PJK's Blog

Philosophy, the Internet, the World, and I

Menu Close

Don’t Create Goals

People often talk about creating goals as a means of progress. A challenge.  Challenging ourselves to move forward, setting deadlines to avoid taking too much time, and feeling satisfaction of reaching milestones. With each new milestone, another one comes about, a new goal is created.

I long believed in goals.  I enjoyed seeing myself accomplishing goals. It was fulfilling, enlightening, and challenging.  But what I’ve found is that by focusing on the result and not the process, it makes things less sustainable, less fun, and less likely to succeed.  I was focusing on the shiny object at the end, not in the day to day actions and time I spent getting there.  As a result, I’d often fail.

Instead, build processes and systems.  Again, don’t create goals, create systems.

A few examples:

  • Goal may be: Squat 500 lbs
    System: Go to the gym everyday and squat a tiny bit more each day than you did before.
  • Goal may be: Make $10,000/month
    System: Work on improving skills, making connections, and providing more value to society each day.
  • Goal may be: Lose 25 lbs
    System: Improve diet each day and reduce caloric intake, go for a run each day, eat vegetables every meal
  • Goal may be: Read 40 books this year
    System: Focus on reading 30 minutes each day consistently.

The big point here is that a goal is a milestone, but it doesn’t have a strategy of how to reach the goal.  Because big goals are hard to reach, coming up with a strategy can save you time, energy, money, and willpower, and make you far more likely to reach the goal.

A goal without a path to the goal is a goal that is typically not reached.  Systems are daily routines and habits you build which move you in the direction of your goal, which enables you to build habits that last long after you’ve reached your goal.  Remember, for each goal you reach, another goal then awaits.  It is never ending.

In Scott Adams’ book “How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big”, the brilliant Adams talks about systems and processes.  A system or process that steers you in the direction of where you want to go is never ending.  As you continually refine your processes and systems, you build habits, enjoy the journey each day, and inevitably reach the would-be goals.

As the Stoics found out 2,000 years ago, for each thing you think you want, once you get it, you may realize it wasn’t what you wanted/expected, or if it was what you expected, you inevitably get used to it and long for someone more, or something different – a new goal.

Goals focus on the end result.  They say nothing about how to get there.  Systems are the processes that can lead to a result. Fall in love with the process, not the result.

Life is a journey, enjoy the ride.

If you enjoy this way of thinking, you’ll probably enjoy James Clear’s article Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead. 

2017 Year in Review

It’s already that time of the year again where we look back on the last year of our lives and look forward to the next.  It is useful because it allows us to review what we did right, and what we can improve on in the future. You can see my previous years here: 201020112012201320142015, 2016 . Here’s a look back in what I did in 2017.

