October 14, 2018
It is that time of year again where Sonya Vasilieff comes down to Las Vegas and we try to accomplish some adventures.
This year our goal — set months ago — was to do the most difficult trail in Zion National Park — Observation Point. Many people think Angel’s Landing it the hardest — it is the most exposed and daring hike, but Mt. Baldy sores above it and features close to 2200 feet in elevation gain in four miles. It tops out at around 6500 feet total. Let that sink in. (Sonya comes from the Seattle area and lives at about 500 feet elevation, so that is a jump for her.) We added in Eric Besserud and met up at our vacation rental in Hurricane, Utah, so that we could get an early start and be in the park before there was no more parking. We enjoyed a wonderful meal at The Stage Coach Grill in La Verkin before settling in to a nights rest.
Upon arrival at the park, we quickly got on the bus to the trail head. Stop number seven on the Zion Shuttle. Just as we approached the stop the driver advised us all to look up at the top of observation point. We did. My head snapped around and I looked at Sonya, who had also just snapped her head around to look at me. She exclaimed: “Oh, we aren’t doing that!” Though I thought the very same thing, I had to push back or I wouldn’t make it a step up that trail, let alone have a chance at the top.
We got off the shuttle, donned our packs, and started. Sonya led the way and Eric hung back with me….the slow one. The trail wasted no time in showing the steepness we were to face the entire way. The trail shares a start with the Weeping Rock trailhead, just go to the right of the interpretive signs instead of left and you will be headed up Observation Point Trail. You begin at 4,394 ft of elevation and a 10% grade. (The maximum permissible grade on most highways in 6%.) I was thinking about Sonya, starting this hike 3,894 feet above the altitude she lives at! I topped out at 5,763 feet for an elevation gain of 1,369 feet in under two miles up. Parts of the trail were 33% grade. At least that is what the profiles I have been able to find reveal.
I passed through so many different beautiful areas — canyons, slots, canopy cover — but I was working overtime and just under two miles I hit a big wall. I bonked. Sonya had left us long ago. I figured she overcame her original statement and just accessed something inside to hunker down and do the work. I told Eric I needed a break and he went on up to catch Sonya. He caught her just below the top. It was nice to have him pushing me to keep going, and I made great progress over my previous, post knee replacement hikes. But only 50 pounds down and not enough training left me with no more gas in the tank and the need to evaluate whether to continue up after a rest or to turn back.
The great Ed Viesturs talked about calculated risks in a presentation I heard him give once. I had to calculate the risk of expending energy to continue up and determine whether I would have enough left to get back down. At this level of steepness getting down was not going to be an easy trot down the trail. I also had to factor in time. In the end, It was clear, I had to go down. Even with that decision, I wasn’t sure that I would get down before the others got to the top, turned down and caught me on the decent.
So I worked my way back down, at times with minute steps and a fear of slipping on the sandy gravel that often times coated the smooth, chiseled rock path. Hiking poles were a saving grace. Other than stepping off trail to allow others passage, I did not take breaks going down. I just kept working. All the while curious about Sonya and Eric. I really wanted Sonya to hit the top. There was no way for me to know if she did. She has been working so hard and expanding her fitness and I thought to top Mt. Baldy would prove to her how strong she really is.
Going down it was very clear just how steep it was. And no surprise why my FitBit reported that I had been in my peak cardiac zone for over two hours! It also stated that I had burned 5,066 calories, been in active minutes for 214 minutes and had taken 16,487 steps. All in all, information to establish a benchmark going forward.
Until next year, we have done it again!
I am finishing packing and about to load Ace the Honda Pilot. I will head on over to Maggie’s at noon. From there, Jim will ferry us over to McCarran International Airport and send us off to Miami. We hit Miami, then Lima, Peru then Cuzco Peru and all the fun we have worked for will begin!!! I have had a few sleepless nights and frenetic moments this past week. Shirts coming in late, getting last minute details tied up and the dogs in order so they will be ready for the house sitter. I am really struggling with the weight limits for the porters and hope I got the gear trimmed down well. Today I checked the weather and it looks like the ten day forecast in Peru calls for rain. Every day that we are there. Rain gear packed and ready.
