Diary of a Whiny Himalayan Trekker – 1979

After years of bragging about my stoic hike to the base camp of Mount Everest, I’m going to out myself by publishing my diary. Twenty-four days of climbing, complaining, itching and rats. And beautiful scenery. See? The word order is a strong indication of a wee inclination for whining. Here goes.

Jan 8, 1979

We’re starting our trek! Our guide, Cami, picked us up at our hotel. We had a five hour bus ride ahead of us, though it’s only fifty miles. I was really dreading it. If you’ve ever seen pictures of rickety buses with people hanging out the windows, you’ll understand. Clarence managed to look very aggressive, which prevented people from sitting on top of us.We got to the village of Lamsangu, where we’ll start our trek. Our journey took six hours and the bus only broke down once. 

The mountains in the background and surrounding hills are beautiful, but the place is pretty squalid. The huts are made out of mud, grass and whatever old boards people can find. A dirt road runs through the middle and an open sewer accompanies it. Smoke pours out of every building, mingling with the smell of the sewer and the evening meals being cooked. The open faced huts are the stores, and they sell nuts, grain, material and sticky sweets with flies all over them.

Our ‘hotel’ is a typical hut, but we’re lucky today. Our beds, straw mats on low tables, are in another room, separate from the main eating room. I hope to fall asleep before I hear the rats. I’m painting a pretty gloomy picture, but I’m actually not feeling too bad. In fact, I’m excited about hiking tomorrow. I’m really going to feel proud when we reach base camp.
Tonight, we’ll have the first of many meals of rice and dal. Boring, but there’s nothing else. We brought some biscuits, peanut butter and chocolate with us, which should help a bit. We shouldn’t be overweight when we finish the trip, anyway.

Jan. 9

Got up this morning at seven am, the home owners at five. I didn’t sleep very well, but I will tonight. I’ve never been so tired in my whole life. Though we only walked up five thousand feet, it was a distance of ten miles. It doesn’t sound like much, but you have to take in consideration that it was almost straight up. By ten thirty, my legs were shaking and my back was killing me. We walked until three thirty. Cami tells me that we walked twice as far as expected. I wish he would have said something. I’m not out to break any records. We’re sleeping with a family, since the guesthouse is full. I’m going to show the lady how to make some dried soup I brought. I’ve just got to have something besides rice and dal.

Jan 10

Didn’t sleep last night, except for a few hours. It was too smoky to breathe, since there was a fire going but no chimney or open windows. It wasn’t a hard walk today and the scenery was beautiful, but I was so tired and sore I just couldn’t enjoy it. However, after many hours of walking (and quite a few tears of self pity) we came to a mountain stream and took a half hour break. I took off my boots and cooled my hot, tired feet in the water. It was heaven on earth. That cheered me up considerably and we walked until three thirty, about eighteen miles today.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I just can’t eat that rice and dal. From now on I’ll have a boiled egg for breakfast, biscuits with pb&j for lunch and reconstituted soup with nuts for supper.

Jan. 11 

Last night we slept on a porch outside. It was a mild night and I slept like a rock. It was a strenuous, totally uphill walk all day today, but I wasn’t as tired. My muscles are still quite sore, though, and it will be a few more days until I’m used to all the exercise. I can actually walk and look at the scenery at the same time. Quite a feat for me. Some of the paths are narrow and we walk at some pretty dizzying heights. I try to go fast over the bridges.

We’re seeing the real Nepal. Kathmandu is for the tourists. The people are so poor, and to me, exploited by the Monarchy. We’ve seen more beggars and deformed children than in India. Smoking is encouraged, and we’ve seen toddlers handed cigarettes by their parents. They all work so hard, using the same farming and transportation methods of a thousand years ago.

The scenery gets more beautiful as we go. Though we climbed 7000 feet in elevation today, its really warm. We got some mandarin oranges and I just got a surprise. Chicken for supper! Fresh chicken, I should add. The poor thing just breathed its last.

