Transcript of Nepal Trek Podcast Interview
With Kit Parks & Janet Hanpeter
Kit Parks: I think I'm going to Kathmandu, that's really, really where I'm going to. Don't worry, I'm not going to be ruining Bob Seger's song anymore but I'm just so excited about today because I know I promised we would not do anything hard like climbing Mt. Everest and we're not. However, we're not going to actually go to Base Camp, we're going even lower than that in Nepal on the same trail, on the same trek Mt. Everest climbers go on.
Kit Parks: Today I'll be interviewing Janet Hanpeter, who you first met in episode number six about her adventures on the El Camino. So I am super excited about this interview today on this episode number 17 of The Active Travel Adventures Podcast. I'm your host Kit Parks and we are going to Nepal. Cannot wait.
Kit Parks: As it turns out I will actually be hiking in the Himalayas myself in just a few weeks and I'm actually prepping for my visit to Bhutan, where I'll be visiting a festival, their biggest festival and also doing an amazing hike. So I'll be sure to cover that, it'll probably be late spring, early summer by the time I get that episode out.
Kit Parks: But anyway, I wanted to ask you, do you think it would be helpful for me to prepare a video of what I do to prepare for a trip like that? What I pack? All that kind of stuff, it's a lot of work to do so I want to do it if you want it but I don't want to go through that if nobody wants to look at it. So if you are interested in seeing how I do prepare for an adventure like that, please send me an email or reach out to me on Facebook or something and let me know what you think. I'd appreciate that.
Kit Parks: One other thing that came up, I may be blessed with very good genes as far as physical and longevity genes but I was not blessed with good teeth genes and the last year I've had three issues with tooth pain even though I haven't had a cavity in 30 years, turns out I need a crown again and they've gotten awfully expensive since the last time I bought one.
Kit Parks: So I investigated a little bit about medical tourism and it turns out that Hungary or Budapest is the capital of dental care in Europe, so I'm seriously thinking about going to Budapest and having all these back teeth I have that have fillings from my youth, capped so that I don't have this continual problem because it looks like this is going to be my future anyway and it's about a third of the price and it will pay for the trip. The savings will pay for the trip.
Kit Parks: Hungary has a beautiful long distance trail called the Blue Trail, that I think while I'm there I would do maybe 10 to 14 days of a pretty section of that trail as long as I'm there. It'll give me a chance to look at the landscape and meet the people of Hungary, a country I've never been to. I would say I'm leaning pretty heavily on doing this. So if any of you all have ever done any kind of medical tourism and have some stories to share, I'd love to hear them. Please send me an email at email@example.com or if you have an opinion on what I'm doing or considering doing, I'd like to hear that as well.
Kit Parks: So let's get back to the Himalaya mountains but on the other side over in Nepal where we're going to be going into the Everest region. First you fly into Kathmandu, which I'm sure we've all heard about both from the Bob Seger song that I mangled at the beginning of this show, as well as just the aura mystery and mystique about Kathmandu.
Kit Parks: So you spend a couple of days there and then you fly into the airport, Lukla, which Janet will tell us about in the interview, which is just a crazy airport that is small. They have a very short runway because of the mountains, so you have to have super skilled pilots bringing in these small planes and it’s so heavily trafficked now that it's just this symphony of planes, in and out, in and out. The air traffic controller there must have nerves of steel, and I'm sure needs a stiff drink at the end of his or her shift.
Kit Parks: I'll put on a YouTube video that is just, its non-stop planes, in, and out and just shuffling this little teeny tiny area that they have with which to work.
Kit Parks: So as you fly into Lukla and then you hike up into the Sagarmatha National Park and in this park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is where you'll find Mt. Everest and all sorts of other beautiful mountains. And, like I said, we are going to be down even lower than Base Camp. Base Camp is at about 18,000 feet which is roughly 5,400 meters versus the highest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest, which is at about 29,000 feet or about 8,800 meters. So we're going to be down way, way, lower than that at around 12,500 feet. Really not even quite that high, which is not even 3,800 meters.
Kit Parks: And the cool thing is there's only one trail. So you're on the trail with everybody. You're on the trail with the people that are actually going to climb Mt. Everest. With all the people that are going to Base Camp. With the people like ourselves just doing the regular trek among the villages, en route toward the Base Camp in Everest. It's also the community villages, so you're going through all these little villages where the people of Nepal are living and working and they're transporting everything. Everything's got to go on this trail. So you've got this cacophony of people and yaks and the mountains and the Tibetan culture of the Sherpa people, all mixed on this one little stretch of land going from Lukla up to Mt. Everest. Super cool.
Kit Parks: In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer, Tenzing Norgay became the first ones to be certified to reach the top (of Mt. Everest). There is some mystery though. In 1924, George Mallory and Andreas Irvine may have beat them to the punch. They were last seen really, really high up but then the clouds covered their further ascent and then they disappeared and nobody knew what happened to them. Well, they knew they died but they didn't know if they'd made it, they never knew whether they made it to the top. And then in 1999 at an altitude of 26,755, they found Mr. Mallory's body but they don't know whether they made it to the top and perished on the way down or not so that remains the mystery.
