Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Back in the USA

After a long plane ride back to the United States from Delhi, many of us have concluded our trip and are back home. Several did stay in India to pursue side trips including Cathi, Jeannette, Patrick, Anita, and Manjeet.

If you have been following SPOT, the last GPS record was in Chitwan and did not get updated for the last days at Kathmandu and Delhi.

This years trip was a huge success and will remain in our memories for years to come. Nepal has a lot of interesting history, culture, and extraordinary vistas. Visiting our friend Scott at Base Camp and wishing him luck on this year's summit attempt was certainly a major highlight. For our friends and families, what now remains are for us to share our detailed personal accounts and picture collections.

I hope you enjoyed this Blog.



Chitwan Adventures

Chitwan was a really interesting place to visit! A smaller group including Manjeet, CJ, Erin, James, Jake, and Christi were transported by van to Chitwan soon after arriving to the Kathmandu Airport from Lukla for an overnight stay. The agenda included watching the sunset over the forested park and nearby river that marks the northern boundary, viewing a program that illustrated the historical culture of the local Tharu cast through song and dance, riding elephants through the Chitwan to visit one of the last populations of single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros, and finally swimming with the elephants in the river.

Chitwan is connected by a national two-lane highway through mountains and foothills with little to no shoulder between Kathmandu and Bharatpur. The highway was often lined with small shacks offering food along the way. The van ride was very interesting, especially in observing the traffic "guidelines". Trucks transporting goods made up most of the traffic, which was complicated by unpredictable stops or breaks by the truck drivers on the highway with little room available to pass. As we neared Chitwan, we had transitioned from monster foot hills to rolling hills and flatland.

The Chitwan region is populated by the Tharu cast of people which are generally known as farmers. This was evident as the region was more flat and accommodating to farming. Popular crops included rice, maze, potatoe, wheat/barley, and cabbage.

In the morning of the next day, we embarked on a tour through a portion of the Chitwan on elephants. These creatures could trail blaze through the heaviest of brush if needed, and were very quiet which afforded many good views of animals. Animals sighted include Peacocks, Sambar Deer, Chital Deer, Wild Boar (including a family of young boar), the Great One-horned Rhinoceros, and Rhesus Monkey.

At the conclusion of the safari, we accompanied the elephants to the shoreline of the river and swam with them. This was a popular event, and the elephant drivers had fun with it. As we rode the elephants, they took us right into the water. At a command, the elephants proceeded to splash us with the water using their trunks, then shaked us off until we all fell into the water. All part of the show. After several occasions of attempting to remain on the elephant for more then 8 seconds (re: bull riding), the elephants layed down in the water for a stone massage.

Chitwan was very different from the trekking experience, and it was a good conclusion to the trip.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Back in Kathmandu...at least most of us are...

So, although some of our group took a short side trip to the Royal Chitwan National Park, most of us are now back in Kathmandu after a final day of trekking from Namche to Lukla. That Namche hill didn't seem as bad coming down as it did going up! We had a long day but the satisfaction of a successful trip to Everest base camp and the high fives we got from our guides, CJ and fellow trekkers made that last climb into Lukla worth every step.

We had a very nice celebratory dinner at the Lukla tea house which turned into a fun evening of singing, dancing and a punishing game of "chubby bunny". Congratulations to Court for taking the top prize, although Erin exhibited great skill and was a worthy competitor. We had to use those 'smores marshmallows somehow! I'm still wondering where the chocolate and graham crackers are though. Hmmm...

Now that we're back in Kathmandu, some of us are resting while others are exploring the twisting, narrow streets of the Thamel tourist district. It seems as if the trip insurance we purchased may be more useful here than in the hills of the Himalayas, considering the fact that we're constantly dodging tuk tuks, bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, taxis, tourist buses and the infamous tiger balm sellers who are constantly trying to push the stuff off on everyone. I cannot figure out why it's so popular here. Despite the busy days, the district seems to really come alive at night. You can hear music coming from every direction as the live bands at the different bars compete with one another to attract all the people walking along the crowded streets.

