Monthly Archives: March 2015

Trekking to Pheriche…

After eight days in Kathmandu, we woke early on Sunday 8th March for our flight to Lukla. The taxi was scheduled for 5am Рafter several days of the main runway being closed at Tribhuvan Airport, the HRA had ensured we would be on the first flight out to the mountains. Sure enough, we arrived to a queue for entry into the domestic terminal Рlots of intrepid trekkers waiting to start their Himalayan adventure. Once through security (a very small X-ray machine and quick check of our ticket) we had our luggage weighed and hand luggage checked and within 30 minutes we were in the tiny departure terminal. No sooner had Reuben and I managed to drink an overpriced cup of Nescafé, our flight with Goma Air was called and we were rushed onto the departure bus and in the air for 0627! The aircraft was a new design Рquite plush by the usual standards and a very comfortable flight, landing to my surprise in 35 minutes. With relief to be back on Himalayan soil, we were able to start the first leg of our trek to Pheriche. Their was certainly excitement in the air!!

Safely in Lukla, breakfast down the hatch….time to trek…

Our first stop was for a hearty breakfast in Lukla. Well, hearty for some – after three treks in Nepal and three months living in the mountains, all I could muster was the heart to order chapatti with peanut butter and a milk coffee. It was no surprise really – breakfast has never been my favourite trekking meal and why would it be any different today? We set off not long after 9am and made our way through lush green valleys and trails to the tiny village of Phakding for lunch. It felt great to be back in the mountains with new friends on their first visit to Nepal and living out an ambition to volunteer with the HRA. Andy is an ER physician from Salt Lake City, Utah and Renee is another ER maestro who currently works in Boston, Massachussets. Together, the four of us nattered and told tales of adventures past and to come as we made it to our first overnight stop in Monjo. Renee was feeling pretty tired after the 4am start and a bit of a leaving present from Kathmandu so opted for an early night as Reuben, Andy and I sat down for dinner at 7pm. By 8.30pm it was lights out and time to rest and dream of exciting times ahead…..that and hoping we didn’t wake with headaches or other signs of AMS the next morning.

“Do I really have to get up now……?!” Probably the worst thing about having a Rab Andes 1000 sleeping bag is having to get out of it in the morning – it was pretty chilly as we rushed to get ready and pack our bags for the Porters who were keen to make a head start to Namche Bazar. I was surprised just how cold it was – though I have plenty of layers with me this season, it felt much colder than December. We set off just after 8am for the big climb to Namche at 3440m. The trails were pretty quiet save for a number of yak trains and donkeys laiden with kerosene, propane gas or sacks of rice. We did pass trekkers on their descent back to Lukla – many having failed to reach Everest Base Camp as the trails have been hit with heavy snow over the last two weeks rendering many parts of the trails impassable to the uninitiated.

Taking in the awesome view of Namche

It was a long day up to Namche – 4 hours trekking in all but over 600m of ascent and out of the shade it was very hot. Great to feel the sun on our backs but it made the climb harder – I was waiting for the lungs to really feel the thin air but it soon became apparent that Reuben and I had retained some of our acclimatisation as we recovered quickly with each rest stop. Along the river and up through trails that wound through the forest, we came to a rest stop which if we looked hard enough, revealed our first glimpse of Sagamartha for the season. After some trail snacks and a quick reshuffle of rucksacks, we were on our way again, arriving at Panorama Lodge ready for lunch! Reuben and I had stayed there in December on the way back from Island Peak so when we were sure it was the owners greeting us, we were able to say “Tapaai laai sanchai chha?” and receive a familiar warmth as they greeted us on our return.

Approaching Khumjung – we were in for a surprise…

Everest in the background....what a view...

