Monthly Archives: January 2016
23 Dec : Wednesday : Louche – Dhugla – Pheriche – Upper Pangboche
22 Dec : Tuesday : Gorakshep – EBC – Lobuche
So, this was gonna be the big day, that would bring me so close to Everest.
Lonely Planet says that the trek from Lobuche to Gorakshep is about 2 hours. I should have added in a buffer of another 2 hours, because at that altitude I would definitely have been slower, and I would also have needed time for photography.
I left the lodge around 830AM, much later than the rest of the folks. It was a gentle gradient all the way, until it was time to go over the Khumbu glacier. I stopped at several places to make images and kept asking Bibek “when would I be able to see Kala Patthar ?”, as that would mean that I wasn’t too far from Gorakshep. Bibek replied that we would see Kala Patthar just before reaching Gorakshep.
Lila kept telling me that he wasn’t feeling well and that his chest felt heavy and he was having difficulty breathing. I told him that he needn’t climb Kala Patthar, and that he could rest at the lodge at Gorakshep.
Anyways, we finally reached Gorakshep around 1130AM or so. We decided to stay at the very first lodge that we encountered – Himalaya lodge. There was a statue of Shivaji, that kinda tilted in its favour. Some of the folks who had stayed in Peak XV lodge too were staying in this lodge.
Promptly ordered Dal Bhat for me and fried noodles for Lila and Bibek. It was decided that Lila would descend to Lobuche or Thukla, and Bibek and I would stay at Gorakshep for one night, and climb Kala Patthar that afternoon and visit Everest Base Camp the following morning, and then descend to Lobuche.
After lunch, I said my goodbyes to Lila, and got ready for the ascent to Kala Patthar. Packed my camera bag, two tripods, two headlamps, took my down jacket and some food. Made sure that Bibek was adequately covered for the drop in temperature, as the plan was to stay till sunset and photograph last light on Everest. The weather Gods would have the final say, but at least I wanted to do my part.
Bibek and I left the lodge by 130PM. I had set myself a stop time of 4PM, which I could extend by 15 minutes, by when I would stop wherever I would have reached and get ready to photograph. If all went well, I would make a time-lapse of the shadows receding from the glacier and last light hitting on Everest.
Some other people from the lodge had left at 2PM, and they soon caught up with us. I was making very slow progress. In hindsight, I should have left Lobuche much earlier, and left Gorakshep much earlier for the Kala Patthar climb. The air was so thin, and every step up was a torture. The climb was not so steep, but still it was very tough for me.
We looked back and saw clouds approaching at break neck speed from the valley. They had already reached Lobuche. I cursed. Why were the weather Gods so pissed with me ? I prayed and asked the clouds to stay where they were.
And then, something magical happened. The moon rose from behind Everest. It was spectacular. I stopped in my tracks and made several images, and then continued.
Time was going by fast, and I wasn’t making any progress. The people ahead of me had also slowed down, clearly everyone was struggling.
By 415PM, I was still around 50-80m from the summit of Kala Patthar. It would easily take me another 30 minutes for the final push. I decided that it wasn’t important for me to make it to the summit, rather I wanted to use the time to make some memorable images of Everest.
Bibek took a detour to the right and found a flat spot from where I could shoot sunset. It was in the same line of sight as the view from the summit. I somehow dragged myself there, and collapsed to the ground.
I wore my down jacket first. Then setup one tripod and mounted the 6D with the 17-40mm lens to shoot a time-lapse. Once that was done, I setup the other tripod and the 7D with the 24-105mm lens on it. I kept another 7D with the 70-200mm on standby. Took couple of photos of Bibek and I with my iPhone, and just when I was making a video, it died. The temperature was dipping drastically. I could feel my fingers going numb. The Icebreaker base layer gloves were of no use at that temperature. Thicker gloves didn’t give me the dexterity to operate my gear. I alternated between shooting and stuffing my hands in the pockets of the down jacket to keep the fingers from freezing.
