Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 31 to November 2 - Good Morning Vietnam!

On Halloween, we landed in Dan Nang, Vietnam. Yes, that Da Nang and that Vietnam. I first heard the word Vietnam in 1964 from television reporter Walter Cronkite, who brought words and images from what seemed like an imaginary jungle to my 10 year old eyes. For more than 10 years, that word - Vietnam - would reverberate constantly through mine and all Americans consciousness, as our country became involved in an ever deepening cycle of useless destruction and horror. And as this place now becomes more tangible to me (well, as much as two nights on a private jet trip can make things tangible), I simply have to ask the question: What did our country actually achieve in those 11 years in Vietnam? What benefits do we as a nation still enjoy because of that foray into god knows what? Does anyone care to ask that question today? It’s really all I can think about as we tour what otherwise seems like just another easy-going tropical destination on our planet. 58,000+ American lives lost and probably at least 10 times that for the Vietnamese. And for what? What tangible benefit do we as a nation enjoy today because of that war? Please post anything you can about this and enlighten me. If the sheer idiocy of this does not strike you as horribly absurd, perhaps you should check your pulse or start asking questions of our so-called “leaders”. My comments are not meant to provoke a response with respect to what your present political beliefs are. I’d just like to know what was accomplished with that war.

When we landed at the airport yesterday, this was the scene we saw. A troupe of little girls and boys dancing for us as the carnival music blared from on old tape machine. Quite a contrast indeed from what that word, Vietnam, has formerly meant to all of us in the U.S.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Kyoto, Japan October 28 to 31, 2007

Held sacred by modern Japanese, Kyoto embodies all that is ancient and all that is new in Japan. Looking at the picture books of this shrine- and temple-rich city, one might get the impression that Kyoto is a place set entirely far away from the city and perhaps within the mountainous greenery of this rain soaked island. Yet each architectural marvel from the 7th or 13th century that we visited, is itself an island of peace and green in a sea of the modern city. Kyoto is thoroughly modern replete with traffic jams, high-rise, and pollution. But it holds small vestiges of Japan’s ancient past in seemless harmony.

The Japanese certainly know how to pack their 130 million souls into an amazingly small space. Flying into Osaka’s Kaisan Airport, we could see low-lying river valleys filled entirely with humanity’s signature - the concrete white of countless urban buidings. Yet the lush mountains that immediately surround these valleys hold only trees, without roads or others structures. Land use patterns in this country are strikingly different than what we are familiar with. As my geography lecturer colleague and seat mate Alec Murphy said as we made our approach, “You’d never mistake that pattern for something in the U.S.

The temples themselves are specatcular! We visited Kiyomizo first and a photo of it is above. Sanju-sangendo was one of my favorite - one of the longest wooden structures in the world at almost 400 feet long. It was built in 1266 (when the Anasazi were fully occupying Mesa Verde but not yet aware of the 30 year drought that was only 10 years away). It contains 1001 wooden carved religious icons painted with gold leaf. The Golden Palace was phenomenal as well and the late afternoon light gave it a marvelous glow. We have dodged rain while we have been here but astute observers will see evidence everywhere that this place is no stranger to it.

Our guides and the Japanese people have been gracious beyond all measure. They simply travel through life in a disciplined courtesy, an outgrowth no doubt of the Buddhism that pervades this society. It makes one wonder how they could have been so viscious in the 1940’s during their reign of imperialistic government. Our guide almost apologized for the “mistakes” that had been made and moved on quickly to another topic. I think that governments everywhere and at certain times are subject to pressures that make them want to exert more control over their surrounding world. I think that no governement on Earth is ever truly immune from the tendency of leaders who see imperilaistic forrays as a way to make life easier. Japan may be such an example from the past. One wonders if certain elements in our own government are an example from the present?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The "Around the World" Adventure Begins!