Everest in the background….what a view…

The remote Himalayan village of Khunde…

Meeting Dr Kami Sherpa…

The rest of the day was spent unwinding with an essential visit to Namche bakery for a slice of apple pie and coffee with free wifi on the side. You’d think we’d been away for weeks on end as most of us connected to the ether to see what we’d missed in the last 48 hours….. A second day in Namche allowed us to acclimatise to the altitude and take the opportunity to visit Dr Kami at Khunde Hospital. Renee stayed back to rest her knee which had been giving some jip on the descents. It was a pleasant hike first to Khumjung, following the trail of slush and mud that had been carved through the recent snowfall. In places it was very muddy but it was worth it as we rounded a stupa and looked upon a magnificent winters vista of Everest, Lhotse, Nupste and Ama Dablam in the distance. Arriving into Khumjung, we pointed out the school built by Sir Edmund Hillary as we heard giddy children shouting out from the playground and then left the green village for nearby Khunde. As we arrived at the hospital, I recognised Dr Kami and managed to ask him if indeed it was him whilst introducing the three of us and our jobs and plans to head for Pheriche all in Nepali! Although convinced I had jumbled my new verbs and words, he did reply in Nepali – to which I quickly reverted into English! We had a tour of the facilities and then headed on our way as the locals were called in for their consultation. It felt more real as we walked back – maybe as I had put a face to the name having sent many patients to Dr Kami last season. The positive vibes were quickly dashed however on our return to Namche as we negotiated slippery mud trails the whole way down; twice I pirouetted and landed on my arse, covered in mud! I was not impressed! Having befriended a puppy with a quick “Namaste”, Andy disappeared – either a case of hitting the trails and not looking back or being very aware of the chimp!

We found Andy in the Namche bakery enjoying a slice of warmed apple pie whilst chatting to the Machermo volunteers. We ordered some chocolate cake and a warmed fresh sesame roll knowing these would be rare treats over the next ten weeks. The afternoon was then spent in the 8848 Cafe watching the film Everest which tells a tale of the Sherpas involved in one particular Swiss climbing expedition a few years ago. It was brilliant to see the work they undertake – a very eye opening account; and yet so sad to see the risks taken for a wage of $5000 USD in the short climbing season; all to get wealthy westerners up the mountain. That evening we all sat down to a hot towel and amazing daal bhat before it was time to turn in and get some sleep before the alarm sounded early the next morning.

Hiking out of Namche…

Prayers to the heavens above…..another Mani wall…

As we left the Panorama Lodge the next morning, the trail rose steeply and sighs could be heard from our weary selves. Having trekked this section of the trail three times before – most recently in the dark coming back from Chhukung and Island Peak in December, Reuben and I both knew it was a beautiful section of trail. The path winds around the hillsides for kilometres – up and down in places but mostly flat – with a fair amount of ‘Himalayan flat’. We passed Stupas on the way and in places hopped throug slush and mud as the sun melted the trail ahead of us. Dropping down to the river by lunch, it was a steep and slow climb up to Tengboche – made more tough by the heat of the afternoon sun. Finally, sapped of energy we arrived onto the plateau of the tiny, but historically important village of Tengboche and its Monastery. We headed over to see the sacred site and were lucky enough to see inside the chambers where the Monks are called to prayer for several hours at a time. It was stunning inside – so colourful with Thangkas decorating the room and a giant golden Bhudda statue sitting magnificently at the head of the room.The views of Everest and Ama Dablam were spectacular – made even more special as we watched the sunset over the magnificent mountain vista.

Reuben spinning the Mani wheels at Tengboche Monastery....

Reuben spinning the Mani wheels at Tengboche Monastery….

