Author Archives: Tiffany Shacklett

About Tiffany Shacklett

What I Say: Strangers' children and dogs like me instantly. I am most engaging in one on one conversations. Any environment I am exposed to for a length of time will find itself cleaner, more organized and systematic by the time I leave. Books I start are usually finished within 48 hours. I make fruit pies and pomegranate jelly from scratch. I am good at finding new adventures and unique experiences as well as pleasure and contentment in simple things. I love travel and the great outdoors. I love to learn about all kinds of different things and use what I learn to be of help and support to others. What the stars say: You are a modest, ambitious, pleasure loving, and enterprising individual. You are naturally group-conscious. You are fearless, bold, aggressive, and will fight for a just cause. You are frank, clean-hearted, and liberal. You have an amazing power to forgive and forget, even after becoming extremely enraged. You have a religious approach to life. You are a sweet, romantic, virtuous, and passionate person. You uphold high standards in your lifestyle. You may have drawbacks like arrogance, self-praise, a soft spot for flattery, a desire to impress, and a prejudiced outlook. You have a good, intelligent mind. It is straightforward and pure. Due to your intelligence, you can succeed in various occupations. Your speech and expressions are sweet. Your knowledge and intelligence are supportive factors in gaining fulfillment of your desires You are peace loving, and always try to maintain happiness. You are deeply interested in the obtainment of material comforts and wealth. You are interested in psychology, education, art, and entertainment. You love freedom, but dislike impertinence. Having to follow orders promulgated by others makes you miserable. In extreme cases, you would choose poverty and discomfort over having to accept favors that would oblige you to follow someone's commands. You have a gentle and attractive gait. You have kingly traits. You are strong, and can easily take on responsibility. You generally succeed in your undertakings, but remain modest about yourself. You have good organization skills, and some artistic talent. You reach your goals by utilizing some of the many opportunities that come your way. You have natural qualities of leadership and organizing. You have religious inclinations and feel sincere respect towards your teachers. You perform everything with decorum and grandeur.

May 19, 2013: Active Day 14, Deboche to Khumjung

Deboche to Khumjung
The next morning we walked up the stone pathway through the white rhododendron tunnel for the last time. At the top of the hill in Tengboche, we made friends with another dog, a female this time, who became our pet for the day. Dovile named her Fergie. Fergie trotted along side us down the pink rhododendron-lined switchbacks to the river, where we stopped at the end of the suspension bridge again for some tea. Stacy and Dovile mentioned wanting to take her home.
Playing catch.

Playing catch.

"I don't think any of us could provide as good a home for her as she has here." I said. "She's free to run these mountain trails all day and it appears as though she has plenty to eat. It's a dog's paradise." I was a little jealous. Okay, maybe a lot jealous. DK made good his promise and gave the little boy who lived there the red cricket ball. The boy, glad to have some playmates, also played with Ele and Dovile with a piece of wood that through the magic of imagination became a plane. He brought out another toy to show us, a plastic rabbit on three wheels. The fourth was missing. DK asked Bibak the word for rabbit. "Kharayo, kharayo, kharayo," he repeated.
Bibak and Stacy Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder.

Bibak and Stacy
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder.

Before we left, Bibak threw Stacy on his back and pretended he would carry her up the hill on the other side. We were sure he could have done it without much trouble. On the way up to Khumjung we passed a tree nursery established by the Himalayan Trust. Sir Ed could see the direction Nepal was headed and sought to mitigate the environmental impact caused by increased tourism to Everest.
With its rapidly increasing population, primitive agriculture, and steep terrain, Nepal has the most serious erosion problem of any country in the world, and the problem worsens as more forests disappear in the scouring of the land for food and fuel; in eastern Nepal, and especially in the Kathmandu Valley, firewood for cooking (not to speak of heat) is already precious, brought in by peasants who have walked for miles to sell the meager faggots on their backs. The country folk cook their own food by burning cakes of livestock dung, depriving the soil of the precious manure that would nourish it and permit it to hold water. Without wood humus or manure, the soil deteriorates, compacts and turns to dust, to be washed away in the rush of the monsoon. Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
Once up the hill on the other side, we cruised along a relatively smooth trail into Khumjung. The most striking thing about Khumjung was the entire town appeared to be color-coordinated, in contrast to the kaleidoscope of colors present everywhere else we'd been. Every sheet metal roof was green. Did they have some sort of high-mountain homeowners association enforcing the rule?
Green roofs of Khumjung

Green roofs of Khumjung

Fergie was still with us when we got to our lodging. The Hidden Village was also beautiful, with lots of stone and wood. Our room had a spectacular view of the village. We all enjoyed veggie momos and spring rolls for lunch to make it easier for them to prepare. DK went into the kitchen to help, the rest of us, considered unclean both literally and spiritually, were not permitted. Dovile and Stacy went outside to play with the dog while we waited. After lunch Fergie had disappeared... maybe to head back home, wherever her home actually was.
Babies, just a day or two old.

Babies, just a day or two old.

Every yard in town was fenced with a rock wall and the passages between the walls were narrow. DK expertly lead us through the maze to get to a monastery at the foot of the mountain across town from our lodge. On the way, I can't really explain it, it felt like I moved into a dark cloud. The energy got really heavy. Later when I tried to rationalize it, I thought maybe the altitude had finally brought up some muck that had been plaguing other people in their dreams. I've also been accused of being an empath so perhaps the energy I picked up might not have been mine. Whatever it was it hit hard and hit fast. We passed some cute little baby cows or yaks or yak-cows and I didn't care. DK pointed out a community water spring that Sir Ed, who focused a lot of his attention on Khumjung, had put in for the community. This seemed really sad to me, that the people couldn't even get water for themselves.
Khumjung Monastery Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Khumjung Monastery
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

We entered the monastery and took off our shoes. They appeared to be restoring it, the building was in nowhere near as good condition as the one in Tengboche. Was this because of fewer tourist rupees? Once inside they unlocked a case with a supposed yeti skull. The somewhat barbaric story of how it came to be there didn't improve my mood. We sat down in a circle and DK started to talk more about the Nepali culture and how women were supposed to appear sad at weddings as part of the tradition. Historically girls were married off in arranged marriages, and would leave their families at a young age for a life of servitude. While this isn't necessarily the case today, brides still pretend to reflect the sadness of their ancestors. Funny how marriage tends to be a better deal for men, yet even today many women still use it to measure their self worth.
The story of the yeti skull.

The story of the yeti skull.

An old man came in and hissed me off the bench where I was sitting. Fuck, I just sat on a religious artifact didn't I? This is a huge no-no. Without being conscious of what I was doing, I had plopped down on one of the benches reserved for monks. I skulked over to where the others were sitting, completely ashamed and embarrassed. It was about that point I began to become aware of the dark cloud I had wandered into, because I don't normally attract that kind of experience. What was going on? We pulled on our shoes and headed back downhill. Still in my funk, I was annoyed with all the shallow American chit-chat. You're missing the real Nepal, my shadow whispered. We were in the first and only place that was somewhat out of the "tourist tunnel" and yet insisted on keeping the tourist bubble around us with our conversation and our activity. I had to get away. The second we got back I made a beeline for our room. Maybe the others were going to go play volleyball now, I didn't know and didn't care. Like Dumbledore's crazy sister I felt whatever this was about to come exploding out of me. Where would I go? The top of a nearby hill was my first choice, but now I was afraid I'd be intruding on some other forbidden holy land like a kitchen or an old bench. Maybe upstairs? I eyed the staircase and then looked down the hall at some doors on the end. They opened onto a balcony. This would do for now. I settled into a meditation pose and just breathed. Though it took a while, eventually the darkness lifted. Sitting on that balcony I was able to observe a day in the life of the village without being seen. Well, that's not true, one monk on the path saw me and we watched each other curiously as he walked, but most of the other locals were oblivious. A man swept the front of his shop for what seemed like hours. A nearby chicken scratched a safe distance from the old-fashioned broom. Young men and women moved quickly and cheerily up the path. Old men moved slowly. Someone used a megaphone to send a message to the other side of town. Clouds began to form in the river valley below and moved slowly up to the edge of the village. Baby potato plants grew in the sandy soil beneath me. Still conscious of being unclean, I went back to the room long enough to get my nail clippers. Amanda was upstairs and I asked her what time we should meet for dinner. Not for a while, so I went back to my balcony to spend more quality time with Nepal. I was cheerful and otherwise back to normal again by dinner. Since I left the group rather abruptly and never returned for the volleyball game, DK asked how I was doing. Fine, now. I said I'd been conscious of being the tourist, and wanted to see the town without being seen. He seemed to understand and had the good grace to leave it at that.

