What a cool peak! Wetterhorn was a blast. This might be my #2 favorite fourteener now because it was so much fun! My favorite part was definitely the infamous final pitch and would do it again in a heartbeat.
This was an all nighter adventure for most of us and we were all feeling it by the end. That Friday evening, I drove from Salt Lake, my climbing partners drove from Denver, and we met up in Lake City and headed immediately to the trailhead aiming to summit by sunrise. We parked at the 2WD trailhead before all loading in my friend’s 4Runner to climb the super sketch 4WD road to the upper trailhead. (High clearance vehicle DEFINITELY needed) We started hiking by about 3am and while we were taking our time, we were still making great time as the first 2 miles breezed by in less than an hour. The trail was very well marked and easy to follow in the dark.
Navigating the boulder field on the way up to the saddle was a bit trickier to follow in the dark, but easy in the daylight. The trail is still fairly visible and easy to see in light as we came down, but we did get off track a tiny bit on the ascent in the dark as it was harder to see. Once on the ridge, the trail heads up a steep sandy section before entering the class 3 section. Navigating the class 3 section felt a little like a choose your own adventure. There were a small handful of cairns sparsley laid out, but getting up to the flat spot really was up to you as long as you stayed infront of the rock rib. Some of us tried to climb the rock rib thinking we were already at the notch… Not Reccomended. Ended up in some class 4 territory for a second and had to backtrack.
After navigating the ridge for some time and watching the sun begin to rise behind Uncompahgre, we made it to the flat spot just before the notch. This signifies you are like 10 minutes from the summit and you can see it right infront of you. After climbing the notch, and butt-scooting down the slab, you come to the base of the final pitch which has super solid holds and feels like your climbing a natural ladder. This was definitely the coolest part of the route. Comparitively, I would say this was steeper than the homestretch on Longs Peak, but easier and shorter as the homestretch gets SUPER slippery and feels way more exposed. As steep as this pitch on Wetterhorn is, it feels a bit enclosed as you climb and you don’t feel as exposed as it looks.
We came up on the summit at 7am, just in time to see the sun finally come up over Uncompahgre. The morning views were spectactular and we even found out later, a nearby climber on Matterhorn snapped a photo of us on the summit!
Heading down that final pitch wasn’t as nerve wracking as one would think. It is so fast and you’re done before you know it. Navigating the remainder of the class 3 section was much easier to follow on the downhill as we could see the route below us. After that, the trail was once again easy to follow back to the car.
Overall, I freaking loved this peak. It was such a fun climb! Highly reccomend for those new to class 3 peaks, I thought this was a fairly mild class 3 and would be a great first one for those working on their fourteener climbs and working into more technical climbs. 4WD and high clearance definitely needed to get to the upper trailhead (we were nearly sideways at one point). If you must start at the lower trailhead, it will add a little bit of extra mileage.
Climbing the highest peak in California and in the contiguous US was quite the adventure! Not only did we climb Mount Whitney, but we traveled through Death Valley National Park and Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the US) to get there which made for a pretty cool way to mark this off the list. Almost 14,800′ of gain in less than 24 hours. This trip is one I most definitely reccomend, but there are some things you should know before you climb.
Whether you aim to climb Mount Whitney in a single day, or backpack in and camp, Whitney is a permitted climb no matter which route you take. They have a lottery system in place for permits at Recreation.gov that opens Febuary 1. According to the Inyo National Forest site, only 34% of applicants were awarded their requested dates in 2019. Each year more and more people apply, lowering the chances of success. Once permits have been awarded March 24, remaining applicants do get first dibs at whatever dates are leftover on April 1. Web sales open May 1 and people have been lucky to occasionally find something that is left, but they typically go incredibly fast.
BEST TIME TO CLIMB:
Mount Whitney is located in southern California. Depending on whether it is a La Nina vs El Nino winter can actually help determine how much potential snow Whitney can hold in a given year. I summited June 10th which typically would warrant early season conditions with plenty of snow, but with a record dry year, and high heat, our route was virtually snow free. Heavy El Nino years can mean there is snow at Trail Camp and up the cirque of the 99 switchbacks well into August. When you apply in Febuary, take a look at snow water reports for California, as well as future forecasts for the remainder of spring to give you a guestimate of what the summer may look like as you plan your climb. Typically the later in the summer you go, the better your chances are at a snow free route. However, the later into summer you go you also risk monsoon season and will be racing weather on your climb. Always check weather and conditions before you go. Bring microspikes (and possibly an ice axe) if there is still snow, and always watch the clouds as you do not want to be on the high mountain in a thunderstorm.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS!
Coming from Utah we had a few different options for driving to Whitney Portal. The fastest reccommended route went through central Nevada where there is essentially nothing. However for just about an extra hour of detour, by taking I-15 south to Vegas, we could drive through Death Valley on our way and hit up Badwater Basin, which is what we decided to do!
Initially, I personally had ZERO desire to ever visit Death Valley. It’s notoriously hot, and I don’t do well with heat. But with it literally being on the way, and having the opportunity to hit the lowest point and then the highest point, we couldn’t pass it up. We lucked a little bit with the weather as it was incredibly windy and cooler than usual (by cooler meaning it was 102 degrees instead of 122). I was also pleasantly surprised at what all the park had to offer. I was very much expecting just a desolate valley wasteland and I had no idea there were petrified sand dunes, and incredibly textured prominent peaks that looked like they were out of Star Wars until we got there. We whitnessed a couple dust devils, and of course took a pit stop to the low salt flats of Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the US at -282 feet below sea level.
A quick note if you decide to go through this park ever (especially in the summer): have lots of water in the car, make sure your tank is full, your antifreeze is full, and your tires are good! It is the largest national park in the country and there is little to no cell service in the park and would be a terrible place to break down.
After our adventure in the desert, we made the remaining 2 1/2 hour drive to Whitney Portal, located just outside the town of Lone Pine. Car camping at the trailhead is not allowed. There are about 25 walk-in campsites located at the portal. A little further down the road is Lone Pine campground. Those spaces are reservable and is a cool place to camp with all the rocks. Whitney Portal is in active black bear territory. You cannot leave food or anything smelly in your car, bears have and will break into cars. There are bear boxes in the parking lot to store your food while you hike which is really conveinient. There is a little gift shop and grill at the portal it seems like their hours vary just a little from season to season. Currently they are open until 6:30pm so if you return from your hike before then, definitely reward yourself with a burger! It will taste so good after a long day on the mountain.