Summary

  • I rang in the new year in Pai in northern Thailand at a music festival.  After Pai I visited by friend Vy in Chiang Rai for a few days. Later in January attended a small Art Festival on Onnut road.
  • In February I completed a 10 day water fast.
  • In March drove to Cambodia, flew my drone, and attended a wedding in Sa Kaeo.   Also celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Bangkok with some friends.
  • In April celebrated Song Kran Water Festival in Bangkok.  A few days later I flew to Nepal for a month to hike the Himalayas, climbing the Dhaulagiri Circuit, bungee pumping, and paragliding which were all firsts for me.
  • I arrived back into Bangkok from Nepal on May 17th, had a goodbye party for a friend, and a going away party for Kemji and I at Y Spa.
  • In June I headed to Colorado to visit family and friends, went camping near Gunnison at the Kelly campout, attended the Renaissance Festival, and relaxed with family and friends.  In the later part of June my girlfriend Kemji flew to the US to meetup with me.
  • We celebrated July 4th in Lakewood at a relatives house.  On July 6th we drove up to Mt. Evans with my uncle, which is the highest paved road in North America.  In early July we went to a Colorado Rapids game, and a Colorado Rockies game, as well as up to a friends cabin in the mountains for the night.  On July 14th, we flew to Medellin, Colombia to begin our 5 month trip around South America.  We visited Medellin and Cartagena in July (future trip writeup coming).
  • In August we went to Bogota, Colombia and spent several days there exploring, working, and relaxing.  We met a lot of interesting people and had many interesting AirBNB experiences.  In mid-August we flew to Lima, Peru to begin exploring Peru, and to meet with a Peruvian friend Luis who was also there. In the later part of Peru we took a bus south to Ica, explored the sand dunes, then went to Nazca for a night, then took an overnight 18 hour bus ride to Cusco, Peru, arriving at the end of August.
  • In September we did a day trip and climbed Rainbow Mountain at 16,000ft, and visited Machu Picchu via a night in Ollantaytambo.  We ended up spending over 2 weeks in the Cusco area and loved it. In the later half of September we flew north to Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the world without roads to it, along the Amazon River and Amazon jungle.  It was a fascinating experience spending 2 weeks there and in the jungle.  I did 2 ayuhasca ceremonies.
  • In early October we flew back to Lima and bussed north to Trujuilo, then to Piura, and into Ecuador to Cuenca over the course of several days. We spent several days in Cuenca, and from Cuenca we took a bus to Banos for the hot springs.  From there we bussed to Latacunga for a couple nights to visit the infamous Quilotoa volcano and lake.  It was a fascinating experience. We continued north to Quito, the capital of Ecuador where we explored until the end of October when we flew to Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
  • Early November we spent in Zihuatanejo, and then to Ixtapa nearby for a friends wedding, which was a lot of fun and beautiful.  From there we headed back to Zihuatanejo for another week, then flew east to Cancun.  We immediately headed south to Playa Del Carmen with the idea that we’d explore Cancun later before we fly out of there.  We spent a week in Playa Del Carmen, and did a trip west to Piste to explore Chichen Itza, the famous Mayan archeological sight. We then headed back to Playa Del Carmen in late November.
  • Early December we went to Cancun for a few days, relaxing on the beach and in the pool, getting some work done throughout.  We flew out December 9th to Tampa Bay, Florida to meet my mom and brother to embark on a 7 day cruise back south to Key West, FL > Cozumel, MX> Belize City, Belize > Costa Maya, MX > Tampa Bay, FL.  It was a fun and interesting experience seeing such a massive object moving around the ocean.  We got back to Colorado late on Dec 17th, and celebrated Christmas and New Years with my family in Colorado.

WHAT WENT WELL THIS YEAR?

It was an adventurous year.  About 7 months of the year were spent on the road, starting with a month in Nepal in April/May, a month in the US, and 5 months in South America.  This made routine tough to follow, though I was able to keep my 5 tasks each day for most of it: meditate, read, study Spanish, work, and exercise.  Work-wise, I made a lot of progress and setup quite a few processes, learning a lot along the way.  I spent a lot of time and money learning the modern FB Advertising game, and several sites I’ve had setup for years were expanded.  Health-wise, it was a neutral year.  I feel I’m in better shape than I was a year ago but definitely have a lot of room for improvement here.  Knowledge-wise, I read around 30 books, and have learned a lot this year.  A few of the top books that stick out are: Sapiens, The Beginning of Infinity, Tribes, and Homo Deus.

WHAT DIDN’T GO SO WELL THIS YEAR?

I don’t have a lot of complaints this year.  I felt like this year was overall a huge step forward in my life in all the aspects that I’ve been working on. I can definitely improve my health and routines, but I’m quite satisfied with that considering how sporadic my schedule was in 2017.

WHAT AM I WORKING TOWARD?

Next year I have a few goals: read more pages than I did this year, spend a lot more time working on flexibility and mobility and simply spend more time working on my health. Travel wise, not sure yet, but Australia and Japan are on the radar, as well as perhaps hiking the Colorado Trail. I signed up for a 10 day meditation retreat in late March, 2018 in Thailand which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I also want to do a few more 30 day challenges, firstly being a 30 day vegetarian diet.

ALL TOGETHER

As stated every year, 2017 was the fastest year of my life, and perhaps one of the best.  In all the aspects of my life that I’ve focused on: health, business, knowledge, connection, I’ve made progress.

You can see all of my posts from 2017 herehttp://www.patjk.com/posts/2017/

Thanks for reading. Happy New year, see you in 2018!

Note: You can follow what I’m reading and things I find interesting daily on my G+Twitter and/or Facebook page.

Lost in Thought

In “The Power of Now“, Eckhart Tolle discusses how the present moment is all there is.  And how, fundamentally, time is an illusion.  The past and the present exist only through our thought happening in the present moment.

What is the present moment, the now? It’s often hard to see.  Let’s say you’re sitting at a table having a conversation with your friend, but as your friend is talking you’re gazing off into the distance thinking of something unrelated.  Sure, your present moment is just that, but in a sense it is completely distracted by thought.  Instead of paying full attention and being fully mindful of your friend talking, you’re mind is adrift elsewhere, most likely unaware of it.  As soon as you become aware that you’re drifting off, that is mindfulness, bringing you to the present moment – observing your thoughts as they arise out of consciousness.

