March 31st

Last night’s snow stopped by dinnertime, and the accumulation is only a few inches. I was feeling good about the altitude. So we decided to skip the rest day and made the easy ascent to Gokyo at 4750m.

There’s a big group of Japanese trekkers at the lodge. They are mostly in their 60s, and they brought some traditional Japanese dishes to the trip, such as miso soup. This reminded me of the Korean trekkers at Machhermo lodge last night, where they were eating their traditional dish plates of many small pickles (forgot what they call it). This seems to be consistent with my encounters with other Asian climbers in my previous trips– Asians tend to adhere to their culinary culture even on such expeditions.

Dawa shared his experience of how he and his clients narrowly escaped an avalanche in Kumbu icefall last season, and how their timely response to rescue made a difference. We have seen the drama captured in Everest: Beyond the Limit, but hearing it firsthand is different. Filmmakers and audiences like dramas, but such excitement is only for people from outside and far away. In Dawa’s eyes, it’s not the excitement, but the concern and worry. Death in Kumbu icefall is just a probability game. Having worked on Everest for so many years, for him, it’s just a matter of time that one of his colleagues/friends would die there. This is a serious business. For climbers, we come here for the climb; for Sherpa, they are putting their lives on the line for the success of climbers! When they come to rescue, rescuers actually face an even higher level of risks.

Apr 1st

I hiked to fifth lake at 5000m to enjoy the panorama view of the valley. Gokyo area has a string of turquoise glacier lakes, and the fifth lake is the one closer to Cho Oyu. I was surrounded by magnificent mountains during the whole trek. Cho Oyu constantly to the north, Thamserku and Kangtega constantly to the south, then Cholatse and Taboche to the east. I spent a whole hour there to take pictures and videos of the mountains in various combinations, watching Cho Oyu in and out of clouds. It’s amazing that when you are standing at 5000m, those high peaks do not look so intimidating.

At 5000m, still feeling healthy and comfortable with the altitude, I am huffing and puffing as I make my steps up the hill. What would it feel like for another 4000m?


Life in Gokyo

When not hiking outside, I just sit here with a cup of Sherpa tea and watching the mountains surrounding me. Life can be so good if I can just sit here all day sipping tea and watching the mountains. This is such a contrast to the hectic life before the trip. Once the trip starts, my mind concentrates on the primitive needs— food and drink.

The price of food and drink sharply increases as the trail extends to more remote places. A bottle of boiled water is now 150 rupees. Hot tea is nice, but I have to calculate the budget to spend it on solid food. When we carry food on expeditions, we calculate calories per unit of weight, so we often take more fat in lieu of carbs or protein. Here under budget constraints, I am calculating the nutrition value per dollar. The new discovery is Tuna Mixed Pizza! It’s loaded with cheese, and has a thick layer of tuna and veg. Taste is not the first criteria for food here! It’s more important as to what food you can take in and what’s the best for your body!

One of the best things is that my laptop still works at near 5000m. I don’t know how I would write down all the details without this modern gadget. But I have to remember to warm up the battery inside my clothes first, and carefully plan what I will do once I turn it on. It’s important to make the best use of every minute of the battery power. It costs money to just charge the battery. Gokyo is the only place after Namche that can charge battery during this trek. Electricity and hot water come at a premium here.

Having been sleep-deprived at home, now the normal schedule is to sleep after 8pm, and wake up when light breaks around 5 or 6 am.

Air is much dryer here. There are traces of dry blood in my nose every day. I have to try to cover up my nose with buff when hiking to keep my airway moisturized, and prevent my throat from getting irritated by the cold dry air.

Apr 2nd

Am I having HACE? Last night, every time I woke up, the word that came to my mind is Thamserku! Those mountains are growing on me!

Got up early to climb up Gokyo Ri for another panorama view of the valley. Ri means peak. Gokyo Ri is the high point at Gokyo. It’s a windless clear day again. I can even see Lhotse Shar next to Lhotse, and Makalu in the distance. There was a lot of haze in the air, so the pictures came out like blue-hued postcards.

After resting for an hour after Gokyo Ri, we started our hiking back to Dole. It was a long day, a lot of descending! I was so lucky that the weather was so good during the whole day, and I couldn’t have enough of Kangtega and Thamserku in front of my eyes. Cho Oyu is like a loyal lover standing there behind me to send me off. The trail winds from one side of Cholaste and Taboche to the other side, and I was amazed at how different they looked as the day moved on. When I came to Gokyo a few days earlier, it was cloudier. So I now feel like having a fresh look at everything again. I just can’t stop enough times to take pictures again and again. Cholatse, Taboche, Kangtega, Thamserku! I kept on repeating those names every time I look up, and I used the word “insane” to describe the beautiful view all the way. I can’t get enough of them!

