Saturday, November 18, 2017

Everest Base Camp trek 2017 ~ an epic adventure

The whole group at Gorak Shep. [Photo: SgTrekker]

EBC 18 November - 2 December 2017

"   ....The only noise audible was my own heavy panting as my lungs laboured to suck in as much oxygen in the rarefied air at 5190m.  My footsteps were tiny shuffles, weighed down by my pair of trekking boots which, merely a couple of days ago felt as light as feathers, but now behaved like tonnes of Himalayan rocks bound to my feet.    
My eyes never lifted off from the ground as rocks after rocks appeared in haphazard fashion, threatening to trip my trailing foot should I be just so careless to lift it a little less high.  A few steps.  And another long pause to catch my breath.  Peering in front, the ridge led straight to Everest Base Camp.  We were not far, but time is running out for us...  "

[In this Travellogue, I have tried my best to credit all the photos to their respective photographers, and I tried my best to recall verbatim what member said during the whole trip.  Most events are as I could remember them.  Those who have expressed their wish not to have their photos shared online I have post-processed the photographs so that their faces are pixelated to protect their privacy.]

A short prologue
Some holidays were but just mere holidays.  Some were downright forgettable.  Others were literally life-changing, where one was left to draw on the last reserve one had in the attempt to complete even the seemingly simplest of tasks.  Seeing how one's teammates grit their teeth to go on, and how each adapted in his or her own ways, in the face of potentially debilitating illnesses, and how they fought back against the odds of what Nature dished out to them to finally accomplish their objectives; importantly, seeing how our children learned and practised the true meaning of the word 'GRIT'  and how they were mentally prepared to go all out for the ultimate target of the journey, made trips like these so much more meaningful.
It had been three weeks since our return.  And even until now, I still could not distinguish what appeared to be real (but in actual fact was all artifically man-made) back here in metropolitan Singapore and what was the real reality back up in the mountains where everything was exactly how Nature had been for millions of years - it was just you, your clothing, your will against everything else the elements hurled upon you.  Every day as I drove and as I worked, flashes of memories of scenes from up in the mountain came - seeing my teammates struggling to walk, labouriously gasping for air, and remembering their expressions of relief by the end of the day.
An indescribably sense of malaise had been robed over me these three weeks.  Nothing had changed back home.  But everything else inside my heart, inside my mind seemed to have been permanently altered. The drudgery (in Adrian's own word) of life became a numbing automatic conveyor belt of events.  I have, I think, unknowingly become Himalayanised.

The 2015 Kathmandu earthquake and another one with its epicentre very near to Namche Bazaar derailed our original plan for a trek to Everest Base Camp in November that year.  Time flew, and when 2017 came, we knew the time was ripe again for the attempt.

Training for EBC 
Our Ironman friend Rudin Leong warned us: "Hey, for EBC you all MUST train one ok!" 
Deligence marked the characteristic of training for many of the team members.  Kai Sing has been conditioning his core and lower limbs for years just for this trip. Alex and Lai Peng have been doing their weekly runs.  Kc Tng even ran 10km after 10km while on business trips overseas.  The children were naturally the least of our worries as cross country runs, Tae Kwondo training and rock climbing dotted their weekly schedules.  I was off seasoned from all my races for the year, but I found stair climbing with loaded backpacks a great conditioning exercise.  Serene, the veteran Nepali trekker, was the most relaxed of us all, doing her usual 10km runs on a 'only-when-the-stars-are-aligned' basis.

"Alex, Lai Peng, don't worry.  Trekking in Nepal is like walking with a zone 2 heart rate all the way one. It's not siong. Very easy one," I remembered two years ago I tried convincing these two good people to embark on this trek of their lifetime.  Heart rate zone 2 all the way was probably correct.  But everything else I said was wrong.

Trekking to EBC is a serious undertaking, the long duration of the route daily, the gradient of the climbs, and the harsh and freezing environment with rarefied oxygen levels meant that it will never be a stroll in the park. That is why Lonely Planet describes this trek as a moderate to difficult trek.  Running alone is not enough.  Conditioning and strengthening of the gluteus, quadriceps and calves muscles that are crucial to climbing is important.  And at more than 5000m altitude, one's cardiopulmonary system has to work doubly hard to compensate.  So it is critical to build one's aerobic capacity.

What’s this thing about Everest Base Camp?

The old EBC was where the mountaineers of old used to set up camp to await their window period of ascent, and thus was of historical significance.  And as the Khumbu Glacier retracted over the decades, the new Base Camp is now a little further away, closer to the infamous Khumbu icefall.  We were told that in the past,  the Khumbu glacier surface was levelled with the side of the path, but as it melted it sank lower and now in order to reach the base camp one has to climb down a cliff of rocks.  At 5350m, this ancient piece of ice saw the footprints of many a great mountaineers.

