Beyond Base Camp: My Mt. Everest And Annapurna Circuit Adventure

Trying to sum up 34 days of trekking in the Himalaya is pretty tough, which is why it’s taken me almost two weeks to write this post. The actual hiking wasn’t too difficult—if you can run, you can walk up (and down!) a few thousand meters. It was dealing with everything else along the journey—cold sleeping accommodations, cold showers, cold travel companions—that often proved challenging. Still, I managed to smile more often than not and I will always remember this trip as one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Here are a few note-worthy memories:

Bonding at 17,598 feet

Picnicking at Everest Base Camp You wouldn’t believe how great a peanut butter sandwich tastes when eaten after tip toeing through a rockslide zone and crossing a glacier. Dining with my FFEs (Friends For Everest’s) made the moment even more filling.

Om mani padme hum

 

Meeting a Buddhist monk Lama Tashi is 96 years old and lives at an altitude of about 4000 meters (13,120 feet) in a monastery carved into the side of a mountain. (Ahem, hill. In Nepal, it’s not a mountain if it’s less than 6000 meters.) He charged me Rs 100 to pray for my trek, and then I gave him another Rs 500 to bless the rest of my life. Best $7.68 I’ve ever spent!

I’ve got my hands full

Counting to five Experts say chatting with locals is the fastest way to pick up a foreign language. So when a couple of little girls decided they needed my help to walk home from school, I took advantage of the opportunity and got them to teach me a few words. I will always think of their smiles when I recite: Ek, Dui, Tin, Cahr, Panc.

Flushed with fever

Catching pneumonia Getting sick overseas might seem like a bad thing, but it really wasn’t that terrible. I learned that even when I have a fever, can’t stop coughing, and might have fractured a rib (the pain was insane!), I could still hike to the next guesthouse… and the next one… and the one three days later. I feel nearly invincible! (Nearly. My body was so wrecked that I slept for four days straight when I finally got home.)

Biking to Bhaktapur File this under: “What was I thinking?” Even though I had been diagnosed with a lung infection and was on medication that warned against operating heavy machinery, I still felt the need to spend my last day in Nepal doing something exciting. After pedaling through rush hour traffic (terrifying!), avoiding potholes the size of elephants on back roads (impossible!), and huffing and puffing my way up some killer hills (spin class doesn’t prepare you for this!), I made it to the medieval town of Bhaktapur. There, I took in views of ancient temples and enjoyed a calm cup of tea. The thought of traveling the treacherous 22 kilometers back to Kathmandu was almost too much, but I channeled my inner NYC bike messenger and completed the round trip.

Now that I’m home, I’m looking forward to lacing up my running shoes and getting back to my normal routine. Stay tuned for more adventures!

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Looking Hot (And Feeling Cold) On The Annapurna Circuit

Squinting in the sun above Manang.

I’m a week into my trek on the Annapurna Circuit and my legs and spirit are still holding up. I was a bit worried that after climbing to Everest Base Camp I’d be sick of gorgeous mountain views and not being able to wash my hair (so sexy!). But this region of Nepal has been keeping me entertained and I’m getting used to the basic accommodations. (Though I must admit, I’ve been having dreams about sudsing up with Head & Shoulders shampoo.)

Today I’m in Manang, a village in the Manang district that measures in at 3600 meters. Low enough to breathe comfortably, but high enough to get winded walking up a steep hill. About 500 families in this village consider the peaks of Annapurna II, Annapurna III, Gangapurna, and Chulu East to be their neighbors.

Days are warm(ish) here–I’m hiking in pants, a t-shirt, and a light sweatshirt, but the temperature drops dramatically at night. I sleep in thermal long underwear and keep the case for my contact lenses snuggled in my down sleeping bag with me. (Waking up to frozen contacts is not fun.) Still, I’m thankful for this experience.

Speaking of being thankful… I’ll be missing out on my favorite holiday this week. Have a slice of pumpkin pie for me!

Countdown to the Thorung La Pass (5416 meters): 4 days!

Photo Update: I still haven’t been able to upload pictures, and it looks like I won’t be able to until I’m back in Kathmandu (fingers crossed) or NYC. I promise, they’re worth the wait!

Everest Base Camp, Baby!

Giving out hugs at Everest Base Camp.

Standing at the bottom of the world’s highest peak, 5364 meters above sea level, makes you feel pretty small. But it also makes you realize how significant you are in this world.

Last Sunday I made it to Everest Base Camp in one piece with a big smile, and not even a blister to complain about! (Photo to come ASAP.) It’s taken me a while to process the experience and internet connections in Nepal’s Khumbu region are spotty and expensive—which explains why this post is a week late.

Climbing up hills that on any other part of the globe would be considered mountains was physically tough (duh), but it was mentally challenging too—something I really wasn’t expecting. I found myself relying on running mantras to get me through hours of grueling ascents. I repeated the simple-yet-effective, “I feel good,” when I thought I couldn’t go any further.  (Thanks, Tim Catalano!) And at one point the words “I run marathons. I don’t quit!” floated through my head. That’s when I remembered how truly loved I am.

In all three of the 26.2’s I’ve completed, I’ve had the endless support of my family and friends. I couldn’t have crossed those finish lines without them. So up there, just a few meters away from the base of a mountain half a world away from the people who mean the most to me, I tapped into those connections and felt a sense of warmth and love. It was exactly what I needed to pull me out of the oxygen-deprived stupor and convince me to keep moving my feet.