We started our climb at midnight. When we initially arrived at the portal the afternoon prior, it was insanely windy. Gusts at the summit were topping 80-90mph. People coming down that evening looked absolutely hammered and defeated. The winds were forecasted to die down overnight and by sunrise be reduced to sustained winds of maybe 10-15mph rather than 45-50. We prepared for wind and cold, however we severely underestimated just how cold and how windy…
There are several landmarks that can help break up this long hike, especially if you opt to do the climb in a single day like we did. Something important to note as well is that AllTrails is off by a couple miles. We used Strava to track and found it was a grand total of 23.4 miles round trip. Checking several other reports as well as just monitoring our pace with experience, I think our Strava track was more accurate. The first landmark was the log bridges and Lone Pine Lake about 3 miles in. We were moving at a solid pace and arrive at the sign for the lake about an hour and a half into our hike. About a half hour and a mile later we arrived at Outpost camp area, and within another half hour and just shy of another mile we made it to Mirror Lake putting us just shy of 5 miles in a little less than 2 1/2 hours.
The next 2 miles were more brutal than I expexted. I thought we only had a mile left to Trail camp since I was going off inaccurate information, but in reality, we had 2 miles, and they were long and awkward. I dub this section the “Whitney Stairmaster 5000”. The trail steepens and becomes incredibly rocky. There are a couple landmarks such as coming up through treeline, “the meadow”, and “the traverse”, but it was so dark we couldn’t see anything anyway, and we were battling brutal winds. The higher we got, the windier and colder it got. This section also slowed us down. It took over an hour and a half to get through this section. Most of the trail was straight forward, but there were a few spots that tripped us up in the dark and we would have to stop and figure out where to go.
Finally, we make it to Trail camp at 12,000′ and nearly 7 miles in. It’s 4am and the winds were so cold, Trail Camp Tarn literally re-froze overnight. Our camelbacks were frozen and our waterbottles were becoming slushies. We took a pause under a rock trying to escape the unbearable frigid winds and debating our next move. We decided to keep going hoping that the 99 switchbacks would be somewhat sheltered from the wind because of the apparent direction it was coming from, and that the sunrise would bring some warmth and calm the winds as forecasted. We slowly made our way up the switchbacks, finding that once we were up several of them, they were slightly sheltered and gave us a bit of relief. We were at about 13,000′ come sunrise at about 5:30 and it was absolutely stunning. It really gave us a second wind to help us push on.
We made it to Trail Crest at 13,650′ and it was immedately back into the cold frigid winds as we transitioned to the shady back side of the mountain. Despite being freezing, the views of the west side with Guitar Lake were stunning. The trail drops down about 200′ (which was a bitch to climb back up later) to meet up with the junction of the John Muir Trail. We check the time at the junction to see it is 6:40am and we have just shy of 2 miles left to go. While most of the backside is fairly flat, its rocky, and uneven talus at high altitude making it slow, and for us, almost painful in those frigid winds. The final 500′ or so were probably the most brutal for us in the winds the entire climb. We were completely exposed to the full force of the wind, no more big rocks to hide under, and at this point it was just telling ourselves “we can warm up at the summit shelter and get out of the wind” that kept us moving.
We summited at 8:30am. When I checked the weather later I found out we still had 25mph sustained winds and gusts up to 40 on the summit at that time, making our windchill -4 degrees (literally a 106 degree difference from the day before). We didn’t stay long. We snapped some very quick summit photos, hiding on the leeward side of the shelter in between shots. We headed down at 9am and pretty much didn’t stop until we reached Trail Camp again at about 11am.
Here at the tarn, we took our first real break after 11 straight hours in the wind, only really stopping to catch our breath (and take summit photos). We hung out at the tarn for about an hour; enjoyed the warmth of the sun, ate some lunch, stripped some layers, took some photos, and finally took in what we just battled through, celebrating our crazy successful summit.
From here it was just a long 3 hours back to the car, but at least we got to see what we missed on the way up. Stumbling over rocks on the stairmaster 5000, We finally got to take in the views of the rocky terrain, see Mirror Lake, check out the Waterfall at Outpost Camp (that I didn’t even know was there on the way up), and see Lone Pine lake. The longest section was definitely those last 3 miles. While it only took an hour…. it was a mentally LONG hour to push through. It just never ends and you want to be done. With about a mile left I found I hit a spot with cell service on the traill and briefly called my dad and my husband to let them know I was almost down and to story tell of the crazy windy adventure we had.
Not including our summit break and hour long break at Trail Camp, it took us 13 1/2 hours total, though we spent about 15 hours on the mountain. About 8 1/2 hours to summit, 5 hours down which is about what I predicted. I was guestimating it would take us 8 to summit but those winds man… They will mess with your head and make you question your life choices.
As much as I would love to say this is a one and done mountain for me, I know it probably isn’t. I just hope next time there is less wind! XD
This was hands down the easiest 14er I have done so far. I spent more time driving to and from this mountain than actually climbing it. Mount Bierstadt is located on the front range and is known as the most populated 14er due to its close proximity to Denver and “easy” trail.
I left my family cabin in Estes Park around 4am or so. I took me a little less than 2 1/2 hours to get to the trailhead which was a bit quicker than I expected. I started my hike in the dark just as twilight was making itself known. It was cold, and I knew it would only get colder as I made my way up on the shady side of the mountain. I passed the lake in the dark but could tell it was there, and worked my way up the switchbacks from the willows. Once I came up over the hill, I got a spectacular view of sawtooth ridge. I was around roughly 13,000′ when the sunrise began to light up the mountains across the valley.
From here it was just slow and steady up to the saddle. The last 250′ vertical or so is the most difficult part, not technically but navigationally. This is an EASY class 2 so if you feel like you are scrambling over boulders you are actually too far off route. There are at least 3 or 4 paths that weave through the rocks to the summit from the saddle. there are cairns, and dirt path through the rocks it is just difficult to keep track of which cairn goes to which route. they all sort of weave in and out of each other so as long as you always have a cairn in line of sight aiming for the summit, you should be good. Typically routes like this are easier to see going down…. in this case, I actually felt like going up was easier to keep track of!
Summit had 360 views. Evans directly to the East, and could see the connection with Sawtooth ridge from the top. Mosquito Range to the Southwest, Greys and Torreys to the West, and Long’s was hiding in the smoke to the North. I can definitely understand why this is the most popular 14er. I got lucky on this fall Thursday and had it all to myself on the summit!
Once returning to the saddle, the rest of the way down was a breeze and I was actually able to jog quite a bit of the descent. The final mile or so at the bottom where it goes back uphill to the car was the worst part of the entire hike honestly. But overall this was a good one! Car to Car was 4 hours, 15 min. Marked my 5th 14er this summer, and 11th overall!
Pikes Peak is known as “America’s Mountain” and is the most popular fourteener in the US (mostly because you can drive up it).
However it is typically known to be one of the harder hikes due to distance and gain. There are 2 main routes. The Barr Trail starts in Manitou Springs and is the standard route. It tracks 26 miles round trip and about 7,600′ of gain but is only a class 1 hike and is not technical. The shorter route is the North West Slopes route outside of Divide, CO at 14 miles round trip and 4,300′ of gain but is a bit more difficult to navigate as it is class 2 near the summit.