Jan 12

A very hard walk today. Up and over a high pass, above a cloud! and down the other side. I don’t know which is harder, walking uphill or down. We quit early and are staying in a government run resthouse in a town called Jiri. Clarence, Cami and I even have a room for just the three of us. But the best thing yet: we bought some wood and had a hot shower! We were so dirty, it took quite awhile to get clean. We also washed our shirts and underwear, and put our sleeping bags on the grass to air. I’m trying to rid mine of bedbugs. Every morning I wake up with more bites. Its so aggravating, because I can’t see them.

Except for sore muscles, we’re both pretty healthy. I have a cold but brought some medicine. Clarence has a sore throat, but we have lozenges. We’re enjoying the trek, but missing the food in Kathmandu. Twenty-three days to go!

Jan 13

Had a good supper of fried noodles and cauliflower! We went to bed and slept like rocks for ten hours. I think my insomnia is over. Started walking at 8 today, which is later than usual. We walked for 8.5 hours and it was fairly hard. Up, and then down. Twice. We passed through snow today, but its still warm enough for trekking in rolled up jeans and a shirt. It really cools off at night, though. I’m wearing my down jacket right now. I like it cold at night because the down bags are so warm we just cook. We usually have to sleep with the zippers down. That may account for my many mysterious bites. I woke up with about ten more this morning. Right now I’m grabbing my book to do some reading while its still light.

Jan. 14

Today was the most discouraging day I’ve had yet. I really hated everything. The walking, the food, the people, the mountains. I made a plan to do four more days of walking to Lukla and then fly back to Kathmandu. However, at one o’clock we stopped at a stream and rested for half an hour. I undressed to my jeans and bra and had a good wash. Though the Nepalese women are always washing in public with nothing on, our guide and porter seemed quite  embarrassed, and hastily turned their backs. I think it was the bra that threw them. Anyway, I feel a LOT better and am pretty optimistic about tomorrow.

Jan 15

Today was one of the most enjoyable days we’ve had yet. We walked over Lamjura Pass, an elevation of 12000 feet. There is still barely any snow. We had to wear sweaters in the pass, but other than the fact that we were higher than the clouds, there was no difference in the way we felt. The walking seemed easier. We’re probably just getting used to it.

Last night we met a couple from New Zealand. We stayed up and talked for what seemed like hours, but still made it to bed by 7. We usually get about ten hours of sleep a night, and we need it. I like traveling with just the four of us, but its nice to talk to other people once in awhile.

Clarence is playing ball with some kids. He really gets along with the people here. He’s trying to learn Nepalese, but he speaks it about as well as he speaks French. It gives everyone a good laugh anyway. This trip has been hard in many ways, but its certainly been good for our marriage. I wondered if spending twenty-four hours a day together would be hard, but its been just the opposite.

Jan 16

I had a really terrible sleep last night. There were rats running all over the place. I wasn’t really scared, but they made so much noise that I couldn’t fall sleep. I wasn’t that tired today, though. I really enjoyed our day. Walking the narrow paths at the edge of the mountain made it feel like we were standing on top of the world.  Then, we followed a path through dense forest where the trees joined over our heads. The leaves we stepped on were as long as our arms. Moss covered the trees and water was running everywhere. It was like a scene from a fairy tale.

After a fairly steep climb, we came to a cheese factory. There was a cozy room with a fireplace where we drank tea and tasted the goods. We ended up buying an eight pound wheel of creamy white yak cheese. It’s heavy but delicious.

Jan 17

Yesterday it rained for the first time. Clarence doesn’t have his raincoat with him, so it was good that we got to a hotel/house early. We spent the evening reading by candlelight. Just before we got into bed, I noticed a huge spider on the wall. It was the size of my open hand. This completely unnerved me and when I heard the rats running around later, I just couldn’t stand it. I stood up in my bag and hopped over to Clarence’s bed. It was so narrow, we were clinging to the edge. I slept like a baby. I found the walking today hard – my knee was really aching. Hopefully, it will be better tomorrow.

Jan 18

My knee was still quite sore today. The walk was hard, being steep both uphill and downhill. We never got to Lukla until 4 o’clock. We’re staying at a fairly nice place. Though we’re sharing the room with a Nepalese family, it’s clean and there’s no smoke. We’re having chicken and fried noodles for supper. We bought a whole bunch of mandarin oranges today, so we’ll have some for dessert.

