entitled political parasite, a Wellington courtesan who loves being near power and exercising power and imaging he can manipulate the powerful. As an unelected player, he joins the Gowers and the Garners and the rest of the incestuous parasites on the democratic establishment who are drunk on the idea of being able to exercise their power without fear of any responsibility or of being held accountable by democratic means.”

“David Farrar is John Key’s Mini – Me !”

“Thanks to this thread I now have a disturbing image of Farrar being the court eunuch ‘ Varys’ aka ‘ the spider’, from the Game of Thrones ……….. just out of interest does he get around in silk robes ?”

“farrar hates everyone. thats the nub.”

The suggestion that my dislike of Winston is because I am a Virgo is my personal favourite. I also like the comparison to Varys – I take it as a compliment, even if not intended as such :-)

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A helpful taxi driver

May 26th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I was in a taxi in Wellington this morning and the taxi driver asks me if my kids are grown up.

I tell her that I don;t have any kids, trying not to panic at the the thought that if I did have kids they could possibly be adults.

She asks if my wife didn’t want any. I reply that I don’t have a wife or partner – that I’m single.

She asks why not, and I reply that I’ve yet to meet the right woman.

She then tells me that I need to pray to God and God will deliver the right woman to me.

While I could take this in a negative light, as suggesting my dating life needs divine intervention, I prefer to see it as a suggestion that my next girlfriend will be an angel :-)

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Trekking the Himalayas

May 8th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Have had quite a few people ask about how to go about doing a trek in the Himalayas, so here’s what we did – for those interested.

Choose a company

Almost everyone sensible uses a company to arrange guides, porters and accommodation. On a personal recommendation we used Himalayan Encounters, and they were excellent. I can recommend them without reservation.

The cost was around US1,500 each and this covered:

  • Three nights accommodation in Kathmandu
  • Flights between Kathmandu and Lukla
  • 16 nights accommodation in tea houses on the trek
  • A guide and two assistant guides (for a party of five)
  • A porter per two people (they can carry up to 30 kgs) so three porters

Our guides were top class. They were incredibly safety focused, and were very helpful to me when I got altitude sickness. They were also informative and a lot of fun. I recall at one stage I had to take a leak on the way back from Everest Base Camp, so went behind a large rock. They yelled out that it was a holy rock, just to freak me out (it wasn’t). Lots of fun chatting to them in the evenings also and playing card games etc.

Airfares

The company covers the internal airfares. We travelled Malaysia Airlines (booked before they lost a plane) to and from Kathmandu. They lost or delayed my luggage both times, and their planes are old and tired. The service was pretty average. I would not use them again.

Other costs

  • Food tends to cost around US$25 a day per person, but we actually ended up around $30 a day. Prices increase the higher you go, but very reasonable for three meals a day.
  • If you want hot showers, electricity, wireless Internet then the cost is around $3 for a shower, $2 an hour for electricity and wireless ranges from $5 flat rate to $12 an hour near the very top.
  • Tips for the porters and guides. We tipped a pretty significant amount because the service was so good. Lonely Planet has some general guidelines.

Route

It takes around 12 days to go to Everest Base Camp and back if you go directly up and down. If you can spare the extra five days, I highly highly recommend the 17 day route via Goyko and the Cho La Pass. It is harder, but the views are even more spectacular – and you get to do a loop, rather than up and down the same way.

Health

I joke that our biggest achievement was none of us got Travelers’ Diarrhea. Nepal has the highest prevalence of this in the world. If you’re trekking up to eight hours a day, you really don’t want this.

We were religious with disinfecting our hands constantly. We used water purification drops or tables on all our water – even for teeth cleaning. We did not eat meat above Namche.

I did get altitude sickness. The rest of the party didn’t. You won’t know if you do, or not, until you get there. Make sure you have a spare day in the schedule, and once above 3,000 metres don’t climb more than 500 metres a day (or technically don’t sleep more than 500 metres higher than the night before).

Generally need to immunise for Hep A, Hep B, Polio, Tetanus, Diptheria and Typhoid. Malaria not a high risk trekking. Rabies is more a risk in Kathmandu than trekking.

General

Some general issues, taken from Lonely Planet guide:

  • Monkeys are holy, but also aggressive and have rabies. Avoid, but do not kill!
  • If a bear attacks, lie face down in the ground
  • Do not give money or food to beggars, but you can donate to schools or monasteries
  • Purify water with iodine – do not buy bottled water. Drink 2l to 4l a day
  • Do not wear leather (shoes or belt) inside Hindu temples and wear long trousers in all temples, and no photos in most temples
  • Always pass on the left of religious objects, not to the right
  • Ask people before taking photos of them
  • PDAs are frowned upon
  • Don’t point soles of feet at people
  • Do not touch children on the head
  • Give or receive money with your right hand and touch left hand to elbow as show of respect
  • Lukla Airport has been rated the most dangerous airport in the world – seven crashes since 2004 with 36 fatalities
  • Nighttime temperatures can be as low as -20 degrees
  • Never get between a yak and the ledge as they may knock you over!
  • Power surges common so voltage guard with spike suppressor recommended
  • Nepali culture uncomfortable with the display of the female leg
  • Viagra every 12 hours can help prevent altitude sickness!

Gear

I’ve included my gear list below after the break, for those interested.

If you don’t plan to tramp or trek a lot, then it will be far cheaper to buy most of your gear in Kathmandu or hire it in Namche. They have absolutely everything and it is exponentially cheaper.

But if you want top quality gear that you can keep using for other treks and tramps, then you end up spending a lot of money at Macpac, Kathmandu, Bivouvac and Mountain Designs.

The one thing you must have in advance are your boots, as you do not want to try out new boots on a 17 day trek.

(more…)

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Bhaktapur

April 27th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

 

 

Headed out early to Bhaktapur on the final full day in Kathmandu. Bhaktapur is a historic city that was capital of Nepal until the 1400s. It’s only 20 kms from Kathmandu and is a must visit. One thing that makes it very nice is that most parts of it are closed to traffic.

By comparison, going through Thamel in a taxi is incredibly scary. You’re driving down narrow streets dodging pedestrians and cyclists every few seconds.

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Just after the main entrance is this museum.

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Durbar Square – one of four major squares in Bhaktapur.

 

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One of many temples.

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Wonderful old sculptures.

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I love the elephants.

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Now that is how I’d like to travel about!

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A pottery maker near Pottery Square.

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Wares being made for later sale.

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This poor goat has lost his horns.

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Some great artwork, even if not quite right for my apartment.

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A typical street in Bhaktapur.

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The sun was too much for these dogs.

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The snake has gone fishing.

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On the way back to Kathmandu, we passed this motorcycle with a very young kid sitting happily at the front of the bike.