Kit Parks: So, therefore, Hillary is the confirmed, first ascent. He became so enamored with the Sherpa people of the area, that he devoted much of the rest of his life to building schools and hospitals in Nepal. And while you're there you may want to stop in and visit some of the schools. You'll also hear about the warmth that Janet has for the Sherpa people too. They're just so loving and hospitable and friendly and I just cannot wait to go. I'm just so excited because I thought this trip was going to be out of my reach and now I find out through Janet, hey, I can do this. And if I can do this, of course you can do it.
Kit Parks: But enough of me yapping, let’s get Janet Hanpeter on and let her teach us all about trekking in the Everest region, but at the lower altitudes. Here's my conversation with Janet.
Kit Parks: Janet, you're one of the most well-traveled people I know. About roughly how many countries have you been to so far?
Janet Hanpeter: Well, over my lifetime, I'm at 80.
Kit Parks: Wow.
Janet Hanpeter: Yeah! I know it's like wow, I can't quite believe it myself.
Kit Parks: I mean that's incredible. Now I believe you would rank your Nepal trip as one of your favorite trips ever. How is that list of 80 ...
Janet Hanpeter: Yes.
Kit Parks: ... about where would that Nepal trip fit for you?
Janet Hanpeter: It's hard, people always ask what's your favorite trip and honestly, so many of the ones I've been taking the last maybe 17 years, where I've gotten more adventurous with my travel and more exotic travel. Many of them are really trips of a lifetime but, without question, the Nepal trek is incredibly special. I would certainly, I think I could even rank it my favorite, but I would definitely say it's in my top five. It really is an amazing experience, I will never forget.
Kit Parks: That also coincides, I've not been to Nepal myself but Rosemary Burris who was interviewed in episode number five about her Sweden hike in the Kungsleden Trail, also a well-traveled hiker, said that Nepal was in her top five as well. And she's actually going to repeat that trip again this year. So, if we all have unlimited time and money, what is it about Nepal that makes even people that are seasoned travelers go back and repeat an adventure that they've done before when there are so many places, you're never going to see everything in the whole world. What is it about Nepal?
Janet Hanpeter: I think it's when, the trek that I took up into the Everest region, or the Khumbu region I think you've got that mixture of incredible, incredible beautiful mountain scenery. And secondly, you've got the Nepalese people - and in that region you're talking about the Sherpa people, of the ethnic Sherpa and they are incredibly special and in their beautiful villages and that whole lifestyle, it's one of the most exotic and one of the most heartfelt experiences. So it's really that mixture of the culture of the Sherpa people and the scenery you're surrounded by. Just the fact that you're trekking through this amazing territory that you're essentially on the Everest highway, which is the only road that leads up into the region, you're trekking along with the locals that are moving up their supplies to their main towns. So it's a mixture of all of those.
Kit Parks: When you say Sherpa, I always thought of that as basically the porters that help bring the stuff up, but you're saying it as almost as a word for the townspeople as well?
Janet Hanpeter: Yes, a large misconception. I had that, as well. The Sherpa people are actually an ethnic group called Sherpas. They're mountain people and they, I looked it up, they came from the Tibetan region about four centuries ago and have moved into different regions since. So very much the Everest region is filled with, it's pretty much all the Sherpa people and over the years, over the centuries, they are mountain people and they've acclimated so well. So, when the trekkers and mountain climbers came into the region to hike and to actually mountain climb Mt. Everest, they used the local Sherpa people as their guides and their porters and the ones who really knew what they were doing.
Janet Hanpeter: So, over those years it became synonymous that the Sherpas are essentially your porters. So, it really is, sherpa could be a non-capital “s” but when you're really talking, capital “S” Sherpa, it is actually the Sherpa people and they're ethnically Tibetan, they bring the Tibetan Buddhist religion so they're very, very devout Buddhists. So you have that whole Buddhist culture and it looks like when I had been to Tibet in the past, which I loved and being back in the Everest region in the Sherpa Buddhist's world, I felt like I was back in Tibet. So that makes it incredibly special, you've got the monasteries, prayer wheels, prayer stones all along. Prayer flags, that's another element that makes it very, very special.
Kit Parks: Very cool. Can you give us a brief overview of your trip?
Janet Hanpeter: Yes, the core trip was essentially what I would call a “standard” Nepal trek. It was two weeks and that was essentially 14 days and four of the days were spent in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, which is where you fly in and out of. The trip had two days at the beginning in Kathmandu, two days at the end, and then the middle section of nine days was the actual Nepal trek, where we were trekking up into the Everest region.
Kit Parks: Tell us about the trail itself.