Tomorrow, most of the group will head back to the United States and our trip will officially come to an end. For me, it was the experience of a lifetime and I'm so happy that I was able to enjoy it with such a good group of people. Thank you to everyone who made it possible. We couldn't have done it without you!


Thursday, April 30, 2009

On our Way Back

You probably noticed by the SPOT link - we are heading back down from Base Camp! After visiting the Base Camp we trekked back to Lobuche the same day. Last night we stayed at Deboche, and tonight we are in Namche. It takes less time to head down, although some of the days are still long as we try to cover some ground. Today, during our trek from Deboche to Namche, some of the team split off and went to Khumjung which added 1.5 hours to the trek. In Khumjung, we visited the Monastery which was busy with prayers. The Monastery also contains what is perceived to be a skull of a Yeti - proof (if you believe) that the creature does exist in the mountains.
Tomorrow we depart for Lukla - our final destination of the trek. If the weather is good, the next day we take a plane back to Kathmandu. It is hard to believe the the trip is coming to a close!

Base Camp!!

Once we arrived in Gorak Shep, many of our team members hiked up Kala Pattar to see Mt. Everest from the best vantage point of our trek. It did start to cloud up later in the afternoon, but there were enough breaks in the clouds to get a good glimpse of it, including the South Col where the route to the summit of Mt. Everest as well as Lotse go through. Having been here last year, it was noticeable that there was much less snow on the mountains then the previous year.
The next day we were greeted by Scott as we hiked into the Base Camp - it was really fun to see him. Scott brought us to the IMG team location within base camp for tea, and he discussed with us his experiences in the past month preparing for the summit. We also walked to the beginning of the Khumbu Icefall to get a glimpse of the sheer size and difficulty it exudes.
Last but not least at Base Camp, a few of us participated in a call to the International Space Station. Scott first shared well wishes from astronauts Michael Barratt and Koichi Wakata, and then a few trekking team members spoke to the Crew of the International Space Station. It is not often you get a chance to speak to the crew members on ISS, and doing so from the Base Camp of Mt. Everest was a special event!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What Lays Ahead

Tomorrow we depart for Lobuche as our next stop. This will include trekking up the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier and through the sobering memorials of those that have fallen on Mt. Everest. After Lobuche we trek to Gorak Shep. We should arrive there around lunchtime and then climb Kala Pattar (18,400') in the afternoon for our best view of Mt. Everest. After Gorak Shep we depart for the Base Camp of Mt. Everest to meet our friend Scott Parazynski and will participate in several activities there. Everyone is looking forward to it!

Rest Day in Dingboche

Today the group is getting a rest day from trekking. This is a necessary step in the agenda to help folks acclimate to the altitude, but also serves to get some rest from trekking.
The group is acclimating well. There have been some instances of light headaches and nausea, but we are paying close attention when that occurs. Several have also experienced some stomach upsets which is typical given the different types of food that we have been exposed to. But the group is doing very well and all are in high spirits.
After breakfast a majority of the group took a day hike along the Imja Khola (river) toward Island Peak. We are having another beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky. After lunch we have some down time to take a shower, do laundry (hand wash), read a book, play games, and just plain relax. Later in the afternoon a few of us will attempt to instruct the Sherpas on how to make fried snickers (a NASA Everest Trek tradition thanks to the Gilmores) as a special treat for the group. Last year the Sherpas said "It cannot be done", but it was. This year we intent to repeat this success!

Dingboche Accomodations

The village of Dingboche has rather limited resources given its location high up in the mountain country. Electricity is an expensive commodity. All electricity is either produced by solar energy or by a generator. If a Guest House uses power, it is typically provided via solar power that charge batteries used to light the interior during the evening hours. Smaller commercial entities, such as an internet cafe ("cafe" as in they serve tea, pringles, and snickers) may intermittently use a small generator when they have business or as needed. This is very expensive as the fuel for the generators have to be ported in many miles. As an example, internet usage cost roughly $.25 per minute. Hot water can also be expensive given the fuel needed to produce it, so it is used sparingly. All of that said, accommodations are still quite comfortable once you get used to the settings.