This particular report follows the upper portion of the NW Slopes route. The trail parallels Pikes Peak highway one you come out above tree line. My husband and I were celebrating our anniversary this particular weekend and we planned for him to meet me at the summit so for the sake of time and consideration of my husband, I decided to start my hike from Devil’s Playground at around 12,900′, while he shuttled to the top to wait for me. Some might call this cheating, however that is up to you and your preference on how you would like to climb this mountain.
***NOTE on 14er “rules”***
There are a few different “rules” some people consider to count as an official 14er summit. One is that you must climb at least 3,000′ of gain for it to count, another is that you must summit and descend on foot. THIS IS UP TO YOU AND YOUR OWN LEVEL OF PRIDE. There are a handful of 14ers that have high trailheads and less than 3,000′ of gain as their standard route. This is a separate level of achievement some people strive for and one I have zero interest in. The other “rule” is also just a matter of pride for people. When I took my husband up Mount Evans several years ago, we hitched a ride back to our car from the summit because he was suffering from altitude sickness. I still felt we both earned the summit because we did the hard work of the uphill climb to the top.
In the case of Pikes Peak, I had every intention of shuttling back to the car with my husband when I planned this climb. This was probably one of the 14ers I cared least about. I figured if I at least did the work to summit and check it off my list, that is enough for me. Out of 58 14ers, Evans and Pikes are the only two with roads to the summit. I have to do the hard work on every other mountain, I personally don’t feel the need to do the full ascent/descent on this particular peak.
FROM DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND:
The NW slopes route is 7 miles to the summit. Reaching Devil’s playground marks 2.5 miles left to go. From the parking lot you cross the street to the trail on the other side of the road. (DO NOT HIKE ON THE ROAD. It is not allowed and is dangerous due to traffic) The first stretch of trail from Devil’s Playground is fairly flat and parallels the road until a hairpin turn near some cliffs.
Stay on the road side of the turn wall because walking below the turn wall is VERY shallow and exposed. The trail then does up and over the hill to an open area next to point 13,363′. Follow the trail straight on through this area back to the road’s switchback up ahead.
From here you have about 600′ vert to the summit. The trail steepens and the trail gets more difficult to follow. Keep a careful eye out for cairns as the official trial switchbacks in the rocks and is easy to lose. As you top out the ridge at 14,000′ you can see the final road turn. stay to the left of the road and aim for the weather station on the summit.
This is a LARGE summit area to explore! Current conditions when we were on top had construction blocking off areas of the summit but the new summit house is nearly complete, and the Cog Train should be running again May of next year according to their website. The old summit house was still open so we were able to enjoy the famous pikes peak donuts.
It was a beautiful day and I am glad I got to share the top with my husband (even if he didn’t hike it).
There is no better way to celebrate the summer solstice than from the highest point in Colorado! Mount Elbert is located in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains just outside the city of Leadville. Not only is it the state’s high point, but it is the second highest point in the contiguous US. A steep climb, but definitely one for the books!
Out climb started just after 3:30am from the standard North route. The trail started off pretty moderately with switchbacks for the first mile, very doable. The trail then flattens out and actually heads slightly downhill for about 5 minutes of walking or so before you reach the Contintental Divide trail fork. This flat continues for just another half mile or so before the steeper incline begins. This first steeper section goes for another mile or so until you hit treeline and makes you question your life choices.
At this point, coming out of the trees the we were in twilight and sunrise was approaching. we slowly continued to make our way out of the trees just in time to see the alpenglow hit the peak in front of us and watch the sunrise. Once out of the trees you can basically see the majority of the route headed up the ridge. It is a slow steep walk but take your time and you will get there!
The crux of the route starts at about 13,000′. This is the steepest section and is a slow spot. Knowing you have 1,400′ left of climbing the first 900′ are right in front of you in a very short distance. This is the first false summit.
As you come around the north side and to the top of the false summit you can see the second false summit in front of you, a more moderate incline in comparison as you make your way up the hill.
As you come up on this second false summit the 3rd and last false peak gets your hopes up as it LOOKS like it could be the real deal…. it is not. HOWEVER, as you quickly make your way up this last hill you can see the REAL summit and it is a simple 2-4 minute ridge walk away!
Welcome to the roof of Colorado at 14,439 feet!!!!! We took our time on the way up as we encountered wind and cold and had to keep adding layers. We summited at 8:50am.
The decent took half the time for the most part. Some steeper spots were a little slow for those needing to be gentle on the knees. (bring poles) As for difficulty, its just the steep gain and the altitude. The standard North route is a class 1. Very well maintained trail as it is heavily trafficked. We did pass plenty of people who turned around early in the morning as they were not feeling it that day. Also, being June it was VERY cold and windy for us. It had snowed the day before so the summit temps were at or just above freezing that morning and the windchill was recorded at 17 degrees Fahrenheit! (burrr) Overall, it was a BEAUTIFUL day to summit.
Mount Nebo is the highest peak in the Wasatch Range in Utah. It’s located about 2 hours south of Salt Lake City near the town of Payson. It is a beautiful but challenging climb.
The trail starts out pretty mild and has a great view of North peak as you ascend. The trail is full of wildflowers and down trees. Navigating around the trees is fairly easy. The first mile and a half is the easiest part.
Once you arrive to the open meadow and cirque, the trail steepens as you head to the ridge.
As you top out on the ridge of North Peak, the trail leads around to the backside and flattens out as you work your way to the other side to the saddle.
Once you arrive at the saddle, the false peak stands in front of you. You can see the roue and the top of the false summit. Its pretty steep but straight forward.
Now for the tricky part. The summit ridge. This ridge is made of very sharp limestone and slippery shale. Gloves are highly recommended! There are no cairns or markers to mark a single solid trail. You can see what appears to be a path to the summit but it is actually pretty difficult to navigate as multiple paths exist but some dead end. I found the most direct route was to stay as close to the ridge line as possible. If you get too far below the ridge, the amount of shale increases and this rock is incredibly slippery.
The visible “path” ends approximately 100 feet below the summit. This part is rates as a class 3 scramble and it can be a little unnerving as you are trying to grab rock and hope that it’s solid and not loose shale. This was the point I actually turned around as I was climbing solo. I wasn’t sure where the recommended scramble path was since there are no markers or cairns and it was my first time on this mountain and did not feel comfortable being alone on the slippery rocks trying to figure it out.
This ridge was the MOST time consuming part of the climb. I made it to the top of the false summit. The ridge is only a half mile and it took me an hour and a half to navigate. Coming down, the shale is VERY slippery so keep that in mind. Stepping on solid rock is always better if you can. Poles aren’t super helpful on this ridge but they are on the way down the steep false summit.
Overall expect to spend 6-9 hours on this mountain depending on how fast you are. Like I mentioned, the ridge is the most time consuming part. Give yourself a turn around time. Many people just go up to the false summit to start. Start early, as there is NO shade from the base of the false summit onward.
Overall a gorgeous mountain! Definitely one to check off the list. I will be back to finish that last 100 feet! 😉
My 3rd successful summit of Longs Peak is in the bag!
