In your life time you must visit Nepal to see what you cannot see anywhere else. The Rockies, as beautiful and spectacular as they are, are but mere foothills by comparison.
If you can’t go to Nepal, do whatever you can to keep your adventuring spirit alive in your heart.
It is never too late–you are never too old to enjoy the adventures nature offers us.
It is the only real prescription for A Better Life.
Thank you for following my adventure and climb of my life. Since the time I summited Thorung La Pass, I have gone on to have many adventures that you may be aware of. It has clearly made my Life Better.
As most experienced climbers know and non-climbers fail to consider, once you’ve reached a summit you’re only half way through your journey. The hardest part of the climb is getting down safely. For us, that meant a climb down of over 5,000 feet to the village of Mukineth. Down climbing is always dangerous because you’re tired and not as sharp mentally as on the ascent. The terrain on the down slope was very steep, often 40 to 50 degrees. We found the easiest way to cover ground was to glissade or slide down snow channels on our bottoms using our trekking poles as breaks. Even using this technique it took nearly four and a half hours to get to Mukineth. All eight of us made it, safe but tired.
One last memorable day I’d like to relay was the hike from Pisang to Manang, which followed the northern flank of the Annapurna. After climbing out of a valley where we had eaten lunch, we were treated to a close up and extended view of the Annapurna Himal including AIII and AIV and Gangapurna–all 7500+ meters (25,000 feet) peaks. Their north face seem to come right down to the trail and with the sun shining brightly every hanging glacier and main ridge line was clearly articulated. All I could do this day was walk alone in silence for I was totally awe struck by the beauty, massiveness and overwhelming domination of these giants. These were the mountains I’d come to see and they couldn’t have been more glorious, more inspiring or more emotionally impacting. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Step, look! Step, look! Step, look!
MY DREAM HAD COME TRUE.
Okay, just to clarify the story on my last blog. When I reached the summit of Thorang La Pass at 17,700, I was so elated that I did strip off my pants–actually I just pulled them below my knees. I left my shirt and jacket on cause it was cold up there.
Anyway, it is not my normal thing to strip off my clothes upon reaching the summit of whatever adventure I am on. I was just so excited at having climbed to this awesome spot on the earth that the impulse hit me to drop my drawers.
Now 22 years later, whenever I complete a long bike ride, I keep my shorts and shirt on. So it is not necessary to come with cameras hoping for a shot.
We trudged on in the darkness until the morning sun began to peak over the horizon. Slowly it cleared the peaks to the northeastern slope and as it did it threw a gorgeous orange light on the higher mountains to the west. And again “Oh My God!” spilled over my lips. When you’re travelling at this altitude so far from the modern world, your senses are heightened and your comprehension of the natural beauty around you consumes your body and you tend to walk in a trance finding it hard to release your gaze from the mountain’s glow. We pushed on through the morning light which by now had illuminated the entire mountain range in spectacular fashion.
At 10am the trail curved around a sizable snow mound and then suddenly disappeared over the ridge line. The mountains on either side fell away leaving only blue sky beyond. We were at the top of the pass. We had made it. A small tea house displaying multiple sets of prayer flags from its roof was a sharp contrast to the stark white-gray and brown of the surrounding mountains. After congratulating my trekking mates, Michael and I climbed the final 100 feet to the geological top of the pass.
Inspired by the moment and entranced by the surrounding beauty, I stripped naked, spread my arms to embrace the now visible Dhalagiri Range and heard the click of Michael’s camers. (Photo available in a month or so–$19.95 plus handling charges).
When asked later by Georgie if this was a tradition in mountain climbing, I could only reply “it is now”. I was also flattered by two young Aussies we’d been climbing with the last few days. They said “Oh man, when we saw you get naked, we’d wished we had thought of it first”. And they added later to Jenny, “Our respect for your OLD MAN really went up after seeing him do that”.
One of the main objectives of this trek was the crossing of Thorung La Pass at 17,700ft. By mountaineering scale this pass would only be the elevation of most 8,000 meter peak base camps. For sea level residents it’s a hell of a long way up–over 3.5 miles. We prepared for the attempt by trekking and sleeping at consecutively higher altitudes each day. At our last camp before the pass, Thorung Phedi, we slept at 14,000 feet–only 400 feet short of Mt. Rainier’s summit. On the way to Phedi, we had heard of and also experienced bad weather. Some reports said the pass was closed due to high snow levels. Some groups had already turned back and had passed us on the trail. But as we got closer to the pass, the weather improved and reports in Manang indicated a crossing was possible. Also, all along the trail the eight of us had spun about a 1,000 prayer wheels with the montra “Sunshine, good health and safety over the pass.” It worked. At 3am we were awaken and by 4:30am we were climbing the steep grade up to the city of Phedi and on to the summit slope. Our headlamps revealed a narrow rocky snow covered path winding up the mountain and into the darkness. We would see other lights ahead but no bodies due to the darkness. Below us were also several other trekkers pouring out of the main village hotel and onward up the path to the top of the pass.
