Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Everest Marathon Trip Part 3

Oct 31 – Nov 28/05
Part 3

Photos may be viewed at www.maddog.smugmug.com

The final chapter! The race is about to begin and the MISERY and ORDEAL is almost over! All 56 runners had passed the medical check and trekked the three miles from Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5200 m/17,160 ft) where the Everest Marathon would start.

Gorak Shep was smaller and cleaner than Lobuche - except for the outhouses that were just as disgusting. Thankfully our Sherpas set up some latrine tents in the huge sand bowl at the base of Kala Patthar. All three camps were set up together near the start line in the desert sand – yes a huge desert of soft white sand at 17,000 ft? There were only two lodges in Gorak Shep – both located on a ridge on the edge of the glacial moraine. Fortunately they were large enough to accommodate all three groups for dinner so that we didn’t have to eat in a cold mess tent. Everyone was instructed (ordered?) to stay in their tents for the final night because it would be difficult to find people in the lodges at 5:30am.

Some runners climbed Kala Patthar for the magnificent view of ‘The Top of The World’ but most of us just rested and waited for a ‘practice’ run of the race start at 4 pm. At 4 pm all the runners (including 20 Nepali runners) gathered at the start line in the sand bowl to listen to instructions about the race and the start. Attila the Hun (the belligerent group leader) gave the lecture/instructions: 1) at 6:50 am on Mon 11/21 all runners would line up at the start line and Attila would shout “#1”. Race #1 would confirm he was present and then all subsequent race numbers would shout their numbers in numerical sequence. We practiced this difficult procedure. However the Nepalis had difficulty with this process because they are shy and don’t like to be loud or flagrant in public. Attila got very angry and I felt embarrassed for both him and the race organization because he made an ass of himself! 2) all runners must carry a minimum survival kit – 3 layers of clothes, a whistle, headlamp, first-aid kit, etc at all times during the race. Failure to do so would result in disqualification from the race! 3) every runner must wear a race number on the front and back and shout out his number at each check point and then verify that the number was heard. This would simplify any search for a missing runner. 4) if a runner came across a colleague that was injured or ill he must stay with that runner and provide assistance until another runner came by who would then go to the nearest aid station for medical help. Failure to do so would result in disqualification from the race. Any time spent assisting another runner would be deducted from the final finish time of that runner.
Everyone understood and agreed that these rules were necessary for the safety and security of all runners!

After the lecture I visited the team doctor because I felt like my ‘Himalayan cough’ was turning into a chest cold and I didn’t want to wake up on race morning with a terrible cold. He offered me some antibiotics but warned that they would probably cause diarrhea so I decided to decline the drugs and risk the cold? I then went back to our tent and changed into my race clothes. It was going to get very cold that night and it would be too cold to change into polypro tights at 6am on race day. I would sleep in my running clothes! Then I joined our team for afternoon tea in the lodge. I learned that we would not get pasta for dinner but fortunately the lodge had ‘spaghetti Bolognese’ (I believe the meat was minced Yak) on the menu so I ordered my traditional pasta dinner from the lodge. Later we were served a light ‘veggie’ dinner by the Sherpas that I passed on except for the desert. After dinner our group leader – a very nice gentleman (Bruce) from Troon, Scotland – read us a poem. Bruce was running Everest for the 5th time (why???). He had a special gift and love for writing poems. He recited a poem that was written by a friend in Scotland who worked in a Hospice for terminally ill patients. I have not yet received a copy of the poem (as promised) to include in this report but the moral of the poem was: nobody knows how long they are on this planet – so if there is something you want to do - or somebody you want to love – then “Seize the Moment”!
After that inspirational poem there was nothing to do except go back to the tent to check on our last-minute race preparations and go to bed. I wanted my running shoes to be warm in the morning so I stuffed them in my sleeping bag – also my water bottle because I needed to mix an energy drink in the morning. I had only two layers of running clothes on so I decided to put my down jacket on and sleep in it too. It got very cold on Sun night. I can’t say I was cold and I can’t say I was warm – but I sure as Hell can say that I was MISERABLE all night as I laid in the sleeping bag waiting – praying for daylight to come so the race could start and put an end to this MISERY and ORDEAL! I believe there were about 55 others in the same state of mind?

Mercifully I dozed off for a few hours and soon I heard the wake-up call (5:30 am) and a cup of hot tea was thrust into our tent. Francisco and I declined hot porridge because we wanted to stay in our warm sleeping bags as long as possible. Reluctantly we had to leave the bags and pack them separately so the Sherpas could carry them down to Namche – we would need them that night to sleep in Namche. The kit bags would probably not arrive in Namche until the following day. By the time we had finished packing we were freezing! I couldn’t even feel my toes! It was about –20C! At 6:45 am we walked to the start line and the race started a few minutes before 7 am!

The big dogs – the fell runners – raced across the desert sand and charged up the hill of glacial moraine (at 17,000 ft) as they ignored the burning in their lungs! The rest of us mortals jogged across the desert sand and struggled to walk up the glacial moraine while sucking desperately for air/oxygen and trying to get our frozen feet to navigate around and over the dangerous rocks! Unfortunately I found myself in front of a pack of about 10 runners so I felt obligated to push the old bod faster than it wanted to go because I didn’t want to hold anyone up on the narrow trails. I was hurting already! Fortunately we soon reached a short downhill section and I stepped aside to let the faster runners go by.
My feet were still frozen as I struggled across (and up and down) the two miles of glacial moraine. I also discovered that the water in my CamelBack was frozen when I tried to get a drink. Finally we reached a section of the trail that was flat and smooth and I started to run – well I use that term loosely. I figured with 20 pounds of survival gear strapped to my back and the thin air at 16,000 ft the fastest pace I could run without going into oxygen debt was about 12 min/mile! I was running with Bruce and told him we would be lucky to reach Lobuche (3 miles) under 1 hour? We reached the first aid station/check point in Lobuche in 57 minutes!

