Saturday, 28 April 2012

Kathman-DO or Kathman-DON'T

Well here we go! It's the night before we leave to begin the trek. Tomorrow morning we leave the comfort of our guesthouse and the craziness of Kathmandu for our flight to Lukla and the World's most dangerous runway. It's a small strip that starts at the edge of a cliff and runs uphill to help slow the plane down. I'll let you know what it was like on the next post. So, now is the last chance to pull out... Never! I spent yesterday walking around Kathmandu away from the tourist areas with Akke, Ike and Kate. We ended up at the monkey temple and had a blast (I'm a little tired and have had my first minor bout with GI distress, so the details will have to come later). I'll keep writing, but will have intermittent Internet access for a while, so keep checking back as I'll post when I can. Next stop 2800 m.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Shortly after writing yesterday’s post I finished up the cognitive function testing. Phil and my room has become the lab in Kathmandu, so there is equipment everywhere. For the cognitive testing you wear a swim cap with electrodes on it that measure brain activity. You are then exposed to some varying stimuli. In this case it was images of faces and cars that appear on the computer screen in what is best described as television snow, you know, when your cable goes out (before the time of digital television where the t.v. just says signal lost). The snow changes images every half a second or so and then one image stays on the screen for longer (either a car or a face) at this point you have to press the corresponding key (j for face and k for car, I was really hoping for f for face and k for car- opposite sides of the keyboard and maybe easier). It’s a different experience to have to concentrate like that and I know I’m going to be terrible at it, and it will get worse at higher altitudes as well. There were a couple of other tests, but no so bad. 

Let's see how well your brain works!

When I finished the test I headed down to the garden for some coffee and ran into Ike (one of the boys from Duke, who had arrived just an hour earlier) and then right after ran Akke from the Netherlands (she had some minor flight issues and arrived a day later than expected- thank God for the week in Kathmandu), so a few of us (Glen, Echo Mike, myself) decided to take them out for a wander and to pick up some gear. Akke is on point when it comes to bartering. She managed a down jacket and pants for a great price. The guy told her 4500 for the jacket and 2500 for the pants. She said 5000 for both and held strong… he kept saying 6500, Akke- 5000; 6000, Akke- 5000 and on and on. Eventually he said 5100, Akke- 5000! Ok, now you robbed me he said! Brilliant. Ike on the other hand, not so good. We went into a little shop and came out to find him playing a violin that a street vendor had… this is big trouble, as they follow you for blocks. We kept telling Ike to send him away, but he’s just too nice. Eventually the guy asked for 1 rupee, but we convinced Ike to stand his ground!

One of the shop keepers that Akke took to task!

We came back to the Guesthouse to drop our gear and promptly ran into the New Zealand boys & girl (Sam, Jim & Kate). I had a coffee (they make great coffee at the guest house) and we caught up on family, travel and work news. Akke and Kate wanted to do a bit more touring about, so I decided I’d go with. Great idea! We took the long way around the streets and saw the start of rush hour traffic on one of the busier roads… Madness! Cars everywhere, motorbikes everywhere and some brave traffic cops with whistles trying to make it work. Happy to say that it does, but it’s crazy.

These pictures don't quite do it justice, but I think you can get the idea!

We then continued down the street and came upon the butcher and fish market. The butcher is a shop door that empties out into the street. The guy just cuts the meat in the street on a table- flies everywhere, the meat has this odd brown colour and the smell is incredible. The fishmonger was across the street with all his fish piled up on a little table. It was 20 above and it looked like they had been sitting there all day. Nuts!

If you look in the doorway you can see some of the bones that had been butchered the day before.

The Fishmonger and his son

We then headed around the corner right into the middle of a Nepalese movie! Now, the best we could figure was that it was either a music video or the singing part of a Bollywood style movie! The singer/actor’s name was Radesh (I think) and it was crazy! He walked down the street with his face in the camera lip syncing and dancing. There was the film crew, complete with sound guy- this little kid had a battery pack on his belt along with a tape player or CD player and, the best part, around his neck was a HOME STEREO SPEAKER (it was huge- my brother-in-law would be proud). He walked backwards in front of the camera with the music blasting. Radesh also had his entourage, complete with the girl in the red dress! The shop owners were amused and the younger people in the street kept telling us that he was very famous.

Radesh and his entourage. I think he looks like a Nepalese Pitbull.

