The day I almost died or how I learned to never give up.

In 2006, I was inspired the team who went up Mt. Everest with the Philippine Everest Expedition and wanted to go there too. When they came back, they said it was the most amazing place they have every seen.

Abner Mercado and Val Cuenca at Everest Base Camp

Photo by Val Cuenca

So in 2011, after I learned I got accepted into ITP, my father and fellow photographer Patrick Uy decided to make it happen. We had been aware of the expedition in 2006 and 2007 since we were involved in it one way or another. Patrick contacted the same trekking company the expedition used.

Henry and Emma Pariyar of International Adventures Treks and Expeditions handled the entire journey. We took a Cathay Pacific flight from Manila to Hong Kong and switched to a Dragon Air flight from Hong Kong to Kathmandu via Dhaka. The plane trip took almost the entire day and we arrived in Nepal at midnight.

We were greeted by Henry and Emma at the airport. We got our visa upon arrival and headed to the hotel. During the dry season, Nepal undergoes 8 hour power interruptions. Meaning the city was very dark and I do mean very dark. Bull mastiffs run free through the streets and it seemed that a map would actually be useless in navigating the streets.

Essential things to bring to Nepal. A flashlight, which my father lost 2 days later :( so we had to buy a new one. There is excellent mobile signal in the city but up in the mountains, you’ll only get them in big towns. I’ll get to that later.

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Our journey took us 7 days over the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. It may not be Everest Base Camp (that takes at least 10 days) but enough to take pictures.

We rode a van from Kathmandu to Bandipur and stayed overnight. It gave us a glimpse on what was to come.

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Our camera setup

From Bandipur we headed to the lakeside town of Pokhara where we would leave our belongings before heading to the mountains.

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It was another van ride to the start of the trek at Nayapul. Here we met with our guides and porters and set off just before 9am.

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Mule train of of Nayapul

It’s here in Birethanti (elev. 1065m)  where supplies are replenished and brought up the mountains on the backs of mules. You need to step aside when they pass since they have a tendency to bump you off the cliff if you’re in the way.

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This is also the last part where vehicular traffic can pass since the roads are still being built.

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Since electricity is something of a rare commodity up in the mountains, I had a solar panel on my backpack as I went on the trail slowly charging my iPod or iPhone. It wasn’t much but enough to help me have some touch with civilization with my playlist.

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Don’t fall into the water. There are leeches.

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Just beyond the structures up there is where we would be staying for the night.

We arrived at Tikhedhunga (elevation 1525m) a little past five and had dinner and slept.

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Traditional Nepali dish.

The following day was going to be the killer. But we didn’t know it then. We set off at 6am for Ghorepani (elevation 2775m).

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The trek to the next town was tough. Ulleri was a steep acent of 1,300m.

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We had only hit part of Ulleri by lunchtime and it would be difficult to make it to Ghorepani by sunset. Our trek was not made any easier by the afternoon rainshowers. We were getting really tired. By 5pm we were still at least an hour away from Ghorepani and we were basically out of energy bars, water, eletrolytes and warm clothing. It was hot in humid during the day and it started to snow as the sun went down. Our guides were worried that I might be suffering from altitude sickness. But I wasn’t. Each step was painful and my body was telling me to stop. Stop here for the night. It’ll be ok. Apparently we were all in the same predicament. We were all just waiting for someone to say it. But nobody did.

As the sun went down the rain slowly turned into snow and at this point we didn’t have flashlight. There was nothing else in my mind but the next step. Each step was closer to a hot meal and a bed. During the trek, all sorts of things could fill your mind. There was the view, the odd thing that you would see along the path and checking on how much water we had left. But not at 6pm in the snow. We finally reached Ghorepani just before the sun went completely down.

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Last photo for the day. Entrance to Ghorepani.

Then I learned that it was another 30-45 minutes uphill to reach the lodge for the night. Crap.

I was feeling much better now that we reached the town and our goal for the day was within reach. But going through a town in almost total darkness with the exception of the moonshine that guided our path from time to time while it hid behind the clouds. Since it was really dark I stepped on crap. Literally. Oh well, washed my shoes before heading indoors. But it was something to laugh at and bring my mood up as I was already physically drained.