The example above is how our minds, more often than not, function – we’re often lost in thought without knowing it.  The idea of mindfulness meditation is 2 fold:

  1.  It gives you a point to focus on, a reference point – the breath for example – so that when your mind is distracted, you actually notice it.  See my post on Mindfulness here.
  2. With practice, you naturally become more mindful of the moment, more present, more in the now. You truly begin to see thoughts as exactly what they are, simply thoughts, nothing else.

So why is being in the now important? Why does it matter? Well, that is all there is.  Like the Stoics came to conclude 2,000 years ago, all there is to being is the now.  Studies also show that being in the now is also the place with the highest wellbeing (Source).  A wandering mind is not a happy mind.

So when one says that most people spend their entire lives lost in thought, it is true.  A thought is just a thought.  It is so obvious that most people don’t know it.  But with mindfulness practice, it becomes obvious.  And when you’re angry, sad, stressed, or anxious, you can stop, become present, and recognize it is simply a temporary sensation (or thought) that will pass, and not react to it.  Or at the very least, if you do react to it, know that you’re reacting to it and ensure you’re mindful of your reaction.  If thoughts get out of control, they cause unnecessary emotions and reactions that cause unnecessary suffering. It happens all the time to most people, unnecessarily.

You can become the observer of thoughts rather than simply laying victim to them which causes unnecessary suffering.  This is the idea behind meditation – simply observing thoughts as they arise out of consciousness, seeing them for exactly what they are, thoughts.

I’d highly recommend reading “The Power of Now” or listening to the audiobook, it is useful to truly becoming a more aware, useful, and joyous person.

Conflicting Ideals

One of my goals in life is to avoid living conflicting philosophies.  This means thinking one way of living is best for me, yet contradicts other held beliefs without knowing it.  It is very easy to conflict yourself, and the more you learn, the stronger the realization.  It goes along with the lines of “the more you know, the more you can know” and you often “don’t know what you don’t know”. This is shown by the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude.

Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence

Source

Mark Mason recently published a great short read on The Value of Money (stop here and read the article now).  His posts sums up my beliefs on money and wealth quite well, and how people wrongfully misinterpret their goals.  Money isn’t the goal, it is what the money gives you that you *think* you want.  But humans are also very bad at predicting what they want, what will make them happy, etc:

How great would it be to win a brand new car? How horrible would it be to get laid off from your job? Research by psychologist Dan Gilbert at Harvard University suggests, not that great and not that horrible (respectively). Among the many things Gilbert studies is how people make predictions about future events—specifically, how we make predictions about how we’ll feel about future events. One of the most important questions we ask when making any decision is “how will this make me feel?” But no matter how much time we spend thinking about the future, we don’t get any better at predicting it. That’s why, as Gilbert writes in his book Stumbling on Happiness, divorce lawyers and people who remove tattoos continue to have a steady stream of customers.

Source: Stumbling Upon Happiness book

One of the fundamental conflicting ideals plaguing modern society is simply put as this: in a capitalistic society where the incentive is money, it doesn’t align with the what humans really want – wellbeing. The vast majority of modern day humans have conflicting ideals here.

It’s easy to get caught in the stir of this mixing machine.  While people around the world are vastly different in culture, beliefs, ways of life, habits, and appearance, humans all universally want a good wellbeing, to be happy, and to not suffer.  This is universal, and this should therefore be our goal in collective society.  All good comes from wellbeing, so we should maximize this.  It becomes a philosophical discussion in itself, but some pieces of it have quite straightforward answers.  For example, there are 1 billion people suffering *unnecessarily* from extreme poverty (read The Life You Can Save).  This is a situation where suffering  is definitely occurring unnecessary, is solvable right now, and the barrier is simply human connection and communication.

Now with this said, in a capitalistic society the goal and incentive isn’t human wellbeing, it is money.  People can create companies that destroy villages, families, cities, countries, and lives.  Yet they make money, their goal and incentive.  Politicians can make agreements and work together to increase their GDP, not necessarily increase wellbeing or reduce suffering. Most peoples lives in modern society are taken up by work that is entirely incentivized by money.  In fact, 70-80% of Americans don’t like their jobs or otherwise hate what they do (Source). They’re caught in the machine where every bit of society tells you to make money, buy a house, buy stuff you don’t need, and then finally retire at the end of life when you hopefully have money.  In fact, we spend most of our time in effort to simply earn money – how crazy is that.  It is entirely backwards and contradicts what we really want.  People don’t want or necessarily need more money, they need a new perspective that changes how they live their lives.  They need freedom – freedom to choose, freedom of time, freedom to think.  Consumerism has plagued us to spend all our money on stuff we don’t need, or to spend all our time making money so we can buy time later (a vacation or early retirement), or so we can buy all the abundance of consumerism that we don’t need.

