Makalu Adventure by Jayant DoshiPart I(from 24th April 2007 till 19th May 2007) My two trekking trips in the Himalayas had been greatly gratifying, and I was always on the lookout for new opportunity. I had already put down my name for a trek in Leh and Ladakh; but then Prabhulal (known in short as PD) told me about his plans to trek to Makalu base camp. This trek seemed more challenging and interesting then the one to Leh, and I immediately confirmed myself for this trek. The Group – We were four when I confirmed myself. PD, who will be taking his state pension later this year, has had quadruple by-pass operation and is diabetic. However, he did Kilimanjaro and Everest base camp in the last couple of years so he was experienced and capable to do such treks. PD has aresolute mind and great determination; before he did Everest trek, I often saw him sweating out in the gym. This timehe was out and about a lot, and as such there was complacency in his preparations. Paresh, the youngest and thesportsman of the group, also did Everest trek. He went on his regular skiing trip a fortnight before Makalu trek, andthis time he injured his back. He was still hopeful that he would make this trek but he had to cancel it at the lastmoment. If he had come then maybe things might have turned out differently– but that is something we will never find out. Nirmal, at 53, was also a youngster by our standards; and his trek toEverest also put him in the same lot of experienced trekkers. He is a regulargolfer, and takes his regular walking seriously so he seemed well prepared.Atul, now the youngest at 51, decided to join at the last minute, and withonly Kilimanjaro climb as his experience, this was something for the firsttime for him. He took up the challenge seriously and started walking to andback from office daily, clocking twelve miles daily. In receipt of my statepension for several years, that made me the oldest in the group, and havingdone Everest and Tapovan, I was also a bit more experienced. Before theEverest trek, I did lot of circumstantial rather then preparatory walking, butthis time I have been complacent. However, with my golf, racket ball andyoga I was confident that my fitness will not let me down.The Trek - Mount Makalu is situated east of Mount Everest, and is one ofthe highest peaks in the Himalayan range. There is a great differencebetween the two treks. Everest trek is very popular and is well served with good tea houses, which makes trekkingmuch easier, while Makalu is comparatively new and less popular. Camping is the only way of trekking on this route.Also Everest trek starts from Lukla which is 2800 metres high; Makalu trek starts from Tumlingtar, which is 450metres high. On Everest trek, the trek starts at much higher altitude, and is cool from the beginning. Makalu trek startsfrom much lower altitude; hot and humid conditions make trekking difficult until we reach high altitudes. While onEverest trek, we start with mountains and barren landscape, on Makalu trek we go through green valleys and forests,and pass lots of villages. On Everest trek, it is mostly going up on gentle ascent most of the time. On Makalu trek, wego up to great heights, and then come down to very low heights, and then go up again, making it much more difficult. We left London on 24th April, and arrived early next morning into Kathmandu. Our trekking started on 27th April and following is a day by day diary of the events and our experiences. The timings given for each day’s trekking include rest stops and lunch break. 27th April – flight to Tumlingtar.(457 mtrs.) Today was the beginning of our trek. When I woke up I felt very sleepy and a bit lethargic. We drove to the local airport – a ramshackle airport with little order or organisation. After a long wait, our small plane left at noon. The plane was quite small, and did not allow for much movement, and even our rucksacks had to be put on
our laps. The flight took us to the east of Nepal to lower ranges of the Himalayas with lot of greenery, rivers and farms. We came to Tumlingtar where the plane lands on an open field with grass and no tarmac runways. The field was surrounded by mountains, and the small village mainly caters for the incoming trekkers. Being at 457 metres height, much lower then even Kathmandu, it was hot and humid, and mosquitoes were in abundance. This time my preparations lacked the intensity of my first trek to Everest. Perhaps, we were more experienced and as such complacency crept into our thinking. However, at this stage we all felt ready and confident. We were told by our guide that rest of the crewof porters and kitchen staff was held up by some strike, and as such we would not start our trek till the