The sun was just starting to come up so I stopped at the aid station and removed one layer of clothes, drank some water and continued on. The next three miles of trail descended 290 m to Dughla (4620 m/15,246 ft). The trail was in good shape and I was able to run most of the flat and downhill sections so I reached Dughla in 1:35:38 – a blazing 13 min pace! I stopped and removed another layer of clothes. The next checkpoint was in Periche (4240 m/13,992 ft) – another 3 miles. That section of trail had a lot more rocks and was more difficult even on the flat sections. I was following a couple of runners from another group when one stopped and asked if we had missed a turn or junction? We were running on a high trail and could see a lower trail and bridge about 1000 ft below us? He thought we were supposed to cross that bridge. If we missed a checkpoint we would be disqualified! I knew Bruce was not far behind and he would definitely know the proper route so we waited on the trail for about 5 minutes and happily Bruce confirmed that we were on the proper trail and the checkpoint in Periche should only be about one mile ahead! We forged ahead and reached the 3rd checkpoint in 2:16:10. I stopped and removed my last layer of clothes – I was now running in polypro tights and a thin long sleeve T-shirt! But my daypack was starting to get heavy with all the clothes. The Camelback had finally thawed out so now I would have water available between aid stations!

The next checkpoint was in Pangboche (3930 m/12,969 ft) – another 3/4 miles with many hills. I walked all the uphill sections and tried to run the flat and downhill sections. As I ran the narrow trails on this section of the course I observed surprisingly that the trekkers on the marathon route were being very courteous and supportive. Almost everyone stepped aside and cheered us on when we met or overtook them. Only the Yaks were discourteous and a pain in the ass! Several times I got caught behind a Yak team and had to walk for 4/5 minutes before I could find an opening to scamper past them on the uphill side of the mountain – always the uphill side in case a Yak charged and tried to knock you off the mountain! Such delays had been expected so I did not get frustrated. Besides another few minutes would not make much difference in my finish time?

I reached Pangboche in 3:19:06. I wasn’t even at the Half yet – any thoughts of a 6-hr marathon were a dream? I pushed on to the next checkpoint at Tengboche at 14 miles. I knew that we would have to climb a very steep hill between Deboche and Tengboche. It was a bitch! I struggled just to walk up that BAH (Bad Ass Hill). I wanted to reach Tengboche (3867 m/12,761 ft) under 4 hrs but couldn’t do it! I reached the checkpoint in 4:02:12! No time to spend with the Monks at the Monastery – time to push on which meant running down the very steep and dangerous descent to Phunki Tenga (3250 m/10,725 ft). As I started down the hill I caught up with Justin (the one who had suffered serious AMS in Machermo but made it to the start line). We ran the descent together which really helped because we were able to push and watch out for each other. When we reached Phunki Tenga we were faced with a very tough section of the course – all uphill to Sarnassa (3597 m/11,870 ft). I pushed on and Jason wished me “Good Luck” and dropped back. I passed at least 8 runners going up that BAH and reached the checkpoint in 5:21:41. Unfortunately the pain was not yet over as the course climbed another few hundred meters before dropping down into Chorkhung (3520 m/11,616 ft) just above Namche Bazaar. I tried desperately to reach the checkpoint at 20 miles under 6 hrs but arrived in 6:01:09!

I was familiar with the last 10K of the course – the Thamo loop! I was pretty confident that I could run that loop under 2 hrs which meant a sub-8 hr race was in the bag! I thought about ditching my daypack so I could run faster but decided that was against the rules and I would probably need water before the next aid station so I kept it and struggled with the extra 20 pounds as I tried to push the pace on the Thamo loop. On the way out to Thamo I passed many of my teammates and other runners on the return loop. One was a competitor in my age group. He had at least a 10-min lead and I knew I couldn’t catch him. But I also noticed that he was not carrying any daypack or survival kit? I reached the checkpoint in Thamo (3446 m/11,371 ft) in 6:54:31. If the return loop took an hour I would be cutting it pretty close so I got worried and decided to push the pace as hard as I could. I crossed the finish line in Namche in 7:43:38!
It wasn’t fast – it wasn’t pretty – but it was finished! And I was alive – healthy – and injury-free!

I waited around at the finish line for a few teammates to finish and then decided it was time for a much-needed shower. Since the race finished in front of our lodge we were able to sit in the dining room, enjoy a beer and some snacks while we waited for everyone to finish. All but 4 runners finished the race! Unfortunately not without some controversy – some of the Nepali runners and one ‘white’ runner had run w/o the mandatory kit! The race organizers had a sad mess to handle and correct? (More on this mess later).

But now it was time to celebrate! The race was over! – the misery was over! – soon we would be back in civilization! – soon we would be back home! Some of the young runners still had enough energy to celebrate and party. Most of us just wanted to go to bed and sleep! And there was another problem – most of us were broke. The trip information had advised us to take about 100 GBP ($200 US) on the trek and leave the rest of our money and credit cards in Kathmandu. Unfortunately that information was outdated and the amount was not enough. As a result most people were broke or only had enough money to get back to Kathmandu. I had to borrow $20 to pay for food and a room in Lukla. Thus I had no money to celebrate or party!