From Forest to Tundra in 6 Hours

Yesterday the trek from Tengboche to Dingboche was quite amazing. You start walking through a forest of rhododendron, evergreen, and birch and end up in a tundra above tree line dotted with stunted junipers. The transition was very interesting to watch unfold as we hiked our way to Dingboche. During lunch we had a rare opportunity to see several blue goats up on a nearby moutain side. "Blue" is a little bit of a misnomer as they have more of a brown coloring to them. I'm not sure my camera zoom did much justice, but they were rather magnificent. We will spend the next two nights at Dingboche. With its altitude around 14,200', it will be like sleeping and spending a few days on the highest peaks of Colorado!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Rest Day" in Namche Bazaar

We arrived in Namche Bazaar on Tuesday, 21 April, exhausted from a long, steep hike. Elevation is 11,500 and we were literally on the edge of the clouds. Thick clouds covered the area. This morning, 22 April, we awoke to mostly clear skies with only a few clouds. The first real visual experience of the Himalayas! Snow-capped mountains that were covered in clouds were now in clear view. This is our first rest day as we acclimate to the higher altitude. As it turns out our rest day became a "rest day" as we trekked up 1000ft to a beautiful view of more of the Himalaya range. Our first view of Mt. Everest, Lohtse, Ama Doblam, etc. CJ assured us before the hike it would be a 1hr hike... easy day... 3.5 hrs later we returned. The view was worth every bit of pain we all feel in our quads and calves!

Resting in Namche Bazaar

We are in the town of Namche Bazar at 11,200 feet. To get here, we had to hike up a 2500 ft climb of switch backs. Needless to say, that was a tough climb, but we all made it and our training has paid off.

We are staying here for a day to acclimate, then we will push on to EBC. Here is a view of the town http://www.travel-images.com/photo-nepal12.html

Today was an exciting day, we caught our first glimpse of Mt. Everest today! We were fortunate to have the clouds lift and there it was. We were all so excited and of course snapped a few pictures.

Its been so amazing being here, there are people from all over the world and all ages on similar treks. As this is the high season, the trail is busy but everyone is in the same spirit. It only adds to the excitement of the trek.

Some highlights:
Flying into the town of Lukla from Kathmandu - it has a short runway into the mountain with a 12 degree pitch which helps slow down as well as take off.
The views are breathtaking - one of the best was crossing one of the many suspension bridges with a glacial blue river below, water fall on the mountain in front of us, dense pine, and blooming red rhododendron (different from our purple, white and pink varitites)
Staying at a tea house, they are really charming and cozy with our big group.
Everyone is acclimating well.

Some lesser lights:
Potatoes potatoes potatoes. They're everywhere. We eat them at almost every meal. At lunch yesterday, we hit the carbo trifecta of potatoes, noodles, and rice.
No major mishaps except for 2 bags which are still on their way - the chaos of delayed flights due to weather has two folks really testing their limit of light trekking.
So far, only one person is being bit by the stomach bug. If you think of it, out of 25 people, that's not too bad.

Tomorrow, we will stay at a very old Buddhist monastery which looks right at Mt. Everest. We don't know when we'll have another opportunity to sign on, but for now, we are all looking forward to hiking in spectacular landscapes, surrounded by fellow trekkers and porters while listening to the gentle ring of the bells worn by the yak.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Namche News

And for today's news from Namche, the village is pleased to welcome the 2009 NASA Everest Trek team. They hiked for around 6 hours to reach Namche Bazaar at 11,000 feet with a stop for lunch just inside the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park. The last mile was reportedly a 'killer' with the majority of the elevation gain from ~8,500 feet occurring in that short distance, but the team fared well and all are resting in a teahouse overlooking Namche Bazaar...some comfy in their tents. And now I'll turn it over to Larry for weather...

Well, Chuck, we're looking at much of the same we had yesterday. A lot of fog and low clouds in the Himalayas today, but there'll be an occasional break so the NASA team can catch a glimpse of some of the surrounding peaks. A little bit of mist may hang in the air, but no rain. As for the temperature...bundle up tonight as its a little bit chilly.