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Back in Kathmandu, a typical street in Thamel. What you don’t see in this photo is the cars swerving up and down them.

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For our final evening we went to the Babarmahal Revisited complex in Kathmandu. It’s a former palace that is now a small shopping centre with some very high quality restaurants. Made a change from Dal Bhat (which actually was pretty good).

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Then the next morning it was a quick trip to the bakery for a final breakfast. Thee coffee is what they call a Latte!

Then we flew out of Nepal on Friday. Once again Malaysia Airlines were incapable of having my bags travel with me, so the 36 hour stop over in Kuala Lumpar turned into a quick shopping expedition for emergency clothes for all of us. We were told 25 bags were not flown due to over-loading, but I’m sceptical as the planes should be able to carry a full load of passengers and gear.

We made the Pavilion shopping plaza with just 30 minutes to spare before it closed, so was a very hasty shop.

Saturday saw a bit more shopping, and just enjoying the hotel (Hotel Istana) swimming pool. Then out to the night markets tonight and two flights back to Wellington to arrive Monday.

Loved pretty much every moment of Nepal, and already planning my next trip there in a couple of years. So many mountains to see – or climb!

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Lukla to Kathmandu

April 26th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The final day is arguably the most scary – flying out of Lukla Airport. The runway is just 460 metres long and slopes downwards ending in a massive cliff. We got up at around 5 am to be at the airport by 6 am.

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The sun just emerging on the peaks by Lukla.

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The view from the airport. Planes turn left and head down the sloped runway over the cliff!

We had to wait two hours for our plane (which is about normal) but fortunately it took off with no problems. You achieve lift off around 20 metres before the runway ends, which is somewhat terrifying.

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We got back to Kathmandu Guest House. They have an outdoor library which is a great way to relax in the afternoon.

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Kathmandu Guest House is in the busy Thamel area, but despite that has some real solitude to it.

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In the afternoon, I popped into the Garden of Dreams which is a nice little attraction around ten minutes walk away.

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Quite a few people come here just to enjoy the sun or have a bite or drink.

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The following day decided to head out to Swayambhunath . It’s around a 30 minute walk. Navigating your way out of Thamel can be a bit confusing but once you’re out, it’s very easy to spot!

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Lots of statues and artwork on the way up to the temple.

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But it is a long way up. Around 350 steps.

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A good view of Kathmandu from the top, marred somewhat by the smog.

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The main temple.

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Had a drink at a roof top cafe up there, which also got a good view of the nice parts of Kathmandu. One can even see a swimming pool below!

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And of course there are monkeys.

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Lots of monkeys.

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Walking home, came across these pigs, penned in next to the river.

Have one more day in Kathmandu, before we fly home via Malaysia.

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Everest Base Camp Day 16

April 25th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

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This was the final day of trekking. A pleasant walk through the valleys back up to Lukla.

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Different views to higher up, but still incredibly beautiful. Also nice to be tramping again in shorts and one layer – not in below freezing conditions.

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Again many more crops grown down here.

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But still the odd snow covered peak.

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The final valley.

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The final ascent. I estimate we claimed a total in excess of seven vertical kilometres over the trek.

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Great to have colour back in the bush.

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And after 16 days we are back at Lukla, where we started.

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The English in the local bars can be amusing. See the above “tit bites” instead of tidbits!

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And not sure Coca-Cola appreciates that spelling! I wonder how many people tried to order a cock before they changed it :-)

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We then had the final farewell dinner with the five of us, and the porters and guides. I couldn’t resist ordering a Yak Steak. Yes they’re cute adorable animals – but they also taste quite good.

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And then we drank. To paraphrase, what happens in the tea house says in the tea house, but it was a lot of fun. The fact we had to be up at 5.00 am for an early flight did not deter us. A great 16 days trekking, with views you really won’t get anywhere else in the world.

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Everest Base Camp Day 15

April 24th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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A wonderful late 10 am departure from Namche and this view as we depart.

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The final view of Mt Everest, partly obscured by clouds.

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We spent around an hour descending around 600 metres from Namche. Very pleasant trail in the woods.

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The view of the valley we head back along, once we descend. Very different to the icy peaks, but still very beautiful.

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The view of the river from the high bridge we cross first.

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What happens if a porter is crossing the bridge, and a mule decides to cross the bridge also? A very tight squeeze for the porter! At least it wasn’t a yak!

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Then we have three hours or so of walking alongside the river.

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At the 4th of five bridges, there’s this kid riding a mule. Very cute.

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The vegetables are growing now we’re lower down.

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Another bridge crossing.

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In the final stages, you pass through a lot of villages, where the path is separated from the homes.

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A blossoming tree near the bottom of a small waterfall.

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And finally Phakding, which can be seen in the distance just beyond the 5th bridge.

A fairly easy four hours of trekking. While we passed through this area 13 days ago, you get quite different views when walking through it in the opposite direction.

Tomorrow is the final trek to Lukla, where we stay overnight before flying to Kathmandu.

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Everest Base Camp Day 14

April 23rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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Day 14 was a rest day in Namche, and for once an actual rest day – no hikes up mountains for a couple of hours. It was also my first shower, shave and non-vegetarian meal in 11 days, and I really can’t say which I enjoyed most!

This is the after photo of me having showered, shaved and changed. You really do not want to see the before photo!

Somewhat amusingly, Namche is probably the area where I came closest to doing myself a serious injury. I walked down a pathway without noticing a yak coming the other direction and almost collided with it! It takes a while to have to get used to look for livestock as you walk out from your lodge.

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Saturday is market day in Namche, so we went along to have a look at the wares. People come from all over the region to trade and sell goods. If it isn’t here, you probably won’t be able to get it anywhere. Managed to buy a few things for nieces and children of friends.

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Later popped into the Everest Bakery (the bakeries in Namche are excellent) and thought Mark Unsworth would be excited that even there they have a Manchester United fan photo.

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During the afternoon we went to one of the local bars for a free film showing. It was Sherpas: True Heroes of Everest. A great documentary on how basically no one would ever make it to the summit of Everest without the Sherpas who go up in advance and lay down the ladders, set up the camps etc.

In relation to the issue John Stringer raised, I don’t think a five year ban of climbing Everest would benefit the Sherpas. In fact some years ago the Nepalese Government did try and restrict the number of expeditions up Everest, and it was the Sherpas who complained that it left so many of them without income.

Also worth noting that even if Nepal tries to ban expeditions, then China can still allow them from the Tibet side – and again this is exactly what did happen when Nepal did restrict them – everyone just started climbing from Tibet.

