Reflections and images from my travels

A few extra bits

I am now presently in Hong Kong. It is December 2, 2011. I left Kathmandu, Nepal at approximately midnight yesterday and arrived in Hong Kong at approximately 6 AM this morning. What a difference a change in countries makes. Hong Kong seems like paradise. It is extremely clean and even though it is busy it does not have the same sense of chaos as Kathmandu. Everything works as it should in Hong Kong very little works properly in Nepal. I did get a little bit of sleep on the plane last night however Hong Kong is so exciting I spent the day touring the downtown area. I can always get some sleep tonight. Tomorrow I will hike the “Dragon’s Back” which is only 20 minutes out of the downtown but gets you out into a wilderness area. I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for the suggestion Lorraine.

Thank you all for the comments through the blog site. In this post I will try to answer some of the queries that came through the comments section. This one is for you Walter.

In an earlier post I spoke about the gear I brought to Bhutan and Nepal. I am happy to say that I pretty much used everything I brought and everything worked perfectly. In particular, the smaller camera gear was much easier to carry and it still gave me excellent quality files for some eventual large-sized prints. The camera worked flawlessly even down to temperatures of about -10°C in the morning. The lithium polymer battery pack was also an excellent choice. I had no worries for up to two weeks on each of the treks with regards to power as I charged the battery pack in Kathmandu prior to going out on the trek each time. I did not even have to use the solar panels for charging. Your alternate option if you did not want to bring this device is to bring three or four camera batteries fully charged as well as a relatively large memory card perhaps two 32 GB memory cards would be plenty. Just remember if you are trekking for a good portion of the day you are less likely to take hundreds of photographs. I certainly found this was the case. Some of the hikes were gruelling so it was hard to wake up in the morning to set up for sunrise shots. I suspected this would be the case. I still feel a tripod or monopod is essential for certain photographs including soft water shots, low light shots including sunrise and sunset. Just try to get a relatively light and strong tripod.

The GPS was excellent and it had no problems tracking us. It is useful if you enjoy summary data but is not absolutely essential. If you are going to blog a digital voice recorder is essential in order to record information on the day so one could refer back to it as I often did not have access to the Internet for up to 10 to 14 days after events occurred. A very good quality headlamp is also essential. Many guesthouses do not provide any artificial light and it is helpful in the morning or if you arrive later in the evening.

It is also not absolutely essential if you want to travel light, to bring a sleeping bag or down sleeping pad. However, just be aware that some of the mattress pads provided are extremely poor quality and thin and you will have an uncomfortable night. Not all guesthouses provided blankets but most did. I still feel a reasonable quality sleeping bag -5°C would be adequate and a smaller sleeping pad then I brought would be adequate for most needs.

Regarding water purification, most guesthouses provide filtered water however it is in the form of plastic bottles which adds to environmental waste. Also be aware that the cost of filtered water increases the higher in elevation you get. For example in Kathmandu you can purchase one leader of filter water for 30  Nepalese Rupees but you may pay as much as 200 Nepalese rupees up at several of the base camps. I was much happier using my Katadyn water purifier and filter water bottle. This provides an all-in-one solution and if you want to be extra careful just bring along extra chemical treatment with Pristine water purification drops.

A very portable washing system involves approximately 60 mL of biodegradable liquid soap for 2 weeks, two J-cloth towels (for manual washing), a medium-sized pack towel and packages of antiseptic wipes. Not quite the same as a hot shower which is a rare commodity in Nepal but absolutely adequate for keeping yourself clean.

Remember not to bring too many clothes. Everything eventually gets dirty. Try to stick to dark colors which do not show dirt as much. I found I only needed 2 day changes of clothes and an evening change of clothes which gets you out of your smelly and dirty day clothes and feels so much better prior to going to sleep. I had very little rain or extremely cold temperatures so I really did not need the Gore-Tex top and bottom but it is always a good idea to be prepared. Gators were not required. Remember, if you use a porter your bag is carried by a human being. Generally you should keep your total weight between 11 to 15 kg. Unfortunately from what I saw this was not followed and many tour operators had individual porters carrying up to 70 kg! You do not need too much stuff.