Things began to jell on Wednesday when we did shirt sorting and delivery. I was none too happy with TEESPRING as they messed up my order. Some shirts were missing and some were damaged. That can happen. The real disappointment was that they could not get anything fixed for two to three weeks. They did refund the money and wills still provide the replacement shirts. Just that some people won’t have them for the TOAST TWO AT DEAD WOMAN’S PASS and GET WRECKED AT THE RUINS events.
It was fun doing the t-shirt events. One at Barking Dogs, one at Starbucks and one at Sambalatte. Fun to see people I haven’t seen face to face in some time and was great how enthusiastic they are about the trek. The Beesaws are planning a PCT through hike. Sarah Knipple is planning at least a section of the PCT. Dick and Natalie Dower are leaving a couple weeks after me to do their 10th year of 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. A climbing competition that is grueling, fun for them and the do fabulous things at it. The weather forecast calls for rain throughout. At least some each day. But we have all the proper gear and the adventure is what ever gets thrown at us.
Maggie and I went to Creative Salon and got pedi’s. I had my nails done and a haircut. Gotta get it all whacked off when I know that I cannot wash it for a number of days.
Not much more for me to add right now. I am a bit anxious and also excited. I know things will be fun and experiences will be unique. I cannot wait to share pictures and stories with you all. Thanks so much for all the support and enthusiasm we have received from our friends and family. HERE WE GO!
A year ago this week, I was making my final preparations to depart on the most epic adventure of my lifetime. I was excited and scared all at the same time, but two years of preparations were going to come down to what would happen when my plane touched down in Kahtmandu. You can read about the daily adnventures of the trip on all the previous blog posts, but one of the chapters is just finishing up, all these months later.
One night after a long day of trekking, we were just finishing our evening. The stove in the center of the room had at last been lit, and we were regaining much wanted warmth from the yak dung fire. Our Mountain Madness staff all came in…the porters, the kitchen staff, the sherpas and the yak herders. Each one of them assembled with us, all smiling at us even after they had worked a long hard day in addition to the trek in order to make our trip comfortable. Deana Zebaldo, our Guide, interpreted while each one of them introduced himself to us, told about his job responsibilities on the trek and then a little personal information. It was mezmerizing to hear these men speak of their lives in Nepal and their families. Most were farmers the bulk of the year, but worked in the trekking industry to try to get a leg up for their families. Getting a leg up meant taking an English class, getting more lumber for the building of your home, or paying for school for your children.
I was a slow trekker. Real slow. As a result, I was the last in my group and therefore always had a sherpa with me. Most days that Sherpa was Mane. a 24 year old man who was unmarried and lived in a house three days trek out of Lukla. He told us that one of the reasons he was working as a sherpa was because he was a member ofhe Untouchable caste. Because of this, when the power company was running power into his village, his family along with five other familes, were left out. However, due to changeing attitudes in the region, they can now get the power company to bring the power in, but it would be costly for them. At the time I heard this, I thought it was awful and figured it was simply cost prohibitive. I asked Deana how much it was going to take for them to get the power put in. She told me she would find out. I figured it was a massive amount of money. Not knowing much about the existing infrastructer, and knowing that anything that was going to be brought in to the village was going to have to be flown in to Lukla and then walked by porter for three days into his village, it was not going to be cheep.
A couple of more days passed with me bringing up the rear of the group. Each day, Mane was there with me, carrying my pack, stopping me to eat and drink…and always smiling.
Finally, Deana was able to determine how much Mane and the other villagers were going to have to come up with to get the power in. It was around $2,600 dollars…not much more than my plane ticket for the trek. But for him and the others, it was a huge amount of money. It wasn’t something they would be able to do that year…it was going to take several years to save up the money. And with the corruption in Nepal, the price would change as they got involved in the process.
