Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Days 13-18 - Long Way Down and Kathmandu Tear-Ups

The trip down was a gruelling one. We decided to condense the planned 4 day trek into 3 days, meaning a combined walking time of 27 hours. Without the thought of making it to the top and playing the game to motivate our minds, the path on the way down seemed a long, slow, never-ending battle. The first day, after resisting the temptation to climb Kala Pattar before out 9am departure time, seemed to go quite well. Energised from the acclimatisation at 5165, we practically jogged the flat parts down to Pheriche, a 6 hour trek down to 4300 metres. Causing difficulty for myself was walking down steep rocks. The impact sending shockwaves through the joints. Minds began to turn to the mind-numbingness of day jobs, banking, and personally... having to move flat the moment I got back.

Pheriche was, relatively speaking, The Ritz of Sagamartha National Park. The hotel we stayed in had amazing facilities, including sinks and sit down toilets... although the ever present need to scoop water out of a barrel and pour it into the bowl to act as the flush mechanism remained. Generally all of Pheriche got to watch this happen too, as the toilets all faced out onto the main farming land were old ladies and their children worked with pickaxes or kicked balls.... seemingly oblivious to the sight of a Westerner wiping his pasty arse. I was also surprisingly reassured when I noticed that the walls in the room were still pieces of plywood with scrawlings on them.

Will Wintercross took the time to interview me in his role with The Press Association, and during it I mentioned the 'fighting back a couple of tears' line. He really quizzed me hard on that. Thankfully nobody was interested in publishing a story about the blubby blubbery Aussie. Although in saying that, I was already feeling a full stone lighter for my efforts, and I saw things on my stomach that haven't been visible in decades. On the topic of Will, I found myself standing up for him when he grabbed his camera at the sight of the stretcher that was being prepared for James Markby. Markby's health really deteriorated throughout the day, with gastric problems reducing him to a shell of a man. Unable to push on the final stretch down the hill, he was carried in. I argued that it was Will's job to document the trip, no matter what happened, although I could undertsand why people got upset. Alarmingly, Dave Kirtley, and Breck all went down with a horrible virus meaning nothing can be held down in their stomachs.

Due to the illnesses and organisation, we got off to a late start the next day. Compounding this was some further illnesses along the day, including Joe contracting the gastric virus, and Jules' back giving in. This seemed like the longest day of the trek and thinking back too it, I can scarcely believe I was in so many different situations throughout the day. From the dried up river bed of Pheriche, down below the tree line, and into lunch, I didn't think I had any more walking left in me. Following lunch, we had the massive upward hill back to Tengboche to encounter. This seemed to fly by though, as the guaranteed good chat of Hillsy made the walking fly by. After we crested Tengboche, I got an amusing retelling of how Kirt and Miles became friends and then a rundown of the proceeding 4 years. Some of the stories are book-worthy and perhaps it was this lack of concentration that lead me to going over on my ankle. I rolled my ankle back in Khumjung 10 days earlier, walking sideways down the narrow stairs. Briefly, as I laid strewn on the floor, I thought my trip was over. Fortunately it was nothing and I was able to walk ok after about 10 minutes of stretching it out. From that point on though, I kept on straining it (and rolled it again on the way back from our acclimatisation walk in Dingboche) and it got progressively weaker. As I stood back up after a moderately heavy fall, with backpack still firmly attached, I took one step and rolled it again... getting pretty unsteady before Miles grabbed me and pulled me away from the trail edge that I'd become perilously close too. The rest of the walk, a good 4 and a half hours, was spent ignoring the pain. I was simply too tired to bother with it, and just wanted to get to where I could lie down as soon as possible. I managed to limp into Namche just as the final light extinguished, but a fair group of us weren't so lucky, particularly the wounded of DK, Joe, Markby etc who had to walk for a good hour or more in the pitch black.

The teahouse that night resembled the battle of the bulge. People were sick and injured. Jules looked like he'd seen a ghost. Everybody, to a man and woman, had the Khumbu Cough. Another guy, not on our tour, threw up in the dining hall. Spirits were low in the morning, only enlivened by the fact that this was the last undercooked pancake and over-boiled egg I'd ever have to eat. I was finding it impossible the night before to walk down stairs, but luckily the pain in my ankle had subsided enough by the morning to be able to walk on it. Not so lucky was my room-mate Cuzzer, who I was woken by during the night by him frantically trying to get our door open. A couple of seconds later I heard him throw up. Somehow, I fell straight back asleep... something more indicative of how worn out I was, because I was genuinely concerned. But the next thing I knew it was 45 minutes later and Isla had been and gone after administering a medical procedure at the door of my room without me knowing.

With some heavy strapping on my ankle, I set out for the final push, another 10 hours walking to Lukla. Steep downhill, flat, then the final 45 minutes or so uphill. After an hour or so, I realised that 'warming up my ankle' wasn't going to make the pain subside, and asked Nick to hit me up with the strongest thing he had (cue Naked Gun style joke). The rest of the day was a case of mind over matter. And I was lucky I was one of the healthy ones. One of the ill guys (I'll withhold the name) practically begged Nick for something to sort his stomach out so he could eat for the first time in 2 days. He was so exasperated by this stage that he took the procedure (quite literally a jab up the arse), and even volunteered to get it over and done with (discreetly) in the dining hall of the teahouse that we stopped at. During the afternoon, I was that knackered that I barely even flinched when my £100 sunglasses went flying off my head and onto the paved floor. Even more tired later on, I repeated this process (I kept on forgetting my sunglasses were on my head.... I'd then rip my hat off and my sunnies would go flying into the floor) a further 3 times. Each time without flinching. I knew I was damaging them, but I just didn't care.

