Friday, 28 September 2012

Flights - Kathmandu to Lukla

There's been another crash on the Kathmandu to Lukla route today. This isn't terribly surprising as this route is one of the most dangerous in the world. If anything the surprise is that it happened in Kathmandu instead of at the other end. The landing strip at Lukla is at an angle (12%) and approximately the size of a postage stamp (1500 feet long) with mountain face at one end and cliff at the other. Because of this you can only use small twin engine aircraft to get there.

To give an idea of what we are talking about, here's a pic of me in the cigar tube that I flew in last year.

And gazing forward

At Lukla - The Tenzing Hillary Airport

And the postage stamp airstrip

The point is that the danger is well known. All you can do is try to book with a reputable airline, pop a Xanax, and hope for the best. Or take the bus to Jiri and walk from there if you're willing to add a week to either end of your trek.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ethical Trekking

I'd like to talk today about the ethics of trekking.

First of all, I've been accused of using my fundraising for Bletchley Park Trust and The National Museum of Computing to subsidise my vacations. Nothing could be further from the truth. While, in the UK, one does have the option to do this, I have not. I've laid out thousands of pounds on these treks. In fact, I've sadly laid out far more than I've raised when one counts in the cost of equipment. Indeed, I've just laid out another £620 for my airfare for April. ::faint:: The only thing that mollifies me there is that I hope that these stunts help to raise the profile of these admirable organisations and make people aware of the important work that they do and their desperate need for money.

Let me repeat, I do not ask donors to subsidise me. It doesn't sit well with my personal code of conduct. YMMV.

Moving on, some people question the ethics of trekking in the Himalaya because of the environmental and sociological changes that result. Here too, I agree that it's upsetting but there are things that can be done to minimise impact however it is unfair to expect the Sherpa community to live in some sort of bubble and trekking brings in much needed money so that this poverty stricken corner of the world can begin to build schools and medical centres and even distribute some electricity.

So how can we minimise our impact?

Step 1 - Ensure that you are using an ethical trekking company. They should supply your porter(s) with adequate and appropriate equipment for the conditions, not overload the porters, and provide medical services.

Step 2 - Bring your own water bottle. I touched upon this briefly in my previous post on Hydration. Don't forget that everything that isn't grown in the Khumbu Valley has to be flown in via Lukla and then carried either via yak or porter. Furthermore, non-biodegradable materials have to then be ported OUT, assuming that they are disposed of responsibly in the first place. So if you're planning to buy water, please don't. Which takes us to...

Step 3 - Pick it up! If you're caught short, make sure you have some baggies for your used toilet paper or wipes. There's nothing fouler than filthy wipings left by the side of the trail, caught in brush or, worst of all, floating on the breeze. If you smoke, keep your butts until you get to where you can dispose of them properly. Throughout Sagarmatha National Park there are bins for waste - use the bloody things.

Step 4 - Respect the water supply. Last year I saw some students washing their clothing in the stream at Pheriche. This too is a big no-no. People downstream have to use that water. If you must wash your smalls then do it in a basin and then dump the water away from the stream. Better yet, pay someone at your lodge to do your laundry thus adding much needed money into the community.

Step 5 - Ensure that the lodges that you stay in use solar power for heating hot water and kerosene for cooking. There are few enough trees up there as it is.

Right, I'll get off of my soapbox now.

Oh, and please don't forget to support The National Museum of Computing. ALL proceeds will go to TNMOC. I'm just as opposed to charity tourism or whatever the hell it's called as you are.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Trekking Skincare

Skincare while trekking is a major concern for me. Between the dehydration and the UV, a high altitude trek can do quite a number on your skin.

Last year I was deeply disappointed by the dermalogica products that I used. At altitude, the UV ripped right through SPF moisturiser and I got back to Kathmandu with peeling face, neck and hands. :-(

This year I will be trying a skin regime from Kiehl's. So while in NYC last week I went to the mothership and   had a consultation.

Working through my daily routine, I will be using:

Ultra Facial Cleanser - I won't be able to shower daily but at least I'll be able to wash my face. This is a gentle cleanser that does not strip the skin

Calendula Toner - I always follow with a toner. It's the legacy of following the Clinique 3-step routine for decades.

I'll then slap on the Super Fluid UV Defense which is SPF 50+ which I will then layer with Ultra Facial Cream that is specially formulated for extremely cold and dry conditions (as used on the Greenland First Ascent expedition!).

I also have some of their coloured lip balms with SPF 15 and Hair Oil with SPF 10 to finish off although once one leaves Namche hats are de rigeur.

For the evening I have Midnight Recovery Concentrate and if I'm lucky enough to cadge a shower, the Cross-Terrain All-in-One Refuelling Wash which is good for hair and body.