Just met a boy from France. Its so nice to talk to different people at night, though I find it irritating to walk with people other than Clarence. Only one and a half days until we have rest at Namche Bazaar.

Jan 19

There’s not much to say except that I didn’t sleep well, and I ate my last chocolate bar.

Jan 20

We arrived in Namche Bazaar, where we’ll stay for a few days before heading to Everest base camp. This place is great! The food is good (Yak steak, pancakes, cheese toast!) and there are lots of friendly tourists. We’re having a great time sitting around talking.

Jan 21

The food was very good, but I was sick all night because I ate too much. Cheese toast and cake for lunch, yak steak and potatoes, pancakes and cake for supper. It served me right. But it was just so nice to eat good food. I had trouble breathing in the night, because of the altitude. Both Clarence and I woke up in the night gasping. It’s like our bodies won’t breathe involuntarily anymore. Today was a lot better. I took it easier on the food. Had a pleasant and relaxing day at Namche.

Jan 22

We started for the base camp today. We only walked four hours, though, to the Tangboche Monastery because we had to go down a thousand feet and then up three. At thirteen thousand feet, you really feel it. You can hear every breath you take, and it feels like someone is holding you back when you walk. I really enjoyed it, though. It was cloudy today but tomorrow we should have our first good look at mount Everest. Now that we’ve walked over 150 miles, I finally feel that we’re working toward something. I guess walking for the sake of walking isn’t my bag, though its been an incredible experience. We will stay at Tangboche one more day to get acclimatized, and then go on. I don’t mind because its a really cozy place.

Jan 23

Spent a really nice day sitting around reading, going for walks and talking. The first thing I did was to sing happy birthday to Cindy. I did the same for Jennifer in December. I can’t believe Cindy is nineteen.

There’s another couple here that we meet every few days along the way. We all get along pretty well. We also visited a Buddhist monastery.  It was really disappointing, because even though it was very picturesque on the outside, it was really musty and deserted looking on the inside. Most of the monks had left for the winter.

I think we’ll spend a few days here on the way back. Our place is so clean and comfortable. I just love it.

Jan 24

We started for Perouche today. It was about a four hour walk. I found it very difficult. It’s only fourteen thousand feet, but feels like twenty. However, we rested at another monastery and I felt a lot better. This monastery was more rewarding. There were lots of monks and the place really had atmosphere. One monk was so covered up, he looked like Obi Wan Kano be from Star Wars. The Llama was there, with a shaved head and two gold earrings. They chanted in deep voices. Best of all was the hand and scalp of an abominable snowman that they had saved, like relics.

We got to Perouche and had a great supper of rice, sauce and vegetables. It was the coldest night yet, and I wore my down pants for the first time.

Jan 25

Spent the day resting, but it wasn’t very restful. In the house we’re staying in, there were four little puppies and a mean boy who constantly hit them. I couldn’t do anything because his mother encouraged him, though I told her what I thought. Later, he started to choke on a piece of food and I just said ‘choke, you little asshole.’ Maybe its the altitude. To make matters worse, our guide thought I was mad at him and I had to apologize over and over, which I wasn’t in the mood to do. Later, when we went to bed, I spent the night gasping for air.

Jan 26

Today we walked from Perouche to Labouche, which is our last camping stop. From here we will climb to Mount Khalapatar and the Everest Base Camp, and then return for the night. We’ll just rest for today, though, because we climbed 2000 feet and are now at 16,000 feet. Even though I have trouble breathing when I sleep, I have no altitude sickness. I feel proud, because many people at this point suffer headaches and nausea. Clarence, of course, is doing the trip in leaps and bounds. Yesterday, on our rest day, he climbed a small mountain of a mere 18,000 feet. He is not the norm, however.

Jan 27

Spent a very poor night becaue of the many mice. You’d think that by this time my paranoia would have been overcome, but not so. Clarence never slept well either, so we were both very tired at 7 this morning when we started out. it was just getting light, and very cold, at least -25. We were dressed warmly in down pants, jackets, wool hats and mitts.

