Makalu Adventure Part II by Jayant Doshi th9 May – Makalu base to Yangley – 8 hours. It snowed whole night. Our tents were covered with snow when we woke up. There were a few inches of snow on the ground, and the skies were dark and cloudy. Thick mist reduced visibility to a few yards. Our hopes of seeing Makalu disappeared with these weather conditions. I got ready and put on my boots and gaiters. It was time to say good bye to my three colleagues, who would wait for the helicopter to come and pick them up. I was to trek back, and retrace the trek we had already done. To others, that was unnecessary and dangerous, and they felt that mine going on my own was not wise, and that the trek filled with risks. No one said so explicitly, but implied so in their conversation. Bhola, the kitchen guide, came with me today. He was very caring person, and really looked after me. Today the trek was along the river valley and comparatively easy, though we had to be aware of rock falls. It was miserable weather whole day with mist and drizzling rain. At about 10.30 wesaw the helicopter flying above our heads. Soon after, itturned back and landed near where we were walking. Thepilot came and talked to Bhola who told them where theexact pick up was. After a short while we saw thehelicopter flying overhead. We waved, and I knew in mymind that very soon they will be back in Kathmandu inthe comforts of the luxury hotel while I still have a weekof walking to do. We stopped at the tea house for our lunch. Theold man, a former guide, had a neat shop in there andAtul had asked me to take a photo of the same. Whilst Iwas sitting there for my lunch, suddenly I felt odd in my head, and feared that I might be coming on with a headache. After lunch the trek became difficult, and my headache became annoying. For two hours I kept hoping thatcamp site was near. I was feeling tired. The kitchen assistant came with lemon tea, and I assumed the camp site wasround the corner, but I was wrong. We kept walking for over one hour before we saw the camp site, and even then ittook us almost half an hour to reach it. We walked almost nonstop and I was knackered. We walked in one day what we had walked in three days while coming up. The walk was not much easier now compared to then, but I assume we really walked fast and without stopping. If others had been with me then I very much doubt if we would have made to this site in this time – not because they could not have been able to walk this far but because with others around, the rest breaks would be more frequent and longer in time. I was totally knackered when I reached the camp site. The tents were not ready, but I just lay down on the bed in the tea house. Soon after, Kitap and others came. They started after the others had left by helicopter. They walked much faster so it was obvious they came here so quickly. As soon as the tent was ready, I went into the tentand laid my sleeping bag, and rested till dinner time. As it was raining, I had my dinner in the tent, and I did not waitfor much longer to sleep.
10th May – Yangley to Dobate – 7 hours. Last night I went to sleep at 8.00 and was soonfast asleep. I was woken up by the sound of rain ataround 2.00. I could not sleep after that but in my halfasleep state, I had some frightening thoughts – or onemay call nightmares whilst half asleep. Today was theday when we had to cross those fast flowing streamswhich frightened everyone last time. Today was the daywe had to pass that slope where rocks fall, and wherePD was saved by a whisker. Suddenly I began to fear thepossible risks in this trek. I got imaginary visions ofsome one falling in the stream and being dragged downthe slope; or a rock coming down and hitting some one.I saw visions of some one dying, and how we all go tosee the widow to pay some money. At one point, I wasthe victim. I began to think that I was being foolish in doing this trek, and that I should have gone with others. The thought even occurred that I might still have to call the helicopter, and that everyone will laugh at my stupidity. The thought of rains all week, and the fact that my head cover was inappropriate haunted me. I cursed myself for not borrowing one from Nirmal or others. I got up. I felt much better. The negative thoughts of the night had disappeared, and I seemed positive about the day’s walking. We left at 7.30. I normally got ready very fast, and as I was alone it was easier to leave quickly. On the way Kitap explained that it is wise to cross this section as early as possible in the day, and earlier we are, easier it gets to cross that section. As day rises, and sun gets warmer, temperatures rise, snow starts melting. This brings more water into the streams; dislodges rocks and causes rock slides. Iwondered why Kitap forgot this when we crossed it the first time. We walked for three hours continuously withoutstopping. When we crossed this area on 5th May, everyone termed this as the most difficult and dangerous trek. It wasafter this walk, when we got our shoes filled with water while crossing the streams, and when PD had a closeencounter with a falling rock, that the decision to fly back by helicopter was suggested. Kitap said that normally hewould allow four and a half hours to cross this patch. But we finished in three hours – showing how fast we walked. Ifound the walk so easy that I thought we still had to cross those dangerous streams. It was when Kitap told me that wehad already crossed those streams that I realised that my fears were totally ill-founded. Today was also a miserableday and it rained most of the day. Our lunch was arranged in a large cave. I felt relaxed and happy. All the negative thoughts of previous nightwere gone, and I felt happy that I was continuing my trek. I stretched myself and lay there comfortably. There wastotal mist and we could hardly see anything. After lunch we climbed up a very steep mountain, and the trek was overrocks and very difficult. The steepness of this slopewas not noticed when we came down the same. Butthis time I had already walked for half day, and withtired legs this steep climb proved very difficult. Thisseemed more difficult than the Arun valley crossing,which was still to come. As I was alone with Kitapand Bhola, I did not get many excuses to stop. Andwhenever I stopped for a while, Kitap would alwaysprod me by saying “shall we go”. We reached ourcamp site by 2.30. That must have been the fastestwalk I had done going uphill. Surprisingly, I did notfeel tired at all. As it was raining, there was not muchto do so I lay in my sleeping bag though I could notsleep. Again I had my dinner in my tent as it wasraining.
