Visit to the Kilns

With our EBC team all back home with their families….I’m sure they are sharing many stories of their adventure. Life for me (Linda) is back to the daily 4.am wake up calls from the neighboring Swayhambu monks drumming and blowing horns for morning prayers as well as endless meetings, emailing and catching up with as many friends as possible for a gorkha beer….it can’t be all work and no pleasure!

As many know, Umbrella Australia started a program ‘Women of the Kilns’ in partnership with EDSO (partnering with the Global Fairness Initiative). This came about through being contacted by GFI Washington and visiting their programs which primarily focus on the fair work conditions of workers and education of children in brick kiln factories here in Nepal.

Did you know there are currently 32,000 children under the age of 16 working in 1294 kilns in Nepal. GFI have to date set up 40 bridging schools for these children which is giving the opportunity for these kids to attend school whilst their parents are working the daily grind of bonded labour….this means a chance to have an education and a future, breaking the generational practice of bonded labour.

Whilst visiting the kilns last year we made the decision to not only support the kids with our student sponsorship program but also give their mothers the opportunity of health & hygiene education through our international license with Days for Girls International.

Last Tuesday, our trainer Pramila, Sushil Babu Chetri (photographer and filmmaker extraordinaire) and I spent the day in the heat of the Terrai delivering a program at three kiln factories to 196 women. The heat was unbelievable and it’s difficult to comprehend how these families exist working 16/17 hours a day in kiln ovens in constant 40+ heat, carrying and making 1000 bricks a day. They are the forgotten people and the injustices they are currently experiencing so need to be highlighted.

Pramila, did her usual and gained the trust and interest of the women who attended the program. These women are experiencing many pregnancies due to the lack of availability to contraception, one particular 19 year old had 5 children! Another lady 8 months pregnant, still working and experiencing a lot of pain….had little choice but to work. With limited access to medical services and using dirty cloth every month when menstruating the program is very much needed in these areas, as simple hygiene practices can save a life.

Sushil has captioned many photos which will be updated soon on our website. For now here are some of my less professional photos. We thank our EDSO for their wonderful organizing, our supporters who helped us get menstruation kits and health training to the women as well as education support for the children.

If you want to be part of the program and contribute to these women and children check out current projects on the website: umbrellaaustralia.org ‘Women of the Kilns health & hygiene’ & ‘Children of the kilns education program’.

Namaste,

Linda Harwood

Achieving personal goals, new looks and school visits

Greetings from Kathmandu!  Life has been rather busy in the last few weeks with our EBC team successfully all getting to BC and even having an afternoon cuppa with some Lhotse climbers in their tents at Everest Base Camp.  For some of our trekkers they have worked extremely hard to overcome many physical challenges to make this happen and we are so proud of them achieving their goals. Most of this would not have happened if not for our team leaders, Gavin and Ganesh who guided and cared for our group the entire journey.

It was also exciting moment for our board and members of The Umbrella Foundation Australia as our EBC team finally launched our new ‘Nepal’ Logo!  This has been in the planning for some time as TUFA are now officially a separate entity to Umbrella Nepal/Ireland.

While TUFA will still operate with the same Australian branding it was decided we would have a fresh, modern and exciting new look for our Nepal programs.  Special thanks go to Jennifer Nash from Nashifruit Designs for her amazing design, if you are in need of a great designer go to: https://www.facebook.com/Nashifruitdesigns

In the final few days on arriving back in Kathmandu we ventured out to Sindhupalchowk and visited Shree Bhimsen Secondary school and were given a warm welcome by the teachers and students. Our youngest trekker, William had the opportunity to pass on letters which were written by his fellow students in Australia.  William was given letters and photos from the students at Shree Bhimsen School which will be passed on to his school mates in Maitland NSW.  

The students all introduced themselves and it was a wonderful experience for William to share some of his culture and time with the students. 

The final day of the adventure was spent on a city tour where everyone visited Boudhanath Stupa (the largest stupa in Asia) and Swayhambunath  (the Monkey Temple) with magnificent views of the Kathmandu valley….as well as many monkey’s!  No trip to Swayhambu is complete without a visit to Fine Grains Bakery for chocolate lava cake, some of which has journeyed back to Australia. 

Everyone agreed it was a wonderful adventure and on the last night at our cultural dinner plans were already happening for next year…..apparently Annapurna Circuit!  Photo credits - David, Kristyn, Gavin


Visiting Shree Bhimsen Secondary School

Linda here from Umbrella Australia.

I am currently visiting Nepal catching up with our project partners and of course friends. It has been rather busy with the arrival last Wednesday of our EBC trekkers who are currently on their way to Pheriche and as of yesterday afternoon everyone had arrived in safely in Tengboche..

For us who are unable to soar great heights, yesterday I had the opportunity to visit Shree Bhimsen Secondary School with our friends and New Zealand Supporters Linda & Ray from YETI (Youth Education and Training Initiatives Nepal). YETI provide sponsorship to those students who obtain tertiary scholarships in Nepal.

It was through huge fundraising efforts in NZ that YETI purchased a wonderful supply of library books and educational resources for the school. These books will help furnish the shelves of our new library and assist the children and their community with endless opportunity to enhance the love of reading and learning.

It was also a humbling experience for myself to receive a certificate of acknowledgment from the school and local community for the support Umbrella Australia have given to date. I also received some beautiful letters from the students which are very precious to me. In my acceptance of the certificate and letters it was important to tell everyone that I am the lucky one who gets to visit. All this happens because our amazing board & members and you….our supporters who entrust us with your donations. Nothing would happen without you!

So from my heart to you….even if we haven't met, I say thankyou for your support and ask if you can please continue that support to help us complete the school and give the incredible gift of education to those way less fortunate than ourselves.

Namaste,

Linda Harwood


What a day....our first full day in Kathmandu - by David

We started with the Anzac Day Ceremony at the Australian Embassy where we met some dignitaries I was impressed with a group of high school kids from Canberra who had just come back from a school building project, the kids spoke about the totally humbling experience of travelling to Nepal and showed me some photos of the completed projects.
Charlie the UN logistics guy from Sydney told us the story of how he joined the UN. He wanted to work for them, called and applied unsuccessfully for jobs and ultimately just got on a plane to East Timor during the independence vote in 1999, he arrived there with a surf board in hand (but there is no surf at East Timor) coincidently the existing logistics guy had left 40 minutes beforehand ... 20 years later he is still with the UN. He has been in Nepal surveying and rebuilding houses after the 2015 earthquakes.

Back into the streets of Kathmandu shopping for a few last minute shopping items.
The sensory input with motor bikes rickshaws small Hyundai taxis going all over the place and dust everywhere was over the top, the relative quiet of the Hotel was great afterwards.
The traffic is something else. On the way to the Embassy at one point the traffic all swapped sides and we were driving on the right hand side of the street.
On foot we would walk across the road in front of vehicles like we’re locals, the horns beeping didn’t have the feeling they were in anger, more like “excuse me sir can I get past please” remarkably there appear to be no accidents.

Coffee Lunch and getting to know the rest of the team.
Lupi treats haggling like a contact sport, Gav snuck into another shop and bought something without her, I swear it pissed her off.
The locals stare at Gav with their mouths open just because he is the size of 3 of them and is an imposing (and loud) figure in the street.

Gav then took us to Fire and Ice Pizza Restaurant for dinner which was as good a pizza as I have had anywhere. Will went for a lay down and missed the pizza, we will have to come back after the trek.

Early night, bags repacked - we’re heading out at 3am in the morning and should arrive at Lukla Airport tomorrow mid-morning for the first day of the trek.

Fingers crossed

Everest Base Camp Trek 2019

Greetings from Kathmandu!

Our EBC trekkers have arrived and this morning (after a 3.00am start) have arrived at Ramechamp for their flights to Lukla. Over the next few weeks we are planning to follow their journey with daily blogs, updates and videos from the team.

Our team members are: Gavin, Lubi, Kristyn, David, Wills, Jane & Chris. They have been having a wonderful few days here in Kathmandu and after already witnessing a few fun moments this trek certainly promises some hilarity and life changing experiences.

