Episode 001: Walmart to Kathmandu
The Everest expedition begins. We start things off with a trip to Wal-Mart to get as much “high energy” snack foods as we can pack in our duffel bags. After a couple of days of packing, we finally board a plane and head west for Asia. There’s a little problem with overbooking in Bangkok and Major stays behind to catch the next day’s flight to Kathmandu. Enough with the SARS masks–Ben and Jon make it to Kathmandu and meet up with Karma. We discuss the merits of drinking the tap water and meet Lhakpa Nuru, one of Ben’s climbing partners. He’s one of the strongest Sherpa-Mountaineers in the world. A true climbing machine.
Kathmandu is an amazing city and these first few hours are a blur for me. Thamel, the tourist district, buzzes with activity and color. We’ve finally made it, I just hope Major get’s here in one piece
Total Running Time: 34:14
Dispatch 1, April 4, 2003: Pacific Ocean
I’ve never had an adventure without a hitch. Of course, barring an incident in 2002’ when a vital piece of my climbing gear was confiscated, I’ve never had a flight experience so dramatic. The dilemma centered on our travel to Bangkok.
We arrived at Denver International Airport three hours early to check in, I know better. Handing our three passports and plane tickets to the woman at the check in counter, I took in a deep breath realizing I was about to be hit with a $350 overweight baggage fee. Just as I exhaled the adventure began. “Sir, I can’t check you in to this flight” she said. Not losing my cool I replied” And why is that?”
A thirty-minute negotiation began, I laid out all the information she needed, she stood her ground. She was not going to let us board the plane without a sixty-day visa. Something I knew was not a problem. Something we did not need until we had already flown through Bangkok and arrived in Nepal. Finally after having stated 6 times “I know I can acquire a Visa as soon as I arrive a t the airport at Kathmandu” She blushed. Sheepishly she said “Sir, you’re flying to Kathmandu?” “Yes”, I replied for the seventh time.
Just like that, an hour long struggle to board the plane flying through Bangkok was rewarded with approval. She had overlooked, for 45 minutes, our final destination and wouldn’t grant us permission to land in Bangkok without a visa we didn’t need. People make mistakes, she was just being careful.
A little confusion wasn’t going to stop us from flying. A few more minutes and even the overweight baggage fee dropped $230. We boarded the flight, and with more than a smile started our adventure.
Dispatch 2, April 5, 2003: Bangkok
We boarded a United Airlines flight on April 4th and were routed through Seattle, Tokyo, and finally into Bangkok, Thailand in just over 18 hours of flight time. Traveling for 18 hours in an airplane sitting up and crammed like sardines in a can isn’t so bad. Difficulty was not eased while we breathed through the surgical masks we wore to protect us from SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Everywhere we looked people wore masks. They were normal people, people talking on cell-phones and people joking with each other, they were the people who served us our food on the airplane. We were flying to the epicenter of this unidentifiable disease’s birth. Conversations, expressions, and emotions were muffled by the masks obtrusive design, fear was not so easily hidden.
We arrived in Bangkok at almost 11 PM on April 5th, where we stayed in a hotel adjacent to the airport and finally slept in a bed after 18 hours of sitting. We looked forward to arriving in Kathmandu the following afternoon. We are all happy to be only one more step from the Himalayas.
Dispatch 3, April 6, 2003: Kathmandu
One six-hour flight from Bangkok to Kathmandu and the first leg of our journey towards Everest will be complete. Of course, this is Everest and since getting there is 90% of the battle, why be surprised when yet another obstacle is presented? Major King, Jon Miller, and myself, weren’t surprised at all when almost forced to spend another night in the SARS ridden region of Bangkok,Thailand.
During breakfast, I ran into a friend of mine, who I had last seen at 22,841’, on top of the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere, Aconcagua. He too was on his way to the Himalayas and had luckily already gotten his boarding pass to the flight we needed to take that morning. It is always a good time catching up with old climbing friends in places where the rest of the world would never think of looking but that we seem to always be. Twenty minutes later the morning took another unexpected turn, this time in a negative direction.
Arriving two hours early for the flight to Kathmandu, we started the process of checking in. Our bags had been checked all the way to Kathmandu from Denver so we anticipated very little trouble in boarding the flight, only needing to pick up our boarding passes. The young lady behind the ticket counter peered at us with wandering eyes above her facemask, which hid her ominous expression. Darting left to right searching for a superior it became clear something was wrong. Soon a man appeared with his facemask down around his neck, sweat beading from his brow and an explanation that owed us a human face and not an excuse from a masked man.
“Sir” he explained “Only two of you will be able to fly to Kathmandu today.” “ A smaller plane has replaced the original plane because of technical difficulties.” Realizing the amount of planning that went into this trip, I was prepared for this and already had a plan. However, in light of the recent SARS epidemic, Bangkok is no place for someone about to depart for the highest country in the world and attempting to reach 29,035’. I grappled with the decision for twenty minutes, I let Jon and Major make it, and then boarded the plane.
Although I finally got to see Everest out the window on the plane flight to Kathmandu, It was bittersweet knowing I had to leave someone behind in a foreign country. Jon and I arrived in Kathmandu and began organizing with our logistics manager, Karma. We have three days here and will pick up Major tomorrow when he arrives on a separate flight. Rest is well deserved tonight after dinner!