Mar 17

Travel in Bhutan

Bhutan is unique and special. The flight into Paro Airport is legendary and exciting. Nestled on the southern slope of the Himalayas, this small buddhist country has become famous for it’s “Gross National Happiness” in contrast to gross national product. Indeed it’s main sources of revenue are hydroelectric power and tourism. The people are lovely, their fabrics colorful and the yak tasty.

Monk twirling prayer beads, Bhutan. 2016.

As with many paces in Asia, the people don’t mind being photographed as long as it is done in a respectful manner. It is not acceptable to photograph inside a shrine or temple or to photograph monks during prayer.

Master Monk, Bhutan. 2016

The Bhutanese are master artisans and take pride in preserving their traditional arts and crafts.

Weaver, Bhutan, 2016

They have worked closely with the Japanese in developing their paper industry. Being a paper junky and collector I visited one of their paper making facilities and had a great time watching and photographing them at work. It is very similar to other handcrafted processes I’ve seen in other countries yet they manage to put their own unique stamp on it.

Papermaker, Bhutan. 2016.

While visiting one of the remote monasteries, a group of nomads arrived with their families to receive blessings from the monks and masters. It was a fortunate time for us to be there.

In the kitchen, Bhutan. 2016


Aug 12

Kochkor Village to Son Kul Lake

We left Kochkor Village early in the morning and after about 40 km we turned off the main road and onto a narrow dirt one that wound it’s way up the side of a mountain. The beauty was breathtaking and at the top of the first pass we saw a man and woman on touring mountain bikes laboring up the hill from the opposite direction. Stopping to greet us, the man introduced himself as Rudy. He and his girlfriend had ridden 5000 km from their home in Switzerland. They were mere wisps, thinned and toughened by their long journey and heavily laden bikes. I asked if they were camping along the road ” oh yes, and the people are wonderful, they come out to greet you and bring you food.” We laughed about the heat of the deserts, I couldn’t imagine crossing them by bicycle! After several minutes of chatting, we bid them safe voyage to Kochkor and they were off.

Son Kul Lake is one of the larger alpine lakes of Kyrgyzstan. At 3000 meters the landscape was cold and barren of bushes and trees. Herds of horses and sheep ran freely or grazed on the stubby grass. Our yurt camp was owned and operated by nomads. As soon as we arrived, Christy and myself were corralled by a pair of women and taken aside. They carried a plastic bag between them and pulled out bits of dry bread, a greasy joint of lamb and a bottle of vodka. Feeling obligated by our new hosts we ate, drank, then joined in a traditional blessing of their children.

Heading over to the kitchen yurt, we met mountaineer Ted Fairhurst. Ted was climbing the “Seven Summits” and had just completed Mt. Elbrus. He was a terrific guy, full of good stories and great advice. After tea, a hike took us high above our yurt camp looking through the rocky outcroppings for petroglyphs. We found three of long horn sheep just as we had seen in a museum. These petroglyphs were at least three thousand years old and were early examples of the long running theme in nomadic art of rams horns.

The night was cold and my warm weather clothing wasn’t much help. In our effort to travel light, I had neglected to anticipate the needs of our two mountain camps. Ted kindly sold us his spare headlamp which he had taken up Everest, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and many other mountains so we could see in the pitch black camp.

Breakfast was a bowl of hot oatmeal. I noted that a nomad man sat across from me wearing a tall felt hat. He was scraping the flesh from the base of a boiled sheep’s head with his pocket knife and putting it into his toothless mouth. I watched in horror and fascination for several minutes as he turned it this way and that to get at the meat. The sheep’s ears still look pliable and soft. I glanced guilty back at my oatmeal, feeling like an intruder. A short while later Christy, Sasha, Ivan and myself climbed into the car and journeyed to Tash Rabat by way of the “33 Parrots!”

33 Parrots Pass

33 Parrots Pass by Curious Lizard

One of the passes through the Pamir Mountains.

Jan 08

Kili Descent

Two days after reaching the summit we exited the park through Mweka Gate. How strange it was to be surrounded by so many colors, plants, trees, cars and so many people.

This is the Kilimanjaro song. The first version is in Swahili and the second is the English translation:

Kilimanjaro Kilimanjaro Kilimanjaro
ni mlima mrefu
wewe nyoka mbona
wanizunguka wanizunguka wanizunguka

is highest mountain
you snake
why you surround me

I can’t wait to return to Africa.

Jan 08

Kili Summit

We left Barafu Hut just before sunrise. A steep use trail wound up the scree and talus to the crater rim. As the sky lightened we could see the trail blending into the mountain above us and Tanzania stretching out beneath us. The hours passed quietly as we worked our way up the slope. Tanzanian guides usually aren’t in a hurry, they are often reminding us to go pole` pole` that is “slowly slowly”. About half way to the crater rim we were passed by a large group of climbers moving hard and fast.

Climbing any mountain is a strenuous activity. Climbing a mountain that demands you acclimate and hydrate to avoid cerebral and pulmonary edema and altitude sickness is a dangerous activity. We were encouraged to climb pole` pole` for our safety, to minimize the possibility of altitude sickness and to have a good time. Christy chatted with the people in the faster group a bit before they disappeared up the hill. They were about our age and from various places around the United States; Oregon, Georgia and Washington State. They were also planning on spending the night in the crater. We didn’t see them again until we were about 100 yards below the crater rim. The whole group of them were sitting huddled together obviously tired, eating and drinking. As we passed by several of them asked us to stop and join them for lunch and declining we wished them well and continued on our journey to the top.

