20-Mar-2009 -- Over the course of an extended visit, we discover, even in that country ’s low elevation Terai region, there is no low hanging fruit in Nepal.
This was supposed to be Nepal’s third successful DCP visit. After researching as best I could from the other side of the world (well, at least from a 12 hour time difference away…), 27N 85E looked to be located in a small agricultural field, only 81 meters above sea level, and easily reachable from the nearest road. I made reservations to make the short flight, after we arrived in country, from Kathmandu to the airport at Simara. I also was able to arrange for a car and Nepali speaking driver to take us south about ten miles on H02, and then east six miles avoiding Birgunj, a city of over 110,000 located two kilometers from the border with India. The cp is located about two miles south of the town of Kalaiya. Although not highly touted as a great tourist destination, Birgunj has great economic importance, as a large amount of goods cross into Nepal here, using the Tribhuvan Highway to reach the capital, 90km to the north.
However, as we were driving from our home to the Nashville, Tennessee, airport to begin our three week journey, we received a call from our travel contacts in Kathmandu, with breaking news of civil unrest near 27N 85E. Seeking more input in fashioning Nepal’s new constitution, local protesters were blocking the highway at Birgunj to interrupt the flow of food and petrol to the politically dominant Kathmandu Valley. But maybe conditions would improve during our 18 hour flight from Tennessee to California to Hong Kong to Kathmandu… They did not. Because of the unstable conditions, even though we would only be on the edge of the protests, the recommendation was to postpone our confluence hunting until the end of our trip. This seemed like a wise decision. We spent several days seeing the famous sights in the Valley: Pashupatinath, Patan, Bodhnath, Swayambhunath, Bhaktapur… Then someone suggested we could kill some time while waiting by heading off to the Solu Khumbu region for a trek in the Himalaya…
So it was we found ourselves landing at Lukla (sometimes referred to as “the world’s most dangerous airport”), elevation 2800 meters, and immediately saying goodbye to wheeled transportation. From there travel would be all on foot, with gear/supply assistance from porters or dzopkyos (the yak-cow crossbreed). With loads equaling up to 90% of their body weight, the porters are truly the backbone of the local economy. I was constantly amazed to see their steady progress bearing sheets of plywood or heavy fuel canisters. Other notable cargo I witnessed included high stacks of plastic chairs, a trekker’s guitar, and a small Japanese boy riding atop a modified porter basket.
To acclimatize to the ever thinning air, we limited our daily ascent to between 300 and 500 meters. To further aid the process, at Namche Bazaar we day-hiked to a higher elevation (with tea at the Everest View Hotel) before returning to sleep at Namche for a second night (3420 meters). At Dingboche we threw in a similar acclimatizing day, which gave us a chance to pull out the so far unused GPS, and explore the Imja Valley. Although it was just off my available maps, the closest cp was 28N 87E. I had a new target!
This hike reinforced why I would never be successful with the concept of a “bucket list” (that is, a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket”): I’d be adding new items faster than I could scratch off the old ones. Today’s addition would be Island Peak, which when first viewed from Dingboche, appears as an island in a sea of ice. At 6189 meters, this mountain, now more properly called Imja Tse, is right on the dividing line between the trekking peaks (just keep walking and you’ll reach the top) and the climbing peaks (more technical skills required). Imja Tse was first climbed in 1953 by a British team as a training exercise in preparation for Mount Everest (Tenzing Norgay was a member of this first ascent team). Given its “not too difficult” rating (alpine PD+), Imja Tse is one of the most popular trekking peaks, especially when supported by a Nepalese climbing guide. Walking steadily uphill on a path that would eventually reach the Island Peak base camp, the possibility of a future climb dominated our conversation. Was it too early to start thinking about another trip to Nepal?
Throughout the morning, views of the peak came and went among the swirling clouds. With its summit towering above us, we were struck by the irony that while if in Africa, Island Peak would be that continent’s highest mountain, here in the Himalaya, Imja Tse was dwarfed by its many taller neighbors. The prevailing spring weather pattern we’d encountered so far continued on this day: crystal clear skies at sunrise, followed by a build-up of clouds in the afternoon, and without fail a snow shower overnight. My camera was starting to act up. Perhaps its batteries were tired of the cold temperatures. As the wind increased and visibility of the surrounding peaks disappeared, we decided the Island Peak base camp, or even topping 5,000 meters, would have to wait for another day. Exactly ten miles from 28N 87E, we stopped for a water break, and then headed back to our camp at Dingboche.
So this attempt at a confluence in China, conducted entirely in Nepal, goes in the books as an incomplete visit. But, hey, if you’re going to fail, do it in a spectacular manner, and this was certainly turning into a spectacular adventure. Perhaps when I returned to Kathmandu, an improved political situation in the Terai would allow me to finally make a stab at 27N 85E…