Email from Bob

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It has been a most eventful time for me: challenging and tough, but very exciting with stunning views of 3 of the world's highest peaks, plus many others over 6,000m, and extraordinary valleys, glaciers and lakes. I'm fine, with the only residual damage rather battered hands from the extreme cold and strong winds. I had a short bout of Delhi belly, with nausea and lassitude, but Tashi, the head guide, fixed me up from his medicine cabinet, as he did for the others who experienced the same problem.

Everest Base Camp, 3 high passes & 4 peaks conquered!! Not only was the natural environment overwhelmingly beautiful and monumental, but I feel a great sense of achievement. Only 7 of the original 12 finished the entire trip, but several of them didn't do all the peaks: only one other bloke - a very nice Pommie bloke from Manchester - did the 4 peaks with me.

We experienced 2 REALLY difficult days, crossing over the 2nd pass, Cho La. The weather deteriorated after we climbed Kala Pattar (at 5,545m, the highest point of the trek), heading back down the Khumbu Valley and climbing towards the pass. We were battered by winds of 50-60kph, and temperatures below freezing. We camped high, at about 5,000m. It was snowing the whole time, and we woke with our tents covered in 10cm, and about 30cm on the ground. Despite continuing snow, Tashi was confident we could get over the pass. It was the toughest experience of my life, with the snow at about 1m on the pass, and continuing to fall, occasionally blizzarding for 10-15 minutes at a time. We didn't have crampons, so on the large rocks on both sides of the very steep pass it was trecturous. I was in the first group of 5 to reach the village of Dragnag on the far side. What Tashi had expected would take us 4 hours took us 7:40. Three of the party of 10 (2 quit immediately prior to the first pass at Kongma La) quit the following morning.

The next morning the rest of us headed across the Ngozumpa Glacier (at 23km long, one of the word's largest) to Gokyo. Since then the trip has been fantastic and uneventful. Gokyo overlooks a beautiful lake, one of 5 along the glacier, surrounded by snow covered monster mountains. The next morning we climbed Gokyo Ri, a small mountain (5,360m) beside the village. We enjoyed 360 degree views from the top of the entire Himalayan range in the region, including terrific views of Everest, and 3 other 8,000m+ peaks.

The next day we attacked the final high pass - Renjo 5,345m - in beautiful conditions. It was tough and tiring, put with great views on both sides from the top. We descended into the Bhote Khoshi River valley, the most beautiful we'd seen. We followed the valley along to a tiny village of Marulung where we stayed in a basic (dirt floor, plywood walls, no toilet) but friendly lodge. The couple who ran the lodge had a single child, a 7 year old cute little girl, to whom I gave a yellow rubber ball. She played with it - and us - till she went to bed, and wa playing with it a again first thing the following morning. What a hit!

We left Marulung early yesterday, following the gorgeous valley as other valleys joined it. We stopped for lunch at the town of Thamo. It was the first town with a polling place for the national elections, so I went to have a good look. It was in the open air beside a primary school. Men and women entered in separate lines, and went to a table with 4 blokes who gave them 2 ballot papers, one for the constituent assembly and one for the presidency. One of our guides told me that all the people he spoke to - and he spoke to a lot as we were entering and leaving the town - had voted for the Maoist Party.

We continued along the valley. reaching Namche late in the day. Last night we celebrated with several bottles of Aussie red wine, and this morning lingered over breakfast. We're staying here tonight, before heading to Phakding tomorrow and Lukla on Sunday. We'll fly back to Kathmandu early Monday, weather permitting.

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