May 18, 2013: Active Day 13, Back to Rivendell

Periche to Deboche
When we walked out into the courtyard of the White Yak to leave the next morning, this was our view: The White Yak It was a beautiful, comfortable place and the night before was the first Type I fun we'd had at a lodge in a while.
The White Yak. Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

The White Yak.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

For the uninitiated, fun can be classified into three basic types. Type I fun is an activity that's fun while you're participating and fun later. The sunny afternoon at Rivendell was mostly Type I. Type II fun is not particularly fun while you're participating, but fun later. Mountaineering often falls in this category. Type III fun is fun while you're participating, and not particularly fun later. A night out drinking that results in a wicked hangover, for example.
Nepali Flat Nepali Flat
Rockin' it back to Rivendell. Photo credit: Michael Allan

Rockin' it back to Rivendell.
Photo credit: Michael Allan

Photo credit: Kevin Cordova Photo bomb: Dan Keys

Photo credit: Kevin Cordova
Photo bomb: Dan Keys

Inhaling kerosene fumes and dodging dal barf in the hallway were more Type II. Not so fun in the moment, but fun to joke about later. The Type I fun at the White Yak made us wish for a second night. The good news was we were heading back to Rivendell, the original scene of so much Type I fun in the days before. The trail started off with some classic Nepali flat. Flatten your hand and roll it in a wavelike motion and you'll get an idea of what Nepali flat means to the rest of the world. "Sometimes uphill, sometimes downhill." Back at Rivendell, Ele and I were keen enough on another puja to make the somewhat steep trek back up to Tengboche. There were dozens of ravens vocalizing outside as we moved up the stone path through the rhododendrons. "They ought to change the name to Ravendell," I said. The good news was, according to Animal-Speak, ravens were a good omen, symbolizing magic, shape-shifting and creation. Interesting because looking back, if I could only choose only one word to describe my adventure in Nepal, it would be magic. I'll paraphrase from the book below:
Ravens have the ability to teach you how to stir the magic of life without fear, to work the magic of the spiritual laws on the physical plane, and stir the energies to manifest what you most need. If raven has come into your life, expect magic. Raven speaks of the opportunity to become the magician or enchantress of your life and to bring your inner magician out of the dark into the light. Raven speaks of messages from the spirit realm that can shape-shift your life dramatically.
We walked up to the monastery, up the stone steps, through the courtyard, and upstairs to the entryway were we took off our shoes. The monks were already chanting. Hmmm, this was odd, we ought to be slightly early if the puja was the same time as before. We walked in silently, hardly daring to breathe, and sat down on one of the rugs. We were the only two tourists in the building. Could it be because climbing season was almost over? Both of us had a weird feeling about it. A few minutes later the monks stopped and got up to leave. A couple of them were kind enough to tell us to come back for the puja at four. We were an hour early. It was Saturday. As this was their holy day, they kept to a different schedule. Feeling slightly embarrassed and maybe a little ashamed for intruding, we padded out, put on our shoes and tried to decide what to do for an hour. Ele suggested tea and I jumped on the idea. We walked down to a different place than before. The new tea house was also a bakery and smelled divine. Even though we were on the down hill portion of the trip, I decided to stick to my no sugar rule. Well, that and I didn't think to bring cash; Ele was kind enough to buy the tea for us. There was rhododendron tea on the menu. Why not? We asked the hostess if we could try a small pot of it. She said she was out of stock, so we settled on milk tea. Once again, it was good to get some one-on-one time with somebody. Ele told me a lot about what it was like to work for Active (awesome) and some of her other adventures in Nepal. She was lucky enough to have done the Annapurna trek before EBC. I learned that she and Amanda also had a couple of extra days in Kathmandu after the tour and we made tentative plans to figure out something to do. Maybe south Nepal? We kept hearing legends of river dolphins and elephants and thought it might be worth another flight to try to see them. The conversation inevitably turned to one of my favorite topics, relationships. I showed her one of the hand analysis parlor tricks I had been taught that is supposed to indicate number of partnerships and when they show up in our lives. If there is any truth to it, we both had something to look forward to. Time will tell. I brought up Jyotish and the Ganas. I told her the placement of the moon indicates our heart and how we relate, and the placement of the sun represents our father and our career. She thought her dad sounded Rakshasa. Her career definitely fit the bill. My own dad is a Deva and my career at the time was quite Deva-ish. The trouble was, my heart wasn't in it. That day was the first time I thought about it in that way. I wondered if there was a way to unite the two... have the Deva career that my Rakshasa heart could be into. I was having so much fun getting to know her better that the hour just flew by. The "small" teapot was enough to provide us each multiple cups, so we visited the ladies' room before taking our chances with the monastery again. Up the stone steps we went, and into the courtyard. There were dozens of other tourists waiting to enter. A good sign. Like before, we all took off our shoes and squeezed in together on the rugs. Unfortunately, this tourist group was more disrespectful about the no cameras rule. Ele even put on her teacher hat and reprimanded one of them. Once the puja started, we could tell right away the day was special. All the various instruments that laid unused in the first one we witnessed came out in force on Saturday. Horns were blown, drums beaten, bells rung, and all sorts of notes and rhythms and chants went on and off in various succession. I was completely absorbed by it all. I vaguely noticed people get up to leave. Finally Ele and I were the last ones sitting. The last person who left told her it had been nearly two hours. What?? No way we had been sitting that long. I wasn't used to time travel that didn't involve alcohol. If we didn't leave soon, we'd be caught in the dark and would miss dinner. We got up as quietly as possible and walked out. The monks showed no signs of stopping.
Back at Rivendell.

Back at Rivendell.

That night after dinner, Mike, Amanda and I got back on my favorite subject while the others played cards. I tried some hand analysis parlor tricks with them involving heart lines but couldn't remember the characteristics of the different archetypes off the top of my head. So I transitioned into topics that I could talk about for hours, specifically the four variables employed by Match Matrix and the Jyotish system for compatibility. I introduced them to the Nakshatras and told them if they were in India and someone asked "hey baby, what's your sign?" they'd be able to surprise and delight them by answering "Mula" or "Anuradha." They were the first enthusiastic audience I could ever remember having. Everyone else usually just humors me. I told them thanks for listening. We Sagittarians love to preach and it was fun having listeners who genuinely seemed interested. The lights went out. Crap, my headlamp is downstairs. The lights turned back on. Whew, no worries then. The lights went out longer. Uh oh. When the lights came on again Amanda got up to leave and I decided not to take my chances with stumbling in the dark and followed her downstairs. I was in bed but not asleep when an extremely hyper Dovile came giggling into the room. Must be all the oxygen. DK was behind her with some of his Rescue Remedy that she dubbed "Dinosaur Drops" after one of the jokes he told earlier:
photoA kid accidentally left his hallucinogens out at Grandma's house. "Grandma, have you seen my pills?" She looks at him and says, " F--- the pills, have you seen the dinosaur in the kitchen?"
DK wished me luck and closed the door. He was in the room next to her and she began tapping some morse code on the wall. No answer. "I might not be the one who needs the luck," I joked. We talked about all kinds of random stuff. Decorating led to landscaping led to plants led to the Backster Effect. The topic that finally killed her buzz and knocked both of us out cold was work, bookkeeping and taxes. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

May 17, 2013: Active Day 12, Kala Patthar

Gorak Shep to PericheThat night on one of the inevitable midnight trips to the toilet I found myself side-stepping a bunch of dal barf in the hallway. There was splatter in front of every doorway between our room, which was right in the middle the hall, and the two Asian-style toilets at the end. Ew, sucks to be whoever did this. When DK got the Kala Patthar trekkers out of bed at 0-dark-thirty the first thing he asked us was, "How are you feeling?" It didn't appear as though the culprit was among us. Mike, Sara, Ele, Amanda, DK and I donned our headlamps and moved out. The other three opted the night before to sleep in or take a shorter hike with Sudip at dawn. We were all still tired so we took our time up the hillside. In the dark there weren't many distractions so I was free to just stare at my feet in the glow of the headlamp (this is a good chakra healing exercise) and give all my attention to putting one foot in front of the other as we climbed. As it began to get light, we looked around. The hill we were on didn't seem to be all that steep, yet the views were spectacular.
Everest and Nuptse

Everest and Nuptse, first light.

Khumbu Glacier

Sunrise on the Khumbu Glacier

Everest (29,029 ft. / 8,848 m)

Everest (29,029 ft. / 8,848 m)

Clouds rolling in...

Clouds rolling in...

Kongma Tse (19,095 ft. / 5,820 m)

Kongma Tse (19,095 ft. / 5,820 m)

Above the clouds on Kala Patthar.

Above the clouds on Kala Patthar.

Everest and Nuptse (25,791 ft. / 7,861 m)

Everest and Nuptse (25,791 ft. / 7,861 m)

 
"Wow, it's so nice up here!" I breathed, taking it all in. An understatement; any eloquence I may have possessed had gone out the window down around 14,000 ft. Indeed it was "nice." It was also remarkable how the vistas could continue to get more stunning by the day. We took pictures and not long after clouds began to roll in. "Can we keep going to at least get to 18,000 ft.?" Sara asked DK, who wore an altimeter. We all agreed this was a worthy goal and slogged on. It didn't take long before we climbed above the clouds and were grateful for the opportunity to get more pictures as the sun rose. The clouds caught up with us again. We could see the top and it was too much of a temptation to resist. We took a page out of Forrest Gump's book and said since we had gone this far, we might as well keep going to the summit. At around 18,200 ft. / 5,545 m, we reached the highest point of our trek. I sat on a rock, which was starting to look soft and cozy, and DK passed around some cookies / biscuits to celebrate. (Probably Coconut Crunchees. That's what it looks like he's pointing to in the photo.)  I took a bite, discovered with dismay that I had no spit, and managed to finish the cookie with a couple mouthfuls of water.
From left, Mike, DK, Bibak, Sara, Me, Ele Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

From left, Mike, DK, Bibak, Sara, Me, Ele
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