While the trails at times can be very rocky and rough you really do not require full higher altitude hiking boots. An approach hiking shoe would be more than adequate. Please be very careful about Vibram soles. I do not feel they are required for hiking in Nepal and in fact can be quite treacherous on the wet rock and tree stumps. The soles just become too slippery and markedly increase the risk for a fall/injury. Crocs also work supremely well as they are light, washable and very comfortable to wear after the day’s hike. They are absolutely essential to wear for sanitation reasons to the bathroom or shower areas.

I usually am a big proponent of hiking poles but I did not bring any and did not miss them.

The food you receive at most of the guesthouses is more than adequate to meet your needs however you will still lose weight because of the huge caloric expenditure of trekking day after day if you are trekking between 3 to 6 weeks or greater. It seems like the menus are pretty standardized amongst guesthouses and after 3 to 4 weeks of trekking you will struggle to find a new selection to choose. They generally offer teas, pop, instant coffee, hot lemon, filter water, beer, soups (which are excellent- noodle, tomato, potato, lentil, mushroom and others), mo mo’s (stuffed dumplings steamed or fried), pastas including spaghetti, macaroni, Lasagna and variations, chicken chowmein and variations, spring rolls usually fried, Dal Bhat of course, tuna sandwiches in some locations, roasted and fried potatoes with cheese, occasional salads like coleslaw, desserts like apple fritters, apple pie and sometimes chocolate cake. I may be missing some menu items but you get the idea. At no point did I get any gastrointestinal illness from the food. Just try to be careful with some of your choices if you are concerned especially regarding locally made cheeses, unpasteurized milk or unpasteurized butter and salads unless you are absolutely sure in how they wash and prepare the salad. It is probably worthwhile to pick up high-energy snacks including nuts, power bars or chocolate bars in a local supermarket in Thamel as the prices are remarkably cheap compared to the prices you will pay out on the trail. It goes without saying that you must carry your own toilet paper. Assuming you don’t have a massive case of diarrhea 2 rolls for two weeks should be adequate. Remember to pack the toilet paper in a plastic baggie.

Regarding clothing, I found lightweight to mid-weight long distance running pants were ideal in terms of warmth and weight. They can also double as a second layer. A convertible long pant is also helpful. Marino wool tops are fantastic and do not produce much odour despite days of wear. It is an expense well worth considering. Make sure you have at least three pairs of lightweight hiking socks. There is no need for middle-weight or heavy-weight hiking socks. The temperatures during the day just don’t get that cold. A little bit of cushioning in the sole of the sock is helpful.

Do not bring expensive sunglasses. They will get scratched or you will lose them. Very cheap pairs can be picked up in Kathmandu prior. I did not find safety or theft issues were a problem at the guesthouses. Just use common sense. All of the guesthouses do provide locks for your room. Be much more careful if you are in a shared room or a dormitory. Remember, if you are hiking solo the higher in elevation you go the more likely you will not get an individual room. I did bring a small portable lock for my duffel.

Many people brought playing cards and reading material to pass some of the hours while you are not trekking. I preferred conversation with strangers and sitting outside looking at the stars on clear nights.

As always, make sure you see your travel physician and get adequate preventative medication prior to traveling. Markedly reduce the risk of altitude sickness by going slowly and not over exerting yourself, staying well hydrated, trying not to exceed >300 m elevation gains in a day, for every 1000 m gained take a rest/ acclimatization day and do not drink alcohol or take central nervous system depressant medication including sleeping pills at elevation.

A guide is not absolutely essential even though at times there can be challenges with a lack of trail markings. Most of these confusing junctions occur in or heading out of villages where generally there are plenty of people to ask for directions. Not having a guide provides you with the ultimate in setting your own schedule and relaxation. However, be aware that guides do act as an excellent interface with most guesthouses and certainly at higher elevations can get you better prices as there is a ” Nepalese price” and a ” tourist price”. Regarding arrangements it also reduces stress on decision-making for you. The Nepalese are very kind, honest and warmhearted people. They are the highlight of Nepal as far as I am concerned. It is nice to get to know them and provide some effective financial resources for them. It really is up to you.

I hope you find this information helpful if you are planning on trekking in the Himalayas in the future. Feel free to contact me to provide further information or to give you contact information for excellent guides. Again, Namaste.

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