Monday, October 29, 2012

Kathmandu

I was the last one of our four-person team to get into Kathmandu, last Friday afternoon. After an uneventful flight on Thai Air from Bangkok, having to stand in line for over an hour in order to obtain my visa made me worried that I wouldn't make it into town in time for us to go and get our TIMS card (Nepal's Trekkers' Information Management System) in the afternoon. Turns out there was no reason to worry. Jason had been told that the earliest flight to Lukla we could get tickets for might be Tuesday, so we weren't in a rush anyway and went to have a beer instead.

Random intersection in the old part of town. Power lines and motor cycles everywhere.

In addition to organizing ourselves and buying things like toilet paper for our trek, this meant we had plenty time for sighseeing. Our hotel is in Thamel, the tourist core of the town, which is littered with shops selling souvenirs and mountaineering gear; as well as plenty of massage parlors, restaurants, and bars catering to all potential desires. Most of the time, we had to actually move around single-file. Cars and motor cycles (as well as bicycle rikshas and the occasional solo bicycle) are constantly squeezing themselves through the narrow streets, frequently making you aware of their (and each others) presence by honking their horns and ringing their bells.

The mountaineering gear vendors are entertaining. They typically sell knock-offs of western brands. Not necessarily one-to-one imitations if you take a close look, but bearing the logos from the North Face et al., including tags that claim that the material is -- of course -- Gore-Tex. I even saw copies of Goal Zero solar panels that looked pretty much like the originals, just the paint job was a little sloppy. In between, they sell Nepali brands, too. Pati, Vickie, and I were actually in the market for heavy down parkas, and we ended up buying "Sangam" ones for slightly over USD 100 each. They seem functional, but (as is to be expected) lack all the (technical) bells and whistles you get for significantly more money in the west. We'll see how they do.

Sightseeing included Durbar Square and the Swayambhunath temple. Getting used to the local food (momos and dhal bat) was fairly easy, it has been delicious so far!

Stupa at the Swayambhunath temple complex.
 
As we are sitting in Tom and Jerry's bar for a pre-dinner beer and the lights suddenly go out, another tidbit to mention about Kathmandu comes to mind. Rolling power outages. They do seem to happen within the boundaries of some set schedule (at least there is one posted at our hotel), but otherwise randomly and multiple times a day. Every place has at least some battery backup-powered lights, and/or candles. It doesn't stop anybody from going about their business. (Except me, maybe, when the Internet goes down.)

Anyway. After some last-minute flight-booking drama last night (our previously confirmed but not ticketed plane seats were lost and did we want to go by helicopter at 6 am the next morning instead?), this afternoon the hotel agent finally managed to get us tickets for a flight tomorrow, and Vickie and I remembered to actually go and get our TIMS cards half an hour before the tourism bureau closed. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing and recharging batteries for various gadgets, and tomorrow we're finally off to Lukla, at least by all likelihood. It's about time, too, my throat is starting to get irritated from all the dust and smog in the air here. No wonder face masks are popular.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Preparing for Nepal

"So what's your first destination gonna be?"

Now that I am officially funemployed, preparations for my first extended trip are ... about to be completed, actually. I have spent many recent weekends and nights piling up gear in the living room and checking things off my checklists.

In about a week from now, I will be headed for Nepal. I'll be helping my friend Jason Gulley, a hydrologist and glaciologist, to survey glacier caves in the Khumbu (Mount Everest) region for about a month. Our team of four will be hiking in from Lukla, on the trails used by many high altitude trekkers and mountaineers on their way to Everest base camp, and then use a combination of caving and ice climbing techniques to explore and study the caves that have formed by water flowing through the glaciers in the region.

Preparations included such things as imitating the Russian design of caving butt pads by sewing a piece of elastic webbing to a foam pad -- we'll see how that works on the ice, but the idea is that you wear it around, and whenever you sit down it'll be there to provide some insulation. Sounds like a good idea for surveying in cold caves.

Foam pad for insulation while surveying the caves
The four of us will be using StenLights as our primary light sources underground. The StenLight makers kindly agreed to provide us with a prototype for a 12V battery charger for the lights, which we intend to use with my Goal Zero solar panel. I hope my basic soldering skills were good enough to make the adapter cable between the panel and the charger last for the whole trip -- I'm definitely excited about the setup. ;-)

My improvised soldering station
Updating my first aid kit took a surprising amount of hours, but it'll be good to go, not just for this one trip. I found Medicine for Mountaineering to be really useful in terms of learning about the different kinds of medication that should go into it. Now I just need to decide whether I should upgrade my Global Rescue membership from the basic one that comes with an AAC membership.

Oh, and I should mention that Klättermusen provided us with pretty awesome jackets and salopettes that will keep us protected from the wetness underground (and above); as well as with additional gear.

Other plans for my "year off" aren't all firm yet, but will (likely) include pushing leads at the bottom of a Tiankeng in Southwest China over Spring Festival, spending a few weeks helping out at J2, and attending the ICS next year. I need to add some more mountaineering fun to that mix, though. Oh, and participating in a caving expedition in Quintana Roo (Yucat√°n) while the world ends is on the list. Stay tuned!