We took another photo to document the achievement. Let my red, peely face and raccoon eyes caution you to bring fresh sunscreen with a high SPF and apply liberally and often if you ever spend any time at altitude. "We've certainly seen each other at our worst," Sara said, in reference to our sunburns, windburns, illnesses and general unpleasant effects stemming from multiple days without a shower. "And our best," I finished. Up there we were real. We had no need to hide ourselves behind pretention or define ourselves with competition or materialism. The longer we stayed, the more we became completely authentic. Human beings, each with a body that may not always work the way we'd like it to, yet finding the strength to carry on anyway. Spiritual beings who valued looking after each other more than looking important; who appreciated a shared experience more than we ever could a shiny new "thing." The clouds were relentless in their pursuit and we still had a lot of walking ahead of us so we didn't stay long before heading back down for breakfast. As the Gorakshep dry lakebed came into view, I was able to see clearly why we started off so slow. The first part of the hike was much steeper than it seemed in the dark. "Wow, did we really just climb up this?" I asked.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Down on the lakebed people had written messages with stone. My favorite was the one that read I ♥ EBC. I paused and took the picture, though I like Ele's better. Dhanyabad (thank you) to whoever made it. Back in the common room, the topic of conversation returned to the incident the night before. In the light of day we could see that the piles of puke ran all the way down the L-shaped hallway from the common room to the toilets. Unlike the poor soul in Namche, whoever did this was stealthy. No one heard a sound. Kevin said he thought the regurgitated rice was snow when he first saw it in the middle of the night. "Good thing you didn't make a snowball," someone joked. Stacy ran down her list of many, many other possible solutions. "They could have just gone outside, they could have used one of the 20 bins outside of every doorway..." "How are they supposed to clean the carpet?" someone wondered. The "carpet" was a green plastic porous Astroturf-type stuff. "We'll call Stanley Steamer!" chirped Dovile. "♫ Stanley Steamer, there's nowhere in the world we can't clean! ♫" she sang. We laughed. "I'm really good at jingles!!" she continued. We laughed harder. When we put on our packs to leave, we looked distastefully at the hill we had to climb to get out of the valley. "I'm so happy to be going back down!" Kevin said as he pointed up. "Jaam jaam! (Let's go!)" said DK. We stopped at Lobuche for some more kerosene fumes. DK was still in his parent role and told us we should try to take a quick nap before we continued. Instantly all of us were asleep at the table... no need to tell these kids twice. Down the valley our final destination was Pheriche (13,911 ft. / 4,240 m) and a lodge called the White Yak. It was another new off-the-itinerary facility we'd be trying out. DK was looking forward to it. After the awesomeness that was Rivendell we completely trusted his judgement. That and anything would be better than another night in Gorak Shep or Lobuche. He said we'd be safe to eat meat when we arrived because it was flown in by helicopter. Slaughtering animals generally is not permitted in Sagarmatha National Park. Any meat on the menu is typically carried up from below and can be quite old by the time it reaches your plate. A refrigerator would also have to be carried up on someone's back, so the existence of one was unlikely, even if a lodge actually had the power to run it. We walked through more yak herder shacks in the valley below the original yak herder shacks. In a field behind the stone cottages was a whole herd of yaks, many with babies. It was nice to see them in their more natural element, rather than working on trails. Some of them got really close. Sara and one yak startled each other, and then ran off in opposite directions. Those of us who witnessed tried not to laugh... too much.
Herd of Yaks

Herd of Yaks

Yak Herder Shacks

Yak Herder Shacks

Baby Yaks Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Baby Yaks
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Baby yak wrestling match. Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

Baby yak wrestling match.
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

The White Yak did not disappoint. It was a beautiful building with lots of stone, wood, and clean relatively oxygen-rich air. In the dining room they passed out little skeleton keys with wooden key chains shaped like mountains. Dovile and I would be staying in a room named Lhotse. For dinner we looked at the entire menu and not just the vegetarian options for the first time since Kathmandu. Mike ordered yak steak. Before we retreated up to our rooms, DK passed around a hat filled with bits of paper. "There's only one shower," he said. We had gone at least four days without bathing with anything more substantial than wet-wipes. Some people thought he meant only one of us would get a shower and eyed the hat with competitive interest. In actuality the hat contained the numbers one through eight and we'd be drawing to see what order we'd get to clean up. I drew a 7. That shower was well worth the wait, my hair was beyond gross. A party was well underway by the time I made it downstairs. DK had introduced the group to Kukhuraa (chicken) rum, and even convinced a few that it was really made from chickens. The bottle was about gone by the time I made it back downstairs. I was content to just be clean and sober that night. The other girls sat around the wood burning stove, which was burning yak chips instead of wood, and gossiped while their hair dried. Mike, Kevin and I played Crazy Eights. Well, Kevin and I played Crazy Eights. Mike won Crazy Eights. Every hand. Green Day played over the speakers. "I'm back in Jr. High!" I said to a room full of people who would have only been in elementary school, or maybe even kindergarten. Dammit, when did I become the geriatric?
From left: Stacy, Amanda, Sara, Dovile, Ele, Mike, Me Photo credit: Stacy Rothenberg

From left: Stacy, Amanda, Sara, Dovile, Ele, Mike, Me
Photo credit: Stacy Rothenberg

At dinner DK told us in a whisper that Sudip would leave the tour early the next morning so he could be in Kathmandu in time to pick up his girlfriend from the airport. "When I go over the itinerary for tomorrow, I want you all to point at him and say 'Oooooo!'" he said mischievously. When the time came, we all performed admirably and Sudip seemed sufficiently embarrassed. After dinner we all sat around the stove again. We got to hear more from Sudip that night, I'm not sure if this was because he had some of the chicken rum in him or was just excited to be seeing his woman soon. Maybe both. He told some funny stories from past treks involving alcohol-related pranks and fights with a girl. I suspected some of them were intended to embarrass DK to get even for dinner. It was no use, DK was not the sort of person to lose his cool any time for any reason. I may have caught a hint of vulnerability after one story but it was probably the rum. I'm not sure if I've ever met anyone so chill. We also got to hear about the real Nepal. How there hadn't been a stable government since the fall of the monarchy and corruption was rampant. His and Bibak's run-ins with the law. How the caste system was only now beginning to dissolve.  How he was breaking tradition by courting a woman from Australia. One question came up that everyone had a different answer to. Nepal, as small as it is, has over 100 different languages and sub-cultures. How do you unite a country so diverse long enough to form a stable government without killing off that diversity and culture? DK favored a republic approach. Let the smaller sub-cultures remain mostly autonomous, they've evolved to suit their location and probably have a sustainable lifestyle for the region. I agreed. Dovile favored a more democratic majority rule approach. There is no right answer to this question, and anyone who comes up with a workable solution holds the key to peace and stability not only in Nepal, but the entire world. The fire had long gone out and most people had gone upstairs after the long day. We diehards played a few more rounds of cards, using the stove as a table before calling it a night.

May 16, 2013: Active Day 11, Everest Base Camp!

Lobuche to EBCThat night was rough. Even with the window open the smell of kerosene was overpowering. I tried to breathe through my buff and felt even more suffocated than breathing straight fumes. Though dragging the sleeping bag outside was tempting, I settled for moving my face as close to the window as possible, imagining the outside air to be somewhat cleaner. Directly outside would not have been much of an improvement. Once the sun went down smoke from yak dung fires spewed from every lodge and the streets of Lobuche became clouded with it. I learned this the hard way the evening before when I coaxed a few of the others outside briefly before dinner with the promise of clean air, only to get incredulous looks and a bunch of "thanks a lot" remarks as we quickly decided kerosene fumes were preferable and went back inside. By morning my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. I thought back to all the times I went fishing as a kid, and watched their eyes bulge out when we pulled them from the water. Poor fish... this was terrible. I had finally met my kryptonite on the mountain and it was kerosene fumes. Little sleep, little air, and fish eyes. Get me out of here. I had just enough ambition to brush my hair but didn't bother to do anything with it other than pull on the pink hat, and moved much slower than normal packing up. My eyes felt better when we left the building and were back in clean air. Still, the damage had been done and I was drained. The only other time I could remember being affected by altitude was in a float plane in Canada. I don't know how high we were, high enough to be flying over glaciers, and planes that small aren't exactly pressurized. I wished at the time I had toothpicks to hold my eyes open, the views were epic but all my body wanted to do was sleep. The same happened today. Whenever we stopped for water, it was very tempting to curl up on some of the nice cozy rocks for a snooze.
I was beginning to get the same idea as this cat.

I was beginning to get the same idea as this cat.

At one stop the porters, who had already been to Gorak Shep, materialized to take some of our daypacks. I was cuddled up with nice soft boulder, sipping water with my eyes half-open, which made me an ideal candidate to give up her pack. I didn't hesitate. DK came over and ran down a list of symptoms. " Headache?" "No." " Nausea?" "No." "Tummy bubbles?" (What? Even in my stupor that one was funny.) "No. Just tired." We finished the trip to Gorak Shep (16,942 ft. / 5,140 m), our home for the night, and had lunch. Then it was on to base camp.
Traversing the glacial moonscape

Traversing the glacier.

The trail to base camp traversed the top of the Khumbu glacier. For all the rocks and sand, we might not have known we were on a glacier, though at times we could hear the trickle of melt water running underneath. The glacier and valley were enormous. Even without being in a somewhat weakened state from altitude the effect would be humbling.
Tibetan Snowcocks

Tibetan Snowcocks

A glacial moonscape seemed an unlikely place to encounter wildlife, yet here was where we came across some of the only local fauna of our entire trip. A few mystery birds as big as chickens. DK and I looked in his bird book later and decided they were probably Tibetan Snowcocks.
Life gets real.