On April 8, 2012, Mane delivered me safely to Mt. Everest Base Camp at 17,800 feet above sea level. I had fulfiled my goal and my dream. I would leave base camp rather abruptly, so the picture above is one of my last moments with Mane. Though I have never seen or spoken directly to him since, I feel like he is an adopted son. I began to think more and more of his lack of electricity and when I got home, many of the people following my trek expressed their gratitude and admiration for Mane too. I started a fund and within about a month, over 40 people contributed to his getting power. The outpouring was humbling. We got all the money together and wired it to Dawa, the Big Boss Sherpa who was also with us on the trek and who would walk three days to Mane’s village to get things started. He would also have to walk three days home and stay two nights each way in a tea house. That is life in the himalayas.
Back home in the USA we were all waiting with baited anticipation to see the final product. The Monsoon Season was long and rainy, so we waited. But then we heard that Mane was heading the project up and that it was underway! So we waited. Then we heard that the internet cafe was closed in Lukla and there was no service to get pictures out. So we waited. (There is no postal service in the Himalayas, it is all hand carried.)
Then I heard from Sagar through Deana. Sagar is the man who takes care of all the Mountain Mandess personel in Nepal. He also took good care of me in Kahtmandu after my evacuation. He sent the long awaited pictures of the lights burning bright in Mane’s house! And as the trekking season begins, Mane’s family is at home without him, with lights to sit in the evening and enjoy each other’s company. I will leave you with the pictures and the thought that how something that looks so easy and simple and small has changed 6 families lives high in the Himalayas of Nepal.
I was at CrossFit Max Effort yesterday as part of my amped up efforts to prepare for my Trek as well as simply to get in shape for the health of it. Because I have not been consistent, it was a tough one. But they always are. I love the feeling of working at maximum output.
It was nice to see owner Zach Forrest after his weekend at the 2011 CrossFit Games where he came in at 12th in the world! That is quite an endorsement for the gym!
The first sign that this was going to be brutal was the buckets of sweat rolling off my face…..during the warm up. Lauren does a good job of getting the muscle groups ready for the impending onslaught of horror. She also gets the joints ready to contort and bend in ways never intended by the gods of sedentary behavior.
When the workout began in earnest, I was apprehensive. Healing up from the blister hike had taken me out for a few weeks and the rounds of scaled Muscle Ups, Sit Ups with 10 pounds on my chest, dead lifts and rows were bound to hit back hard. And they did not disappoint. Lauren scaled me to three rounds. I got the fun I AM GOING TO BLOW CHIPS feeling and the great ROOM IS SPINNING that comes with not being there working out consistently. But in the end, it was great to be back and to know that my schedule will allow me two days a week for the next two months. After that I ramp up to three.
I am the old woman in the room. I love seeing the young people working out so hard to stay in shape and enjoying the toughness of it. I will take a CrossFit Max Effort banner with me to Everest Base Camp to celebrate what they are doing to help me get there.
After my epic blister hike of Saturday, I wanted to be more pragmatic about my preparation going forward. I decided I needed to know everything about this trek I was embarking on and in doing so, better plan the remaining 8 1/2 months of training to get there. By reading the Mountain Madness itinerary, and another base camp trek blog I searched out, I was able to analyze the trip and thus get a clearer picture of what I was in for. I would actually be hiking about 80 miles with 12 days of actual hiking going on. There are two days of rest built-in, but from what I gather, rest means hiking. The only difference is, you are not making progress toward the destination, just going up and down to acclimatize. I would be breathing at altitudes that ranged from 73% Oxygen, (known as O’s for the lingo savvy) down to about 50% O’s. See. I am savvy. Here is what I found:
Day 1: Descend 650 feet, breath 73% O’s, travel 3 miles.