Janet Hanpeter: What I'll first say is the exciting piece to get up there, you need to fly out of Kathmandu, which is in the Kathmandu Valley. It's about a 35- minute flight from Kathmandu up to the town of Lukla and that's L-U-K-L-A and that is the gateway to the whole Everest region and that's really the last place where regular, there's even smaller airplanes, but regular small airplanes can fly into Lukla, and that's where all the trekkers begin. Whether you're going up to Mt. Everest Base Camp, or you're actually doing a mountain climb of Everest or if you're just doing basic trekking, everyone starts in Lukla. And that's where you then follow the one trail that goes up and up to the main town of Namche Bazaar and that is what they call the Everest Highway.
Kit Parks: So is the Everest Highway a trail? Tell us about that.
Janet Hanpeter: Yes, it is an absolute trail. It's a regular trekking trail that goes through, you start kind of at lowland. You fly into Lukla, which is at 9,300 feet. So, it is a mountain town that's basically on the side of a mountain and you land at the airport. And then from there, everything that needs to get up, it's about a two-day trek up to the main town of Namche. And you're on a basic trail that's going through lowland terrace farm lands, then you're going along river beds, in through river valleys. Then you start to climb up into the mountains through beautiful forests. And once you arrive at Namche Bazaar two days later, which is the main huge, well huge, it's like 1,500 population that is the main town of the whole area. It's the market town. And anything that needs to get to Namche Bazaar, or any of the villages along the way or beyond, has to be carried by porters by human porters or pack animals on this basic hiking trail that leads you up.
Janet Hanpeter: So that's what makes it amazing. There are no roads in, although I will say there is a small little airport above Namche Bazaar at about another 1,000 feet above. It's at about 12,500 feet and that is a small, little airstrip, no scheduled service and occasionally a small fixed wing plane, because it's a short take-off and landing (STOL) airport and occasionally helicopters. But pretty much most everybody, you have to fly into Lukla and at that point it's a hiking trail. And it's just one hiking trail that goes all the way up.
Kit Parks: Now are you doing this as a group tour? Or tell us a little bit about your travel configuration.
Janet Hanpeter: We had a group of 12 people. I put this together because it has been a dream of mine to trek in Nepal for almost 20 years, 25 years before I did that. Because that was back when I was a travel agent, I remember researching a Nepal trek for a client. And I don't even know if he ended up going but I found this really great trek, which was essentially similar to what I took. And I loved the fact that it was trekking up into the Everest region, that it was going through beautiful small villages. You got a mixture of both the mountains and the cultural scenery but that it wasn't going all the way to Everest Base Camp, which is too far and too high, which I can tell you about in a minute.
Janet Hanpeter: So, once I saw that trip, I logged it away in my mind and said someday, I want to do that. And so finally that someday came. Because I knew that I wanted to do it before I got too much older. And finally started putting the trip together, found the right person to lead us. Assembled a group of my friends, ended up being 12 of us. And at that point it was, our average age was about 55. I worked with Gary Scott who is an Aussie, an Australian living in America, who's done lots of Nepal treks over many years. Had done a lot of mountain climbing and I happened to meet him personally as I was planning the trip. I was looking at a possible REI Nepal trek and met Gary. And after talking with him, I went, okay he's the man.
Janet Hanpeter: So, he put the trip together for us. So, he was our western guide and then he assembled the whole team in Nepal of the Sherpa guides and the Sherpa porters for us. So it was our group of 12 men and women, half from San Diego and half from Hawaii.
Kit Parks: I should note that Gary is no longer guiding in Nepal, but I do have my recommendations for you in the travel planner that you can download for free or on the website.
Kit Parks: Tell us about the accommodations. Are you staying in a lodge or are you camping?
Janet Hanpeter: Great question. Back when I had first researched the trip many years ago, the only options were camping. And I wasn't that crazy about camping for nine days, way up in the altitude where it can be cold. So, by the time I started, just several years ago started researching the trip to actually take it. What is great is that more and more, now online, through all the main towns, up into that area, there are now trekker lodges. And all of these lodges are varying degrees of quality but each place had options where you can stay, where you actually now have a roof over your head, a room you can sleep in, sometimes a bathroom in the room, sometimes a bathroom down the hall and your meals served and you don't have to be camping.
Janet Hanpeter: So that has really made a huge difference in the trekking industry in the last several years now that we have these nice sherpa lodges. Because in the past, it used to be really the local teahouses that were very, very smoky, marginal and pretty minimal. So, the new lodges are certainly not luxury but they're very acceptable and it's a great alternative to camping. And so, the majority, I think of trekkers now stay in the different types of lodges.
Kit Parks: Tell us about the altitude and how you get acclimated.
Janet Hanpeter: As you know Kit, when you're trekking and you're trekking at altitude, the altitudes make such a difference. Suddenly these numbers that didn't mean much before, now become very important. So, as I mentioned, you're in Kathmandu, kind of lowland and you fly into Lukla at that 9,300 feet. And then over the next two days, you work your way up to Namche Bazaar, as I mentioned the main town, and that's at about 11,500 feet.
