Images of Everest Basecamp and the Himex Expedition 2009

Namche Bazaar, Everest Region, Solokhumbu, Nepal at night by Alex TreadwayNamche Bazaar at night © Alex Treadway

If you have 5 minutes spare that you can split into 30 seconds and 4 minutes 30 seconds, then take 30 seconds to download Alex’s amazing images from Everest basecamp this year. Click the picture or the link below and download the PDF linked to the lower left of the page.

Alex spent over a month at the camptaking pictures for his and Billi Bierling’s Everest Changes People project. 

If you are lucky, you can get the PDF to give you 4.30 of slideshow – not sure how you do it, just give it a try. If you know anyone who has been to Everest basecamp, forward them the link now. 

Pee on your basil

If you have the problem of your pasta getting cold while you are waiting for your basil garnish to grow, try peeing on it. Actually, perhaps it is better to pee into some kind of container to prevent accidents on the windowsill.

This photo comes from the GTZ headquarters in Eschborn, Germany where they are working on promoting ecological sanitation.

Urine is a great fertilizer, the only real problem with it is that it is liquid so hard to transport. But if you have a garden, it works really well on plants when diluted around 5:1. 

The other problem with urine is this rational or irrational yuk factor. Urine in its pissed-up-the-side-of-a-building form is really no good. Urea breaks down slowly in air releasing amonia which has a characteristically pungent smell which makes no friends. Kept in a container and applied to soil directly this does not happen as soil bacteria can begin to process it immediately in to more stable forms.

One day this century we’ll have to do this as a critical and irreplaceable element in fertilizer becomes more scarce. 

Click on the photo to learn more.

Big surprise: plants make your environment healthier

“Either you are overwhelmed by the fact that there are so many problems and so many people,’ says Kamal Meattle, ‘or you find solutions to help in any way you can.”

Kamal Meattle owns and runs a company with the ‘healthiest building in Delhi’ which is part of a Software Technology Incubator park. Over 17 years ago Meattle became allergic to Delhi’s polluted air and his lung capacity dropped to just 70%, which he states, “was killing me.” As a long time environmental activist with a history of finding simple and elegant solutions to environmental problems, his natural curiosity lead him to find a way of improving the air he was breathing without heading out to the hills and never returning.

His research came from a variety of sources including NASA who were interested in providing breathable air in a lunar habitat. From this research, three plants were chosen that would improve the air day and night.

The common Areca palm converts your office’s CO2 into oxygen in the daytime while Mother-in-law’s Tongue does the same by at night making it ideal for sleeping rooms. The Money plant helped remove volatile chemicals, such benzene from traffic pollution and formaldehydes, given off by the increasing amount of plastics, lacquers and solvents used in our homes.

In Meattle’s office environment, the affects on worker’s health, for very little effort, are remarkable. Incidence of eye irritation reduced by 52 percent, respiratory irritation by 34 percent, headaches by 24 percent and asthma by 9 percent. With the incidence of asthma on the increase in homes near heavy traffic areas, every little helps.

Other research paints a similarly positive picture. Surgery patients whose rooms overlooked vegetation recovered faster than others with an urban view: just being able to see greenery (let’s call it ‘nature’) has a calming effect and reduces stress, speeding recovery.

In one Norwegian hospital absence due to illness fell from 15% to 5% when plants were introduced into the workplace. All in all, plants make for a very good return on investment.

One of each plant dropped the corner of a room is not going to help much. The research recommends four shoulder high palms in the living or working space, six to eight Mother-in-law’s tongues in the sleeping room and several large money plants, or more, if you have any space left that is.

The plants must be loved too, which means wiping leaves free of dust regularly so that they themselves can breath and, importantly, using good potting compost. Contrary to what you might think, it is not the plants’ leaves that do the cleaning, but microorganisms living in the potting mix and exist in symbiosis relationship with the plants’ roots.

Now the really interesting claim made by Meattle is, in his experience, an increase of a 20%+ in human productivity by using these plants in the working environment.

As we all know, the government are facing endless headaches and with all that needs fixing, a boost in productivity would not go amiss.

If only some entrepreneur could go and ply their horticultural trade in the soporific corridors of Singa Durbar, perhaps the country will be able to get (back) on its feet in 20% less time with 24% less head pain? It’s worth a try.

Mango season

Mango season, originally uploaded by rpb1001.

I am not exactly sure how this small piece of mango reached the floor, but these ants found it and claimed it and are dragging it up the wall, homeward bound.