Please share the stories, follow our social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram/ Twitter/The Umbrella Foundation Australia) we want as many people as possible to read our stories, especially our trekkers families and friends.

Our trekkers are also undertaking this trek to support the post earthquake rebuild of the Shree Bhimsen Secondary school in Sindhupalchowk………one of the worst effected areas in the 2015 quake which ironically was four years yesterday.

Young Will’s who is 12 has set up a GiveNow cause and we would so appreciate if you can support him….no amount is too much with all donations over $2 tax deductible!

Go to: https://www.givenow.com.au/crowdraiser/public/WilliamsNepalTrekforTheUmbrellaFoundation

The Chata Newsletter - December, 2018 - Edition Two


The Chātā Newsletter - December, 2018

Edition Two

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Namaste and Christmas greetings from the team at TUFA.


 Our board and committee members would like to acknowledge and thank everyone who has donated and contributed to help the communities in Nepal.   We wish you and your loved ones a merry Christmas and a safe and healthy 2019

It has been a big 2018 for TUFA with new projects, our first golf charity day, our first Nepal Discovery Tour for 8 lucky people, an era ending & a new one beginning, our Annual Gala Event and recommencing some old projects that were interrupted by the 2015 Earthquake.

Welcome to our new committee members
The board of Umbrella Australia would like to welcome our new members

  • Lubi Vittekova

  • Janet Piper

  • Amelia Amos

  • Louise Middlebrook

Photo courtesy of Sushil Babu Chetri

Photo courtesy of Sushil Babu Chetri

Women of the Kilns Health and Hygiene Program

We are in need of donations for this amazing project.

$240 per year or $20 per month is all that it takes and your donation is tax deductible.

Donate Now  

Charity Golf Day at Kurri Kurri Golf Club


Our first charity golf day was held in June at Kurri Kurri Golf Club in the Hunter Valley.  We had loads of golfers ready to tee off, drink carts, egg and bacon rolls, hot coffee and cold beer.
The day was a great success with everyone who attended wanting to know if it was going to be an annual event … Well Guess What? …  it's on 23 June 2019 so put this date in your calendar and make sure you don't miss out.  We will give you more information closer to the date.

 

Do you have any old digital cameras that you don’t use and would like to donate?

Sushil Babu Chetri

Sushil Babu Chetri

The very talented ex-Umbrella youth, Sushil Babu Chetri is starting a photography program with blind, disabled youth & street children.  It will be a photography project enabling the youth to explore their world through a lens.
This exciting project will result in an exhibition which we hope to host in  Australia.  If you have an old camera lying around which still works but may not be as up to date as you want we would love you to donate it to this wonderful project.  Please contact us at info@umbrellaaustralia.org and we can arrange postage or pickup.

Days for Girls - Gatlang Rasuwa

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We are hoping to recommence our Day’s For Girls Enterprise team in Gatlang Rasuwa in 2019.  If you have been following us over the years you will be familiar with our Gatlang Women’s Community Program which was starting to gain momentum before the 2015 earthquake.
We are now ready to start again and the community members are very excited.  One thing is holding us back...same old story $$$$$$
We need to purchase:

  • New sewing machines/over locker

  • Pre-cut kits from Days for Girls Nepal

  • Sewing tools – scissors/cotton etc.

  • A jeep to transport all the equipment

and most importantly…TRAINING!!!

Our new program will require 2 of the ladies to travel to Kathmandu for a comprehensive 2 week training program with Days for Girls Nepal.  This program includes sewing training, health education training and business training and will cost US$1400!!!
This will enable the program to be self-sufficient and will not require TUFA to commit to the ongoing support. It's a great incentive for the women in the community to build their own business and further support their families. 

If you would like to support this program please contact us on: info@umbrellaaustralia.org.

End of an Era and Exciting New Look!!

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Since The Umbrella Foundation Australia was registered as an Australian charity in May 2013 we have supported the work of The Umbrella Foundation Nepal/Ireland.  Sadly we will be discontinuing our relationship due to the closure of The Umbrella Foundation Nepal/Ireland in June, 2021. 
Our final sponsorship payment will be sent in early January and we ask that our current sponsors continue with their monthly contributions  which will support the education of children working in the brick kiln factories (see our Children of the Kilns Program ) https://umbrellaaustralia.org/children-of-the-kilns-education/.
Over the last few years TUFA have moved in a different direction from TUFN, this being due to the research we have undertaken to support the children and their communities which have the greatest needs and getting the least support.  There are now many organisations working in Nepal, many of them are working in the same areas and supporting communities which are easily accessible, often resulting in piggybacking other projects. 
It is vital that we reach the communities who are most vulnerable and those receiving the least support.
Watch this space as our new branding will be happening soon….everything else stays the same! 
Our board and members congratulate The Umbrella Foundation Nepal/Ireland with all they have achieved since 2005.

Shree Bhimsen School rebuild update .... 

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We have one stage to go and we really need your support to complete our post-earthquake school rebuild.  During our visit we met with the local government representative who informed us that due to the school community’s contribution and effort in giving back to the project, the education department were able to build a second learning facility at the school.  This has enabled the school population to now grow from 266 students to 320 students!
Our visit in November gave students and teachers the opportunity to showcase their recent programs.  The girls club now meet every week and concentrate on sewing menstruation kits and practice their sewing skills.  The boys have now set up a STEAM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Maths) which of course is also available to the girls.  These programs are enabling the students to gain skills which would normally not be available in rural Nepali schools. 
We hope to complete the library and computer laboratory as soon as possible.  After speaking with some of the teachers at the school we also hope the facilities will be available to the wider community.  Our other hope is to connect the younger students with a Australian School to set up a friendship club…what a great way to share our cultures.
Please support us be part of this small community….all donations are tax deductible and all contributors will be part of our wall of acknowledgment at the school.
https://umbrellaaustralia.org/purchase-a-brick-to-help-rebuild-the-shree-bhimsen-secondary-school/

Nepal Discovery Tour November 2018

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 A wonderful group of TUFA supporters from Maitland NSW returned from our first TUFA ‘Nepal Discovery Tour’ which we are proud to announce was a huge success! 
Our small group left Sydney on the 1st November via Bangkok (staying overnight at a lovely resort near the airport) they arrived in Kathmandu to be welcomed by Arjun from Nature treks & Linda from TUFA.  Accommodation in Kathmandu was at the Fairview at Marriott where our travelers enjoyed a high standard of accommodation as well as experiencing their first Fine Grains Bakery cake which was served on arrival!  It was important, especially for our older folk that they could escape the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu to a quiet and luxurious room….no roughing on this trip!


Why not join us in October 2019 for our next adventure.  Contact us at: info@umbrellaaustralia.org and we can send you the itinerary.

Main Events for 2019

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Main Events for 2019

Everest Base Camp Challenge  – 24 April - 10 May, 2019 – Limited numbers are available – 7 SPACES LEFT!!!!
This is your opportunity to experience the mighty Himalaya's and witness Mount Everest in all her splendid glory!
Dust off your hiking boots because this is and excellent reason to get fit and be part of an ethical travel experience and share the ultimate adventure with a group of friend and our very own Umbrella Foundation Patron - Everest Summiteer, Gavin Vickers.
$2,990 twin share (not including international airfares)
For a copy of the itinerary please visit  umbrellaaustralia.org or contact us at info@umbrellaaustralia.org
Golf Day – Kurri Kurri Golf Club Hunter Valley  – 23 June, 2019 SAVE THE DATE
Nepal Discovery Tour – 22nd October – WATCH THIS SPACE
Gala Event - July/August 2019  - TO BE ADVISED
 

Copyright © 2018 The Umbrella Foundation Australia Ltd, All rights reserved.
ABN 18 621 117 566


Our mailing address:
PO Box 3356, Thornton NSW 2322  
info@umbrellaaustralia.org  
https://umbrellaaustralia.org/

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The Chata Newsletter - June, 2018 - Edition One!