Janet Hanpeter: And my trip never went over 13,000 feet and the majority of our nine days, once we got up to Namche, the majority of our time in that area we did different hikes to different places. We were generally between 11,500 and 12,500 feet. So, we all did pretty well. The good part about that tough two days from Lukla up to Namche is that you have a couple days to begin your acclimatization so that you can start to have your body live more comfortably at 11,500 and 12,000 feet.
Janet Hanpeter: I would say that we all did pretty well. Certainly, some of the group would feel occasional, a little bit of altitude issues, you know the headaches or the rapid heartbeats and a little bit of fatigue. But nothing bad and no one had real major issues because I think that's still a low enough altitude, unless someone's incredibly sensitive to altitude. It's not an altitude that's going to cause a lot of problems.
Kit Parks: Do you recommend that somebody find out their altitude aptitude for lack of a better phrase before they go on an adventure like this because once they start you're kind of committed?
Janet Hanpeter: That's a great question, and yes and no. As a San Diego woman, I'm a sea level girl but I had been blessed over the years with some previous trips. Actually in 2001, I had done a Mt. Whitney hike, which was up to 14,500 ft., which is my highest ever and probably will be my highest ever record. And I luckily did really well with that. And then I've been in Machu Picchu, in Cusco and those areas and been at 12,000 feet. Tibet was 12,000 feet so I've had some travels in the past, it may not have necessarily been treks but that I knew that I could handle altitude. But as I'm sure you know, altitude sickness has no preferences.
Janet Hanpeter: You can have two people on a trip, one incredibly fit and one who's not so fit and it could be the fit person who ends up having the altitude problem. Or you could not have had a problem in the past at that altitude and maybe this time you do. So, there's not necessarily, there's no guarantees. But I think if someone's never been over 10,000 feet, it's probably good to at least have an experience - whether they go to Colorado or go somewhere where they just test themselves to see how they do at altitude for several days to at least have that confidence. I think if they do pretty well at 10,000 after they've had a chance to spend a couple days and acclimatize, then they should probably be okay.
Janet Hanpeter: Last thing I will say is on the Nepal trek, the first couple days are the tough ones. Again, when you're coming, when you're trekking from Lukla up to Namche, where that's the biggest altitude gain from about 8,600 up to 11,500, so you've got about a 3,000-foot elevation gain over those first two days. So what I think every trekking company does, is once you arrive in Namche Bazaar, which is such a great place, you'll generally spend two nights. So, you have your arrival day, where you're trekking in but then the second day is a relaxation or rest day. There you can explore the town or groups may do a small day hike for an hour or two, but they have it be a day where they're letting the body catch up to the altitude and that seems to work pretty well.
Kit Parks: How much actual hiking do you do on any given day?
Janet Hanpeter: I looked back at our hike and we averaged, it's not outrageous, we averaged, the actual trekking part of the day, it averaged to be about four and a half hours per day. And generally there was, you start off in the morning, of course, relatively early, not outrageous. And generally, we would stop for lunch, an early lunch somewhere in the middle and break up the trek and have a chance to rest. It didn't seem too bad.
Janet Hanpeter: Now the tough day that I mentioned is really the longest one and that is day #2. We flew into Lukla airport and then hiked around midday down to our first stop where we spent the night in a place called Phakding. So that's a fairly easy hike because you actually go down a little bit. (to 8,600 ft). You actually lose some altitude. And then the next day is when that's the long hike from Phakding up to Namche - and that ended up being a day that was six hours, even though it was only four and a half miles, it took us six hours.
Janet Hanpeter: The first part of it is through gorgeous river valleys. You're crossing over the rivers on these metal suspension bridges, which I have a fear of heights and I don't like looking on drop offs down through metal slats that aren't filled in. So, I had to have my friends help me over the suspension bridges. I had to hold onto their backpack and not look down. So, by the end of the trip, I got better at doing that by myself. But that was for me the scariest part - but the bridges are solid so it wasn't like anything could happen to me. It's my own little kind of fears.
Janet Hanpeter: But once we reached the halfway point of that trek on day two, we stopped for our lunch. And then began what they call the Namche hill. And Namche is N-A-M-C-H-E, the Namche hill getting up to Namche Bazaar and that's wild. That took, that is a very steep hill that takes you up and it took us three hours. So, if anything, that's the most rigorous part of the trek. The particular trek that I did. But once you get up to Namche, then you've made it and the worst of the real hill climbing is over.
Janet Hanpeter: And it's such great beautiful scenery all along the way that it actually, it wasn't too brutal. It was really fun and always gorgeous. When you're with a trekking group, you're always cheering each other on. So, it was a really great accomplishment. So that was our longest day of six hours but generally it was more like in the four and a half hour range.
Kit Parks: Tell us about Namche Bazaar and that whole area.
Janet Hanpeter: Yes, oh my gosh. I love, love, love Namche Bazaar. We had two days there at the beginning and then we had one more day towards the end of the trip. So, I've had three nights there, and I could go back there in a flash. I'm not sure I want to hike back in but it is this big Sherpa mountain village that is the hub of the whole Everest region.