May 11th - Dobate to Toshigaon. – 13 hours. I woke up at 5.30 after a good night’s sleep. I peeped through tent flap and I saw sunrays and some mountains, and I thought we are going to have a clear sunny day. But I was wrong. This was going to be a day I would remember for a long time to come. By the time I was ready, it had become very cloudy and misty. The mist lingered around for most of the day, and made visibility very poor. Kitap explained that we will be crossing the mountain passes (Keke and Shipton) and reach Kauma. If at that stage I was still feeling fit, Kitap said, we will walk down to Toshigaon. He expected that we should reach Kauma by 2.00. We planned to start at 6.30 but were delayed and did not start till 7.00. This part of thetrek was equally difficult from both sides as we go up and then down each pass. When we came here first time we hadsome hard time, and others found it very difficult and dangerous part of the trek. We walk over snow for between fourand five hours and that makes it slow and difficult. Last time when we walked in snow we had lots of mishaps. We put our feet in holes, and slipped or fell down.But today was perfect. I hardly put a foot wrong.And the reason was Bhola. He was veryconsiderate and caring, and he made sure that Iwalked on the right track. He would go in front ofme jumping and digging his heels in the snow,making a path for me to follow. Had this sort ofcare been taken when we all four walked on thispath before then we might not have had theproblems we faced then. Before we walked on thesnow if the guide had given us some advice andinstructions, then we would not have felt this as themost dangerous part of the trek. We got the worst weather conditions. In themorning it was totally misty, and that lasted formost of the morning. At first we had hail storm,and the little stone like snow balls hit us whilewalking, and made our walking difficult. Then it changed to snow fall and the snow fall also hindered our speed. As Iwas alone, and with Kitap and Bhola helping me, I walked much faster. Also I did not take many rest breaks whichmeant that we reached Kauma by 1.30 – in 6 ½ hours. Kitap had expected that we would take 8 hours. Kitap told me that it will take four hours to Toshigaon. I assumed that if we start at 3.00 then we will be thereby 7.00, and most likely earlier as I normally walked faster then what Kitap assumed. So after lunch I decided to takerest before walking again. We left at 3.00. The walk was downhill most of the way. Soon after we started walking, it started raining, and soon became adeluge and downpour. Monsoons had arrived early. As we were walking down hill, water ran along our path makingour trek into a running stream. My water proof boots could no longer stop this deluge, and I had water inside myboots. Water created muddy conditions and made walking difficult. The intensity of rain kept changing, but it neverstopped raining. Luckily I was wearing wet suit and gaiters. I had put these on as a precaution against snow. Kitap had told me it was not necessary to wear this but I for once decided to wear them. Bhola was carrying my ruck sack, with his ruck sack on top, and then covered by his jacket. He was soaking in water. There was no question of taking a rest stop, or stopping to have a sip of water. I could not bear the thought of Bhola putting everything down so I could have water, and get all bags and himself wet in the process. We kept walking. We walked through a forest, and a time came in the evening when I could hardly see anything. Kitap put his head light on my head, but that light did not give much help. Bhola kept leading the way till 7.00 without the help of any light. Then he also found it difficult to see his way. He took my light which had to be held in hand.