Latest news from TUFA

The Chātā Newsletter - June, 2018

Edition One

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Namaste and greetings from the team at The Umbrella Foundation Australia or to keep it short TUFA!  It's about time we established our quarterly newsletter and if your wondering what the word  'Chata' is....it's the Nepali word for 'Umbrella'.  Welcome to The Chata Newsletter No.1

For those of you who are not familiar with us, we are a registered Australian charity, established in May, 2013.  Our focus  is supporting trafficked and vulnerable children, their families & communities in Nepal through education support and health & hygiene programs.  TUFA also supports our Australian sister charity, Centre for Hope, a Newcastle NSW charity working with vulnerable Aussie children in our communities. 

Knowing how many charities are out there and how bombarded we are with donation requests it is important to us that we are fully transparent about our project work and where your hard earned money goes.  Our board and committee members are ALL volunteers with 100% of ALL donations going to the selected programs....a big plus is YOUR DONATION IS TAX DEDUCTABLE.

Another important note is our admin costs are minimal and average around $500 per year, this money comes from a small percentage retained from raffles held throughout the year. We are always happy to be contacted if you have any questions or if you want to be part of our small Aussie charity.

Enough about us and more about what we do!

Post Earthquake Rebuild of Shree Bhimsen Secondary School

Shree Bhimsen Secondary School is located in Sindhupalchowk.   This already vulnerable community was one of the worst affected districts in the April, 2015 earthquake.  Umbrella Australia are currently supporting the rebuilding of the school and invite you to be part of this community.  

Keep Reading

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Women of The Kiln Health & Hygiene

Giving girls and women working in bonded labour the opportunity of health & hygiene through our Day's for Girls program.  Supplying washable menstruation kits and education to the most vulnerable women.

Keep Reading

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Children of the Kilns Education

Your opportunity to give a child currently working in bonded a labour an education.  Sponsorship is $20 per month!

Keep Reading

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Upcoming events

Celebrating Nepal
(Think Bollywood)

An evening of Colour, Dance & Feasting
25th August, 2018
Marcellin Rugby Club, Lorn, Maitland
For Further details go to: http:// https://www.stickytickets.com.au/71243

Everest Base Camp Challenge 2018

Led by Everest Summiteer & TUFA patron Gavin Vickers
15th - 31st October, 2018
Embrace the challenge!
For Further details go to: https://umbrellaaustralia.org/new-events/ (scroll down the page to the event)

 

Copyright © 2018 The Umbrella Foundation Australia Ltd, All rights reserved.
ABN 18 621 117 566


Our mailing address:
PO Box 3356, Thornton NSW 2322  
info@umbrellaaustralia.org  
https://umbrellaaustralia.org/
The Umbrella Foundation Australia Ltd. · PO Box 3356 · Thornton, Nsw 2322 · Australia

 

An over whelming experience at the Siddhartha brick kiln, Lumbini Nepal

Having heard stories from Linda about her visit to the brick kilns in Lumbini and the visits in rural Nepal did nothing to prepare me for my visit on as part of the field staff to speak to the women and adolescent girls at the Siddhartha brick kilns in Barahathawa, Lumbini, Nepal.

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I had heard many stories of how the women just come to to listen and didn't realise just how powerful witnessing this was.  A few of them came, we originally had about 6 women waiting.  I looked out the door and it was an amazing scene .... there were lines of women with their children making their way to listen what we had to say regarding health and hygiene.

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The children were very timid and hid behind their mothers legs, peeking out at these strange people trying to speak to them.  Linda was trying to get the kids confidence by going cross eyed and I did my fish face to try to break the ice ... it worked.  The women and children laughed and giggled and we had to keep doing it over and over.

We had approximately 50 women attend and they were all so interested albeit very shy, in what we had to say.  The amazing Anjana from Days for Girls did a brilliant job in gaining their confidence and explaining about menstruation, hygiene, how babies were made and prolapsed uterus.  We found out that these people work approximately 16/17 hours per day in extreme heat ... 40 plus degrees.  

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This was very confronting for me as I had never been involved in any field work as I am mainly behind the scenes and often found myself on the verge of tears .... of course I couldn't let the women and children see how it affected me.  I was totally in awe of these ladies ... all who had no idea how babies were made .... didn't know it was the males who impregnated them ... didn't realise that if there were no females, there would be no babies ...didn't know that every female in the world menstruated.  Not only do these women work extremely hard in the field, they have to look after their families by washing and cooking and are often victims of domestic violence.

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It wasn't just the women that work hard, the males also work hard as everything they do is very manual.  The bricks are molded then the raw bricks are transported on bicycles to the kilns for firing.  I witnessed the children helping their parents, wheeling the wheel barrows and digging.

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Being an Australian I am not usually affected by the heat ... I love it BUT this heat really got to me and we were only at the kiln for about3 hours so I can imagine how difficult this would be working in those conditions all day, every day.

We let the women return to their work and we returned to the venue where we were fortunate to be staying and had a refreshing swim.  Anjana was sitting on the side of the pool saying to Linda and I that she wished she could get in but she couldn't swim.  We supported her by putting her arms around each of our necks and she floated whilst we walked her around the pool ... she was shaking because she was scared and excited at the same time ....giggling with excitement and it was such a wonderful feeling to make someone as happy as she was by doing something that she had never done before.

This was an amazing project to scope and it was incredible to see the difference of the women from when they first arrived to when they left ...it is very humbling and puts everything back home into perspective.

Cheers

Tracey

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Shree Bhimsen Secondary School Rebuild Update

We are absolutely delighted to give you an update on what has been happening over the last 16 weeks.  Tonight we received photos from the Nepal River Conservation Trust who are managing our project in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal.  Umbrella Australia handed over AU$22,000 in February which was raised (post earthquake) by Aussie schools and very generous, awesome donors.  We have not completed the build and still in need of your support.....which many of you are continuing to give us.  I'm sure you will agree it looks amazing!  If you want to be part of this project and have your name on the school acknowledgment wall we have many learning bricks for sale and would be thrilled if you buy us out! go to:  http://umbrellaaustralia.org/buy-a-brick-campaign/  

We cannot thank you enough for all your support so far.

Namaste,

Linda

Corey & Nicholas ~ A Journal - Everest Base Camp Trek 2017

Corey & his family are TUFA supporters from Melbourne.  In the last twelve months Corey, his wife Nicole alongside family and friends have been fundraising to support our rebuild of Shree Bhimsen school in thevillage of Khatrithok, Sindhupalchowk.  Corey and his son Nicholas recently returned from their adventure to Nepal, not only visiting the school but taking on the epic challenge of trekking to Everest Base Camp, which was a little out of the ordinary due to some interesting weather in the last days.  Corey has kindly sent his account of the journey for us share, it was certainly an adventure.  You too can experience your personal EBC challenge in October,  for more info. click on: http://umbrellaaustralia.org/new-events/ 

