We flew to Kathmandu with China Southern Air, probably not the best airline in the world for service, but the planes were good and the flights were relatively cheap. This meant we had a stop over in China, then from there to Kathmandu. I guess I didn’t know what to expect in Kathmandu but didn’t think it would be as big as it was. It is a very big city, pretty dirty, dusty and noisy. We stayed in a hotel called The Shanker which was back off the street a bit with really lovely gardens and nice big rooms. It was quite an old hotel, but very good. We even had a bath in our room which, let me tell you, was pretty nice after we got back from the trek, and very good in which to do some washing!! Thamel is the tourist shopping area which is great. We found the most amazing garden called “The Garden of Dreams”, just off the street leading into Thamel. It is just wonderful. So beautiful and such a retreat from the noise and dust. There is also a wonderful restaurant in it, so well worth a visit. It costs very little to go in and with one ticket you can go in and out until 5pm. My recommendation is to take a book and go in and relax. They supply a roll to lie on. Beautiful.
From Kathmandu we had to get a light aircraft that took about 16 people, to fly to Lukla which is a little town where the trek commences, about a 35 minute flight away. It was rush, rush to get to the airport, as the morning is generally the time when there is likely to be less cloud. We got on the plane ok, flew for 30 minutes or so and then had to turn around and come back to Kathmandu because there was too much cloud. After lunch we got on the plane again and did the same thing, but again, had to come back, and eventually, after sitting at the airport until 5pm, went back to the hotel where we stayed the night. The Sherpas organising us were just fantastic. Kamal and Damshee were amazing. Nothing was ever too much trouble for them and they were always happy to listen and eager to help. They organised a lunch to be brought from the hotel to the airport for us all which was no mean feat let me tell you. Then they had to organise rooms at the hotel that night for everyone, even though we had all checked out that morning.
The next morning it was all go and this time we landed safely in Lukla. When we saw the mountains and the approach to the airport we were rather glad they had turned around the previous day. The planes have to come down between very steep and high mountains onto a tiny, short runway that slopes relatively steeply uphill. The photos don’t really show the extent of the slope. They told us that the pilots have to do a controlled crash landing to land there. In fact, Sir Edmund Hilary had this airport built, and we were told his wife and daughter were killed there. Not sure of the circumstances. One pilot told us however, that taking off is the most dangerous because the air strip is so short and so steep downhill that once you go, there is no turning back if anything goes wrong.
Once we all arrived (there were 2 plane loads of us), the porters got all their loads organised and off we went. I guess the first 3 or 4 days were the hardest. Probably not necessarily in physical difficulty, although there was plenty of steep uphill with thousands of uneven steps, but more the fact that we hadn’t got used to the altitude and our legs weren’t used to the difficulty either. I must admit that on a couple of occasions I felt like sitting down and giving up but figured no one was going to rescue me, so I might as well keep going. I was wondering to myself why on earth I decided to trek with a group of marathon runners who were all fit and buff and ready to go, when I basically am a walker!! Because we were held up in Kathmandu for 1 day, it meant we had one day less acclimatising. There were a couple of places along the way where we were going to stay for 2 nights instead of just one, to acclimatise and at one of those we now only had one night. Anyway, I don’t think it made much difference.
We camped in small 2 person tents with just enough room to sleep side by side on a mat and put your duffel bag and back pack next to you. It is amazing how warm they get with the body heat and we were never cold even though the temperature got quite cold at night. We also were very fortunate in that we never had to walk in the rain. It rained a couple of times but it was during the night. Every morning when we woke the sky was blue and cloudless and we were surrounded by spectacular scenery of snow capped mountains and steep valleys. At about 2 pm the clouds would start to come over. So each morning we would have the most wonderful views. We always camped in the grounds of a guest house and were able to use their dining room in which to eat so that was good. They all seem to have a large open dining area for eating. Their toilet facilities we adequate although only supposed to be used for guests, so the porters always erected two toilet tents and dug a hole. It worked quite well. At some of the Guest houses along the way were able to pay about 250 rupees for a hot shower which was very nice. Otherwise we got a bowl each of hot water delivered to our tent each morning with which to wash. It works. As Kamal said, once you get up high, the perspiration doesn’t seem to have an odour. Just as well I say!!!
All along the way we passed through villages which was nice. Not like Kilimanjaro where you are just out in the middle of nowhere. It made it more interesting. Namche Bazaar is a nice village and the biggest one along the route. We spent a couple of nights there and there were some good shops at which to buy a few things. Hiking clothes such as parkas, pants, shirts etc etc are so cheap it is ridiculous and we enjoyed getting some bargains. Namche is in a valley surrounded by very steep hills, so wherever you go you are walking up or down steep steps. While there we took a hike up a “mountain” to Everest Hotel. It was an unbelievably steep hike and I think I was the last one or close to it, to get to the top. Anyway, I made it. The Sherpa told me that my problem was that when I stopped for a rest, I would then take off too fast. He said to just go very slowly the whole time and to rest less. I took his advice then and for all the steep hills and it worked much better. When we got to the top of this particular “mountain”, there was a lovely hotel with an outdoor terrace area for drinks etc. It was a perfect day and we could see all the mountains including Everest, so we enjoyed sitting in the sun with a drink before returning to Namche.