The best thing that can be done for the Sherpa guides and porters is to place pressure of climbing companies to pay good wages, to have a strong focus on safety and to make sure all Sherpas are insured against accidents or death, so their families are looked after. You can’t however make Mt Everest a non-dangerous mountain.

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Our guide had his 24th birthday today, so we arranged a surprise birthday cake, and the assistant guides made up some drinks which were a combination of whiskey, coke and orange juice. We had a very fun night celebrating.

We’d had a drink or two at the bar earlier , then the drinks over dinner, and then hit another bar after dinner. Was a very good night, and suffice to say that when I had a headache the next morning – for once it wasn’t altitude sickness.

Also very funny was just after we crashed, I heard my room mate’s phone suddenly say in an American female accent “What can I help you with”. This set us both off with a fit of giggles and laughter that could be heard several rooms down.

Was great to have a relaxing recovery day. Much needed. Two more days of trekking to go.

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Everest Base Camp Day 13

April 22nd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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We stayed overnight at Orsho. It isn’t on most maps as it basically consists of one sole teahouse. However it was one of the best places we stayed at. The dining room was upstairs so we got a great view of the landscape, and also all the people going past.

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This is the view looking up, from Orsho. Magnificent.

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As we were preparing to leave this man rode past on his horse.

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Our route ahead, along the valley on the path on the right.

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Once again we had a couple of dogs follow us. But this time they were less endearing. On a narrow path, they were darting in and out around our legs and you had to be careful not to trip on them. But worse, yaks will often attack dogs and so what happened is that when yaks turned up, the dogs hid behind us. That had the potential to end badly for us!

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At this stage we’re dropping below 4,000 metres but still lots of snow covered peaks.

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The view as we pas through Pheriche.

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It was a long day trekking. We covered 15 to 20 kms.

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You can see Tengboche in the distance, with peaks behind it.

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The remains of a bridge that collapsed. I think they tried three times to have a bridge here but it kept collapsing on the far side due to the unstable rock. Finally they did an alternate bridge down at river level.

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Getting back into walking through bush and trees.

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We got to Tengboche for morning tea. You can see the famous Buddhist monastery.

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Inside the monastery.

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The front entrance of the monastery.

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The Nepalese porters carry incredible loads. Those working for trekking companies have weight limits of 24 to 30 kgs. Each porter tend to carry two bags or packs. But the independent porters have been known to carry loads of over 100 kgs, as they get paid per kg. Here is the load being carried by a porter up a 600 metre vertical ascent hill.

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The path down from Tengboche to the river was one of the few parts I really did not enjoy. It was hot, dusty and a rocky surface.

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At the bottom we had a bridge to cross. As you can see you really want to let the yaks get off the bridge first, rather than try and squeeze past them!

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Then we had a 400 or so metre ascent, but this was actually more pleasant than the downhill.

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You can see here the path we took down from Tengboche.

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Readers with good memories may recall this from Day 4. This is where we diverted from the main Base Camp route to go up to Gyoko. So the loop was now complete.

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We had a late lunch (2 pm) at Khumjung. Pretty hungry as had been trekking since 7.30 am. This crow decided to help itself to some of the leftovers. What happened next was hilarious. Another crow flew down next to this one, keen to share in the food. This crow then made a sound which everyone one of us heard as “Fuck Off” and the other crow flew away. We were in near hysterics at this.

Then around an hour to Namche Bazaar. Despite being a mainly downhill day, was a reasonably tiring one. We got in around 3.30 pm, so were on the trek for around eight hours.

Tomorrow is a rest day at Namche, and then two more days of trekking back to Lukla.

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Everest Base Camp Day 12

April 21st, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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I thought this marathon might be of interest to Matthew Hooton as he couldn’t make the Southern Lakes Half Marathon last month. He’s a great lover of the region and it raises a lot of money for charity so I look forward to viewing his registration.

The course is incredibly nasty. Apart from the cold, it has lots of rocks and uphill. The fastest time last year for a non Nepali was a bit over six hours!

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As we headed down from Gorak Shep, we again saw the glacier.

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I had a small fall on the way to Lobouche, where we had morning tea. I was okay, but as you can see one of my drink bottles did not fare so well. It’s quite annoying as it now only holds around 700 ml instead of a litre!

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We’re walking alone the narrow trail, with the valley stretching below us.

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Then you end up in the valley itself which is much easier trekking.

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There is an area with scores of memorials to fallen climbers. This one is for Scott Fischer who was a famous guide and mountaineer who died in the May 1996 disaster.

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You can see many of the other memorials lined up.

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Then it’s more narrow trails to descend on, but with great views to look at.

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Then we hit more wonderful valley walking with peaks in the background.

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A baby yak. So cute.

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We descend almost 1,000 metres over the day.

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Two huge landslides as a reminder of the instability of the region.

We spent the night at Orsho, which is very small and not on most maps. Will blog more on that tomorrow.

Spent around six hours trekking today, but much more relaxing as it was mainly flat or downhill, and the wide valley sections are so easy. Just what we needed to recover from a pretty tiring previous day.

Despite the descent I still had a very mild headache from the altitude sickness, but almost inconsequential compared to previous days.

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Everest Base Camp Day 11

April 20th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Today (Wednesday in real time) is the day we head up to Base Camp.

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Another early start. Up at 4.45 am and away by 6 am as we have to trek to Gorak Shep, have a wee break there, then go to Base Camp and back to Gorak Shep. It was good to get away early as we avoided most of the crowds going from Lobouche.

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Those peaks in the distance are where Everest Base Camp is.

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If you look at a map of the area and see a reference to a pyramid, well this is it. Part of some Italian research facility.

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Those peaks again getting closer. I could stare at them all day. In fact I did!

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One of several memorials to dead climbers we passed.

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A great shot of this peak with the sun rising behind it.

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On a very narrow part of the track, some yaks came down as we were going up. Their horns got rather too close for comfort!

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I like this photo of the shadows of the eight of us trekking along. There were five Kiwis from Wellington in our group, and we had three Nepalese guides.

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Remember that dog from yesterday? Well him and a mate decided to follow us today. The two of them trotted along with us all the way to Gorak Shep, presumably hoping we would feed them. They never pestered us and were quite lovely, but the guides joked that if you gave them even one bit of food they’d then follow you all the way back to Lukla!

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You can see the famous Khumbu glacier that stretches down from Mt Everest.

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A fairly unsturdy bridge.

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Gorak Shep ahead. The tea house we will stay at bills itself at the highest in the world at 5,180 metres above sea level.

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Apart from yaks and mules, they even have horses here.

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After a one hour break, we carried onto towards Everest Base Camp. A very rare directional sign. This is not like NZ tracks with marker signs everywhere. It would be very easy to get lost here without a guide.

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This is actually the site of the original Everest Base Camp that Hillary and co used. I’m not sure when they swapped sites but it was many years ago.

