Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Re-Pack Your Backpack: Things You DON'T Need

After all that packing, none of us carried anything more than water, a jacket, an extra t-shirt, gloves, a hat, and maybe some snacks in our own packs. 

Our guide and porters highly encouraged us to empty our packs into their North Face duffle bag for the porters to carry. It was for the ease, safety, comfort, and enjoyment of our trek to Everest Base Camp. Plus, we had enough trouble with breathing, so 30 lbs on our backs would have made it worse. 

Since hindsight is 20/20, looking back at what I packed into my backpack made me realize how much of it was unnecessary. Here are my notes: 

- 3 pairs of underwear (94% nylon / 6% lyrca)
- 3 pairs of merino wool socks
- cleaning /baby wipes
- hand sanitizer
- deodorant
I am putting these things all together because you need to clean your private areas and feet often and change your underwear more often than not. You don't want to get caught in the wild with jock itch or smell too foul for your companions. 

- 4 dry-fit / moisture wicking short-sleeved shirts
- 4 dry-fit / moisture wicking long-sleeved shirts
Since it's important to layer up, having both short and long sleeved shirts is helpful. If I could do it over again, I'd change every 3-4 days. Luckily for those on the trip with me, I only changed my shirts ONCE! Hahaha. So from my perspective, I was doubly overpacked. 

- 1 fleece 
- 1 North Face outer shell jacket
- 1 winter hat
- 2 pairs of North Face convertible (to shorts via zip-off legs) pants
- 1 pair of leggings/tights
Without a doubt this is all necessary because it gets really cold above the tree-line. 

- 1 REI Travel Sack (sleeping bag) rated to 55 degrees; 
- sleeping bag liner that adds 15 degrees of warmth
- 1 pair of fleece pants & 1 (or more) pair(s) of athletic socks
Great for sleeping in since it's nice and warm. 

- 1 light pair of sneakers - excellent for walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night and/or for just hanging in the common room after a long day's trek. 

- 1 pair of basketball shorts - never warm enough to wear shorts, except in Kathmandu
- 1 running/baseball cap (with visor)
- 1 pair of sunglasses (in hard case)
- 1 small towel
- 1 pack rain cover -  extremely helpful as the weather is really unpredictable. It rained the first 2 days of our trek, so we were glad to keep our things dry
- 1 extra pair of boot laces - seems like our original boot laces were very durable, though if you bring extra you can always find a use for it in emergency situations
- contact lenses (daily disposables)
- chapstick - with the wind blowing and your heavy breathing, keeping your lips moisturized and protected from the sun is important. 
- anti-chafe stick
- toothbrush
- travel toothpaste
- laundry soap -  never did laundry
- extra ziplock bags and small plastic bags (for random use) - very handy for separating dirty clothes, random items, or even for use as a cover for your camera in the rain

- Potable Aqua - chlorine dioxide tablets - if I had known about the chlorine solution that you can purchase in any Nepalese pharmacy for 20Rs, I would never have bought all of these. 3 small drops and 30 minutes of curing time will make 1 liter of water potable. 

- 1 first aid kit with various OTC medications, bandages, mylar blankets, and moleskin (important for blisters) - with the variety of ailments and discomforts some of us experienced along the way, this kit become increasingly important
- 1 compass/thermometer - not really necessary, but nice to know the temperature as you climb higher
- matches & fire starter kit - absolutely no use
- 1 headlamp / flashlight - useful on the mountain and in Kathmandu at night, where there are no street lights
- 1 Swiss Army knife - wish I never brought it since TSA confiscated it even though it was packed in my check-in
- electric / current converter
- 1 padlock - the teahouse locks seemed to be ample, and it's not like anyone wants to steal any of your stuff all have the same things. 
- sunblock - extremely important as you are basically walking towards the sun everyday; sunburn happens almost twice as fast in altitude than at sea-level
- insect repellent - I'm pretty sure there were no mosquitoes on the mountain, but maybe in Kathmandu