Sunset over Everest, Lhotse and Nupste…

It was an early start for Pheriche as Gobi had emailed to say the trail ahead had the potential to be very muddy and best to get a head start on the sun. We were up at 0530 though breakfast was a little late and not the best….. Just after 0700 we were walking down towards Deboche through the rhododendron forest. It was so different to the trail we stamped up in December – this time we were delicately hopping from frozen mud to frozen snow in an attempt to avoid the slippery ice that had yet to thaw under the heat of the sun. We made good progress and were up at the small holding of Orsho by 11am. After a quick hot juice, we were keen to press on for our final destination of Pheriche. It was snowy and muddy as we trekked up and out of our rest stop…..Reuben and I meandered ahead recounting the last time we had made this journey towards Dingboche at the end of last season. We passed two Yakbees (baby Yaks) as we veered left and up towards the trail for Pheriche. It was heavy with snow but shortly before 1pm we had the village in sight and hastily made our way to the HRA Rescue Post to find Gobi and our cook, Jeet smiling away at our arrival.

Ready and raring to go...."how early is it...?!"

Ready and raring to go….”how early is it…?!”

Renee and Andy taking in the sights...

Renee and Andy taking in the sights…

Arriving at Pheriche...."home for the season'...

Arriving at Pheriche….”home for the season’…

After nearly 4 years, I was finally here at Pheriche ready to volunteer as a HRA Rescue Doctor. And what an awesome team – this was already going to be a brilliant season!


Mero naam Keti ho ra Englandmaa desh ho….

After six visits to Nepal, I have finally had the opportunity to learn some Nepali. I have no idea why I never thought of it before – maybe it was too easy to speak English as those Nepalis who are schooled are taught in English. I love the country, it’s vibe and it’s people; so now being able to communicate (albeit very briefly) has just made me want to learn more – whilst also feeling a little guilty that I hadn’t really tried before….

I first came to Nepal in 2006 as part of my medical elective. The original plan had been to spend all of my time here however with the political situation at the time, plans changed and I arrived into Kathmandu after spending the first half of my elective in Canada and then travelling to the USA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and India. Once established in a hotel for the month, I ventured to the Kanti Children’s Hospital to find my supervisor for the time I would be spending in Anaesthetics. Much to my surprise, I learned they spoke English very well and in fact, had learned medicine in English. So the only hurdle in terms of communication was the occasional attempt to get some information from the family prior to theatres – which I rarely had to do. And so a trend was set – I indulged in the culture, travelled by tuk-tuk to work and ate daal bhat – that seemed to be enough.


Revisiting some of the sights around Kathmandu

Revisiting some of the sights around Kathmandu

In the visits that followed, I spent time in villages that had never seen westerners before and completed two trips to Everest Base Camp as an Expedition Doctor. They were brief visits but nonetheless important to spend more time in this beautiful country.

Last September was my first visit back in four years and I arrived with Reuben to a sunny, post monsoon season in what was his first visit to Nepal. Like myself eight years earlier, Reuben was completely taken by Kathmandu and the bustling vibe and assault on the senses as you hit its epicentre, Thamel. After what felt like an age, we boarded our flight to the mountains and spent three amazing months volunteering in a remote mountain post in Machermo.


Nepali language lessons for the HRA volunteers

Nepali language lessons for the HRA volunteers

So, having returned again to Nepal for a further three months to work for the Himalayan Rescue Association at Pheriche on the route into Everest Base Camp, we were a little wary about attending Nepali language classes for two hours a day. Admittedly, the first lesson was exhausting as we were hit with an abundance of new words and verbs. But after ten hours, I am absolutely amazed at the turnaround and how great it feels to finally be able to say hello and ask how my Nepali friends are doing after so many years! It’s also a long time since I have taken language lessons and the way we were taught was really straightforward. I am very much looking forward to practising some basic phrases once we are in the mountains – hopefully it will one more step to working out here at the CIWEC clinic sometime in the foreseeable (but distant) future…..

The start of another Himalayan adventure…..

Today is the 1st March, St George’s Day, and yet we are many thousands of miles from England. We landed in Kathmandu, Nepal some ten weeks and three days after departing in December on the 27th February. The time at home has been busy – locuming to earn extra funds, sitting an exam and preparing for a job interview for August, visiting family and friends over the festive season and making numerous round trips between Scotland and North Yorkshire to plan our wedding in June. So as we met up at Manchester Airport and ditched our heavy duffels at check in, we barely spoke as finally we were able to switch off and relax.

