Celia and I have just returned from my 35th trip to Nepal (25th for Celia).
Last year, we were close to Everest Base Camp when the major earthquake struck Nepal. Fortunately we were out in the open, safe from avalanches and landslides that killed over 8,000 Nepalese people and visitors to Nepal.
Since 1986, we have worked with a Sherpa family led by Urgen Sherpa. Some of Urgen’s children now guide for us. This large Sherpa family lives in the town of Khumjung in the shadow of Mt Everest. Sir Edmund Hillary & Tensing Norgay used Sherpas from this town in their 1953 first ascent of Mt Everest. Hillary paid back this small village with the first Sherpa school called the Hillary School and the first hospital of its kind in the mountains, called the Hillary Hospital.
After the earthquake we were able to continue our trek because we tent camp instead of depending on tea houses; almost all of the tea houses in the Everest valley of Khumbu were closed down by damage from the earthquake. We continued to make our way back down the Khumbu Valley, turning down helicopter evacuation while all other climbers and trekkers accepted the ride out. When we arrived in Khumjung, we were saddened to see most homes in this little Sherpa village damaged or totally destroyed. The entire town was living under tarps. Some of the lucky villagers actually had tents to stay in. The monsoon was only weeks away. It was heartbreaking to see our Sherpa friends crying over their losses. We watched villagers just sifting through what used to be their house and when we would speak they would smile and greet us, but a hand on the shoulder brought out sobbing tears of hopelessness. We took inventory of our staff’s needs and headed home to see what we could do to help. Nepal was in chaos, more than usual. Supplies sent by well meaning countries were piled high at the Kathmandu International Airport with no way to get the supplies to the thousands of needy people in the mountains and valleys. Any money sent over got lost in the Nepal government. To date, one year after the earthquake, our families in Khumjung have each received the small sum of $150 in earthquake relief from the government.
By September of last year, we were able to put $39,000 into the hands of many needy Nepalese people in Khumjung and in other remote valleys and villages where our porters have come from. People came into IME and poured out their hearts. Some gave $1 and some a lot more. It all added up to some very happy people in Nepal. People who had been on trips with us came and give us money. People who knew us came and gave us money. People who we didn’t even know came and gave us money or sent checks. Every penny was sent over to Nepal and put into someone’s needy hand. We felt truly blessed to be a part of this great happening. It was such an awesome feeling to know that people, some who knew us and some who didn’t, trusted us to get the money directly into the hands of the Nepalese people instead of most of it getting stuck in a non-profit charity.
We were thrilled this year when we returned to Khumjung to find all of our Sherpa family living back in their homes under their own roofs again. There were many tearful reunions. Eyes of unbelief for what had been done for them by so many people back here. There are still people in the village living under tarps or in tents. Not having a direct connection made all of the difference. Most of our friend’s homes had all of the exterior work completed. Some interior work was being worked on while we were there, but their homes were stable and quite livable. Many thanks to all who made this possible. I had a list of all of the names of people who had given money to help out. A lot of donors wanted to stay anonymous. Our Sherpa friends could not believe what had happened to them.
This spring it was a joy to see how many climbers and trekkers had returned to Nepal. As the Nepalese said, “the best thing you can do to help us now is to come to Nepal and put us to work by spending your money!”.
Now that Nepal is starting to get back in business we would like to review the three basic ways that people trek in Nepal.
- We will start with our style which is full on expedition style, designed after the English. Guides are from the country of the trekkers or climbers (Celia & myself from the US). We hire cooks, porters and Sherpa guides from the country we are in. We use tents to camp, so we are totally independent of tea houses. This is the only way to travel in remote areas of Nepal like Mera Peak where we will be this fall 2016. However, in busy areas such as the Khumbu Valley and the Annapurna Region great improvements have been made in tea houses. This has been happening over the last 30 years. We used to say there is no extra charge for the lice, bed bugs, and intestinal discomfort from the food! Today it is reasonable to visit the tea houses in the busy valleys, if you are careful, and not get sick or leave with lice. Our way of tent camping while we trek is the more expensive way to travel since more local people are employed but it is the cleanest, most comfortable, and safest way to travel.
- Many companies now offer tea house treks with only Sherpa guides, with no guides from the home country of the trekkers. These are a reasonable alternative to camping but you lack the “home town” guide. Also, watch the itinerary being offered since many are offering fast treks, not taking time for rest days and acclimatization. Our observation of these fast treks is that many of the clients get sick; either from exhaustion, altitude, or poor food. When we were in Gorak Shep this past spring, the last little village before Everest Base Camp, we saw many people sick and/or exhausted. We move from Loboche to Gorak Shep in one day. Then we spend two nights in Gorak Shep, taking one day to travel to Everest Base Camp, the other to climb Kalipatar, and then leave the next day to hike back down to Pheriche. These fast treks are hiking from Loboche to Gorak Shep, having lunch, hiking into Everest Base Camp, then back to Loboche for dinner, and an overnight in the tea house. The next morning they are up early, climb Kalipatar, come back to the tea house for breakfast, and then hike down to Pheriche. This is not a good idea. We saw so many people just absolutely wiped out. We met a group of 14 trekkers, all exhausted and sick…every one of them was helicopter evacuated blaming altitude sickness. We saw many people from other groups being evacuated as well, just absolutely too tired to move. Sadly, some trekkers just wanted to get into the Nepal mountains, get back to Kathmandu, and get on the plane home. We were told by our Sherpas that if a local guide calls in the rescue helicopter then that guide will receive a healthy financial bonus. Same for the tea houses. So it seems that there may be quite the scam going on in Nepal. We spend 23 days on our Everest Base Camp Treks with up to seven rest days. We go up slowly so that everyone has the chance to acclimatize. If anyone is having a hard time, we call a rest day to give them the chance to catch up. Most of our customers do not use Diamox to help them acclimatize, since moving up slowly does the trick most of the time. We like to see our people enjoy the experience as much as possible. After you have traveled half way around the world why not enjoy where you are, go slow enough to look around, meet some of the local people, and relax? Helicopters are great and save lives but prevention of altitude sickness is better than a helicopter rescue. Since these rescues appear to involve kickbacks to the guides and tea houses, we would remind people once again to beware of fast treks. A trip to Nepal for less than a month is a fast trip.
- This trekking technique is the no guide tea house trek. This is for adventurous people on a tight budget; although you might be surprised at how little you actually save. Staying healthy and knowing where you are going can make these trips lots of fun for experienced trekkers.
Celia & I are available here at International Mountain Equipment & International Trekking & Climbing to consult with you about your Nepal adventure along with many other areas in Africa, Europe, South America, and Alaska. We will help you find the trip that fits you best and, of course, we hope you will consider joining us for one of our great adventures.
Our Mera Peak Fall 2016 still has two openings if anyone is interested. Spring of 2017 we are returning to Everest Base Camp with a visit to the Gokyo Valley for acclimatization. Please feel free to call either of us if you are interested in one of our trips or if you have questions about another trip you have in mind. We would be glad to discuss any of these things with you. Rick has over 44 years of experience climbing and guiding around the world. Celia has 20 years of experience helping people enjoy trekking and climbing at altitude. Our attitude is “if you are going to altitude, why not enjoy it?”
Celia is trying to raise $5k to help additional families in Khumjung. If you would like to contribute, you can make a check out to Help Rebuild Khumjung and send to:
Help Rebuild Khumjung
PO Box 494
North Conway, NH 03860
Every dollar donated goes into hands of the Nepalese people.