All For A Pun

DSC01457baseglacier.JPG

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, October 17, 2004 was originally posted on October 23, 2004.

DAY 365(!):  If you haven’t figured it out by now, the reason I was so eager to make it to Mount Everest on my thirtieth birthday was all for the sake of the right to truthfully say for the rest of my life, the following pun (or slight variations thereof):

“When I turned thirty, I was on Mount Everest… and it was all downhill from there.”

(Get it?)

I could see myself using the pun at fancy dinner parties back home, talking amongst my peers over glasses of fine wine: 

“Oh Erik, ha ha ha!  ‘Downhill from there!’  That’s a real knee-slapper!  Are you always this witty?”

“Ha ha, yeah!  Now watch as I set one of my farts on fire!”

“Oh Erik, you’re such a hoot!”

Of course, my pun could always backfire at dinner parties ten years from now, when talking to my peers about “being over the hill” at forty, and people saying things like, “...but not you Erik!  It was all downhill after thirty!  Ha ha!”

“Bite me.”

Either way, I was less than a day away from Nepal’s Everest Base Camp (as opposed to the one on the Chinese/Tibetan side that you simply just drive to), and it being October 18, 2004, my thirtieth birthday, I was a man on a mission to acquire my pun rights.  Sure, many people had warned me that Everest Base Camp was nothing special — there were no buildings or tents there and you wouldn’t even see Everest Summit, plus there were so many other Himalayan peaks that were so much prettier — but for me (and many others), nothing emitted that “Top Of The World” feeling like physically being on Mount Everest, regardless of its mediocre views.

And so, Tilak and I set off from Lobouche that morning in attempts to reach my goal.  Of course, saying you’re going to do something is always easier than actually doing it.


“ERIK!” CALLED A FAMILIAR VOICE from behind as Tilak and I were making headway northbound and upward towards Everest.  It was the voice of Wendy from Team Portland, who was coming from behind much faster than me with her hiking poles.  “How are you feeling?”

“Lethargic.”

I was slow-going, but steady like the tortoise in the proverbial race.  My pack was really weighing me down that morning, even with only the bare minimum inside (I had left the laptop and many other things in storage in Namche Bazar).  Wendy the Hare must have had a shot of something that morning because she was zipping up at an energetic pace to reach her goal by mid-day:  Kalapatthar, the nearby peak higher than Everest Base Camp that most locals recommended going to instead if you only had one choice because it did have a view of Everest Summit.

Anyway, she zipped ahead, ascending in altitude at a faster rate than me with no problem, leaving Tilak and me on our slow, but steady way — it was no race after all.  The ridge we were hiking kept on going, undulating over hill after hill, and just like the day before, it got to be a little ridiculous.  Every time we’d clear one I expected to see the next village of Gorak Shep, but it was always another hill.  The constant hills really started to piss me off.

Eventually, about three hours later, we made it to Gorak Shep (5150m. ASL), the very last outpost on the Everest trail.  From there the trail split two ways:  one towards the Kalapatthar peak (5545m. ASL) and the one towards Everest Base Camp (5350m. ASL).  It was common to check into a lodge in Gorak Shep and go to either endpoint and return back to town since both were a day round-trip trek away.

“Okay, let’s go to Base Camp!” I said to Tilak in the Snowland Inn lodge, a popular lodge with many signs, flags and t-shirts hung up from the many international groups that had made it to Everest Base Camp and beyond. 

“Yeah?”  He was surprised that I was still willing to go after struggling the way from Lobouche.

“Well, I won’t have my bag.”

“The bag makes a world of difference,” said Canadian Greg who had come in after us.  He too looked beat and was going to sit out the rest of the day to recuperate; he wasn’t on any pressing pun mission I assumed.

Tilak was game — for days he was always bragging about his “six years experience” and having “been to Base Camp ten times” and was strong enough to trek on — and after lunch, we got ready.  I got my cameras, my water bottle, a Snickers and a Clif Bar, and bundled up.

“Bring your headtorch,” Tilak told me.  “It will be dark on the way back.”  It was already passed noon, late for a departure to Everest Base Camp since the round trip would be “seven hours” (according to Tilak) — although I heard others say it might be three there and two back.


THE TRAIL TO EVEREST went up and down another annoying undulating ridge, perhaps at the average altitude of 5400m. ASL.  Once passed a brief flat land area — with memorial plaques for those who died there in 1997 — and the initial uphill, it was fairly level and not too bad.  I could definitely feel the thinning air and really had to concentrate on my breathing with deep nasal inhales to fill my lungs — every time I forgot to do so, almost immediately I’d feel a headache or dizzy spell coming on.  I stopped every so often to really catch a few more breaths — and to admire the isolated avalanches on Nuptse across the valley.