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Another cool shot of part of the glacier.

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Recall the advice that you should always be between a yak and the wall, not the cliff. Well on this section it was cliffs on both sides so we just moved a bit off the track for them. During the morning we saw well over 100 yaks move a huge amount of gear to Base Camp for teams planning to attempt the summit.

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And that is Mt Everest in the background. The best view of it is around an hour before Base Camp.

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You can’t really see it from here but that is Base Camp to the left of the glacier.

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Another shot of Everest.

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Now you can start to see the tents at Base Camp.

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A close up of some of the glacier.

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And we are at Base Camp. It is considered very rude to go beyond this point and wander around the tents without an invitation.

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You can see most of the Base Camp tents next to the glacier.

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Me at Base Camp. A long 11 days to get here.

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Posing with Mark Russell from Ideas Shop (you can see their logo on my borrowed hat if you look very closely). Mark organised the trip and did a great job making it all happen. He has been a great companion (along with K, H and J) despite our slight variation in political preferences!

And no he did not trek in that shirt – put it on just for the photo!

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Mark Inglis commented on an earlier post that while Base Camp is (sort of) the end for us, it is only the beginning for those who are going on to ascend the summit like he has done. The ledge above is the initial climb for those going up to Base Camp 2.

At times during the trek I flirted with the idea of how amazing it would be to actually try and ascend the summit one day, after a few years of training. However during the trek I was also reading “Into Thin Air” on my Kindle, which is the first hand story of the very sad 1996 expedition/s which saw 12 people lose their lives, including Rob Hall. It’s an amazing and captivating book.

Of course two days after we were here, the avalanche occurred near Camp 1 (not Base Camp) which was another sobering reminder of how dangerous the mountain is – not just up in the death zone above 8,000 metres.

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On the way back we passed through this rockslide area, and just as we entered it there was a very minor rockslide. Small rocks, so wouldn’t have seriously hurt anyone. But it did make us move quickly through that section in case any larger rocks decided to come down.

On the way back it started to snow, which made us very grateful again for our early start. We set a fair pace going back and got to Gorak Shep again around 2 pm.

The day wasn’t as tough as the Chola Pass, but it was still reasonably challenging. Six to seven hours trekking is tiring, and most of that time was above 5,000 metres so it only took a small ascent to get out of breath.

Very satisfying to have made both the Chola Pass and Base Camp. Also I decided that I wanted this to be an Ibuprofen free day so didn’t take any pain killers for the headaches. There were a couple of times when I regretted this, but overall they were not too bad, and less severe than when ascending to Gyoko. So you do acclimatise – but different people at different rates.

Tomorrow sees the start of the descent. That doesn’t mean all downhills though – a mixture of up and down – but with more down than up. We hope to be back at Namche Bazaar in two days.

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Everest Base Camp Day 10

April 19th, 2014 at 2:16 pm by David Farrar

As I had mentioned the afternoons, evenings and nights can get bitterly cold. Ironically you tend to be less cold outdoors when trekking as the activity warms you up, and also you may have sun on you.

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Most tea houses have a burner like this. They don’t use wood though, buy yak dung. Yaks are very valuable – in fact a yak costs more (US$200 to US$900) than the average annual income! The burners hep heat the common areas up a fair bit but they often don’t start them up until 5 pm or so.

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The guidelines for the trek said you sleeping bag should be good for -10 degrees. Mine is rated for +2 degrees only so I purchased a thermal liner which adds 11 degrees on which would mean I should be good for -9 degrees or so.

However when we got here the guides said you really want something that can handle -20 degrees so at Namche I hired this huge sleeping bag for 12 days. A very good investment as it only cost $2 a day and it really did make a difference.

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This is it rolled out. It definitely did the job keeping me warm. However I still found I needed the thermal liner and slept with icebreaker leggings and top plus socks and hat.

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We got underway around 8.30 am and this is the local peak by Dzongla.

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Most of the day was a narrow slightly ascending path. It was largely snow covered and slippery in parts. Unlike yesterday when a slip would mean a fun slide down a snow bank for 20 metres, here a slip would mean a 100 to 200 metre slide down snow and rocks. Best to be avoided.

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We had morning tea here this amazing view of peaks in the distance.

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These tents belonged to a group of climbers who were ascending the nearby Lobouche peak. We could see them in the distance making slow but steady progress.

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We then rejoined the main trail up to Everest Base Camp, which is much wider than the narrow paths we had been on.

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And here’s Lobouche. Height around 4,920 metres.

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Have to love the energy efficiency. Why waste good heat!

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In the afternoon we did a quick 40 minute climb up a hill. This dog decided to come with us.

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Our destination tomorrow. Everest Base Camp is at the foot of those peaks.

Very exciting to now be just one day away from Base Camp. Was also good to have a more relaxing day than yesterday!

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Everest Base Camp Day 9

April 16th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

 

 

 

Today was the hardest day but also the most magnificent. Before I touch on Day 9, I must mention the incredible conversation we had last night with the lodge owner at Tangnag. He has climbed to the summit of Mt Everest no less than seven times. He is on a “holiday” from climbing as he has an 11 month old baby. Was great to be able to chat to him about what it was like to climb Everest, and to help others get there.

Our guides has warned us today would be an early start but had refused to tell us exactly what that meant until the evening before. It turns out it means 4 am. Well up at 4 am, breakfast at 4.30 am, and out at 5 am.

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This is me in my full gear at 4.30 am. On the legs I had icebreaker thermal leggings, Kathmandu trousers and waterproof over-trousers on top of that.

The core was an Icebreaker base, then an Icebreaker 200 top and then a Merino 320 top and on top of that a down jacket.

On the head, was a beanie, a balaclava, the hood from the Merino 320 and the hood from the jacket.

I think you get the idea it was rather cold!

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A view of Tangnag as we climb above it.

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The first two hours is a moderate uphill trek. This is the view looking back.

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This is from the top of the first section.

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Next one has to climb over these rocks to the Chola Pass ascent which you can see in the back.

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We’re now on the beginning of the steep ascent. One group camped out here!

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This is the climb up. It took around two hours and it was fucking hard. The top of the pass is 5360 metres so the atmosphere is around 37% only. As you ascend, you get out of breath really quickly. I sounded like I was auditioning for the part of Darth Vader in Star Wars. Also add to that, much of the track was covered in slippery snow. Also for good measure had my usual headache but remarkably not as bad as yesterday.

The climb is around 500 metres and you just take it 50 metres at a time.

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Finally made it! The view ahead from the top of the pass.

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This is the view back down from the top. At this height we are slightly higher than Everest Base Camp.