next day. Wehad to spend rest of the day and the night in the mosquito infested hot and humid Tumlingtar in a below standard guesthouse. After good lunch, I felt I had lost my appetite, while Nirmal got scared by rumbling noises in his stomach. Wespent the afternoon walking in the village, while weplayed bridge at night before retiring. We were stayingat Makalu Hotel, very aptly named for our purpose, butthe hotel would fail every safety standard. The steepsteps leading to our rooms on the second floor werescary, and the wooden planks gave the impression thatthey would give in any moment. Our bedrooms hadwindows overlooking mountains and green farms, butother then that everything was lacking in comfort. Thebed consisted of a wooden plank covered with a bedsheet; and to add to our woes, the fan in the room wasnot working either. The hard bed, hot and humidatmosphere and the mosquitoes made it a bad night forus all. We spent the night tossing and turning in our socalled beds.28th April – to Khadbari (1040mtrs.) – 4 hours. Everyone was awake quite early, and moaning about the sleepless night. Today was the first day of ourtrekking. It was quite warm and the sun was out in full strength. We walked for just four hours going over some gentleand some steep slopes. We climbed from 457 metres to 1040 metres. We walked through farms with variety of fruittrees. Humidity and lot of sweating made walking conditions difficult, and passing vehicles created clouds of dustwhich made breathing difficult. Mountains, valleys, greenery all around, colourful flowers and clear skies made thewalk pleasant. We reached Khadbari at noon. Our crew and equipment had still not arrived and we were put up in a hotel which was much better comparedto the previous night. We got a chance to bathe and wash our sweat drenched clothes. We had a walk in the localweekly market, and got a glimpse of the life in this mountain town. We played bridge and had good night’s sleep.29th April – to Gogune – 8 hours We were woken up early by the crowing of cocks, barking of the dogs, revving of trucks and people going about their daily routines. The height had not dampened the temperatures, and the morning was still hot and humid. By mid- day, the temperatures had crossed 26 deg. C. We started our trek at 7.20 in the morning. The spectacular mountain scenery compensated for the hot weather. Today we kept going uphill most of the time, and bypassing the main road and using short cuts made the walk more difficult. Our crew and equipment had arrived and we were treated to a freshly prepared hot lunch. Our entourage included 17 porters, 5 kitchen staff, 2 guides and 4 of us, making a grand total of 28. As days passed by the number of porters was reduced and finally on our return we had total of 16 left. We reached our camp site at 3.30, and had our
first experience of the tents which would become ourhomes for the duration of our trek. There was one tentfor cooking, a dining tent with chairs and table for us, atoilet tent, two tents for four of us and one tent for theguides. Our tents were reasonably comfortable, thoughwhen two are sharing there is not much space left tomove around. We had to keep our larger bags in thedining tent. After unpacking our sleeping bags, andchanging our clothes, we sat down to some games ofbridge. However, temperatures dropped suddenly andeveryone got their warm clothes on. Whilst I wascomfortable in the tent, I did not sleep well. Rain andbreathing noises disturbed my sleep, though I woke upfeeling fresh.30th April - Gogune to Num (1490 mtrs.) – 9 hours We were up by 5.00 and ready by 6.30. With sun rising early, porters and others woke up early to do theirchores, and it was but natural that we would wake up so early because of the noise. The sky was cloudy and dark andrain and thunderstorms were lurking in the background. The guide assured us that everything will be fine and we leftat 7.40. The clouds had drifted into the valleys and our visibility was affected by thick mist. The path had puddles ofwater, the ground was muddy and slippery, heavy rains had caused land slides or eaten away parts of the road. It started raining and we just about managed to put our rain clothes after we got ourselves wet. Rains became heavy, and the temperatures dropped. Soon rains slowed down and the cloud thunder became louder. As per the saying, thundering clouds never bring rain, and we prayed that this was true. After some bursts of rain, it became dry, mist slowly lifted, the clouds moved and sun came out with its warmth, and brought relief to our water drenched clothes. By 10.00 a.m. or so, it started getting warm, our clothes had dried and we were sweating in the heat. We saw snow covered mountain