Tue was a rest day in Namche for everyone to rest and recover for the 6 to 8 hour trek back to Lukla on Wed. Most people did that and a few did some last minute shopping – if they had any money left! Everyone was looking forward to going home! Miraculously many of the illnesses and ailments that people had been suffering seemed to disappear now that the marathon was finished and we were back at lower altitudes. Everyone declared that they would not stay in a tent in Lukla (I declared that I would never stay in a tent again for the rest of my life) - we all insisted on renting a lodge room. On Wed morning Francisco and I packed and left early so that we would be first to arrive in Lukla and be sure to get a decent room in a lodge. It would be necessary to stay one night since the planes normally left Lukla in the morning! We trekked the steep descent from Namche to Phakding in 3 hours and then made the climb to Lukla in another three hours to arrive at the lodge in Lukla by 2 pm. We rented a deluxe room with an ensuite bath (western toilet) – what luxury! Then we pooled our money to buy two beers to celebrate while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive!

By 4 pm most of the group had arrived – but not our kit bags? We began to worry because there is a curfew in Lukla. Nobody is allowed in or out of the village after 5 pm and nobody is allowed outdoors in the village after 6pm! Because of the airport and the strategic location of the village the Nepal government is very worried about Maoist rebels capturing the village. There are hundreds of soldiers and machine gun placements all around the airport and village. We were warned that the soldiers would shoot anyone violating the curfew first and ask questions last! Thankfully with our deluxe room there was no need for us to leave our room after dinner!

On Thu morning we had a very early teatime and after our final egg omelet breakfast we walked over to the airport at 6am to be ready for the first flights out. Unfortunately low clouds had moved in to Lukla Valley and no planes could land. However by 10 am we could hear the roar of a turbo prop and the first plane arrived from Kathmandu. Luckily I had a boarding pass for the first flight and soon we were screaming down the ski jump/runway and catapulting out into space. We arrived in Kathmandu 30 minutes later – wonderful/noisy/polluted/congested and WARM Kathmandu! As soon as I got to the hotel I went straight to the bathroom and stood under scalding hot water for 30 minutes and scrubbed the last remnants of Himalayan dust – and Yak shit – off my body! Then it was time to walk over to Thamel and order a hamburger – a real hamburger with real beef – and wash it down with a beer! It was great!

By early afternoon the rest of our group arrived from Lukla. Our team had decided to go to a popular restaurant – Mike’s Place, owned by a British expat – for dinner. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Mike had a special buffet dinner – Turkey/Thanksgiving Dinner! I must have eaten 5 pounds of turkey and mashed potatoes – it was soooooooo goooooodddd!!!!!!! After dinner I made the mistake of accompanying a group of young runners/mates to some bars to celebrate and then I made a bigger mistake of trying to drink with them! I finally conceded defeat around 3am and staggered to a rickshaw to take me back to the hotel. The resulting hangover was so massive that I missed a 9am excursion/tour of Kathmandu. I think I finally crawled out of bed around 3 pm and began the process of recovery to get ready for the Awards banquet/ceremony on Fri night. The awards and prize money were handed out at the ceremony. The race organizers had ‘handled’ the sticky mess of runners w/o kits by backing off their disqualification policy and assigning a penalty of 10 minutes to all guilty runners. This allowed the Nepali runners to still beat the crap out of all foreign runners and claim their prize money!

The first foreign/white runner was a fell runner from the UK who finished in 4:57:56. My friend from NZ finished second. The first ‘white’ female was a runner from the ‘Cuckoos’. In fact four of the top ten ‘white’ runners were from the Cuckoos – the lazy/no-good/laid-back wimps/misfits and party animals who stayed in lodges??? We were very proud of our lazy selves. The trophy for Super Vet (60+) was skipped/ignored during the Award ceremony? However the following morning as the main group was preparing to depart and I was getting ready to transfer to another hotel the owner of the tour agency/race organization approached me and handed me the trophy for the Super Vet Category. She simply stated “This trophy belongs to you since you were the first Super Vet to cross the finish line according to the race rules”! I accepted the trophy because I felt that if I hadn’t been carrying 20+ pounds of survival kit on my back I would have finished at least 30 minutes faster! So the trophy is proudly displayed in my trophy case!

That evening I decided to go to a popular Steakhouse and enjoy a real beefsteak. It was great - but I didn’t get to enjoy it for long. One hour after dinner I was back in my hotel – very sick. I wasn’t sure if it was food poisoning or just all the germs/illnesses I had successfully avoided during the trek catching up with me – all at once! I had bodily fluids coming out of every orifice in my body – all at the same time! It was not a pretty sight! I was sick all night! I had booked a private tour for the following day and didn’t think I could get out of bed to go. By 9am I started to feel OK so I forced myself to get up and take the tour. I wanted to visit the neighboring cities of Pattan and Bhaktapur. These cities were separate kingdoms in the 15th century and each has its own Durbar Square with royal places and temples. Of the three Durbar squares I liked the one in Bhaktapur the best. It was quieter and less crowded (maybe the $10 entry fee had something to do with that). But I was glad I had taken the tour and seen all three Squares because I knew I was never coming back!

By early afternoon I suffered a relapse and returned to the hotel. I was concerned because I had to depart at 8:30am on Mon and I was facing another 40- hour journey home. It would be a long miserable journey! I started to overdose on Imodium to plug up one end and decided not to eat (only sip water to stay hydrated) until I got back home. On Mon morning I crawled out of bed and dragged my sorry, plugged-up ass on to the first flight in Kathmandu. I was able to buy some medicine at a pharmacy in the Bangkok airport to settle my stomach. Fortunately I was able to sleep for about 6 hours on the 12-hour flight from Hong Kong to LA. I actually felt good enough in LA to eat some greasy fries at Burger King while waiting for a red-eye flight to Dallas. They stayed down!
I met up with my wife at 6am in Dallas since she had taken a red-eye flight from Seattle where she visited the kids for Thanksgiving. We flew the final leg together to Tampa and she drove me straight to our family doctor in Sarasota. I wanted a medical check up and tests to determine if I had picked up some strange parasite or bug in Nepal! I was also hoping that the doc would give me some antibiotics or drugs to make me feel better and speed up my recovery? No such luck! He refused to give me any drugs until he saw the test results. Thus I had to go home and lay in bed for 5 days – coughing and hacking and suffering from a high fever with cold chills/hot sweats and constant hallucinations that I was back in the Himalayans! And all the time never more than a few feet from a bathroom. I forced myself to eat for nourishment. Thankfully it stayed down but I was amazed at how quickly the body can change solid food into liquid waste?