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After a break the trek down starts. We spent around 45 minutes trekking through snow. At times on a very narrow path. I almost slid the the slope at one stage. The climb back up would not have been fun!

The ice axe got used a few times on patches where it was too slippery.

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Some nice snow ledges.

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The rest of the descent down and then trek along the flat to Dzongla.

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On three occasions we had to use ropes to help the descent as it was so icy. If anyone from Southern Cross Insurance is reading this please note this technically was not mountain climbing, as that is of course excluded from my travel insurance coverage :-)

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We had lunch as this spot halfway down.  Photos can not capture the amazing panorama views of snow covered mountains on all sides as you sit on the rocks and have chapati and a boiled egg! Oh yeah, I’ve been vegetarian for a week now!

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When there is food, there will be a bird wanting some! He looks like an extra from The Omen.

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The final stretch. It started to snow lightly for the last 90 minutes – the first time we had been caught out in the snow.

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And Dzongla ahead.

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For the last 10 minutes it started to snow more heavily so we got here just in time. You can see the poor bird in the snow.

A really hard but great day. The views were amazing. Going through a valley with snow covered peaks on all sides.

We didn’t know this before we crossed the Chola pass, but the main guide said we were the 13th group he had taken across it and we were the first group he had guided to have every party member successfully make it. Every other group had one or more people unable to complete it, or even get helicoptered out.  So that was a pretty good achievement.

We’re now two days off Everest Base Camp, all things going well. The height here is around 4860 metres which is the highest we’ve been overnight.

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Everest Base Camp Day 8

April 15th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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The view from just above Gokyo this morning.

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Today starts with a wee climb up this snow covered hill.

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The third Gyoko lake from above, as we leave.

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Gyoko covered with snow. Yes again it snowed yesterday afternoon and evening.

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Once we get over the hill we are into quite different landscape. A valley of rocky piles.

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I joked to my companions that this is Gerry Brownlee’s plans for our national parks :-)

More seriously it is like one huge quarry. Totally natural, but mounds of rocks everywhere. Hard to walk over, but quite special.

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The odd rock with a different colour. The rocks piled up on top are placed there by people wanting good luck. You see such rock towers literally everywhere.

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Then we head to the far side where we have a 40 minute trek through what they call the rockslide danger area. Obviously made it through okay!

Sadly around this stage, my headaches returned. I though two days in Gyoko had got rid of them. Slightly disturbingly we actually end up 100 metres lower tonight, so not a great sign for tomorrow when we have to climb 650 metres over the Chola Pass. That could be rather painful. All I’ll say is praise be to the drug company that invented Ibuprofen. It doesn’t eliminate the headaches, but does make them more manageable.

The worry is it could develop into the more serious forms of altitude sickness such as HACE but I think the risk is minimal. I don’t have any other symptoms such as nausea, fatigue or loss of appetite (far from it!). Also while by blood oxygen level had dropped to 81% the first night in Gyoko, it was back up to 86% the second night.

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A view of where we had passed through once we cleared the top.

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Then it is far more standard ground and the yaks are a good sign of civilisation ahead.

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And we get to Tangnag, at the start of the Chola Pass. Altitude is 4,700 metres. Tomorrow will be a very early start as we’ll have eight hours or so of trekking.

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Everest Base Camp Day 7

April 14th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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It’s freezing cold and 4.45 am in the morning. The water in fact has frozen inside your water bottle (which is in your room). So what do we do? Set off at 5.00 am to hike up Gokyo-Ri to get a good view of the sunrise!

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A view from around 100 metres up.

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And then at around 150 metres the sun started to show itself behind the mountains.

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A close up of the first rays hitting the peaks.

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We stopped at around 250 metres which took us to 5,050 metres above sea level. Amazing feeling to be more than 5 kms high and not in a plane! The pressure is below 50% here and breathing is quite hard as we ascended.

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Just to prove I was there.

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A couple of hardy ducks down below.

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A man made bridge/dam to cross the lake. You really really do not want to get your boots wet as even dry the toes were freezing.

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A new lodge is being built. There is no machinery. Three Nepalese chisel the stones by hand. They work in sun and snow. A very tough job.

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And this is where one of them sleeps at night. Again, very tough. Assuming they are part of the family that will own the lodge, it will eventually massively boost their income. A lodge can generate more income in a week than the average Nepali earns in a year.

Today is the last day in Gokyo. Tomorrow we have to decide whether to take the Chola Pass for three days over to Lobouche. It’s been snowing again today so it may be a marginal call.

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Everest Base Camp Day 6

April 13th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Oh yes, it also snowed overnight which made it really cold. You see below some of the left over snow.

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The trek ahead is to follow the path until we end up next to the river and then climb over the pass.

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A memorial at the site where over 20 Sherpas and trekkers died in an avalanche.

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A snowcock.

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Around halfway through the first part of the trek.

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We’re definitely at the snow level as you’ll soon see.

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These steps up were very cool – nothing holding them together – just rocks placed on top of each other. Quite a climb.

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The top of the river as we cross it.

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Looks pretty cold eh!

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The first of the Gokyo lakes.

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A male and female duck – the only inhabitants of the lake.

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The second Gokyo lake – frozen over.

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And the large third Gokyo lake.

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And finally Gokyo itself. Yay. Again I had headaches and altitude sickness and found it tough going. It was pretty cold the final stretch also – had on three layers of merino up top and a jacket as well. The wind bites into your face and reminds you how high up you are – 4,800 metres which is twice the height of many NZ mountains.

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It started snowing soon after we got here, as you can see on the poor yaks.

Thankfully tomorrow is an acclimatisation day so my headaches should reduce or go away, and the day after tomorrow we actually end up 100 metres or so lower.

However the snow means that the pass over to Everest Base Camp may become too dangerous. One day is an eight hour trek between lodges with no shelters inbetween. The height gets up to 5,300 metres but the real danger is the snow means you don’t know if you are on the trail or not, as there are no markers or signs.

We’ll decide tomorrow night probably whether to try going over the pass, or to head back down and try going up the main route to Everest Base Camp.

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Everest Base Camp Day 5

April 13th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Today was around a 350 metre descent day, climbing to Machhermo at 4,400 metres. My head ache from yesterday returned which pretty much confirmed I have acute altitude sickness.

It’s not a pleasant thing to have. If it gets worse I will either stop ascending or descend. To try and mitigate or treat it I have doubled the Diamox dose from 125 mgs twice daily to 250 mgs twice daily. Also having garlic soup for lunch and dinner, and drinking at least four litres of water a day.

The Diamox makes you go to the toilet more often anyway, and add to that four litres of water, two bowls of soup, and lots of lemon tea – well when at the lodge I’m going to the bathroom around every hour, and usually twice at least during the night. Luckily I’ve not yet needed to go while between lodges – as that would be very cold!

