Sri Lanka and India

We’re picking up our postponed trip to South India and also
joining Bob and Anita for a month in Sri Lanka. We plan to post
blogs and some photos while on the trip. Presuming WiFi so we can
post with our phones and occasionally Internet cafe stops should
make it possible. We have two house sitters while we’re gone:, my
brother, Steve and a Susan a friend from New Mexico. Both are
escaping cold climes.

In the air now. Just passed by St. George, Utah and Cedar Breaks. Lots of snow.

The airplane is nice. We’re on Emirates with a layover in Dubai. If we’re not too tired we’ll have time to explore a little.

Several inches of legroom compared to domestic flights and well equipped seat back, that is, well equipped screen and 110V and USB charging plugs. The plan is about half full which is a surprise these days. But this is a slow season. Hope to post this in Dubai.

We plan to blog this trip which shouldn’t be too hard technologically, just have to make the time. I didn’t have the time or technology to post on the Nepal trek and didn’t finish writing up the trip, but I did cover more than half the trip and posted on our blog at http://knobby.ws. Links to photographs also from the Nepal trip are on the blog.

Up the Barun Valley to the Makalu Base Camp

For the next seven days we went up the Barun Valley to Makalu Base Camp and returned. About 17 miles one way. Unfortunately and fortunately this was an eventful section. Our lowest elevation was about 12,000 ft. (3700m). This upper section of the valley has no permanent residents. During the summer, animals are grazed. Almost all of the animals have returned to lower elevations and we met several small herds of goats and sheep being herded out. The valley is narrow and rarely more than a hundred yards wide. Surprisingly at this elevation, forests exist. The forest resembled rain forests.

One view of the Barun Valley
One view of the Barun Valley

The pastures (kharkas) a spread out along the valley. Most of the kharkas have stone huts and some of them now have tea houses—primitive hotels. Campgrounds are provided at the tea houses. We camped, although a couple of us stayed inside at the first tea house at Yangle Kharka to get relief from being in a tent during days of rain. Camping is theoretically only allowed at approved locations in an effort to preserve the area. Wood fires aren’t allowed either. Trekking companies use kerosene.

Camped here going up and back.
Yangle Kharka

Not many people on our way up because of the bad weather, but when we reached Makalu BC we started to see more groups—many had come over several high passes on a northern route from Lukla. Typically two or three groups of ten clients at each tea house camp ground. Also a few independent trekkers, usually young couples; although we met two guys who had teamed up a Lonely Planets discussion board the Thorn Tree.

The unfortunate event was a log on a small bridge that broke under Paul’s boot causing him to fall and break several ribs. That ended his and Judy’s trip. The bridge was near a tiny tea house where they waited for two days for a helicopter rescue. Jhalak, our guide, and a porter had to travel at night to Makalu BC to intercept a group with a satellite phone to call in the helicopter. The phone wasn’t available until about 8 a.m., and when the helicopter arrived at 10 the clouds had come in. Another long day for the Becketts.

The next day we heard the helicopter fly over at 6:15 a.m. to avoid the clouds and succeeded in landing and whisking Paul (and Judy) to the hospital in Kathmandu. (We at Makalu BC didn’t know for sure until the next day they’d gotten out because the satellite phone had left, but based on the weather we were confident that they had.)  Although it wasn’t an easy decision, except for one assistant guide and a porter, the rest of us had proceeded on the trek, knowing that in two days we’d be returning to where the Becketts were. We were all very happy when the first helicopter came at 10 a.m. and it wasn’t until we reached the satellite phone later that day that we found out that it couldn’t land. We were above the valley fog/cloud and couldn’t see down the curved valley to where they were. But when we heard the 6 a.m. helicopter we were pretty certain that it was early enough to land. Fortunately we didn’t have to deal with what to do if they hadn’t gotten out when we returned the next day.

The bridge was comprised of four logs about 4 to 6 inches in diameter, and the outer one was rotted near the end.

That day was our day to look at Makalu and explore. I wrote about what I did earlier in the blog here.

The next day we awoke to an inch of fresh snow and before leaving Sharon led us in putting up a prayer flag.

That day and the next we went back down the Barun Valley and headed up towards Shipton Pass stopping the second night in a cold rainy campsite. The porters huddled around a fire.

Our porters keeping warm around a fire.

The next day we made it back over the three passes including Shipton La (Pass) 

and ending up back in the Arun Valley at Kauma.

More trek photos here.

First Eight Days: Tumlingtar to the Barun Valley

Since I couldn’t blog during the trek, I’ll put up a trip description is several blog postings. Our trek was a 28-day trek—two days for getting in and out, and 26 straight days of hiking (chance to take it easy one day, but I did the hike described below). I enjoyed the trek immensely. Fantastic scenery, a good group of fellow trekkers and support crew. The trek was hard, but not always fun. More challenging than any of us expected—long steep ascents and descents and some unpleasant weather.