Before I give you the details, let me take you back a little: My first summit was in August of 2003. I was 13 years old, and it was actually my second attempt. The previous year I made it to the bottom of the homestretch and turned around. I had the worst nerves and threw up at the trail head that morning and was miserable the entire climb. Despite making it like 95% of the way to the summit, I just couldn’t go any further. I was completely depleted. It haunted me for a year, so the following summer I completed my first summit. It was the first time it really solidified my interest in climbing Everest in the future.
My second summit was in 2011. I was in the throws of recovering from an eating disorder and working through major depression and anxiety. I had been in a dark place for a long time and had completely lost my passion for climbing in the midst of my mental illness. Summiting Longs again with a friend of mine was the perfect way to rekindle that fire as I was working on my recovery.
Now here I am, 8 years later, growing and chasing my dreams! I went to EBC last year, I climbed Kilimanjaro a week ago and I come home and lead a few friends up Longs Peak only days after returning! So, without further ado, here is a little synopsis of my most recent summit!
We had some weather in the forecast for today so we started at 2am. We made it to the boulderfield before sunrise and began climbing up the rocks to the keyhole as the sun rose. We were moving quickly but slowed to a crawl as we navigated the boulders and the trail moved from a class 1 to a class 2.
As we crossed over to the other side of the keyhole and began navigating the ledges, taking our time to navigate, and help my friends through the rocks as the route became a class 3.
Next came the dreaded trough. I hit a mental wall at the bottom of the trough. A combination of jet lag and still recovering form Kili made me realize how much I did not want to climb up the trough once I came up to it. It has always been my least favorite part of the climb. It is a slow exhausting crawl up to the narrows. But it just comes one step and climb at a time. This winter was one of the snowiest and so there was still a decent amount of snow in the trough. It was off most of the route, however the very top of the trough had snow on route and we had to climb around it. Once that was navigated, we climb the last final 15′ rock up and out to the narrows.
A sense of relief for me as we popped out into the narrows, and a sense of panic as my friends saw the exposed view. low clouds began to build and I knew we had to be quick. We carefully climbed through the narrows and made it to the base of the homestretch in no time.
Some crowds navigating up and down the most technical part of the the climb slowed us down. We pushed to try to keep moving to the summit as we were now in a race with building clouds. There were patches of wet spots of recently melted snow, but before we knew it we were on top at 14,259′!
Our time on the summit was short. As soon as we started back down the homestretch we actually started to get a sprinkle of snow. It made the rocks slippery and slowed us down as we cautiously made out way down the homestretch. I will say this was the scariest Longs Peak decent I have ever had out of the number of times I’ve been on this mountain. The wet slippery decent continued into the trough as the mountain became enclosed in the clouds. Exhaustion definitely set in as we made it to the bottom of the trough and began to traverse the ledges back to the keyhole. Relief hit us as the keyhole came into view. After much needed snack break, the sun came out and we descended from the keyhole to the boulderfield. Back on class 1 trail, we cruised back down to the trail head. We lucked out and didn’t get the heavy rain, hail and thunderstorm until we were about 10 minutes from the bottom.
Our total time was about 12 hours and it was definitely the slowest I have ever climbed Longs. I definitely attribute that to the slippery slick conditions on our way down. If you EVER decide to climb Longs, start early, know your limits, NEVER go off route, check the weather conditions, and re-evaluate them constantly. As soon as it started raining/snowing up top, people were turning around despite being so close to the summit which was the smart thing to do. The mountain will always be there, you can always come back. We witnessed a helicopter rescue of a 15 year old that slid about 300′ down the loft on the other side. Good news revealed later that he was OK and somehow managed no broken bones, but it shows you how sketchy the conditions became as soon as those rocks got slick. My friends asked me to lead because of my experience on the mountain and my experience with class 3 climbing. If you have never been class 3 climbing before you NEED to go with someone who has experience with that kind of technicality and exposure. And of course, NEVER climb alone.
Despite my words of caution, Longs is a classic. It is my favorite peak in the world for a number of reasons. Don’t let the exposure scare you out of trying to do it, just make sure you are 100% prepared and know the risks. Longs may be one of the most famous of the Colorado Fourteeners and is definitely one for the books!
Many people may not realize there are 7 different routes up to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Lemosho has been rated the most beautiful, and most successful route with about 98% success in an Uhuru Peak summit from this route. It is also the longest which gives more time for acclimatization which is why more people are so successful in summiting. The Lemosho route is typically climbed in either 7 or 8 days.
On July 18, 2019 I completed my first of the Seven Summits! I arrived to Moshi, Tanzania with an 8-day itinerary for the mountain which ended up being 7 because I’m a bad-ass. Before even leaving for Africa, I kept asking myself why I signed up for the longest climb when physically, because of my experience at altitude and the amount I have trained this year, I could have totally done the shortest route, but nevertheless, I was climbing Lemosho, and was and ready to go.
Day 0– Materuni Waterfall
My cultural shock was little-to-none compared to Nepal. Maybe it is because I had already immersed myself in a 3rd world country once before, or maybe it’s also because my hotel in Moshi looked like a tropical island resort. Either way, I woke up ready for whatever adventure awaits. For my rest day in Moshi, I decided to check out the infamous Materuni Waterfall. It is a short hike from the Materuni Village. You are surrounded by tropical plants and trees that grow incredibly in the fertile volcanic soil. Coffee plants, Banana, Avocado, Mango, and Pineapple trees all surround the trail as you begin. The trail is fairly flat and only takes about 45min to an hour to get to the falls. With overcast conditions in the rain forest, you feel like you are on a tropical island rather than a giant mountain. The falls are gorgeous and continue to make you feel like you are in a tropical paradise. On the return you have the option of the “coffee experience” where you pick your own fresh beans, grind them by hand and drink your handmade espresso. I do not like coffee so I opted out of this adventure but overall, Materuni is a MUST see if you have spare time in your trip.
DAY 1- Lemosho Gate to Big Tree Camp(9,000′)
We started the morning by driving from Moshi town to the Londerossi Gate (not Lemosho). Londerossi is where the registration office is and we ate lunch there as well. I made some friends from the other camps that I would continue to see sporadically during the climb, and we all headed out and down towards the Lemosho Gate entrance. Finally time to start hiking! all of the camp and gate signs give estimated times of travel to the next camp. It was estimating 4 hours for a short 7km to the Big Tree Camp. It barely took me 2 hours to get there. Many guides stress going “pole-pole” which means “slowly-slowly” and it will be very slow going if you are in a large group. But it was just me so I got to set the pace! A couple other girls were supposed to be with me but they switched to the September climb. I found that in July, it is busy season but not quite peak busy season, so there were a lot of tiny groups of 1-3 people, but only a few massive groups. I would pass a majority of these larger groups on the way up since it was just me. I saw a bunch Colobus Monkeys in the rain forest on the way to camp, and could hear them chatting and hopping between trees; super cool to see out in the wild. I did not sign up to do a safari after the trek so this is the extent in wildlife I would get to see. We arrived at camp with plenty of time to spare. They feed you incredibly well to make sure you have enough calories for the mountain but I was convinced I was going to gain weight there was so much food! Day 1, easy. Done.