Janet Hanpeter: So, you've got all the locals going on with their daily life, with their marketplaces selling their produce, selling their yaks. Yak trains are coming through the middle of town from farther villages, up the road, up the route, up the trail.
Janet Hanpeter: You've got the local Sherpa life and then you've got the whole international trekking community, kind of superimposed on top of it. And so even though the town may only have 1,500 population, it's filled with trekkers of all types. There's the trekkers like me, that are the more easy type trekkers. And then you've got the serious folks that are heading all the way up to Everest Base Camp and some maybe even leaving to go on a real Everest climbing expedition.
Janet Hanpeter: So. there's a whole huge feel of this trekking world and this excitement and people, you're meeting trekkers from all around the world. And everybody's excited and nervous. And the community, the town itself of course has built up all these services to serve us trekkers. You've got cool restaurants and cafes. You've got bars, you've got German style bakeries, you've got trekking supply shops.
Janet Hanpeter: There's a fabulous bar, and it's still there, I googled. I was trekking several years ago in April and I checked and, in fact, that bar is still going strong. It's called the Liquid Bar. It's the happening place with all sort of trekking & international mountain climbing pictures all over the walls. This is where everybody gathers to have their drinks and, what's great, is they also show movies. And so, two different nights, we went there to see movies. We sat there with our drinks, eating popcorn and watching Everest themed-type movies, including the one, "Into Thin Air," a great movie.
Janet Hanpeter: There's also internet cafes, coffee shops. So, it's this incredible international trekking vibe, mixed on top of this beautiful Buddhist culture. And they have a wonderful monastery there, which we visited. Got to meet the local resident monks. So, you've got a real combination of things to do in Namche to keep you busy and entertained.
Kit Parks: I'm curious about the interactions between the people. Do the locals hang out with the trekkers? Do the trekkers hang out with the climbers? Or do people just stay in their own individual little cliques?
Janet Hanpeter: I think it depends on the time of year you're there. We definitely met other trekkers, but they were more trekkers like me or that maybe were going on to Everest Base Camp just to see it but not to actually do climbing.
Janet Hanpeter: We didn't actually come across any mountain climbing expeditions. Generally, they're probably going to hit Namche Bazaar, or maybe spend one night at the most and then they're heading off down the trail to continue up to Everest Base Camp. So we didn't actually get to meet any official mountain climbers, just other trekkers.
Janet Hanpeter: So there wasn't a feeling of this separation.
Kit Parks: Tell us about the Sherpa people.
Janet Hanpeter: What you get, that's one of the reasons ... us Nepal trekkers up in the Everest region. I think other parts of Nepal are great too but in the Everest region, we all fall in love with the local Sherpa people. Because they are so warm, friendly, open, engaging. There is no separation, you just ... it feels like one big, kind of a love fest.
Janet Hanpeter: They’re very gracious, whether they're the ones running your hotels or even in the marketplace when I went to go see the Saturday market and take pictures of the local women selling their lettuce and carrots. Sometimes some of them are a little bit shy but they're sweet and they smile and they're happy to have their picture taken. They may not speak English. When you're dealing with the folks in Namche that are dealing with trekkers, then English of course is your international language and they're going to be speaking English. But for some of the other Sherpa people that are more villagers or the farmers, they may not necessarily speak English because that's not their language.
Janet Hanpeter: But no, there was definitely not a separation and everyone was just so friendly and they're fun-loving. They're a resilient people. They're strong, they're tough. You always hear the stories whether it's a trekking group like ours or the mountain climbers that go to Everest that have their Sherpa team of porters and guides with them for couple months at a time. They truly fall, fall, fall in love with their Sherpa team. That these people become like family. So there's something incredibly special about them.
Janet Hanpeter: Actually, what I will mention is: When Gary, our overall tour leader, put together our trip, he worked with his local contact in Kathmandu who he's worked with for years, who assembled the Sherpa team and so we met them. When we flew into Lukla, the town, that's where our Sherpa team was waiting for us. And we had four guides and seven porters. And our four guides, two of them were a husband and wife, Pemba and Nima whom Gary's been with on many, many expeditions so he knew them very well. Hadn't seen them in a couple years so it's this incredible reunion of dear, dear friends that have been together for many years.
Janet Hanpeter: On part of our trek, they live in a town called Khunde, north of Namche Bazaar. And one day as our day trek was traveling through their town, Pemba and Nima invited us to stop at their home and they served us lunch. And we got to see how they lived, and it was just so special. So there's that incredible gracious hospitality that is really part of the Sherpa people.
Kit Parks: What was your first impression of the landscape when you got there and could you describe it for us?
Janet Hanpeter: It varies before Namche Bazaar and then after. So, on the way, as I mentioned from Lukla, you're in the mountains and in the town of Lukla, you can see some beautiful mountains in the distance. But then once you start to travel from Lukla up to Namche, you're heading back down into some lowland valleys so you're just seeing forested mountains, on the side but you're not seeing the big tall white capped mountains all the way up to Namche.