Our motivational systems are off.  While the vast majority of modern western society is motivated by money, what people really want is to be happy.  And money and happiness aren’t directly coordinated (Source). We should instead be motivated by helping others, learning more so we can better help others and ourselves, using our creativity to create things we think should exist, traveling to broaden our perspectives – all things which are proven to increase wellbeing – again something that universally humans want.  In short, society is living with conflicting ideals.

The bottom line here is that we should really be questioning our incentives and goals in society.  I don’t have a good alternative to capitalism, but money is certainly not our goal as humans.  And while it may increase the collective human wellbeing on some levels, it also causes a grand amount of unnecessary suffering.

Philosophy of boundaries

Intuitively, open borders sound good.  Living in Southeast Asia and seeing the massive restrictions on the peoples ability to travel outside their countries is sobering.  You can’t choose where you’re born, and simply being born from a country with an unfavorable passport sucks.  With that said, these barriers do serve a role.

Thais have a hard time getting a visa into South Korea, for example, because many Thais go there, overstay their visa, and never return to Thailand, therefore causing South Korea to block Thais in the future for obtaining a visa.  This reaction totally makes sense.

In the past, boundaries made a lot of sense.  As people settled throughout the world, people formed their own local communities, and coordinated together for the better of the group. We were naturally territorial due to threats from outsiders – it’s in our DNA.  One of the awkward feelings of traveling is overcoming that innate feeling of distrust of foreigners and trusting people of different beliefs, experiences, and outlooks on life.  Some people hate this feeling, other people love it. It is the feeling of walking into the unknown.

Today is a starkly different world where these “local communities” are now nations, and we no longer just work together, we interact almost as if our own tribe.  I live in Thailand, live a life nearly as a Thai person would, yet I’m not a Thai citizen, have a US passport, and view the world through the lens of my experience.  Our communities are merging, aka globalization.

So with this change, an important question to ask is: does managing the world through individual nation states make sense? One policy change America makes can influence all of Europe, does it make sense for only Americans to have this sort of influence?  It’s worth thinking about.

I’m not sure of a solution to the issue of nation states, but I do think politically and as communities we should be looking at the bigger picture.  When a president, mayor, or other politician gets elected, his goal shouldn’t be to just better the nation or community they’re from, but should be to better the world.  When we make decisions, we shouldn’t just think of ourselves and the our community, but instead our entire world, which is really our community.  We all share the world, and it is becoming ever smaller.

We can communicate in seconds via the internet, we can fly cheaper and cheaper and faster and faster.  By nearly all means, it does feel smaller.  We live in a time where these issues of boundaries and borders are most important.  How we cope with it will decide how our future world looks.  Will we fight and destroy ourselves? Will we be able to resolve the differing value systems between the west and the Middle East? Time will tell.

Because we’re all individuals, the best we can do is lead by example.  Are you living a life that you think is good for the whole? In other words, if everyone lived like you, would the world be what you want it to be? Are you living a sustainable life?  If not, it’s worth noting.  You can’t be another person, but you can do your part to make the world what you want it to be.

I just finished reading “A Strange Death of Europe” which shows how immigration into Europe will radically change Europe. It already has, however subtle it may seem. Is it for the better? The place the Europeans call home is now likely to become a majority-foreign land.  This means if you’re a British born Caucasian, you’ll soon be a minority in England.  This speaks somewhat of the true trends of other countries as well.  Mass immigration radically changes the makeup, culture, belief system, and economic structure of a country. Uncontrolled immigration leads to countless other issues.  Europe isn’t even sure how many immigrants has come in as the control system has been flooded.

On one end of the spectrum we have all open borders where humans can freely roam the earth.  On the other end we have completely closed borders where you are born dictates the space on earth where you can roam. The optimal solution is likely somewhere in between. With entirely open borders I’m not certain we can function effectively as economically everyone would exploit the wealthiest spots, therefore destroying their structure and contributions to the greater good of humanity.  Places like the US wouldn’t exist with entirely open borders, and the scientific contributions the US has made to the greater whole exist, in part, through collaboration of groups of people – such as a university being within a community, but enabling groups of people to work together in seclusion. However, if immigration wasn’t possible, the US would be severely missing out on many of the people that have contributed to make the US what it is.  The same is true for the UK and many other western and eastern societies that have contributed to the greater good of humanity.