Sitting in the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle, the trip "Around the World" is about to begin! Last night we had our Welcome Dinner in the lobby of the Boeing Museum of Flight! Sitting beneath numerous aircraft from the past. It was a wonderful introduction. Watch here for more news. First stop is Kyoto, Japan via a refueling stop in Cold Bay, Alaska!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Big News From Nepal Is.......

Some of you may have heard already. Many obviously have not. But while standing beneath Mt. Everest at an elevation of 18,500 feet, Helen and I became engaged! Here is a picture of us just moments after we agreed to spend our lives together. That's the summit of Mt. Everest in the background (the smaller looking mountain just above our heads - the larger mountain is closer and is called Nuptse). We are standing near the small settlement of Gorak Shep, and have just descended from Kala Patar. This is not too far from the Everest Base Camp. You can see we had a beautiful day for this.

We are both very happy and appreciate all of of our loving friends and family! We want all of you to know!

Wayne and Helen

Saturday, October 20, 2007

October 21 - Leaving Kathmandu

Well, after 23 days Helen and I will be flying out of Kathmandu today. It has been an incredible jountrney! Trekking in the highest mountains in the world, seeing the very strange sights in Kathmandu, and just exposing ourselves to very different cultures and things. We look forward to returning home and sharing many of our wonderful stories. Some of the things we will remember the most are lines of yaks carrying heavy gear to the high country (yaks are cattle-like animals but serve as beasts of burden here in the Nepalese high country), little porters who weigh only 120 pounds carrying up to 230 pounds of green lumber up very steep, rough trails, endless meals with potatoes, the unbelievable scale of the mountain scenery, and the kindness of the Nepalese people! It seems that in the mountains we were always on guard for runaway trains of clumsy yaks, here in the city of Kathmandu we are on the lookout for the never-ending streams of horn-blaring cars and motorcycles. Look back to this site in a few days after we return home for some pictures that will be added to each days blog.

We do appreciate the comments from those who have written to us. It gives us a sense of home in a place so far away! Wayne will be on another adventure "Around the World by Private Jet" starting on October 26. Look here for blogs from that trip as well!

Love to everyone, Namaste, Wayne and Helen!

Friday, October 19, 2007

October 13 - Rest Day at Tyangboche

Stayed all day in the mist and clouds of Tyangboche! Visited the monastery and saw the monks praying. We also hung out in a bakery at 12,682 feet - 50 feet higher thatn the top of the San Francisco Peaks! We are enjoying our time here very much!

Tonight, the cook on our trek made a special engagement cake for Helen and I! Here is a photo of us and the cake taken by Chris Hansen-Nelson.

October 12 - Tyangboche Monastery

Here at the holy site of Tyangboche monastery. Walked through a rhododendron forest today that was so wonderful! The air is so thick down here at 12,000 feet.

October 11 - Kala Patar!

The wake-up call came at 4 AM but I had been lying awake for at least an hour before that. I soon realized that I felt pretty good and the "Khumbu aches and delerium" of the previous night were gone. Strange? The porters came around each tent with cups of hot tea to wake us up. It was still pitch dark except for the brilliance of the stars, which were out in all of their naked glory - not a cloud in the sky! It was difficult and frustrating for me to pack my duffle at such an early and cold hour but I struggled through it. In the end, I decided I would try for the peak after all!

We were walking at just after 5:00 AM with headlamps and the light from the many stars. Ahead of us stood the cone of Pumo Ri, a majestic mountain that stands 23,435 feet above sea level. Directly above it was the Pole star shining as if it were located right on top of its cone. The air at this altitude containes only 50% of the oxygen as at sea level and the going was quite slow. But I felt strong and at about 7:15, had reached the summit. What a thrill! Unfortunately, Helen did not feel up to making the final ascent and there were only 8 of us who made the final push. She was troubled by altitude sickness and made it about half way up before turning back. I was sorry she didn't make it, but she did get just as good a view of Mt. Everest as we did. The others in our group who made it to the summit were Norm Henderson, Don Webster, Chris Hansen-Nelson, Clint Gelotte, Louise Georgette, David Keeber, and Diane Wishnev. George Abbott, Jeff Engel, and Bill Foote had summited the previous day, so in ll, 11 of our original 19 trekkers made the summit. I do not consider those who did not make the summit unsuccessful - in fact, anyone one of us could have been feeling bad from the altitude on this particular day and would not have attempted it. It was the luck of the draw really. In any event, we were on the summit of Kala Patar at about 18,500 feet. We viewed Everest - only 6.3 miles away to its top - in brilliant, cloud-free daylight. What an accomplishment it felt was!!