Kitap had a torch but it ran out of batteries and he wasfollowing us in the dark. With thick mist, heavy rainsand trees all around us, it was very difficult to see evenwith the lights. We reached a point where some treeshad fallen and blocked our path. Bhola went underneaththose fallen trees and found a way for us. We cameacross a river with wooden planks which were put therefor crossing the river. Bhola found they were veryslippery so we crossed the river over some rocks. Thatcrossing would have been difficult during day light also. I was getting tired. I asked Kitap several timeshow far was Toshigaon. His estimate of four hoursseemed totally off the mark. But there was not much Icould do, and it was no good complaining either. Soonafter crossing the river, we at last saw our tents, and Igave a sigh of relief. We had walked for thirteen hours. Last five hours we had not stopped even for a sip of water.And the weather had not been friendly either. At last we reached our camp site at 8.00. It was still raining heavily. I just sat in my tent and started removing my gaiters, boots and my wet clothes, ensuring that too much water did not get into my tent. I sat half inside with my legs outside to prevent mud and water dirtying my tent. I hardly had removed my gaiters and my shoes, when Bhola came running, with a large candle in his hand, and told me not to remove my things. He asked me to pass my gaiters and boots to him. He started looking at my trousers and my legs, and found leeches which he picked one by one and burnt them on the candle. Even then those leeches rolled over and jumped out of the candle. I removed my wet trouser and my jacket and t-shirt. Bhola checked every part of my body minutely and asked me to change my trouser. He came back and took my trouser. Then he looked all around the tent to see if any leeches were left. He must have picked as many as twenty leeches. I got a few leech bites on my leg, and blood oozed out of the bite. Leech is a tiny insect like a snake, less than an inch in length, which sticks to human skin, and sucks blood till it dies. The only way to remove the leech would be by either burning, or cutting the skin. Trying to pull the leech could be painful as the skin would pull out with it. I am told that leech sucks so much blood that it blows to a much longer and fatter size then its original size. We were asked to bring our gaiters, and warned about leeches. The tiny snake like insect can stick to the skin and suck blood, and I am told that one could die if enough leeches were to get ontothe human body. Today morning I did ask Kitap if I should wear gaiters, and he bluntly told me that I do not needthem. I nevertheless wore them as we were going to walk through snow. But I never imagined that they would protectme against leeches, nor did Kitap even suggest that we might face leeches later in the day. I was soaked in the heavy rains. Even my camera which was inside my rain coat got wet. The ruck sack wassoaked in water. Even my big bag which had plastic cover over it had some water inside. The advantage of being onmy own was that I could keep all my bags inside thetent and do not have to worry about packing the bagtill morning. I had walked for thirteen hours, and thoughI was tired I did not feel any pain in my legs. Butjust in case the calf muscles were to pain me atnight and disturb my sleep, I took some pain killers.I had a good night’s sleep. Leeches breed fast in rain. While walkingthrough the forest, leeches would have got on ourshoes, gaiters and trousers. The guide is supposed towarn and inform of such dangers. Leech, once itgets on to the skin, is difficult to remove. Either onehas to use salt, or burn them or cut them from theskin. I was not even aware that there were leeches
on my clothes. Had not Bhola come in time, and saved me from these insects, I guess I could have been in hospital with all those leeches covered over my body, and sucking my blood for the night. Ideally, Kitap should have warned me, and advised me to remove all my wet clothes away from my tent so that no leeches would get into my tent. What a day it had been. Mist, hail storm, snow fall, walking in snow, hot sun and humidity, monsoon downpour, walking in the dark and then to end it all the leeches jumping to suck my blood made it a day to remember. From a height of over 4200 metres, we came down to 2200 metres in one day, and walked for thirteen hours. We could not have asked for more. But I survived, and I was still in highspirits that is what mattered most. When I told Kitap about the leeches next morning, he laughed and said “you had nothing – I had twenty fiveleeches on my body” as if this was a contest, and his comment was made to make me feel better. I felt very angry athis attitude. He lived in these parts, and he would know how to deal with this. I was his client and it was his duty toprotect and advise me. His unprofessional and carefree attitude shocked me, and I felt that this person was not fitenough to be a guide.12th May – Toshigaon to Arun valley – 8 hours. The rain lashing on the tent woke me upearly, but I lay in my sleeping bag till 6.15. I feltwonderful, and quite happy that I was going well onmy return trek. Previous days long walk, and the badweather had not dampened my spirits. I felt fresh andinvigorated. When I came out of the tent, it was alovely morning with sun just rising, sky with a fewscattered clouds, and our camp site overlooking abeautiful valley with a river, surrounded bymountains with thick forests, and snow covered peaksto be seen at a distance. I took some photos andsavoured