I reached the inn by 7pm and immediately went for my winter gear. I then suggested that we stay an extra day in Ghorepani since it was very evident on our very tired faces that there was no way we could climb another 1k M the following day.
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Sunrise showed us exactly where we were. Annapurna South filled our window and it was spectacular.

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Our living conditions for the past few days have been sparse but I was confortable enough. Though it was plywood, sleeping bag then me. This was one of the few places where we had a thin cushion.

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Annapurna South

The rest day did us a lot of good and set back on the path the next day. This time it would take us along the mountain range which was a little easier than the day before but not that easy.

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Highest point on this journey. My father in the background.

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As you pass, put another stone for the next traveller.

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Hot in the morning, freezing in the afternoon until the night.

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We’re suppposed to trekking somewhere here.

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Solar water heaters up in the mountains.

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Up and down the mountains and edges.

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Going through the forest isn’t easy especially when the path you’ve been walking on suddenly ends in a cliff. Look on the far end of this photo and see the steps that we still have to climb. Essentially we have to climb down to the river, cross the river and climb back up over 1000 steps.

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Over the river

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Up and up again.

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Find a way around this boulder.

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More steps.

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I’d say the walls were really paper thin. I could hear everything that was going on on our floor. Seriously. But we were gifted by this view the next day.

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Breakfast was always simple for me in the morning. Cup of coffee, toast and peanut butter. No eggs for me. Allergies. Peanut butter I carried all the way from Manila.

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The guy brought up apples from the city and is selling them to our innkeeper in red. The other ladies in black jackets are from the Three Sisters Trekking company.

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Wild bull mastiffs just lounging under the sun.

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This is is a short trek to Ghandruk.

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Holy cows.

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We spent the past few days going up, now it’s all the way down.

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Entering the town of Ghandruk was a bit of a shock. It is the most developed town in all of Nepal. It’s home to the Ghurka warriors who are known for their fearless and vicious fighting skills. Just recently, a Ghurka warrior on vacation took on a gang of 10 train robbers in India with a knife and won.

The town has it’s own hydroelectric plant which means there are no power interruptions here.

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Amazing! There’s still light and we made it to our inn!

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Best inn on the trek by far.

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They purify their own water. Bring your own bottle, no bottled water. Up in the basket next to it are around 5-6 iPods and iPhones. This is the most amazing inn ever.

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The innkeeper is well educated and very modern. All the trash you bring up must go down with you if it’s not biodegradable.
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Later that afternoon a mule fell in an accident. Vultures were circling above waiting for it to die.

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Note the solar panels, it’s just for the hot water. That means no hot water at night.

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View of the fishtail mountain at dawn.

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Mailbox in Ghandruk.

This was our last day on the mountain and it was all downhill. Like 3km downhill.

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Mules taking a detour so they don’t have to pass by us.

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This is how chickens are brought up.

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The one cat we see up in the mountains.

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Road being paved. I wonder how long will it take to build?

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Almost feels like a painting.

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Mule train back to Nayapul

Mule train

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This river is significant.
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Looks familiar.

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OMG! It’s the bridge where we started all of this!

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The last mile.

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You need to check back in to make sure you went down the mountain.

No more space inside

Fellow Belgian trekker had to ride above their bus since there was no more space inside.
Korean restaurant in Pokhara

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Taking the plane back to Kathmandu.

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Luggage waiting for the plane

Luggage at the tarmac.

Luggage being loaded

Luggage loaded.

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Back in Pokhara and having a Korean meal.

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Hmm…

Back in Kathmandu.

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bike share?

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More sightseeing in Kathmandu

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Coca-Cola ad.

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Let sleeping dogs lie.

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Pots for drying.

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Weed

Yes. Weed grows like weed.
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Waiting for our Dragon Air flight to Hong Kong.

This trip was amazing and I wish I could do it again to Everest Base Camp. Really big thanks to everyone my dad, Patrick, Evelyn and Timmy, Henry and Emma, Dipendra and Nim. I promise I’ll come back. I’ll just need to train going uphill.

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