In terms of food, I feel like we were suitably fed along the way at each of the teahouses. I'd cut back on the snacks and bring the protein and electrolyte supplements. We ended up giving some of the snacks away to the guides and porters. 
- 9 small packs of freeze dried fruit
- 7 snack sized Welchs fruit snacks
- 14 CLIF bars
- 10 sticks of beef jerky
- 5 snack sized almonds/peanuts/cashews
- powdered Gatorade

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Kathmandu: A 3rd World City, Except For Cell Phones, Internet, and Wi-Fi

As we left Tribhuvan International Airport, the first thing I sensed was that the airport was going to be the most modern thing to visit / experience in Kathmandu. And for the most part, I was right.

Transportation & Infrastructure

Taxis are mix of new and old, manual transmission, compact cars. Unfortunately for us, the first taxi we found was likely twice my age, half my height, lacked air conditioning, and could barely hold my weight, let alone 4 of us with our 30 pound packs. I think we're lucky we didn't get a flat tire. It was as if they were made of some kind of super fortified rubber. And the road didn't help at all.

The roads leading to our hostel in the Thamel district of Kathmandu were narrow, uneven, bumpy, incomplete, dusty, and not completely paved. And it wasn't just the road itself you had to endure and navigate. It was a challenge of patience to deal with the traffic jam of pedestrians, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, and other impatient drivers. Sounds like Manhattan during rush hour...but not quite. The difference being, Kathmandu lacks simple traffic rules. Anything goes in Kathmandu. Want to make a U-Turn in the middle of a busy street? Go for it. Want to cross the street in traffic? Forget Frogger, just walk in a straight line; traffic will stop for you.

There was only one quasi-good thing we learned about the roads. One of our drivers mentioned to us that the government was in the process of widening the streets. But in order to do so, the land on which residences and businesses already stood had to be "reclaimed" by the government - a display eminent domain. Basically, people were losing their homes and jobs in the process.


It's an old city. Many residences are attached. There are usually no more than 5 floors (there are no elevators). It seemed as if the building materials were limited, so structures were a mix of concrete, brick, mud, or wood. I found that door frames were significantly shorter, and steps were noticeably more shallow.

Electricity was conserved, and in some cases limited. There were frequent blackouts, especially at the bars and restaurants, which is why candles often decorated the tables. It was dual purposes - set the ambiance and aid in visibility when the power went out. And the nights were pitch black, save a passing car's headlights or a walk through the bar/restaurant areas. We were sure to carry a flashlight in the evenings.

Daily Life

It is likely for this reason (limited / unreliable electricity) that the days started at dawn for most people - to make use of every ounce of daylight. 

Just like these boys...wake up early, take a bath in the street, and get a haircut under a tree. 

Or go for a morning rickshaw ride, while the sun's rays are not beaming too strongly yet. 

And go to the butcher shops for some "fresh," street-side, non-refrigerated pork (or other meats and poultry) and various vegetables. 

And they make sure to do the laundry (by hand) early enough in the morning in order to get a full day's sun to dry all their clothes. 

Or... the not-so-inclined-to-do-anything usually just hang out...


The toughest thing to accept and see is a polluted city, because you know that so many problems stem from a lack of environmental hygiene. Garbage is everywhere, in the streets, in the river, in front of peoples' homes and businesses. Some folks still burn their garbage in front of their property. It also seems like cars aren't equipped to regulate the toxins that they emit into the air. And the result is poor air quality, not just because of the dust, but because of the garbage and auto emissions. There's potential for respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, water contamination, etc. And there are serious risks for the environment, human health, and even animal health (whom many depend on for sustenance). 

At the end of the day, the city is years behind any modernized, Western city. But the people are still friendly, helpful, hard-working, and happy. No matter what their obstacles seem to be, I didn't encounter any one person who was unwilling to help (even though food service was pretty slow everywhere we went, consistently - but that's besides the point). Nepalese people go about their routines just like anyone else, except they have less to worry about in comparison to people of a first-world country. Don't forget... religion is twice as important to them. 

I'm sure they all laugh about our problems as they read about us on their cell phones that are connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi.