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Mad mountaineering guides: room for another me-too movement? (Part One)

Published
May 6, 2018

HOW does it feel when your guide says he wants you for a second wife? On the day you depart for a 23-day hike that includes summiting two mountains — Island Peak and Mera Peak — which are both over 6000 metres high? Well, this is what happened to me in April 2018.

A map of Nepal and neighbouring countries. The area I hiked this April is close to Mount Everest.

On day one, he smells of alcohol and you think, maybe he just drank too much the night before. You just keep making excuses like that at first. After all, he was my Facebook friend for one year and came recommended by a French mountaineer (what on earth was that mountaineer thinking?)

A closer map of the area I hiked, or planned to hike, in April 2018. The towns of Lukla, Phakding and Namche Bazaar are in the lower left quadrant. Mera Peak is at lower right, and Imja Tse (Island Peak) is at top right, near Mount Everest. Much of the trail northward from Lukla to Mount Everest is in the gorge of the Dudh Kosi river and is quite steep and precarious, with many wire rope suspension bridges. It is heavily travelled by trekkers and local people going about their business alike.

My guide told me that he had summitted each of Imja Tse (Island Peak) and Mera Peak about eight times. He was holding his accounting book showing how much he made. But I soon noticed that no one seemed to know him anywhere, and hotel managers told me there was a problem with my guide, pointing their fingers to their heads.

Here I am with my guide in Kathmandu on the 21st of April, before the fun started!

In this collection of photos, I am flying out of Kathmandu, landing at Lukla, inspecting the welcome sign at Tenzing-Hillary Airport (Lukla), and hiking to Phakding, with the main photo a Buddhist prayer wheel at Phakding

Then, he never offered to take a photo of me. It was me doing selfies the whole day long.

On the first day, I walked ahead of him from Lukla: ‘I’m fitter than he is!’

On the second day, he said he could catch up.

I have a rat phobia. I had paid $4000 US to summit two mountains; and stated a condition of my expedition was rooms with no rats.

We arrived in Phakding at the end of the first day and there was a rat in the roof: no sleep that night! He panicked and searched out other hotels while I just slowly made my way to Namche Bazaar.

We arrived for the second night in Namche Bazaar, and he wanted me to stay in a dark dingy hotel behind the renovations taking place on the Buddhist stupa. I said no, I was not staying there, and made my way to the Sherpaland Hotel, where I stayed last time I was in the town.

Stupa under repair at Namche Bazaar

He argued with the hotel management, and with me, for two days. I went to the hotel he’d picked and got a refund. The manager told me the cost was $25 per night. The Sherpaland was $35 per night, but I got the last room.

The other guides came up and told me that there was something wrong with my guide: that guides are meant to stay with their clients and order their food. My guide did not even stick with me on the trails.

As it turned out my guide did not like the dorm-like sleeping arrangements at Sherpaland, I stay in dorm-like conditions from time to time when backpacking around Europe. At least the rooms are warm.

I said to the owner of another firm, please train your grand-daughter to be a sherpa guide. He said he did not have a grand-daughter, and that woman belong in the kitchen!

Well, as I later found out, the company my guide came from had female guides for female clients. But unfortunately, I hadn’t got one!

There are lots of wire suspension bridges on the trail, including an very high and scary one officially known as the Sir Edmund Hillary Bridge. If you are coming from Phakding, this bridge is the last bridge to cross before you get to Namche Bazaar: with about another two hours’ walk ahead before you actually get to the town.

The high bridge was erected a few years ago, above a now-decaying bridge built, I believe, in the 1960s with the help of Sir Edmund Hillary, and also known as the Sir Edmund Hillary Bridge in its day.

The old bridge is still there. But I don’t think anyone is supposed to use it now.

The new, high bridge was already in use in 2014, which is when I first hiked this section of trail.

The trail and its bridges are used both by trekkers and porters, and also by local people moving goods on yaks, dzos and mules. The resulting traffic jams can get dangerous given that the trail and its bridges aren’t very wide. Here’s a video I shot that makes the point:

In Phakding, I got to know an Australian woman. When she was crossing the new bridge before Namche Bazaar, a yak attacked her with its horns and almost pushed her off. Her friend in the group saved her.

This time around, I made a point of trying to get to the new bridge by midday, since four-footed animal traffic tends to build up in the afternoons.

I made sure there weren’t any potentially unruly beasts in sight when crossed.

This collection of photos was taken further up the trail. The new Sir Edmund Hillary Bridge is in the middle row, at the left

Anyhow, my guide said that the new bridge was seven months old. Which really made me wonder whether my guide had ever crossed this bridge, I knew the place better than him! Was this some kind of scam, or something?

To be continued . . .

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