By the time the sun set around 515PM, Bibek and I were the only ones left on Kala Patthar. I continued to make images till 530-540PM and then packed up. The light was magical. I could have continued there for another 2-3 hours and made some star trail images, if I had some company. I would have certainly needed chemical warmers too, as by now my fingers and toes were already getting numb. It was probably -20 degrees and the mercury was dipping fast.
Bibek and I donned our headlamps, and we started the descent. I told Bibek to go a bit slow and followed in hot pursuit. We made it back to the lodge in less than an hour. I promptly ordered a pot of ginger tea and some french fries, even as a tomato cheese pizza would come later. I knew Bibek would have been famished by then. We gorged on the fries and the plate was cleaned up within 5 minutes.
Dinner came and I finished the pizza as well. Bibek would eat his Dal Bhat with the rest of the guides and porters. We talked for a bit, and then I went out to make some images of the landscape under moonlight.
By 8pm or so, I was done. I was exhausted and we still had a long day the next day.
There was an American couple with whom we had been crossing paths, all the way from Kathmandu airport. The husband was clearly suffering from AMS. I think the pace at which they came up to Gorakshep and then climbed Kala Patthar, must have got to him. He was vomiting and getting delirious. Another reminder for me to take AMS very seriously. Nothing could be done until the next morning, when the sun would be up, and the lodge would make contact with a rescue helicopter. I prayed for him, and went to bed.
20 Dec : Sunday : Dingboche – Dughla – Lobuche
There are no easy days on the EBC trek. But this today was supposedly one of the easier days. The trek on the terrace that connects Dingboche with Dughla was relatively flat and pleasant. However, the altitude gain coupled with the cold air, dried my lungs pretty fast. I stopped at a few places enroute to make some images. Sumet and his guide overtook us just before Dughla.
We reached Dughla around 11ish. There was a steep climb to Dughla pass that was to be tackled, so lunch was declared at Dughla. I gorged on Dal Bhat, even though I wasn’t too hungry at that time. Carbo loading was necessary.
The climb to Dughla pass was torturous. I took at least 2-3 breaks in between. Once we reached the top of the pass, we were greeted with memorials of climbers who had perished while attempting to climb Everest.
Made the customary pictures, and then Lila and Bibek took off. The valley opened up in front of me. Pumori to the left and Nuptse to the right.
We reached Lobuche around 3PMish… We walked straight into Peak XV lodge. Sujoy had other recommendations. Rakesh had suggested Peak XV. And Lila must have found Peak XV lodge suitable as well. So, he went ahead and checked in. Peak XV is a relatively small lodge, compared to other options in Lobuche.
I unpacked in my room and then went out to photograph sunset. Trekking and photography don’t seem to agree with me. I was feeling cold and fatigued. But I dragged myself out to a small ledge, around 100m from the Peak XV lodge, from where there was a great view of Nuptse, as well as Pumori.
Photographed last light on Nuptse, and then called it quits. Went back to the lodge, ordered Dal Bhat, devoured it, sat by the fire for sometime to warm myself up, and then got out again to photograph the night sky. Orion was up, next to Nuptse. After 15-20 minutes, I felt that I had had enough. Packed up, went back to the lodge and slept fitfully.
19 Dec : Saturday : Acclimatisation day at Dingboche
I woke up past midnight and I saw that the clouds had gone, and the sky was clear, plenty of stars could be seen from my room… So, I decided that I would go and have a look outside. I picked up my tripod and the 6D with the 17-40mm lens, a new fully charged LP-E6 battery, a timer release, headlamp (all of which I had neatly organised before I went to sleep – yeah, my version of neatly – so that I wouldn’t be searching for them in my half-asleep state when I would wake up, and also to reduce the noise that I would make – remember, paper thin plywood walls ? yeah…) and quietly made my way downstairs and out into the yard. Freedom !!!
It was freezing cold, definitely much below 0 degrees celsius, as the water in the drum in the loo had frozen… But nevertheless, it was nice to be out in the open, under a starry sky.
