Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Typical Day on the Trek

This was our first trekking/adventure trip and were grateful that we had some seasoned veterans on the trail; Judith, Glenn, and Erin had done some combination of Everest Base Camp, Kilimanjaro, Patagonia, Macchu Picchu. While we knew the trip included portered trekking and camping, we didn’t really exactly know what that meant. Judith quite aptly described what we were about to experience as “Princess Camping”. We quickly learned exactly what that meant. Note, the timeline below is the camper’s perspective on a typical day; something tells me that if this was written by of the 22 people supporting us, it would be a vastly different story. No two days were entirely alike, but this gives a general sense of a day in the life of a trekker; as Sanjeev told as he’d describe the day’s path, below “all times approximate”:

6:00am – Wake-up Call
On the typical day, we were awoken at 6:00am (though there were two days that required a 4:00am wake-up call, which sounds early when you’re not waking up to see the sun rise over the Himalayas). The wake-up consisted of Rinzi, the lead kitchen steward making two passes by each of our tents; the first to offer tea or coffee and second to place a bowl of warm washing water in the tent vestibule. I never truly got the hang of the washing water (it’s more difficult than you’d think to try and use the water while both kneeling out of the tent and trying to keep the inside of the tent relatively dry). Some days, I’d just soak my hands to warm up and splash a little bit on my face. After some tea and a brief wash, I’d typically take care of some other biological needs and return to the tent to pack my duffel bag. As the trip progressed and I wore more and more of what I had brought, I divided clothes into three basic groups: so dirty that not even a person that hasn’t showered in days will wear it again, dirty but still wearable, and basically clean. I’d pack everything I didn’t need, ensuring I had the right layers to work through the day as it warmed up, and always double checked to make sure the raingear was at the bottom on my daypack.

6:30am – Begin Coffee Consumption in Earnest
Breakfast didn’t start until everyone had emerged from their tents and I tended to be on the early side (the tent, while a comfortable place to sleep, wasn’t necessarily a place I needed to hang to pass the time). Thankfully, Rinzi would have tea and coffee available and I’d start happily getting my caffeine fix. This portion of the day was typically the best for mountain views. Most of the camps where we stayed were strategically selected for the views and the Himalayas tend to only emerge from the weather they create during the first part of the day.

7:00am – Breakfast
When everyone (the six guests and the lead guide, Sanjeev) had finished packing and had made their way to the dining tent, Rinzi would bring the first breakfast course, which was typically a bowl or two of porridge with sugar and warm milk. I quickly learned that the porridge course was key to my strength for the remainder of the day. After porridge, we’d have the main course which was typically some sort of omelet (basically an egg with cheese or veggies in it) and toast though we quickly learned that we had some input over the menu. One morning Judith remarked how she had had a dream about pancakes (yes, I find that as odd as you). Obviously Sanjeev was listening because the next morning pancakes were on the menu. As we were finishing breakfast, Rinzi would fill each of the water bottles we needed filled for the morning’s hike. While we were eating breakfast, the rest of the staff would be diligently tearing down camp and we’d often emerge from the dining tent to find very little else still standing

8:00am – Sanjeev’s Morning Briefing
After breakfast Sanjeev would gather the group around the map and give us an idea of what we had in store for the day; where we’d be stopping for tea and lunch, what to expect from an up/down perspective (this is where he famously stated and we continuously repeated throughout the trip that the day’s hike would be, “a little bit up, a little bit down, but mostly climbing.”) By the fourth day, Sanjeev handed the briefing over to me, would let me go for about 45 seconds, and basically cut me off after I had butchered the names of too many villages or mountains.

8:10am – Trekking, Part I
There were typically three guides with us at any time; they rotated who lead, tried to keep someone basically in the middle, and Sanjeev would always bring up the rear. During some portions of the trip we’d stay very close as a group and others we’d spread out a little; it really just depended on how people were feeling, how many pictures people wanted to take, and how much rest they might need. In general, our group was about the same ability and any one of the six of us would be just as likely to be in the front as the back at any given time. For me personally, this helped add to the enjoyment of the trip; while the “point” of the trip was the morning we’d spend in the Annapurna Sanctuary on Day 7, the journey seemed equally important. During the early stages of our Part I hike, we’d have a great deal of clothing on but usually by our first tea break, everyone would have stripped enough layers to have their “final” clothing for the day; for me, this was typically a short-sleeved shirt and convertible pants converted to shorts.

9:30am – Tea/Coffee Break
After 90 minutes or so of hiking, we’d invariably show up in a little village and make our way to one of the tea houses where Sanjeev had previously forged a relationship. We’d get a table and place an order for the beverage. If the day’s hike was mostly “up”, I’d get a Sprite; if the day’s hike was mostly “down”, I’d get a beer.

10:15am – Trekking, Part II
I was surprised at how little Lindsay and I actually hiked together as a portion of our total hiking time; however, with 6+ hours of hiking over the course of ten straight days, there was plenty of time to go around. For the most part, people would fluidly move throughout the group and you’d strike up a conversation with whomever was close (though Lindsay tended to strike up the most conversations). As soon as you got tired of someone or they got tired of you, you (or they) would just find someone else to talk to for a bit.

11:50am – Rinzi Magically Appears
On days where we were ahead of schedule, Rinzi would approach us from the opposite direction with a kettle of juice (note, the term “juice” was used loosely here as it was really warm kool-aid; don’t get me wrong, the sugar was appreciated at this point in the day, and so was the warmth as it indicated the water had been boiled and was safe for consumption) and a packet of cookies. The intent of this stop was to buy the rest of the kitchen staff a little more time to finalize lunch. Note, they had to tear down the kitchen at camp, move all of that stuff to camp, and prepare lunch in the time that we took to get from camp to lunch (which also helps explain the leisurely pace and long tea break; again, neither of those was necessarily a bad thing, especially on days that were “mostly down”). We’d have a mug or two of juice and then walk the final ten minutes to our lunch spot.