Tilak trailed behind me, which wasn’t unusual, but it seemed this time the more I went ahead the farther back he became.  He was going at a much slower pace than me, and he blamed it on his worsening cough.  “My lungs… my heart…”  he said, gasping for breath.  “My cough… it is hard to breathe when I cough.”  He was coughing and spitting out yellow phlegm wads.  “Are you sure you want to go?  It will be ten o’clock when we get back.”

Ten o’clock?  Seems a bit of an exaggeration. 

He was trying to tell me that we’d be all alone in the dark since we got a late start, but I pointed out the big Hong Konger group just in front of us that was also determined to make Everest and be back by nightfall.  I could tell he was just trying to make excuses not to go farther, which was weird because he was always bragging about his “six years experience” and having “been to Base Camp ten times.” 

“I’m sorry, in my six years experience, I never get sick.  You go ahead, I’ll meet you back here.”

“Okay.”

So much for a guide, I thought.  What the hell?  How am I more fit than the guide?  I continued on the undulating ridge for about another hour alone, in the trail of the two stragglers from the big ten odd-person group from Hong Kong, who were always one mountain turn ahead of me.  I concentrated on my breathing and tried to keep a steady pace, but it was getting harder and harder as the day wore on.  Every time I ran into a trekker on the way back to Gorak Shep, he/she would always give me a different answer as to how much farther it was to Base Camp — no matter how much I progressed, it was always “one hour, maybe a bit more” away.  Soon, the thin air was starting to get the best of me and I started getting a dizzy spell.

In front of me I couldn’t focus.  Or rather, I could only focus on the particular stone in front of me, but everything around it sort of swirled around in a blur.  I tried my deep breathing, but it wasn’t working this time.  I felt like I was on the verge of unconsciousness, sort of like when you’re drunk and everything around you gets all blurry — except this time it felt a little different.  It didn’t feel like my consciousness was slipping away, it almost felt like my life-force was slipping away.  It’s kind of hard to describe, like an out-of-body experience or something. 

Oh shit, oh no!  BREATHE.  Luckily my brain was still functioning and kept me sane.  I searched through my mind for a memory to cling onto and focus on, but it was hard.  Oh no, is this what they mean by “life flashing before your eyes?”  C’mon, you can do it; you’ve gone up Mount Kilimanjaro without these problems, and at a faster ascension rate too. 

The ridge finally descended down to the valley (picture above), down to where the oxygen was slightly thicker and the path was no longer as strenuous.  I had finally caught up with the two straggling Hong Kongers, which I thought was a good thing because if I passed out, at least two people would know about it.

Hong Konger #1 (in Cantonese):  Did you hear something?
Hong Konger #2:  I think it was the thud of that guy who passed out and fell down back there.
Hong Konger #1:  Oh, what a pity.  (long, awkward pause)  So, want to see me set one of my farts on fire?
Hong Konger #2:  Oh Hong Konger #1, you’re such a hoot!

It wasn’t far from the end of the ridge to the area where the rest of the Hong Konger group was.  “Welcome to the Base Valley!” their Nepali lead guide said.

“There is the Ice Palace,” an assistant guide said, pointing to the glacier nearby.  Also above was the beautiful snowy Nuptse peak.

“Is this the Base Camp?” I asked.

“It’s over there,” the lead guide said, pointing down the valley to an area that didn’t look like anything official, about twenty minutes farther on foot at the same level.  Some of the Hong Kongers continued to proceed there.  “I don’t know why they want to go there,” he said.  “You see the same thing there that you see over here.”

“So here, this is technically Mount Everest?”

“Yes.”

I was too lethargic to go any farther.  A check appeared on a checklist in my mind.  Everest, check.  Mission accomplished.  Pun acquired.  The pun didn’t require to have the phrase “base camp” in it for it to work anyway; the name “Everest” was punchy enough.

“Here’s your guide coming,” the guy said.

Just behind was Tilak.  He made it.  He had kept with it to meet me on Everest after all, still coughing, perhaps harder than before.  I was happy to see him and greeted him to Everest, even though he’d been there ten times already.  It was a sort of triumphant moment for the two of us, and we celebrated not by drinks of champagne or by going streaking, but by simply sitting down and catching our breaths by a rock held up by ice.  I tell you, nothing was more refreshing than that. 