But the discomfort doesn’t take away from the amazing experience and views.

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Some amazing birds you see high up in the mountains here.

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The view from outside the lodge at Dole. Not a bad sight to wake up to.

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This is the sink. The water was frozen this morning.

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Believe it or not this is one of the better toilets!

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The rooms are basic and very very cold during the night. Am now sleeping with clothes on in the sleeping bag. Also the walls are paper thin so you don’t get a lot of uninterrupted sleep.

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A nice section through some trees.

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Dole from above as we leave it. Stunning views.

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The view ahead.

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A typical local house.

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Two of our guides with a great view behind them. The guides are fantastic. Great senses of humour and lots of experience.

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A long trail along the hills.

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Finally Machhermo at 4,400 metres.

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Some local crows to welcome us.

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To help acclimatise we climbed 200 metres up the hill, which gave us a good view of the next day’s trek.

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One of the guides showing his climbing skills.

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A cute baby yak.

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We attended a free seminar by a (New Zealand) doctor at the International Porter Protection Shelter. The charities involved do amazing stuff. This is the chart that stuck with me – that we were already at only 57% atmospheric pressure.

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A tenting site for the really hardy ones.

Will decide in the morning whether or not to go up to Gyoko. If I can make it to there then we have two days there which should help me with the altitude sickness.

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Everest Base Camp Day 4

April 12th, 2014 at 3:34 pm by David Farrar

 

 

Today was a long and hard day. We spent around seven hours trekking and did a fairly big four hour climb up to Mongla at 3975 metres where we had lunch. Then we did a quick 35 descent to Phortse Tenga where we dropped back to around 3600 and then had to climb it all back up again to arrive at Dole at 4020 metres.

I had a slight headache at lunchtime which may be due to the altitude. We also all have started to notice the reduced oxygen a bit – the first half hour of the day had us having to breathe deeply – but then you acclimatise.

Today was also the first day that I tramped with a jacket on. Only for the last half hour, but despite being sunny, it is getting colder during the day, as well as the night.

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You can again see Everest in the background and our path towards it.

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See most of those people taking the lower path. Well we took the higher path. The lower path is the more direct route to Everest Base Camp, while the higher one takes you up to Gyoko, and then you cross a pass over to Everest. It’s an extra five days the way we’re doing it.

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After lunch was at first a lot of climbing.

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Looking back, one can see the path we’ve followed.

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We’ve reached snow level.

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This village here we didn’t go to. It is mainly for sherpas but a few tourists go there. Very cool nestled away against the mountain.

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All those tents are for a large party of Germans.

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Quite a few waterfall crossings today.

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Very pretty scenery, and just around here we sighted a very rare red deer. No photos of it sadly, but was great to see one.

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Underneath the snow is a running stream.

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More steps up. I quite like the semi-natural rock steps compared to wooden ones.

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You can see the waterfall underneath the ice and snow.

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This part almost looked like New Zealand.

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And finally we arrived at Dole.  Very dusty and dirty so had a wonderful hot shower. Not quite a normal shower though – more a bucket of hot water poured through a pipe – but It did the job.

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Everest Base Camp Day 3

April 9th, 2014 at 3:07 am by David Farrar

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Water in Nepal is not generally safe to drink, so normally you boil it first and then also add a water purifier such as Aquamira. Seven drops from each bottle per litre. You’re meant to drink four litres a day to stop dehydration.

On the health front our guide also has a little gadget that you stick on your finger and it measures your oxygen level in your blood and your pulse. On the first night my blood oxygen level was around 95% and resting pulse 56 beats per minute. That was at around 2400 metres. On the second night the blood oxygen was 91% and pulse 67 so it will be interesting to see how much more it changes as we go up.

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Today was a rest day, or more accurately an acclimatisation day. We did a three hour walk in the morning, so it wasn’t that restful. Here we go through some woods up to the local museum.

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You can see the museum at the far left, and the army barracks in the centre. Quite funny to see armed soldiers putting out laundry!

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Outside the museum you get your first view of Mt Everest. It’s the peak on the left in the background.

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This exhibit has some rocks from the dead sea, so stuff from the lowest point on Earth is at the view of the highest point on Earth,

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Me with Everest in the background.

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After the museum we then did a 300 metre climb up the hill over Namche. And I mean a climb. Almost straight up – it was a zig-zag but each zig and zag was only four metres or so. A view of some crop and farm land below.

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A helicopter flying overhead.

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And it landed at a small airport around two thirds of the way up. Only choppers land here now. Once they had six seater planes landing here, but the runway is far too rough for that anymore.

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We finally made it up to 3,770 metres and there was a tea house up there.

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We had morning tea up here and the photos can’t capture how amazing it was. On all four sides we’ve got views of snow covered peaks – yet it was a warm day.

So far during the trek it has been warm during the day – I’ve had on just shorts and a merino top. But in the evenings it is already getting bitterly cold – wearing two layers of merino, a puffer jacket, gloves and a beanie – and am still cold.

 

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I love how they define what a long toilet use is!

Extra is how the lodges make most of their money. The actual room costs around 300 rupees which is around $3.50 NZ only! But wireless is 500 rupees, electricity 200 rupees, a shower 150 rupees etc so that is where they get more of their income from. Still incredibly cheap though.

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This is how I am managing to blog. The local telecommunications tower.

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Quite different terrain up here – bush and open plains to a degree.

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This is by the airport and is the local cremation site. I pity the locals who have to carry a body all the way up here.

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A great view of Namche Bazaar from above.

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One of the things I love about being here is that yaks and mules are constantly making their way along the streets along with all the humans.

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Today is the last day it is safe to eat meat. The hygiene standards (and accommodation standards) drop significantly from tomorrow, and it is not safe to eat meat. So I had a steak as my final meat for the next 12 days.

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Everest Base Camp Day 2

April 7th, 2014 at 10:26 pm by David Farrar

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We have been drinking lemon tea by the litre. Around three times a day we get a giant thermos of lemon tea to share between the five of us. I haven’t drunk tea for around 30 years but am becoming quite a fan of lemon tea.

Was up at 6.30 am for a 7.30 am breakfast and 8.00 am departure. Today is around a seven hour day trekking to Namche Bazaar. There’s 1,000 metres of vertical ascent and a net altitude gain of 900 metres or so.

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The view ahead.

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Some locals making their own quarry.

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Snow covered peaks in the distance.

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The first four hours or so follow the river with a mixture of uphill and downhill.

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Some superb scenery on the way.

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You really don’t want to be crossing a bridge at the same time as yaks or mules.

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I suspect the river is rather cold.

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You can see two bridges ahead. We cross over the upper bridge. A fall would be unpleasant.