We started out by flying to Bratnigar, then taking a long SUV trip, followed by a night river crossing, and short ride to Tumlingtar ending up there at maybe 8 pm. We were supposed to fly directly to Tumlingtar, but the airport is closed for reasons that were never quite clear—maintenance or a rain saturated runway. The first few days were along a new dirt road with some sections along the old road and sections of trail. Farming and towns and villages the whole time. And even a couple larger towns with all kinds of stores and markets. The main challenge was the heat and humidity—maybe 85 for both. Farming is rice, millet, beans (lentils and soy) mainly. And some animals—pigs, goats, and cows. Friendly people, mostly from the Rai group—Hindus. Almost everyone enjoyed having their pictures taken and would smile for the picture—quite a change from Africa. For three days we were hiking along a ridge until the village of Num.

From Num we dropped steeply down to the Arun River and climbed as steeply up the other side to Sedua About 2500 ft. up and down and we only went 4 miles (6 km). But by then we had gotten over jet lag, our legs were getting used to walking, a little cooler because of the elevation. More climbing to come and then the rains came. Not heavy rains or accompanied by wind, but as we got higher accompanied by cold. Made for slippery going on rocky trails. We got occasional peak sitings, but hiking in the clouds for some of the time. After the down and up day, we climbed 2200 ft., then 4700 ft. to almost 12,000 ft. (3600m) at Kauma. That was followed by one of the tougher days of climbing over three passes in the rain, and the crew couldn’t find a good place for lunch so we did without more or less. After 2700 ft. of climbing and 1100 ft. of descending we arrived in camp. But the scenery was incredible—lakes, lichen, moss, and small plant.

Kathmandu

After a 35 hour trip with about 20 hours of flying we arrived safely in Kathmandu. We being Judy, Paul and I. Three of seven taking a 28 day trek to Makalu base camp to the east of Mt. Everest. We start Monday by flying to Tumlingtar, up to Makalu BC and backtracking a bit then west to Lukla and then back to Kathmandu. Tomorrow, Sunday, our group meets each other (I think I’m the only one now everyone hasn’t met, and the key support personnel. Off to a group dinner. We we arrive early enough Monday to start our trek. A bit apprehensive about walking mostly every day for a month, but here goes.

We arrived late Thursday and by now, Saturday evening feeling a bit over jet lag. Weather is nearly perfect, in the seventies, a chance of rain which makes for nice clouds. Took it fairly slow the last two days. We’re staying at the Tibet Guest House in Thamel. The hotel is large and pleasant spread over several buildings, and inexpensive. Thamel is the center of the tourist district. Not high end, not sure where the five-star hotels are. But here lots of shopping and eating possibilities.

Yesterday we took the two hundred some stairs to Swayambhunath temple. Swayambhunath is a large Buddhist stupa sitting on top of a hill. Gold leaf covering the top, monkeys scampering around and views of the sprawling humanity of the Kathmandu Valley. The population of Kathmandu is about 900,000 and 600,000 in the surrounding areas. Crowded, noisy, and dirty like many third world countries.

Today we spend much of the day at Boudhanath Stupa which is the one most of us associate with Kathmandu with a pair of eyes staring to each point of the compass. Judy and Paul visiting Boudhanath years ago and we arrived by taxi, Judy was sure we were in the wrong place because the stupa was out of site. When they visited before there was nothing else around, now it’s part of the sprawl of Kathmandu. The stupa itself is ringed by building from maybe two to ten stories. Most are stores and restaurants, but there are several temples. Today is the first day of a multiday featival so the stupa was well attended by locals.

5555m (18225 ft.)

When the best thing that’s going to happen all day has already happened at 6:15 in the morning, what’s to be done? And when that thing is a helicopter flying by overhead? I was in Makulu Base Camp in Nepal and the helicopter was almost certainly going to take Paul and Judy to Kathmandu after spending two days and nights waiting in an unheated, drafty, cold, small cabin because Paul broke several ribs in a fall and the weather and communication difficulties prevented an earlier evacuation.
And I was tired from trekking for days and many of the days were rainy. The decision wasn’t that hard because Rich Henke had already told me what he’d one while there about 15 years before. And he supplied maps and photos of the climb to the ridge. He’d climbed to 18,400 ft or so along a ridge coming off of 27,766 ft. Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world . Don and Sharon had already taken off up toward the ridge, but I was still doing chores and getting organized. I started up about 10 am and soon caught up with Don and Sharon, but they were going to do some other sight seeing, so I continued up after telling them I turn around at 2 pm. I continued up slowly. Rich had said he’d gone straight up to the ridge and continued up along the ridge. But the ridge looked too difficult or me, so I took another easier route to a saddle on the ridge. I arrived there at ten minutes to two. I could see Makalu the whole time and views to the west of two hugh peaks. One is supposed to be Everest, but I’ll have to sort out what I saw later. Fantastic views of incredible mountains. To the east it was mostly cloudy, but I could catch glimpses of a hugh glacier. This is the highest I’d ever climbed. Only another 9500 ft. to the top of Makalu: have to wait to finish the climb some other day;) I’ll post some photos when I get back home in a few days.
Four hours up and two hours down. I met our guide, Jalek, because he had become worried although my fellow trekkers understood my plans and knew not to expect me quite yet.
PS: I drafted this the evening of Oct. 22, the day of my climb; but finished it in Kathmandu the day after completing the trek.
Thanks to Rich for suggesting the climb and also to Don Middleton for organizing the fantastic trek, and lastly to Paul and Judy for inviting me.