It was one of the most miserable weeks of my life! But eventually I did recover and the test results came back normal. I still haven’t regained my strength and endurance but I seem to get stronger each day as I start back running. I remember writing a brief report during that sick week asking “Was it worth it “? “The Everest Marathon/adventure”?
If I focus on the memories of how cold and miserable it was camping in the tents or that week of illness when I got home the answer might seem obvious. However as those painful memories fade I can still remember the spectacular scenery along the trek – I still remember my pride of climbing two 18ers and the magnificent views of “the Top of The World’ – I still remember the warm, friendly smiles of the Nepali people –especially the children – I still remember the camaraderie and friendship of the many new friends I made during the trek and the fact that I became a member of a special alumni – less than 500 people in the world have finished the Everest Marathon – the highest and toughest marathon in the world!

So my answer is a resounding YES!

But then I will quickly add:


But when are you going to run Everest? The next race is in NOV 2007!!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Everst Marathon Trip Report -Part 2

Oct 31 – Nov 28/05
Part 2

Photos may be viewed at www.maddog.smugmug.com

Now where was I? Oh yes – we were getting ready to leave Namche Bazaar on Tue 11/08 for a trek up the Dudh Kosi Valley to Gokyo. Since the marathon finished in Namche on 11/21 we were advised to leave a clean change of clothes in Namche to change into after the race. I took the opportunity to leave some more clothes behind to lighten the weight of my kit bag and daypack.

We trekked from Namche to Sarnassas (miles 20 to 17 on the marathon route –all downhill which meant a steep uphill during the race) before turning north into a very dense forest and climbing 300 m to Khumjung (3760 m/12,408 ft) to camp for the night. Khumjung is a fairly large village with a school and hospital that serves that area of the Khumbu region. It is dominated by Ama Dablam (6856 m/22624 ft). Although the mountain is not that high it stands alone and looks quite spectacular!
It was expected to get very cold that night so I changed into thermal underwear as part of my PJs before going to afternoon tea. Dinner actually had some meat – Yak curry – to fortify us and get us ready for the cold night. Temps dropped to –5C and my water bottle froze. I became quite skilled at guessing the overnight low temps by how solid my water bottle was frozen each morning.

Wake up/tea time was 6:15 am on Wed. It was so cold that I left my thermal underwear on and pulled my trekking clothes on over them for breakfast. We continued to trek through a forest that blocked the sun and kept the temps so cold that most of the waterfalls we passed were solid sheets of ice! The trails were rocky and covered in ice – very dangerous! We descended to Phorche Tanga where the trail split off to Phortse and Dole and took the fork to Dole. It was a very steep climb up to Dole (4048 m/13,358 ft) where we would camp for the night. Taboche (6501 m/21,453 ft) towers over the village. After we left the forest and started the climb to Dole the sun came out and it got so hot that I had to strip naked on the trail to take off the thermal underwear. I was either too hot or too cold? After another veggie dinner I went to bed early. Expecting another cold night I added a liner to my sleeping bag but actually found it too hot during the night?

After an early tea (6 am) and another egg breakfast on Thu we set off for Machermo (4460 m/14,718 ft) where we were scheduled to camp for two days to acclimate to the higher altitudes. Machermo sits in a large valley that is dominated by three mountains: Machermo (6186 m/20,413 ft), Taboche and Cholotse (6410 m/21,153 ft). There was less traffic/people on this route but the trails were very dusty and covered in Yak shit and this contaminated combination was constantly stirred up by the traffic and ingested by the trekkers so that by the time we reached Machermo everyone was suffering from the ‘Himalyan cough’ – a dry, irritating cough caused by the dry air/dust/Yak shit! For many the cough turned into a chest cold and/or infection. By now many of the runners were also having intestinal problems (vomiting and diarrhea) in spite of our constant attention to hygiene. But we could only take care of our hygiene. I watched a Sherpa in a lodge add Yak shit to a fire and then prepare and serve food to trekkers w/o washing her hands. We were eating Yak shit!!! Thanks to our doctors/medical teams and drugs – they were able to keep all of the runners going in spite of the problems/illnesses. But at 15,000 ft some of the runners started suffering from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness or Altitude Sickness as we call it in CO). One of our teammates, Justin, got so seriously ill with AMS that he couldn’t walk and had to be carried by Sherpas down the mountain in the dark accompanied by the team doctor. The only cure for AMS is to get to a lower elevation to acclimate so they carried him back down to Dole where he stayed for three days acclimating and waiting for us to pick him up on the way back down. Even some of the team doctors suffered from AMS and had to retreat to lower elevations for additional acclimation.