At Dole, I had my first taste of alcohol drinks on this trip. We were staying at the lodge run by Pasang Sherpa’s wife, Permba Sherpa. Pasang is going to work at Camp 2 (ABC) as the cook for the team. There are no other guests here, only me with my trekking Sherpa Dawa, porter Tsuri, Pasang, and his wife. So I joined their tradition of drinking at end of a trip. It was a kind of rice wine that looks like milk, but tastes like saki. Dawa and Pasang will soon pack up to head up to EBC to meet the team on Apr 12. Other than a glass of beer at Puja ceremony, there will be no alcohol until end of the trip. So this is one of few opportunities there are to relax and celebrate a good time.


Writing a daily journal definitely helps me to keep track of the date, even though I think it’s a total waste of time to calculate which day of the week it is.

Today, we walked about 2.5 hours from Dole (4110m) to Machhermo at 4465m, just in time for lunch. This is already higher than Aconcagua base camp, but I’m still feeling good about the altitude, not even feeling a headache. Staying with “Sherpa” items on the food menu also kept my stomach happy (I mean calm, though obviously it’s not as filling as I was used to). Sherpa tea and stew became my routine of every meal, and the rice dish “Dal, Bhath, Tarkari” (Lentil soup, rice, vegetable curry) is one of my favorite meals now! I want to be safe and stay away from meat.

The morning is clear, with Cho Oyu in front our eyes most of the time. Cho means “Lake,” and “Oyu” means Turquoise (jade). It’s a beautiful mountain. Similar to the view of Everest, a huge flume of snow dust is blowing off from the summit that covers half of the view of the mountain.

Shortly after lunch, snow flurries dropped from the sky and have been non-stop all afternoon. If the snow continues like this, there might be avalanche danger on the trails ahead, and we may need to stay in Machhermo to rest for tomorrow.

At Dole, we had the lodge all to ourselves. Here we were joined by a big group of college kids. There was a talk about altitude sickness at the health post office at 3pm, so I took the opportunity of the quiet moment to work on my laptop while everyone went to the talk. I’m happy to find that my laptop still works here. I heard that non-SSD computers would start to have problems around 4000m, so I was a little bit nervous when I pressed the power button. So far so good!



Obviously, altitude sickness became the topic of our chat when Brad and Mike came back. For most people who have had experience with altitude, their experience with altitude sickness is mostly related to headache, loss of appetite, or trouble falling asleep. But here at such an extreme altitude, altitude sickness means life threatening HACE or HAPE developed rapidly (in terms of hours, not days) without any warning. Not only are people who have been to such altitude not immune to it, even Sherpa who grew up here and have been climbing all their life here can develop it suddenly.

Minus 40 degrees may not sound so cold to people who have worked in Alberta or have done a lot of winter climbing on Mt Washington. The coldest continent, Antarctica, can easily beat Everest in terms of coldest temperature. But the extreme altitude makes it a totally different game. 8000m (26000 ft) is the death zone. What does that mean? Not only does our body cannibalize itself, it also shuts down a lot of basic functions, such as heat generation. That’s why, in the Himalayas, climbers wear much heavier layers than climbers on other mountains even though the temperature does not appear to be so extreme. Unable to generate heat, sense of body parts and judgment capability also deteriorate. That’s why it’s so easy to get serious frostbite on Everest. The death rate on Everest may not sound so extreme given all the commercial guiding making it more accessible to many non-professional climbers, but that does not make it less serious. The injury rate is way higher than people would expect. It’s too easy to sit on the couch and blame climbers making “stupid” mistakes high up on the mountain.

Note to readers:

I may mention people I met on this trip, but in no position I am serving as storyteller of their experience here. Only official announcements or reports from themselves directly should be relied on for news on any climbers on this trip. Premature news sharing would cause false expectation or unnecessary worry/ desperation to those who care about them.


Got up early this morning to get packed before 7am, and we set off around 8:30am. So far on this trip, every day has been blue sky or light clouds, pleasant temperature around 75F.

We took the lower trail that cuts across the hill we went up yesterday. The beginning part of the trail is shared by both EBC and Gokyo trek. Both Mt Thamserku (next to Namche) and Mt Ama Dablam are in clear view. Ted kept on helping me review the mountains that I will see in the next few days. He seemed more worried about me not recalling the names of the mountains in front of my eyes than the climb itself.