Makalu
Makalu and the Barun Valley

Nepal Trek

A rocky start to another adventure. Nepal, India and Cleveland.

I’m leaving for Nepal tonight for my four-week trek. I had thought we were leaving tomorrow night, because the flight is at 1:30 am on Wednesday. So Wednesday was imprinted. I’m on the same flight as a couple who is also going and Louisa is planning on taking us all to the airport. And last night they called and asked were we really on the same flight because they became aware that they were leaving tonight, not tomorrow. I checked and I am. So it’s been a bit a scramble. I had more or less a day’s cushion built-in to my schedule, but still. Also got my absentee ballot and we have all those wonderful propositions

Off to the airport after Louisa prepared a wonderful farewell dinner prepared by Louisa which we all enjoyed. My dad shared his photos from his 1977 Peace Core stint on Nepal.

Paul, Judy and I realized at the airport that we had an 11 hr layover in Hong Kong and a fellow passenger said a 30 min. train will take us to town. Whirlwind tour–got off at the Hong Kong Central stop. We went to the herbal medicine area. Popular is ginseng from the US. A trip on the tram to the top of the mountain (Virginia?) to get an overview of all the tall building. Then on to Kathmandu.

No blogging while on the trek since I didn’t bring my satellite phone;)

MTBing Twenty Mile Trail- Roots & Rocks- Jasper, Alberta


Click to see short video of Greg riding the Twenty Mile Trail
I needed to pee in the worst way when we arrived at the trailhead for Twenty Mile Trail Loop in Jasper. I found some bushes a little ways from the parking area and just as I was yanking my bike shorts up I locked eyeballs with a ten-point elk buck about 10 feet from me. The look was either surprise or “I’ve seen that before.”

Cabin Lake

We climbed a steep short switch back and old logging road up to Cabin Lake. A smooth single track that traversed the hillside proved be a sweet one up to the high woodland Saturday Night Lake where two loons swam and dove side by side.

After Saturday Night Lake the trail became gradually more rooty and rough as it wound it ways thru a lush forest of berry bushes, poplars and douglas firs. Nice red ripe delicious berries, just right for bears to….. never mind! – just keep riding!

And there was mud. Lots of mud and woop-dee-doos of nothing but roots for several miles before we hit the swooping downhill back to the car.
And as a perfect book end to the ride, we came flying around the last big turn and came to a screeching halt as we came face to face with a fifteen point elk in the middle of the trail. Oh Canada eh!

Sunshine in Jasper National Park

Our Canadian Rockies rule: never leave the trail head without rain gear, warm extra clothes, food and maybe a bear bell. The clouds gathered as we departed from Moraine Lake above Lake Louise on the Hi-line Trail. The thunder rolled and lightning cracked over our heads as we skittered over the rooty rocky trail downhill.


The storm stopped after forty minutes leaving us shivering and muddy. Even bears who might be relishing the berries along the trail were nowhere in sight. Back at the car we peeled off wet clothes, changed and headed for the Outpost Pub where we recovered with beef goulash, wild salmon and a glass of wine.

Friday we hit the road heading north from Lake Louise towards Jasper National Park. On the way we took a guided walk on the Athabasca Glacier which comes down from the Columbia Ice Field, a hugh mass of ice in the Canadian Rockies. Our guide Peter, a heli-ski guide/stand up comedian/alpinist, entertained us as he lead us 2 km up the glacier.

After a week or so with lots of rain we woke up to clear blue sky in Jasper National Park. Some clouds in the pm but no rain predicted until the end of the week. You can tell we’re not used to so much rain, but then we’re also car camping. It’s great to have dry clothes.
Taking advantage of the weather, we stopped to admire the Athabasca Falls en route to mountain bike the Valley of Five Lakes Trail.

Five Lakes trail rolled up and down alternately root and rock technical climbs then a swooping sweet ride downhill crossing meadows and along woodland lakes.


Sunset at 7:30 pm found us pedaling back to the trail head, tired but happy.

Not even seeing the Eiger quite prepared me for seeing the Edith Cavell Glacier, Angel and Ghost Glacier. It rivals the beauty of Switzerland—just add grizzlies and elk.

Angel Glacier on Mount Edith Cavell.

We woke up this morning to find another sunny day and a nonchalant visitor at our campground. Ah Canada eh!

And yet more photos here in the photo gallery.