Life gets real.

On the way, we noticed a commotion involving a helicopter on a nearby mountain and pulled out our binoculars to have a closer look. It appeared to be a rescue. The helicopter took off with something dangling from its rescue net. I zoomed in as much as the lens would go and snapped a photo as it flew past us back down the valley, not thinking much of it. It wasn't until later that we found out what happened. I'll quote this passage from another blog, as it tells the story respectfully:
With the end of the Moro/Steck effort plus a false start due to lack of funding for the Gleb Sokolov and Alexander Kirikov North side climb, the new route climbs were not going well. But it turned worse. On May 15, Russian Alexi Bolotov fell to his death as he was rappelling from a small shoulder off Nuptse. Bolotov and his partner Denis Urubko had left Base Camp at 2:00AM. They climbed through the Khumbu Icefall and began climbing one of Nuptse’s rock walls via an easy couloir at angle of 45 degrees. As the sun rose on the Western Cwm, they began a traverse across a ledge where they found some old rope. Using this old line, they began a rappel on a steep 60 foot wall. Bolotov tied in and put stress on the old rope, as it shifted it brushed against the sharp rock edges and broke sending Bolotov free-falling 1000 feet. Urubko quickly down climbed with a first aid kit only find his partner dead. A few days later a helicopter picked up his body to return him home to Russia. The news spread quickly as the 50 year-old Bolotov was well liked and very well-respected. Climbers not only on Everest but on other Himalayan mountains were devastated by the news. With this tragedy, the final attempt to set a new route on Everest on 2013 was stopped. Everest 2013: Season Recap: Summits, Records and Fights, Alan Arnette
The yellow tents might add some perspective if you didn't have to use a magnifying glass to find them. Hard to imagine a place more inhospitable and humbling than this.

The yellow tents might add some perspective if you didn't have to use a magnifying glass to find them. Hard to imagine a place more inhospitable and humbling than this.

We hiked up a rise and paused at the top before the trail descended back down to base camp. It might be important for some to note that when I say "base camp," it could mean two things. There was the actual base camp, also referred to as Tent City, where climbers and their support staff actually stayed. Then, a respectable distance away, was a monument loaded with prayer flags and a sign saying "Everest Base Camp" where most day trekkers like ourselves would end up, take our photos, and leave. Going all the way to Tent City meant a heftier permit fee, and I'm sure most of us would have agreed it wasn't worth it just to stop in for a few minutes. Actually staying there a night might be another story...
Zoomed in on tent city. Everest is the black peak way in the back. We'd get better views from Kala Patthar.

Zoomed in on tent city. Everest is the black peak way in the back. We'll get better views of her from Kala Patthar.

From the top of the rise, Tent City seemed miles away, and even the shorter walk to the monument was somewhat unappealing due to the inevitable walk back up once all the photos were taken. DK gave us the option to wait where we were, saying we were close enough to call it good, and we could save our energy for Kala Patthar the next day where the views were better. It may have been tempting, but we were a family now and all descended to base camp together.
Almost there... Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Almost there...
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

At the bottom of the hill the trail Nepali-flattened out and we crossed over what was now obviously a glacier with photogenic blue pools and icicles abound. I was looking around considering my next shot while simultaneously trying to keep up when suddenly we were there. DK was laughing and pulled me into a hug. This took me completely by surprise and I couldn't think of anything to say other than; "Thank you for getting me here!" We all made it!! Everest Base Camp. I was 17,598 ft. / 5,364 m high and 7,452 miles / 11,992 km from home. K-Fed asked DK if we would have gotten any love if we'd stayed behind on the ridge. "Nope, you'd have had to watch it through binoculars," he replied cheerfully.
Everest Base Camp! Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Everest Base Camp!
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

We took our individual and group photos in front of the sign, then sat down and tried to eat the cookies DK handed out. I was so tired. The rock I was sitting on began to feel nice and soft, and I looked back up the hill apprehensively. Then Sudip, Bibak and the porters started to sing something celebratory in Nepali. DK added rhythm. Next thing I knew I was clapping along, smiling, and feeling fully alive again. Music can be such an amazing healer. It was one of those moments that will probably stick with me forever. The climb back up the glacier, which had seemed so daunting a moment before, now felt perfectly manageable, especially since I had no pack. We went on our way. Back at Gorak Shep we settled into the common room. I finally got around to asking DK for that article he referred to back in Namche. I don't remember the author now, she was a woman who questioned the rationality behind 40-80 hour work weeks when so much of the time is unproductive and so much of the money just goes to materialistic pursuits. DK asked what I thought and I said it was spot on. "Sometimes hard to be the only weirdo trying to live that way," I said. He told me I wasn't the only one, and gave me a fist bump. True, the only difference was I was still trying and DK was successfully doing.
Looking back towards Gorak Shep

Looking back towards Gorak Shep

Tent City

Tent City

Khumbu Glacier

Khumbu Glacier

Khumbu Glacier

Khumbu Glacier

May 15, 2013: Active Day 10, Dingboche to Lobuche

dingbochetolobuche
Epic Valley Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Epic Valley
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Before tackling the enormous valley on the way to Lobuche Mike and I once again warmed up with some of our favorite P90X yoga moves. The others showed us some other good stretches on the flagstone patio outside. First stop was a cluster of yak herder shacks, almost completely made from stone, and utterly picturesque. We shared some gummy candy and posed for the photo op.
Posing with a mouthful of gummy candy.

Posing with a mouthful of gummy candy.

Classic pose and classic buff. It just needs to be shared. Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

Classic pose and classic buff. It just needs to be shared.
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

To pass time on the way up, DK tried to teach us a guessing game similar to 20 questions. Someone would think of a celebrity. We had to first stump the person with a question of our own before we were permitted to ask a question that would help us guess who they were thinking of. The altitude made it damn near impossible for me to play. It was just plain hard to concentrate. Still, I doubted I would have been any good at it even at lower elevations. It had been three years since I had any regular contact with TV or US magazine, more than enough time for the mainstream to turn over. Still, it was fun listening to the others guess.
Meanwhile, trekkers in the US are trimming the corners off their maps... Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Meanwhile, trekkers in the US are trimming the corners off their maps.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

One the trail to Lobuche. Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

On the trail to Lobuche.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

The landscape transformed to little more than sand and rocks. We crossed a suspension bridge that crossed over ice melt from the Khumbu glacier and walked up to Thukla for lunch. It was the first and only place I can remember being crowded. We had more tea and some soup to keep hydrated. DK told a funny story about the outhouse on the nearby hillside. Imagine a long-drop toilet with a big stalagmite of poop that had frozen up to a point at the top where you tried to squat. ("Poop is funny!" -Ele) This was where the facilities on the trek became mildly reminiscent of what Jon Krakauer described in Into Thin Air, though much improved from what he endured seventeen years earlier:
Late in the day we reached a village called Lobuje, and there sought refuge from the wind in a cramped, spectacularly filthy lodge. The three or four stone toilets in the village were literally overflowing with excrement. The latrines were so abhorrent that most people, Nepalese and Westerners alike, evacuated their bowels outside on the open ground, wherever the urge struck. Huge stinking piles of human feces lay everywhere; it was impossible not to walk in it. The river of snowmelt meandering through the center of the settlement was an open sewer. The main room of the lodge where we stayed was furnished with wooden bunk platforms for some thirty people. I found an unoccupied bunk on the upper level, shook as many fleas and lice as possible from the soiled mattress, and spread out my sleeping bag. Against the near wall was a small iron stove that supplied heat by burning dried yak dung. After sunset the temperature dropped to well below freezing, and porters flocked in from the cruel night to warm themselves around the stove. Because dung burns poorly under the best of circumstances, and especially so in the oxygen-depleted air of 16,200 feet, the lodge filled with dense, acrid smoke, as if the exhaust from a diesel bus were being piped directly into the room. Twice during the night, coughing uncontrollably, I had to flee outside for air. By night my eyes were burning and bloodshot, my nostrils clogged with black soot, and I'd developed a dry, persistent hack that would stay with me until the end of the expedition. Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
Further up the hill we reached a site of memorials for climbers who were killed on Everest.
Twenty stone monuments stood in a somber row along the crest of the glacier's terminal moraine, overlooking the mist-filled valley: memorials to climbers who had died on Everest, most of them Sherpa. Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
I walked around and didn't recognize any names, other than Scott Fisher.
Scott Fischer Memorial

Scott Fischer Memorial
Seventeen years and five days after the tragedy.