We encountered deep gorges and had to negotiate over spring avalanche flows that had raced down the snow sheets in the warm weather and piled up in the river canyon creating a natural obstacle of snow boulders in the course of our travel. We passed through villages that while they had developed as a result of the invation of trekkers in the last several years, their way of life seemed quite unchanged from previous centuries. The main trail through town generally was an open sewer used by the village residences for discarding all forms of waste as well as using the flowing tap water for cooking and washing. Little children with bare bottoms played in the dirt while old men and curious women watched through half closed doors as the invaders from the west trekked through their sanctuary.
It was not unusual to have a cow, waterbuffalo or small herd of sheep be the cause for a major traffic jam in these small villages. Our trekking days were usually clear except for two rainy days. One of these days the rain was so relenting that we were forced to bed inside a partially finished tea house where the temperature inside was several degrees colder than the temperature outside.
This trip to Nepal had been a dream of mine for several years. Ever since Rob (my son) had suggested we take a trip together before “I got too old to move.” (I was 53 at the time.) His idea of a trip was not golf in Florida but climbing 14,400 foot Mt. Rainier in Washington state. This mountain is the third highest in the continental US. From that experience, the lure of the big mountains had gotten me. Also after reading many books on climbing experiences in the Himalayas, I didn’t consider life completed until I could see these Himals in person.
Our team was populated with my daughter Jenny, six other trekkers, six kitchen staff, five guides and twenty one porters. We started the trek in Besi Sahar after a harrowing bus ride from Katmandu. During this eight hour ride we rocked along through river beds and across landslide areas. No one slept, a few prayed. Our trek would follow the eastern flank of the Annapurna Range then turn west at Bagarchlap up through the Manang District and then north to Thorung Phedi, a 14,000 foot base camp that would be the last resting place before assaulting 17,700 foot Thorung La (Pass). The trail beyond Besi Sahar (2400 feet) had not seen a motorized vehicle and only an occasional mule team disrupted the sparse foot traffic. The trail was dirt, rock, stone, mud, snow, ice, rock stair cases and at times a freely flowing creeks as a result of the rain draining down from the steep mountain side.
Every day the scenery changed. Drier low lands turned to pine forest, then barren rock above the tree line. The typical description given by our guide each day for the trail ahead was “a little up, a little down, a little level”. Actually “a lot up and a lot down with very little flat” was more accurate. There are not any flat places here and this trip was definitely for those in shape. The days journey started at 7:30am and except for a lunch break and occasional tea house break, usually ended between 3:30pm and 5pm. In 20 days we covered nearly 200 miles of constant ups and downs with an altitude gain from start to max of nearly 15,000 feet. Just about every foot of the trail was spectacular.
When we arrived in Chitre, Dhaulagiri had been shrouded in the afternoon cloud cover that was so common in these rock giants. But in the crisp cold morning air Dhaulagiri would lower this curtain and allow us mortals to see her vast beauty.
I waited a few minutes trying to work up the strength to open my sleeping bag and let in the cold morning chill. Finally I unzipped the tent flap and even though Dhaulagiri was several miles away its mass immediately filled the entire field of vision afforded by the tent’s opening. Like a giant sumo wrestler its broad shoulders and hips in the morning sunlight could only be described by the words that rushed out of my mouth and hung in the morning air–OH MY GOD!! It was beautiful, unbelievably large and the sun highlighted every prominent feature of this snow capped diamond.
At 5:30am the yellow dome of our North Face tent was beginning to glow brighter and brighter as the sun pushed its way up the eastern slope and over the Annapurna Range. This morning would be special if the weather were clear. The day before we had left our campsite at Tatopaine (at 3,500 feet) along the Kaligandaki River, crossed the expansion bridge to the eastern side of the valley, and began an all day stair climb to Chitre, a small village situated at nearly 8400 feet. The trail was simple–one stepping stone mounted upon another rising up the ridge line without relenting once to level ground. It was just like climbing the World Trade Center from 7:30am to 3pm. The major difference here was the far more spectacular view.
At our new campsite in Chitre, our tent was perched on the very edge of one of the many terraces that dotted the steep mountainside. We could look down nearly 5,000 feet to the river valley that defined this landscape so dramatically. Across this valley and beyond the 14,000 foot hills that provided the foreground, we could see the mass of mountains known as Dhaulogire. It is an 8,167 meter (27,000 feet) peak that literally dominates the western sky.
Yes, I’m a little too old to climb in the Himalayas but that doesn’t stop me from writing about the time I did climb in 1998. In the late 1990’s I was obsessed with reading books about those who climbed these amazing mountains. I always wanted to do it. Finally I got up the courage and the money to see what it was all about.
The story you are about to read was of my first major adventure into the Himalayas. I just discovered this letter today in all of my archives about my adventures. When I started to read this April 23, 1998 letter that I had written and faxed to Georgie from Nepal at the base of Annapurna, I got excited to read the whole thing as the adventure unfolded.
So, since the weather here is too cold and wet to bike and I recently broke my wrist in a fall making it difficult to grip a handlebar, I’m going to treat you to a climb of great beauty in the Himalaya. Enjoy.