Friday, November 30, 2007


I often shoot my personal pictures in black and white, but I can’t imagine having done my Nepal pictures in anything but color.

Most everything we saw on the trip--but particularly the three days we spent at the Tenboche Monastery for the Mani-rimdu festival--just screamed color. Every day we found ourselves slack-jawed and dumbstruck, witnesses to the most amazing Spectacle (with a capital “S.”) The images I was shooting needed to capture the Color (with a capital “C.”)

As I worked, I tried to remind myself: See beyond the Color. I tried to look for moment, for expression, for the feeling of the scene. To be quite honest, there was so much going on around me and it was all so amazing, I could have closed my eyes and fired the camera randomly and good images would have resulted. In the end I couldn't help myself: I made pictures that remind me of the box of Crayolas I had in kindergarten.

What a place to be!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I know the pull of the full moon.

We were all making our way to Tengboche Monastery: Nepalis, Tibetans, Europeans, Americans. The Mani-rimdu festival, held during a full moon in the fall, is a Buddhist celebration that draws families from the most remote villages, people walking for days to gather in Tengboche to receive blessings from the lamas and to socialize.

It was beautiful but also a bit haunting to be up with my camera at dawn and to see the moon set over the monastery and Mt. Khumbila--a peak that is sacred to the Sherpa people who live in the region.

We camped near the monastery for three days, taking-in the color of Mani-rimdu. We received blessings from the Rinpoche, the venerable abbot of Tengboche.

If there is a Shangri-La, we had found it.

(Note: We recently returned from a month-long trekking trip in Nepal. This is my sixth posting from that trip.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Altitude Sickness

The Himalaya wasted no time in humbling me. Our first full day of trekking had me doubled-over and gasping for breath. Truth be told, there were moments that day when I had misgivings about what we’d gotten ourselves into.

We left Kathmandu on a Monday and flew on a small roller-coaster of a plane into the mountains. We landed in Lukla (9350 feet) and walked for about an hour downhill, crossed the Dudh Kosi river, and camped at Phakding (8700 feet.) Tuesday morning we were up early, heading up and up and up to Namche Bazaar, 11,300 feet. At that point we were 500 feet higher than the summit of Mt. Baker back home, yet we’d barely begun our trek.

We coughed, hacked and wheezed in the dry, dusty air. I had a big-time altitude headache and nausea. Though I have climbed most of the volcanos in Washington State and summited Mt. Rainier (14, 410 feet) eight times, that hike to Namche had me psyched-out, swimming upstream against a tide of negative emotions. I felt like hell physically and I made things worse by emotionally wrapping myself up in a blanket of self-pity and doubt.

Leah kept us going. She gave me pills for my illness and in her calm, even-tempered way, she talked me out of my funk. We’d take this trip one day at a time, she said. We’d stop for layover days when necessary. We would concentrate on the positive, not the negative.

A number of days later there would be a changing of roles, a time when I would play cheerleader, when I would keep us focused on the positive. That first day in Namche however, Leah saved the trip for me. She got me to look around and see the beauty of Namche and its people.

We would survive our first traveling crisis.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

No Rupees For You

He followed me down one of the crowded streets of the Thamel district of Kathmandu. Like the half-dozen faux holy men who’d approached me earlier that day, he wanted to tuck marigold petals in my hat, maybe put a crimson painted tika on my forehead. If I let him do that, he would start asking me for rupees. I decided to turn the tables. I used my camera to hassle him, something I’d never, ever done before. Hmmm. The camera as a tool of retaliation. I followed him down the street, firing frame after frame with my soul-stealing black box, and he bolted away from me as if I was chasing him with a cattle prod. I guess it might sound like I was being mean, but right then I was just tired of constantly being asked for money.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Shrine

We were exploring the streets and alleyways of Kathmandu, our ears assaulted by the ever-present honk-honking of cars and motorcycles. Our Nepali host had told us that three things are critical to drivers in this crazy-crowded city: a good horn, good brakes, and good luck. Personally, I think Kathmandu drivers put most of their emphasis on use of the good horn.