Everest Memorials Photo credit: Michael Allen

Everest Memorials
Photo credit: Michael Allen

Everest Memorials Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

Everest Memorials
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

Rocky Trail Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Rocky Trail
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

More Rocky Trail

More Rocky Trail

Walking into Lobuche Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Walking into Lobuche
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

More accurately, Hotel Stink Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Hotel Stink XV
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

On reaching Lobuche (16,210 ft. / 4,920 m) we walked into what would be our home for the night. Gah!! It was like hitting a wall. The oxygen at this altitude was around 50%. The other 50% of the air in that building was kerosene fumes. I immediately began trying to breathe through my sleeve. "Is it me?" asked Stacy. Normally I would have laughed at a comment like this, but when I turned my head she looked as unwell as I was starting to feel so I assured her I was only trying to filter the fumes. I knew I wouldn't want much to eat in this place so when the menu got passed around I asked for tomato soup for dinner. Sudip in his parent role told me that wasn't good enough. "I'm not carrying you to base camp," he said. "Add some toast." "Okay, tomato soup AND some toast." As soon as we were settled in our rooms I made a beeline for the front door and started walking through the village with no particular destination in mind. My only goal was clean air. I walked until the fumes cleared and then looked around. There wasn't much up there. I saw a creek and thought that would be as good a place as any to pass some time and walked down closer to have a look. Sudip was above me on the hillside and caught my attention to ask what I was doing. Still in the parent role, I see. I walked up to him and said I was just seeking fresh air. He told me that kerosene is the only fuel available most of the time, even in Kathmandu. "I totally get that, and I'm grateful to have it to cook our food and boil our water. I've just been doing well so far, and am afraid the fumes will give me a headache," I said. "I want to avoid breathing them for as long as possible."
View above Lobuche Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

View above Lobuche
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

We talked for a while.  I always enjoy one-on-one time with people, because that's when I'm better able to get to know them. He pointed up a nearby hill where we could see Amanda and DK climbing for a better view of a nearby glacier. Wow, they're keen. He also taught me the names of some of the surrounding peaks. "That one's Lhotse?" I repeated, pointing at one in front of us. "Nuptse," he corrected me. He pointed up the Khumbu Valley past Everest Base Camp at mountains that were actually in Tibet. THAT was cool. I could almost feel my eyes sparkle when I looked at them. I'd love to visit Tibet someday, and it was a good feeling to be so close in the moment. I told him he was very lucky to do what he did, because everyone in the trekking community seemed so close. He said true, but it wasn't like that in Kathmandu. I said it was like that in the States too. When I lived in the city I never knew my neighbors. It took moving to a smaller town to get some sense of community. He told me of his plans to summit this mountain and then that mountain before finally tackling Everest. It seemed he had his life all mapped out, for the next five years anyway. "Ah, so you're going to go for it then? It must be tempting after so many visits to base camp." He said yes, but when it was done he was going to retire. "No more trekking," he said. No more trekking?!? I didn't believe him. I thought if it's in your blood, it's there to stay. At the time I didn't know about the 80 year old man about to summit, he would be a perfect example. So I asked, "Really? No more trekking? Well, then what? Settle down and raise a family?" "Yes!" he said, smiling. "Good plan." This man would make a great dad. Hopefully he's not so "done" with trekking that he doesn't teach his kids to love the mountains. I was getting cold and had to use the bathroom, so I said I'd see him at dinner and resigned myself to the kerosene. Besides the smelly common room downstairs, there was another sitting room upstairs along with the community sink and toilets. Why anyone would put these two facilities in the same place was beyond me. Hey everybody! Listen to me pee! Watch me wash my face! Ooops, I farted, did y'all catch that while you were playing cards? Still, the air was cleaner up there and we asked if we could please eat dinner upstairs. They agreed and we played cards while we waited. First Rummy, then Gin Rummy, or was it the other way around? Just before the food arrived, I instantly won a round of whatever it was with an epic hand. "Lucky at cards, unlucky in love," Dovile said. I laughed and said, "That explains why I'm so good at cards!" It really wasn't true, I tend to be mediocre at both. You know, win some, lose some, and there's always another hand to play. As they say in Nepal, "two legs, many shoes." The thin tomato soup arrived and I was glad to see the toast. "You were right!" I told Sudip, who had an of course I'm right air about him, but said nothing. Stacy and Kevin were down for the count and chose sleep over food. The rest of us traded remedies for headaches. I taught them the basics of EFT and had them tapping away in the darkening room. Ele taught us an energy healing technique she said was supposed to help us sleep. We put the tips of our fingers together and pressed down. The minute I did this I felt the energy swirl around my body as if in a big vortex. "Woah, I felt that! Thanks!" I exclaimed. We listened to some music on DK's phone for a while, then one by one, trickled off to bed.

May 14, 2013: Active Day 9, Nangkartshang

The Valley View Lodge had one semi-western toilet for every two rooms. Dovile and I shared one with Ele and Amanda. When I say semi-western, I'm describing a toilet that you could sit on if it wasn't public, with a big bucket of water and a pitcher nearby for flushing purposes. Ideally, one scoop of water would be enough to "flush" but this was rarely the case. As there were four women trying with minimal success to be polite, we were out of toilet-flushing water by the next morning. Amanda made it her mission to get more water for the toilet. Her insistence inspired the quote of the trip when Ele exclaimed in a slightly exasperated tone; "Don't worry about flushing the toilet... we're on holiday!!" Ha! Perfect. It's in. From then on out, just about anything became "Don't worry about _____, we're on holiday!!"
Breakfast above 14,000 ft. From left: Sara, Amanda, Me, Mike, Ele and DK Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

Breakfast above 14,000 ft / 4,270 m
From left: Sara, Amanda, Me, Mike, Ele and DK
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

We sat outside on plastic chairs that beautiful sunny morning, enjoyed breakfast, and chatted with a couple of independent trekkers from Washington D.C. When we asked them how they managed to plan all of this on their own, they referred us to Lonely Planet. I couldn't imagine wanting to do this trek on my own, or even necessarily with a partner as they were. Our group was way too much fun. Meeting these amazing people and enjoying the HimaYAYA experience with them was what made the trip pure magic. Our day's acclimatization hike was up the hill behind us called Nangkartshang. We wouldn't summit, according to my map the top was about 18,425 ft. / 5,616 m, we just walked up the trail to what was probably about 16,000 ft.  / 4,877 m. On top of the first ridge sat a stupa where many porters stopped to rest, visit with each other, and smoke cigarettes. Wait a minute. Smoking cigarettes at 15,000 ft??? What the...? Man, these dudes were tough. Almost as tough as Chuck Norris. An enormous valley loomed ahead of us. Along the bottom ran a tiny little pinstripe trail with a miniscule speck of a man walking along it. This would be tomorrow's destination. The view was humbling to say the least.
Dingboche

Dingboche

Typical Himalayan vista

Typical Himalayan vista

Watching clouds roll in... from above.

Watching clouds roll in... from above.

Some porters taking a break.

Some porters taking a break.

Find the speck.

Find the speck.

Ama Dablam

Ama Dablam

Prayer flags and Dingboche. Soon those fields will be full of potatoes.

Prayer flags and Dingboche. Soon those fields will be full of potatoes.

Prayer Flags

Prayer Flags

Snowscape

Snowscape

Bibak

Bibak

The lovely Ele adding some perspective.

The lovely Ele adding some perspective.

A rock house etched into the hillside.

A rock house etched into the hillside.

Rock house close up.

Rock house close up.

Our personal summit. DK, Sara and Amanda

Our personal summit. DK, Sara and Amanda

More clouds rolling in

More clouds rolling in.

  After the morning's tea I inevitably had to answer the call of nature. We were high enough now that my body was losing the ability to hold it comfortably for any length of time. The only suitable rocks were inconveniently located downhill from the trail. There was nothing for it so I trotted down. With the rocks sufficiently watered, I tried a brisk walk back up and was gasping for air by the time I caught up with the others. "That'd be the altitude," said DK. You think? Guess there wouldn't be any Everest Marathons in my near future. We walked back down to our plastic chairs and sunshine. Our friends from D.C. pointed out a metal basin that we could use to wash socks. "Laundry? Whaaat? That's not fun!" I joked. I still had plenty of relatively clean clothes at the time since the cold weather gear had barely been touched. A few minutes later DK showed us how it was done. Take the basin, add water, wet and soap up your socks and scrub away at them with a plastic brush. Then rinse and wring them out and stick them on the clothesline. Expect them to blow away in the wind because there weren't many pins. Had I been ambitious enough to follow his lead, my great-grandparents would have been proud. "I love the common miracles... the hardship and simplicity... the contentment of doing one thing at a time. Though we talk little here, I am never lonely; I am returned into myself,"  Matthiessen (228). This experience seemed to be shared among us, though we were all slightly worn from the journey by now, smiles were more common and every day more social barriers dissolved. Later in the common room I overheard a man from another tour say he wanted to go home. How strange that sounded.  In the mountains I was happy, at peace... content. Yet in the back of my mind I knew eventually I would have to leave. What was it then that I would return to? "No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place,"   quoted Matthiessen (281). This brought be back to the present and reminded me that for now I was meant to be there in that place that I loved. The evening card players invited me to join them but I passed in favor of finishing The Snow Leopard. I laid flat on one of the bench seats under my heavy tea house blanket and turned the pages. Sudip came over and handed me a pillow. Dhanyabad (thank you), my friend. It's always the little things. We may not remember what people say and do, but we always remember the way they made us feel. At that moment, I felt at home.