Almost an hour into the hike, just before the hairpin turn of the trail, came the little town Sanasa. Under the background of Mt Taboche and Peak 38 in the distance, we shared the last cup of tea, and split our ways a few minutes later. Ted took the lower pass toward EBC via Tengboche, and I headed up the hill towards Gokyo via Mong La pass.

Be safe and take care of yourself” were our last words for each other.



I know many friends back home would have said the same thing. Yes, summit or not, safety is the most important thing. I have been chatting with Dawa Sherpa and other people a lot about all the details of the climb, and intimately understand how dangerous this climb is. Confidence is not something we talk about here. Mt Everest has been so commercialized in the past few years, and enough movies have made it just another fun reality show like Survivor, so the climb appeared to be less serious than it was. But when you are in it, you can fully appreciate the challenge and danger. It’s impossible not to get nervous. Excitement is for people who look from outside and far away.

After a steady ascent to Mong La at 3900m, the trail descended into Phortse Tenga. Phortse means “high up” and Tenga means “by the river.” This is a very low spot by the river at about 3500m. I had steak, potatoes, and boiled vegetables for lunch, but found it hard to take down and I could barely finish half of the steak and potatoes. Energy-wise, I felt good, so we pushed on according to original plan to Dole, which is another 2 hours uphill from 3500m to 4100m. It must be the meat— I started to have stomach cramps soon after we took off. I remembered that all the meat has been traveling for several days from Lukla on porters’ shoulders, no refrigerator— I need to be more careful about food now!

It was cloudier in the afternoon, so it was hard to see any mountains. We just followed the river from high up in the valley. One Australian man caught up with us. After we exchanged hellos, he asked, “You are not the Lei who climb Everest, are you?” The world is indeed small! This is Brad Jackson, who came to climb Everest with Alan Arnette in 2008. He already knew everything about me, and I got to poke his brain about more details of the climb. Brad is on his second attempt to Everest, and he is doing the same pre-climb training trek that I am doing.

By the time we reached Dole at 4110m, there was some light wind and heavy clouds, and the temperature dropped to 40ish. With still just one T-shirt on, I could not stop shivering and had to change into dry clothes and put on my belay jacket immediately.

To my surprise, my friend, Mike Coote, came out to greet us when we walked into the lodge! After he took off from Namche, he felt it necessary to rest in Phortse Tenga last night instead of pushing on all the way to Dole. Looks like we will get to share the hiking more!

I have been fighting stomach cramps during the afternoon hike, I only had Sherpa Stew (potato and cabbage soup with a little pasta) and boiled cabbage for dinner. This is the lightest meal I have had on this trip. My stomach calmed down. Later I learned that local people only eat meat during cold seasons when meat would not rot during the many days’ transportation from Lukla.


“…since you have demonstrated that you can’t make the right decision yourself, I have to make this decision for you– going down is the only option….”  — Eric Simmonson

Today is the rest day in Namche. I got up early to take an easy walk up the hill of memorial park, and caught some nice pictures under soft morning light. After breakfast, we walked up 300m to the hilltop where Everest View Hotel is situated. Clouds covered Everest, but we got a good view of Ama Dablam. Good views of the mountain will be abundant on this trip. On the other side of the hill is Kunde village, where Pasang, Ted’s Sherpa, comes from. In the distance, we can see Portse, where Dawa, my Sherpa for the trekking part of the trip, comes from.

After lunch, I went over to my friend Tsedam’s shop. Internet service at his hotel only works in the night when he gets back there. So we just used the expensive internet service from Cyber Café across the street, slightly cheaper than our hotel. Can’t upload too many pictures though.

At the lodge, Mark Inglis was giving a lecture about past events on Everest. He talked about the balance between being persistent and having good judgment. He said, for each step, there are two questions one should ask him/herself: can you take the next step, and should you take the next step? He talked about turning around some climbers who clearly were in danger, and how he had to remind the climber of their family to make him/her accept the decision to turn around.

This reminded me of the episode on John Golden in Everest: Beyond the Limit Season 3. He had an injured knee and an broken rib. Eric Simmonson eventually made the decision for him:

“…since you have demonstrated that you can’t make the right decision yourself, I have to make this decision for you– going down is the only option….”

It was cruel to have that moment caught on film. But it is a sober reminder for anyone who is attempting Everest.

I’m very excited seeing those beautiful mountains so close, but I know I can’t let the excitement take over me, and I can’t let any setbacks (such as luggage problems, flight delays, and who knows what’s next) upset me. I just want to focus on each step in front of me and keep myself in a calm mood and healthy condition. I have a goal, but I don’t want to put myself under the pressure of any expectation. I know my limit, and I know I’m such a newbie to the Himalayas. It’s a privilege to be here in this beautiful land and it’s an experience of a lifetime no matter what the outcome might be. It’s important to respect the mountains and respect the limit. At the same time, it’s very warm in my heart knowing that there are so many friends cheering for me, a home team who is providing support while I’m out here.