Day 2: Ascend 2600 feet, breath 64% O’s, travel 6 miles
Day 3: Ascend 1587, breath 60% O’s, travel 6 miles.
Day 4: Ascend 1363 feet, breath 57% O’s, travel 5 miles.
Day 5: Ascend 2200 feet, breath 53% O’s, travel 4.5 miles.
Day 6: Ascend 850 feet, breath 52% O’s, travel 10 miles.
Day 7: Ascend 1500 feet, descend 1500 feet, breath 50% O’s.
Day 8: Ascend 575 feet, travel 3.2 miles.
Day 9: Descend 575 feet travel 3.2 miles.
Day 10: Descend 2400 feet.
Day 11: Descend 3300 feet.
Day 12: Descend 1950 feet, travel 9 miles.
I still have some research to find some info to fill in toward the end of the return, but clearly, this is going to be a knee crushing, leg whipping, lung busting adventure!
At work, when we are standing around the proverbial water cooler and I am regaling them with stories of my weekend adventures, one or two of them often tell me their three year old kids can do that. It is all in good fun. But it is true also. Their kids are out their burning up trails I am struggling with.
Yesterday, my brother and I went to the South Loop of Mt Charleston. Charleston is the highest peak in the area. We had no plans of going to the summit, but we were hoping to go to what is called the Saddle. I was a bit nervous because this hike starts at 7600 feet. I am always worried that I will start out and find that as the altitude increases I will find some aversion to it that will indicate I am one of those people who cannot do the altitude thing. I am borrowing worry. I know.
We started out and as usual for me, I get winded right off the bat. I never know if that is because I try to keep up with my brother or if it is just the way I warm up. My brother asked how it was going and I said fine, but he kept telling me we were on the flat. He lied. And he laughed about it after. I know he lied because when I was coming down later, my knees took a beating on that part of my decent. I guess since he doesn’t have a three year old to brag about running full speed on these trails, he just lies about the trails.
We passed a lot of people coming down. And my kayaking pal Kate Sigworth was on the trail with her dog (over three).
She started when we did but was coming down when we were just to the first overlook. She had offered to hike with us but I told her that I was so slow that she would not get done what she was there to do.
I use a trip tracking program to track distance and altitude changes in the hikes I do as well as to map routs to climbing walls. It is called EveryTrail and this is the South Loop information it recorded for me. I find that it does some strange stuff. If you look at it it seems to go off and record some weird running around stuff that I know never happened. But it is what I have right now and it recorded that I gained 2200 feet in elevation on 4.5 miles. SO my hike was 9 miles and topped out at 9800 feet of elevation.
My Base Camp trek will start at 9350 and actually descends from that altitude to 8700 feet that first day. I don’t think altitude hits me hard but will have to get higher to have a better idea of that.
Going up was very slow for me. Four hours to get 4.5 miles in 2200 feet. Coming down took 2 hours. Mainly because there were lots of little stair steps that wreak havoc with my knees. In the first mile going up I had two huge blisters on my heels and coming down my toes and balls of my feet were either dead or on fire. That means the Asolo boots I got are not the ones for me. I will go back to the Keens I had before. But as I sit hear today, my muscles are not sore. My knees and feet are, mainly bone sore from bad boots and lots of steep decent. So all in all, I might not beat your three year old. But I can drive and don’t have to go to bed early. So there is a trade off.
July 1, 2011. Las Vegas. 106 degrees fahrenheit Altitude: 2014 feet.
Fast forward nine months in the life of Karen Whelan:
April 1, 2012. Thyanboche, Nepal. 40 degrees fahrenheit. Altitude: 14,250 feet.
When people talk about two places being worlds apart…I think this is what they mean. Going from the Mojave desert to the Khumbu can hardly be more opposite. Though I grew up in the Great Pacific Northwest, I have lived the last 14 years here. Vegas gets HOT HOT HOT. But it does also get cold in the winter. We have even had snow from time to time. This very last winter seemed to be oh so cold and windy. But the house and office were both warm and cozy.