About 80 million years ago, the Indian tectonic plate broke off from the central land mass called Gondwanaland and sped northwards until it hit the Asian plate around 50 million years ago. This impact lifted the Himalayan ranges, which used to be deep beneath the sea, right out of the water and jutted as the highest peaks in the world, the highest being Chomolangma (in Tibetan, also known as Sagarmatha in Nepali).   Despite the famous peak being named in history by the natives, the Welsh geographical surveyor George Everest was the fortunate one who (apparently with reluctance from his own self) had his name tagged to the highest peak in the world.  Until today Everest and her surrounding peaks are still subjects of many researches.  Presence of ammonite fossils found up in the Himalaya attested to the fact that this whole region used to be submerged in water.  The monsoon that brought rain and erosion from the east side of Everest wore off its height year by year, but the continual movement of the Indian plate beneath the Asian plate kept pushing the peaks higher, thus annually Everest still grew at a net gain of a quarter of an inch.  The constant pursuit of the unknown was the impetus that propelled the British expedition, and the New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary became the first person to summit Everest together with his sherpa Tenzing Norgay on the 29th May 1953.  

We have always wanted to trek to EBC.  Summitting Mount Everest is a totally different thing altogether.  But trekking to EBC is something within the reach of mortal beings like ourselves.  After several smaller, shorter Nepal and Sabah treks, many of us in the group were ready.  And so we thought.

Packing for the trip

Many websites would expound the importance of packing light and with just the essentials for a 15 day trip like this.  There was one Ang Moh woman who did the whole trek with a 50litres backpack weighing only 10kg.  Scrutinizing their packing lists, we found that they really brought only the bare essentials.  Apparently nowadays, the aviation authority in Kathmandu has reduced the individual's weight allowance for the STOL flight to Lukla to 15kg per person. Every kg of extra will cost about S$2.  Not a huge sum, but it would be wise to keep as close to the stipulated weight allowance.
"Don't pack too many unneccessary clothing," I instructed Serene
"But we must still bring bakkwa leh," said Darric.
"I also need to bring my drone mah," complained Kong Wan.
"Wah lau, packing also get stressed out! I rather pay for the excess," joked Alex.
“Should I bring an extra pair of trainer shoes?” wondered Cheng Cheng.
“Or can I bring a hard case roller luggage instead of a backpack, because I am worried for my back?” considered Mimi.
“Must buy a trekking shoes one ah?” asked Tan JK. Adrian replied: “Yeah, better. Can get a cheap one from Decathlon. Quite decently priced.”

And the discussion went on for weeks.  In retrospect, after the whole trek, I personally will bring my stuff according to this packing list. There is really no need to sweat over the packing.  Because up there above 4000m, it would be just simply too cold for one to even want to shower, not to mention change.  Thus whatever goes out in the day comes right back into the sleeping bag at night.
For those who are not keen to buy a minus 10 degrees sleeping bag (costing about $149 at Decahtlon, weighing at about 1.25kg), one can just borrow a used one that is just as good from the local tour operators.  Same goes for the down count 900 down jacket.  This can be borrowed from the operator themselves and throwing the thoughts about cleanliness aside, this would be more than sufficient for the whole trip, with the middle fleece layer and middle down layer thrown in on top of the base layers.

EBC Trek Day 1 

Click on the photo above to see who sent us off at 3:45am at home.
"The beginning of an adventure... and plenty of adventures with Professor Murphy to start off with."
Wow! Roydon was there at 4am to send us off at the airport!

One couldn't be blamed to harbour a dreaded sense of consternation when planned to fly on the infamous Malaysia Airlines.  Granted the price at S$450 a person for a transited flight to Kathmandu was a real great deal, we managed to suppress our anxiety just below the water level upon our tour leader's repeated reassurance.   Everything went on smoothly, too smoothly for comfort, knowing well the notoriety of SgTrekker's trekking trips.  We enjoyed our breakfast with little suspicion of what was to come.

The Kaans and the Ng's were all ready to go!

Spirits were high and the team members looked and felt ready for the back-breaking trek.

Group photo: sans Mimi, Zaid, Cheng Cheng, Leong, Jason and Matthew.

Ah Leong and Kai Sing were so happy to have that extra leg room.

KC Tng, Patrick Papin and Darric looking forward to some mountain action.