For the trekking part of the trip, e.g. until we arrive at base camp, there are tea houses and lodges all the way at each village or town. We will have the comfort of a bed and restaurant, but nothing comes cheap. Shower 300 rupees, rent a towel 100 rupees, internet 10-15 rupees per minute, charge a battery 100 rupees. There’s barely any water from the tap at the tiny sink (one per floor), and it’s explicitly posted that you can’t wash clothes there, e.g. you need to pay to use their laundry service. To fill in boiled water here at our hotel in Namche is free at least (I was surprised at the charge of 80 rupees per bottle of boiled water at Monjo), but probably won’t be free in other smaller villages along the trail. (Note, 70 rupees = 1 USD).

Food at the lodge is healthy and tasty, especially any dish with a “sherpa” in its name, such as Sherpa tea (milk tea), Sherpa soup (potato + veg), and curries. There are plenty of potatoes and rice for carbs, some fresh vegetables like cabbage and carrots, and I can ask for things not fried, e.g., soup or steamed, but protein is not easy to find. So far, the protein comes from Lentil soup (very watery), eggs, small pieces of meat (buffalo), maybe a tiny bit of tuna if I order momo or spaghetti with tuna sauce. The portions are small too. I always have to order two or three entrees for each meal and often get the comment, “It’s too much you are ordering.”


In previous trips, I just ate whatever came my way, but after the past few months’ training, I became pickier about the structure of the food I take. I learned to look at food in terms of nutrition components and discriminate between the good kind and the bad kind of each component (e.g. good carbs, bad carbs) and got used to calculating the portion of each component as well. It takes effort to eat right when there is just so limited variety of food available here. Though there are yaks everywhere, it’s a taboo to slaughter them for food. So the meat supply comes from buffalo outside the area, and is carried here on porters’ shoulders from Lukla along the same trail we just hiked through.

Once at base camp, the tent will be our home, but food, shower (of course, can’t compare that to the showers from a real hotel or home in the west), and water will be more accessible without extra charge.

For the past few days, I was accompanied by two friends from Boston: Mike Coote, my climbing partner of several years, and Ted Mayer, who has studied the Himalaya map so well that he could tell me what peak is in front of my eyes at each turn. We shared the trek from Lukla to Namche. This morning, Mike took off to Gokyo, then he will cross Cho La pass to the Everest side. His goal is to climb Island Peak. Tomorrow, Ted and I would also split our ways. He is trekking to Everest Base Camp directly, while I will slowly trek to Gokyo before coming back toward Namche to meet up with the group.

Because of the delays caused by luggage problems and weather at Lukla, I’m three days behind schedule for my trekking part. Since the group will be acclimatizing at Namche for three days (Apr 2nd – Apr 4th), I now plan on joining the group in Namche on April 4th the earliest. Or I could meet the group in Tengboche, the next stop after Namche. I will make the decision with Dawa Sherpa later based on how I feel and the actual schedule of the group. If I don’t come back to Namche to meet up with the group on April 4th, that would also imply that I will not have internet and shower until base camp on April 12th! I would have to stretch each piece of my clothes/socks to its “dirty” limit.


Didn’t sleep too well last night. Went to bed late because I stayed up to write my journal after I watched the movies, then woke up a few times. I woke up before dawn at the bell ring of passing yaks. Based on my past experience, I know I’m slow on the acclimatization process— that’s why I wanted to do the extra trekking before the group arrives. I must be a little bit nervous about the climb. I dreamt of strange oxygen saturation numbers a couple times, and woke up to feel my heart beating much faster than my normal pace at sea level. As the altitude goes higher, the heartbeat speeds up because of the extra work needed to pump more oxygen into the blood system (is that correct? I need to study more of the change of heart and red blood cells at altitude).

Had porridge and an omelet for breakfast, didn’t like the greasy feeling of the omelet afterward. At altitude, the stomach starts to behave differently, becoming more sensitive to greasy stuff and tending to be more gassy, which causes what we joke is HAFE: High Altitude Farting Edema.

Leaving Monjo, we officially entered Sagarmatha National Park, where Everest is located. Weather was chilling in the morning, but heated up pretty fast as we approached Namche. Winding along the valley followed by the pleasant sound of the glacier river (Bhote Koshi River) down below, we first descended about 450m before starting the rolling hill ascent of about 1000m to Namche.

