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  American Autumn Shishapangma Expedition 2005: Crossing the Border at Zangmu


 

Dawn broke moist and early in the border town of Xangmu. It was time to get out.

 

We climbers were on the dirty third floor of the Gangyen Hotel, not 50 meters from the Chinese immigration. After spending a month on the Tibetan highlands where it was dry and cool, the warm dampness did not feel welcome.

 

Looking out our side hotel room showed the 5-ton transport trucks queued up to cross the border, all lying dormant since dusk last night. The trucks formed a ribbon down the center of this one-lane town that zig-zagged up the mountainside.

 

Breakfast was the normal fare served across the street, upstairs in one of the many dirty restaurants there. The same dog that had accompanied us for dinner watched us eat, a faint glimmer of hope in its eye.

 

The other climbers from basecamp were located, and after they ate lunch our party was reassembled. Most of us had only day packs with a few possessions, as the bulk of our gear was on the basecamp truck which would be coming days later. It was not so comfortable wearing greasy, dusty fleece that we had lived in for a month into the humid, warmer environment. But as we say, "climbing is not a comfort sport."

 

It takes some endurance to deal with border crossings, dusty roads, long, rough Land Cruiser rides, and immigration lines. No problem for the climbers, we had time and nothing much else to do. There was an air of resignation, letting the process take what it takes.

 

Somebody gathered all the visa information for Jamie's crew. They made sure they were all in a line in the same order as on the visa form, so as to not get some border authority bent out of shape. They all went through past the immigration desk with no problem.

 

I had an individual visa, which allowed me to travel independently, so I simply needed to fill out a customs form. The guard gave me a good looking over, then waved me through.

 

Down past immigration exists a strange "no-man's land" between the two countries. You take some method transport (we had vans) down to the "Friendship Bridge", which is the actual border. But this distance takes about 20 minutes to cover, down a rough, muddy road to the actual bridge itself, and the Nepali immigration on the other side. One more passport check at the bridge, and we were waived through to Kodari, Nepal, and walked the distance across the bridge. I was feeling a little liberated from the Chinese just getting out of there. Not sure what it would feel like to live there. I definitely had my fill of the Chinese, their bureaucracy, and their policies.

 

Kodari could be accurately described in about the same terms as Tingri, a dirtbag filthy strip of a town, the only difference was it was on the border.

 

We had the opportunity to eat at a tiny restaurant. Daiula were clearly at home, big smiles, chatting with the restaurant owner. He dived into a huge plate of dhal bhat, eating with bare hands, as is the Nepali custom.

 

Kids peered inquisitively into the shop, especially interested in the digital cameras where they could see their own pictures. Expeditions passed by, with a Sherpa in front and half a dozen locals in tow carrying the trappings of expeditions - barrels, packs, crates, anything they could carry for a marginal pay.

 

A young guy hired by the expedition handled our visa applications, and took all of them to the office for us and returned with the visas. The form which I had so carefully downloaded from the Nepali embassy at home, attached my picture, and filled out, he declared as the wrong form, and I started again. I had carried the damn thing 10,000 miles, just for use here at the border. Oh well, so it goes.

 

After all the business of the upper border town, we walked a few blocks and got onto a small white bus with a white "TOURIST ONLY" sign in the front reserved for Jamie's expedition. I was just hitching a ride here, and was grateful for the accommodation. It was good to travel with the other climbers. Scott had been here before on an Everest attempt, and Warrick had been through here as well, but nobody seemed to know exactly how long the ride would take. We settled in for the rough voyage.

 

The scenery was spectacular, as the river that passed under the "Friendship Bridge" plunged deeper and deeper, eventually forming an awesome chasm through steep granite walls. The road switchbacked down and down, past nearly-ripe terraced barley fields and steep granite cliffs. The water had that translucent turquoise look that is found only in mountain rivers.

 

The air got thicker, now there were trees and bushes and lushness. For a month we had seen only rocks, short dry grass, snow and ice.

 

There were several checkpoints along the way where the bus needed to stop. Rough bunkers of sandbags and razor wire appeared out of nowhere, then it was obvious: Maoist activity had required protecting certain valuable assets, like hydro installations and transmission lines, so the police concentrated on these. Shooting a photo of one of these places could get you 10 years in a Chinese jail.