Nepal 2017 Khatrithok School Project & Mt Everest Base Camp Trek

A Journal by Corey & Nicholas from Melbourne VIC

Day 1 (12th February 2017)
•“Departure Day” was a long one. Full 12-hour work day, rush home to pack and say goodbye to family. Then head straight out to the airport for the 12.30am take-off. Airports? – it seems you’re always in a rush to get into the next queue and wait…
•9hrs to Bangkok, followed by 5hrs transit, before the short 3hr final flight to Nepal. With all the “queue time” it was 20 hours from walking into the first queue to leaving the last.
•It’s just a trip for two boys, myself and second son Nicholas. Nicholas is a very intelligent boy, or I should say man at 21. About to do a Masters Degree, he’s not short of brain cells. As for street smarts, well within that first 20 hours he lost his passport and got ripped off US$20. Luckily he lost his passport in a plane and someone was kind enough to hand it in. Funny and lucky at the same time…
•So we get our first view of Everest within those 20 hours too. Well we think it was Everest. Poking out from the clouds at eye level to our plane, it must be. All of a sudden the trip to walk to see it in person seems real.
•We’re greeted at the Nepal Airport firstly by a group of customs officers who don’t seem to like the idea that we are carrying 35kg of school supplies to be donated to the Khatrithok School Project. But with luck on our side one of them said we could pass. I’ll never know what the problem was – as soon as he said go, we went, no questions, and no looking back.
•The next greeting was much nicer. Arjun from Nature-Treks was there to pick us up. As it turns out he’s one of the great Umbrella success stories. Rescued from an illegitimate orphanage as young boy, Umbrella was able to locate his village and assist him with reintegration and education. He learned a trade as a guide working at Nature-Treks while studying and now is one of their office managers and about to complete his final university exams. Newly married with a small baby boy, he’s got a great outlook and future thanks to Umbrella’s help.
•I’ve now been awake so long I’ve lost track of the hours, but at the Hotel we meet Vimal from Nature-Treks who’s also came to personally say hello. We share a coffee/tea and a chat before he puts us in the hands of our trek guide Angtu. What a great guy this one is too. He goes through our trek and equipment check. Because of the weight of our school supplies we didn’t bring much of our own equipment to keep within our baggage allowance, so we did need a few things. Angtu spent the next few hours with us going to the shops he knew to get us the best deal. We got everything we needed for about AUD$55 each! Including down jackets and down sleeping bags! We feel a little bit like idiots for buying anything in Australia first. Of course you’ve got to wear in your hiking boots, but everything else can be bought for so much less. A lot is Nepali Made, so helps the community too.
•One last thing to do on day 1. Begin the acclimatisation process, and that includes your stomach! Dinner of Nepali staples, Mo Mo’s and Dahl Baht. Day 1, done.

Day 2 (13th February 2017)

After a good long sleep, we’re still up early to have breakfast before meeting with Arjun again.  We’ve got an early drive to Khatrithok School, to beat the traffic.  So if we’ve beaten the traffic I’d hate to see it if we didn’t!  We must have averaged 15km/hr at best.  It’s amazing to see the landscape change from city to rural and then to mountains.  We could see the Himalayas in the distance, but visibility wasn’t great with low cloud and smog.  Apparently the views on good days for this journey are spectacular.

We stop at the Sunkoshi Beach Resort, where we need to change vehicles to a 4WD to make the rest of the journey. The resort is a large block of land right on the Sunkoshi river edge, with pet chickens and rabbits freely walking around the gardens. Our room is a very basic two single beds with a shower, sink and toilet with not much room for anything else. But considering it has a shower, a commodity that we will miss out on for the entirety of the trek, the room is the second best room we will be staying in.

So with 6 of us in the 4WD we start the journey.  It vaguely looks like a track was there, but just vaguely – definitely a 4WD trip – straight up the side of a mountain with not much room for error at places.  Did it worry me that there was a big LCD screen hanging over the rear view mirror playing Napali MTV video clips at full volume?  Did it worry me that the other 4 guys were yelling over the songs to talk to each other?  Yes! I thought it would be a funny story to tell should we survive so just held on tight through the bumpy ride.

Too much to say about the school to put it all in words.  Such lovely kids!  Lovely dedicated teachers!  It’s hard to imagine as a Westerner how they get by in the conditions they have.  Just a handful of small basic classrooms, with no power, for 250 or so students.  But the teachers very proudly informed me they rank second in Nepal for grades, and excel at sports.  In fact the students were practicing volleyball for their upcoming President’s Cup which they’ve won in the past.

Building has finally recommenced, and was in progress while we were there.  Super effort from Linda from The Umbrella Foundation Australia to get that going.  The staff were very enthusiastic to let us know how excited they and the students are to have the first stage of building completed in the next couple of months.

Back to the Sunkoshi Beach Resort. And what better to do there, than some kayaking and rafting.  Out on the river we go, with ********* a young man working as a rafting guide there, formally of the Khatrithok School.  Under his command we paddle upstream to the edge of the rapids.  He says if you want to swim jump in, so of course we jump in.  So the Sunkoshi river gets quite full in the monsoons from the warm rains.  It’s now the dry season, so the river is fed by original source, a melting glacier and snow from Tibet and the Himalayas.  If you’ve ever wondered what water from a glacier feels like, the answer is cold!  You quickly get to warm up by racing back to the raft as fast as you can swim!

 

 

Day 3 (14th February 2017)

Wake up to a definite chill in the air and cloud covered river and mountains all around us.  We could barely see 500m.  An al fresco breakfast in the cold was fine as I thought “how’s the serenity”.

Another slow ride back to our Kathmandu hotel.  And Arjun asks if we’d like to see the Monkey Temple, as he doesn’t have to start work at the office until 4 he’d like to take us.

So of course, off we go.  Thinking we should practice for our trek we walk there.  Arjun passes his home and we stop in to drop off his bag and meet his wife and baby boy.  6 months old lying quietly rapped in blankets.  Looks just like Arjun.

We continue on, and then hit the temple steps.  From the bottom it doesn’t look so bad, there’s a landing not too far up the 45 degree stairs.  When you get to the landing you realise you’re only a quarter of the way there as the steps continue on…  There’s a lot of steps!  At the top you can see the whole of Kathmandu so well worth the walk.  The temple at the top is still earthquake damaged and in the middle of repairs, but there’s still plenty to see.

On the way back to the hotel we stop in at Arjun’s old home, the Umbrella Foundation Home.  A quick hello there is all.  They are currently down to under 30 kids in the home itself, with a vast majority successfully being reintegrated with their villages.  Sounds like they are having great success with the program. 

We grab a couple of last minute supplies for the trek.  Re-pack our backpacks and get things ready for the 4.30am start tomorrow.  Early night tonight. Goodnight!

Trek Introduction

I did a bit of research into the Everest Base Camp Trek.  I watched a lot of long YouTube videos to try and get an understanding of what to expect.  I won’t say what nationality, but there are lots of video’s describing every single thing as “totally awesome”.  Not one of them talked about Altitude Sickness, or the difficulty level of the trek.

The journal of our trek may seem to contain “complaining”…  but is a real journal of two Sea-Level-Living Australians travelling out of a 30 degree summer, to the cold Himalayas.  One of us is early 20’s and fairly fit, the other is mid (to-late) 40’s, and probably best described as ‘active’ rather than fit.  According to our guide we trekked at a medium pace, not fast, not slow.  We both pushed ourselves (within our capability) each day as the Altitude seemed to even us up in ability, and we made the uphill trek comfortably in 8 days, and downhill back in 3.  We never ran out of daylight, and could have easily not pushed ourselves so hard.  We are both fairly competitive and goal driven, so pushing ourselves is in our nature.  We saw several older trekkers, and even younger ones who chose to take a gentler pace.  With acclimatisation necessary for the altitude you should not try to go up in less than 8 days, and the longer it takes the safer you should be.  Having pushed the minimum days, in hind sight we should have added at least one more acclimatisation day to the trek up.

100% of the trekkers we met along the way had felt some symptoms of the altitude.  We suffered from Altitude Sickness, from mild to medium, and on the last day after Base Camp, it got quite bad.. There was at least one occasion where we each thought we may need a helicopter to evacuate us if symptoms got worse, but instead chose not to push the limits and take things slowly and safely.  We saw at least 7 or 8 rescue helicopters each day collecting trekkers with Altitude Sickness who either pushed themselves too far, ignored the symptoms, or attempted to trek without a competent guide.  Having said all of that, it’s not something to be afraid of, it’s something to be prepared for and research the symptoms.. 

The trek is a challenge, and we did not meet one person who said it was easy, but once you get to the end it’s well worth it!

 

Day 4 / 1 Trek (15th February 2017)

Up at 4am to get a 6am flight to Lukla from Kathmandu. Arrive at the airport with Angtu to wait again.  6am comes and goes, and he says that 6am is when the flights start but who knows when you’ll depart.  It depends on the weather and visibility.  We depart at 6.30am and he says that’s a miracle.  Must be the good luck that Nicholas earned by throwing a coin into the fountain bucket at the Monkey Temple yesterday…

Apparently Lukla is the 10th most dangerous airport in the world.  Landing must be super precise as the runway is on top of a mountain at 2840m.  So with less air resistance and the runway very short and at a distinct incline it feels like the approach is way too fast.  But they must know what they’re doing.  Everything went smoothly!