DAY 2- Big Tree Camp to Shira I and Shira II Camp (12,700′)
Today I skipped a camp because I am such a bad-ass. We started a little later than nearly all the other groups and I passed almost all of them on the way up to Shira I. Any of the groups that do Lemosho in 7 days instead of 8 usually skip Shira I camp. As I passed these groups, many of the other guides were asking if we were also skipping. Internally I was hoping but was almost afraid to ask if that was even a possibility. It wasn’t until we stopped at Shira I in time for lunch that my guide asked me if I wanted to and I was ecstatic to say yes. It was only 11am and there was no reason I needed to spend an extra night on the mountain at this point. I felt great, and wanted to keep going. So my 8-day climb now became a 7-day climb and we continued across the plateau and up to to Shira camp II. As for the hike itself, starting from Big Tree, it was very up and down for the first mile or so until leaving the rain forest into the Moraine vegetation zone. Once above the forest, the trail steepens as you follow a ridge up to the Shira plateau. The plateau is pretty flat between the camps I and II. Right before Shira II it steepens as you officially begin to climb up what is officially considered part of the Kibo (Kilimanjaro) Volcano.
FUN FACT: The Kilimanjaro mountain is made up of 3 volcanic cones: The Shira Caldera, Kibo (Uhuru Peak), and Mawenzi. By climbing the Lemosho route, you get to climb Shira and Kibo, and view Mawenzi from summit base camp!
DAY 3- Shira II up to Lava Tower (15,000′) and down to Barranco Camp (13,000′)
A steady climb from camp II up to the Lava Tower warrants excellent views of the Shira Caldera below. the Lava Tower gets you up close and personal with the southwest side of the mountain. A quick stop for lunch and it’s all down hill from here. The decent to Barranco camp is decently steep in spots, so knees beware. You can see the camp below pretty immediately and just watch it get continuously closer on the decent. if the clouds haven’t rolled in, you should have a fantastic view of “The Breakfast Wall” that will be climbed the next morning. Many get intimidated by the near 800′ of climbing that is required first thing in the morning but don’t worry, it looks much worse than it is.
DAY 4- Barranco Camp up “The Breakfast Wall” (13,775′) and down to Karaga Camp (13,200′)
A roller coaster of emotions today on this climb almost perfectly reflect the roller coaster in altitude. I was feeling a little down when I woke up, missing my husband and was just kind of tired and cranky honestly. We start with the infamous Breakfast Wall. Which includes some mild scrambling. Non-climbers might be intimidated by this wall but don’t be. The trail is wide and well marked. There is only one “skinny” section nicknamed the “kissing rock” because you have to hug it to walk by, I did not feel the need to do so. It was still a wide enough path that I felt just fine. I never felt like I was straddling any crazy exposure, granted I have climbed much scarier climbs. After the scramble is over, you think you are nearing the top of the wall, but take my warning: there are like 5 false summits! think of it like a stack of books lined up shortest to tallest. you climb up the side of the short book and top out, but now you have to go up over the next ridge, and the next one, and the next one. I was legitimately getting pissed off. We finally top out for real and the views are incredible. You get a front-and-center view of Kili, and an ocean of clouds down below. I instantly felt better… for now. The way down to Karanga camp is mostly downhill, but it involves jumping one more ridge line as well as dropping into the Karanga Valley before climbing back up to the camp. The last steep pitch before Karanga is hands down the hottest, steepest pitch you will do the entire climb. I felt like it was steeper then the Breakfast Wall! Its about a 200′ climb straight up to camp. Not a fan. However, overall this hike is pretty quick. they estimate 4-5 hours for most groups; didn’t even take me 3. So after lunch, it is time for a nice relaxing chill. You can hike around nearby for more acclimatization, but my knee needed a break if it was going to be in tip top shape for the summit.
Day 5- Karanga Camp to Barafu Base Camp (15,250′)
It is customary for the guide companies to give you a songful introduction to the crew at some point on your trip. Most try to do it earlier in one of the first days on the mountain, in my case it got delayed until this morning because I had skipped a camp that second day which is when they originally wanted to do so. I actually liked it better waiting for today since it is the day before our summit attempt. It was the perfect encouragement and wish of luck to the summit I needed. After singing some songs we headed upwards. A steady incline at altitude, only took me about 2 1/2 hours to get to Barafu. A long time to rest and prep for the next day although my attempt to sleep early failed miserably, I felt good and ready for the summit attempt!
Day 6- SUMMIT! Uhuru Peak (19,341′) and down to Mweka Camp (10,000′)
We started at midnight. I felt pretty good and although we were going what felt like a snail’s pace, we were still passing massive groups. It is a long night as you crawl your way slowly up to the summit although it felt shorter than I thought it would. As we got closer and closer to Stella Point, the wind began to pick up and the cold from the early hours of the morning were freezing my Nalgenes. At just after 5am, we came up over the crest of Stella Point. it was still incredibly dark and the wind was coming off the crater. It was Brutal. Weather reports later indicated that it was a low of 17 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit, with winds up to 15 knots which makes for windchill well below zero. The pace is set and designed to summit by sunrise. However, because I was moving so quickly, we hit Stella point well before dawn and Uhuru Peak at 6am (sunrise wasn’t until 6:30). It was too cold to honestly enjoy much time on the summit, we spent maybe 5 minutes tops, snapping quick pictures in the dark and heading down the crater rim back to Stella point. The sun finally rose as we got there, and the long decent began down the way we came. The decent from the summit involves some glicading on volcanic ash and sand in spots. It only took maybe 2 hours to get back to base camp. After a quick break and some food, we continued down to Mweka camp. Initially the decent was fine, and then the rock steps began….. after passing the Millenium intermittent camp, the last 3 miles or so was all big rock steps and my poor knee made itself known. After a very, very long day, I plopped into my tent and slept like a log.
Day 7- Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate (5,300′)
A much more gradual decent today, made my knee was thankful but my calves were definitely burning in the end. After 14,000′ of decent in 2 days, my legs were pretty done. It only took me about an hour and a half to descend 6 miles. It was foggy and rainy at the bottom and made for a cool, spooky atmosphere in the rain forest. After packing up the vehicles at the gate, we headed about 5 minutes down the road to where we would eat lunch and celebrate outside the souvenir shop. I was glad to be done. Tired, sweaty, and ready for a much needed shower!
Overall, I enjoyed Kilimanjaro. I kept catching myself comparing notes to my Nepal trek to EBC last year and felt like Kili was significantly easier than Nepal. Mentally I was also in a much stronger place and we all know that climbing something like this is always more mental than physical. Swahili is easier to learn than Nepali as well, I felt I took away more of the language, but unfortunately not as much culture as I would’ve hoped. Moshi town is fairly modernized so I would have loved to visit a village out in the grasslands, and meet tribesmen and I did not get to see anything of that nature. I definitely recommend knocking this one off your bucket list if you have interest in climbing Kili. I also recommend the Lemosho route. it shares much of the popular Machame route but I think is more picture-esque in the first few days before the trails merge.