THE WAY BACK TO GORAK SHEP was the same way we came.  After the initial ascent to the ridge, it was fairly easy — more so than before because it was a gradual decline this time.  The sun started to set down below the western mountains, leaving a bright sunset effect reflect off the side of Nuptse, and eventually off just the peaks.  Tilak was still slow-going with his cough, and I waited up for him at every other curve.  “I’m sorry,” he apologized.  “I never got sick in my six years experience.  [Every time I cough I have to stop.]”

“It’s okay.”

I tended to Tilak from that point on and the two of us eventually made it down from the ridge by nightfall, around seven o’clock.  We hiked the flat muddy land back to Gorak Shep under the shine of our flashlights and made it back to the warmth of the stove in the center of the crowded lodge.  I was starving and a little dizzy, but still had to wait for my pizza to arrive; it took awhile because all the Western-looking foreigners got served food first — and I blended in with that second group at a glance.  No matter, the pizza eventually came after Tilak made a fuss, and I ate it at a table next to Andres the Dane, who spared me some Diamox to help me take in more oxygen that night.  I slept in the big bunk bed of the lodge aside Greg the Canadian and some French dude to rest up for the trek to Kalapatthar the next day.


AND SO, NOW I CAN SAY, “When I turned thirty, I was on Mount Everest… and it was all downhill from there.”  And if you don’t like it after all that I went through to be able to say that truthfully, you can bite me — or at least wait until I attempt to light a fart on fire.






Next entry: The Long Way Down

Previous entry: Sand Trap




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Comments for “All For A Pun”

  • stunning mountain photos

    Posted by Liz  on  10/23  at  03:35 PM


  • Hi Liz,
    Just saw the big earthquake in Japan on the news this morning.. Hope & pray that you & hubby are fine…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  04:31 PM


  • Heya Erik!

    I havent been to your blog in a while - partly because I am busy with school and partly because I always get so jealous everytime I read about your exciting life. Yea, I am pretty jealous right now. Stop doing alll the things I want to do! eh -
    well happy belated birthday and all that junk and take care of your ass while you roll down hill.

    love,

    Elisa

    Posted by e;lisa  on  10/23  at  05:23 PM


  • love the piss me off pic. 

    The blogs are as good as ever, btw.  I know you were getting sick of doing it.

    I am still catching up on the archives, and I am only up to just before Kili.  If you can keep up with this for the “downhill” portion of the trip, it will be truly remarkable.

    Thanks.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  05:34 PM


  • you’re such a hoot!  LOL….

    more foreshadowing is great!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  06:38 PM


  • I got a phone call from Liz yesterday.  Yes, the 7 earthquakes to hit were very close to Tokyo and Liz & Hiroshi are okay.  From what I understand the major damage was northwest of Tokyo. Liz did feel dizzy & sick from them.  (I am Liz’s Mom)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  06:54 PM


  • Hey Erik

    Just got back from the ROK last night and caught up on your blog.  A big Happy Birthday from Van.  Nepal looks amazing.
    So glad you’re ok.

    Take care of yourself,
    Angie and Denise

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  07:41 PM


  • ERIK’S MOM - Thanks for thinking of us!  We’re fine. Don’t mind one earthquake, but 7 big ones in less than 6 hours is a bit much!  In Tokyo, things were just swaying a bit.  Thank heavens the quakes were in a rural area - currently the news is saying 21 dead and 1800 injured.  Don’t want to think about what would of happened if the epicenter was under Tokyo (which is well overdue for “The Big One” - knock on wood).

    Posted by Liz  on  10/23  at  08:52 PM


  • It was great to wake up this morning to new entries!  I have been slaving away on this computer on this dreary Sunday afternoon - bookkeeping yuck!

    Anyways, Erik I am glad you are feeling up to working on your blog entries….don’t overdue it, we now expect quality entries for each and every day!! LOL - just kidding of course, I am happy with “i went here and did this”....

    Liz, glad to hear you are doing fine too!  Between the Typhoons and earthquakes, Japan has I am sure had enough of “natural weather phenomenons”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  10:13 PM


  • Erik, thanks for the last name of Kenny, no it’s not them, but I expected that, the odds of it being them would be too huge to think of.. besides the guy I’m thinking of is a bit of a boozer, I’m not sure he could handle the hike.. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  11:03 PM


  • Guess you got time now to catch up on your stories. Hiding out in a hospital is overdoing it a bit though.
    Seriously, get well soon. Lot’s of adventures still to be had!

    Posted by pepe  on  10/24  at  12:24 AM


  • .. and i thought machu picchu was tough!

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  12:30 AM


  • LIZ / HIROSHI:  Whoa!  SEVEN in a row?  That’s crazy?  And I thought the one when I was there was a “real” one…  Glad you guys are okay! 