ranges on the way. After lunch we started again. This time we were walking down the slope of the mountain through thick growth of trees. Some of this down slope walking was treacherous. We walked at a fast pace for three hours. Wecame to a small town in the valley and our camp was made on the side of one of the local tea houses. There was oneTibetan and one Sherpa wedding in the town, and we got an oversight of the celebrations. PD showed signs of exhaustion and had lost his appetite. As soon as we camped he went to sleep, and afterrest he still showed signs of exhaustion. He could not eat anything and only had a bottle of soft drink. We got worried.Would he be able to continue? But he surprised us all by his resolute determination. He walked every day without evereven mentioning that he could not carry on any more.1st May – Num to Seduwa (1460 mtrs.) – 8 hours. Dogs barking in a rhythmic systematic style woke us up by 5.15 and we were on our trek by 7.15. Num issituated at a height of 1500 metres on top of a mountain.Seduwa was across the valley on another mountain at asimilar height. But to reach there we had to go down theslope of the mountain into the valley up to Arun river, andthen climb the mountain to reach Seduwa. We had to walkdown almost a thousand metres, and some of the walkdown the slope was very steep and difficult. Most of thetime we were shaded by trees, but we sweated a lot due tothe humid heat. It became one of the most difficult days oftrekking we had encountered so far. Coming down theslope was difficult, walking through rocks and tacklingdifficult patches, but then climbing on the oppositemountain proved even more difficult. Climbing upnormally makes one breathless, and that leads to frequentrest stops. Everyone found this a very difficult day, and
the thought that we will have to do it again on our return brought shivers to some of us. Our camp site was beautiful. Our tents were set on a flat ground facing a range of mountains with a valley in between, all covered with trees and bushes. It was full moon night and the atmosphere was wonderful. We soon forgot the difficult walking we had done and did some breathing exercises to relax ourselves. 2nd May - Seduwa to Tashigaon (2200 mtrs) – 6 ½ hours. As was to be expected, the dogs and the cocks performed their duties faithfully on time, and we were up early as usual. While the mind was awake the bodyrefused to move. I lay there half asleep till 5.30. The fresh mountain air, and the lovely atmosphere, inspired me to dosome yoga exercises. It felt great. After breakfast we left just before 7.30. The guide told us that it was going to be an easy day. Thetemperatures were in the late 20’s and it felt very hot and muggy. We walked through some forests and passed lots ofstreams. We had an early lunch on a lovely spot on the banks of a stream with lots of greenery around it. From ourlunch spot we could see the village where our campswere to be set for the night. It looked like a fairlystraight walk on a flat path, but we were in for ashock. We had to descend and ascend a few timesbefore we reached our camp site. The descent wasvery steep and the ascent that followed was evensteeper. Nirmal, one of our younger colleagues, wascoping well. He used to walk steady and at good speedand we both normally were in front while the othertwo came behind with the guide. Unlike me, Nirmaldid not sweat much. Also I tended to get breathlesswhile going up an ascent, but Nirmal was breathingnormally all the way. He did complain about somestomach upset, but otherwise he seemed to be doingwell. For Atul, this was his first trek and he seemed tobe coping well. He seemed to have a good appetite. Later he did say that his thighs and legs were being taxed to themaximum. PD, in spite of his health problems, seemed to be doing fine. He showed signs of exhaustion, but still keptwalking steadily every day. He lost his appetite, and complained of nausea as soon as he smelt any food. While hiscomplaints and problems started right from the beginning, surprisingly he seemed to carry on quite well every day. For the past few months I kept getting a twinge and pain in my right knee and ankle. Golf and racket ball didnot aggravate the pain, nor did it get worse with time, but the fear of it happening while trekking was upper most inmy mind. However, so far my legs are perfectly fine. I am having no pains or tiredness. I eat well and sleep well,though sometimes calf muscles pain me in my sleep, which is natural after a long day’s walk. But in the morningwhen I wake up, and during the day’s trekking, I feel perfectly fine. My problem has been breathlessness when going uphill, and lot of sweating. I needed to wipe the sweat every other minute. Compared to Everest trek, this trek has been quite difficult and varied so far. We are still at much lower level, and our walking is affected a lot by a strong sun and high temperatures. Steep descent into the valley, and steep climb to the top of the mountain were exacting and not comparable to anything on the Everest trek. Camping, on the other hand, has been pleasant. The sites for the last two nights have been exceptionally scenic and beautiful. 3rd May – Tashigaon to Kauma (3500 mtrs) - 9 hours There were no dogs or cocks to wake us up, but by now it had become a habit to be awake at first