May 13, 2013: Active Day 8, Deboche to Dingboche

tengbochetodingboche
Path from Rivendell along the Imja Khola River Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Path from Rivendell along the Imja Khola River
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

We said goodbye to Rivendell and continued on a beautiful prayer stone lined walk along the Imja Khola River. It wasn't long before we came to a typical Asian style public composting toilet, which a few of us had to use already due to altitude and morning tea. We walked up stone steps to a wooden structure with a thin fabric curtain, probably an old sheet, for a doorway. Inside, the wood floor had a square hole in the bottom and a pile of pine needles for compost. Once in view of the deposits at the bottom of the hole, it became a real test of faith in the wooden floorboards to go ahead and use the toilet rather than flee the structure to find a tree. The great outdoors can be kinder on men in situations like these.
The forest. I like the artistic affect of this one. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

The forest. I like the artistic effect of this picture.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

The walk down to the river reminded me of Northern California with its evergreen trees and ferns. We crossed a suspension bridge and headed back up hill. Soon we were above the tree line. By this point, we had picked up our first pet of the day. One of the world's cutest dogs decided to accompany us on the trail and Dovile named him Fernando.  
Fernando and Fernandbro

Fernando and Fernandbro

Fernando followed us to our first tea stop, where we were joined by his doppelganger, whom Kevin dubbed Fernandbro. We enjoyed hot lemon and watched some builders working on a roof. I doubted there was much in the way of building codes and inspections, yet they were obviously building this structure to last. On the way down we passed stone cutters working on the same project, patiently chipping their stone building blocks by hand.
Fernando. Or is it Fernandbro? Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Fernando. Or is it Fernandbro?
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

"Did you know Chuck Norris is the only man who can build a house from the roof down?" said K-Fed, master of all Chuck Norris facts. My favorite was; "When Chuck Norris goes swimming, he doesn't get wet, the water gets Chuck Norrissed!" At lunch we were treated to our first hot mango. Wow, where had that been all my life? I loved the hot lemon already, and the hot mango was just as good if not better. We continued climbing and paused in front of a shop. DK disappeared inside and came out with some yak cheese to pass around. This was our first opportunity to taste it on its own, versus cooked in with lunch or dinner. The taste reminded me of parmesan, the texture of cheddar. Either way, it was delicious. I didn't say no to seconds. It was about this point that Fernando and Fernandbro were bullied back down the hill by another dog looking after his territory. Should we interfere and come to their rescue? We considered it, and decided to let the dogs settle it on their own and continued on, sans pets.
Baby Yak

Baby Yak

The landscape was getting very barren and rocky. We passed a few baby yaks with their protective mothers. On a water break as I was adding more ginger and ginkgo tincture to my canteen, Ele told me more about her dad the naturopath. He sounded like a really cool guy, which explained why she was a really cool chick. The conversation inspired me to continue my studies on the subject and work towards a certification, regardless of what I end up doing with it. The porters returned from Dingboche to take some of our day packs. None of us really needed help at this point, and were hesitant to burden the boys further. DK explained that they would be offended if we didn't let them carry. He told a story later about a man in Kathmandu who was deeply offended when someone suggested they deliver a new refrigerator with a truck. "That's my job." he insisted before he strapped it on his back and hauled it away. Well then, what the heck? I handed mine over.
Dingboche Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Dingboche
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

We climbed up the rocky hillside along the river towards Dingboche. The elevation on the trail was around 14,000 ft. / 4,270 m, yet the sun was out and we were moving so I was perfectly content to wear a t-shirt. We were getting high enough now that DK was starting his more permanent transition in guiding style from friend to parent. He touched my exposed arm to make sure I wasn't lying about not being cold and commented that I run pretty hot for a California girl. "Do I?" I reflected. I knew I ran hot, but really had few people to compare myself to. He'd probably hiked with more California girls than I had. True to Kiwi form, DK and Ele almost always wore shorts. I would keep reminding them that I just dressed in reverse. My black waterproof, windproof pants were what helped keep my top half warm.
Valley View Lodge Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Valley View Lodge
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

We arrived at our home for the next two nights, the Valley View Lodge in Dingboche (14,800 ft. / 4,530 m). From tonight on we'd be sleeping higher than Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft. / 4,421 m). DK and Sudip set up their own water filter and began topping everyone off. We would take double precaution to keep everyone healthy with the filtered water (filter-ko paani), boiled water (umaleko paani) and the tablets the next few days. We checked into our rooms and then hung out in the common room. DK knew the drill. He made a beeline for a corner seat and made himself a cozy little nest with one of the big heavy tea house blankets, a pair of the handmade knit socks we saw for sale everywhere down below, and a book.  I was a bit envious of the socks and made a mental note to pick some up later. Sudip had a pair of downy slippers I wouldn't have minded having either. Once the sun went down, it was actually a bit chilly at this place. I might have even partially zipped my expedition weight sleeping bag that night. I debuted my fluffy pink winter hat, and would seldom take it off the next few days, if not to keep warm, then to cover my greasy hair. To change up the card game routine, a few of us played Hearts before dinner. Afterwards we just read. "I have the universe all to myself. The universe has me all to itself," Mattheissen (279). It was a pleasant thought.

May 12, 2013: Active Day 7, Sunshine, Reggae, Chocolate and Cricket

Snow through our bedroom window.

Snow through our bedroom window.

The next morning we woke up to... snow!! The view from our window was epic already with Everest and Ama Dablam in the background. The fresh powder made Rivendell that much more enchanting. I had never heard of a snow thunderstorm and was really surprised to see the dusting of white. Dovile and I chatted about dreams as we got ready to go upstairs for breakfast. Altitude for some reason makes a lot of people have angry or violent dreams. I'd love to hear a theory on what causes this. I wondered if it was old stuff wanting to be released that had an easier time bubbling up to the surface in the thin air. Her dreams sounded pretty intense. My dreams were ordinary if I remembered them at all. My experience in Nepal was more of a waking dream, and a really delicious one at that. That morning was the first time I remember becoming conscious of what we would come to refer to as "the breakfast song." It was probably playing in the background the whole trip, but now that it had a nickname, it became an obvious morning tradition. More Om mani padme hum, only set to music: Since we were lucky enough to have two nights in Rivendell, the day's only planned activity was another acclimatization hike. The sun was out, and the sky was perfectly clear. No one was in any particular hurry to get going and a pickup game with the rubber ball ensued. We climbed back up the stone path towards the monastery. DK picked a wildflower and stuck it behind his ear. (Scarlet Begonias was stuck in my head after that for hours. ♫ The one scarlet with the flowers in his hair, he's got the police comin' after me. ♫ Is it in yours now too? Good. You're welcome.) Mike did an excellent impression of Bradley Nowell's What I Got. (I don't remember now exactly what day this conversation took place, it just fits here.) "See? You have rhythm!" I teased him. "Only because I've heard it a thousand times." "Hey, whatever it takes. Maybe in Lukla we'll hypnotize you and get you up on stage in a pair of moon boots like Napoleon Dynamite." He laughed that fantastic laugh. Kevin and Ele took pictures of a particularly yakkish yak at the top. We climbed up above the monastery until it got too steep to safely traverse the snow and posed for pictures.
A fine specimen. Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

A fine specimen.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

View of Ama Dablam from Rivendell.

View of Ama Dablam (22,493 ft., 6,856 m) from Rivendell.

The way we came.

The way we came.

Rock on K-Fed on Rock

Rock on K-Fed on Rock

Helicopter tour. Do you reckon they had a decent view up there?

Helicopter tour. Do you reckon they had a decent view up there?

Prayer flags and rhododendron.

Prayer flags and rhododendron.

Sudip and Tengboche Gompa

Sudip and Tengboche Gompa

Tengboche Gompa

Tengboche Gompa

IMG_3324 IMG_3325
Back at Rivendell, the snow melted into sunshine, reggae and chocolate. It was a perfect day. DK had music playing on his phone and passed around some chocolate. He and Dovile laid out in the sun. Sudip even treated him to a massage. "Take a photo and send it back to Active!" he said. Ele took a picture and captioned it out loud: "This is how hard DK works!" I enjoyed the view of Everest in my long-sleeved shirt, trying to protect my barbecued forearms (one of the hazards of using hiking poles) from any further damage and did some more journaling. "Life is good. What would it take for every day to be as good as this or better?" I wrote. The boys started up a game of cricket. Eventually most of our crew joined in, and I took some videos of the scene. Raamro means "good" I especially remember DK on the cricket field. Longish hair, bare feet... a Kiwi native playing with the Nepali boys and American tourists and completely at home among both, radiating a sort of contentment that I could only imagine comes from fully living a life of your own creation. There was nothing about him that felt fake and I found that so refreshing. At that point, it was harder for me to see some of the others on the tour in this way, when conversation consisted of little more than casual street talk, career ambitions or movie quotes. Where was the real person? Who am I more like? I felt in limbo on either side of the spectrum. I no longer fit in with the mainstream, but have yet to fully realize what I'm here for. It was a lonely place. What would it take to fully step in to my most authentic self? At least now I had an idea of what it might look like.
This is closer to my idea of a freedom, the possibility and prospect of "free life," traveling light, without clinging or despising, in calm acceptance of everything that comes; free because without defenses, free not in an adolescent way, with no restraints, but in the sense of the Tibetan Buddhist's "crazy wisdom," of Camus's "leap into the absurd" that occurs within a life of limitations. The absurdity of life may well end before one understands it does not relieve one of the duty (to that self which is inseparable from others) to live it through as bravely and generously as possible. Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
After lunch everyone but Amanda and I left the common room to do fun things like wash socks or take a shower. She worked on her journal and I made it my ambition to simply stare out the window, take in the epic view, and drink tea until the pot was finished. When was the last time I allowed myself to just sit and do nothing? In my meditation I kept coming back to two ideas. The first was that all paths lead nowhere; all that matters is whether or not the one we choose to take has heart. The second was that when we dig deep enough, we'll find that every world view is wrong. Good news, because it sets us free to consider them all and choose what works for us in the moment. With these two ideas in mind, what path would I choose when I returned? I like to think that our souls are here to enjoy life. Yet I still felt tied to my old way of being. What would it take to release those ties by the time this trip was done? Outside ravens soared on the breeze. Local boys played ball and frisbee outside while the girls looked on, giggling. Tattered prayer flags fluttered in the wind. Amanda finished her journal and went downstairs. I poured another cup. Huge mountain houseflies bumped against the glass and crawled along the windowsill looking for an escape. I watched our tea house hostess catch them in her hands and open a window to let them outside. I couldn't have asked for a better example of eastern kindness and compassion. What would I have done? Thoughtlessly grab a fly swatter, probably. Not anymore though. We can learn much from the rest of the world if we pause long enough to take it in. Some ideas for the future entered my mind. I wrote them down, resolved to take action when I got home, and poured my last glass. For now it was still chill time. There was no one left upstairs but me and Sudip. How long had he been there? How long had I been there? I retreated to enjoy my last hot shower for the next four days, which for some reason was not as scalding as the day before. I did this more for something to do, than because I felt I needed one. Strange as it may sound, the natural smell of hikers and pack animals were becoming a familiar comfort.