I know that sounds like a lot of products but the lady at Kiehl's kindly gave me sample sizes for a number of the products so it's not as bad as it seems at first blush.

I just wish I'd realised they would also be for sale at duty free. :-(

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Shopping in Kathmandu

Inevitably a trip to Nepal will involve some level of shopping. I look on this as an opportunity to get my XMAS shopping done and/or a chance to replenish the "emergency gift drawer". 

If you are in Nepal for a trekking holiday, I would recommend that you book an extra day at the end for your shopping butt if this is not possible then check with your hotel in Kathmandu as many will check luggage while you go up-mountain. This means that you can get your shopping done and check it for the period of your trek. At this point I'd also recommend that you check a nice clean outfit to change into once you return to civilisation and want to get decent again.

My shopping experiences in Kathmandu centre around the Thamel district where most trekkers will tend to stay. Whether you are shopping for gems or pashminas the best thing to do is get up bright and early and be the first person at the shop in the morning. There is  tradition/superstition among shopkeepers to make that first sale of the day so they will be particularly amenable to haggling. The last thing they want id for the first customer of the day to walk out empty handed as this will set the tone for the rest of their day.

Gemstones - I shan't tell you my favourite place to buy stones but I will say that it reminds me of the little shop in Chinatown at the beginning of Gremlins. In general the thing to do is to sit down, have a chat, have a cup of tea and peruse the goods at leisure. Get a good look at all of the things that you are interested in before focussing in on what you want to buy. Get prices for everything that you are interested in and then try to get a bulk buy price. I usually go for a price 25% below what they ask but if I think they're being cheeky then I aim for 50%. In Nepal I focus on buying Star Ruby Sapphires and Watermelon Tourmalines. General rules for buying gemstones apply, size, clarity, cut should all be considered. 

Pashminas - Prices vary wildly due to the variety of levels of quality. Quality is affected by percentage of wool to mixer and whether the mixer is cotton or silk as well as where on the goat the wool has been gathered from. Underside of the goat is better moving from belly (lowest quality of the underside) to under the chin (best quality). Again, I settle on a level of quality, agree a price, then see what price I can get for a bulk purchase.

Yak wool shawls - are a cheap and lovely alternative to pashminas but they do tend to shed initially. That said, the huge price difference is compelling. I pay no more than £5/shawl even in Namche. A must-buy for the cost conscious.

Wool - a lovely alternative to buying a finished product. Buy the wool (raw or dyed) and make your own souvenir!

Spices - I prefer the raw spice selection in Marrakech but if you like Tibetan or Indian food then it's worth investing in some of the ready-made spice mixes. Frankly they are so cheap that it's hardly worth haggling over these. Just be sure to check dates in the packages and buy the freshest.

Clothing - It's worth considering getting a Shalwar Kameez made. What you do is buy the fabric and pattern then get measured up and pay for a seamstress/tailor to make the clothes while you are away trekking. I confess that I haven't done this myself because I hadn't realised last year that one cannot buy these off the rack. Also I was there for Teej so most of the selection was in red. :-( 

Funny story there - during Teej, married women fast and pray for a happy marriage and unmarried women fast and pray for a good husband. One flirty guy asked why I wasn't wearing red and off at the festivities (with waggling eyebrows). I told him it's because I'm a widow. That shut him up!

Carvings and Brasses - All look like cheap tat to me so I don't bother with them.

Antiques - be careful here as exporting anything over 100 years old is forbidden. If in doubt then get a certification.

Any other questions about shopping in Nepal, please post in the comments. And don't forget to donate to The National Museum of Computing to support their fine work to preserve our computing heritage!

Thursday, 20 September 2012


In the course of preparing for the Gokyo Ri Trek, I've been asked for my opinion on staying hydrated. For me this topic breaks down into 3 aspects: how much, how to sterilize, and what sort of bottle.

So first of all, staying well hydrated in the mountains is incredibly important. If possible you should keep an eye on the colour of your piss as this is a great indicator of how well hydrated you are. Here's a link to a handy chart. The darker the colour, the more water you need. You can figure on drinking a minimum of 4 litres of water/liquids per day. Teas and soups can count toward this goal. I personally try to drink ~6 litres per day which I manage by drinking a litre of black tea with each meal and then at least 1 litre of water during the morning hike and the same during the afternoon hike. If you are taking Diamox to stave off altitude sickness then this becomes even more important as it affects your kidneys. In this scenario then you should definitely be aiming to drink at least 6 litres per day.

Next we move on to sterilisation. There are a number of options here and, of course, this is just my opinion. I know that some people use UV with products like the steri-pen and some of my friends have used these quite successfully for extended periods in places like India and Nepal but I discussed this option with my brother who is a chemist and he has steered me away suggesting instead that I consider a Life Straw. I have used neither so cannot speak from experience but the fact that the Life Straw is distributed throughout Africa and is endorsed by the United Nations makes me think that it might be worth consideration.