light, and some of us were awake by 5.30. The sunwas rising from behind the mountains, and was tryingto show itself through the cloud cover. Streaks ofcloud crossing the sun made it look unusual but verybeautiful. In the mist, the far away mountains werehardly visible, but their boundaries appeared asoutlines in the misty sky and gave a good view. We started our trek just before 7.30. We knewthat today we would be climbing quite high, and thatmost of our walk would be uphill. We were actuallygoing from 2000 metre altitude to 3500 metres, whichwould be quite a lot for one day’s walking. We had anearly lunch break. We were sheltered from the hot sunby a huge rock protruding from the mountain. Westarted our walk to cross the two passes after 11.00.We kept walking uphill for over two hours, and came across patches of snow which we had to cross. The sight ofsnow excited every one and we took photos. Even in the snow, it was still hot and humid. We were in our normal hotweather clothes. But then we kept getting more and more snow. We had not been prepared or advised about this sort of walk.Sun had disappeared and the threat of rain loomed on our heads. Walking on soft snow is not that bad, but here one need to know if the snow is solid or there is a cavity underneath. Snow melts from below and makes a cavity. Our porters had gone before us and we just had to follow their tracks. Nirmal and I were together, and we were checking the ground well before putting our feet down. At one point, I was checking the ground for my next step, when the snow under my right leg collapsed, and my leg went right inside the hole. I was inside the snow almost up to my waist level. My hands were resting on snow and feeling the cold. My leg had gone at an angle and I could not pull my leg out. The guide came and helped me out. Because it was hot I was wearing only tee shirt, and my mittens left my fingers frozen in the snow. I was cold, but I had no choice but to bear it. Snow seemed endless, and we seemed to be walking on it for hours. I got my feet inside a few more times.Nirmal had his share, and one time he fell with his leg bent, but nothing happened to harm us. Others had their shareof mishaps. During our nine hours of trekking for the day, most of it going uphill, and then walking in the snow, madeit the most difficult day so far for us. Atul, the youngest and probably the fittest, one who trained a lot before the trek, summed it up. This was themost difficult day for him that strained his thighs more than he could take. He never imagined that trekking would beso difficult. Climbing uphill for most part of the day had taken toll on his thighs. Surprisingly, PD, who still was noteating much, fared quite well and I did not hear any complaint from him, though he did admit this was a very difficultday of trekking. PD had been surviving on a bar of chocolate and a soft drink for the last few days. It was quite cold so we wrapped up in warm clothes, and later got into our sleeping bags. PD did not wish toeat and called it an early day and went to sleep.4th May – Kauma to Dobate – 9 hours 45 minutes. It rained lightly during the night, and lighteningand thunderstorms were persistent. We woke up early asusual. It was cold. Today we were crossing two mountainpasses (Keke Pass and Shipton Pass) and had a long dayahead. Shipton pass is at 4126 metres height. When wewere about to leave, it started raining and we all put onour wet suits and gaiters. We waited till 8.00 to let therain slow down. Rain did not last for long. Our first twohours of trekking was a steep ascent. We all found itdifficult. Then we started getting small patches of snowand found walking on it as exciting. Walking on snowbecame longer and longer. At one point we had almost