May 11, 2013: Active Day 6, Tengboche and Rivendell

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The trail to Tengboche.

The trail to Tengboche.

To get to Tengboche, we walked up the village in the same direction as our acclimatization hike the day before. Just before leaving, DK and Bibak stopped to buy a rubber bouncing ball for the boys to play with at our next home. My face lit up at this. Besides appreciating the considerate gesture, I also couldn't wait to watch the game. We continued on the trail across the mountainside. It was a beautiful walk, and Everest got closer with every step. Most of the walk is best communicated in pictures:
Just a few of the stairs out of Namche

Just a few of the stairs out of Namche.

Flyby

Crazy Italian pilot shaving the mountainside. We'd see helicopters all day every day, rarely so up close and personal.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Everest gets closer.

Everest gets closer. This stupa was in honor of the 50th anniversary in 2003 of the first summit in 1953. We were there a couple of weeks before the 60th.

View from whence we came. See the little Hillary Bridge waaay down there!

View from whence we came. See the little Hillary Bridge waaay down there!

The first little rhododendron.

The first little rhododendron.

Everest max zoom.

Everest max zoom.

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

All the pretty sheet metal roofs in the villages were NOT carried by helicopter.

All the pretty sheet metal roofs in the villages were NOT brought in by helicopter.

DK showing us what was in store.

DK showing us what was in store.

We'd hike all the way down to that river, than all the way back up the switchbacks. Zip line anyone?

We'd hike all the way down to that river, than all the way back up the switchbacks on the other side. Zip line anyone?

Before hiking down to the river to stop for lunch, we took a tea break up on the mountain. We passed around some sunscreen. It was already too late for me, my forearms and ears were cooked. I suspected the sunscreen I brought had expired because it did nothing. We tried out each others' sunglasses to get different perspectives on Everest. The hostess brought us treats to share. As is true with any trail I'd ever been on, people seemed to become more their true selves (kind, generous, personable... all the good qualities) the higher we went. Dovile tossed some spilled almonds at one of the ravens who had been hanging out. The bird seemed to understand the game and tried to catch them. Eventually it caught one and we all cheered. As we packed up to leave, DK suggested we top off our canteens with the remaining tea. I was rather addicted to the hot lemon by this point and was happy to find that it made my treated water taste much better. It was time to head down to our lunch spot on the river (10,663 ft. / 3,250 m) before heading back up to Tengboche (12,664 ft. / 3,860 m) I only ate a little because I knew we had a climb ahead of us, and wished I could have had more because it was delicious. It was the right decision, I stayed pretty light on my feet and enjoyed dinner that much more.
"Mero naam Dan"

"Mero naam Dan"

This tea house also had a little one, a boy this time, who wanted to hang with us. DK tried to talk to him, and shared some of his chips/crisps. He promised to leave one of the toys on the way back down.  
Bridge across the river to Tengboche. All the pink on the opposing hillside are the rhododendrons in full bloom. Nepal has over 30 species.

Bridge across the Dudh Khosi River to Tengboche. All the pink on the opposing hillside are the rhododendrons in full bloom. Nepal has over 30 species.

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

Some locals.

Some locals.

We foreigners took our time plodding up the switchbacks on the other side. Sudip on the other hand, preferred a different method. He'd take what we came to refer to as the Sherpa trails, which basically just shortcut the switchbacks and went straight up the mountain. He'd be behind the group one minute and then waiting for us up above the next, not the least bit out of breath, and laughed when we teased him for being a show-off. I brought lavender organic hand sanitizer with me and decided it was time to continue the lavender theme and put some lavender essential oil on my toasted forearms for the sunburn. The smell was very strong. The group didn't mind, and maybe even preferred the overpowering flower scent to what I smelled like before. It didn't stop my poor arms from peeling like a snake later, but did keep the burn from becoming painful or blistering. By the time we reached Tengboche, some clouds were building and it was getting windy. Our first priority was of course, more tea. Once we were nice and hydrated, we dutifully obeyed DK and Sudip when they took on the parent role and told us to put on our coats before heading up to Tengboche Gompa for the afternoon puja. At the entrance to the monastery was a stone said to bear the footprint of Lama Sangwa Dorje. I thought of The Source Field Investigations which goes into detail on similar stories and the science behind how it might actually have happened. It was interesting to see one in person. We walked up some stairs, through a courtyard, and then up into the building itself. Before entering, we were asked to take off our shoes, and to turn off any phones and cameras. Filming the puja was not permitted, though we would be able to take pictures of the inside once all the monks had left. We filed into the right side of the building with a crowd of other tourists and sat knees together, as there was no room to sit cross-legged, on some nice soft rugs on the floor. The interior was an explosion of texture and color. Everything was painted in symbolic detail, there were statues, tapestries, and all manner of religious artifacts not the least of which being a giant Buddha in the front of the room. Outside the windows we could see snow-capped mountain peaks. The monks walked in the room wearing an eclectic mix of traditional red robes, modern puffy coats (also red), and trail runners. They sat on benches in the center of the room, opened their prayer books, and began to chant. I alternated closing my eyes and breathing to the rhythm of the chant or keeping them open to take in the sound with the color. The effect was peaceful, calming, and a little hypnotic. When it was over the monks walked out and we got up to take pictures. None of mine do it any justice, so I'm electing to leave them out. You can use your imagination. Or Google. The wind was cold outside the building. DK had loaned his coat to Stacy and ran back down to the tea house where we left out packs. I ran with him. Wait a minute.... did I just run purely for the sake of running at 12,600 feet? Granted it was down hill, but running is not something I typically consider fun. When we got to the tea house I was panting, yet felt exhilarated, recharged and full of energy even after hiking all day. Maybe there was some magic in the chanting we heard after all. The itinerary said we'd be staying in Tengboche. Our trip leaders decided instead to upgrade. While the views in the tea house up by the monastery were off the charts, the odds of getting food poisoning while we were there were not in our favor. So we headed down the hill on the other side a short distance to Deboche. DK seemed excited to try out the new place, and the threat of illness was more than enough to encourage us to follow along.
Trail to Rivendell

Trail to Rivendell

The trail down was especially picturesque as it tunneled through the rhododendrons in full bloom. Eventually on our left was our destination, a beautiful building just above the Imja Khola River called Rivendell. Like the The Lord of the Rings, I thought as we walked down to the entrance. We dropped our packs and headed up to the common room to order dinner. Sure enough, there was a piece of paper tacked on the wall explaining that the place was indeed named to honor the elves. Perfect. Why would we want to stay anywhere else? IMG_3295A shower in Rivendell cost 500 rupees. To me this was money well spent and I signed up right away. The woman in charge walked me downstairs and showed me how to work it. It was a big wooden room with green plastic carpet, a mildewy shelf that I used to keep my soap and clothes off the floor, and a tank-less water heater that must have somehow been powered by kerosene. She showed me where to turn the lever on the water heater to get hot water and then left me to it. At first it was luxurious. Our showers before may or may not have had pressure or heat, and this one had both. Soon warm turned to scalding, and no matter what I tried with the lever, the temperature was the same. Well, I'd take too hot over too cold any day, and it was nice to scrub a layer off. We played cards again that night and my luck or skill didn't improve. As Dovile and I were out early, we went downstairs to sit on the picnic benches outside in the courtyard and look at the stars. After a while I noticed DK and Sudip were outside with us. DK was holding his phone up at the sky and squinting at it like it was supposed to be doing something. "Ooo! What does he have?" I wondered, totally intrigued. I love astronomy and I love apps and was curious to see if I was missing out on something. I was. When I scooted over and asked what he was doing, he showed me the app he was playing with called Google Sky Map. (I resolved to download it when I got the chance, only to discover it's only for Android phones. Bummer. I settled for Star Walk which seems to do most of the same.) As part of his demonstration he asked me when I was born and then asked if I knew what time. Ha, easy, this amateur Vedic astrologer knew precisely what time she was born. It's the awkward question I ask people all the time. We couldn't do the full demo without internet as I couldn't come up with the latitude and longitude of Ridgecrest off the top of my head. The idea was that it would show a map of the sky at the time and place I was born. Perfect. This was going to add so much credibility to my astrology hobby, and I was really excited about it. We gave up on technology and moved to his paper star map. DK guides in Australia when the climbing season in Nepal is done. He told me of the Southern Hemisphere constellations and accompanying Aborigine tales. I had visited Australia before and had a fun time, yet all it really did for me in the long run was make me want to go to New Zealand. Learning about Aboriginal culture might make a return trip to Oz worthwhile, though I still doubt I'd be able to resist the urge to just continue on to the South Island. The stars we were trying to find on the map were quickly disappearing in the night sky. More clouds. DK headed in for the night and I followed. As the night progressed, the clouds became thunder. Mountain thunderstorms are one of my favorite things in the world and I was struck again at how lucky we were to be there. In my experience it takes about a week to leave the cares of the world behind and really start to enjoy a holiday. True to form, by the end of day six I was starting to remember my true self. The self who loves music, astronomy/astrology, psychology, education and alternative healing. What would it take for my life to reflect these themes? I fell asleep, lulled by the rumbling in the distance.