Professor Murphy did strike not long after we took off from SIN to land at KLIA for the transit. For no reason, Ka Lin and five of us from our family got bumped off the next flight MH 170 to Malindo Air OD184, scheduled to arrive one hour later at Kathmandu.  No amount of table banging would help as the equally confused transit counter staff guided us unsuccessfully to the first originally promised lounge that rejected us, and we ended up in another CIP lounge for some measly breakfast while the rest of the group took off.   Ka Lin was a great help.  Her fluent Bahasa lubricated the whole process for us, and four and a half hours later we set foot on the grounds of Kathmandu Tribhuvan Airport, only to find a Telegram message from Lai Peng on my handphone waiting for me:
 "We have 2 bags missing n cannot find yours. Our luggage confirmed MIA. Raymond's luggage also missing.  Stressful.  Adrian has already brought the rest to the hotel.  Now it's Alex, me and Raymond in the airport waiting outside for you all. Officially 10 pieces of luggage missing!"
I Telegrammed back while still stuck in the queue applying for our visa on arrival: "Aaaaw man, this is really an adventure!"
Alex: "My adventure also started. 2 out of 3 missing. 😢"
After a while, we decided that the easiest method of communication was with the walkie talkie.  So we turned on our walkie talkies and Alex, myself, Kai Sing we started all radio-ing each other inside and outside of the immigration area, like officials working in the airport.  Well, at least the walkie talkies came into good use right from the beginning.

The first group was on the way to the hotel while Alex, Lai Peng, Raymond waited in the airport for their missing luggage.
[Photo: Darric]
The VIDEO: Arriving at Kathmandu

Adventure in Thamel
Most everyone visitor to Kathmandu will find himself/herself spending plenty of time in this 'Orchard Road belt' of Kathmandu, where shops abounds- from butcher shops, vegetable stalls to bookshops, coldwear/hiking shops, restaurants to even modern supermarkets with POS systems.  I never failed to be amazed by the buzzle of Thamel.
It was always a good idea to leave a few items to be acquired in Thamel, as the obligatory roam of the streets would take us from shop to shop. For our family, as well as Tan JK, Raymond, Ka Lin and Alex. Lai Peng, who have all lost our luggage, this shopping trip was of even more importance as we were mentally prepared to wear what we had and a little more additional that we were buying for the next 15 days.

The VIDEO: Buying up a storm in Thamel!

I had always loved the sights and sounds of Thamel.  The earthquake of 2015 probably hadn’t changed Thamel much,  but from what Adrian and Cheng Cheng said later, the devastation of the earthquake was still apparent at Drubar square.  Things might have become slightly more expensive after the earthquake of 2015 but bargainability remained unchanged, especially when in the company of the likes of Darric, KC Tng, Adrian, Alex and gang.  

Winter wear and hiking equipment 

Admittedly I had one of the most enjoyable evenings in Thamel with KK and Leong haggling with the stall owner Binot over their pants, Zaid and Mimi trying to bargain with him to bring their buffs down to 100NPR, and Darric, Kc Tng and Kong Wan threatening to walk out when their friendly ‘demands’ were not reciprocated... and Alex and Lai Peng found a cheaper store further down the road.  Poor Tan JK was left with only his jeans and some T-shirt and Adrian’s paternal instinct kicked in in grabbing a 2200 NPR set of ‘North Face’ base layers and a 1650 NPR North Face fleeced trekking pants, both of which I also acquired.
Kai Sing had the foresight of getting everything in Singapore, thus Ka Lin was partially spared the trauma of last minute acquisition.  Ah Sing and Ah Li were also fortunate as they both cleverly carried a full set of middle and outer layers including base layers in their hand carried luggage.  Thus, Serene, Fann and I were the only ones left without most of our middle and outer layers.  
“Look,” I told the family. “We will buy what we can buy here with the expectation that we will not receive our luggage up in the mountains.  We should be able to last three days until Namche with what we have right now.  If we are so unlucky to totally lose all our luggage up there, then we will buy some more clothes in Namche Bazaar.  Meanwhile, three of let’s just make do with the down jacket rented from Mountain Delights.”

While everyone else was clearing the stall keeper Binot’s stock of 600 NPR (S$7.80,  some I heard managed to bargain down to 500 NPR) trekking sticks, we made a decision to stick it out without the sticks for the first two days of trekking first.