Janet Hanpeter: Once you're doing the Namche hill and you start to see the town of Namche above you on the hills, that's where the mountain views really started. Once you get to Namche, the town itself is built in a bowl so the houses are on the sides of the hill. And there's actually a 1,000 foot elevation gain between the bottom part of the town and the top part of the town. But it's on its own little ridge and it is completely surrounded by these beautiful, tall mountain peaks. Completely snow covered and the peaks are all over 20,000. They're of all different shapes and that's where the mountain scenery really starts to be what we think about the Everest region.
Janet Hanpeter: From that point, it's all you may have as you're trekking through some beautiful woods and some forests until it gets higher up and it gets a little bit starker. But all through that you've got huge white, mountain peaks just peeking out in every direction. So it is absolutely ... you know, I'm not a mountain girl, I'm a beach girl but there is nothing as majestic as those mountains. It's unbelievably beautiful. It's just, it's so pristine and they're so huge and there are so many of them and it's incredible.
Kit Parks: Speaking of snow-covered mountains, when did you go there and what advice would you give us in regards to weather?
Janet Hanpeter: We went in April. When I researched this, of course, I'm the ... what's the word? I don't like to be miserable and so I always try to plan trips at the optimum weather times. And so, for a Nepal trek, it is going to be your spring and fall. And I think April, maybe March, April, maybe into early May- don't remember exactly ... it's around that time frame because soon after that the rainy, real monsoon-y part starts and you don't want to be trekking.
Janet Hanpeter: Then the fall is also a good time, like maybe October-ish. But I had read that October, maybe October, November that, in fact, the skies may be clearer during that period but it's going to be maybe 10-15 degrees colder, as a rule. Whether that's still the case?
Janet Hanpeter: So, essentially, you have a choice of spring or fall season - either one's going to be good. I chose the spring because if it was going to be a little bit warmer, I thought I'd go for that.
Janet Hanpeter: As for our weather, it was interesting. It worked out perfectly but we had everything. We had rain, quite a bit. We had snow, we had clear, sunny days, we had cloudy overcast, we had the full gamut. It was interesting, and it's different when you're down in the lower levels. Lukla, those first two days as you're getting up towards Namche, that's more low level. It's a little bit warmer. But once you get up to Namche and you're in that whole mountain region at the higher elevations, then it's definitely more that mountain temps. I would say we had typical temperatures that generally they tell you about in the brochures. And I think that turned out to be true, that you're generally going to have day time temperatures between somewhere in the 40's to the mid 60's. And the evenings, the nights and the early mornings, if you get an early morning start, those can be cold down into the 30's.
Janet Hanpeter: In fact, at elevation we had three different mornings, at three different places, three different towns when we woke up. We went to bed without snow, we woke up in the morning and there was snow covering everything. So it snowed overnight.
Janet Hanpeter: It's really a mixture. But what's great about a trek, you already expect this and so we were actually well dressed. And I don't think we ever felt really cold, so we were dressed for it properly. A lot of times when you're trekking during the days, you actually do have gloves on. Normal treks when you're in a place where it's 65 degrees, you're not wearing gloves. But those times when it was colder in the 40's, maybe early 50's, you definitely would wear gloves and more of your trekking gear and then you would just layer and take it off as the day got warmer. So it was fine and even the rain wasn't a problem.
Kit Parks: On a scale of one to five, with one being couch potato, five being difficult but not ironically climbing Mt. Everest difficult, what would you rate this particular adventure at the elevations that we're talking about today?
Janet Hanpeter: I would say, let me back up to one thing that kind of helps differentiate it. The trek that I took and looking in catalogs, REI and even Active Adventures, they seem to offer two types of Nepal treks into the Everest region. One is like the one I took, I think they call it an Everest Lodge to Lodge Trek, which is very typical, nine days trekking, staying generally below 12,500 feet, which is what I did.
Janet Hanpeter: Then there's those treks that are a little bit longer. They go to Namche like we did, but then they continue on to the next town up and spend the night at a place called Tengboche, which has a beautiful monastery. We didn't get that far, it's a little bit higher. Then the trek continues for several more days, all the way up to Everest Base Camp. As it's getting up to Everest Base Camp, that's exciting to be able to visit Base Camp and see where all the expeditions start and hang out, but it's at a 17,500-foot elevation. So, it's a big difference when you're adding from 12,500 to 17,500. That's another 5,000 feet of elevation gain over a few days and the landscape gets starker, it's beautiful I hear. I have not done it, of course. It gets starker and the places to stay get simpler and simpler and simpler. Possibly even camping. So it's just a much more rugged trip.