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The start of the big climb up. From here on in it is just 600 metres of climbing and zigzags.

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Crossing the high bridge.

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Towards the end of the climb the path widens up and is much easier.

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Goats will go anywhere!

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Namche Bazaar. We will be staying here for two nights, as this helps mitigate the risk of altitude sickness.

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That’s the view from our accommodation. The height we are at here is pretty close to the summit of Aoraki Mt Cook.

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Everest Base Camp Day 1

April 6th, 2014 at 10:00 pm by David Farrar

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I’d read in Lonely Planet that Kathmandu Airport can be chaotic for domestic flights where yiu may queue there for hours and then suddenly have five minutes to check in, and board etc. It seems they don’t really schedule flights, just queue them up.

However we struck luck. Left Kathmandu Guest House (which was great) at 5.30 am and sailed through the airport in under five minutes to be on board our plane by 6 am. However just as we were about to take off, fog closed Lukla Airport. While disappointed that we had to head back into the terminal, I was glad they were not going to try and land in fog as Lukla Airport is known as the most dangerous airport in the world. There have been seven crashes in just the last ten years with 36 fatalities.

Anyway the dog lasted only an hour and we were boarding again by 7 am and away.

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Some great views of the mountains from above the clouds.

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And after all my worry, a fairly smooth landing and we’re at Tenzing Hilary Airport. The elevation is 2,840 metres.

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You can see here a plane taking off. The runway is only 460 meters long and it is a sheer drop at the end. I think taking off will be more terrifying than landing!

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At the start of the path is this gate to Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, who was the first Nepalese woman to make the summit of Mt Everest in 1993. Sadly she died on the descent when the weather turned bad.

Incidentally the first woman of any nationality to make the summit also had it hard. Junko Tabei climbed it in 1975. On her way up she got buried by an avalanche and was under snow for six minutes until she was dug out.

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This is the start of the track. Later on it is much much rougher as you climb over rocks everywhere.

The first day is a net drop of 300 metres or so. However there is still lots of uphill also.

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Some nice colour.

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There is a golden rule. Never ever get between a yak or any beast and the edge. This part is very busy and we had to give way dozens of times to different beasts.

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A memorial cairn carved on the rock.

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A troop of mules.

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Quite a few settlements along the way.

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One of three bridges we crossed. Quite stable actually.

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You always pass to the left of the many religious monuments.

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Then we got to Phakding. I wasn’t walking in this gear as it was quite a warm day earlier on and you get hot walking. But once you stop walking it starts to get really cold.

Around 12 kms, so only a half day to get here. The elevation here is 2,610 metres.

Also love the quility voice on the billboard!

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The room we’re in. Pretty basic but comfortable. It even has its own toilet which is luxury for out here. The quality of the accommodation declines significantly as we ascend, I’m told. So this is the five star version! No heating so will get very cold at night.

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I liked this lone tree at the edge.

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The view from the end of the town. We cross down into there tomorrow and at the far left you can see the path ascending up. Tomorrow will have around 1,000 metres of vertical ascent.

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Kathmandu

April 6th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I’m in Nepal. Currently in Kathmandu, but about to fly to Lukla to start a 17 day trek to the Mt Everest Base Camp and back, along with four other Wellingtonians.

There will be no Internet (or electricity!) in some of the areas we pass through, so very little blogging for the next two to three weeks. There should be the occasional guest post, but not much from me. I won’t be clearing e-mails during this period either, and will be deleting all e-mails unread when I get back as there will be so many of them. So if you want me to read something, send it to me after 29 April.

Anyway have had a day and a half in Kathmandu, and a few photos starting with the most important one.

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This photo is a huge relief as Malaysia Airlines lost my bag (yeah, I know at least they didn’t lose the plane !) and for around 20 hours I was in a state of minor panic. On most trips losing your gear is a hassle, but not a disaster. Just go out and buy some clothes for two days. But if my bag didn’t turn up within 36 hours I would not have been able to do the trek – or would have had to try and buy a huge amount of gear and clothing and (legal) drugs. So was very very relieved when the bag turned up the next morning.

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Like many Asian cities, the electrical wiring is chaotic. By coincidence there are several power cuts a day. In fact as I type this there has been no power for 90 minutes. As it is 4 am, I guess not many have noticed!

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They have some great bookstores here. Will buy a few books after the trek, but no not this one – it isn’t autographed!

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One of the many temples at Basantapur Durbar Square. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Over two dozen temples, many hundreds of years old.

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This is the courtyard where the Royal Kumari, or living goddess, makes an occasional appearance. A young girl (the current one is aged four) is selected to be a living goddess for four years, and is worshipped at various festivals. seeing her is meant to bring good fortune. After she retires as a living goddess, she returns to her family. Few of them ever go onto marry. I guess being married to a former living goddess would be challenging! Especially as their every wish must be granted when they are a goddess!

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A statue of the monkey god.

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There is a purpose to this photo! Look at the size of the heels on her. Massive.

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Nothing stops a determined tree.

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Shiva the Destroyer.

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I love this portrayal.

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Hundreds of wild dogs run and lay around the place. Some, like this one, look very cute. But you never ever pat them as the chance of getting rabies from a dog bite is far too high.

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Yes he is heading straight for me. He seemed to take an interest in me and walked directly over to me, and then stopped next to me. Was a bit wary of patting him with those horns.

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Then we went to see Boudhanath which is one of the holiest Buddhist sites. I love the eyes, that make it so friendly.

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Inside one of the temples.

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One of the three million gods they have.

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This is the wheel of life. I like the depictions of the different heavens and hells. Lots of people being boiled in a pot down below.

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Then we went to Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple for obvious reasons. I liked this cute scene. However again no matter how cute, stay away as many have rabies.

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A big array of monkeys making their way over a roof.

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This was somewhat unusual. We saw a public cremation. Many families cremate their deceased here at the temple. This is meant to happen within three hours of death. You can see the body wrapped up being transported.

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Then it is set alight, starting at the mouth!

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And a cremation in full flight. Rather unsettling watching it. At the end, the ashes are swept into the river below. That’s one river you definitely do not want to fall into!

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Otago Rail Trail Day 3

March 27th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Yes that is frost on the ground. We left at 8.30 am and it was freezing – almost literally. Around 1 degree and it was nasty. My fingers were frozen and the wind bites through the jacket. The first 4 kms or so was very unenjoyable. But fortunately both the air warmed up, as did we. Next time I’m wearing full polar gloves, not fingerless gloves!

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Well above the river.

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And then closer to the river.

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Then we hit some nice open country. We had 42 kms to cover in the final day but had to do it in three hours to make the shuttle so had one brief stop in Hyde only.