Highlights of the day included the first glimpse of Everest, shrouded in high wind, which we can tell easily even from so far away because of the huge snow dust blowing from summit ridge, and the first glimpse of Ama Dablam, a uniquely shaped peak that has a special appeal to me because of the beauty of its technical climb.

I also ran into Mark Inglis, the first double amputee who climbed Everest from the north side in 2006; he is leading a New Zealander charity trekking group to Gokyo this time, and will be on the same schedule as me! We are staying at the same lodge in Namche, and I will expect to see his group every day for the next week! This is awesome!


It became more dusty as we approached Namche because the air got drier as we got higher, and I needed to start to cover up my mouth/nose more. Radiation from the sun also became stronger— more sun protection from now on!

Nothing comes cheap here. 15 rupees per minute for internet access— 1 USD for 5 minutes! Spent 300 rupees (4.5 USD) to take a shower, and had to struggle between burning hot and icy cold water. Checked with the Sherpa: good news is that shower in base camp is free and should be warm. Can’t wait to get to base camp!

Eating food is a bit difficult. I need to eat a lot of protein, but it is limited. I ordered “steak, roasted potato and veg” for both lunch and dinner. The steak is only a few pieces of buffo meat of about 30 grams. Lots of potatoes. And the vegetables consist of mainly fresh cabbage and carrots. Quite a healthy combination, but not filling. My stomach felt empty within just a couple hours after the meal. Trying to keep myself fed with my normal amount of calorie intake and nutrition structure on the trek is going to be challenging. I need to be more generous in allocating the almonds/nuts and protein bars I brought to the trekking part.

Spent the afternoon resting in the lodge, hanging out with friends, showering, sitting around for meals and more chatting with Sherpa and friends. Tomorrow will be some short hiking around Namche for acclimatization and visiting friends.


We got up at 4:30am for 6:30am flight to Lukla. After having waited at the airport for 6 hours yesterday only to have the flight canceled, I was just reminded of my experience of waiting in Talkitna Alaska for my flight to Denali. So when the flight was delayed again this morning due to weather in Lukla, I was not even expecting to leave today. Foggy/low cloud condition had closed Lukla airport for almost 3 days. Past experience of the endless waiting game on Denali and in Antarctica has made me very mellow and patient about delays like this— though these experiences may be shockingly unpleasant to people who can’t even put up with delays in normal commercial flight service. Some trekkers eventually paid an extra $100 for a helicopter ride to get out of Lukla. The twin otter ride should be about $160-200 round trip.

Finally, around 8:30, a cheer broke out among the hordes of people waiting impatiently. I was not even expecting to fly today, but I was happy. With my memory of the Denali flight still fresh, I know taking off does not mean we can land. So I held my breath until we started to approach the Lukla airstrip.

The scenery along the flight was beautiful. I enjoyed the view, which was full of green ragged mountains in handsome shape. Crops fields lined up hillside, the road cut sharply along the steep hill. I imagine that a drive must be a thrilling experience! We could see some magnificent peaks in the distance. I was especially fascinated with one rocky peak with a small ice/snow top, which looked like Eiger in the Alps. I wish I could identify the names of those mountains, and I hope I will become more familiar with them by end of the trip— I know I will staring at those beautiful peaks a lot on my way to Gokyo. They took my breath away!

The landing strip in Lukla is on a 12 degree strip of land uphill,150 yards long. The uphill makes it possible for small planes like twin otter to land and take off quickly. Lukla is a beautiful village on the hillside. As we landed, other trekkers who had been waiting for days to get out Lukla were already lined up on the tarmac, ready to load and board. Within just 10 minutes, the unloading and loading process finished and the plane took off!




Himalaya is the mecca for mountain lovers! 

Lunch at a Lukla restaurant was more nutritious and delicious than I expected. I loaded up on protein (beef) and carbs (potato), and was very delighted to have found fresh green leaves in vegetable soup. After loading up with water, we started the first day of hiking. My Sherpa for the trekking part is Dawa from Portse. He is 50 years old, and has worked as a Sherpa since 1977. He has summited Everest 7 times in the past few years.

The beginning location of the trekking, Lukla, and the end-of-day destination, Monjo, are at about the same altitude, around 2840 m (9300 ft). But the trail goes up and down about 1000 m (3000 ft) while following the valley from high up on the hillside. This provides a good exercise for the first day.

The area is just endless green mountains along a winding valley, under the background of blue sky and light clouds. Cabbage or other vegetable fields decorate the hillside. Down below in the valley, a beautiful turquoise river shows up from time to time. At every turn is the scenery that I can’t stop taking pictures of because I know when I return, I may not have much energy.

