If you are planning to go for peak climbing, then the following experience might give you some insights about different factors. I thought to have a good contact with the owner of Asian Heritage, an agency for trekkings and expeditions. That’s why I walked in there to ask about the prices for peak climbing. The price was $350 for a permit for up to three persons. On top of that came a $250 garbage deposit. A good idea to make climbers bring down their garbage from the mountains. It was well known that Mt Everest had become a big garbage dump place, full with empty oxygen bottles and other trash. On top of those two prices we got the price for a porter from Kathmandu to carry our rucksack with mostly thick clothes which we only needed the last three days.
The necessities like ropes, tent, crampons, ice axe and shoes, which we rent, plus a professional climbing guide, we would all get or pick up on the way in the mountains. So we could save already on the climbing guide’s plane ticket to and from Lukla, as he would stay behind in the mountains, and we didn’t have to get all those items carried up the whole route. A total of over $1000 per person. It’s not cheap to do peak climbing, but it’s well worth the challenge. As preparation I bought things as sleeping bag, headlight, long underwear, gloves, sticks and a water bag for on your back with a tube to the mouth.
A week later, after having discussed all the prices and the schedule, I walked in by Asian Heritage to give a first payment of $600 for the permit and the garbage deposit, so that that could be arranged. I got a receipt which stated clearly the paid prices and for what. I paid the rest shortly after. My mate would pay his share once he’d arrive one or two days before the start.
You can fly from Kathmandu to Lukla to speed up the whole thing, but it’s more expensive than a bus. When you go for an expedition, you have so much equipment that flying is basically the only option. The bus goes from Kathmandu to Jiri – Shivalaya and from there you walk up to Lukla. That would be a few days walking, but it gives some miles in the legs, a good warming up.
The buses are usually local, overcrowded, slow and uncomfortable. Leaving Kathmandu early morning around 6 am and arriving in dark in the evening. Just before Jiri is a checkpost whereby the foreigners have to get out of the bus to write their names in police guest books. At that point all the people sitting on the roof of the bus have to get off. All those fifteen persons had to get in the already overcrowded bus too.
Porter habits and tricks
The porter from Asian Heritage was quite annoying. He left us often behind just to reach the next village, where we would have lunch or stay overnight, before us. So he could chose a lodge that would give him commission. All porters were doing that, a very irritating habit. Especially when you don’t have an all-in prepaid deal with your agency and pay for your hotels and food yourself on the way. The agencies charged easily between $40 and $100 a day for that, while paying yourself costs no more than $10 for 2 meals and a room per day.
The morning we left the hotel in Kinja was quite hard. A steep climb to Deurali pass on 3000 meter height. More flat parts and downhill followed after the pass. Somehow it looked like it wasn’t going to end. The sun was going down pretty fast. It was a race against time to reach Junbesi before dark. We managed it. As soon as I had phone network I made a call to Asian heritage to say that we were far from happy with our porter, who let us walk a day of ten hours without informing us, and let us behind once we finally almost reached the destination of that day.
On the second day our porter told us that hotels would only be cheap in the beginning of the trekking. About a dollar a night for two. According to him that would increase to five dollars a night for two, but if we let him do the talk, he could manage cheaper. We weren’t the worst guys, so we agreed, even if he made some money out of it.
After he left us behind and we got annoyed with him, we decided to take back our word. We were going to choose our own hotels and discuss the price. It turned out that the price never got higher than the one dollar a night, to our surprise, not even on higher altitude villages. We found out that he’d lied to us and tried to make good money out of us through this cheating trick, which you can assume he does with all tourists and in case of groups, would bring in a small fortune. Porters can be of great value, but can be a real pain in the arse too.
We went on to Namche Bazaar, Tengboche and Somare. There I vomited during the night. A food poisoning which I got from a bad lunch on the way. I woke up pretty weak and to my surprise everything was covered with a thick blanket of snow. Not the best signs for peak climbing. A few hours walk and we reached Dingboche. Here the next problem occurred. Our rented gear was waiting in Dingboche. We were quite early there, as the distance from Somare wasn’t far. It could’ve gone smooth. Try the gear, pack it and go on with our trek. However the owner of the gear wanted us to stay overnight in his overpriced Moonlight Lodge. The owner was typically someone you didn’t want to deal with, a bad attitude and arrogant.
We easily could’ve reached Chukung on 5000 meter that day, and from there we could walk the following day to high camp on 5600 meter. From high camp we could do our attempt to the summit on 6100 meter. This all got messed up now. I tried to call Asian Heritage once more, but there was no network. We just had to accept it, so we tried the shoes, crampons and harness. It was rather suspicious that my buddy was the next to catch a food poisoning, after the argument with the owner.