We commence the trek stopping at the village on Monjo about 12km away.  It’s actually an elevation of 2835m but we haven’t had a pleasant little stroll down 5m elevation. We go down about 250m and then back up 245, so it’s definitely not a gradual decline. It’s quite challenging for us 40 somethings, even though the 20 somethings make it look easy.

Our porter’s name is Tirtsa.  He’s 20 y/o, tiny build, and maybe 160cm tall.  He’s about to carry both of our main 2 packs on his head.  He’s amazing.  We see Sherpa people of all ages and sizes carrying much more than us, all tied around their foreheads.  No cars or motorcycles here, just walking, and carrying whatever you need.  For the heavier loads, donkeys and yaks come and go along the trail carrying everything you can think of. 

The first day’s trek is challenging.  I wouldn’t say hard, but definitely hard work for me at 47, when I’ve got my 21 year old son to gauge my pace by.  We’re feeling the effects of altitude already, loss of appetite and feeling exhausted.  Plus we both seem to be a little less on the ball than usual, forgetting what each has said short time ago.

Along the way we meet the local “butcher” (pictured).  He’s a guy carrying a basket with a leg of buffalo covered loosely with a cloth (you can see poking up behind him).  Angtu tells us it’s illegal for anyone to kill animals anywhere from Lukla up, so the butcher would have brought this from further down, walked a day or two already, and still have another 5 or more days to go before he sells it all along the trek.  So:- the further up the mountain you go, the older the meat will be.  Lesson 1, don’t eat any meat on the trek, especially on the way up – you don’t want to get sick before you finish.  Looks like we’re vegetarians for the next week or so.

We meet several other trekkers.  One is a German guy, about 30, but we didn’t get his name.  He’s just moved from Germany to Australia (Brisbane) to live with his girlfriend.  Her parents don’t use their house because they basically live off their yacht…  Anyway, he got his Australian residency, stayed in Brisbane 2 days and now left to travel without his girlfriend.  He doesn’t have a return ticket and doesn’t know when he’s going back or even where he’s going next after Nepal.

Today was a long day from 4am, so an early night is had and we’re in bed straight after dinner by 8pm.

 

Day 5 / 2 Trek(16th February 2017)

We start trekking at about 8am.  After a short stroll down hill we start walking up, and up and up.  Apart from the river crossing bridges I’m pretty sure it’s ALL UPHILL.  A lot of it very steep, so it is quite challenging.  Other trekkers going back down tell us that this is probably the hardest day, but it’s still quite achievable.  There’s never any rush and you can go at your own pace.  Having said that, I struggled today.  I’m suffering from a little altitude sickness, so feeling very low on energy, mild headache, and generally not in the mood to trek the hardest day’s trek…  Most people will experience a little altitude sickness, but recover as they acclimatise.

We walk from Monjo (2835) to Namche (3440m).  It’s only about 5km but takes us 3 hours and 15 minutes.  When we look down at how low we started it’s hard to believe we made it that high.  According to the books we’ve only increased 605m but it feels a lot more.

Most of the trek follows the river Dudh Koshi (translates to Milk River).  Angtu says it’s named because of the milky colour it has as it tumbles along continuous rapids.  I’m more fascinated by the bright emerald/blue colour it has.  In the sunlight, when you’re just at the right height above it, in the deepest parts of the water it has this amazing colour.  I’ve never seen a river like it.

Today we get our first glimpse of Everest about ¾ of the way.  Nicholas has been asking Angtu every time he sees a new mountain, “is that Mt Everest?”, so I think Angtu is as happy as we are to finally say yes.  Maybe he’s even happier than the two of us…

We’re really feeling the altitude now, about 65% oxygen here and everything is starting to get physically difficult, and cold!  Just to make us feel super-inadequate, as we take a very short break to catch our breath before going up the final steps to Namche, Tirtsa appears from nowhere with our heavy packs and passes us.  Can’t believe he beat us today, but I suspect that won’t be the last time that happens.

We hear from trekkers returning from base camp that the temperatures there are as low as -25 degrees.  In fear that we’re under-clothed for the next few days we buy a couple of extra things.  Shopping in Namche is much dearer than Thamel, so better to plan ahead if there’s a next time. Just to get an idea of the difference, people at a Sherpa Gear shop try to sell us a sleeping bag case for about 3000NPR – that’s three times more than we paid for the actual sleeping bags in Thamel!

It’s a very nice little village here. Very scenic, and it is one of the largest villages in the trek. We have a bit of a walk around town and that’s it, I’m done!  Maybe we’ll have a look at something tomorrow…  It was a hard day, but satisfying to have done it.

 

Day 6 / 3 Trek(17th February 2017)

Today is an acclimatisation day for us.  So we base ourselves in Namche, with the aim of trekking as high as we’ll go tomorrow and then coming back down to sleep at the lower level.  We’re headed to Hotel Everest View (3880m).  Up until recently the highest Hotel in the world.

We trek up the mountain behind Namche, to get great views of the village below. There’s quite a bit of snow around, but only on the southern side of trees and walls where the sun doesn’t get to during the day.  The mountain wall is very steep here, maybe 60 degrees and we see roaming yaks all along it.  Angtu explains yaks are the monkeys of the mountains, they can go anywhere.

Along the way we pass the Syangboche Airport, apparently the highest altitude airport in the world.  It’s not used very often, and that’s probably for the best, the runway is only about 400m long and the surface is gravel.  No offence to the good people who work at Syangboche Airport, but a bit of extra surface levelling wouldn’t go astray…

The trek up to the hotel doesn’t take that long and we stop quickly to enjoy the view of Everest and have some ginger tea.  Luckily we have very good visibility today, no clouds at all.

On the way back to Namche we trek to the village of Khumjung.  From above we can see a village entirely of green roofs apart from one singe red roof – the Buddhist monastery, with stone walls marking boundaries and paths, it looks like a painting.

Walking back to Namche, Nicholas has the first slip/fall of the trip on loose gravel.  Luckily an 8 year old school girl was walking behind him and saved him from properly landing on his arse…  He says it doesn’t count as a fall, but I say just because you saved by the small girl doesn’t make it not count.

We meet another German guy.  He just came for 2 days, to trek to the Hotel Everest View so he can say he’s seen Everest, and then going back.  He too, has left his job & home with a one way ticket.  Another German with no plans or return date.  It’s starting to seem like it’s a common theme…

 

Day 7 / 4 Trek(18th February 2017)

Today’s trek is from Namche (3440m) to Tyangboche (3870m).  We’re quite relieved that it’s only a 300m altitude climb today, and not phased by the immediate climbing.  However, after going up maybe 100m, we start descending as the route requires us to cross the river again.  We go all the way down to the river side before we then climb back up the other side.  We can only guess, but that 300m climb has turned into about 500-600m, and now it’s a full on climb.  We’ve become a little acclimatised to the altitude so even though it seems daunting this is much easier than the 2nd day. 

We are still amazed by the number of Nepali and Sherpa porters carrying so much weight up these hills.  Some are carrying 7 or 8 times the weight we are, maybe more, and they are all passing us up the hills.  Not only passing us, but while we are gasping for air, some of them are having full on conversations with each other without a sign of exertion.   The range of supplies their carrying is anything from raw meat, other foods, construction materials, and one guy today was carrying a door.  I wonder if his wife asked him to whip down to Bunnings to get a new door, and he said, yeah no problem I’ll be back in 2 weeks.

Along the way Angtu shares his description or terrain steepness/flatness, as when we ask him how steep the next trek is, his response is something like “it’s a little bit flat”.  So he creates the following formula to better describe the trekking.  It starts with “European Flat”, apparently this covers anything from a downhill slope, to flat, to a maximum incline of maybe 5-10 degrees.  Next is “Nepali Flat”, which is any incline from about 10 degrees to 30 degrees.  Next is “Sherpa Flat”, which covers about 30 degrees to 45 degrees.  Anything more than that you are allowed to then call “steep”…

There is so little wildlife at this altitude.  Today we are lucky enough to walk past two wild mountain goats, grazing only about 15-20 meters from us.  We see many eagles flying overhead.  Some of them being annoyed by crows defending their airspace.  We never see any of those eagles soar down to catch prey though – a sign that wildlife is few and far between here.  About the only other animal we saw was a baby yak on the path, that was kind enough to let us have a pat before it continued down the hill.