On the one hand, it shows the fantastic cooperation of ants: all pulling and pushing together in the right direction with such effectiveness that 30 or so can lift an oh-so-delicious object up a vertical wall.

On the other hand, a couple of hours on, and after a bit of help from me and a spoon, they seem to have just realised that they’re never going to be able to get it though the narrow crack between the window and its frame.

Tough as nails

This is the wife of a tough man. She is pretty tough herself.

The photo is a rushed shot as I was basically late. The helicopter took two days to come, but I was late when it did. So, a snap of a tough man’s wife in her waiting position with two flasks of tea. In the background, a helicopter taking off with a ‘kitchen boy’ (perhaps in his late 40s) with broken ribs and a 65000 dollar paying client with a couple of frost bitten digits.

The shadow lurking in the background is Dr Jeph, the doctor of the two patients’ expedition.

I have forgotten the name of both patients. I think the man who broke his ribs is called Tsorten or something similar. He was working as, tells Jeph, a ‘kitchen boy’ – his reverse pejorative term – and I guess it means general all rounder with a large bias towards load carrying. With such a load, a big one, he was decending to basecamp through the ice-fall. On bending down to clip into the fixed (safety) rope lying on the snow, his overly tall load toppled him into the crevasse infront of him before his clip was on the rope. He fell 20-30m and landed on his back on a snow bridge. Subsequently rescued he was carried down to basecamp in a basket, although the story goes he got out to walk the last 3 minutes to save face – same on leaving basecamp, painfully walking until the tents were out of view.

For a couple of nights he stayed in the lodge waiting for a helicopter to take him to hospital, pneumonia was a worry. It was interesting to watch him sitting snoozing in a corner of the warm room in the lodge. As breath went in and out of his mouth, his left side remained still, not lifting. A respiratory limp I suppose. Although pain would come with every chest movement, even although he’d been given a good amount of morphine, he never complained or showed the pain on his face.

I am sure I saw his wife wipe a tear away as the helicopter rose above its dustcloud – such injuries would normally be very serious in a remote environment. But now the client and the employee were safely off to Kathmandu to get repaired and both, with time, will be ok.

Oh, and this ‘kitchen boy’ has reportedly summitted Everest several times as well as other high peaks in the area. Tough as nails. 

How to clean a toilet without chemicals

This is good – I saw it some time back and have often thought about it. It uses prevention and thinking rather than, well, the opposite.
The premise is that squirting chemicals into the environment will-nilly isn’t good. The second point is that it often isn’t necessary. If it is not necessary then coating (and staining?) the bowl in blue (the colour of clean?) coloured drips is a small and mindless act of pollution (ask the folks who manage the sewage plants, or a fish). 
As the author points out, if you scrub with the brush once a week, your toilet will remain nice and clean. That’s it. 
It is also interesting to contemplate the marketing of toilet cleaners which are all about making us afraid of germs and smells. Firstly the smells: open the window and wait. Secondly those germs. “Kills 99% of all known germs, even under the rim!”. Picture the team of researchers swabbing peoples fingers in trains running up and down the length of the UK. Guess what they found! Around 50% of those swabbed had faecal matter on their fingers! The last place we need to be worried about germs is under the toilet’s rim, it’s a hoax! Worry about the light switch!

90 Kilograms

This is a guy from Namche Bazaar working as a porter returning on the loose and rocky trail from Everest Base Camp with a load to take to the (helicopter) landing strip close to Namche.

One gas bottle, if completely empty, is 14.9Kg. The blue drums could weigh anything.  In total he stated the load weighed around 90Kg which is carried via a strap over the forehead. Just to watch his strained face as he put the load down, trying to keep it vertical, was painful.

This opportunity to make money comes around only so often so when it comes, however the load looks, you take it. 

Everest marathon 2009 non event report


I won! And I came last.

Due to a need to put my signature on a piece of paper in Kathmandu, I missed running the official Everest marathon race on the 29th May. I did run the beautiful course, however, 4 days before, alone, in the snow and rain.

The marathon has been run since 2003 aiming to commemorate the historical ascent of Mount Everest by Late Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953. From the marathon website:

The Marathon Event is to salute these 2 Great Heroes of our Human Civilization, regardless of their Nationality & origin, ventured out into the unknown and carried Human spirit to the TOP of the World or the Summit of Mother Earth, glorifying the success of the entire mankind civilization.

That’s quite a lot to salute.

On the other hand it is reasonably good business taking around 50 or so Westerners on a $2200 trek. Perhaps a bit of the profit can be spent on hiring a copywriter for the website.