The next morning you start the walk to base camp. Through the snow and over icy parts. A short stop in Chukung for tea. For hours and hours walking through an icy storm, which can give a bad headache. Once you arrive at base camp, a small kind of shed is there, made of stone. The shed is normally for porters and guides and for cooking. Your tent would come next to the shed, but with extreme storm and cold I would suggest to put the tent inside the shed.
Our tent stood inside, but even inside I could feel that icy wind. The guide and the new porter which we got in Dingboche, were goging to get water outside for cooking. The Kathmandu porter stayed behind because of insurance rules that didn’t allow him to do peak climbing. One and a half hour later the two guys returned, carrying heavy sacks on their back. These sacks were full of huge chunks of ice which they’d cut from a glacier. You eat a bowl of instant noodles soup and get into your sleeping bag, although sleeping was out of the question.
Dark and cold night walk
At 1 am it’s time to get ready for the peak climbing attempt to the summit. The Sherpa was standing in his professional climbing suit, from neck to ankles one piece. I looked at my buddy who was surprised by the frostbite on his cheeks, just from breathing in his sleeping back, which got immediately stuck to his cheeks and froze. The Sherpa asked if we were going to walk with the special shoes from the start, or that we were going to carry the shoes, plus the crampons, till the point where we would need them, after high camp. We decided to put them on from the start.
Nearly half past one, time to leave base camp on 5000 meters height. I stepped out of the shed and the only thing I noticed was blackness. Everything was just pit black. Ten minutes later my hands started to ache, heavy pain from freezing. The cold was catching me that fast. I started moving my fingers continuously, not easy with holding the sticks in my hands, but I realized that I had to keep my fingers moving and blood circulation going.
We reached the foot of the mountain from where it was steeply upwards, as described earlier, with baby steps. Just getting one foot a bit in front of the other one while hanging forward. Zigzagging up, using the sticks as support. No longer being conscious about time or other things. A constant fight against the conditions, the freezing storm, the thin air, the cold, the mountain and the darkness. I tried to keep my eye on some reflecting parts on the suit of the Sherpa in order to keep up.
I was exhausted and needed some water, but that was the next problem, everything was frozen. All the water was frozen, my scarf was frozen from breathing. It was at least minus 35 degrees. The feel temperature was even worse than that because of that icy storm. Eventually we had to turn down when we reached high camp, because my mate lost all feeling in hands and feet. So be prepared with your clothes and shoes, but also in which season or month you go for peak climbing!
At 5.30 am, we got back to base camp. The first thing the guide did, was keeping the kerosene heater near the feet of my mate. A few hours later we walked back to the guy in Dingboche. We walked back to Lukla the next morning to the world’s most dangerous airport. Well, I didn’t believe it could be more dangerous than what I’d experienced on Island Peak. We flew back to Kathmandu.
The next day we visited Asian Heritage to give them feedback. Mostly to complain about the guy in Dingboche, and to ask back our $250 garbage deposit. We’d brought back our garbage and our porter with whom we had problems before, delivered it at an office in Namche Bazaar. He had to pay 200 rupees in order to get a receipt with which we could get our deposit back in Kathmandu.
Asian Heritage said all would be fine, but it wasn’t. My mate had left and I had to go after the money. The first story of Asian Heritage was that it actually wasn’t really a deposit, but it was only named that way. Well, that was their problem, as I had a receipt of them clearly mentioning a payment of $250 for garbage deposit. If we had no right to get that money, why would their own porter bring it to that office in Namche and give us the receipt for refund in Kathmandu? No, it was clear, Nilam, the owner, and employees were thieves. After a lot of emails they decided to pay me $100 dollar. A compromise for them, but for me pure theft.
Informing the customers
Beside this issue with Asian Heritage, there was the question if they shouldn’t have informed us, or other customers, that it wasn’t yet the best time, or season to climb a mountain. Wasn’t that part of their responsibility too? We got up there on the second of March. Way too early. Alright, it was our choice, but still, the agency should not only think about getting the money and forget about the rest, but think about problems, safety etc and give us good advise.
Unfortunately Asian Heritage didn’t seem to care about that. They had a lot of customers who could do advance payments for trekking on the agency’s foreign bank account. Let them believe all kinds of stories and charged them the permits in Euro’s instead of the by government set price in dollars, which is cheaper. Asian Heritage cheated the next group with this trick.
I had a lot better feeling and contact with my next peak climbing attempt two years later through Himalayan Trailfinder agency, which you can find here: http://himalayantrailfinder.com/ for a view of the area, find the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9lYTBumTO8&feature=youtu.be
Have a successful peak climbing and mountain climbing!!