Tyangboche is very small village, maybe half a dozen buildings or so, but you have a view of Everest over the closer peaks.  The village is famous for it’s Buddhist Monastery, which is by far the biggest building around.  We visit for the afternoon prayer session, as the monks chant and pray.  Although it’s a slightly different Buddhism than the Sri Lanka Buddhism, it feels like being at the Temple Of The Tooth and spend that time thinking of Sri Lankan family and my father.  At the end of the prayers, we’re approached by a very caucasion guy from the non-visitor section.  As it turns out he’s a German.  He’s been very interested in Buddhism and wanted to come to this Monastery to live with the monks and learn.  Strangely enough, he left his job and home, bought a one way ticket to Nepal, and made his way to the village where he simply knocked on the door of the monastery to ask if he could live with them.  He didn’t speak a word of Nepalese, so communication was a problem, and they told him to come back at 7am for the morning prayer.  He stayed a tea house and came back the next morning, sat through the prayers and then they asked him to leave.  He didn’t go but asked if he could help, and they allowed him to do some chores.  This went on for the next 10 days until they finally said that he could stay there.  He’s been there about a month.

 

Day 8 / 5 Trek (19th February 2017)

Tyangboche (4060m) to Dingboche (4310m), where oxygen is at 59%.  We wake up to about -3 degrees, and see the sunrise hit Everest with clear blue skies.  We start with European Flat, downhill in fact, which we’ve now come to dislike as it only means the uphill will be more severe – possibly Sherpa Flat…  Just past the village we find a frozen creek.  It’s actually got quite a slope on it, and the water would run quite fast, so it must be cold!

It doesn’t take long before the slightest increase in slope and effort heats you up, and we’re stopping quite regularly to take of a layer of clothing at a time, even though it’s probably 0 or just over.  When the sun’s out and hitting you it gets quite warm, but as soon as you go in the shade you feel the cold!  The air is so thin, that the sun’s rays penetrate very easily.  The sun is so strong here that despite it being below zero temperatures the locals cook using reflector dishes – like a satellite dish but mirrored and a pot to boil in the middle… Tip of the day, remember your sunscreen.

Having passed the 4000m mark we can really feel the altitude affecting our ability.  Angtu and Nicholas put me at the front of the line, unfortunately, not to set an example for everyone else to keep up with, but I’ve been having some knee pain the last 2 days, and because I’m the oldest and slowest everyone needs to stay to my pace, so I’m at the front to set the speed.  I’m not sure if he’s just being nice or not, but Nicholas says that the pace I’m making is pretty much the pace he would make.  Angtu also says we are much faster than the last group he took through here…  Anyway, at 4000m we find that things have become more challenging.  Flat or downhill is perfectly fine but as soon as you start any sort of incline, even the smallest one, you start losing your breath.  I’m talking within 10 steps of incline, even if you’ve just had a long break.  It’s quite amazing how a drop of 4-5% oxygen makes such a noticeable difference.

Trees have completely disappeared now.  There are sparse small shrubs, but nothing over a meter high.  We saw a red robin (as Angtu described it), some crows, and our first spider.  The area we trekked today became quite open for the first time.  We were crossing open plains as we approached Dingboche.

You can see the clouds forming as high winds lift of the mountain peaks around us, it’s like the mountain has a chimney.  When the clouds come in the afternoon to the village you can barely see 50m through them.  The Himalayas really are amazing, and it has been worth the hard work and personal challenges to get this far.

Angtu said that if we are feeling 100% tonight we can skip tomorrow’s acclimatisation day.  However, having accomplished the last 5 days and passing the 4000m mark, I don’t want to risk altitude sickness.  We’ve come so far, pushed ourselves, and earned our way to the finish line.  We’ve seen rescue helicopters come and go like a taxi service since Namche – we’re not going to be going home in one of those.

Now I’m not sure if it’s a permanent or temporary thing, but there’s no phone or WiFi access in Dingboche.  Hopefully Nicholas can make it through this extra challenge!

 

Day 9 / 6 Trek(20th February 2017)

Acclimatisation Day.  What Angtu calls a “rest day”,  All we have to do is trek from Dingboche (4310m) to Chukhung (4750m), and back down.  It’s a pretty steady trek, mostly “Nepalese Flat”, but cold.  The only thing exposed on our bodies is our eyes.  There’s quite a few ice crossings here.  Nothing too dangerous, but the ice is very slippery so we need to watch our steps very closely. 

We walk along the river that is coming straight off the Chukhung Glacier.  For quite a long stretch the river rocks are perfect white, and with snow/ice covered peaks on the other side it would make a great photo.. Unfortunately the glare of the sun at that time won’t allow it. 

We do get to see a few robins flying around us, and were lucky enough to stalk a couple down for pictures.  The scenery here is quite colourless.  There’s a lot of white, black and grey, but the plant life is sort of dull in colour.  We’re still in winter so the plants will start to come back to life soon.  The birdlife has the only bright colours.

We are really appreciating how hard and challenging this trek is now.  Also appreciating what we have at home and how lucky we are.  It’s quite nice to doing this in the off-peak season with fewer people around, but the cold is making it difficult for us coming out our Melbourne summer – we’re really feeling the cold.

 

Day 10 / 7 Trek (21st February 2017)

Dingboche (4310m) to Lobuche (4950m). Unfortunately this was my first “real” Altitude Sickness day.  Half of the trek was a blur, forcing one foot infront of the other.  This was possibly not such a bad thing, as there was no sunshine, high winds, and must have been about -11 or -12.  It was also a day of a couple of long “Sherpa Flat” runs, so quite hard trekking.  From what we can both agree it still wasn’t as hard as Day 2, but for me just as hard for different reasons.  I won’t go on about the symptoms, but let’s just say it was extra challenging today.  Once we arrived at Lobuche, and I sat down for half an hour with a hot coffee it all subsided.  30 minutes later I took myself out for a walk around the village and up the hillside to reach the 5km above sea level mark, so definitely feeling better.  Today was nearly a 700m altitude increase so right on the absolute limit of what you should increase at this altitude.  It’s a common day for sickness, and as I was on my walk about town an evacuation helicopter landed to take somebody down.  I do remember thinking along the trek I might be needing a helicopter myself… 

So I don’t have too much to say about today as it was a bit of a blur.  I’ll ask Nicholas to add to it later…

Nicholas here. It was surprisingly a short day today, but you can really feel the altitude to the extreme. I end up getting to Lobuche with a pretty strong headache, but it’s nothing some paracetamol, ginger tea, and garlic soup won’t fix. The condition of the lodge we stayed at the past two nights at Dingboche was pretty different to what we’re used to, and Dad exclaimed that it’s very likely going to get worse as we keep getting higher to base camp. However, we’re in luck when we reach Lobuche, which trumps Dingboche’s quality of facilities! While we keep telling each other that staying at a lodge with only the toilets to squat in will give us an experience we can keep for the rest of our lives, for some strange reason I’m still hoping to see a “Westerner” toilet at Gorak Shep… After a nice dinner, we get ready to settle in to bed for the big day for Everest Base Camp ahead. It’s starting to feel a lot more real that we will actually make it to Everest!

 

Day 11/ 8 Trek (22nd February 2017)

Lobuche (4950m) to Gorak Shep (5164m) and Everest Base Camp (5364m).  Weather hasn’t been too kind to us the last day or two, with a fair amount of cloud and poor visibility.  So we need to wait to get to Gorak Shep to decide whether or not to go straight to Base Camp, or Kalapathur, which is a small peak with the best views (weather permitting).  Although when I say small peak, apparently it is the hardest climb of the entire trek.

