Nepal 1998 - Khumbu Trekking & Island Peak

Sunset on Ama Dablam (Photoshop watercolor filter) - 640x480 JPEG, 21K Sunset on Lhotse andEverest (Photoshop ink outlines filter) - 640x392 JPEG, 75K
This third trip to Nepal in late autumn of 1998 was a bit different from the previous two trips. For one thing, it involved flying in to Lukla at around 9000 ft. and pretty much gaining elevation from there. The photographs on these pages are representative; you see little of the greens or lush vegetation common on at least portions of other treks. For a second thing, this trip involved some climbing as well as trekking. Specifically, we climbed Island Peak (aka Imja Tse), a 20K+ summit near Everest and Lhotse.

I may add a map to these pages at some point, but briefly, we flew into Lukla, a high airstrip in the Khumbu region. From there we ascended to Gokyo, got hit with a snowstorm, and headed back down the river valley to make our way over to Island Peak. After ascending Island Peak, we headed up a different valley to Labouche and Kala Pattar for close-up views of Everest and the Khumbu Glacier before heading back fown to Namche Bazar and Lukla by way of Tengboche and Namche Bazaar.

This trip was probably the most challenging of my excusrsions to Nepal. We encountered a somewhat unusual November snowstorm. The weather eventually cleared but the storm effectively blocked a couple of high passes we had intended to take and, therefore, also curtailed a warmup climb of Pokalde, a rocky spur to the south of Nuptse. Island Peak at about 20,305 ft. was also about 2,500 ft. higher than the north base camp of Kanchenjunga - and every thousand feet makes it harder and harder to breath. I was fairly fortunate in the stomach annd bronchial illness areas - I only got a bit of a high-altitude cough after climbing Island Peak - but many others in the group weren't. It was suggested that my normally less healthy lifestyles may have hardened me for the experiences!

I took this trip through Wilderness Travel out of Berkeley, California. For detailed information about the region whether you're planning on doing it with a group or on your own, the single best source of information is probably Trekking in the Everest Region by Jamie McGuiness. There's a new 1998 edition.

The old way (and still the penny-pinching way to start this trek is to take a bus to Jiri, a few days trek and about 3,000 ft. down the trail from Lukla. As a practical matter, however, these days most trekkers fly directly into Lukla at 9,350 ft. While the weather can still be problematic, there are now three or four different airlines which fly their Twin Otters (or more likely copies of same) into the airstrip so you're much less likely to be stranded for days at a time than in the past.

The flight and landing remain an adventure, however, as the plane winds its way at winglength from mountainsides before making a landing on what seems to be an impossibly short runway. The runway is actually somewhat slanted to allow planes to land uphill. Presumably this cuts the landing distance, a useful benefit when a stone wall looms at the end of the abbreviated rough strip.

A couple days trekking above Lukla within the Sagamartha National Park boundaries sits the bustling town on Namche which spreads itself across the sides and bowl of a natural amphitheater. Pretty much everything and everyone coming into the Khumbu region of Nepal, including all the trekkers and climbers heading towards Everest and surrounding peaks, pass through Namche. If they're smart, they'll spend at least a couple of days acclimatizing here before proceeding on; the disadvantage of flying into Lukla is that you start high and it's physically relatively easy to climb higher and faster than your body can adapt to.

Many lodges are almost luxurious by Nepalese standards and stores are available to sell just about any sort of food or mountaineering gear for a price. Some gear is leftover from expeditions and some crafts such as carpets and knitwear is locally made though much of the rest of the stock souvenir collections probably came up from Kathmandu (with "freight" surcharges added). The bakeries, coffeeshops, and bars of Namche appear a bit quaint on the way up but on returning they seemingly have been transformed into slightly magical places serving almost forgotten goods.

Every Saturday, a teeming bazaar takes place which serves as a major distribution point for goods both from the Kathmandu Valley and from Tibetan traders.

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