After summiting Kala Patar, we munched a quick breakfast at 10:so AM and hiked down all the way to Pheriche! This was a 4,000 foot descent but we made it. A 13 hour day on the trail at high altitude! We made it.

October 10 - Moving Higher to Gorak Shep

Today was to be the day for our ascent of Kala Patar but we all felt as if we weren't ready to ascend that quickly. So our guides offered us an option to move camp to Gorak Shep, 3 miles away and only 600 feet higher. It sounded like a good idea and we did it. We were now in country that had been glaciated quite recently. Everywhere was loose rock and sand without a hint of lichen growth. Perhaps some of these areas were glaciated in our life times, such is the extent of glacail retreat in these valleys. Gorak Shep is the last place where lodges and camps are located - the next place is Everest Base Camp! We were now camping above 17,000 feet!

Clouds played above us and occasionally parted so that we could see Everest. Kala Patar looked ominous with it's two steep trails. Three members of our party made it to the top that afternoon. I was feeling pretty bad today and could only hold on by laying low in camp. I felt as if I would have to miss the attempt on the mountain tomorrow morning because I just felt horrible. It did not concern me too much. I was happy to have mad eit this far and to see such wonderful mountain country. We were in bed by 7:30 PM

October 9 - On the Move Again!

Today we are on the move again and this time we are headed for some serious altitude. Today we will climb higher than the top of Mt. Whitney and then 16 vertical feet higher we will be exactly half the altitude of the top of Mt. Everest! Wow! Our goal is the tiny settlement of Lobouche at 16,400 feet. Starting out in a river valley, the trail is nice to us but before long we are climbing the slope of a lateral moraine. The glaciers once extended much further down these drainages and evidence for the former presence of ice is becoming evident now. Lunch is enjoyed in the sunshine at a small lodge called Dugla. From there we climb higher to the stone meorials, a place where stone cairns have been erected to those who have lost their lives climbing the mountains of the Khumbu. It was touching. Arrived at Lobouche at 2:30 and enjoyed hot tea in a lodge. 16,400 feet!

October 8 - Rest Day in Pheriche

About 1/3 of our group took a short walk to a town called Dingboche. I was too weak to attempt this excursion and used the free time to recuperate. By the end of the day I could feel that I was acclimatizing nicely and felt much better. The weather is still fine! No rain so far although there have been cloudy days.

October 7 - Leaving the Trees Behind

Pangboche is a quaint, high Himalayan town nestled among many spectacular snow covered peaks. Many in our group made phone calls home from here and the connections are quite good (so I hear). Today we moved upwards again, this time to Pheriche at 14,200 feet - almost the elvation of Mt. Whitney in the U.S.! The air is really thin now and some of the folks in our group are starting to take the Diamox, a prescription that benefits those at high altitude. The going is pretty slow but one of our porters is fond of reminding us in his heavily accented English - "Go slow, drink water, reach Kala Patar". This is now our mantra!
Arriving in Pheriche at 1:30 PM, we noticed that we are now above the tree line for this part of the world. It is all rocks and scree from here on out. We attended a lecture given by a medical doctor at the high altitude clinic located here. He informs us of how to spot altitude sickness. I believe that I have been having sleepless nights because of this. So I too start on the Diamox. Many in the group feel bad so a rest day is declared for tomorrow.