Above 5000m you see a dramatic change in the landscape.  Trees have long gone, and there are fields of what look like natural bonsai, very short, weather worn shrubs, with thick trunks and branches twisted by the winds.  They too soon disappear and it’s almost like being on another planet or moon.  Just rocks, dust, ice, and that’s pretty much it.  There is a period in the morning after sunrise, before the sun makes the mist rise, where the sky is deep blue and perfectly clear.  Unfortunately today is not one of those days and we’re covered in cloud.  No sun also means no heat and we arrive at Gorak Shep about midday at -13 degrees.  So with no visibility we’re going to head to Base Camp after lunch.  From the window it looks so close you could touch it.  So off we go, and again we’re going up – we need to climb a ridge and follow that up to probably 5500m, before crossing the Khumbu Glacier and reaching Base Camp.  At that height it’s pure and simply “hard”!  But after about 2 and a half hours since leaving Gorek Shep, we finally step into Base Camp.  A mix of utter exhaustion, having pushed ourselves to the limit for days, temperature of about -15 degrees, and finally completing the goal with my son, makes for an emotional arrival.  The feeling of accomplishment can’t be put into words.  Neither can how impressed I am with Nicholas, as we’ve needed to co-operate as equals, not father and son, to get through this, and I probably wouldn’t have got through it without him.  So the hard work, overcoming various pains, overcoming the affects of altitude, is all well worth it in the end.

I should mention here, at -15 degrees we were both wearing 4 layers of pants, 5 layers of tops, and two layers of gloves.  Angtu never seemed to feel the cold (he’s a local to the mountains), and wore a t-shirt for the first two days.  For the trek to Base Camp, he finally dug out a pair of gloves from the bottom of his pack and put them in his daypack to wear incase he got cold.  Later looking at the photos I noticed he never put them on.  When we asked about it, he said he just took them in case it was cold, but it never got cold enough.  Amazing…!

Back to Gorak Shep with a plan of a pre-dawn summit of Kalapathur the following morning.  Unfortunately, we are both suffering from Altitude Sickness on our return from Base Camp.  Severe headaches, no appetite (unable to even force ourselves to eat), and starting to feel nauseous.  We’ve reached our limit, and we make the decision it’s not worth risking a higher climb in the morning.  It’s time to go back down.  We’ve achieved our goal. We both wake up in the middle of the night with throbbing headaches, so it’s good that we didn’t risk the trek to Kalapathur – it could have been fatal.

 

Day 12 / 9 Trek (23rd February 2017)

Descent from Gorak Shep (5164m) to Pangboche (3985m). We cover so much ground in descent in one day.  What took us 3 days to cover going up, we see in one full day of descent.  The slow change in landscape seems very fast.  From another planet/moon of rock and ice, to natural bonsai fields, to green trees, all in the space of a day.

We stop at Tengboche, which is about half way and we can see where we’ve come from and where we should finish for the day.  It’s incredible to see the vast distance we’re covering by foot, and the hills that we’re climbing up and down.

We cover so much ground we drop elevation by just under 1900m and can feel the altitude symptoms disappear as we go.  By the time we have dinner we can actually finish the small meal we order.  The last few mouthfuls are forced, but still we finish.

The best sleep so far at night.  We’re now acclimatised and the extra oxygen is making us feel revived.

 

Day 13 / 10 Trek (24th February 2017)

Pangboche to Namche.  Everything now seems so green and so warm compared to the last few days.  Even though it’s only a few degrees above zero, the warmth is incredible as we can still feel the -15 of the days before.

Coming down-hill more than we’re going up hill, we can both feel the extra stress in our knees at the end of the day.  The descent days still have quite a bit of “Sherpa Flat” to climb, and by the end of the day we are exhausted.  We are covering so much ground descending, the days are quite long.

Today is quite a hard day even going down, as it involves a heap of descending at the start followed by a heap of ascending again. About 2 hours down and 2 ½ hours up. However, it’s so much easier now that our bodies are used to such a low amount of oxygen. We finally hit Namche after about six hours of walking, and we do a bit of shopping before having dinner. Looking at souvenirs in Namche shows just how huge the price difference is between the main city and the mountains. It costs about USD$10 for a handmade Tibetan singing bowl made in Nepal when shopping in Thamel, but a local tries to sell us the same bowls for USD$35 per bowl!

We see porters going up carrying 150kg each.  Angtu says his brother used to carry that much as a teenager.  The porters get about 60rs per kilo…

 

Day 14 / 11 Trek (25th February 2017)

Namche to Lukla.

It’s only been 11 days since we started, but we can see the landscape has changed as winter comes to an end.  The first flowers for the season have come out (they weren’t there when we started), and everything is so much greener around us.

The last half hour into Lukla is “Sherpa Flat” again.  It’s been a long day again, and that last step up as we enter the village is such a relief.  We’ve made it safely to base camp and back!

The last two days we’ve seen 17 rescue helicopters come in, and this is the off-season.  We’re glad we didn’t push ourselves over the edge, but also glad we pushed ourselves each day to achieve our goal.  We’ve done it, and feel very proud of each other. Neither of us think we could have done it on our own without the other one’s support and company. It’s amazing how much of a difference the presence of a family member/friend can have on your motivation.

 

Day 15-18 (25th to 28th February 2017)

Stranded at Lukla.

We wake up to find the area covered in cloud.  So thick that all aircraft (planes and even rescue helicopters) are grounded.

It stays that way for two days.

On the 3rd day the cloud lifts just enough for helicopters to fly, and by this time we decide to try and buy a helicopter flight down.  With 3 days of Lukla under our belts, it’s way past time to go.  Lukla is a small village, it has one single path.  By this stage we know that it takes 613 paces to walk from one end to the other, and can name the contents of every trekking shop along the way.  Boredom has taken on a new meaning…

Getting a helicopter is organised chaos.  They seat 6 passengers so it’s up to us to try and find another 4 trekkers willing to pay to leave.  You can’t order a flight until you have all 6 seats filled, so it’s a mad rush to find 4 strangers to each put up the US$300 for the flight.

We literally work for 5 hours getting people together, as so many people change their minds or are in groups too large or small to fit one flight.  Eventually we get a group together, pay the “helicopter manager” and order a flight.  We’ve got about an hour until we run out of daylight so wait impatiently at the helipad for ours to arrive.  15min to go and the “helicopter manager” says that the flight has been cancelled.  Angtu says that probably means it’s been sold to higher paying customers…  We’ve missed our chance, and the very last rescue helicopter is about to depart to collect a patient.

In one last desperate effort, as the rescue pilot steps out, we shamelessly beg to be taken back with him after the rescue.  He says it will be no problem, as he has a maximum of three rescues up the mountain, and by this stage there are only 3 of desperately waiting.  He has to come back to refuel before heading to Kathmandu so will pick us up then.

45min later as the sun is just about to set and flights stop, the helicopter returns with only one rescue patient on board sitting in the front seat.  The whole back is free and there’s more than enough room for the 3 of us.  We stand at the helicopter door with our bags as the crew refuel, waiting for them to finish so we can open the door and jump in.  It’s such a relief to be going, to get out of the cold, and back to Kathmandu.  The Pilot gives us the thumbs up, then a halt sign, then starts to talk to the passenger inside – he quickly changes to a thumbs down and then takes off without warning.  Scratching out heads we ask the ground crew what happened.

Apparently the pilot had to ask the patient:  your insurance will pay for your flight, whether we have just you on board or a full flight; are you okay for us to take these 3 down to Kathmandu with you?  His reply was, “no, leave them behind.” 

There was a quite a bit of swearing at that point, and then finally we faced the fact that we have at least one more night in Lukla and skulked back to the teahouse fuming.  He wouldn’t have even noticed us in the back seat!  What sort of a person says no leave them behind.