I was waiting for the excitement to hit as the plane departed but even at Doha it was just a feeling of necessity as we queued through transfers and then had nearly 8 hours to while away in the airport. We found a quiet spot to catch some shut eye and then it was time to eat (again) and have a coffee ready for the next leg. The excitement levels definitely raised as we boarded the flight to Kathmandu – we’d had our seats changed to 4J and 4K – it didn’t twig until Reuben was directed to the left and somehow we were in business!!! A no frills upgrade alongside 28 others but having declined the option to upgrade for ¬£160 each, we had the amazing seats and space to completely chill out for the next four hours!!!

Reuben relaxing in Doha airport en route for Kathmandu

Reuben relaxing in Doha airport en route for Kathmandu

As we left the aircraft and stepped onto Nepalese turf, the smells and surroundings seemed instantly familiar. A few “namastes” later and already it felt like home again. I can’t really explain it but if I said this was my seventh visit to this beautiful country, you would maybe understand the addiction and love of the people and their home. After an unusually long wait for baggage and the usual chaos, we left arrivals to a sea of people waiting to either pick up weary travellers or try and snap some unsuspecting tourists for the usual overpriced taxi fare into Thamel. To our relief (as I couldn’t face bartering with a taxi driver), Reuben spotted a sign reading ‘Dr Katie & Reuben, HRA’ and came running back excitedly to say we had our lift. And so with excitement, we met familiar faces from our time here in the autumn and were taken to the hotel where finally we could sleep…..

Our first day passed in a bit of a blur……we had breakfast and then slept – a lot. I don’t think either of us realised how tired we were up until that point but after weeks of cramming everything in and months of living out of our duffels, we just switched off. We had to – both full of a cold and weary from nearly 30 hours of travelling, there was no point in rushing out to revisit places we’d already seen. Besides, the next three months are going to be hard work with early starts and 24 hour on calls. A lie in was allowed! Later on we went out and explored the streets of Thamel, taking photos of the daily humdrum as it was played out before us….it never quite fails to amaze me how people make a living out here. We ate at one of our favourite spots – OR2K, which does amazing vegetarian cuisine and is always packed. In fact, Thamel is bustling at the moment with travellers – it’s not quite trekking season yet but lots of young wannabe hippies and boisterous groups packing the bars late at night – it’s quite a different place than when we let just a few months ago.

Wondering the streets of Thamel at night

Wandering the streets of Thamel at night

Today we met with Chhewang briefly – he was our manager at the IPPG Machermo rescue post last season. As expected, it was only brief, but so lovely to see him again and catch up on the last ten weeks. He was waiting to meet the new team for this season and unbeknown to us, we were about to meet ours just an hour later. Lazing in our room again, we heard a knock and found three of our fellow HRA doctors seeing if we were up and ready for a meeting at 1130! Whoops! We’d had 24 hours to recover from jet lag and yet still hadn’t quite managed to look as fresh despite at least one of the team arriving to the hotel at midnight last night!! I think the rumour quickly spread that we’d been asleep……!!!

Half an hour later, we arrived at the offices of the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA). The excitement continued to grow as we chatted and got to know each other whilst sipping milk tea and filling in paperwork. It has been nearly 4 years since applying to volunteer with the HRA so to finally be here and on the back of a Fall season at Machermo, was pretty special. We had a tour of the building too and found that we are getting new beds and pillows for the season (with mattresses – practically glamping!) and then got more excited as we looked at all the kit being readied for Everest ER later this season. It is going to be another epic adventure!!!

Now however, it’s time for more coffee in Himalayan Java, avoiding the thunder and rain, whilst preparing for our Nepali lessons later today.