October 6 - We Lose Three Folks to Our Trek

Over night, three in our group began to feel the effects of the altitude and became too sick to continue. We were of course, very saddened to lose them but everyone trook the parting stoically, knowing the risks of high altitude endeavors. We had the luxury of having 23 Nepalese porters and guides in our group so two of them were left to escort the three back to Namche. THe rest of us, now numbering 16, climbed up to the interesting village of Phortse. Another great mani wall was here as well of a view of the surrounding terrain. The trail to our next camp at Pangboche was wild beyond description! Only a few feet wide in some locations, it still spilled almost 1,500 feet straight down to the river. It was spectacular. We arrived in Pangboche well enough but more of the stomach sickness may be going around.

October 5 - Leaving Namche For Points Uphill

Rising to the the call of "hot tea" at 6 AM, we begin again our upward trek. The day dawned cold and cloudy at 11,300 feet but there was no rain. The trail contoured around a hill which was a pleasant change from the very steep trails that characterize the Khumbu region of Nepal. But then we climbed 1,000 feet to a lunch spot called Mong. The tiny settlement was made possible because of the presence of an old river terrace, now perched well above thwe Dudh Kosi River. No sooner was lunch over that we descended rapidly the same 1,000 feet to our camp at Phortse Tenga. Here we found a very long mani wall. These walls are made of many flat slabs of schist that have been engraved with images of the Buddha and Tibetan scripts. They are very old and no one disturbs them. It is proper etiquette to walk around them clockwise.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

October 3 - Hard Day To Namche!

Words cannot describe what we have seen so far in 3 days of trekking! The Himalayas are spectacular beyond belief. We have never seen mountains so huge, not the Sierra, not the Andes.

The trek began with a one hour flight to Lukla and a landing on an airstrip only half the length of a standard size. The slope was at 25 degrees! We trekked 3 miles the first day to Phakding and spent the night in a field adjacent to a hotel. The next day, Wayne was feeling the effects of the trots and it was a hard day's walk to Namche Bazaar. Helen has been thoroughly healthy so far and sends her love to all!

The bridges across the river were wild. One was perched 200 feet above the raging river. Scary. We have been in this village almost 24 hours now and Wayne is feeling fine after a dose of Cipro. On the way up the trail, we had a great view of Mt. Everest about 20 miles away! Spectacular! Would love to enclose a picture with this but we are so far away from civilization and the download times are long. This will be our last posting until we return here some 12 days from now.

The crew is excellent - compatible and laughing all the time. The altitude and steepness of the trails is formidable and we are only at 11,300 feet. On Oct. 5 we will go to at least 12,000 feet. On Oct. 10 we will summit Kala Patar at 18,200 feet and only 6 miles as the crow flies from the summit of Mt. Everest. We will get up at 2 Am to complete this day hike.

The scenery has been awesome beyond description. There is no way to explain fully what we are seeing. These are truly magnificent mountains. Our Nepal Zero-Seven trek continues.......

Monday, October 01, 2007

October 1 - Touring in Kathmandu, Nepal

Nothing can prepare your senses for the sights, sounds, and smells of Kathmandu, Nepal. The many and colorful prayer flags fly in the wind, carrying aspirations to a world beyond this mountain encased valley. The very narrow streets are ablaze continuously with car horns, as countless motorcycles weave in and out of the smoky traffic. And Nepalese food fills our noses with hints of curry and cilantro. This is a small taste of this busy but interesting city. We toured many temples today and even saw human cremations along a river bank at a Hindu center.

Tomorrow we will awaken at 4:30 AM to prepare for our flight to Lukla, where our trek begins. We'll leave this city behind and enter a world of mountains and snow. Lukla sits at 9,300 feet and there the trek begins - downhill! Our first camp will be at Phakding, elevation 8,500. Too bad we have to give up that precious elevation. There will be a chance to write more from the next village at Namche Bazar, but that will a few days from now. Our group of 19 seems almost hand-picked as e laugh and intermingle freely with each other. We have almost forgotten that a trek is part of this journey, the cultural overload is that huge. Our four-star hotal is adequate but that's four Nepalese stars!

Anyway, we are here and amazed with all we see!