Next we move on to chemically treating your water and here the decision is between using iodine or chlorine. To me, Iodine has several disadvantages in that it loses its effectiveness when exposed to sunlight, must be used with warm water if Giardia is a concern (which is true for the Himalaya), and some people (like myself) have a sensitivity/allergic reaction to iodine. So I personally use cholrine tablets. The effectiveness of these is also affected by water temperature so if your water is cold then it will take longer for them to work. They also affect the taste of your water but whether you use iodine or chlorine, you can add neutralising tablets or some flavouring to the water. I don't bother as the chlorine taste does not bother me and in fact reassures me that the water is safe.

Finally, what sort of vessel should you use? I've bought one of the CamelBaks because on the face of it they seem like a good idea in that the water stays in your backpack with just a tube coming out for convenient sipping. That said, I haven't actually used mine yet because I haven't figured out how I would keep it clean. Also, when in Nepal last year I saw some poor girl slip on the rocks and when she fell her drinking tube fell into a pile of yak shit so I would suggest that if you use this option then make sure you pack an extra drinking tube.

I've tried using water bottles and they're fine but I would caution you to ensure that your bottle is BPA free. I don't use them because they are bulky and I strive to keep the volume and weight of my daypack to a minimum. Instead, I use a collapsible water bottle (I suppose it's really more of a pouch or bag) so that as I drink the water the bottle becomes less bulky.

I've also been asked about buying bottled water and while this is certainly available in the himalaya (at least in the places that I have been), it's not really the done thing to buy water because it needs to be transported there and adds to the trash/recycling problem unless you're planning to hump it in and out yourself. 

If you have other questions about trekking and/or preparation for trekking, please put them in the comments and I'll try to address them. In the meantime, please don't forget to donate to The National Museum of Computing to support my trek and the important work done by the museum to preserve our computing heritage.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Gokyo Lake

OK, I know this is madness but I've just booked to go on the Gokyo Lake trek with my hiking group. Well, not completely mad. I've got approval to work from Nepal and I figure that because of the 4 1/2 hour time difference, I should be able to get most of my hiking done before 9:30am GMT on most days.So assuming I can get online, that means I can both hike AND work.



It will be good to get 2 weeks hiking at altitude under my belt within 6 months of the EBC trek. To be able to earn money while doing it, doubly so. And it will be awesome to do it with my friends. 

Anyway, flights are booked. Just waiting for confirmation from the guy who cancelled that I can take his place and to work out those logistics.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

New Colossus Gallery @TNMOC

So I was up at The National Museum of Computing this evening for a private viewing of the new Colossus Gallery. TBH, I'd already seen it BUT what was interesting is that they have added some monitors with interviews of related notables such as the late, great Tony Sale and extracts from the diary of Tommy Flowers.

I also got to meet my fellow TNMOC trekker, David McLelland. Oh dear, the poor soul is in the same position that I was in last year - never been hiking and never been up-mountain. Nonetheless he looks fairly fit and young and doesn't smoke so surely he'll have an easier time of it than I did (or will). 

Anyway, hopefully I didn't frighten the poor dear off with my tales of misery and woe. I've promised to give advice where needed and invited him to join my hiking group to try to get prepped. ::shrug:: What else can one do?

I also had a good catch-up with Andy Clarke, the new Chairman of the Board of Trustees so hopefully TNMOC will start feeding me more updates that I can pass along here so that folks are more aware of where their donations are going.

Colossus Gallery @ TNMOC

Tonight I'm off to a special private viewing of the new Colossus Gallery at TNMOC with "extra surprises". Will report back on the morrow.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

London Foraging

I put my back out earlier this week so decided to take it easy and just take a little stroll this weekend instead of my usual 10 mile hike. To this end, I joined the London Foraging and Bushcraft Group for a walk in the East Ham Nature Preserve.

Considering the fact that it was just a one hour stroll and that the nature preserve is only one square block, this was a surprisingly productive and informative adventure. Of course, this is an excellent time of year for foraging, but I really didn't expect to find much in a city park. Wendy, the guide, is knowledgeable about not only wild foods but also medicinal uses and some history.

Anyway, there was plenty to learn about and I can see myself doing this sort of walk regularly throughout the year to learn what's good seasonally and I've suggested to my other hiking group that we invite Wendy to join us on some of our longer walks outside of London. It might also be fun to learn things like how to create and set traps and snares and such.

So I brought home some nice little goodies. I have 1 bag each of tiny yellow plums and small red plums that I will be making jam with. I also picked a kilo of sloes so I will put up a few bottles of sloe gin tonight. I may even pop back to the nature preserve tomorrow to lay in some more because the trees were bursting with fruit and it's a shame not to put them to use.