I tried a few compositions with the silhouette of Ama Dablam, then made 16 high ISO exposures that I would stack later to make a composite image without the noise due to high ISO…
Afterwards, I decided to shoot a time-lapse. All my previous attempts at a (sunset) time-lapse had been clouded out. So, I was not sure if the weather Gods would mess up my starry time lapse too or not… Nevertheless, you can’t fault me for not attempting.
With the camera at work, I went back to my room and set an alarm for 430AM. At 430, I woke up, and went downstairs and packed up my camera and tripod and came back to my room to catch a few hours of sleep.
Dingboche wasn’t suitable for any sunrise shoot (will write a separate post on suitable locations for shooting sunrise and sunset at each of the places that I had stayed at during this trek)
I went back to the dining hall around 7ish, as there is usually a fire in the fireplace in the dining hall, as some trekkers prefer an early start to their trek and while they wait for their breakfast and drinks, they are treated to some warmth from the fireplace.
I met Rakesh and had a chat with him. My plan was to go to Chukhung the next day and stay a night there, go up Chukhung Ri, and also towards the Island Peak base camp (not all the way there, but only till the glacial lake). Rakesh said that if I was not doing the Kongma La, then there wasn’t much point in going to Chukhung, and that the prices there are more expensive. I was gutted, as I was really looking forward to going to Chukhung. Maybe one day I will do the Kongma La and that would mean, I would definitely go to Chukhung 🙂 Dreams and that bloody Mountain Itch…
Lila came and he chimed in that the weather in Nepal turns bad during Christmas every year, clouds, rain, snow etc. and stays bad till the New Year, and we still need to do EBC and Gokyo, so it might make sense to save those 2 days that I was planning to spend at Chukhung.
Sumet was not coping too well with the altitude, he didn’t have any major AMS symptoms, except that he was feeling quite uncomfortable, and he wasn’t eating too well and he was having digestion issues. He too had dropped Kongma La from his plan, so he wouldn’t be going to Chukhung either.
It seems as if everyone was conspiring against I going to Chukhung, so I decided that I would sacrifice my plans for Chukhung…
After breakfast, Lila, Bibek and I went up the Nangkartshang hill. It was hard work. First, we went up to the Gompa from where there were spectacular views of the terrace that we would take the following day, when going to Lobuche, including Cho Oyu in the distance. To the north, we could see a whole range of peaks – Island Peak and Makalu.
As we kept climbing, the view because more and more expansive. Met Sumet and his guide as they were making their way down. Lila, Bibek and I went up till my watch showed 4900m, and then decided that we had had enough. We rested for a while, ate whatever food we had carried with us, and then descended.
Dal Bhat was waiting for us at Good Luck lodge, after which we soaked in the sun in the dining hall. The rest of the trekkers in that lodge too were in the dining hall, and everyone was enjoying their well deserved rest.
Around 330PM, I decided to go up to the Gompa to photograph sunset and hopefully make a time-lapse. Can’t fault me for not trying. The moment I went up to the Gompa, and setup shop, clouds rolled in, as if on cue. Waited for 30 minutes and decided that the weather Gods were not on my side. Packed up and descended to the lodge, had some ginger tea and ordered dinner.
18 Dec : Friday : Tengboche – Devoche – Pangboche – Shomare – Dingboche
After the experience of dealing with the big trekking group in Tengboche, I wanted to avoid them further on. Even their guides were obnoxious. So, I asked Lila to find out where the group would be staying in Dingboche. They were going to stay at Peaceful Lodge. OK, so, that’s the lodge we are not going to stay in.
We set off from Tengboche, even as the sun was taking forever to shine on Tengboche and warm up our bodies on the trail. Within 30 mins of downhill, we reached the scattered lodges of Devoche. I guess that in order to avoid the peak season crowds in Tengboche, Devoche would be an alternative. Photography-wise, it isn’t a great place.