6.30am after sunrise, and the cloud has lifted quite a bit.  A string of about 6 planes arrive from various airlines, and we’re booked for the second round of flights if they fly.  As soon as they depart we can see the cloud coming in.  It should only take an hour for them to return for the second round, so we check in, and despite being strict atheists, it seems we’re all doing some sort of praying….  The cloud comes in, the hour comes and goes.  Another hour comes and goes, and we get a report that now the Kathmandu weather is too cloudy to take off.  Another hour, and again we start thinking we should try and gather 6 people for a helicopter before it’s too late for that too.  Then suddenly the sound of a plane engine and it’s our company.  Our flight is here!  You’ve never seen all passengers get in a buckled in so quickly, willing the pilot to take off before any more cloud comes in.  Then he does, we’re in the air and after 4 days we’ve made it out of Lukla.  Well have just enough time to get some laundry done in Kathmandu so we can finally shower and change into clean clothes for the first time in 2 weeks.  One ore day and we would have missed our return flights home from Kathmandu – what a relief!!!

 

Equipment and Tips

We brought about 35kg of school supplies with us to donate.  Our airline wouldn’t donate extra baggage for charity so between the two of us we only had 25kg left for check-in baggage to make up our 60kg allowance for 2 people.  So, we didn’t bring much stuff for our own use of trekking with us… 

Our trip was a year in the planning, so we visited the local trekking shop (Kathmandu Australia), during sales to try and find bargains.  We really only had hiking boots, a gortex jacket, a few sets of thermals, and a fleece mid-layer.  We’d bought a bunch of merino woollen socks off ebay, and that was about it.  We’d probably spent AUD$500-$600 altogether and thought we’d done quite well.  Well, so we thought…

In hind-sight the hiking boots were the only essential, as these need to be worn in before you start.

Upon arrival Angtu ran through a list of supplies needed, and then took us to the trekking shops he uses.  There are 3 types in Nepal: “Cheap” and unreliable; “Okay” and good enough to last at least one trek (many if you’re lucky); and “Sherpa Quality”, expensive and long lasting.

We decided on “Okay”, not knowing if trekking was going to be a life long past time or not – this was our first trek and could quite possibly be our last.  We seriously should have only bought hiking boots in advance.  Everything is so cheap, the quality is quite good, and with the help of a good guide, you can select the right quality from the locally Nepal-Made items.  We spent about US$60 each and bought everything else we needed.  We even got -20 rated feather sleeping bags and feather jackets included in that – although these were ex-hire items, a good wash and they were as good as new.  You also have the option of hiring feather items for about US$0.50 per day ($14.00 for the whole trek, for both sleeping bag and jacket).  I reckon if you have your hiking boots, and nothing else, not even a pack, or daypack, you could fully kit yourself out in Nepal for about US$100.

The only extra thing to consider here is that Angtu (like most of the guides), was born and raised in the Himalayas.  He’s used to the cold.  As I mentioned he didn’t even wear gloves when it was -15 degrees…  Take that into account with your own home weather acclimatisation.  On average we needed at least one extra layer than Angtu thought necessary.  Check the weather forecast for Lukla, Namche and Gorak Shep before you start shopping to get an idea of how cold it will be at the time of your trek.  The best thing we bought was probably our ‘soft shell’ hiking pants – comfortable, warm and flexible.  We didn’t buy these until Namche, unfortunately, thinking a cargo style hiking pant would be more useful.  They had lots of pockets for stuff, but were a bit restrictive with movement.

Take a 3 litre hydration pack in your day pack, and a packet or two of water purification tablets.  This will get you though most days, and you can always refill along the way.  You can buy plastic bottles of water everywhere along the way, but Nepal doesn’t really have an effective rubbish/recycling program and purification tablets are much better for the environment.  You’ll find bottled water gets quite expensive the further up the mountain you go too, as with everything. Filling up your 3L bladder with water at tea houses or on the way, on the other hand, is free if you ask nicely.

If you think that you’ll be religiously using hiking poles and will want to take them home with you, it might be a good idea to invest a little more in them. We paid about USD$5 each for a cheap pair, and mine lasted the entire trek whereas Nicholas’ broke after the first day of use. He ended up spending about USD$30 on a new pair that he said worked and felt great. We gave my pair and his broken pair to Angtu for him and his family, but Nicholas kept the good pair in case anyone needs it at home.

 

Volunteering.....abroad or home? Here's an opportunity to make it count!

With the first month of 2017 gone life is now returning back to some form of normality for most of us.  The winter chill in Kathmandu is slowly disappearing and I have to admit how grateful I am to be here in Nepal experiencing the cold whilst viewing from afar the hot summer temperatures my friends and family are experiencing in Australia.

Living in Kathmandu I get to meet expats and tourists who are here for many different reasons.  A subject which has occupied a lot of discussion on social media and as a general conversation topic of late is volunteering or ‘voluntourism’ especially in orphanages or children’s homes.  I thought I would put it out there for discussion…yes folks nothing like living dangerously!

Recently The Umbrella Foundation Australia made the decision that we are no longer supporting the volunteer program here in Nepal.  Our last Australian volunteer has now left and whilst Umbrella Nepal still operate a volunteer program we feel there are far better ways and opportunities to support communities here in Nepal and elsewhere. 

When I get enquiries about volunteering, my first questions are always; 1. Why do you want to volunteer?  2. Why Nepal?

The usual answer is; “I want to make a difference and I want to experience the country and the culture”. 

I am the last to judge as like many I was a volunteer with the Umbrella Foundation Nepal in 2012, I was one of those people who read ‘Little Princes, One Man’s journey to save the children of Nepal’ and I had no suitable skills other than life experience, being a mother and a piano teacher. I paid my volunteer fees and signed up for a three month stint which helped fund the many costs involved in running an INGO.  Back when I volunteered I had a lot of contact with the Umbrella children in the homes which at that time were open for visitors and tourist to come, take photos and even share dal baht. I remember hiding in a room with the children when a group of visitors were brought to the home to meet and take photos.  The children informed me that they felt like zoo animals on display. 

My relationship with the children was and is as a friend and I am privileged that many of those children have grown up and still occasionally send me a message to say hi, these children are amazing individuals.  Did this come about because I volunteered and shared a few months of their lives…….absolutely no way!  It is because they were given opportunity & education by foreign sponsorship and guidance by foster parents who live 24/7 with them and care for them as their own children in a loving home environment.  

Don’t get me wrong, volunteering in another country is a wonderful experience, it looks great on your resume and can bring about lifelong friendships and even change your lifes journey.  I have come out the other end of my volunteering program and started a charity….it is life changing.  It is also a decision that has to be made responsibly and most important, ethically…. do your research! Make it a worthwhile experience as it is costly (much more expensive than a holiday) and you don’t want to spend your time sitting in an office on the other side of the world twiddling your thumbs and taking local jobs or worse still supporting a children’s home that is neglecting and profiteering from vulnerable kids who have been taken from their families.

There are also the alternatives to volunteering overseas, how can we make a difference and bring about positive change for vulnerable children, their families and communities by volunteering in our own country......do you see where I'm going with this?

Why not share your skills at home with an organization such as The Umbrella Foundation Australia who are assisting these communities from a bottom up development level.  Umbrella Australia would so appreciate an hour or two a month from people wanting to help us promote the organization through social media, fundraising or even attending one of our board meetings to hear about our work, plans and what we are doing.  We need ideas people, anyone who can give us the opportunity to expand as an Australian charity and assist communities here in Nepal and our vulnerable kids in Australia. 

Another option is ethical tourism.  Why not take the opportunity to visit communities, stay in local guest houses which support the families and the education of their children by giving them a purpose and business opportunity.

One such ethical tourism opportunity is happening in October this year ...drum roll please.  Our first EVEREST BASE CAMP CHALLENGE!        

Our partner in trekking here in Nepal, Nature Treks are organizing an 18 day experience starting 15th October, 2017.  Not only do you get the opportunity to stand under the highest mountain in the world, you also experience a day of rafting in the beautiful Sunkoshi river, visit our new project (to be announced shortly) and explore the many exciting streets and cultural delights of Kathmandu.  Our Umbrella youth will also gain employment opportunities and training as trekking guides with all profits supporting a rural school project.

We can all make positive changes so why not get those joggers out, start training and take on our 2017 Challenge!  Do some hard core volunteering…..contact us at Umbrella Australia for further info and watch this space.

Namaste,

Linda