    Feels like a nice day to go back to the crazy yakitori place, huh?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:04 AM


  • E;LISA:  Hey there!  Thanks for the virtual TLC. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:08 AM


  • TJW:  Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna quit now!  wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:10 AM


  • LIZ:  Is the “Golden Turd” still standing?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:11 AM


  • ANGIE / DENISE:  Thanks for the support!  So are you BACK back in Vancouver now, or going back to ROK?

    Hope to see you guys in Van before The Trip is over!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:15 AM


  • PEPE:  Thanks man!  Glad you’re still reading…  If you have the means, meet me down in Indochina and “hide in a bowl of rice.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:18 AM


  • ELAINE:  Machu Picchu, Schmachu Picchu… 

    Hey, when are you going to meet me somewhere; I’m dying to title an entry, “(She’s Jealous)”.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:21 AM


  • MARKYT:  I actually LOL’d myself writing the “such a hoot” parts…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:24 AM


  • I really felt like cheering and all when you reached the EBC (or, when I read you reached it) but people here are supposed to think I am working, so I hope a silent cheer is good enough.

    You ARE such a hoot!

    (now it’s 2pm and I finished reading all the new entrie. should go get some work done and not think about what I need to do in order to be able to climb to the Everest Base Camp. And there would be a lot to do, considering that I also thought Machu Pichu was really hard. needless to say, I am also jelous!)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:56 AM


  • hey ERIK:
    good to hear from you. I will definitely be here in Feb. And that’s a scary story. A good one though. No jigging indeed. You couldn’t possibly have been walking any slower than up Toubkal though…
    Happy belated bday, and 1yr anniversary!
    Later.

    -That guy from the Let’s Go! guidebook.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  12:06 PM


  • ERIK - yeah, the giant turd is still standing.  Nothing fell over in Tokyo.  But the bullet train derailed!  Yeah the one you felt when you were here was M5.8 - that’s how big the aftershocks are smile  There was another one this morning - so that makes 8 big ones.

    Posted by Liz  on  10/24  at  01:20 PM


  • “Ready to put a cap in your ass?” The intentions I possess, the means unfortunately I do not. But reading your stories and watching Michael Palin’s new travelshow ‘Himalayas’ (“high adventure”) has upped Nepal quite a bit on my list of places-yet-to-go-to.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  01:34 PM


  • happy belated birthday!

    GREAT pissed off pic! =)

    yeah - youre just amazing - happy new year!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  05:26 PM


  • LIZ:  No, not the Shinkansen!  Derailed, really?  That thing is supposed to be invincible!

    I suppose the turd is stronger than the train yet again.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  05:38 PM


  • LETS:  Just bring some SKOL and you’ll be good.  wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  05:42 PM


  • I felt dizzy and sick from reading this entry - kind of like when I read the Mt Kili ones… a testament to your great writing!  I love the “flip the mountain off” photo, haha.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  07:09 PM


  • great picts! and all that jazz but going “solo” on the mountain!! don’t they tell you not to do it! very upsetting :(  well, we know what happens next but don’t know how. just glad you’re doing well N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  07:43 PM


  • Pun well deserved.
    great pics, great story.  lol

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  08:38 PM


  • Hi Erik, long time reader, first time commenter… just wanted to say congrats for making it up (to) Everest! Hope it is all downhill from here grin Chris, UK

    Posted by Chris  on  10/25  at  01:09 AM


  • Breathtaking! In every sense of the word! Bravo!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:01 AM


  • CHRIS (UK):  Thank you and welcome to the other (commenting) side!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  08:03 AM


  • I’m on pins and needles waiting to hear about your journey down - eeks!

    Great pics as usual!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  06:14 PM


  • Wait’a'be Erik! EBC, another one of your amazing achievments!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  06:25 PM


  • happy birthday and anniversary!

    Posted by Alyson  on  10/28  at  11:18 AM


  • FUZZ-E!!!
    Let me congratulate you on ONE YEAR… making it UP EVEREST… and surviving your 30TH BIRTHDAY!!!

    I’m proud of you bud. You are a hoot, and very pun-y. Sorry I’ve been out of touch, I’m a solid month back-blogged, but had to check THIS entry. I just got back from almost 2 weeks in Ireland. Had a blast! I’ll try to catch up soon. Keep up the good work on the blog, and keep going! Your adventures sustain us!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/28  at  08:00 PM


  • CHRISTY!  There you are!  I was starting to wonder.  Good thing you’re back; you’re the only female I know personally that might actually get all the hidden Indiana Jones references coming in the India entries…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/29  at  08:22 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
The Long Way Down

Previous entry:
Sand Trap




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