Running a marathon on your own is quite different to being part of an event. Firstly, there is no build up to a deadline, a start line or a start time. You can just saunter up to the starting location on any day you please and go. There is no collective excitement or sense of competition or importance and hence people can’t really take your proposed activity too seriously as it is just your own private business. And so it is quite pleasant: no nerves, little competitiveness, just a whiff of adventure and a hint that you’re under the direction of your own free-will.

Still, with tired legs from a week of trekking about and tired everything else from poor nights’ sleep at altitude, I had to rely on strength from the pages of a book I had just read. Mike Stroud’s ‘Survival of the fittest’ recounted his months of dragging a sled across the Antarctic on a starvation diet; his and Ranulf Fienes’ 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents just months after Fiennes’ near-fatal heart attack; and the story of the 72 year old ultra-marathoning grandmother competing in an 8 day Eco-challenge across the wild west of the United States. Then there is the amazing Lizzy Hawker and team who had trodden this trail some years before with Kathmandu as a destination.

The mantra ‘don’t wish it was easier, wish you were tougher’ hung limply in my mind.

So on a glacier at 10:21 on a Monday morning, after several hours of focused procrastination stealing cups of coffee in various expedition mess tents and welcoming climbers back down from up, after slipping on ice and cutting a finger deeply and after chatting with an expedition tired Dawa Stephen Sherpa and about the weather and where the path had gone, I began slowly walking through the thickening snow in the direction of the finish.

The course begins at Everest basecamp, which is a strange and colourful mess of tents planted on the Khumbu glacier. It’s also a sort of psychiatric ward, but that is another story. The stony path winds around the glacial, mini-mountainscape of crumpled ice and meltwater streams. After a kilometre or two, it climbs on to the lateral moraine, the huge pile of debris skirting the glacier. Only after about 5km is solid ground encountered but even then it is far from smooth. This and the following 5km remain over 5000m.

It is this section that the organisers must be referring to when they claim it to be the “World’s ultimate race”. Yes, its difficult but it is just a limitation. There’s less oxygen going to your muscles, including the muscles of your heart and lungs, so it is ever so easy for your oxygen demand to outstrip supply in the heavy blink of an eye leaving you in a crumpled, oxygen-indebted pile needing precious time to recover. To prevent this, I implemented a strict no-running-up-hills policy. I followed it to the letter of the law and it kind of worked: walking is moving and hands-on-knees-panting is not, and it looks silly.

But by jogging here in a careful and controlled manner, it is possible to collect admiring comments from ascending exhausted trekkers, from descending unsummitted mountaineers and even stationary, resting porters who don’t realise what they could also do if they put their baskets down and ran.

Relief, but not much, comes at about 15km where the path heads steeply down hill past Thukla at 4600m and then rolls along looking down on the wide-open Pheriche valley to Dingboche at 4400m. The downhill is wonderful and takes only the minimum of breath to keep you rolling along like a shopping trolley in a sloping car park.

Running your own race you also have to manage your own refreshments. Running on a trekking route makes this easy and you can burst into any lodge and order a cup of hot lemon, black tea or beer of course and hand over your soggy money. This is a slower process that the grab-and-run water station on a marathon course, and out of politeness you’ll sit while the tea is made making it a little tricky to start off again, so before you know it you’ve been stopped for 5 minutes already, longer if the tea is hot.

With the decreased altitude, the ‘ultimate race’ became simply a beautiful, wet and muddy run in the hills. But the altitude was replaced by rough descents and steep uphills. In Pangboche, just over half way, I was joined by a boy of about 16, who, standing in the doorway of his house, threw down his cigarette and started running. He kept this up for the next 8 kilometres and he was a great help to keep me from stopping to admire the view or re-tie my shoelaces.

At over three-quarters of the way came the first major uphill and it felt like the wobbly change from bike to run in the triathlon as different muscles were asked to wake up. The muddy slope up to Tengboche was like climbing up a greasy pole. Reaching the monastery at the top was a relief but then came 600m of crashing decent to another cup of tea and the realisation that the legs were past their best before date. And then 600m back uphill todo.

The remainder of the marathon was a heavy push up to Kumjung and Khunde where the famous Hillary School is located followed by a decent to Namche Bazaar and the cheering crowds that wouldn’t be there for four more days.

