Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk: Nepal, Himalayan jewel (Part 2)
Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk-
We soon discovered the Himalayan trails are rough and rocky. They demand close attention and good footing. Our guide, Amar, and porters, Guandi and Siri, glided along the trails while JP and I trudged. Although my trudging was much lighter than JP’s. While JP raced small and large sailboats along the eastern seaboard and behind the Iron Curtain as a young man, I had hiked and backpacked in the Sierras. My footing gained further experience by running thousands of miles on trails through mountains in the East, Midwest, and West. Together, JP and I climbed Kilimanjaro and hiked Marin.
But nothing had quite prepared us for the difficulty of the Himalaya.
Throughout the trek we were often ascending and descending trails loaded with rocks and stairs. Each time we did a river crossing we hiked up to the steel swinging bridges, then down. Sometimes, these bridges were hundreds of feet above the roaring rivers. In the early tree-lined mountains, we glimpsed numerous waterfalls strewn throughout. The trail to Phakding, our first stop, was heavily canopied and full of heavy rocky trails and stairs. We started the hike at one o’clock, going from 9,317 feet to 8,563 feet and arriving at our destination teahouse late in the afternoon. The teahouses were structures built of plywood containing either large dormitory or smaller rooms for 2-3 people. They had wooden cots with thin mattresses and blankets usually with squatter or non-flush toilets. Although a short day, we managed to be sufficiently tired and napped after our tea. Tea is a big part of the culture of this part of the world. Tea can be the cure for whatever ails you. Tea supercedes most conversations, building a bridge of communication and understanding. While in Nepal, we transformed into dedicated tea drinkers.
Our journey continued as we trekked on a longer day’s hike into Namche Bazar. We were shrouded in beauty by the canopy of the evergreen forest and the strong rushing river alongside the trail. The difficulty of the trail toughened and bolstered our spirits. Namche is the main large village along the trail. Namche is the place where hiking and climbing groups do two-day (+ or -)acclimatization’s. Acclimatization is how people adjust to altitude by spending more time in a single place to get used to the ever-thinning air. They stay there to allow their lungs to adjust. Namche stands at 11,286 feet.
Actually, Namche is quite an amazing place with numerous guesthouses, shops, cafes, and in-season markets. These are all readily sustained given that Namche is a common acclimatization stop. We were hiking in pre-season and at the end of the monsoon season. This meant it rained each day, usually late afternoon or at night and it periodically made for a slippery trail. Many of the shops were closed, but any gear or clothing you might have forgotten could be purchased here. Not having enough sweater power, I picked up a Tibetan wool sweater with fleece lining that I wore every night of the trek. But the real highlight of Namche arrived the first morning we were there. Amar woke us at 5:45 a.m., ran us up to the military base above Namche, and showed us the most magnificent array of peaks surrounding us. At dawn, we watched Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Mera, Khangkaru, and Ama Dablam. Against a clear blue sky, these magnificent white peaks stood out in splendor. The view was breathtaking. As we stood and watched the view, the clouds slowly drifted in and covered the peaks. This is a common occurrence in the Himalaya. The beauty was so grand; we barely noticed the morning chill. Following tea and breakfast, we rested and slept the remainder of the day.
Heading off for Tengboche, our trail wound through the mountains in extreme rockiness coupled with continual ascents and descents. JP and I trekked different paces. The routine favored me getting ahead, and periodically waiting at the tops of climbs. We would re-group for tea and lunch. Periodically, we viewed peaks appearing above the clouds which were glorious and majestic. As we hiked, we began to feel more of the altitude arriving. It didn’t seem to effect our pace and we happily forged ahead.
Along the trail, we passed by homes and many local Nepalese. Some (both menand women) carried heavy loads on their backs; their children joyfully playing by the side of the trail. The Nepalese are a more reserved people. As we smiled at them, they would shyly smile back. At each guesthouse, we were usually treated with warmth and respect. After another four-hour day, we arrived in Tengboche (12,664 feet) only to find a Buddhist festival taking place. There were llamas from Nepal and other parts of the world. Apparently, a high llama from France was present as he was carried around in a golden cloth covered chair. Many local Nepalese had hiked in from the surrounding countryside for the festival. Tengboche guesthouses were booked full up, so off we headed for Deboche. In Deboche, we sat down to tea and lunch with Amar, Guindi, and Siri. Throughout the trek, we enjoyed fun and jovial exchanges with Amar. Sometimes Guindi and Siri joined in, although Siri’s English was limited and Guindi spoke none.
Joy was in the air. The next day, we would head up above the tree line with even more beautiful sights to see.
Dr. Joan Steidinger is a sports and clinical psychologist with offices in Mill Valley and San Francisco. She has been practicing sports psychology with clients ranging from recreational to pro athletes for the past 17 years.
As an athlete herself, she has been a competitive ultrarunner, Ride & Tie competitor, and ultradistance cyclist.