Today, I’m heading to the Annapurna Circuit where I will encounter 18 more days of hiking at elevations up to 5400 meters. And you can bet I’ll be soaking in all of the good vibes you send my way. Love and Namaste to all!

My Hamstrings Love The Himalayas

I’m spending a day in Namche Bazaar at 3440 meters to acclimatise to the altitude–and I need it. It’s hard to take a full breath here, but in a matter of hours it will be easier. It’s amazing how adaptable the human body is. Soon I’ll be able to process oxygen more efficiently, allowing me to climb even higher.

I can’t wait to see how this affects my running when I’m back in NYC. Like pro distance runners who sleep in hyperbaric chambers, I’ll be able to go faster for longer. And thanks to all these intense ascents I’m getting constant strength training–my hamstrings, quads, and glutes are firing like mad.

Running here is hilarious. My Nepali guide Subarna didn’t want us over exerting ourselves today, but I raced the assistant guide Pimba 100 meters along the Namche airstrip (7-seater planes can land here) anyway. I beat him in my hiking boots and all! I was laughing so hard though because it’s difficult to get any speed and I had to concentrate to keep my breathing steady. My travel mates thought we were nuts, but cheered us on regardless.

I’m lucky to have such a fantastic group of trekking companions. We’re a motley crew of Australians, Irish, Brits, Japanese, and Americans with lots of stories and laughs to share. They make the 6+ hour hikes feel like a walk in the park. We’re polite, happy, and get along now, but there is the potential for us to go “Real World” on each other as the pressures of the climb increase.

Five more days (and 1924 meters up) to Everest Base Camp!

 

Pre-Flight Entertainment: Run While You Can Documentary

T-1.5 hours until I leave for the airport. I’m packed. I’m full of sushi (probably won’t see that for the next 6 weeks!). And I’m killing time watching this film trailer. Hello, motivation!

I’ll be wearing my trail running shoes on the plane tonight, which means they’ll be on my feet when I arrive in Nepal on Friday morning. (Yep, it takes a day and a half to get there.)… After watching Sam Fox try to break the speed record for running the Pacific Crest Trail to raise awareness and money for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (in honor of his mother who suffers from the disease), I’m temtped to run portions of the trail on my Himalayan trek. I’ll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, you can go out and do great things on your run today! “You don’t have to be given an opportunity, you just have to believe you’re capable of something, and then go after it and give it a try,” says Fox. Find out more about his journey at runwhileyoucanfilm.com.

What inspires you to run? 

The Adventure Begins—Tomorrow!

This seemingly-ordinary bottle has a filter inside that removes viruses, bacteria, and cysts from water.

I’ve been hunting and gathering all the necessary items to pack for my Himalayan Adventure for the past few weeks. And I’ve learned a very valuable piece of information. After reading reviews, talking to pros, and finally purchasing a technical piece of equipment—say, a water purification system—stop researching. I made the mistake of continuing to peruse websites only to decide the one I bought is sub-par. (I’m sure it would have been fine. But I’ve convinced myself otherwise.) So earlier today I scrambled to get to an outdoor store to buy a different one. This all-in-one, squeeze-it-till-your-hands-cramp Katadyn MyBottle Purifier will be joining me as I trek to Mt. Everest and the Annapurna Circuit. It’s compact, comes in a pretty blue hue, and makes safe drinking water. Done.

Waiting to be packed—my living room needs a Hazard sign!

Now the feat of fitting everything into one large backpack is upon me. There’s a 22-pound weight limit on my luggage (set by Intrepid Travel, not me), which has forced me to get creative with my wardrobe. I’m bringing two pairs of neutral pants and six brightly colored tops that can be mixed, matched, and layered. Believe it or not, I can make 30 outfits with those pieces. (My time spent working at a fashion magazine has paid off!)

I’m a little less organized in the toiletries department. All those tiny travel size bottles add up! But knowing I’ve got my hydration and clothing needs covered gives me a little bit of breathing room. No sense is sweating the small stuff, right?

Do you second guess what you’ve packed, too? Have you ever relied on a weight limit to keep your baggage to a minimum? 

Big News: I Canceled My Entry In The New York City Marathon

Bigger news: I applied for a visa to Nepal. Even bigger news: I’m going to Mt. Everest.

I’m not going all the way to the top—my nose is too cute to risk losing to frostbite, but I will be embarking on a 37-day trek to Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit in one month (from yesterday). I have a lot to do between now and then: Organize my gear, break in some hiking boots (I’ve already gotten some funny looks while walking the dog in them), buy a headlamp, figure out if I need a new waterproof jacket, read a guide book or two… I’m excited! And I’m looking forward to sharing my adventure here with you, blogging as often as I can from the trails.

In the meantime, Grete’s Great Gallop half marathon is this weekend. Even though I’m no longer using this race as a marathon tune-up, I’m planning to run strong. I fell off the workout wagon last week because of a chest cold, but I’m feeling better now and I think I can still aim to do well—and hopefully PR—this Saturday.

Are you running a fall marathon? Have you ever been to the Himalaya?

(Fun fact: There is no such thing as Himalayas. The correct term is Himalaya, which means “the abode of snow.”)