I planned to get this out sooner, but I got home to find out I had caught a head cold from the guy sitting next to me on one of my connections home and have also been struggling with the jet lag pretty bad. I have been pretty miserable the last few days. But without further ado, here is my trip report of my Everest Base Camp Trek!
First, I shall answer a question which may have arisen for those who frequent my blog and may have noticed a “typo” in the title. Yes, I was supposed to climb Island Peak as well. Originally, this trip had 2 parts: trek to EBC, and climb Island Peak (Imja Tse) at 6189m (20,305′). Long story short, Island Peak did not happen, but that will be explained.
Most of what is written below is actually fragments from my travel journal. This is strictly just the trekking portion of our trip. I am not going to spend time on talking about my day in Singapore, or when I first arrived in Kathmandu because I have already discussed them but if you missed it, you can click the links to read about them! So to begin, we are going to start with our first day in the Himalayas:
DAY 1: LUKLA TO PHAKDING- 2,860m (9,380′) to 2,610m (8,560′)- 5/30/18
The morning started out in Kathmandu, misty and cool from rain the night before. Monsoon season is near, as we are at the tail end of may, and reports of many Everest climbers and crew had been stuck in Lukla for almost a week due to flights not being able to access the mountain. We head to the airport, hoping and praying skies are finally clear enough for us to get there. We are scheduled on the first flight out at 6am. We arrive, weigh our bags, and wait in the domestic terminal at Tribhuvan Airport for news, any news. Before we know it, we are on a little shuttle to take us to our small propeller plane, we board and we are off! On the plane, I had a giant smile on my face I could not erase, and tears coming to my eyes. Hazy skies make it difficult to see the tall mountains in the distance, but soon, we can see a hazy peak out the window of the plane, standing well above all others off in the distance. It’s Everest!
Landing in Lukla, at the world’s most dangerous airport, was not as terrifying as I anticipated. We had a very smooth landing, and was off the plane an instant later. Immediately we could already see Nupla, standing at 5,885m (19,303′), dominating the background. I nearly cried. I could not believe I was finally here! By a fun coincidence, my tent-mate from Rainier happened to be in Lukla at the same time! After catching up with her, we headed off. We have a small group. Gadul is our local guide and I am accompanied by one other, Juan from Bolivia, who is currently living in Thailand. The road to Phakding was downhill, and quick. We passed dozens of rocks, prayer wheels, stupas, and memorials covered in Sanskrit writings from the Monks of the monasteries. I learned that all of these sacred monuments bust be passed on the left, or in a clockwise direction out of respect. These are the most peaceful mountains I have ever been to. Bells and chimes from prayer wheels ring, and chants in the distance can be heard from the Monks up the hill. The spirit of this land is something I have wanted to experience for years. I was in disbelief of the awe and wonder around me. Within a short 2 1/2 hours, we arrived in Phakding, got settled into our first teahouse lodge and enjoyed some downtime.
DAY 2: PHAKDING TO NAMCHE BAZZAR- 2,610m (8,560′) to 3,440m (11,283′)- 5/31/18
Day 2 was long, steep, and hot. The trail was very up and down, and there were stairs, so many stairs!!! I started the morning off feeling pretty good! As we started walking I could hear birds that sounded just like the Mockingjay from the Hunger Games. We passed plenty of porters bringing down stuff from base camp now that the season is over and I began to realize something; many of these young boys looks just like my high schoolers! When people think “Sherpa” there is a stereotype that comes to mind. A short man, wearing flip flops, smoking cigarettes, while hiking with up to 100 kilos on his back with a head strap used for balance. While this is seen sometimes, the reality is most porters are young teenagers. Some are wearing skinny jeans, Adidas, a flat rimmed baseball cap, and playing music on their phone while they walk. I asked Gadul how young some of the porters typically start and he said some can be as young as 14, working weekends while they’re not in school.
We stopped for lunch about 2 hours into our hike in a village called Monjo, where the official entrance to the National Park is located. We crossed 6 bridges on the way to Namche. The last bridge is known as the high bridge. you hike up a steep hill to get there, as it’s suspended around 100 meters in the air. The last 2 hours of the climb is up a steep cliff side. It was extremely slow going, especially in the hot sun. It did not help that whatever I ate for lunch was beginning to not sit well. By the time we got to Namche I was pretty wiped out and my stomach was killing me. I had a difficult time eating dinner because I was so nauseous, and then it hit me in the middle of the night… my first bout of traveler’s diarrhea. I knew it was not altitude sickness because of the simple fact that I had been training above 10,000′ for months. Plus, I had altitude sickness once before, this was different. I could nearly pinpoint that the goat cheese on my potatoes at lunch was the most likely culprit.
DAY 3: REST DAY IN NAMCHE- 6/1/18
After a “fun” morning in the bathroom, I joined everyone for breakfast where I tried to force down some oatmeal. The initial plan was to hike up to Khumjung, a town at 3780m (12,398′), but we woke up to heavy rain and clouds in the area. (I was pretty thankful for that) A few hours later, Juan knocked on my door to announce they were going to head up for a short walk now that the weather was clearing. After spending the morning lying in the fetal position, and taking some antacid medicine, I decided to join them to at least get out and stem some boredom.
We walked up to the Sagarmatha Visitor Center, (Sagarmatha is the Nepali name for Everest) and toured around enjoying the Tenzing Norgay Memorial statue (the real MVP), as well as the various boards and displays inside the visitor center. On a sunny day, you can see Everest from this point, however, because of the clouds, we couldn’t see anything. As the clouds were beginning to move and disperse slightly, we decided to hang out on top of that hill to wait and see if the clouds would part enough to see Everest. After about 10 minutes of waiting, we could finally see Lhotse peering from behind the clouds, and moments later, Everest. I literally cried. I had been waiting for this moment for so long. to finally see Everest in person! I realized this was no longer a dream, but totally real. Despite being unbelievably sick, I had a rush of adrenaline.
DAY 4: NAMCHE TO DEBOCHE- 3,440m (11,283′) to 3,820m (12,529′)- 6/2/18
Feeling slightly better the next morning, We set off on our way to what was originally going to be Tengboche. We hiked down a steep hill to the small village of Phunke Tenga near the river, then back up another steep hill to Tengboche and the Tengboche Monastery. We toured the grounds, taking in the beautiful artwork inside the monastery. I absolutely LOVED the detail and the colors. It was very warm and inviting. I only wish we had been there for a Puja ceremony. That would have been incredible to see.
Then came time to find our lodge. Due to the fact that we were trekking in “off season”. Many teahouses close as families head to Kathmandu for the summer. The teahouse we meant to stay in was closed, so we hiked down into the rhododendron forest to the small village of Deboche. The bright colors of the flowers were incredible! Pinks, yellows, and white, colored the trees and the ground.
DAY 5: DEBOCHE TO DINGBOCHE- 3,820m (12,529′) to 4,410m (14,464′)- 6/3/18
We woke up to a beautiful view of Ama Dablam as well as Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse. The hike was fairly gentle in incline compared to the steep hills I had been climbing before. What was predicted to be a 5-6 hour hike, we did in 4 1/2! At this point in time, I was officially the highest I have ever been. at 14, 464′ I was higher than any peak in Colorado, higher than Mount Rainier, and almost as high as Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,505′. But, it didn’t feel like I was over 14,000′. I was acclimatizing very well and my stomach was improving.
DAY 6: DINGBOCHE TO LOBUCHE (My favorite day)- 4,410m (14,464′) to 4,910m (16,104′)- 6/4/18
Words cannot describe the awe, beauty, and spiritual nature of what I had seen this day… I like to think that I have a very good eye for pictures, especially outdoors, and I still don’t think I did it any justice. I came here, not only to reach a lifelong goal, but to also go on a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts and this day fulfilled a big part of that spiritual side.
To start, we climbed up the tundra hills above Dingboche. The clouds parted and we had 360 degree views of the Himalayan peaks that surrounded us. I am officially convinced that Ama Dablam is the most beautiful mountain in the world. Everest may the the highest, but it’s not “pretty”. Ama Dablam was stunningly gorgeous. I literally stopped and told myself “don’t sit down or you will never leave.” We took our time in those hills taking dozens of photos. The clouds sweeping by below us added an element like we really were in heaven. I have never seen anything more beautiful in my life.
After a quick lunch in Tulkla, we climbed a steep rocky hill to the Sherpa Memorial field where tombstones and stupas of climbers who died on Everest and other nearby peaks cover the hillside to remember those who have fallen. The spirit of this mountain is unreal. You could really feel how sacred of a place this had become.
Walking onward, the view opened up to the Khumbu region where Pumori dominated the view, Nuptse stood out infront of Everest, and You could see over the ridge into Tibet where Changtse is visible at 7,543m (24,747′). (You can literally see China!)
DAY 7: LOBUCHE TO GORAK SHEP AND EVEREST BASE CAMP!- 4,910m (16,104′) to 5,140m (16,859′) and 5,464m (17,600′)- 6/5/18
My lungs were definitely beginning to feel the lack of oxygen but my body felt like a freaking amazon warrior! Hung out at base camp for over an hour, playing around in the glacier and I was amazed at how well I felt. From Lobuche, we walked along a fairly flat path to Lobuche Pass which led to the surprisingly intense Changri Glacier crossing. Navigating the crazy rocks was all over the place. Finally, we made it to Gorak Shep, where we would be spending the night.
After a quick cup of tea and dropping off our bags, we continued onward to Base Camp. Nuptse dominated our views and it was massive. The tip of Everest’s summit was peering out behind it, and below it all was the Khumbu Glacier. A mix of rocks and ice, like nothing I had ever seen before. We could hear shifting, creaking, and cracking as if the mountain was alive, trying to speak.
When we arrived at EBC, it was like a playground of ice and rock. Climbing season is over so it was completely empty and there were no tents left, but I can imagine sleeping on the wet rocks and having the ice and water constantly moving beneath you. How do you sleep?! The Khumbu Icefall is MASSIVE. in photos, movies, and documentaries don’t show how steep it really is.
After Playing in the glacier, we headed back to Gorak Shep to rest, and get some sleep before our early morning ahead of us.
DAY 8: KALA PATTHAR SUMMIT AND BACK TO DINGBOCHE- 5,644m (18,519′)- 6/6/18
The morning started out very cloudy and socked in. We started climbing Kala Patthar at 5am from Gorak Shep. I hit a wall pretty early into my climb. It was incredibly steep and the lack of oxygen was finally catching up with me in the sense that I would begin to feel a sense of panic whenever I had trouble catching my breath. I would have to stop, calm down, and let my breathing regulate. Part of me wanted to turn back on multiple occasions because of the crappy weather. I didn’t want to make it to the summit and not be able to see the view. But I kept pushing and near the end, I was having to take nearly 10 breaths for every step I took.
Luckily, during the last 20 meters or so to the summit, all of the sudden the clouds began to open up and I managed to see an amazing view of Everest, Nuptse, and the Khumbu Glacier just long enough for a few photos before the clouds closed back in on us. I was exhausted, and out of breath but glad I completed my goal. I had finally seen Everest and Base Camp, and that’s when it began to sink in that I didn’t think that I had it in me for another summit. Island Peak was a bonus, an add-on to my original goal and at this point, I felt like I bit off more than I could chew with my first trip to the Himalayas. I was exhausted, hungry, homesick, and really just kind of done at this point of the trip. I no longer had the desire or even felt the need to climb Island Peak anymore. However, we were headed in that direction anyway, so I kept it in the back of my mind, and was still open to the possibility. After Kala Patthar, we ate breakfast at Gorak Shep then headed all the way back down to Dingboche. A long day for sure, but it was nice to breathe the thicker air.
DAY 9: DINGBOCHE TO CHUKKUNG- 4,410m (14,464′) to 4,730m (15,514′) 6/7/18
My second bout of food poisoning began this morning. I woke up feeling a little nauseous, had trouble eating breakfast, but not thinking much of it initially. but as we began our ascent to Chukkung, it hit me like a wall. I thought I was gonna puke. Was it the vegetables in the spring rolls I had for dinner? or the hot chocolate I had before bed? Either way, I was back to boring foods… Despite wanting to throw up with every step, The hike to Chukkung was pretty short. I spent the rest of the day in bed, trying to let my stomach subside, and then it was time to make a decision. The next day we were supposed to head to Island Peak Base Camp, but I had the option of staying behind while Juan and Gadul joined another guide to make a summit attempt. I felt weak, burned out, sick enough that it seemed like the right decision.
DAY 10-11: WAITING IN CHUKKUNG- 6/8-9/18
The boys left at around 9:30am for base camp which was actually fairly late. We spent the morning waiting out heavy rain before they decided to leave. My stomach was still a mess, and I was still struggling to force down any food. Entertaining myself all day was a struggle, and by the time I went to bed, the doubt began to creep in… “Should I have just gone and tried? Am I giving up?” I had to remind myself how sick and weak I really had become. Even Gadul mentioned he could tell I had lost a lot of weight, and was worried. There is no way I would’ve been able to endure a 16 hour high altitude climb in the condition I was in. By morning the next day, I could FINALLY see Island Peak. towering 5,000 feet above me was a giant wall of ice. I confirmed with myself, there was absolutely no way. Reports from Gadul and Juan talked about waist deep snow from the night before and hidden crevasses EVERYWHERE under the snow. Due to the late season conditions, melting was causing the route to be extremely unsafe, especially near the end so they turned around about 200 meters or so from the summit.