Thanks Larry, and now to Susan for traffic...

Chuck, its a mess on the trail to Namche. We've got a five yak pile up about three quarters of a mile out of Namche. There's also a slow moving donkey reported on one of the switchbacks, but we're still awaiting confirmation. The good news is the last suspension bridge prior to Namche is clear sailing. But none of this should really matter for the NASA team now that they're resting up to acclimate and day hike tomorrow.

Thanks Susan, and thanks folks for tuning in to this edition of Namche News.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Tea in Phakding

The team is trekking! We got off to a slow start this morning in Kathmandu due to weather delaying flights into Lukla. In fact the last plane with the second half of the team was the last flight in for the day as the clouds closed in on the surrounding peaks. After lunch and tea in Lukla, we packed our bags and made for the trail with only a couple pieces of luggage missing. Hopefully the weather in Lukla tomorrow will cooperate so the missing luggage can get delivered to us in Namche tomorrow. Despite the minor setbacks that no grand adventure is without, our team made great time on the trail; trekking in a light mist past large mani stones, prayer wheels, and before a sky of prayer flags strung between the trees. Due to the weather and our delayed start, our team crossed a long suspension bridge to a teahouse where we will be spending the night. After a shared Nepali dinner and a few cups of tea, we're all calling it a night to rest up for the challenging climb into Namche tomorrow!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Sorry, but i couldn't help the Bob Seager reference. Coming into Kathmandu yesterday there were a lot of team members that had the song in their mind. Since arriving yesterday, the group has been getting introduced to the primary guides for our trek and exploring Kathmandu.
Our hotel is located right in the tourist area of Thamel which is fun to walk. Today we further explored Kathmandu with a tour of the Swayambhu, or the "temple of the monkeys", located on a high hill in the city. Swayambhu (photo shown) is well known as a place of worship. We also toured the old city center which contains many of the old temples built between the 11th and 18th centuries.
This afternoon we will be visiting the PA Nepal Orphanage to deliver our donations as well as talk about NASA and science in general. Tomorrow we depart for Lukla, and begin our journey to the Base Camp. We had delayed our departure one day in order to align our schedule with Scott's so we would have a better opportunity to see him.
One more note I will add - our team made the front page of the Himalayan Times. It is very apparent that NASA has a well established brand name world wide and the city has grown interest knowing that several of us work for NASA.

Friday, April 17, 2009

And then there were 25

A quick status from Delhi - everyone of our team members has made to Delhi safe and sound, and with all pieces of luggage! The group is in very high spirits, and excited to make the next hop to Kathmandu which we will do later this morning. Right now everyone is enjoying breakfast on the roof top of our hotel in Delhi, the Hotel Grand Godwin.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Starting in the next 8 hours, our group will start heading to multiple airports en-route to our first major stop - Delhi, India. Those of us in the States will assemble in New York and head over together. Others are leaving from Paris and London. The preparation activity for the trip has noticeably increased over the past few weeks, including packing and last minute coordination/communication. WE ARE READY! And very excited to begin the journey.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

3 Weeks, 33 lb of Gear!

Lesley here. One of the most talked-about issues among the team (at least among us rookies) is our gear allowance. From Kathmandu to Lukla, we can only check one bag, which can weigh no more than 15 kg. So do you leave home those extra pairs of fresh undies, socks, or those yummy Clif bars? Yikes! Fortunately we have a chance to re-organize in Kathmandu and possibly leave some extras behind there - for those of us less disciplined at spartan living. Oh man, I hope I haven't forgotten something important.....