The doctors and race organizers warned/advised us to rest and acclimate during our two days in Machermo – not to do anything too strenuous! I followed that advice for the first day. Francisco and I did our laundry in a mountain stream – the water coming off the Machermo Glacier was so cold that my hands turned blue within a few minutes of scrubbing! Then I enjoyed a hot shower at the lodge where we camped. The shower was an outdoor stall with a 40-liter bucket on the roof that was filled with hot water heated on the kitchen stove. I stood on an inch of ice covering the concrete floor of the shower stall while the hot water scalded my head and body – it was wonderful as I washed all the dust and Yak shit off my body and washed my hair! All for a cheap fee of $2! Then I enjoyed a Yak steak and chips at the lodge. It was a great rest day! However the next day I figured I ‘needed’ to do a hard training run and ran a fast 10K back towards Dole. The first 5K downhill was OK but on the way back I started to suffer a slight headache - a sign of AMS. After the run Francisco and I climbed up a ridge overlooking Machermo. We climbed to 16,000 ft and the headache got worse – not good! I decided to rest and take it easy for the rest of the day in the hope that the headache would disappear by morning?
Actually found some Yak meat in my dinner that night but the headache still persisted.
It had been very cold the first night in Machermo so I added the liner to my sleeping bag to keep me warmer. Good thing – my water bottle was frozen solid in the morning!

On Sat morning we had to pack up everything to continue the trek to Gokyo. It was a short journey and we only climbed 300 m/1000 ft but my headache came back by the time we reached Gokyo (4750 m/15,675 ft). I was disappointed because I wanted to climb Gokyo Ri but decided it would not be wise to climb another 750 m with a headache/AMS. Instead I joined some teammates to climb a ridge about 200m above Gokyo that overlooked the village and the Ngozumpa Glacier. The glacier starts at Cho Oyu (8153 m/26,905 ft) – about 10 miles north of Gokyo and flows down the Dudh Kosi Valley for about 20 miles. When we returned to Gokyo we learned that the lodge where we were camping could not accommodate all our tents and eight of us needed to volunteer to sleep in the lodge. Being the oldest members of the team Francisco and I volunteered. The lodge rooms are not heated so they are not much warmer than the tent but they are still more comfortable than the tent. However it did cause some problems/confusion because of the rule that lodge guests must eat their meals from the lodge. It makes it difficult for our Sherpas to figure out how many to cook for and who they are supposed to feed. But that night turned out to be the coldest night of the trek so we were happy with our decision.

The next morning I was also happy to wake up w/o a headache so I joined some teammates to climb to the summit of Gokyo Ri (5483 m/18,0893 ft) early in the morning. I have climbed many 14ers in CO but believe me there is no comparison when you start climbing at 16,000 ft and have to climb 2,000 + vertical ft on a very steep ascent. I was sucking air all the way up and had to make a lot of rest stops. But the climb was worth it! Gokyo RI stands all alone and thus offers a spectacular and panoramic view of ‘The Top of The World”. You can see twenty peaks over 20,000 ft – from Cho Oyu (8153 m/26,910 ft) in the North to Everest (8850 m/29,205 ft), Lhotse (8501 m/28,053 ft), Makalu (8475 m/27,968 ft) to Thamserku (6608 m/21,806 ft) near Namche. That was a sight/memory I will remember forever!

But now it was time to end this part of the trek and head back down the Dudh Kosi Valley to the Khumbu Valley. After we descended Gokyo Ri we trekked back down the valley past Machermo and camped overnight in Luza (4390 m/14,487 ft). On the way we passed by the Gokyo Lakes again and sighted some lamagons (look like eagles) playing in the mountain downdrafts. After camping in Luza we continued our trek on Mon down through Dole where we picked up Justin and another team mate who were acclimating there and continued on back past the ice waterfalls to camp again in Khumjung. The lodge in Khumjung now looked like a paradise compared to some we had camped at higher up in the mountains. But the Sherpas still fed us another veggie dinner!

On Tue it was time to leave Khumjung and trek back down to Sarnassas to rejoin the actual marathon route. Francisco and I skipped the usual egg breakfast and stopped at a bakery in Khumjung – the highest bakery in the world- for a good old-fashioned cinnamon bun and hot chocolate. It was wonderful! We then descended to Sarnassas and continued on down to the river at Phunki Tenga (3250 m/10,725 ft). This was the lowest point of the Everest Marathon course – about 17 miles. Then we had to climb 617 m/2036 ft to Tengboche (3867 m/12,761 ft) over 3 miles. We had been warned that this was the steepest/most dangerous section of the marathon course and would be a descent on the actual marathon. The trail was indeed very steep and dangerous and at that point I decided that “my primary goal would not be time but rather to finish the race safely and healthy”! After a few hours of very difficult and strenuous climbing we reached Tengboche. There is a very important Buddhist Monastery in Tengboche and we arrived during a 5-day religious festival so the Monks were blowing their horns and performing some very colorful ceremonies that we watched. I managed to order a chicken burger at one of the lodges – pressed/canned chicken but at least it tasted like chicken. I also discovered a satellite Internet café – the highest Internet café in the world – and emailed an update to my loyal readers.

In the afternoon we continued our trek on and downhill to Deboche (3770m/12,441ft) where we would camp for the night. For a marathon course that was supposed to be mainly downhill there seemed to be a lot of ‘uphills’? The lodge and campsite were not great but we did get some Yak curry for dinner. It was another very cold night in the tent.
On Wed, 11/16 we departed early for Dingboche. There were some spectacular views of Thamserku and Kantega (6685 m/22,060 ft) along the way. I was looking forward to our stay in Dingboche because we camped there for two nights and I needed to wash some more clothes. Dingboche (4410 m/14,553 ft) is surrounded by mountains and spectacular views – Thamserku, Kantega, Taboche, Lhotse, Ama Dablam and Island Peak (6189 m/20,423 ft).
By the time we arrived in Dingboche members of our team (and the other teams) were falling like flies. Nine days of trekking, ingesting dust and Yak shit and bad food and water were taking its toll. Many were very sick and opted to stay in a lodge room instead of suffering the cold and misery of the tents! My teammate deserted me and stayed in a lodge room. I decided to tough it out and stay in the tent which I now had all to myself. About half the team stayed in rooms which really confused our Sherpas.
I did pay attention to the advice about rest during our 2-day stay. I made a few short hikes to explore the area around Dingboche but no running! Instead of freezing my hands doing my own laundry I found a local Sherpa woman who agreed to do my laundry. I sent her many customers from our team and she was very happy with the extra income. I enjoyed another shower – I knew it would be my last until I finished the race in Namche!
I expected the weather to get colder again so added another layer to my PJ ensemble in addition to the liner. I can’t say that I was ever actually cold at night – but I can’t say that I was ever warm either! But I was miserable and I was worried that my ‘cough’ was turning into a chest cold?