DAY 12-16: DOWN WE GO- 6/10-14/18
The downward crawl had long days. Both Juan and I reminisced on foods we missed back home and miles seemed stretched as our tired legs headed back down from Chukkung to Deboche, Deboche to Namche, and Namche to Lukla. We then spent the next 3 days in Lukla due to weather. We were scheduled to fly out on the 13th, but no planes came at all that morning. We then booked new tickets for the next day in a second attempt however, weather closed in quickly and before our plane was scheduled to take us back to Kathmandu.
I was scheduled to fly home the next day, and after checking the weather for Friday, it was safe to assume no flights would come the next morning so we looked at our second option: paying $500/person to fly on a helicopter. We decided to go for it, and even that was an anxious waiting game as clouds were even to thick for the helicopter much of the day. They were finally able to land to pick us up and take us back to Kathmandu. It was worth it.
Overall, I loved Nepal. I loved the culture, the people, the mountains, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It had it’s ups and downs, but for a first trip to the Himalayas I felt like it was a successful endeavor. I hope you enjoyed my long winded report. I know it was a lot to read through. But be sure to stay tuned here in the near future as I have a few other posts about my trip to Nepal in the works.
I woke up this morning feeling a bit better than I did when I first arrived. The excitement returned, and I slept off some of the anxiety that accumulated. However, that does not mean that anything changed Kathmandu is honestly a city that is very loud, dirty, and traffic is absolute nonsensical chaos. I knew all this going in, but it doesn’t matter how much prep and research you put into it, nothing will really prepare you for your first time alone in a 3rd world country. And that is exactly what I am going to debrief you on today: The ugly, and the beautiful.
This morning I met my one other climbing partner that signed up for the same date block as I did. I do feel better that I’m not alone. Besides us two, our team will consist of 2 guides and 1 porter. There will also be a cook and staff up at Island Peak Basecamp. After our briefing meeting this morning at the Himalayan Glacier Office, our awesome guide took us to a few iconic sites. (I will tell you his name when I figure out how to spell it). As excited as I was walking through the beautiful streets of Thamel that morning, here is where it gets interesting and my blood pressure probably shot through the roof: We had to take a taxi… in daytime Kathmandu traffic…
First off, I would like to say that after what I survived today, climbing a giant mountain is going to be easy! Now, you’re probably asking yourself “wait, what?!”. Let me explain… I am a very anxious person. I like the mountains because of the solitude. I hike alone most of the time because I like the quiet, and peace that comes from being in those mountains. I love that I live with trail heads in my backyard. I HATE going into the city. It’s stressful, fast paced and crowded. I’m not a fan. Anytime there is some sort of event, or party or something that forces me to go into downtown Salt Lake, I cringe, I complain, and I get stressed out. I deal with it, and I’m just thankful I don’t live somewhere like New York City or LA. Kathmandu is a very crowded, and very densely populated city. For those at home Kathmandu Valley is much like Salt Lake Valley… only half the size and double the population.
So, I put a crazy amount of faith into this taxi driver as he drove us all over town. This is what I learned about Kathmandu Traffic:
There are no rules of the road… not really anyway. There are lines on some streets, and there are these weird giant pillars in the middle of certain intersections, and occasionally you will see traffic cops helping move things along on the busiest streets, but really, there is nothing like you see back at home. No street signs, speed limits, not even stop lights! Everyone just kind of goes.
Nepali drivers are probably the best drivers in the world, and Utah drivers really are probably the worst. Despite the seemingly organized chaos on the streets of Kathmandu, Nepali drivers have mad skills. They have to be extremely attentive. It’s like you’re driving through a neighborhood and kids on both sides of the street are accidentally kicking their balls into traffic, constantly. They are also incredibly aggressive and assertive drivers. Now, I don’t mean angry or road rage-y, I mean they find any window of opportunity and take it. There is CONSTANT honking, flashing brights at each other and weaving around cars and bikes, but non of it is with hostility, it’s all done as almost like a note of “hey I’m here” to bigger cars or pedestrians.
Traffic RARELY comes to a standstill. In rush hour in Salt Lake, there are several areas of the Valley that come to a complete standstill. In Kathmandu, because everyone is forcing there way around everyone, traffic is always moving.
Car accidents are rare and if there ever is a car accident, it’s usually not a big deal. We have a max speed limit of 80mph in Utah. People die… all the time. Wrecks at home are often horrific. Because of the attentiveness of everyone on a bike or in a little Suzuki driving around Kathmandu, nothing really ever happens. There appear to be close calls everywhere to the untrained eye, but once you figure out how it all sort of “works” you realize that’s normal traffic for them.
Cows chill in the road. So do goats and monkeys.
Now for the cool part. The part everyone scrolls down past all the other stuff to read right?
First we went to the infamous Shree Pashupatinath Temple. This is the giant, iconic and recognizable Bhuddist Temple in Nepal. Back in 2016 when the earthquake hit, the top of the temple completely crumbled. They have since rebuilt it and the site looks as if there never was an earthquake.
We circled around the temple taking a million pictures before heading to our next stop, Swayambhunath, also known as The Monkey Temple. This is where the internet sometimes gets confused. This is because the sites look very similar however the monkey temple is much, much smaller and has more architectural features. Many mistake Shee Pashupatinath for Swayambunath and vice versa. In fact, I myself thought that was the case. But names aren’t important, all that matters is the beauty that comes from these sites. It is indescribable. I had seen pictures of both, and for years I dreamed about it, but nothing compares to the real thing. The smell of incense in the air, prayers being offered, and despite the crowds, it is a peaceful place and completely worth the crazy drive.
A question I’m sure some are wondering, as I wondered myself, how is Nepal doing since the earthquake? Well, they are healing, but there is still a lot to be done. I’m sure I will see in the mountain villages later, as I have heard the status it is much worse , but in Kathmandu, the buildings that took the most damage were old, brick, and poorly structured. most of the city still stands. However, there are signs of damage and hurt everywhere still. as we drove around, there were lots that were still a pile of rubble that have yet to be rebuilt. Some sites were still in the rebuild process, many sidewalks and roads are still damaged, and there is a huge homeless problem. as we drove buy these beautiful temples, on the outside were dozens and dozens of people seeking sanctuary and refuge begging for rupees. It is a hard, sad, and humbling site to see, especially as I am there for leisure. The one thing to avoid is feeling guilty. Nepal thrives on tourism. By traveling to this country to visit, and showing interest in the historic sites, paying entry fees, paying permit fees for climbing, and buying local fare, that money helps their economy get back on track. I remember when the quake first happened, I wanted to jump on the first plane out here to help, but it wasn’t even aloud. Planes were grounded for days and no one was allowed into the country. Now, they appreciate the help, but they also just appreciate people coming to visit and taking an interest in their home country. Nepali pride is evident everywhere and as much as I enjoyed the temples in town, I cannot wait to see the mountains I came here for.