Kate was just looking and Akke did some more bartering. She was after some kind of board game called Goats and Tigers and had the shop owner chasing her down the street trying to sell. Needless to say, she got a great deal! We made it back to the Guesthouse to find more additions to the crew. Dave McLeod (the most important man on the trip- he’s the anesthetist that is putting in out neck lines) and his son Nicholas had arrived as well. Everyone was gathered outside our room going through the equipment. Another reorganization and repacking as the trekking company was coming to pick it up and start the equipment’s journey. We’ve kept a bunch of stuff out to do some experiments over the next few days, but things are moving along nicely (Phil’s stress levels have dropped immensely over the last few days). 

Another afternoon of sorting gear!

A nice dinner, a few beers, some good conversation, then off to bed.


The Kathmandu Guest House is a haven. It has an immaculate garden and the staff have been incredible right from the start. Again, we arrived quite late and had to deal with the cases, but we got to bed at a reasonable time. Phil and I have a large room with 3 beds and we crashed hard. Neither of us moved until 10:30 the next morning! Once up he headed down for a shave and haircut (I think I’ll go today) and I took care of some work and called Colleen (working on gaining good husband points). We then headed down for a buffet breakfast and catch up with Binod (the owner of Mountain Tiger) to arrange some more of the logistics. He’s an amazing help and has some great stories, so I can understand why Phil keeps using him.

Phil and I then went exploring and to buy a few things. This is a shopper’s dream. Stores everywhere selling everything and all at incredible prices (if you’re willing to negotiate). Our first task was sunglasses for Phil and pants and a shirt for me. A couple of back and forth’s got us what we were after. It’s a bit of a hard thing for me to bargain back and forth too much. Not because I don’t want a deal (of course I want a deal), but the difference between 1600 rupies ($20) and 1000 rupies ($12.50) really isn’t too much for me, but is huge here. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never pay the initial cost and I had a good chat with a young guy who is running a shop and he gave me some tips and things to pay attention to as you’re bargaining (Colleen wants to get a new car when I get home, so this is some good practice!). We continued on our way looking for a few more things and we went into another shop to look for a bag (a waterproof bag). They guy was trying to get me on a shirt and wouldn’t budge, so I said to do me a deal on a bag and a shirt. He was trying to convince me that this bag was waterproof, so he poured water all over it with this confident look on his face. When we opened the bag, everything was soaked inside! He was beside himself and I got a better deal on the shirt! Phil told him to say the bags are windproof from now on! Too funny.

As we walked down the street Phil pointed out the electrical situation. My electrician brother-in-law would flip. It’s a mess. Line over line, splices everywhere, exposed copper wire. Combine that with the broken down streets and buildings and you really get a sense that the focus is the short-term fix and to survive until tomorrow and then worry about the next problem. Now that might be romanticizing it a little, because most people are in great spirits, but it is quite different. I’m not sure how the country stays glued together, but I’ve only seen a few streets, so really I’m not one to comment or judge. Hopefully today I’ll get out to see more.

We had a great dinner of different curries at the Guesthouse (I’ll definitely find some good spices in a shop for my dad’s spice drawer) along with a few beers (my Nepalese weight-loss plan isn’t working out so well with all this beer consumption. It’s safer than the water is the excuse) and then called it quits quite early. “Echo” Mike Stembridge arrived from England, so he convinced a few of the boys to head out to a bar (I still heard how it went as they’re all still asleep), but I wanted to be up early to webcam with my girls, so didn’t go. I hit the pillow hard, but was wide-awake at 3:00. Phil snores (at least that’s what I’m telling him). We were both up and neither really fell back to sleep. So, today will bring a bit more shopping, a little catch up with some work and a nap. It’s also a research project, so I’ll be doing some cognitive function testing today as well. 

We’ll live a slow life for a few more days while the rest of the group gets here and then things will pick up again. We start the trek on 29th, so a few days to get sorted and the like.


We spent the rest of the day hanging out in the lounge and then we headed to a new gate (ever so reluctantly) to board our flight for Kathmandu.

That does say Kathmandu!

More airplanes!

I think all of us were asleep before we left the ground! I woke up to some curry chicken for dinner, but I think most of us slept through the meal (Chris didn’t even know they served one!). A few hours later we landed in Kathmandu.


It was a surreal feeling to have the next phase of the expedition happening. All of the time and effort we had put into the previous months (any years planning) was actually coming together. 

You step off the plane and head down onto the tarmac to a waiting bus. This takes you to the terminal where you have to fill out some paperwork for a visitor’s visa. I was unsure as to how smoothly this part would go as you are at the mercy of the immigration officers. It was 11:00 at night, so they would either be looking forward to be heading home and push us through or grumpy that they were still working and make our lives miserable. I’m glad to report that it was the first and we made it through unscathed. $100 for the visa (thanks Okanagan College grant-in-aid) and a few stamps on the passport and I was welcomed into Nepal. Next stop Everest… nope- next stop customs! Again, dealing with the 30 bags and cases (we had picked up a few of our comrades from Mount Royal University) was quite the site.  We managed to get them all onto one trolley each and head to the scanners. To my surprise they let us walk right out! I think the cases had been handled in Hong Kong, so they were cleared through faster.