Soon it was time to move on and up the Khumbu Valley to Lobuche (4910 m/16,203 ft) for another 2-day camp and more high altitude acclimation. We had been warned that Lobuche was a dump – they did not lie! The village is located in a very small desolate valley and only has a few lodges. The lodges and campsites were filthy, the outhouses were so filthy and despicable that everyone refused to use them and instead found an empty spot on the mountain to ‘do their job”. The lodge where we camped was a dump. The first night they didn’t even start a fire in the stove until we chipped in and bribed them to start a fire – and then they let it go out after a few hours! The 2nd night they had a full house of guests and kicked us out of the dining room so we had to eat in the mess tent. There was one exception. A new lodge had been built on the edge of the village. It was modern and clean. And our team rented every spare room in the lodge! Mainly the members who were sick but also some who were just sick of staying in cold tents! I opted to stay in my tent (by myself again) and stick with the program.
By this time all the teams were sick and had frayed/tired nerves and were edgy. So the other teams (including their group leaders) got angry/upset with the ‘Cuckoos’ saying we were wimps and would have an unfair advantage in the race because we were staying in lodges! One group leader forbid his group from staying in a lodge – “it would not be in the true spirit of the game”? It started to get very ugly and personal until one of our team members – a young British army officer – invited the belligerent group leader to step outside to settle the affair. Good thing he declined because Matt is a champion kick boxer! Finally the group leaders got together to diffuse the situation. It is amazing how quickly a group of total strangers can bond and become a close-knit team when they face hardship and adversity together?

On Sat many of our team members decided to trek 3 miles to Gorak Shep, climb Kala Patthar (5623 m/18,55 ft) for another/different view of ‘The Top of The World” and return to Lobuche. It was a long trek but we decided it would be best to do it a few days before the race and not the day before the race. Some thought the climb was harder than Gokyo Ri but I thought it was easier? But it was worth the effort because the views were much different. Everest and Nuptse are only a few miles away and just tower over Kala Patthar. It is hard to believe that you are standing at 18,000 ft and those mountains still tower 10,000/11,000 ft above you? Other than that great memory the two days in Lobuche were the two most miserable days of the whole trek! I just kept counting the time and hours till we moved on to Gorak Shep, ran the marathon and put an end to the MISERY!

Finally on Sun 11/20 it was time to move on to Gorak Shep where the marathon would start. But first we had to pass a medical check and collect our numbers in Lobuche before we could begin the trek to Gorak Shep. Almost everyone was sick – chest colds/infections, intestinal problems and AMS. All runners would be assigned three race numbers for the race. We had to pick up the first race number which we then took to one of the team doctors. If we passed a medical test the doc would sign the number and we could pick up the other two numbers. The medical test relied mainly on honesty – although nobody wanted to be held out of the race it would be foolish to lie if you were seriously ill with AMS. We also had to perform a toe-to-heel walk forward and backward – much like a sobriety test. Apparently this is difficult to do if you have serious problems with AMS? Thanks to the supreme efforts of our medical staff (and drugs) all 56 runners were deemed fit to go to the start line!

It was a 3-mile trek to Gorak Shep across a moraine field deposited by the Khumbu Glacier. It was not a steep climb but the moraine was very difficult and dangerous to cross. I realized that this 3-mile section and the 3-mile descent at Tengboche were the two most difficult/dangerous sections of the course! It took us more than 2 hours to trek those three miles and we arrived in Gorak Shep (5200 m/17,160 ft) – our final camp - by noon. The marathon was getting close!

I will leave the report on the final preparations and final night of the trek and the actual race for the final chapter of this report.
Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Everest Trip Report -Part 1

Oct 31 – Nov 28/05
Part 1

Photos may be viewed at www.maddog.smugmug.com

The Everest Marathon – billed as ‘the highest and toughest marathon in the world’ lived up to its billing. What the brochure left out was that is also the hardest marathon in the world to get to the start line!

The marathon first attracted my attention a few years ago and my research revealed that it is only held every two years in the fall/Nov. and you had to ‘qualify’ for the race. You had to have experience in endurance events at high altitudes and the cut-off age was 65. I requested more details and learned that it was an expensive race/event to run because the packaged trip/tour lasted 26 days that included three weeks of trekking in the Himalayans. I tried unsuccessfully to find a corporate sponsor to help with the costs but in the end finally accepted Maddog’s advice: “forget the cost – you don’t know how much time you have left in this world so go for it – it may be your last chance”!

I figured I had an advantage in that I could train all summer in the Colorado Rockies to get used to mountain trails and high altitudes. As most of you know I trained very hard all summer in ‘Maddog’s Suicidal High Altitude Training Camp’. By the end of the summer I had climbed eight ‘14ers’ and raced three mountain trail marathons and felt I was in pretty good shape? I was ready for the Himalayans and Everest!
Now I had to put my kit together. I am not a camper and had very little of the required camping gear – a sleeping bag good to –20C, warm hikingclothes, headlamp, etc. The only compromise I made was the sleeping bag. Instead of spending a lot of money on a top quality down bag I bought a cheaper bag that was rated for –20C but was twice the weight and volume. That decision did cause a lot of inconvenience on the trek! However I did buy the best (and largest) Camelback Daypack I could find and that turned out to be a great decision.