May 10, 2013: Active Day 5, Namche Bazar

The next morning we met for breakfast in the common room. A few of the other gals in our group said they weren't feeling particularly well, and Sara had been hit especially hard. When they brought the food out we watched in distress as all the color drained from her face. DK and Sudip took good care of her, and she opted out of our acclimatization day in favor of more rest. They checked in on the rest of us. "How are you all feeling?" "I'm good," I said. "Other than getting up to pee ten times like a little old lady!" Sudip laughed, even though this was expected for two reasons. First, we were drinking a ton of water! Second, our bodies seemed less able to just hold it like they would be at lower elevations. The higher we went, the more intense this effect would be. When my body wanted to answer the call of nature, it wanted to do so right away.
Mt. Cook, New Zealand. 12,316 ft. / 3,754 m.

Mt. Cook, New Zealand. 12,316 ft. / 3,754 m

For our acclimatization hike we'd go above the village, which was built up the side of a mountain, and reach an altitude higher than the summit of Aoraki / Mount Cook. Admittedly, our day's "summit" would be a bit easier to reach. Before we left we gathered in the courtyard in front of The Nest for some stretches. Mike and I tried to remember the yoga routine from P90X. The sun salutations, up and down dog and a few warrior poses would become a pre-hike morning tradition. Mike and I tended to be "Johnny stiff" while Dovile and Ele would put us to shame with their excellent flexibility. On the way up, we met our pet for the day, a cute black puppy with white socks on his front paws. Doville immediately christened him Eddie Socks Sherpa.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Pointing at Everest
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Just above the village, we enjoyed our first views of Everest, which was about 10 miles / 16 km away. DK said we were lucky to see her, because "she's usually pretty shy." Meaning, there was usually cloud cover.  We took a ton of pictures, including many failed attempts of the group jumping mid-air. Further up the hill we encountered a sketchy runway that made Lukla look like LAX. The opposite grassy hillside was too appealing to pass up, so we plopped down for a quick water and sunshine break.
The best of our failed attempts.


The best of our failed attempts at "Yay, Everest!"
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

The runway above Namche


The runway above Namche.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Working hard at acclimatizing.

Working hard at acclimatizing.

Morning calisthenics at the local school. Imagine going to school with that view every day!

Morning calisthenics at the local school. Imagine going to school with that view every day!

Namche from above. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Namche from above.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

As we walked back down to the village, DK, Stacy and I found that we shared many of the same views on career choice, materialism, and life in general. I'd read somewhere that our generation generally favors life experience over material things. The fact that we were even on this trip was evidence enough of that, though I admit we were more on the extreme end of the spectrum. Stacy said she had encountered criticism from people along the lines of "when are you going to sell your soul, get a real job, and make your life about accumulating stuff like the rest of us?" Um, never. All of us had encountered similar pressure at some point. I wasn't used to being in such effortless agreement with people on these topics and it felt good to relate to them in this way. DK mentioned an article he carried with him on the subject and offered to let us read it later.
Namche Bazar marketplace.

Namche Bazar marketplace.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Back in Namche we walked through their marketplace and had our first encounter with some real-life yaks. "Yakety yak! Yakety yak!" sang Kevin. "Only a matter of time," I smirked. "Yep," said DK
One of the first yaks.

One of the first yaks.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

After lunch at The Nest, we went back into town, browsed the market, and then settled in to the Liquid Bar for an Everest-themed movie, a drink, and some WiFi access. I ordered a Bloody Mary, the fact that it would have alcohol in it didn't even cross my mind until I sat down to write this a month later. Whoops, guess I violated my own "no alcohol on the way up" rule and lived to tell about it. We handed the server our phones so he could enter the "secret" access code to the internet. The day's movie was an IMAX film called Everest, about a successful summit attempt at the same time as the Into Thin Air tragedy. As it started, I began sifting through the hundreds of emails in my inbox and came across an message from PayPal telling me to confirm my account due to "unusual activity". Uh oh.  I kept scrolling down. I found a receipt from PayPal saying I had sent $408.75 to some random person for a camera to be shipped to some other random person. WTF? Someone had obviously hacked my account, and unfortunately, it was linked directly to my checking rather than a credit card at the time. My blood ran cold. I checked for any other transactions, and it appeared PayPal had frozen my account in time. Too bad they didn't reject that first one. The transaction occurred just days after I left the country. My intuition immediately said someone at the bank or credit card company, the only institutions besides my work who knew my dates of departure and return, must have had access to my email and password and decided to give it a shot. At the time I used the same password for both. Dear readers, please keep PayPal in mind when making travel plans. It was an account I tended to forget I even had until this happened. Meanwhile, on screen, we heard one of the last radio conversations with Rob Hall. It was bad enough reading about it, and my heart bled as we heard his actual voice through the speakers. Bleh. I chugged the Bloody Mary that had been sitting untouched. Maybe using WiFi was a bad idea. I wasn't about to send any personal details to PayPal on public WiFi to "confirm my account" and start a dispute for the fraudulent charge. That would have to wait until I got home, better I had remained blissfully unaware of it until then. We walked back down for dinner in a somewhat more somber mood than when we started. After dinner most of the other gals still weren't feeling 100% and turned in early. I ended up playing cards with the boys. At first I just watched. DK was on a roll, and won over Sudip. He pretended to fold up the score card as a treasure to keep forever. They offered to let me play the next game and said I needed a card name. "What's your nickname?" asked DK "Uhhh, I don't really have any," I said. The wheels don't turn all that fast up there, and I had forgotten about some of my old band nicknames like Love Shack. "Okay, you're T-Pain," he said. Perfect. It's in. Mike became Magic Mike and Kevin became K-Fed. ♫ I'm on a mountain, I'm on a mountain Everybody look at me 'Cause I'm trekking on a mountain I'm on a mountain, I'm on a mountain Take a good hard look At the mother------- mountain I'm on a mountain, mother-----, take a look at me... ♫ Somebody please help me out with the name and spelling of this game! Dun bohl? Something like that. It was easy to pick up, yet funny and competitive enough to keep us interested, so would be a mainstay at the tea houses as we continued. As with any card game, there are variations to the rules, the following is how we played. The minimum number of players required is 2 and maximum is 5 with one deck. More people can play, and then two decks are required. The goal is to reduce the total count in your hand to 5 or less, unless you're playing with two decks, then it's 7 or less. Ace is worth 1, two is worth 2, and so on up to the king which is worth 13. To begin, the dealer deals 5 cards to each player counter-clockwise. The person on the dealer's left goes first and the game continues in a counter-clockwise rotation. Players must first discard a card or a sequence of cards (pair, triple, quad, or straight flush of 3 or more), then pick one up from the deck or from the top of the discard pile. Skipping turns is not allowed, you must discard and pick up or else show your hand if you have less than 5 or 7. When someone gets under 5, they must wait until their turn and then show their hand by placing the cards face up on the table. Once this happens, everyone else must show also. If someone has a lower score, the first person to show has to double their hand count. The person with the lowest score gets a 0 for that round. Everyone else counts up the cards they have left and the round is recorded on a scorecard. The game goes to 100 points. Once you pass 100, you're out. The last person standing wins. That night Mike was the newbie who hung in longest. Kevin and I lost spectacularly. If the goal was to get to 100 as soon as possible, we'd be rock stars. I suspect that Sudip, aka Sudafed, won that game. Now, typically I'm a person who prides herself at being able to sleep through anything. Except maybe planes. I like sleeping and tend to think I'm good at it. Tonight that aptitude was put to a new test. It was still too hot to sleep in an expedition rated sleeping bag. As I unzipped it to turn it into a blanket, the sound of loud violent retching began echoing through the room. I knew the dude couldn't possibly be in our bathroom, yet it sure sounded like he was. The sound kept going. ...and going... Wow, this poor fellow is really suffering. ...and going...
The amplifier.

The amplifier.

Literally, I believe this person was sick all night long. We might have heard a boot come out of him. I didn't know illness like that was possible. I'm terrified of vomit and will go to great lengths to keep it from happening to me. In my limited experience, the body empties itself out at some point and the suffering subsides, at least for a while. Not in this poor guy's case. He made no effort to be quiet about it either, maybe he reckoned if he wasn't sleeping, no one else ought to be able to either. The next day I went into the bathroom, curious about what would make the sound so loud. It turned out there was a random vent in the ceiling. Whatever its intended purpose was, it had the added effect of amplifier for bathroom sounds. Dovile and I weren't the only ones who heard it either, it was a subject of conversation amongst the rest of the group the next day. Yeah, I know, not the most pleasant of conversation topics, but life gets more real up here the higher you go, no use denying it.