A few small Yak teams from either direction passed us sometimes. Since climbing teams won’t arrive here for another week, the trail is not filled with dust from numerous passing yak teams. Breathing in fresh mountain air is such a nice change from the polluted Kathmandu air. Within a few minutes into the hike, I know I would love to return to the Himalaya mountains again, trekking or climbing! Having seen a lot photos and caught a glimpse of those high peaks on the flight, I can’t stop imagining how breathtaking it would be to see those peaks so close around me in Gokyo. Thoughts like that make me feel my heart crying out for those serene places. I even start to wonder if I could gather the energy to go pay a visit to Annapurna at the end of this trip. Himalaya is the Mecca for mountain lovers!

We passed many beautiful hillside villages along the way. There are a lot of Buddha statues on the trail, and it’s very important to always pass by the statues from the left side with sincere respect. Villagers are all very friendly and peaceful. What an enjoyable place!

After 5 hours or so, we arrive at Monjo. The lodge is nice— it even has electricity and a clean western toilet! Meat is hard to find on the dinner menu, except for a tiny bit of tuna from the Tuna Vegetable Momo (dumpling). Other than rice or noodles, I was happy to have some healthy fresh cabbage and potatoes. I have to load up more protein in Namche tomorrow!

To prepare myself for the climb, I watched two episodes of Everest: Beyond the Limit on my laptop while having dinner. Season 3 follows the IMG team, the team I’m on this year. We could even see Jangbu Sherpa and Dawa Sherpa, who I have just met, in it. It’s important to climb within one’s limit!


Despite not having my luggage with me when I arrived at Kathmandu, I had a face mask handy. My friends, who have been here before, advised me to get one, as the air in the city is very dusty and polluted. I was nicely surprised— the air was not as dusty as I expected, compared to my experience with other cities in the world. But as we drove into the city, I still felt the need to protect my lungs from the car exhaust.

In Kathmandu, cars drive on the left side of the road like in Britain. Some main streets are divided in the center, but in general, there is no concept of driving lanes. Most “roads” on the map are just as wide as the lanes in old Beijing, barely allowing one car to pass, while sidewalks are crowded with street vendors.

Walking on the street is an adventure in itself!! The streets are unevenly paved, and not only do you have to watch where you step— avoiding all kinds of obstacles such as junk, fallen wires, trash, and stray dogs— you also have to keep an eye out for numerous cars and motor bikes that surprise you from all directions.




Taking in the sights

While I was in the car, traveling to the hotel, I told myself: don’t risk my climb with any sightseeing tours in the city. Traffic looked scary, and the air quality was poor. But the next morning, when I woke up early and took a walk before the city really woke up, I found the air bearable. With some care and courage, I even managed to walk down the streets and cross the roads! Soon, I found it comfortable to walk across the city to visit those popular sites. Though street signs are hard to find, it’s not so hard to navigate the maze of narrow roads that appeared so daunting before.

The tourist areas, such as Thamel and Durbar Square, are crowded with shops, street vendors, and pedestrians, both local and tourists. But in other areas such as Patan, I enjoyed walking down the almost empty street where only locals live. Peacefully performing their daily routines— collecting water from a fountain, washing clothes, or just worshipping.


Religion is an important part of life here. There are temples everywhere! What’s great is that different religions coexist harmoniously. You can see people worshipping or praying everywhere throughout the day, and many are waiting in line at temple with a plate of nice offerings such as bananas and flowers. Nepal is also ethnically more diverse than I thought. You can see different nationalities— Indians, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese— all mixing well together.

Another interesting thing about Kathmandu is electricity. Almost every hotel has its own power generator, because the government regulates electricity so that only the hotels get power during the evening/night. That’s why when you walk down the street, you often find shop owners using headlights during the day in their shops!


I must have all the luck! Anytime I go on an international trip, I always have so many issues that I am expecting things to happen regardless…

Despite my barely being packed until the last minute before my departure time, I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, thanks to the help of my friends! The plane took off, and less than half an hour later, just as I was dozing off, I heard the calm but unexpected announcement from the pilot:

“There is nothing to be concerned about. It’s only an act of being cautious.”

What does that mean?

The announcement continued,  “One of our redundant hydraulic press switches is not functioning. It’s just a redundant one. We are in no danger. There is nothing to be concerned about. We are returning to Boston.”

Well, the quickest round trip I ever made on any flight.

Where’s my luggage?