So now that I have explained some of the background it is time to get on with the story. Before leaving for Nepal at the end of Oct I had to return to Europe to run my last two countries in Europe –Bulgaria and Bosnia. I finished Bosnia on Oct 15/05 and returned home on Oct 20th. I had ten days to get ready for Nepal. To save money I had booked my own air travel with free miles and would meet the group in Kathmandu. The downside of the ‘free’ travel was that I had to accept a routing that took 41 hours of airplane and airport time from FL to Katmandu! I left FL on Mon 10/31 and arrived in Kathmandu on Wed 11/2. I arrived one day before the main group so I had an extra day to recover from the long trip and jet lag. While I was waiting for the main group to arrive on Thu I met a few runners from Christchurch, NZ who had arrived a week early and had been trekking on their own in the West region of Nepal. Robert was a fell runner and serious about winning the marathon – not in my league! He had been running every morning at 4am in Kathmandu to beat the traffic pollution and congestion – I had just decided that it wasn’t worth it to run in those conditions?

The main group arrived from London on Thu night and on Fri we held some group meetings to discuss the plans/itinerary for the trip. There were a total of seventy runners, race volunteers and medical staff so we were split into three groups of about 24 people: ‘The Early Birds’; ‘The Late Birds’ and ‘The Cuckoos”. I was with the ‘Cuckoos’ and my roommate/tent mate for the trip was a very nice gentleman, Francisco, an economist from Buenos Aires, Argentina! Our group seemed to be the most laid back. We had a few fell runners from the UK but most of the team members were running their first marathon? The other groups had fell teams from different regions of the UK and most were very intent on competing and winning the race! I soon realized that I was totally out of my league!

On Fri afternoon our tour operator took the group on a tour of Kathmandu. We started with a visit to the 2,000 year-old Buddhist shrine of Swayambhunath or the ‘Monkey Temple’ located on a hill overlooking the city. It has one of the oldest stupas in the world but is a strange mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Next we visited Durbar Square with its multitude of palaces and temples. It was started in the 1500s by the Malla kings and enlarged in the 17th century. We stopped at the Kumari Bahal, the home of Nepal’s living goddess – a young girl selected from a Newari Buddhist family at the age of four. She can only leave her palace seven times a year when she is carried through the streets to assure Kathmandu of her protection. When she reaches puberty she is no longer considered ‘pure’ and is replaced!
We walked past many of the Hindu temples as we made our way to Thamel – the main tourist area of the city! It is a madhouse of pedestrians, rickshaws, motorcycles and cars fighting for room on the narrow streets as hawkers try to sell you their junk souvenirs!

We were limited to a total weight of 12 Kilos for our kit bags that would be carried by the sherpas/porters and the bags were weighed before they were transported to the airport on Sat morning. My oversized/heavy sleeping bag was already a problem. I had to stuff more equipment into my Daypack that I would have to carry myself! I also left a lot of clothes and gear in Kathmandu.

On Sat morning we departed early for the airport for a flight to Lukla. Lukla is the gateway into the Everest region in the East region of Nepal. There are no roads into Lukla – only an airport and trails! The airport is built into the side of a mountain at 2860m/9438 ft - it is only 500m long and looks like a ski jump. Planes land up the ski jump/runway and take off down the ski jump. All landings/take offs are visual and there is only one chance! The Airlines use old Canadian Beaver aircraft equipped to carry 16 passengers and land on a short runway. It is an exciting flight in both directions! We all arrived in Lukla safely, collected our kit bags and assembled near the airport to meet our Sherpas and depart for Phakding where we would camp for the first night.

Phakding (2652m/8750 ft) is 200 m lower than Lulka so we actually trekked downhill through the Lukla Valley. Francisco and I trekked together and arrived in Phakding in about three hours. Along the trail I had noted that at that elevation the terrain was similar to Colorado – lots of forest/trees but the mountains were higher. Lukla Valley is dominated by Khatang (6353/20,969 ft) – higher than any mountain in CO. I also noted that the trails were much wider than CO and much busier. There were hundreds and hundreds of trekkers, Sherpas and Yaks going in both directions. I thought I was trekking (or hiking as we say in CO) on 45th St in NYC? And since the trail from Lukla to Namche Bazaar is the main route into the Everest region there are teahouses or lodges located every 1000m along the trail. These ‘teahouses’ serve tea/beer/ pop and food to the trekkers and offer lodgings – a dormitory room or double room for as little as 50 cents/night! I am used to hiking in CO where I can go for hours or days and never meet another person. This was just too busy and commercialized for me. We were supposed to be in the Himalayan Mtns – not 45th ST in NYC!

Francisco and I ate lunch while we waited for our Sherpas to arrive with our tents and kit bags. Typically the Sherpas would set up our tents in an area adjacent to a lodge. There was a charge for using the campground and an outdoor cookhouse. If we ate in the dining room of the lodge which was warmer and more comfortable than eating in a mess tent there was also a fee for that. (paid by the event organizer). That first night we ate in the mess tent – I assume to get us used to such luxury? Although it was not too cold at that elevation the pattern of the trek started to emerge. The Sherpas would usually arrive at our campsite after us (since they were carrying 80+ pounds of gear up and down mountains) but hopefully before the sun went down and it started to get cold. After they put up our tents we would empty our kit bags and get our sleeping bags, etc prepared for the night. We soon discovered that when the sun dropped behind the mountains the temps dropped 20/30 degrees and it got very COLD – very quickly! Thus it was necessary to change into your sleeping clothes/PJs before the sun went down! At 4pm each day the Sherpas would serve hot tea and biscuits in the mess tent or lodge dining room. I went to afternoon tea in my PJs and stayed in the warm lodge until dinner was served at 6 pm as did most of the team! We would read/play cards or write our daily logs until dinner. By 5 pm it was dark and very COLD in the tents! Read – DAMN MISERABLE !
Dinner always started with a bowl of hot soup (usually quite good) with some kind of bread or popcorn – they put popcorn in the soup because it is easy to carry and prepare! Then there are two or three portions of veggies – usually potatoes and/or rice served with lentil soup (the Nepal traditional dish of dal bhat) and another veggie such as steamed cabbage. I became very frustrated that there was very little meat served! After our delicious ‘veggie’ dinner they would serve a dessert. All of this food is prepared in an outdoor cookhouse and carried to the mess tent or dining room. After dinner hot tea and/or hot chocolate is served. I soon became so tired of tea that I started drinking a lot of hot chocolate.