Then we walked around a corner and were greeted by a most amazing and jarring thing:


We’d stumbled into a secluded square near a Buddhist shrine. The din of Kathmandu was suddenly a distant memory. We found we were in a world where prayer flags fluttered over a beautiful gold tower, an old woman walked around in circles, quietly turning a prayer wheel. A monk meditated fervently and with obvious reverence on the steps of the holy site.

We’d only been in Nepal for two days but already Kathmandu had bowled us over with its energy, its color. Now, visiting this square, we found Kathmandu at peace.

I stepped into the shrine. A young monk sat in amazing light near the door. He looked at my camera. Without talking, I knew a portrait would be permitted.

What a welcome, calming place we’d found.

Monday, November 19, 2007


(Note: We recently returned from a month-long trekking trip in Nepal. This is my second posting from that trip.)

Kathmandu is a dizzying, frenetic splash of humanity, noise and color. We found that we had to take the city in small doses: We'd venture out onto the streets and meet someone who was, oh, let's say a snake charmer. Several such encounters later we'd suffer attacks of sensory overload and beat hasty retreats to the quiet courtyard of our hotel for a cup of tea or a beer.

We’d come to Nepal to trek in what we assumed would be the stunning and inspiring Himalaya, but first we had to survive a crazy--but also exhilarating--city.

I once visited New York City on Halloween--New Yorkers jammed into the streets at night in masks and costumes, all trying to outdo one-another in a kind of impromptu Peoples’ Theater of the Macabre. Kathmandu seemed to have the New York-on-Halloween vibe everyday. It was both exciting and intimidating.

Our Nepali hosts told us that we’d arrived during the Hindu festival Dashmi. The faithful were out offering prayers, while, just across the street, it was a typical day in Kathmandu: Goods were being transported to market; a Buddhist monk could be seen spinning his prayer wheel.

Back home when we were first planning this trip, Leah and I had hoped our travels would give us a glimpse into a new and different culture.

In Kathmandu that first day, we knew we had some kind of adventure ahead of us.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Dream Trip

I have hiked and climbed in the mountains near my home in Washington State for 30 years. Many of my outdoor friends have traveled to other countries, visited the world’s tallest mountains, but my friends return home to report that it’s hard to beat the beauty of a small pond of snowmelt in the North Cascades--a place called Kool Aid Lake--or the dramatic, up-and-down verticality of our Picket Range.

Still, I got a dream in my head many years ago that--as my friends had done--I wanted to visit Nepal and the Himalaya, to see Mt. Everest, the top of the world. My home mountains are wilderness--no one lives there. Looking at a map of Nepal, I could see the names of the famous peaks (Everest, Nuptse, Ama Dablam) and also the interesting-sounding villages (Namche Bazaar, Tengboche, Gorak Shep.) It seemed to me that in Nepal I could combine the physical experience of travel in high and wild places with the cultural experience of meeting people who call those mountains home.

For 30 years, I talked about "going to Nepal." I bought books and maps. I studied routes. The trip had a Wish List existence but nothing more. One day about six months ago Leah said: “We aren’t getting any younger, the mountains aren’t getting any easier to climb. If we’re going to go, we better go.”

And so we went.

It felt weird, getting on a plane, flying toward a dream. We spent a few days in Kathmandu (a crazy, frantic place that does nothing to bring normalcy into a visitor's life,) then we flew to Lukla (elevation 9350 feet.) We began walking. And we walked, and walked some more. We walked for 21 days, with an eventual high point of 18,200 feet. We returned home two days ago after being away for nearly a month. Above you see a photograph I shot of Mt. Everest, catching the last light of day in a manner befitting the highest point on our planet. Below are a few of the beautiful human faces we saw. These three pictures seem like a proper introduction to the trip we did--a trip that was a coming-together, as I’d hoped, of mountains and the people who live near them.

Over the next several weeks I plan to post a lot more pictures...& just enough words to add context.

Please stay tuned. I hope you enjoy sharing in an adventure that was 30 years in the making.