The next day we walked a very difficult hike to Tyangboche Monastery. The monastery was at the top of this incredible “mountain”. Honestly, when we ran/walked down it during the marathon, it must have taken an hour to go down and all I could think of was that we actually hiked UP this and it just seemed never to end. Most of the trails are rocky, uneven, with steps of varying heights from low to quite high. There is very little actual flat, even walking surface. Anyway, we made it to the monastery and got there during their devotion time which was interesting. We were able to go inside and sit and watch/listen to them chanting. It is a very soothing sound.
From there we just kept on walking. No use boring you with the names of the places. They all sound alike anyway!!!
There was one place where we walked up a very steep, but not too long hill, and on the top were lots and lots of monuments to people who had died climbing Everest. It was quite interesting and very sad to read, in some cases, of Sherpas who had basically given their lives in order to help their charges.
Eventually we arrived at Gorakshep. There was a mountain to climb called Kala Pattar from which there is an amazing view of Everest and other mountains. It is quite high, about 5550 m and quite a hike. Good for acclimitising.
The next morning we went to Base Camp. There was just Charles, another young lady and the Sherpa and myself. The rest of the team weren’t coming up until the afternoon. However, because the other person and myself were doing the half marathon, we weren’t going to camp at Base Camp, so we did the 2 1/2 hour walk from Gorakshep to Base Camp, stayed there long enough to take some photos, and then walked 2 1/2 hours back to Gorakshep for lunch. Charles stayed at Base Camp, he spent 2 nights there before the start of the marathon. After lunch at Gorakshep, we walked another couple of hours further down to a place called Lobuche where we stayed overnight. The next morning we hiked a few more hours to Orsho were the half marathon commenced the next day.
The marathon and half marathon both started at 7 am and then finished at the same place at Namche Bazaar. Charles said it was really cold at Base Camp at the start. It was snowing. The distance from Gorakshep to Base Camp which took 2 1/2 hours to walk was along the edge of the glacier. You couldn’t tell you were walking on a glacier, but when you looked off to the side you could see the ice. It was just pretty much big rocks, shale and boulders the whole way and it would have been really difficult to run on this. I am amazed that somebody didn’t come to grief trying to run on it.
The run itself went well. Unfortunately Charles sprained his ankle pretty badly but kept on going. He did it at about the half way point on about the only piece of flat ground available!!!! He also took a wrong turn and went down a steep hill, so had to come back up again. That probably cost him 20 minutes of time. Not to worry. He came in 7th out of the International runners which was very good. They have separate prizes and placings for the Sherpas and the Internationals which is fair enough. The First International runner to come in was a female Polish young lady who used to be on the Polish Ski Team and competed in cross country at the Vancouver Olympics last year, but broke her arm so took up marathon running while she has a year off. She broke the International record and did it in 5 1/2 hours. Hard to compete with that!! Charles ended up finishing in about 7 hours which is pretty good for a 59 year old hacker!!
I finished the half in 3.58 and came 3rd which I was pretty chuffed about. There were 3 young Indians in their 20’s who joined the group in Orsho. The guy had just climbed Everest a week before. He was very tall and lanky, a pilot in the Indian Airforce. He had 2 young female friends with him. He came first, and one of the girls came second. There was another young American female who I knew was faster than me downhill, and probably uphill as well. She started off well ahead of me and when we came to the worst and very long hill, I saw her way ahead and figured she was probably about 20 minutes ahead, so I would settle for 4th place. However, about 10 minutes later I came around a bend and there she was. She had “hit the wall” and couldn’t keep any pace up at all. I felt sorry for her, as she deserved better. I came across her just as we got to the top of the biggest and longest hill, so I figured I still felt pretty good, so kept on going and ran whenever I could as there was a bit of good relatively even running surface available towards the end. I knew I was 3rd, and was so pleased that when I came over the finish line I started to cry. I couldn’t believe it, all the media were all over me. It was quite hilarious. When they discovered I was 62, they really carried on. Interviews etc, then I had to have photos taken pretending to drink Coke and Red Bull (they were sponsors). All the “heavies” came over, the Thai Ambassador to Nepal, the head of the biggest investment bank in Nepal etc and talked for about 20 minutes. I said to someone, “I feel like a celebrity” and she said, “you are a celebrity” which was rather amusing to say the least. Anyway, it was all very exciting. I can’t imagine anything quite like that happening to me again.