NCell SIM Cards 

Nepal is definitely not amongst the most advanced countries when it came to mobile communication.  But the telcom NCell did provide relatively reasonable reception for Kathmandu up to just before Dingboche along the trek.  There was totally no signal from Singboche upwards, through Lobuche up to Gorak Shep.  The NCell SIM cards were available everywhere in Thamel, one just needed one’s passport.  Prices did vary a little from vendor to vendor.  At 1300 NPR (S$16.90) for a 5Gb data SIM card or 900 NPR (S$12.10) for a 2.5Gb data SIM card for a 30 days period, I felt it would be good enough for most of us.  Apparently at EBC some of the guys even had signals on their NCell cards.  Some of the teammates ended up buying a 600 NPR 200Mb Everest trek link, a paid WiFi Service amongst the guest houses at Dingboche and further onwards just to have some form of link with civilization.  Enough for Darric, Patrick, Kong Wan (represented by Ryan) and I to put in our predictions for the EPL for the weekend!


The kindness of the teammates touched our family when Mimi, Cheng Cheng, Khim and KC started offering disposable underwear and heat packs to the girls and myself.  Losing our luggage wasn’t exactly the best way to start the trek. But knowing that we had such caring group mates, among all the others who offered their help, was comforting.

I did not recall us ever leaving the Kathmandu hotel so early at 4:30am to make our way to the domestic airport. In restrospect I now knew why. The early start ensured us a pole position in the push towards Lukla. Summit Air operated the 19 seater propeller plane that took us all in two flights up. The weather was with us that morning.  And although Ah Sing was separated from our family by being pushed to the second flight, the smooth landing gave all of us the much needed relief, both heart-wise and bladders-wise.  The apprehension I had on my first round six years ago ok this Lukla-bound flight evaporated with the sight of the pretty air stewardess. I was quite sure that apart from Ah Li, everyone else was quite calm.

The day just broke as we walked, bladders decompressed, out of Tenzing Norgay airport and surprisingly breathlessly up the path towards the Main Street of Lukla. At 2800m, there should be generally not much effect.  Somehow the slightly thinner Air did had an impact. Namaste Lodge found the whole group seated, dole-eyed round her dining hall, with Adrian giving a final briefing before setting off.
Things hadn’t changed much over the past 6 years. Lukla still remained unchanged. Except that the fake Starbucks was no longer in existence, being replaced by another Cafe.

The VIDEO: Flying to Lukla!

The VIDEO: Finally trekking! From Lukla to Phakding.

The VIDEO: Climb and climb and climb and finally climbed to Namche Bazaar

The VIDEO: Acclimatisation Day in Namche - a really Happy Day!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Bangkok- Roam freely & appreciate the Terrain

Just roam.

“Let’s go Bangkok to 拜拜.” I told Serene. “And while we are there we will try to do some running, and go for your favourite Ai Sa Waan massage beside the hotel. And we will eat your Deep Fried Snapper.”

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

DNF in IM Guyre ~ Kwenchana-yo! Happy to just be in Korea.

IM Gurye, Korea 2017 ~ the story of many firsts.

When I first started putting pen to paper, I wasn't sure if I would be writing a story of a successful virgin attempt on my Full distance Ironman, or if it would be a sob story of my failure.  It turned out to be neither. For despite my DNF on the run leg, I must admit I have never enjoyed a race so much.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Cobra Ironman 70.3 Cebu Phillipines 2017

​One of the toughest yet most enjoyable 70.3

Time and time again, I overcome my indolence to face head-on yet another 70.3. I quite enjoy the stubbornness of the human mind in the way it is willing to subject itself to many weeks of suffering, and a few hours of sheer grit for a measly piece of metal, and a priceless memory of running over the finishing line.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Busselton Ironman 70.3 - 2017

... Of Tong Geng, of giddy spells, and of Sharks.
~ The story of Busselton Ironman 70.3 [4th - 10th May 2017]

The Busseltonians post-race
Pushing boundaries and breaking limits are characteristics defining human nature. And that explains why a bunch of otherwise perfectly normal (and sane) middle-aged Singaporeans set foot on the shores of Busselton beach to prove to themselves that they are still deserving of the title of a Half-Ironman.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

서울 again.

Can one EVER get tired of Seoul?  No.

Don't say we are crazy. Because I've a feeling we are. Merely three weeks after our last Seoul trip, a pair of irresistibly-priced bargain tickets by Singapore Airlines at $570 a pop propelled us towards this lovely city... again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Romantic Seoul Winter Sonata

A real Seoul Winter Sonata - enjoying the Aircon.

Sometimes life is full of the unexpected.  I didn't expect to travel to Bangkok so last minute, I didn't expect to travel once again to Bangkok for CNY.  And definitely the booking of the plane tickets to Seoul two weeks after our CNY Bangkok trip came as a surprise to myself.