 

Hours passed bumping and thrutching through this rough road. There were many places where it had washed out and was dug out from the rubble, and the bus bumped along through these places. Interestingly, these were used as a sort of slate quarry, and stacks of rectangular, uniform pieces of slate occurred at each of these landslide areas.

 

Hours more descent and the hills got larger, and more broad, descending to where the river was very broad. A crossing at a city, then up into the hills toward Kathmandu.

 

Red dirt hills revealed themselves, and the small rivers were used as gravel quarries, with various-sized stones in separate piles near the road.

 

It was now apparent our bus driver was fond of passing on the outside lane and honking into the nothingness to warn anybody coming. This mostly worked, no accident, just some near-misses.

 

After a few hours of this bus tag, around a bend revealed a gaggle of buses, cars, motorcycles, stopped dead in the road. Our tour bus creeped  up, and the problem was revealed: a bus with a broken axle blocked the road. The axle protruded from the rear wheel like a greasy, dead appendage.

 

By now there were probably 40 vehicles, dozens of people outside blocking the road. Somehow it all got sorted out without the help of any police, with giant 5-ton trucks passing within centimeters of each other at a crawl to get by. Then back to the same game of "honk around the corner, motorcycle tag, pass-the-transport, don't hit the guy walking."

 

We were gaining altitude, soon we were in the midst of small barley plots with houses, getting more populous, then into a small town. This  was Bhaktapur, a small, interesting city. Lots of the houses here looked more prosperous, they were larger, with the distinctive three-level, rectangular-looking Nepali architecture.

 

Further along the pastoral road, green fields, lots of people walking, and soon we entered Kathmandu, the eastern side of the "Ring Road" that encircled the city. It was not long before we were deep inside the city, at the edge of the tourist district called Thamel. It was some place resembling civilization, as we knew it.

 

I said goodbye to the other climbers and got a cab to the International Guest House, where in a few days my father would join me for a bit of further exploration.

 

This is the end of the journey for now. To those I may have forgotten to mention, I apologize, and hope to seen you on some trail, basecamp, or destination mountain town in the future.

 

Thanks go to the climbers which made the journey more interesting:

 

Ed, Warrick, Scott, Greg, Bob, Simona, Dawa, Daiula, and

Jamie. Camilo Lopez (US), Carlos (Spain), Silvio (Italy).

 

And finally my team: Monty Smith, Val Hovland, Dave Lew, Bemba Tashi (our Tibetan porter), Dorji Sherpa (fantastic cook), Pratap Nachhiring (basecamp manager), and David Christopher (in the U.S., logistics).

 

I wish you all well, Namaste.

 

-- Eric

 

P.S. Thanks to Pratap for several days' interesting travels through the streets, byways and temples of Kathmandu, and for his hospitality in his home, and his wife Sabita and daughter. It is a great pleasure to be welcome in a strange, wonderful country. Perhaps some day I can return the favor.

 

Updates

Millet One Sport Everest Boot  has made some minor changes by adding more Kevlar. USES Expeditions / High altitude / Mountaineering in extremely cold conditions / Isothermal to -75°F Gore-Tex® Top dry / Evazote Reinforcements with aramid threads. Avg. Weight: 5 lbs 13 oz Sizes: 5 - 14 DESCRIPTION Boot with semi-rigid shell and built-in Gore-Tex® gaiter reinforced by aramid threads, and removable inner slipper Automatic crampon attachment Non-compressive fastening Double zip, so easier to put on Microcellular midsole to increase insulation Removable inner slipper in aluminized alveolate Fiberglass and carbon footbed Cordura + Evazote upper Elasticated collar.

Expedition footwear for mountaineering in conditions of extreme cold.  NOTE US SIZES LISTED. See more here.

A cold weather, high altitude double boot for extreme conditions The Olympus Mons is the perfect choice for 8000-meter peaks. This super lightweight double boot has a PE thermal insulating inner boot that is coupled with a thermo-reflective outer boot with an integrated gaiter. We used a super insulating lightweight PE outsole to keep the weight down and the TPU midsole is excellent for crampon compatibility and stability on steep terrain. WEIGHT: 39.86 oz • 1130 g LAST: Olympus Mons CONSTRUCTION: Inner: Slip lasted Outer: Board Lasted OUTER BOOT: Cordura® upper lined with dual-density PE micro-cellular thermal insulating closed cell foam and thermo-reflective aluminium facing/ Insulated removable footbed/ Vibram® rubber rand See more here.

 

 

 

 

 




 

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