Friday, April 10, 2009

Exploration, Science, and Philanthropy

This years trek has a little more flavor to it than in the name of a good adventure. A previous blog mentioned some of the experiments that will be performed on volunteer time during the trek, but in addition to the science there are philanthropic plans with Kathmandu's PA Nepal Orphanage. Several of our team members will be providing eye examinations, lead by Dr. Keith Manuel, that will later follow with prescription glasses sent to the orphanage. Dental examinations will also be provided by Dr. Manjeet Singh. Everyone in the team is very excited to be involved in the many facets of this years trip. To read more, see the article posted in NASA Science. (Photo: 2008 PA Nepal visit by Adam Gilmore)

Final Get Together Before the Trip

On Thursday, several Houston locals met at Dr. Keith Manuel’s house for an education session from Dr Jeff Jones from JSC Flight Medicine on altitude related medical issues. Everyone (so I heard) enjoyed pizza and the great looking cake Donna had made for the group. Everyone, including myself can hardly wait to depart for Nepal. Climb on! (from Jenna Andrews)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Science and the Search for the Abominable Snow Algae

The 2009 Everest Trek Team will perform several scientific experiments along the way to and from Everest Base Camp. These experiments range from studies of behavioral patterns and awake/sleep adaptation, to searching for snow algae at high altitude. Many of these experiments have been -- and are being -- performed by astronauts in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Steve Vander Ark will bring psychology questionnaires for our team (the same as used by ISS crew members), as well as a cool little device worn on the wrist called 'Actiwatch'. The Actiwatch measures body movement and light intensity and will be used to study our awake/sleep patterns and Circadian rhythms during the trek (see http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/science/experiments/Actiwatch.html).

I'll bring another small device -- small is key whether launching to space or carrying it up Mount Everest! -- called Lab-on-a-Chip, or 'LOCAD-PTS', to search for snow algae (see http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/science/experiments/LOCAD-PTS-Exploration.html).

Snow algae are cold-tolerant algae that can turn snow a beautiful pinkish color and are often known as 'watermelon snow' (see picture at top). They have been observed in polar and mountainous regions, including the Himalayas, and have an important influence upon global climate. We'll show this device to children at the PA Nepal Orphanage in Kathmandu before the trek. Will we find the Abominable Snow Algae on Mount Everest? Stay tuned!

Photos: Top, 'Watermelon snow' - the pink color is derived from a photo-protective pigment in the algae. Bottom, Suni Williams uses LOCAD-PTS aboard the ISS (March 31, 2007).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Team NASA 2009 in Training

Climb stairs, jog, squats, climb stairs with pack, hike dike with pack, lather, rinse, repeat. Everyone on the 2009 trek has been in training mode for the past several months trying to ramp up our cardio and strength for the days on the trail that lay ahead. "So what are you training for?" I get asked while clodding away on the gym's treadmill at full incline with a pack strapped to my back. "Just some hiking." I reply. After a quizzical stare and a shrug of the shoulders, I get what is intended as a sarcastic response, "Where? The Himalayas?!" Well...ummm...yeah.

At least for those of us on the team from the Houston area, training for the upcoming trip has taken some creativity. I've heard of people using so-called mountains to train. Mountains...huh...perhaps those are like freeway overpasses but with dirt, rocks, and grass? Here in the vast land of the flat, dikes become our foothills and buildings of more than 5 stories become our 'mountains'. Unfortunately for some, hotel security has 'issues' with climbing the 'mountains'. I'm counting down the few remaining days until a smiling local will offer us a cup of tea on the 10th floor. If only there was an elevator for the trip down...or maybe those are called 'yaks' in Nepal?

Everyone has been doing an awesome job of motivating each other and working out in groups to prepare. Of course, the altitude can't be fully trained for, but the team is doing its best to stack the odds in our favor. Only about 9 more days and Team NASA 2009 will fully unite as we put all the preparation to the test and embark upon this grand journey!


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Discovery Channel to feature IMG

The guide company that Scott is traveling with, International Mountain Guides, will be getting some film time. From the IMG website; "In 2009 IMG will return to with a few more members! IMG Himalayan Director Eric Simonson, and a film team featuring IMG on Discovery Channel’s popular Everest TV series, will join the great group of climbers and trekkers already on board for IMG’s 2009 Everest expedition. "

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Scott has departed

The first one of us is on his way - Scott Parazynski left Houston today en route to Kathmandu. Scott will be training over the next few months in Nepal in preparation for his endeavor to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The rest of our group leaves April 16th, and will see Scott next at Base Camp when we arrive there. Read more about Scott's departure on http://onorbit.com/node/840.