five miles of snow to cross. Walking uphill in the snow was difficult, but walking downhill was even worse. Snow melts first at ground level and form cavities which cannot be seen from the ground. A foot on such a hollow cavity would mean the leg going deep into the snow crevice. Walking down hill was prone to slipping and falling, and one had to be more careful. Had we been advised and guided well on this stretch of our trek, then we would not have faced the problems we did, and we would not have created the fear in our minds. A little bit of advice, and splitting us in two’s with one guide taking each group, would have made the trek much easier. But the harm was done. Everyone found the trek most dangerous, and this led to the decision to quit the trek. It was 5.45 when we reached our camp site. We were supposed to walk further but we were too shattered. Weshared our camp site with another Korean group. Walking uphill taxed our thighs and walking down hill taxed ourknees. We could all feel the effects of the days trekking. Atul and I had little bit to eat and others went to sleep straightaway. We did not take much longer either to follow them. Atul declared that he was not going to walk back the way we came. He based his decision on two points.Firstly, he talked about the probability of the danger andrisks on this trek, and that if the probability of evenslightest risk existed, he did not wish to take that risk. Healso stated that he had seen what was to be seen, and didnot wish to walk back the same path again. He said thathe will be going back by helicopter. Nirmal joined inagreement. I was tired also, and believed in keeping withthe rest, so I also agreed on that. In the morning PD alsoagreed to go back by helicopter. However, very soon Ihad second thoughts.5th May – Dobate to Yangley – 8 hours. As we were tired we had asked the guide that webe allowed to rest and not to be woken up. We got up at6.30 and we were on our way by 8.30. This was amistake that could have proven costly, and the guide can be blamed for not advising us about the same. At first wewalked down a very steep slope, covered with huge rocks and reached the valley of River Barun. We had our lunch on the banks of the river. I lay on a big rock, and enjoyed the sunshine and the atmosphere.Later I walked down the bank to go and dip my feet in the river waters. After lunch, we had a few close escapades. PD, while walking slipped and fell down, but did not injurehimself. Later, while walking along the slope of the mountain, and crossing a patch of snow, a rock came hurtlingdown the slope, a guide shouted at PD, PD panicked not knowing which way to turn, and another guide just pulledhim in time to be saved from the falling rock. It was close, and would ruffle any one. It shook PD badly; but it alsoaffected others who watched this incident. The mountain has lots of streams flowing down its slopes. Mostly these streams are not that forceful. But today we came across at least three such streams where the water was flowing with lots of speed and force. One of the guides took his shoes off, rolled his trousers, and stood in the middle of the streams to help us cross them, while the other guide helped from the other end. In spite of that, we all got our shoes wet and filled with water. At times it appeared that an accident or injury was just about avoided. We made three such crossings, and each one was difficult and frightening. Today’s walk was even more difficult and dangerous then yesterday’s. This only strengthened the decision and the resolve made by Atul and others to fly back to Kathmandu by helicopter. PD specifically asked me to note down in my diary that today was the most dangerous day of trekking. On my return on myown, when I had nightmares of this particular stretch of trek, I did not even notice or realise when I crossed this so
called “most dangerous” stretch of our trek. Why?Thinking about it, I realised that there was no danger atall provided the guide knew, and followed the simplelogic of such mountain areas. As day rises and getswarmer, snow melts, and the streams get lot more water.Also melting snow dislodges rocks and causes rockslides. Another guide told me that a sensible guidewould never take his clients on that section after mid-day. When I crossed that section at about 10, there waslittle water in the streams. Even the Austrian trekkers,whom I met, were there by 10.30. They must havecamped where we did but must have left quite early inthe morning. When we told Kitap day before, that we weretired and did not wish to be woken up early, he shouldhave warned us of the dangers of going late on this stretch. It was totally unprofessional, and very careless of Kitapnot to have given us this basic warning. It was Kitap who explained to me the logic of melting snow and increasedrisks if we went late. How then he did not bother to tell us that we had to start early on that day? Not only did he riskour lives by his careless attitude, but he also caused the rest of the team to decide to fly back. Yesterday I had told others