51/1,000 things I learned in Nepal

  1. Sherpas are an ethnic group
  2. There are about 1 for every 1,000 Nepalis. So they are super rare
  3. They are from the eastern part of Nepal – the Everest region
  4. Which also happens to be the really high part, most of the 14 mountains above 8,000 meters are in Nepal and right there
  5. Everest is the tallest
  6. It’s named after a British surveyor, which is colonial and annoying, but it’s also a cool name which is why I think it stuck
  7. Sagarmatha is what the official Nepali name calls it
  8. Everest is super hard to climb. It takes 2 months. All the “it’s crowded up there” stuff is nonsense
  9. Except for the base camp — Everest Base Camp or EBC or Base Camp is not that high, not that technical, not that far, and just really popular (also not that impressive)
  10. The higher parts – Camp 2 and Camp 3 and Camp 4 – get proceedingly dangerous
  11. Even Camp 2, our lead guide (he was a sherpa ethnically, and our sherpa) nearly died at Camp 2 in 2015. There was an avalanche at Camp 2 and only 2 of 17 people survived
  12. He told me the key was (apart from luck) his ice axe (“self-arrest”) and lying sideways (he stopped sliding but then got crushed by snow, because he was sideways it didn’t break his spine)
  13. He no longer does the Everest summit – he had done it 7 times, and that last time his wife was 7 months pregnant
  14. The country of Nepal has a per capita GDP of $1,000 approximately
  15. The US and EU are more like $40k
  16. $1000 is actually high compared to many of the people we saw on our walk
  17. We saw a lot of people; the mountains even in the remote parts are covered with people living in little structures, with a few goats, with a tiny garden patch for a few leaves
  18. And the kids go to school, even when that literally means walking 3 hours each way to get there – we passed many of them
  19. Our own guide had brought his brother and his father as part of our guide team. Our guide had studied to 6th grade, while his father had received no formal education
  20. His two brothers became monks (one of them was with us on the trip)
  21. The other one lived “7 days away, Nepali walking”, which was apparently 21 days of “Amol walking”
  22. This list you are reading was something I daydreamed about for approximately 21 days of walking 8 hours per day up and down in the mountains near Everest on our way to Mera Peak near Mera-La in the Khumbu Region
  23. I kept telling myself I would come home and write down all thousand things I had learned and thought
  24. Indeed I made many notes as I walked and I have loads of themes to share and explain, but I didn’t write it all while there, and I could hardly have managed — I was exhausted all the time and went to sleep at 6pm — but also I did not write it right when I came back
  25. I was too busy eating candy and multiple bowls of cereal at 5am ravenously…
  26. But about the Khumbu region, Google and Apple Maps hardly help you find these places. When I got there, I took photos of paper maps as ‘my’ main map
  27. Of course our guides led us and they didn’t look at any maps. They had been walking these trails since they were children
  28. We passed a 12 year old girl wearing Air Jordans and a huge backpack – cleaner shoes and a bigger pack than me, and walking faster, on her way home from school around 4pm
  29. That was in October. Imagine going to school in January on those trails.
  30. In October it’s not too snowy at 12,000 feet in Nepal. Because Nepal is really far south! Like Mexico. I hadn’t thought of it.
  31. It was like a mountain rain forest / jungle type of thing most of the time.
  32. People don’t do treks in January because it is far too cold and snowy and dangerous (avalanches, thick powder) — but I suspect that girl goes to school
  33. The mules and yaks probably also keep it up. Trains of 8 mules work some sections of those trails at incredible intensity — we would pull aside every 10 minutes to let a mule train through at some sections
  34. A friend who was calming me down before the trip (I was afraid of this climb) told me “the route is mostly a donkey trail”
  35. Which means at least the trail is wide enough for the mules to walk on
  36. The parts that were not mostly a donkey trail were considerably more terrifying – holding a chain to walk on a sheer wall face down past a waterfall…was not something I had mentally prepared for
  37. Or leeches, which are plentiful and sit on leaves and near water waiting for you to brush against them. Are there really so many people passing by that this is a good strategy?
  38. We would see about 30-50 people per day, many of them trekkers moving in the same direction as us, and we estimated that the valley (100 miles long) had maybe under 1,000 people in it
  39. Nepal’s not a massive country. It’s like 500 miles wide and 100 miles ‘tall’ — Tibet is the huge one (5 times bigger than France)
  40. That means you can probably see with the naked eye from India to Tibet/China right through the valleys that run North-South in Nepal. We definitely could see the sky over India from some places (as we watched for the coming storms that seemed to go up from the South), and from those same positions could see Everest (which is on the border with Tibet)
  41. This ‘small’ country has about 30 million people in it – which is indeed pretty small compared to India or China at 1 billion plus each
  42. But not so small when compared to say France or Spain which are maybe double in population
  43. Where are all the people? Kathmandu has no buildings taller than a few stories (OK, maybe there is one I saw that was 10)
  44. In that sprawl, Kathmandu has 1 million people. I couldn’t name another city in Nepal (I looked at the map a lot while there, and even the maps don’t bother to call out any cities as heavy-type)
  45. Where are all the people? They must live in the mountains
  46. The only other city I visited was Lukla. A city where you arrive by plane and leave the airport on foot. No cars or vehicles in Lukla
  47. It’s basically just a cliff that’s big enough for very special cargo planes to land on a very short, very cold, very foggy, very windy (potentially) strip of land that ends abruptly with a mountain wall
  48. Around that cliff are some buildings
  49. And that’s where the Everest trail begins
  50. For us, we landed there after circling the valley for some time in the plane. No explanations – it was too foggy to land. Then suddenly there was an opening and the pilot went for it. After the landing, the flight was back in the air within 10 minutes. Can’t waste the clear air.
  51. They shuttle back and forth for 3-4 hours each morning making round trips in waves of 3 planes in a batch. The don’t even turn off the engines while they do this.