Finally, the parts were replaced, and we were off again. We arrived at London Airport more than three hours behind schedule, and I thoroughly missed my connection to JetAirways. After being sent back and forth multiple times between terminals and counters, I was finally booked on the next Qatar Airline flight to Doha, Qatar, taking off 3 hours later. I would then arrive at KTM (Kathmandu) 2 hours behind my original schedule. Not too bad.



“What about my luggage??”

American Airlines (the airline for my first leg) replied, “We will send a message to JetAirways to send them to Qatar.”

I was not convinced and doubled checked with Qatar, who said, “We will send a message to JetAirways to send the luggage to us”.

A “message,” apparently the modern way of communication, is sent between computer systems without needing any human interaction.

Service on Qatar Airline was excellent, and the food was delicious. It was interesting to stop by Qatar, a country I never really knew. The airport was clean and modern, and I didn’t have to worry about spending a night in Mumbai airport anymore, my original route.

Doha is a very busy airport where flights from all over the world are taking off around the clock, so it was quite noisy throughout the night, with only a couple hours of quiet between 2:30 and 4 am. I stayed up all night working on my laptop, catching up on the writings I haven’t been able to do while busy packing and moving during the past few weeks.

While waiting for the luggage at KTM airport, I told myself that it would a nice surprise to see my luggage, because my luggage has never arrived with me when I missed the connection during my past trips. But I didn’t want to give up too early, and dutifully waited until the conveyer belt completely stopped, then filed the missing report.


In the evening, my friend Lily Chou in Boston helped me to contact my travel insurance agent to help trace the luggage. But airline service in Nepal does not work around the clock, so there is no way to talk to anyone before the next day, and it’s very difficult to make international phone calls from here.

The next day, Jangbu Sherpa, who is leading our Sherpa service in Nepal, sent his staff back to the airport a few times, and we pestered Qatar airlines. By 4 in the afternoon, Qatar said they have sent three “messages” to the London office, but have no idea where the luggage is.

Now I begin to suspect that a “message” is just a message in the system, and does not really mean that anyone is reading it. Then I also remembered that when I filed for a missing report at the airport, there was no computer at the counter. All I got was a piece of paper with hard-to-read handwritten notes, no claim number. Now, I am not even confident that the “system” knows about the missing luggage.

There are three airlines involved: American Airlines, JetAirways (India), and Qatar Airlines. I started to bombard each airline office in Nepal with phone calls, and had Lily and my travel insurance agent inquire through their international offices.

Each of them tried to direct me to others, suggesting the other airlines should have the information in their systems. How can no one have information about my luggage in their system? It seems Qatar is the one ultimately responsible to trace down the luggage. So I called Qatar again,

“What do you mean you don’t know where my luggage is?”

“We can’t see it in our system. We have sent three messages to London, no reply.”

That is not acceptable! So I suggested they talk to a human on that side, not the automatic message in the system, where it seems that no one is reading the message. They finally made a phone call, but they still don’t know where it is! So I suggested they have a human look for the luggage!


Finally, a few more rounds of phone calls later, they confirmed that they found the luggage in London, in the hands of JetAirways. Apparently, no human really read those system messages until an actual person talked to someone else, and had another person looking for the luggage!

No matter how many ways we modernize our system, it still takes a human being to do the actual work. Modern technology can’t replace humans. Lessons learned— don’t assume anyone is looking for the luggage without being pushed really persistently, and I should have inquired through their international office directly when the local office would simply go home after 5pm.

Everest Trip Intro

IMG, the guiding company, just published the list of climbers of the season. There are a total of fourteen members in the Sherpa-guided group (my group), one guided by western guides, two express climbers, and seven in hybrid team, plus two Lhotse and two camp 2/3 climbers, making a total of twenty-eight under IMG management.

The group is starting on March 28th, the date everyone leaves the U.S. by. I’m here one week ahead of the group to do some extra acclimatization on my own. I plan to head to Gokyo valley, which neighbors Khumbu Valley, where the Everest base camp is located. In addition to gaining extra acclimatization, trekking to Gokyo valley will be an extremely rewarding experience. When you are at base camp, you actually never see the mountain! But Gokyo offers the best view of the area, especially for Everest and Cho Oyu.

To gain access to the area, the most popular way is to fly to Lukla, the last point of modern transportation. From there, it’s a 2 days’ walk to Namche, the capital city of Sherpa— the gateway to Everest region. The trails to Everest base camp or Gokyo both start there. After trekking to Gokyo (7 days), I will return to Namche to meet up with the group, and walk another 10 days to arrive at Everest base camp on April 12.

In order to acclimatize to the altitude, I have to be very patient and gain altitude slowly, otherwise it’s very easy to develop severe altitude sickness. That’s why the trekking takes so long.