Once in Nepal, I will not see another hot day until I return. There will be 25 days of weather ranging from warm to very cold. Nights, though in tea houses, will be spent in a Big Agnes 0 degree sleeping bag with a sub 5 degree sleeping pad in an unheated room. Of course, the best night of all will be at Everest Base camp in a tent.
I am getting incrementally more excited about this trip and as the summer wears on and we eventually emerge from the heat to the late fall cooling, I will likely start to get some idea of what I am, at least in the lower elevations, in for!
Thanks to a climbing friend of mine, Eric Darr, I found Steep and Cheap. I wish I had found it sooner as in just a week I bought my Big Agnes Moon Hill 0 degree sleeping bag for $143.95. I scored an Obermeyer base layer shirt for $24.00. And I got a High Gear solar pod for @24.00.
These prices are great and if I had known about it earlier, I could be literally hundreds of dollars ahead of the game right now. On the other hand, I keep seeing things I want but don’t really need right now and it is difficult not to grab it. I have a lot of stuff yet to get, but my gear pile is getting higher and the big items are almost all in now. I am excited about all the stuff and its use in the Big Mountains!
24 MAR 12 – SATURDAY – UNITED AIRLINES FLT:694
LAS VEGAS TO SAN FRANCISCO 01HR 34MIN
I will head to McCarren International Airport after a big giant pet fest with my puppies and depart for San Francisco. This will be a familiar flight to see my sister and God parents before leaving the good ol’ U.S. of A. I am sure I will be quite excited and feel differently than the usual San Fran trip.
27 MAR 12 – TUESDAY AIR CATHAY PACIFIC FLT:873 SAN FRANCISCO TO HONG KONG 14HR 05MIN
I will catch a ride from my sister, in her cool Mini-Cooper of great big varooms,
to San Francisco International Airport . Hope that it will hold all my gear for the trip! Next stop HONG KONG! Will have a 12 hour lay over so hope to sneak out into the streets of Hong Kong and get my China on!
28 MAR 12 – WEDNESDAY – AIR CATHAY PACIFIC FLT:6732 HONG KONG TO KATMANDU 06HR 25MIN
Then in Katmandu where the guides of Mountain Madness will pick me up and whisk me off for the trek of a lifetime!
14 APR 12 – SATURDAY AIR CATHAY PACIFIC FLT:6731
KATHMANDU-HONG KONG 04HR 40MIN
I am hoping there will be a way to see my Cousin Leo and his wife and daughter if they have joined him in China by then. If not at least to see him would be a blast given it is about 45 minutes by train to where he is living.
15 APR 12 – SUNDAY AIR CATHAY PACIFIC FLT:870 HONG KONG TO SAN FRANCISCO 12HR 30MIN
This tiring long flight will be the exhausted end of my adventure with one more bit of fun! My sister will meet me at the airport for eating and regaling of stories before she sends me off to Las Vegas.
UNITED AIRLINES FLT:609 SAN FRANCISCO TO LAS VEGAS 01HR 26MIN
And at last, back to the Doll House (my cool Vegas digs) where I am reunited with my puppies and crash with the full exhaustion of it all.
As I sit at Starbucks in the warm Vegas heat wearing flip flops and Wayfarers, it occurs to me that only 9 months from now, I will be departing for Everest. Mount Everest. I will be undergoing an adventure like no other I have undergone. I have done a bit of traveling. I spent three months in the Philippines with Alliance Youth Corp in 1983. That was a great trip and a cultural explosion for my pretty narrow view of life to that point. I have traveled in South America and Europe as well. Those trips were tourist trips with fine hotels and great transportation. But the Everest Trek? That will be EPIC.
I came across a blog about the trek and am reading it like it is GOLD! This is like previewing the day for day I am going to see and feel and hear and ouch and it is exciting! Hiking in Red Rock, below, will be the bizarro world opposite of what I can expect in Nepal.