Although we had passed the tree line three days ago, only the highest mountains have snow. The ground is brown and rocky. As we neared Khalapatar and the Base Camp, the rock piles became higher and we could see the glacier. Small lakes looked like craters, and with the mountains around us, we could have been on the moon. It was barren looking, yet really spectacular. The hard part of the climb came two hours after we left Laboucher. From here it was straight up, climbing1500 feet. The first half was tiring, but not difficult. The second half was very rocky and we had to climb using our hands. It took an hour and a half for the second part. For both Clarence and I, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. It would have been hard at a lower elevation, but at 18,000 feet, it was so bad. We found it very difficult to breath. When we got to the top, we crawled under an overhanging rock and had a long rest. We ate lunch, (hard to do when you can’t breathe!) rested some more and looked down at Base camp and up at Mount Everest, feeling that the whole thing had really been worthwhile.

It was tricky going down but much easier. When we got to the base camp, we rested and then started for Labouche. We were really tired, especially Clarence. But we were jubilant. We had succeeded!

Jan 28

Slept well, but was still tired today. We walked from Labouche to Thangboche, a distance of twelve miles. We did it in four hours, up and down, convinced for some reason that we were in good enough shape. We were exhausted when we got here. We got two pans of hot water and washed ourselves. Our faces hadn’t touched water in three days, so we really needed it.

We’ll rest here another day, because it really is beautiful. it’s so warm, and there are trees. Then, we’ll go to Namche for two days and then Lukla, where we’ll fly back to Kathmandu.

Jan 29

Spending a relaxing but boring day here in Tangboche. It’s rather crowded in here right now because a trekking group has come to warm up. They sleep in tents but sit around in here all day. It annoys me because we pay for the heat. I had an argument with an American, which put me in a bad moood. Also, its my twenty-fifth birthday and there’s nothing to do. I’m kind of depressed. I’m getting too old to make a big deal out of it anyway. At least Clarence remembered to say Happy Birthday.

I’m homesick right now. I want to fly back to Kathmandu. Mostly, I want to go home.

Jan 30

My evening was much better than my afternoon. Met some very cheerful Australians and spent the rest of the day talking and playing cards. At least it took away my homesickness.

Today, we walked back to Namche Bazaar. We had just arrived when a dust storm blew up. We spent the day sitting around the fire, talking and reading. Some others are staying here, a couple I like but find rather odd. She swears she only married him so he could get a job in Canada. (He’s Australian.) He has all these weird ideas about keeping healthy. Every morning, he drinks a large glass of his own urine. I’ve seen him do it, otherwise I wouldn’t believe it.

Jan 31

Today, we walked our final leg of the journey to Lukla. It only took five hours because we went very fast. We’re anxious to fly back to Kathmandu. The trip has been wonderful in so many ways, but we’re tired, very dirty and ready for a change.

Clarence has asked about changing our flying date. We’re not supposed to fly until the 4th, but we wnat to leave tomorrow. They say maybe, if two planes come instead of one. And if the weather is good.

Feb 1

Woke up to a very cloudy sky. We were certain that we wouldn’t be leaving but decided to pack anyway. What a surprise, not one but three planes were coming! It took a while to weigh our baggage and collect boarding passes from the dark little hut that passes for an airport. Before we knew it, we were flying towards Kathmandu. I really didn’t know if we’d make it or not. The runway was so short, the plane a small Twin Otter, but we had a skillful pilot. All the passengers screamed when we took off, falling off the mountain into space. It was a lot of fun.

It was sad flying in half an hour what took twenty-four days to walk. Such long distances and steep climbs, I just can’t believe what we’ve done. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life and Clarence’s jeans come off without him undoing the fly or button. I guess its been good for us. We figured it out and we actually walked about 250 miles, with 19 walking days and 5 rest days. Not bad, really. What an experience. Now, for a hot shower and sauna, clean clothes, good food and the mail! How’s that for a happy ending?

Published by Judith Pettersen

Judith Pettersen is an author living in Canada. She blogs about her life in the north and the ups and downs of being a writer.

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