It was the first Half marathon, so my name will go down on the records as coming 3rd in the Inaugural Tenzing Hilary Half Marathon. It is the highest in the world, I am pretty excited about that.
Anyway, after that, it was a couple of days hike back to Lukla and then the plane ride back to Kathmandu. There was one guy who was doing the trek who was 82….can you believe it. He was doing really well too. He had actually done the worst of it and at one point we were in a fairly narrow part and two trains of yaks were passing each other. One lot went up higher above the other and above the trekkers, and one of the yaks lost its footing and fell on this 82 year old guy which pushed him onto a rock. Unfortunately he tore his hamstring and couldn’t continue. He was SO disappointed. Fortunately we were close to the next village, so Matt gave him a piggy back to the village and he stayed there for a few nights and then he walked back with help to where we were to start the half marathon and stayed there for 5 days until we all came back. From there they helicoptered him out and back to Lukla. We had 4 young, handsome doctors who were locals, do the entire trek with us and then when the marathon started, one stayed at Base Camp for the start, two more were stationed at various points along the way, and the last was at the finish. It was really great to have them with us and their medical help was used on a number of occasions.
There were about 35 of us in the trekking group. There were others who ran the marathon and the half, but they didn’t trek with us. Because it was a large group they divided the group into 2, so mostly we ate separately and camped at different places, but in the same villages. We had separate cooks, porters etc. It worked well. Our group was mostly Aussies and New Zealanders with a couple of Romanians, an American, a few Austrians etc. Right from the start it was obvious it was going to be fun. Several of the guys bought things – one bought a cow bell, one a yak’s skull complete with horns and very nicely adorned, and another a wooden mask, another a big furry hat. They decided that these things had to be worn at all times except to bed and that if anyone was caught out not wearing them they would get a point against them. If they accumulated 3 points, then that person had to wear everyone’s adornments for 1 hour. It was really funny and quite a talking point for the locals who couldn’t quite figure out why these people would want to walk around with these things around their necks!!! These guys even ran the marathon with these things on and suffered some bruising as a result. You will see photos of them. There is one photo of the guy who had to wear everything for an hour. Let me tell you, that wasn’t easy when he had to carry a back pack as well!!
We all had to carry our day back packs and the porters carried a duffel bag with all our stuff that we didn’t need during the day. It is amazing how quickly the weight adds up though with parka, wind cheater, medications, snacks you may need during the day.
When we got back to Lukla a lot of the younger trekkers decided they wanted to go to the Irish Pub to celebrate. There ended up being 30 or 40 of them in the street after dinner and the pub was closed. So someone yelled out and the owner popped his head out of the window above the street and asked what they wanted. They told him there were 40 of them who wanted him to open up so they could come in, and sure enough he was happy to oblige!!! I’m sure he had a very profitable night as they were there for many hours and had a great time.
Eventually we got back to Kathmandu and that night had a big celebration dinner at the hotel. Everyone, including sherpas, officials etc came along. It was really very nice. They had official speeches with chairs up on the platform and someone came up to me and told me that I had to go and sit on the platform, my name had just been announced. I told them not to be silly, I only came 3rd in the half. Next thing an official comes down and grabs me and takes me up onto the platform. So I’m sitting there along with the winner of the half marathon, and the guy who came 5th in the marathon (Matt), and also with Amelia Hilary, Edmund Hilary’s granddaughter. So they announce that the winner of the half marathon will make a speech, which is fine, then Matt, then they said that Lynne Low will make a speech. That was news to me. Anyway up I got and talked for a few minutes. Pretty boring I think but it really was very funny. Would you believe it, also, I got USD $200 prize money!!
We then had a couple of days in Kathmandu before coming home so we did a bit of sight seeing and shopping for the grand kids and then caught the flight home. Something that really made me laugh and still does, is that when we stopped in China in Guangzhou (not sure of spelling), we had to change planes. It is a really big airport, much bigger than Sydney International. So we walked off the plane, down the shute into the building, and there directing us where to go, an official with his ID around his neck, IN HIS PYJAMAS!!!!!! Talk about hilarious.
Anyway, that’s about it. It was fantastic, a real challenge. Much harder trek than the Machame Trail of Kilimanjaro, although the summit climb up Kili was more difficult. Not necessarily because of the steepness, but because we were going from 4600 m to 5900+ m in 7 hours. That is extremely difficult on the body. Neither Charles nor I suffered from any altitude problems this time which was fantastic. Some did, so we were lucky.
The porters and Sherpas were fantastic and the trekkers in our group were wonderful people. The food was amazing. I just don’t know how they cook up such food under the circumstances. It was usual to have at least 6 different dishes served for the evening meal. Always potatoes but always done in a novel and different way and delicious. Always rice or pasta, but lots of other things as well. The food had a slightly Indian flavour to it, but really delicious.