that I will join them. Yesterday I was tired when I concurred with others; but todayI was feeling fresh and invigorated. Whole day I kept thinking about this. I had been sponsored by many well wishers. They would not say anything if I did not complete the trek, but my conscience would not accept that I did not do what I had promised I will do. Will I be able to live with this? Also, so far I had no problems. My ankle and knee were fine. I had no headaches and my stomach was fine. I was not feeling any after effects of these long days of difficult walking. Friday tired me, but that was to be expected after a long and difficult day of trekking. But next day I was fine and back to normal. I found walking on snow and crossing difficult streams as challenging but not dangerous. I felt that the risk factor was very small, and that trekking would be dull if there were not some such challenges. To fly back by helicopter was an easy option. But I had come here to do a specific trek, and there was no reason why I should not complete the trekfor which I had come here.6th May – Yangley to Jakkharka (2646 mtrs.) – 6 hours. Last night I told Nirmal about my decision. Others had gone to sleep. He did not make any comment. In themorning I told others about my decision. No discussion took place. They understood that I seemed firm on mydecision. Whether they felt that I was being brave doing this difficult return trek on my own, or that I was beingfoolish to contemplate doing this trek on my own – that I will never know. But one thing I know, and appreciate a lotwas the fact that they did not try to persuade me to change my mind. I guess I must be grateful for their understandingand accepting my decision. Had they tried to persuade me to change my mind, it is quite possible that I might havewavered and got confused. The guide, more implicitlyrather than explicitly, expressed his disapproval at mydecision. One guide left today to arrange for thehelicopter. We started our trek to our next camp site.Today it was easy going walk along the river with somegentle ascents that did not bother us much. My mind wasfull of thoughts. In two days, I would be alone withguides and porters, but none of my friends would be withme. I am not at all regretting my decision. On thecontrary, more I thought about it I was glad that I hadmade the decision to continue. We camped before 3.00. It was sunny day, and Ilay on the grass in the sun for a long time. It was mybirthday today and the cook made a cake for me.
However at the time of the cake cutting only the guides, cook and Nirmal were present. Others had gone to sleep early. But it was nice to have this simple celebration on top of the Himalayan range. 7th May – Jakkharka to Sherson (4614 mtrs) – 6 hours. We left at 8.00. Today the trek was easy going on a flat terrain. It was sunny at first but became cloudy and windy as day progressed. On the way we lost the track for a while and we had to walk down a slope scattered with loose rocks. That was a difficult walk, and I used my hands to walk down the slope. I was scared of slipping or falling down the slope on those small rocks. We were early to our camp site and spent the evening playing cards. While we were playing cards, suddenly the temperatures started falling and we were shivering. We took a quick dinner and got into our sleeping bags by 7.30. It snowed all night. 8th May – Shersong to Makalu Base Camp.(4800 mtrs) – 2 ¾ hours. We woke up at 6.30. There was no rush today as we had almost reached our destination. There was a thin layer of snow on the ground, very thick mist with a thick cloud cover, and temperatures were quite low giving a chill in theair. We started walking just after 8.00. It felt quite cold, but the walk was easy on a flat terrain. We did not have togo far, and as such we took lots of rest breaks. We madeto Makalu base camp by 10.45. It was cloudy and misty,and all the mountains surrounding the base camp werenot to be seen. We had reached our destination. This was thetarget of our trek. Completion of our mission brought anair of jubilation. Atul confessed that he was not sure ifhe would make it. He thanked everyone for bringing himhere. We had reached our destination but because of theweather conditions we could not even see the MountMakalu, which we had been eagerly waiting to see formany days. Weather conditions did not permit us to doanything, and we had the whole day in front of us. Wespent our time playing cards, and hoping that theweather will clear either today or tomorrow to give us aglimpse of the Mount Makalu. After lunch, we walked up the small hill in front of our camp. From the top of the hillwe could see some lakes on the other side. …(continued….Part II)