the natural beauty around me. I had beenunlucky in weather conditions I encountered for thelast three days, but today I was going to enjoy this wonderful atmosphere. This is what trekking in the mountains isabout. Yesterday was the longest day of non-stop trekking. Heavy rains and walking in the dark made it atreacherous day. But today I was feeling fine with no pains. I got ready after sorting out all wet clothes and food stuff.We met an Italian guy in Makalu base camp and I saw him at the same tea house where we were camped. He alsowalked the same stretch as me, but of course he walked much faster and was here by 4.30. However, he said he wastotally shattered and he gave compliments that I walked very well, and that I am not showing any signs of having walked so much yesterday. I told him about my encounter with the leeches, and he was shocked to hear it. His guide had advised him to carry salt in his pocket all the time. Our guide gave us no hints or guidance in the matter. My endurance, my physical stamina and ability to face worst situations were tested to the limit, and I came out with flying colours. The clear day did not last for long. It started raining again. As my ruck sack water bag was leaking, I asked Bhola to put drinking water in the aluminium flask. To add to my woes, the flask leaked and things which were already wet got more water on them. We left at 8.50. The trek was mostly downhill through the forests. The Italian passed us and he took my email address. When I mentioned that I write a report on my trek, he asked if I was a writer. I replied that I am not a
writer, and that my writing is not that good. He commented that if I can walk this good then my writing must also be good. That was a wonderful compliment. He was walking even faster than his guides, and we saw his two guides trailing behind him by a long distance. Kitap mentioned on the way that he got really worried when I told him that I am walking back instead of flying by helicopter. He tried to make me change my mind. He thought that I would never make it to Tumlingtar by Tuesday, and arranged to change the flight by a day. But when he saw my speed of walking, he realised that he was wrong, and that we would be able to catch the flight as per the original schedule. We stopped for lunch at a small village. For once, it was not raining though the sky was overcast. The scenery wasspectacular. Mountain slopes covered with thick forests, and lower slopes with farms and huts, the sound of riverwaters flowing down the valley, and the snow capped peaks in the far distance made it enchanting to look at. For once,I was relaxed and had the opportunity to appreciate this wonderful nature and its beauty while I was having my lunch. After lunch, our trek led us to our next destination of Seduwa. At Seduwa, Kitap phoned Kathmandu andinformed everyone that we were fine and on schedule to reach Kathmandu by the following Tuesday. As we werequite early, Kitap decided that we would walk downinto the Arun valley, cover as much distance as wecould, and then camp so that next day we can climb tothe top of the mountain to Num, and then walk halfway to Khadibar. We walked till almost 5.00 in theevening and then camped on a narrow strip of farmland on the slopes of the valley. There was just aboutspace to put our tents, but the site was wonderful, andwithin hearing distance from the flowing waters ofArun river. After three bad days, weather wise andwalking wise, we had a good day today. The weatherhad been good, and walking was not that taxing. I feltquite relaxed and fresh after a pretty long day oftrekking.13th May – 9 ½ hours. I was awake quite early, but I lay in bed waiting for Bhola to come and wake me up with the morning tea. Icame out to see a lovely valley with a clear sky, and after many days, the first sighting of the sun. The sun was aboutto rise, and I took several photos of the natural beauty that surrounded our camp site. We left at 7.25. At first we walked down to the river valley, and crossed a swing bridge, and then we startedthe steep ascent to Num. The sun was getting stronger, and our early part of the trek was through trees which gave usprotection against the strong sun rays. But then when the sun came on to our heads, and it became really hot, we didnot have the shelter of the trees, and this made our walking very difficult and frustrating. I was sweating profusely,and taking a rest break every now and then as it was very difficult to walk in this hot weather. We reached Num atabout 11.00. I phoned home to find a voice mail. After a short rest, we proceeded towards our lunch break. I assumedthat the walk after Num will be on flat ground or a gentle descent. But I was wrong. The ascent uphill continued, and the mid-day heat made walking very difficult. After the first week of trekking, I started getting pain on my left shoulder blade. I thought that the weight of the ruck sack was causing the pain. Against my own wishes, I decided to give the ruck sack to the guide to carry. But the pain continued, and I felt that perhaps I had caught cold on the back with the cold and the hot weather, rain and sweat this was likely to happen. The pain started a while after we started walking in the morning, and lasted for two hours or so. Today, when walking from Num towards our lunch camp, I suddenly felt a severe pain in my back, and this was much more painful than it had ever been before. Kitap was the only person walking with me, and I immediately asked him