Frigid air blew gusts of fine volcanic dust into our faces as we crested the crater rim. Before us lay the expansive crown of Kilimanjaro and to our left up and around the rim was Uhuru Peak. We paused for a few minutes against the rocks of Stella Point for a quick snack and some water then began the final leg of our upward trek. We reached the peak on October 6, 2007 at 1:30 PM, took a few celebratory photographs and paused to enjoy the views. We still had to descend the inner rim to the crater floor and our camp. Nobody in Africa was higher than us that night!

Although we acclimated the air was thin at Crater Camp and we moved slowly and carefully. The snows of Kilimanjaro extended outward from the front flaps of our tent. We watched the shadows cross the crater floor and the color of the light change from clear brilliant white to gold to utter darkness to be pierced by the hosts of heaven, the moon and stars. Inside the tent was no escape from the bitter dry cold. Water vapor from our breath formed a delicate layer of frost on the inside of the tent which came down as a little snow fall when you bushed up against it. In the euphoria from our climb and being a bit loopy from the altitude, Christy made up a little rhyme “my little snow storm” which we chanted until our faces hurt with laughter.

The “fast” group we had met earlier and passed as they sat eating and hydrating never made it to the summit. Their crew had to pack up their crater camp site and trek back to Barafu for the night.

Kilimanjaro Summit

Kilimanjaro Summit

Tanzania / travel / TrekkingNo Comments
Jan 08

Kili Approach

Climbing up to Shira Camps One and Two weren’t difficult. While there were several steep sections, the trail and terrain was congenial. Reaching Lava Tower on the other hand was more difficult. The effects of altitude became more pronounced as we ascended above 14,000 feet, The air became increasingly cold and damp and we had to scramble over rough rocky terrain. We had learned about Lava Tower when we watched the IMAX Kilimanjaro DVD back home and it didn’t look quite so daunting in person. I was exhausted and between the freezing drizzle and 15,000 foot altitude I wanted nothing more than to climb into my sleeping bag for the night. This was the most frigid night so far with temperatures dropping well below freezing.

Day five had us trekking down from Lava Tower, climbing up the Barranco Wall and crossing over to Karanga Valley. This was our most strenuous day thus far on the mountain and also the most beautiful. We walked into the clouds and through Senecio flower, lobelia and white mountain flowers. The landscape was like nothing I’d ever seen. At the base of the valley we crossed a stream and Barranco Wall stood looming 1000 feet overhead. We climbed up and over the wall without too much difficulty but it was very fatiguing and we had to cross over to and descend the next valley before our final climb up to Karanga Valley.

The views from Karanga Valley were absolutely stunning. We were above the clouds and through small gaps you could look down upon a town thousands of feet below as if from a plane. Directly across from us breaching the cloud cover was the peak of Mt. Meru.

The following day we ascended to Barafu Hut at 15,000 feet. It was from Barafu early the next morning where we would make our final push to the summit. I was nervous. The highest peak I had previously climbed was 14,050 feet. Was I fit enough? Tough enough? Determined enough? Were we both up to the task of climbing 4,300 feet at altitude in the morning? The only was to find out was to get up and do it.

Jan 08


The Safari fresh in our minds we drove back through Moshi to the Marangu Hotel at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our Safari guide Nico was from the town of Moshi and when we told him we were planning to climb the mountain he gave us a very serious look and asked “All the way to the top?” Yep.
At 19,340 feet Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the continent of Africa which makes it one of the fabled “Seven Summits”. Although not considered a technical climb, only an estimated 30-50% of those who attempt it successfully summit Kilimanjaro. Fewer still spend the night in the crater. We chose to ascend via the Lemosho Route which is the longest of the several traditional ascents to the summit, Uhuru Peak. The Western Breach was closed at the time of our ascent, due to a recent accident it was deemed too dangerous therefore we reached the summit via Karanga Valley and Barafu Camp. Our itinerary had us taking seven days to reach the summit with an overnight in crater camp, the descent would take two days along the Mweka Route. The walking distance was 45 miles with an estimated 15,000 feet of total elevation gain.
Seamus, the proprietor of the Marangu Hotel gave us our pre climb briefing and introduced us to our crew. John was our guide, Elias assistant guide, Elvis was our cook and we had ten porters to carry enough food and gear for nine days on the mountain. After loading up the truck we spent the next few hours driving around the base of the mountain to the west side and up the roughest steepest track I’d ever seen to get to the Lemosho trailhead. Due to the long drive and our late start it wasn’t clear if we’d make it to camp before dark. Christy and I had trained hard for this trip and we made it up this first leg of the climb using our headlamps only in the final kilometer.
The following day we were up at dawn for a long day of climbing to Shira Camp One. We trekked from rain forrest, rose above the tree line and settled in for a cold evening on the Shira Plateau. The next morning we had our first clear view of the peaks of Kilimajaro.

South face Kilimanjaro

South face Kilimanjaro by Curious Lizard