12:15pm – Lunch
Most days lunch was at another tea house where the group would commandeer both a large table and a kitchen. Each day we’d have a hot lunch and have at least four or five different items to select from; Deepak, the cook, could do wonders with canned meat, there was always fresh salad (i.e., cole slaw), and some sort of starch. Throughout the entire meal, Rinzi and another of the kitchen boys would constantly refill our plates with whatever we seemed to need. We were literally burning thousands of calories a day and there wasn’t nearly as much weight loss as expected. I blame Rinzi. There, I said it.

1:45pm – Trekking, Part III
By this point in the day, the weather would invariably start to threaten. We’d make sure our raingear was accessible, or in the case of Gaby, she’d make sure she had it on. The clouds would role in and the scenery would continue to change. More often than not, we were either caught in some sort of precipitation or picking up the pace to try and stay ahead of it. Depending on how much it threatened, the incentive to arrive at camp dry far outweighed the benefit of enjoying the journey at times.

3:55pm – Getting Close to Camp
Each day a few minutes before we’d arrive at camp, Sanjeev would need to rush ahead of the group to arrive first and make sure camp was ready. He could be heard making his way up through the group; at this point, Lindsay would exclaim, “YEAAAAAAHHHHHH!” and Sanjeev would respond back, “See you at camp!” (and Lindsay would again repeat her “YEAAAAAAAHHHHHH!”).

4:00pm – Arrival at Camp
Camp was always located in a village and typically was a camp site that someone from the group would have to run ahead at the beginning of the day to procure. Camp would be fully set up upon our arrival. It consisted of:
  • 5 three-man Mountain Hardwear tents (one for each “group” in the trek, Erin and Gaby were “singles” and had their own tent, plus one for Sanjeev)
  • 1 large dining tent
  • 2 toilet tents (toilet tents were erected around a hole dug in the ground; they were kind enough to place a toilet seat over a stool in one of the tents to make it a pseudo-European style experience)
  • 1 traditional camping tent for much of the staff
  • 1 kitchen (this was typically a permanent structure at the campsite where the meals, which is common with kitchens, were prepared; it also doubled as excess sleeping space for some of the staff and was frequently utilized by the guests to dry wet gear by the fire)
  • 2 washing stations
The tents were comfortable for two people and would only work for three people if they were fairly friendly. Each afternoon we’d find our duffel bags waiting for us in the tent. The only other item we would find left in the tent was a sleeping pad that was actually much more comfortable than expected. There was an exterior vestibule where we could keep our trekking poles, boots, and anything else that might muck up the tent. The first couple days were a little difficult in the tent at this time because Lindsay and I had no idea what we were doing and a small, enclosed space can get even smaller when two adults are bustling. This time in the tent consisted of stripping off wet clothes, finding a place to hang them, and putting on some dry layers. Since the tent typically was filled with hanging stinky clothes, I felt no real need to spend much time in it upon arrival at camp.

4:30pm – Washing Water
Somewhere between thirty to sixty minutes upon arrival at camp, Rinzi would make a round with bowls of washing water. Again, I really sucked at using the water and not making a mess, so I typically used it to soak my hands (there were a number of days where we either got caught in rain or where it was cold, so it felt good to just hold your hands in the warm water) and splash some water on my face.

5:00pm – Tea and Cards
The members of the group would slowly emerge from tents and make their way to the dining tent where Rinzi was patiently waiting to make sure we’d remain full of the warm beverage of our choice. The beverage of choice at this juncture of the day was typically either tea orr hot chocolate. They’d also have some sort of snack, typically little cookies or, on some days, fresh popcorn. The card game of choice became Canasta, which I had always equated with retired women playing in Florida. Apparently, retired women in Florida know how to have fun. Lindsay and I will be introducing it as a competitor of Euchre at the next Luth family gathering with its primary advantage being that it can be played by more than four people. It will be interesting though to check out the actual rules; Glenn seemed to be making up rules as went along but never made a rule that was distinctly to his advantage and all rules seemed to make sense. The game would go until Rinzi gently broke it up by starting to set the dinner table.

6:30pm – Dinner
The first course was always soup and the flavor varied (a little bit) between chicken, mushroom, and vegetable. The reality was, as Glenn correctly pointed out by the third or fourth night, “it’s all just ginger soup with flavoring.” Regardless, it was good soup. The remainder of dinner comprised of four or five selections in plentiful quantities. Selections might include chop suey, nak cheese (a nak is a female yak) pizza, momo’s (delicious Nepalese pot stickers), pasta, macaroni and cheese (requested by Lindsay, though she still prefers Kraft), vegetables, and rice. To put it simply, we ate a lot and we ate very well.
At some point either during or just before the meal, Sanjeev would brief us on the next day’s hike to set expectations for what was in front of us. As usual, he told us enough to know what the next day would look like but not so much that we had to remember anything about where we were headed in future days.

8:00pm – Bedtime
Following dinner, there were nights when we played cards for a little while but most nights we were exhausted and hit the tents. Seems a little strange to go to bed so early and some nights we got crazy and stayed up close to 9:00pm, but the reality was that we were always tired. We’d retire to the tents and Lindsay would read or journal with the help of her headlamp; I’d typically just go to sleep.

10:00pm – Lindsay Bathroom Break #1

1:00am – Lindsay Bathroom Break #2

4:00am – Lindsay Bathroom Break #3

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