to press my back. But he just pressed it once and left it. He showed no sympathy, nor did he enquire what was bothering me, or if he could help me in any way. I felt really angry at him for being so unconcerned and inhumane. I kept walking, pressing the back with my own hand. After a while, the pain subsided. Lunch was arranged on a slope, in the midst of lots of trees. After lunch we kept walking in search of a suitable site for our camp site. I was tired, but I knew that whatever extra distance we cover today, would mean less walking tomorrow. The first site selected by the porters was rejected by Kitap. After some time, we found a lovely farm house with a ground that would allow us to camp there. The site was beautiful, overlooking a green valley with lots of terrace farms.14th May – 8 ½ hours. I was awake early but I lay in bed till my morning tea came. It was a lovely sunny day with clear skies. Mybreakfast was laid in the open in the sun shine. I took photos of the site and had my photo taken while having mybreakfast. We started our final full day of trekking at 7.25. Soon after we started walking, Kitap pointed out MountMakalu. For all these days, we walked right up to the base of that mountain, but weather did not permit us to have alook at this peak. And on this very last day, when wewere long distance away from that mountain, I couldnow see the mountain. I took a few photos. But soonafter that, Mount Makalu got partly covered by cloudswhile rest of the sky was still clear. Surprisingly, rest ofthe sky was blue, and all other mountains peaks wereclearly visible, but Mount Makalu remained under cloudcover for the rest of the day. Mission accomplished. Myfriends all yearned to get a glance of this mountain butthey did not get that opportunity. I fortunately got thechance to see it. We had a long lunch break. I was sitting in thebalcony of the restaurant, and the balcony overlookedthe whole valley surrounded by mountains and snowcovered peaks. I was relaxed and I sat there admiring thecreation of nature. The valley was interspersed with lovely farm houses, and terrace farms along its slopes, and thesight was breath taking. I spent a long time admiring the scene. We reached Khadbari at about 4.00. We stayed in the same hotel as we did before. I had a nice cold water bathafter almost eighteen days. Today was almost the end of the trek. Kitap wanted that we walk down to Tumlingtar, butI did not want to spend a night in that poor quality hotel with lots of insects. I felt happy and at ease. The satisfactionof having completed the trek was great. Others gave up, and I decided to complete the trek. First three days weretrying and taxing; but I came through. I felt great. I never felt any leg pains, or did not have any knee or ankle pains. I used to get tired after a long day, but then a good sleep gave me full recovery. The fact that all bones and limbs were intact was even more reason for satisfaction. And that out of four, I only completed the trek felt great – not forgetting that I am the oldest of the lot. Of course, others trekked well too, and I am not trying to decry their performance. But at the cost of self praise, I could not but feel proud that I had achieved this feat. Only blemish on my record was that I did not carry my own ruck sack. I assumed that the ruck sack was causing the back pain, but I was wrong. 15th May – to Tumlingtar.
I got ready leisurely. I distributed the balance ofthe food stuff to all the porters and others. We startedwalking down to Tumlingtar. It did not take us long. Wewere there by 10.00 a.m. I sat there on a chain in theforecourt of the hotel. I, on behalf of the rest of my friends,gave tips to each and every one. They all seemed happy. Ihad my lunch, and walked to the field nearby for my flightat about 1.00. I reached the hotel to a welcome from mycolleagues. I was not tired, nor did I feel fazed by theexperience of the previous week. But I had the greatsatisfaction of achievement that could not be put intowords. This was the most difficult trek so far in myexperience, and I continued on the trek on my own, andcompleted the trek without any problem or mishap. This is what made this trek a great adventure that will stay inmemory for long time to come. This trek had variety and variation that is what made it exciting, challenging, difficultand dangerous in some ways. We go from 450 metres to a height of 4800 metres. We walk through forests, valleys,climb many mountains and cross many rivers and streams, we walk through snow and cross over mountain passes, wesee mist and blazing sun, we go through snow fall and monsoon downpour, we sweat in the heat, and freeze in thesnow, we cross streams overflowing with water and we miss falling rocks, we get our legs into deep snow and we slipand slide on the icy snow. The trek had everything one can imagine or expect. That is what made this trek so great. Some might read self boasting into this, but it has to be accepted as an achievement. Others did well in every way, and I am not criticising their decision not to walk back. They had their reasons, and some valid arguments for their decision, and I never disputed the same. Everyone in the group was good at walking, and I still believe strongly that they all would have been able to walk back same as me. The problems we faced, the reasons why we found the trek very dangerous, were more due to lack of advice and guidance from the guide than anything else. And since I believe everyone could have finished this trek, my achievement was no more than normal, and if I am to be bestowed with bouquets then others in the group deserve the same treatment. (all articles on website www.jayantdoshi.yolasite.com)