Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Don't Overload the Dryer, Lessons from the Himalayas

Namaste. Greetings from the mountains. I'm currently in Pokhara, Nepal, getting reading to hike the Annapurna Circuit (340km trek) with a friend. However, before I go forward, I feel that I should fill in some of the events of the past 6 weeks.

First, a synopsis. We climbed. We saw. We completed. After leaving the United States and landing in Delhi we traveled by bus to Ranikhet, a small mountain town, where NOLS India is based. After a few days of rest and repacking group and individual gear, we left for another full day of travel to the mountains. From there, the trip itself can be divided into 3 sections.

I. Rain, Rain Go Away. Our first week of trekking up to the glacier was a very soggy one. Late monsoon weather kept the sky falling and our gear wet. However, it was a good week of getting to know the other group members and getting acquainted with our equipment. The trail was mostly cobblestones, as it's the main artery – could I even say a foot and donkey highway? – up to the small villages throughout the valley. Our last camp was spent at the base of the Pindari Glacier, where we were taken care of by Babaji. Babaji is a name given to any spiritual man; this particular Babaji is a friend of NOLS. He's a Hindu holy man and practices a simple life of meditation and of giving. He cooked us an incredible meal while we camped near his hut; we were grateful recipients of his care.

II. Don't Overheat the Dryer. In other words, don't try and dry too many wet socks or clothes in your sleeping bag with you overnight! If you do, you'll sleep cold and wet until morning, and your clothes won't dry
. However, if you load the "dryer" properly - for example, one pair of socks and some gloves - a sleeping bag and body heat is a very effective way to dry small items at 16,000+ feet.

During this section of the course we camped mostly on glacier and spent our days shuttling up rations to future camps, or traveling on rope teams to our new camps. A typical day: 6am Wakeup/Breakfast. Take down camp. Repack. 8 or 9am rope up on rope teams. Hike. Wait for the first group to break snow. Hike. Wait. Hike. Wait. 1-5pm arrive at new camp. Probe for crevasses. Level snow for a tent. Dig out a kitchen and community latrine. Make dinner. Make hot drinks. 7-8pm Go to bed.

What was most surprising to me was the temperature extremes while on the glacier. During the day, if the sun was out, it felt like we were on a white beach. The reflectivity was so strong, and the temperature felt so hot, it seemed we should be sunbathing, not hiking! However, the minute the sun went down, being on glacier was an entirely different, very cold, world.

Highlights: Seeing the sun set over Nanda Devi (25,643ft). from the top of the first pass (17,600ft). Having constant snowball ammunition for 2 weeks to throw at anyone for any reason. Laughing through life with other people. Night skies full of stars and the Milky Way.

III. More chai? After completing our glacier travel (we were the first group in 18 years to complete the trek as a group, with no evacuations), we hiked out the Milam Valley to catch jeeps back to Ranikhet. This valley is tightly controlled by the India military. Because we were only a few miles from the Tibet border, we had to go through certain checkpoints down the valley so the government would know that we exited. During these few days our instructors went ahead of us as we traveled in small, independent groups of 4-6 students. Again, it rained, but after weeks on snow, we didn't flinch. This time we stayed in small guest houses instead of camping and it was a welcome relief not to pitch a tent. Our favorite guest house in the one-hut town of Siuni, consisted of an old man and 10 cups of chai (chai = milk tea). That is, 10 cups of chai, each! We had chai in bed, before bed, and the minute I sat up in the morning, I had a cup of chai in my hand.

The course winded down with a few more days in the mountains, cleaning equipment and final debriefing in Ranikhet, and then a train to Delhi. I loved being in the Himalayas for such a long time, and hope to spend more time in them in the future. They are big, gorgeous mountains. And speaking of mountains, I'm already on my way to being back in them. Tomorrow a new friend from Colorado and I will start the Annapurna Hike, a classic trek through the Nepalese mountains. Namaste…goodbye.

Interested in seeing more pictures? Check out Picasa web album: http://picasaweb.google.com/andriadhautamaki/NOLSMountaineering2009#