The most efficient strategy to acclimatize is called “climb high, sleep low” instead of continuously going up. At extreme altitudes, the body would start to cannibalize itself and one would quickly lose strength if they stay at high altitude for too long. So after getting used to the new altitude, we would retreat to base camp to recover for a few days before climbing back up again to the next higher altitude. Between April 12th and May 10th, we will do several rotations of this “climb high, sleep low” process, each taking about 7-10 days including rest days. From base camp, we will first do a training climb on Lobuje, a nearby mountain. After another few days’ rest, we will start the training climb on Everest by doing two rotations between base camp and camp 3.

Once we are fully acclimatized, we will rest in base camp while waiting for a summit window. Once we spot a break in weather, we will push for the summit by continuously ascending for 6 days. It would only take 2 days to descend back to base camp.

May is the best month to climb Everest, but you still need a lot of luck to catch a summit window. Saying it’s the best month to climb only means it’s less stormy than other months. But because of the extreme altitude, a minor storm condition is deadly for anyone. Sometimes it could take weeks to see a few days that are calm enough to summit, and in some years that may never happen. Who can predict the weather, especially in the mountains and 6 days away? It is a gamble!

Packing for Everest

Packing gear for a trip to Everest is not a trivial matter. In fact, it is a huge undertaking and much more complicated than it has been for any of my previous trips. I first downloaded the gear list from the guiding company into a spreadsheet. Then slowly, the one-sheet list grew into a workbook, with separate lists for clothes, climbing gear, medicine, food, personal care, books & digital equipment.

Because of the extreme altitude and conditions, I had to acquire a lot of new gear. Some, such as boots and insulation suits, are quite expensive and hard to find for my small size. Luckily, Wild Things Gear generously sponsored most of my clothes with custom-designed PrimaLoft suits and custom-tailored shell/softshell layers.

It was a blessing to have the support of Marie Meunier, the owner of Wild Things Gear, who took care of me like a mom! She helped me organize my equipment, taught me how to coordinate my clothes layers with other accessories (such as gloves, boots, goggles, and a helmet), and worked with me in making the suits fit my specific needs. Trying the new suits reminded me of my childhood experience of putting on new clothes that Mom made for me on Chinese New Year, which was a special moment because we were too poor to afford buying new clothes. Donning homemade new clothes on Chinese New Year was our ritual.

To better protect my toes, I bought a pair of La Sportiva Olympus Mono boots. Very few brands make extreme altitude boots for women, so I had to get a men’s pair at the smallest size, 39. Unfortunately, the break in process was extremely painful and stressful.

Despite having a lot of room in the toes area, my ankles and lower calves were being crushed and badly bruised during the first few weeks. I got my friend Paul Cormier from IME and Stan and Dan Sports in North Conway to custom-adjust the boots a couple times, but I still wasn’t confident in how they would perform on the mountains. I couldn’t keep on trying to break in new boots here with my already well-bruised ankles. So I decided to pack in my old Kolflach Arctic Exped boots as well.

Another complicated matter is medicine. Even a super healthy person who never needs to visit doctors in normal situations can run into many unexpected problems at extreme altitudes, such as severe cough, diarrhea from bad foods and infections, and even life- threatening pulmonary or cerebral edema. Being away from modern healthcare for two months, I have to be prepared for any situation. My friends, Dr. David Coleman and Dr. Steve West, helped me obtain enough medicine to supply a personal pharmacy and patiently educated me on how to use them. David even wrote me detailed step-by-step instructions that I can follow to treat myself under different conditions, and he taught me the efficient way to organize medicines for expeditions.

Though the guiding company is preparing all the meals, I decided to bring a lot of snacks to supplement my nutrition on the mountain. Based on my previous experience, meals on these expeditions are normally heavy on carbs and fat, but relatively low on protein and fiber. Because of my training regimen during the past few months, my body has got used to a diet that is high in protein. So I brought a lot of protein bars, powders, and nuts to provide extra protein for two months.

Packing for this trip was complicated. On the start of this trip, I will be trekking in relatively mild conditions for 14 days to base camp. This means different boots and clothes for trek. Once in base camp, I would be busy training to prepare for high altitude climbing. We would establish two base camps to reduce the amount of equipment we have to carry up and down the mountain.

The main base camp, which will be our main home, is located at 17,700 ft. The advanced base camp at Camp2 is located at 21300 ft. Each camp will have duplicate equipment and gear. I’ll be traveling between them several times in order to get used to the high altitude.

Now you start to get a picture of what I am putting into my three big duffel bags!