Janet Hanpeter: So, when I say about what the level is, I'm talking about my type of trip, which is an Everest staying in the Namche Bazaar region at the lower altitudes. And for that, I would say the trek might range in a three to four maybe on that one tough day, but it's very doable. It's not a technical trek because again I don't do technical trekking, that's not my thing. But all of us were fit, again we were average age 55. I could still do it now (6 years later) but I would have to train. So, every one of us trained a lot. We did a lot of hiking. We San Diegans did a one-time hike, we went up to a place two hours away up in the mountains. We did a hike that took us to 10,000 feet so we got a teeny bit of altitude, not a lot. We were all well trained, we had the right hiking boots. So, I think if you're well equipped, it's a very doable trek for somebody's who fit and who has trained for it.
Kit Parks: What advice would you give folks that would like to do a similar trek as you did?
Janet Hanpeter: I would say do it, but I would say that you want to be someone who's at least comfortable hiking. If you've only walked around the block at home in your city and you've never done hiking, I think you would want to take the next baby step up and at least go out and start doing hikes around your community and get into trails that have hills, and that you've got some uneven terrain and that you're getting yourself built up. Then maybe you go and take a three-day trek somewhere, where you get used to a multi-day trek so that you build yourself up so that you've got more confidence in using hiking poles, in being in your hiking boots and that you're just comfortable out in nature trekking.
Janet Hanpeter: It's basically walking but what I will say that the two days getting up to Namche, even though you're working your way uphill, there were never flats. You were either going up or down and even if you look at your elevation gains, you had the river and you were crossing the river. Well, you would go up the hill and then you would go down and then you'd cross the river. Then you'd go back up and then you'd go down. So, there's lots of up and downs, so you need to be very comfortable with hills. Going up and down hills, so I think that kind of training will help build your body for that type of trek, I think would be very helpful.
Kit Parks: Do you have a favorite story you'd like to tell about your adventure?
Janet Hanpeter: Yes, well gosh, it all was great. One of the things we did special, which I think is not on a normal itinerary... but because of working with Gary who knew the region so well, he could plan what he wanted to do for our trip. He added a special element but it's still doable for other folks.
Janet Hanpeter: When you're in the town of Namche Bazaar, you can go up ... a good day trip is you go up to an airport, the Syangboche airstrip that I think I have mentioned. It's at about 12,500 feet of altitude. It's outside of town maybe about a one-hour hike. You can go up to the airport, it's pretty views. And then about another 45 minutes past that, you get yourself to a hotel, that's called the Everest View Hotel. It's a beautiful hotel built by the Japanese back in the 70's. They thought they were going to really develop the Japanese market who could fly directly into the Syangboche Airport at 12,500 feet and go to the hotel. They found out over time that a lot of their Japanese travelers that went from sea level to 12,500 had major problems with altitude. And so it didn't end up being a very good thing.
Janet Hanpeter: But they still get people staying there. We did spend the night there. They've got a beautiful, the hotel's got the most amazing location. It's set on a ridge and it's looking facing east, directly to Mt. Everest. You don't have to stay there like we did, we spent one night. You can also just trek there for the day, go onto their patio and sit there at their café and have a drink, or lunch and look down the valley towards Mt. Everest, 20 miles away. It's amazing, amazing views. And, of course for us, it's the closest view we would have of Mt. Everest.
Janet Hanpeter: One of the challenges of Mt. Everest is that the whole valley can often be covered in clouds and so, even though you potentially have a view, it's going to be clouded over. In fact, that day we were trekking to the hotel, we arrived in the afternoon, it was clouded over, and we kept praying. We knew we were spending the night, so we thought well, we have quite a few hours, we have an overnight, we have the next morning, maybe we'll get lucky. So, we had dinner, still it was clouded. About 9:00pm, all of a sudden, it's moonlight out, the clouds opened up and we got about a half hour view of Mt. Everest and Lhotse peak next to it in the moonlight and that was like, wow. That was very cool.
Janet Hanpeter: Well, the next morning, we also kept praying through the night, please may we ... somehow the clouds part and we wake up in the morning to the sunrise and there's the view. And that's, in fact, what happened.
Janet Hanpeter: At 5:40am, one of the early birds of the group got up first thing, looked out. The sun hadn't even come up and they saw the skies were clear. So they came pounding on all our doors. We all headed outside, 5:40 in the morning with just our pajamas and our jackets over us. And there we have this most gorgeous view of Mt. Everest in the clear skies - and it had snowed overnight. Everything was peppered in beautiful, fresh white snow and it turned out to be Easter morning.
Janet Hanpeter: That will always be one of the most magical moments of my life, being out there Easter morning with fresh snow, with this full-on view of Mt. Everest with the famous plume you always see. That plume of snow that's blowing off the top of the peak. I think that's probably a photo I've sent you and I know you'll be sharing on your website. In fact, I've written a blog post about my Easter morning surprise at Mt. Everest. That was a very, very special moment for us.