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Once the day warmed up, it became easily the best of the days. Lovely sunshine, mainly downhill or flat and stunning scenic views.

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We stopped to celebrate having done 150 kms. Yay.

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I just love Central Otago views and you soak them up so much more when cycling through them than driving through them. Superb.

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Just to prove I was on the trip also!

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The memorial for the train disaster in 1943 near Hyde.

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This was rather cool. At first I thought they might be statues as they looked so still and just standing guard. But eventually they flew off.

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The last few kms are very straight, and fast.

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More great scenery.

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These km markers from the original rail line were very useful as you got to know where each town is in relation to them. The end at Middlemarch is at 64.

Often when cycling along, I reflected how amazing a train journey along here would have been.

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Middlemarch has a few remains from the train line.

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Yay, at the end. We ended up cycling 172 kms in 48 hours! As one of our party only started taking up cycling six weeks ago (and me only three months ago) this was a very good effort.

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Then we had a shuttle bus take us back to Queenstown where we once again enjoyed great views, and excellent wind and tapas at Eichhardts.

Despite some challenging conditions, absolutely loved doing the Rail Trail, and already planning the next trail. For those thinking of doing it also, here’s some advice.

  1. Do it in at least three nights, not two. It is hard going, unless you are an experienced cyclist. Almost everyone we met on the trail was surprised at the distances we were trying to do each day, and it left less time for entertainment
  2. Make sure you have really really warm gear, no matter how sunny the day looks, but also ability to strip off if you get too hot.
  3. Consider getting plastic bags to wear over your sock or shoes, in case it rains. Cycling in wet shoes and sock for five hours is not so much fun.
  4. Stay in Clyde the night before if possible so you have an early start on Day 1
  5. Have your valuables such as cameras and phones in a plastic bag in case it rains as panniers get soaked.
  6. While only a 2% slope, be prepared for it to be a long slog up.
  7. Don’t believe people who say it is all downhill after the highest point. It is mainly flat and downhill, but still has a few sections with an uphill gradient
  8. Try and stay at Muddy River Creek in Lauder and Kokonga Lodge if you can, with perhaps a night in Wedderburn between.
  9. Definitely do the alternate route of the river trail to Alexandra in the morning, even though it is longer.
  10. Trail Journeys were very good on customer service and helpfulness, but their administration was a bit loose as the booking for a shuttle back to Clyde was wrong. So double check all the bookings, but the staff were good sorting the problems out.
  11. Definitely go do it – the scenery is amazing, and far better than photos can portray.
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Otago Rail Trail Day 2

March 26th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Started off around 9 am and popped into the cafe at Lauder to get some food to eat while cycling as 21 kms to the next cafe.

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A rare bridge that is curved!

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The view from the bridge.

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At times the scenery looks like you are in the US West. On the first day we saw an actual cowboy – well a guy on a horse with cowboy hat and neckerchief. I observed this section would be ideal for an ambush by Indians!

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This is the former campsite of the tunnel makers.

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And the first of two tunnels. You are advised to use a torch and to walk through. I did neither :-)

It is a bit scary in the middle, as you really can’t see anything but a distant light and if one did ride into the wall it would be very painful!

After this it started to rain and rain heavily. We got soaked. Even worse it was raining from above and below. In the stretch before Oturehua it was basically a five km long puddle, which with no mudguards just sprayed water upwards non stop. My feet got drenched.

We had an early lunch at Oturehua. The plan was to lunch at Wedderburn but we needed hot soup and pasta now. Dried off slightly, and then headed back onto the trail with it raining even harder. Fair to say we’re all wet, cold and a bit miserable.

But then after half an hour or so, the rain (mainly) stopped. This was very welcome!

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Those old bridges are like human vibrators. Very jarring as you go over them, but fun.

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A cute tint cottage in the trees.

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And finally after a long slog up the hill, we’re at the highest point. There’s snow on the hills in the distance and it is damn cold.

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Downhills are fun! Less so on gravel. When doing 30 km/hr you really don’t want to fall onto gravel. Luckily I didn’t, but one close skid.

We stopped in Wedderburn for a drink at the pub and warmed up some more. We’re all still pretty cold so we decided that would be our last stop and just do the final 31 kms to Kokonga in one go.

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Don’t think I’ll swim in that one.

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Finally got to the very welcoming Kokonga Lodge.Peter Jackson stayed here when filming, and you can see why. Superb food and hospitality and a great fireplace.

In the shower my ankles were itching madly. Finally worked out it wasn’t craft insect bites, but the legs thawing out!

Had a very nice dinner, but was so exhausted I fell asleep at 9 pm. It was a hard 64 kms of riding with the weather, and we had a head on wind for the last 5 kms.

The final day is just 42 kms, but we have to be at Middlemarch by midday so an early start.

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Otago Rail Trail Day 1

March 25th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Had a great night in Queenstown staying at the superb Villa del Lago (stunning views) and a few wines (okay five bottles!) along with superb rotisserie chicken at the Searle Lane Bar & Rotisserie.

Despite that we were up fairly early and Trail Journeys picked us up at around 9 am. A fairly quick drive to Clyde, and we grabbed the bikes and we were off. We decided to do the Clyde River Trail for the section to Alexandra, even though it is 7 kms or so longer. Figured the views would be worth it, and it was.

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Starting off by the bridge in Clyde.

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The river trail part was very beautiful in parts, but also a bit challenging where there was gravel, slopes and bends.

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A lovely part with the trees leaning over.

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This was very cool – a seat in a bath.

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These old rail bridges are bloody bumpy.

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A falcon keeping watch.

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One of the many old buildings on the trail.

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The view from another bridge.

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The stretch up to the Chatto Creek Tavern was pretty tough as was uphill and a head wind. The gradient is only 2 degrees but when it goes on for some kms you really feel it. Speed drops from say 23 km/hr to 12 km/hr. We were very ready for lunch as it was 2 pm. Very friendly service.

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I loved this, the cat sitting under the table waiting for food scraps.

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Some great views as we keep heading up.

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Then we got to the Muddy Creek Cutting B&B. They have geese, roosters, turkeys and a peacock – plus a very friendly dog.

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This is the place we stayed in. It is first class. Can not recommend it highly enough. You should stay here even if just driving through the area. It’s a mud house and the inside is beautiful,and great fireplaces.

Even better is the food – we had very very slowly roasted lamb. Also some more wine, but not as much as in Queenstown luckily.

Overall a great day but harder than I expected. We cycled 56 kms, and I’d never done more than 25 kms before. And it was all off road, and quite loose shingle at times. My legs were remarkably painful and burning at the end.

Tomorrow we have 64 kms to cycle. Heading from Lauder to Kokonga. Quite a bit of uphill but yay also some downhill.

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