How much stuff do we have?

Out into the street; fight off 100’s of taxi drivers while looking for our trekking company’s transportation. 2 vans and a car. Again, pile all of the gear into and on top of the vehicles and off we go. It’s difficult to describe the road into the Thamel district of Kathmandu. It was night, so not much was happening, but there was burning garbage on the side of the road, dogs going through the garbage that wasn’t burning. Motorcycles driving by quite quickly and what seemed to be no rules. However, the system seems to work and we made it safely. 
Happy to be here!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Escaping the Airport

What does a 13-hour flight across the Pacific feel like? Couldn’t tell you… I slept a lot. What I do remember is a great dinner (at an ungodly hour of about 4:00 a.m.), some movies that I couldn’t stay awake for, a great breakfast and a relatively smooth flight. We landed in Hong Kong without trouble, got off the plane quite easily and then waited 45 minutes for Trevor Day to pack and re-pack his bag. We then headed to immigration where the security guard had a good laugh at me trying to unpack 3 computers, the VividQ (ultrasound machine) and an iPad. Made it through there un-phased and straight to the lounge!

This requires it’s own paragraph…

Cathay Pacific hooked us up with passes to the business lounge at the airport. This is the single best thing I’ve ever experienced while traveling. We walked in to a Dim Sum like breakfast, a perfectly made Americano, which was then followed up by a beer. This was at about 9:30 a.m.  I spent some time catching up with the girls back home (Laurenne took a fall on a trampoline and put her top teeth through her bottom lip- great start to my adventure, but she is fine) and then went off to have a SHOWER! I should clarify, we all showered. We’ve been nibbling on food on and off all day, and having a sip of beer, wine, champagne and other libations all day and I just came back from my second shower!

A few of us decided to explore Hong Kong. This was a bit of an ordeal. It took forever to get out of the airport and become a visitor to Hong Kong, but eventually we were cleared for 90 days (although we only needed about 6 hours). We took the train to Hong Kong proper and walked around this crazy dense city with buildings that were at least 50 floors and up. It’s quite incredible that there are 7 million people on this island. We didn’t really find the ‘Chinese’ image of Hong Kong, so we hoped back on the train and went to Kowloon to try to find a market. We ended up in one of the richest districts in Hong Kong! Ferarri’s (599’s), Porsche’s, BMW’s, etc. everywhere. Gucci, Chanel, Dior, Cartier ($1,000,000.00 HKD, watch- about $125,000 USD), etc. all with line-ups! But we did find one of the craziest restaurants I’ve ever been in. 9 tables and they feed about 100 people while we were there. Lauren and I got seated with a lovely Chinese lady and her daughter who didn’t speak a word of English (I think the restaurateur only knew “thank-you”). I don’t think they were happy to have to sit with us.

We then headed back to the airport and had to go through about 3 or 4 checkpoints to get back into the airport. We’re now having some noodles and debating whether it is Sunday or Monday. Phil is confident that we’ll clear customs without too much trouble. Again, WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Hopefully another post tomorrow telling about the final flight and arrival in Kathmandu.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

And They're Off

It’s been ages since I’ve had the time to sit down and write. I won’t get into the “woe is me” game, but finishing off the semester of teaching has been incredibly busy amongst making exams, marking exams, practical exams, marking final projects, year-end meetings, more research for this trip, and trying to pack everything (TWICE).

Our fearless leader did a great job of getting us an extra weight allowance for our baggage, but forgot to mention that the limit per piece was 23 Kg. Chris and Kurt had meticulously packed the hard-style Pelican cases, but to a weight of 35 Kg! So, yesterday (the day before we leave) was spent repacking. We even had to buy more cases. “What could go wrong”. So another long day of logistics, but we go everything sorted. He did make up for it, or rather Cathay Pacific made up for his omission, bu granting us access to their lounge in Hong Kong during our 12 hour stop over. In the end our shipping manifest includes:
12 Pelican Cases
6 Barrels
3 Duffels
1 Suitcase

Last night was family night for everyone with kids and wives, plus a lot of last minute things (some still had to pack personal things). We had an amazing dinner of crepes and a dessert of more crepes (thanks Ady). My girls were in fine form (tickle fights, laughter, stories) and my wife was asleep by 8:30 (sorry babe). I was up until midnight and then didn’t sleep anyway.