Kit Parks: I'll be sure to put a link to that blog post on the web page for today's episode. And Jan if you would please for those that may not have listened to our interview with you, on episode number six about your adventure on the El Camino in Spain, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Janet Hanpeter: Okay, thank you. My name's Janet and I’ve always loved to travel. I've had different careers, then I finally decided a couple years ago that it was time to make my travel, my travel writing, my travel photography be my main avocation. So, I started Planet Janet Travels, a travel blog to inspire, educate, inform and hopefully encourage others to get out and travel even more of the world. I know many people travel a lot and it's about getting out and traveling to new parts of the world that you haven't yet done. Maybe trips that are a little bit more adventurous, which is, of course, Kit what you do so well.
Janet Hanpeter: So, I've been able to add more and more exotic trips -both cultural and physical adventures that are not crazy stuff - and so I love to write about that. So that's on my blog posts, just encouraging people to get out. Particularly those that are 50 plus, that we're still young enough, healthy enough but we got to be doing this kind of travel now, rather than wait 20 years when maybe our bodies won't cooperate so much. That's what I do with my Planet Janet Travels.
Kit Parks: I'll put links on how to reach out to Janet on her blog or social tags at activeadventures.com/nepal or /17.
Kit Parks: I went back and put the episode number as a short link to each of the episodes in the past so you know the episode number you can always just do activetraveladventures.com/ whatever the episode number, that'll get to there and also you may not remember the exact key word but Costa Rica is /costarica. This one's /nepal. So you can guess a little bit but regardless if you know one of the two, you'll get there. If not just go to the directory page on the activeadventures.com website and you can find all the information.
Kit Parks: Janet is there anything I should have asked you that I forgot to ask you?
Janet Hanpeter: Yeah, let me add one thing that's actually quite fun and it's pretty exciting... I'll send you a link. We talked about, of course, you fly into the town of Lukla. What I didn't mention is that it is one of the most, also will be one of the most amazing experiences you will have ever done. It is listed as one of the world's most extreme airports, for good reason.
Janet Hanpeter: Lukla is basically a town set in the mountainside and so when you fly in on your small 16 passenger turbo-prop plane, it is one of those, what they call a STOL- Short take-off and landing. You fly in and essentially as soon as you spy the airport, it's this incredibly short runway that drops off into nothing and the pilots have to masterfully, these are certified pilots not many people can do this kind of airport. You come in and you drop in quick and you land because the runway ends in the mountainside and if you misjudge you are basically crashing into the mountainside. It's wild but it's exciting as heck. I've sent you some pictures including a video link that I found that does a beautiful job of actually showing what it's like to fly into the Lukla Airport.
Janet Hanpeter: I'm luckily not a nervous flyer, of course send lots of prayers but I had every confidence and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was so exciting. And then it's fun because when you're in Lukla, you're watching other planes come in and take off. And it's unlike any airport I've ever seen in my life. It's one of the most exciting things I did on the Nepal trek as well.
Janet Hanpeter: Not to make people scared but it's the reality. It's a pretty wild ride but it’s small planes and these pilots are experienced, and on that fact is they only fly in good weather so that is the one challenge with Lukla.
Janet Hanpeter: A lot of times you may show up in Kathmandu for your scheduled flight, we happened to fly out at 6:45 in the morning. Luckily the skies were clear, not just in Kathmandu but they were clear enough in Lukla, which is 35 minutes away, as I mentioned. So, we could take off but many times if the clouds start coming in, flights get canceled, they get postponed. And it may take you many hours before your plane can take off again or you might even have to wait another day.
Janet Hanpeter: That's the same with getting out so a lot of times the trekkers, you have your departure date out of Lukla, but just in case that airport's socked in that day, you may not fly out until the next day. S,o there's a little bit of luck... all of the operators will tell you there needs to be a little bit of flexibility when it comes to schedules of their treks, particularly the flying in and out of the Lukla airport. But it makes a part of the thrill of the adventure and nothing to worry about. It's just very, very exciting.
Kit Parks: That certainly does sound exciting.
Janet Hanpeter: It really is. I'll tell you that landing was one of my all-time favorite things as well, to be honest. It was just incredible.
Kit Parks: Janet gave us a ton of great photos and I also put link to the video about landing in and out of the Lukla Airport on the website at activetraveladventures.com/nepal or /17. I'm not going to be doing that in future episodes it'll have the key word of wherever the adventure is or the episode number, you can find it that way if you're driving or can't write something down.
Kit Parks: Our thanks to Janet for sharing her adventure to Nepal. I'm sure it's going to be added to a lot of people's bucket list now that we find out it's accessible for a normal hiker, like myself. Super excited Jan, thank you so much.
Kit Parks: And also I'd like to hear from you, of course I always like to hear from you anyway but in particular after you've listened to this, if you've done any kind of medical tourism and have some opinions on that, I'd love to hear from you. And or if you would like me to do this preparation video of how to prepare for an adventure travel trip, send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to me in the Active Travel Adventures Facebook group. I love hearing from you and I love the feedback. I appreciate it so much. I'll be back in two weeks with another exciting adventure and until next time, adventure on.