Now back to Phakding. While the Sherpas were setting up our tents I decided to do a short hike along the trail towards Namche to explore the next day’s route? About 1 mile from the camp I came upon a young Nepali woman lying on the side of the trail. Another woman was trying to coax her to get up. I asked if she was sick and if she had sent for help. We had a communication problem because I understood that help was coming. So I continued on. But 30 minutes later when I returned the woman was still lying on the trail? I ran back to our camp and explained to our team doctors what I had found and asked them to go and look at the woman. I escorted them back to the young lady and she was indeed unconscious and they could not revive her so we carried her back to the camp in a portable stretcher. They revived her and gave her some IV and antibiotics to treat a serious chest infection. The docs arranged to put her up in the lodge for the night so they could continue to treat her but when they checked on her in the morning she was gone? She had yanked out the IV and left during the night?
I still felt good that I had done my good deed for the day!

The next morning we enjoyed our first breakfast in the (COLD) mess tent and learned the morning pattern. First a Sherpa wakes you about 6am with a cup of hot tea. Then you have about 30/45 minutes to pack up your kit bag and leave it outside the tent for the Sherpas to pick up and carry to the next campsite. That first morning I changed from my PJs into my trekking clothes – damn cold on the butt at 6am in minus temps! Then you go to breakfast. Breakfast would start with a bowl of cereal but it was served with HOT milk. The milk is made from powder and they can’t use cold water because it wouldn’t be safe to drink. I just couldn’t stomach cereal with HOT milk so I skipped that after the first day. Sometimes there would be porridge – kind of a sloppy/liquidy mixture of oatmeal. I had wisely brought a pound of brown sugar that I carried all through the Himalayans – but it helped make the porridge edible! That was followed by eggs – usually an omelet on dry toast or some kind of local bread. This was actually quite good but after 18 days I swore that I would never eat another egg or drink another cup of hot tea!

After breakfast it was time to move on to Namche Bazaar. We continued up the valley through blue pine and rhododendron forests with Kusum Kanguru (6369 m/21,017 ft) on our right and crossed the river several times on wire/rope suspension bridges. If you met a Yak team on the bridge you would have to retreat and give them right-of-way! We entered the Sagarmatha National Park and started a very steep climb to Namche Bazaar (3446 m/11,400 ft) – a 2400 vertical foot climb! I noticed another big difference from CO – Nepal does not use switchbacks. The trails go straight up the mountain – if it gets too steep they add steps. Believe me - climbing steps for a ½ mile at 11,000 (or 16,000 ft) is not easy! But I kept chugging away and was the first runner to arrive in Namche!

Namche is the administrative center of the Khumbu or Everest region. Our itinerary called for two nights in Namche for altitude acclimation. Our race organizer had booked rooms in lodges for all runners so we got to live in (relative) comfort for two days. Francisco and I shared a room above the kitchen so our room actually had some heat until about 9 pm each night. Each room had two beds/cots where you spread your sleeping bag out. The walls were paper-thin so we could hear people snoring/coughing three rooms away. There was no indoor plumbing – the toilet and hot shower were located outside. This didn’t bother Francisco and I since we had come equipped with ‘pee’ bottles – you peed in the bottle during the night and emptied it in the morning – instead of getting out of a warm sleeping bag at 3 am! Don’t know what the women did? Renting a room for $1/night also required that we eat at least one meal in the lodge so the Sherpas did not prepare our meals for those two days. I was able to order meals with meat – always pieces of Yak meat. I even ordered a Yak steak for one dinner!

Many of the runners were able to buy additional gear that they already realized they needed. I bought a fleece sweater for another layer of sleeping clothes and some trekking poles for the steep trails. Since we had two ‘rest’ days in Namche many of us explored the area and got in an actual training run. The marathon finished in Namche and the 20-mile mark was located on a trail above the village and the final 10K of the marathon was a 5K loop from Namche to Thamo. Namche and Thamo are essentially at the same elevation but there were several hills between them so the loop was not that easy as Francisco and I found out on our first day. We ran an easy 5 miles out and back – it took 80 minutes! The following day the whole group ran the 10K loop to become familiar with the route – 90 minutes to run 10K – on fresh legs! It would be much harder on race day after 20 miles! I was beginning to realize that my pre-race goal of 6 hours was probably not realistic?

Many of also took time to visit the Sherpa Museum dedicated to the Sherpa people. It was very interesting. And most of us trekked about 3 miles up above Namche to the Everest View hotel for our first view of Everest – about 30 miles away. Our two days of rest were gone quickly and it was time to start the real trek. The first leg of the trek would take one week as we trekked up the Dudh Kosi Valley to Gokyo (4750m/15,675 ft). This trek would be the first attempt to acclimate to the high altitudes and strengthen our legs for the race!

I will continue the story of this trek in Part 2 of the trip report.

Stay tuned!