At one point, I was stopped by a completely batshit insane Belgian guy carrying 2 huge packs weighing a total of 35kg, one strapped to the other, on his back. Louis-Philippe was going by the name of the Chocolate Sherpa and his mission was to distribute 100kg of chocolate along the trek to the Sherpa people, and to also conduct the worlds highest chocolate tasting. This is the same man that crossed the Simpson Desert alone by foot - I repeat, completely batshit insane. I radioed this through to Kirt, who after meeting him agreed with my summation, which then extended to a little bit of 2-way banter. Interrupting this was Charlie Campbell coming online to tell us that he was in Lukla with his 2 mates, San and Miguel. Being 90 minutes away, this was the last thing I wanted to hear. The next 2 hours resembled one of those montages that they play at the end of The Olympics for the distraught athletes, those injured/upset/being helped over the line by officials during the marathon and generally to the tune of 'Don't Give Up'. I was down. I was out. And so much time had passed between the last time I was in Lukla and where I was at that time, that I didn't recognise the final walk up to the town. Stumbling uphill, Butler and I saw an arch. Neither of us wanted to dare say that it could be Lukla. We walked through, a quick look to my left said 'Lukla Travel Agent'. You. Fucking. Beauty. I raised my hands in my elation. I think Butler shed a tear. It was all over. We had covered 55km and descended 2320metres in 3 days of walking that left us drained physically and mentally. My ankles and knees were shot. But we'd made it. The first group to walk that morning were already lining the streets, beers in hands and gave us a heroes welcome. After dumping our kit, we all got smashed. It only took 4 small cans of San Miguel, but we were all leathered. Lots of man-hugs were exchanged. Kirt paid me a great compliment when he pulled me aside to congratulate on my attitude during the entire 15 days. He confessed that he thought I wouldn't be able to hack it, and that I'd be one of his main problems with constant complaints and issues, but was pleasantly surprised when I ended up being the complete opposite of his prediction. Of course, I responded by telling him that I hoped he died on the plane ride home and we returned to our normal OTT mudslinging.

Coming down in 3 days gave us an extra day in Kathmandu which was warmly accepted. The shower I had, my first in 13 days, ranks as one of the best experiences of my life. We had 2 long nights out in Kathmandu, but I must admit to feeling like I was running on empty on both occasions. Although I still managed to do a couple of shots from Dane's whiskey bottle at 4:30am on the 2nd night. The other 2 days are a blur of Nepali hats, cigars, Everest beer, Rickshaw Races (Breck rounding the corner on a rickshaw like a character from Around the world in 80 days is a particularly vivid memory), lying in the sun, watching IPL, beep-beeping, being offered tiger balm, Ghurkha knives and Hash (in that order), Ian Ditchburn's shadow puppetry, 4 meals a day, tedious bartering, shirt-signing, over-zealous jobsworth airport officials, Hulk Hogan Moustaches (Blinky) and Zangeef Beards (G-Man), shots, 2 Danish girls between 40 of us, being told we all had a 'cricketers swagger' by an American, and a last supper with the guides and porters. Unfortunately all these great moments were tempered by the news that my elderly Nan was gravely ill. Feigning illness, I took a couple of hours alone to sort my thoughts out. Funnily enough, this provided a welcome jolt and stopped me getting a bit too carried away with the goings on. Looking back, I was glad I kept that to myself as I doubt that once I started talking, I don't think I would've been able to stop describing what a truly remarkable woman Nan was.

The final dinner was punctuated with some presentations. Everybody had pitched in to buy Kirt and Wes memento's of the trip (for obvious reasons), aswell as gifts for their able assistants, Cuzza and Vicks. We presented a signed bat to Nir on behalf of Peace Nepal Treks for their simply amazing work. It's a cliché so often used by travellers, but without their help, from organising government bureaucracy through to organising the porters to carry huge loads such as the wicket and a diesel-powered generator, through to simple things like telling jokes and patting you on the back, we would've had no hope of pulling the event off. Honestly I could go on forever. Blinky also received a signed bat for his tireless efforts on the website. For 3 months, to the detriment of his social life, fitness, and chagrin of his girlfriend Indre, Blinks spent upwards of 3 hours a night (on top of his dayjob) working on our website. Zooby had a crack had reading a thank you in Nepali, and somehow Wes managed to sneak in a thanks to the Drovers CC aswell.

Upon return to the UK, we found out that we'd been in every major newspaper, with a picture of my first ball making The Times. A quick google search bought up 92 different articles on gameday itself. The pictures are absolutely stunning. It seemed like a flash the time in Nepal was over, and with it, an 18 day adventure and a 12 month period that will live long in the memory. The one image that I'll have with me though is walking back to my bowling mark, flustered after being hit for 6 by Kiwi over midwicket, looking up to take a deep breath, and focussing on the summit of Mt Everest before turning around to bowl again.


Angela said...

Another fab account of your wonderful adventure. Thanks for sharing. Congrats to all who took part... amazing!

Angela :)

White-Pages said...

Epic - let's go back!

Zooby said...

Yayy. Another mention. I was on this trip after all... Good read Tooves, see you soon! Z

Alan said...

Genuinely concerned at me throwing up eh? Whatever, you barely moved! Next time I'll hurl on you.

オテモヤン said...


Business Directory said...

hopefully you did really enjoy this adventure and also did some more activities till now.