Kumjung and Khunde are beautiful in the rain. Neat and tidy they look like a Welsh holiday village. Not at all like a ‘normal’ Nepali village, whatever that might be, but quiet, litter free, maintained and even with streetlights, though there are no motorable roads. It points to the extensive positive affect Edmund Hillary has had on the area over the last five decades.

And to the final disadvantage of solo marathoning: getting lost. With just 7km to go the stopwatch said 5h15. In actuality, the last 7km would take me 1h30. Some how I left a good trail I believed to be nice but wrong and headed into a pigmy-forest full of pretty, pretty flowers and a rather odd number of animal skulls. The small cattle-trodden paths led in spirals, the branches of the tiny fir branches dropped their caught raindrops onto my legs soaking and quickly chilling me. I thought I saw a ginger bread house for a moment. But it was just a seemingly deserted farm building.

Tired and more than ready for this slow slog to be over, I climbed loose walls and over sun-bleached bones to reach it, hoping that the owner’s well worn route to bingo night would also lead to the finish. I was given a helpful shot of adrenaline by a hairy, crazed maniac on a long, but short enough chain who sailed out of his kennel on an upward trajectory. He, or perhaps she, put on a wild show of property-protecting-prowess to earn owner kudos and perhaps a little bit extra food in the bowl after the evidently quiet, trespasser-free recent times.

Within minutes of leaving the dog barking itself hoarse, the coloured rooftops of Namche came into view, sat below in a natural amphitheatre, signalling the near-end of the run. After few hundred steps downhill, a slip and fall that was embarrassing and a few moments of being lost again among winding alleys, I found myself in the heart of an unimpressed Namche Bazaar, wet, cold and wondering what to do next.

From a kind woman at the View Lodge, I borrowed some clothes including a putrid purple tie-dye (tye-die?) ganja t-shirt and a hulk of a down jacket. Dry underpants were not on offer and for that I had to wait for my hired 16-year-old porter to finish the long march he began at 7am that morning with my belongings. He arrived at around 7pm, 12 hours after starting, drenched and smiling claiming that he was just about to turn around and head back to exactly where he came from. I gave him a good tip for his work, happy that he found the lodge given that it had a name different to the one I told him, and sent him off to the cold and bare porter hostel rather than invite him in to share the warmth of the lodge I was in.

And that was the end of it.

I think in the west we hold marathons in pretty high esteem and as ¬¬a benchmark of physical achievement. While there is seemingly mass participation these days, the masses are still in the tiny minority. Most of us spend so much time sitting on our rears for work or leisure and even while moving between the two, that a marathon truly is an achievement of will, coaxing flabby, unconditioned behinds across 42km of paved road for flimsy medals and certificates.

Up in the Khumbu however the marathon seemed more like a quaint fun-run: not particularly necessary nor particularly well understood (where’s the fun). All around you is hard, physical effort on display. Digging fields, planting, grazing cattle, building or repairing houses, hauling firewood. At base camp there are the climbers, the guides, the climbing Sherpas, the ice-fall doctors, the kitchen and cook boys, the load carriers.

The trail itself is not just a pleasant route conjured up by an organising committee but a highway. It’s the main route from village to village and so people are familiar with it as they walk it frequently. Porters, from old to young, male and female, routinely carry baskets along it containing their own bodyweight in goods. Witness young Mr. 90Kg walking through the thin air of basecamp to just above Namche – his walk over two days will be just a few kilometres short of the marathon route. Leisure time sensibly equates to resting time. Apart from the sherpas running the race that is, the winner completing in an amazing 3:40 this year.

So how do I feel after running this ‘ultimate’ marathon? Sub-whatever you might expect, for sure. Neutral, ambivalent, content, could-have-done-better, hungry. It was a beautiful run, and it was for fun, for the experience and really not the extreme event it might have seemed. In contrast to previous marathons, where the next day required negotiating stairs on buttocks and running was out of the question for weeks, this marathon’s surprisingly pain-free morning after brought a 15km jog to Lukla followed by 2 more long days of running to the road head at Jiri 50km further on.

On the first day of my trek into the Everest region I met a girl who turned out to be an ultra-marathoner. She was retreating from a climb after she started hosting a gut soap opera. I asked her how on earth she could manage to run 100 miles in one go. She told me that the legs began to hurt after 15 to 20km but after that the hurt didn’t get much worse. As long as you ate a big burger at 50 miles, was her caveat. Now I see what she meant, and though it would be a veggie burger, keeping going is easier than I ever thought it would be.

It is quite amazing how far what you can do is from what you think you can do. Its about timeI joined the weird extremists and see just how far ‘can do’ can be.