More downhill, until we reached a small bridge over the Imja Khola and we crossed from right to left (East to West) side of the river. What goes down has to come up. So, the uphill trudge began. There were a few interesting photo opportunities as we approached Pangboche. There were a couple of stupas with giant eyes, and I remembered making some images along with the village in the background and Ama Dablam.
When we reached Shomare, we decided to have lunch, take a break, kick off our boots, dry our feet and prepare mentally and physically for the next section of the trek, which would involve a steep climb up towards Dingboche.
The group from G Adventures and their obnoxious guides were finishing lunch already at Sonam Lodge and Restaurant. Lila, Bibek and I settled down outside in the sun, after ordering our dal that and ginger tea. Even as we were waiting for our lunch to arrive, the wind picked up, clouds rolled in, and there was a snow flurry. Oh oh. The weather Gods were really onto something now. I thought “WOW. There will be snow on the trail…” But, alas, the snow flurry didn’t last long. But the clouds blocked all the views around. My grand plan to photograph the changing face of Ama Dablam as we went around it, had to be trashed.
After lunch, we decided not to waste much time and head to Dingboche as soon as possible. And no, we were not going to stay at Peaceful Lodge. For obvious reasons.
The trail wend up and down and kinda went even, as we passed one lodge at Orsho, which was closed. From there, we could see the challenge that lied ahead of us. A steep downhill descent, cross a tiny iron bridge, and then a steep uphill climb, which looked intimidating.
After going down and crossing the bridge, I took out the magic sweets that would give us a sugar boost, to tackle the intimidating climb. Bibek surged ahead at his pace, and Lila and I kept going up at my pace. No conversation. I was synchronizing my breath and my steps. Breath in, Breath in. Breath out, Breath out. Left, right, left right. 1, 1, 2, 2… Anything to keep the bloody mind occupied and not start “what the hell are you doing in this place, when you could be lying down happily in the comfort of your bed ?” Or cravings for coffee at Toast…Or the Dal Makhani at Chakra..
There was no view to distract me either, everything was covered in clouds.
A few more beds, a few more false summits, a few more ridges, and we were finally standing looking at the lodges of Dingboche ahead of us. We were still discussing where we should say, it would be dependent on what lodges were open during this season too.
We say Peaceful Lodge at the entrance of the village to the right. Kept walking through the village, until we reached three quarter way into it. Sujoy had recommended Good Luck lodge, I think Rakesh had recommended too. So, Lila went in to check if there were any rooms available and how much it would cost, and if they had rooms for Lila and Bibek too. He came back with a smile and informed that there were rooms available. I had a good feel even as I walked into the lodge.
I knew Ama Dablam was somewhere to the East but was blocked by clouds. No chance of making any images of sunset. So, I went up to my room and rested for a while, then came down to the dining hall where the fire had already started. I pulled up a chair and started to thaw myself. The cold and the gloomy weather was getting to me. But at least my health was still fine. Other than the occasional bouts of breathlessness that I would encounter from time to time on a steep uphill climb, I was still doing fine. It was something that I was really grateful for.
In the dining hall, I saw Khaled (with whom I had crossed paths enroute to Namche Bazaar) and we met like long lost friends. Khaled was a fantastic guy, and he was trekking all the way from Jiri, and it seemed like he had picked up an injury to his knee during one of the downhill sections. I asked him where Rakesh was, and he laughed and said “I am not sure. He does this disappearing act from time to time :)” Khaled and Rakesh had stayed at Devoche the previous day, looks like its a popular choice as compared to Tengboche. If not for my night photography, I might have stayed at Devoche too…
There were a few other people in the dining hall, Sumet and his guide were there too, and they were all very friendly, unlike the groups from G Adventures the previous day. I was so glad that we managed to find a different lodge from them.
I think I ordered a tomato cheese pizza that night. I asked for my dinner to be served along with Lila and Bibek, and I shared a slice of my pizza to each of them, for variety…
I went out after dinner, it was still clouded out. I went to my room, set an alarm for past midnight (not that I needed one, as I would always wake up once after midnight for the nocturnal visit to the loo) and dozed off.
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