An early alarm and at the lab to pack up the trailer and van (thanks Queen City Transportation Ltd.) and we were off. It’s noon now and we need to be at the UBC hospital MRI for the afternoon having a few more brain scans prior to departure (hopefully they’ll fill with knowledge while we’re away- Glen will jump in with some of the details on this experiment at a later date) and then we’ll be off to the airport to check-in all this luggage. Departure is at 2:00 a.m. and 13 hours later we’ll be in the lounge in the Hong Kong airport.

The Morning Start

A sad little lady (Kurt's daughter Jordana saying goodbye to her daddy)



Arrived in Vancouver with no troubles. We dropped the MRI clan off and then a few of us had some time to kill. I met up with my good friend Peter Williamson, whom I haven't seen in years. He's my go to guy in Vancouver when it comes to cuisine and he didn't disappoint this time. Great sushi and great conversation. 

We managed to get to the airport and unload all the gear. Ronald from Cathay Pacific was a champion! He sorted us out, got us our own agent and facilitated the check-in without a hitch. We were "joking" earlier in the day about having to say some nice things about the airline as they've given use the overweight and extra baggage limits and access to the lounge in Hong Kong, but so far they've been bang on. Handling this motley crew is difficult at the best of times, let alone with all our gear in the mix too. I'm flying with them again (if I'm ever allowed to go on holiday again).

A bunch of our stuff getting ready to be checked

Our gracious Airline

Ronald is the Man

The next post and photos will be from the lounge in the Hong Kong Airport!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Global research expedition to Everest set to depart Canada - Campus Life

A local media story on our departure. A few new posts to follow in the next day or so...

Last night with my lovely ladies, so I'm going to soak it up!

Global research expedition to Everest set to depart Canada - Campus Life

Sunday, 1 April 2012

"It's The Final Countdown"

I must admit that when I woke up this morning to come into the lab I was a little worried that no one would be around and that the April Fool's Day joke would be on me. True to their words though, Nia and Kurt were in the lab with our latest subject. Keita Ikeda (Ike) from Duke.

I'll figure out how to add some audio down the road, but for now click on this link... for my buddy Dave

This is the beginning of the last round of baseline, sea-level tests before we head up to the Pyramid and the official beginning of my countdown. I wasn't letting myself get too excited before April, but now I can let myself smile (FROM EAR TO EAR). This week will be insanely busy with us starting in the lab at 6:00 most days (me then driving from UBC to Okanagan College in Penticton to teach at about noon, and maybe back to the lab when I'm done teaching at 4:00). My wife is also off to Vancouver this week and it's the last week of classes! I think the rest of the guys will be in the lab until 11:00 PM or later. Who made the schedule? KURT?

It's also my birthday on Friday and the guys in the lab have been generous enough to schedule me in as a subject on Friday. This experiment will be looking at brain blood flow & metabolism under different CO2 challenges and during exercise. (I'm still working on getting the rest of the crew to send me a paragraph or two about the studies) We investigate brain metabolism by drawing blood from the veins in your neck (yes we're going "straight to the jugular"- I'm sure this is a famous movie line, but can't remember which movie), so we will have I.V. lines in our necks as we do this. In addition, we get to do a VO2max test while having the lines in. I've done a tonne of volunteering for studies in the past:

11 muscle biopsies (you're welcome Brendon Gurd)
Exercised in MRI's (Sean Forbes)
Taken all kinds of pills and potions (too many to list)
Probes in every body part (thanks Neil Eves)
Exercised in all kinds of crazy scenarios (thanks Neil Eves)
Had needles inserted into the nerves in my leg (Craig Steinback)
Had all the blood sucked into my legs (all of Kevin Shoemaker's students)
Continuous and interval training studies for weeks on end (Bryon McKay)
Multiple repetitions of moderate and heavy intensity exercise transitions (you must help your lab mates)
I know I'm missing some others

I've have never had a problem with any of it, but I'm a little "uncomfortable" with the idea of I.V.'s in my neck. Especially as a birthday present :) At least I'm going at the end of the week, so they'll have had time to practice on the others!

I say all of the above in jest, but I am completely confident in the abilities of my fellow researchers and the gents from Duke do this sort of thing all the time. They are truly professional when it comes to subject safety and the like.

Indeed, one of the best things about Phil's network and web of fellow investigators is the relaxed nature of the people involved. We have fun, crack jokes (often about levels of incompetence and manhood), play pranks on each other (Dr. Ainslie is currently on holidays- a little inside humour), but when it's time for science and seriousness, there are no better people to "stick your neck out" for (that was a very Doogie Howser like finish to the blog post- if you don't know what I'm talking about, then you're either too young or too old, but he was the originator of the blog!)