I’m unsure of where on the spectrum we should be.  If Murray in right in his book, we need to make changes in how we integrate.  When a new immigrant goes to a new place and culture, how should he or she integrate? If we allow it to naturally happen without defined systems of integration, we end up like London where people don’t necessarily integrate, and form their own communities.  Is this really constructive to the greater good? Probably not.  We’d be better off integrating people into our culture and society, working *with* each other to accomplish the things in life we want to accomplish, not as a city or country, but as a world.  We should be discussing what these things are.  Is it the pursuit of scientific understanding of the world to cure disease, solve carbon pollution, build maps of the world for better navigation, or is it something else? It’s worth criticizing bad ideas, openly talk about problems and solutions, and be open minded in discovering simply better ways to live.

Hiking in Nepal: Dhaulagiri Circuit & Annapurna Base Camp

Nepal has been a place I’ve wanted to visit for years.  Landlocked between India and Tibet, Nepal’s northern border is rigid with the biggest mountains in the world, the Himalayas.  After watching several documentaries and reading a few books on them, I’ve been determined to explore them myself and hike into the majisticalness of it all.

On April 17th, I flew into Kathmandu from Bangkok to meetup with my friend Andrew and his dad.  At the airport I bought a 30 day visa on arrival for $40, paying via credit card (which I later noticed was charged as a cash advance).  The people working the visa counter were quite rude and didn’t communicate to virtually anyone effectively – not a great welcoming to a new country.

The following morning we walked the dusty, crowded streets to the Tourism Board Office to buy the various permits we needed to hike, namely the TIMS card (for trekking), and the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (for entering the Annaupurna region) – together they cost $40.  Shortly after, we packed our stuff and caught a “tourist” bus to Pokhara.  These buses are supposedly made for tourism and are slightly more expensive but have nicer seats, stop less, and have AC.  It hardly fit any of that criteria, not surprisingly. It was quite a bumpy ride, taking 6-7 hours, full of dust, crowded with people, and stopping every few miles.

We arrived into the fog of Pokhara at dusk, taking a taxi to the first hotel offered.  After dropping off our bags, we bought a few snacks for the hike, ate dinner, and called it a night.  The following morning we took a taxi to Beni, and once there to Darbang.  In total it took nearly 7 hour on an uneven road – I thought the car was going to fall apart by the end of it.  We ended up paying him 6,000 Rs. ($60), which was more than double our agreed on rate to Beni originally, but we all felt it was well worth the money considering the wear and tear his car had just gone through.  Once in Darbang, we begin our hike, starting the Dhaulagiri Circuit.

The Dhaulagiri Circuit

The Dhaulagiri Circuit is a 14-16 day trek that makes it way up and around Dhaulagiri mountain, the 7th highest mountain in the world, rising up 8,167m (26,795 feet).  The first few days go through various villages, which offer food and basic lodging, while the remaining 10 days require winter tents, food, and gear.  As a result, we were each carrying backpacks weighing around 40-50 lbs.

From our starting point in Darbang, we hiked to Dayatani (?).  It goes mostly on a dirt road along the river, and then up a steep climb of stairs.  Because we didn’t get to Darbang until mid afternoon, we didn’t arrive to Dayatani until dusk.  We had dinner and slept at a guesthouse there, which was pleasant, though be prepared for the food to take a couple hours to prepare.

The hike then follows the dirt road further, gaining elevation.  The river is still along the right, though at a much lower elevation.  The road eventually horeshoes back, and at the horseshoe you can shortcut directly down into the rice terraces below.  Our map showed this shortcut, and a local confirmed it.  However, the shortcut path wasn’t clear so we ended up hiking through some terraces until we found some cow trails which led to the main bridge crossing the river at the bottom and connected to the trail across the river.  Once there, we were told there is a more main shortcut path that comes 500 meters or so after the horseshoe.

We hiked eventually to Mudi, passing through Naura and Bogara for some tea and food.  The 2 most common foods served in teahouses are Dal Baht (lentil soup with rice (baht)) or chowmein.  The portion sizes are sizable, and with dal baht is free refills.  Note: the price of food goes up about 10% each day – the further into the trail you get, the further they have to carry the supplies so they charge more.  After passing through Mudi and resting there while it rained, we continued on and dropped down near the river to pitch our tent for the evening. In total, it was a 12 hour day of hiking, minus an hour rest for lunch and an hour rest for dinner. The morning view from the tent was spectacular, with a clear view of the snowy covered Himalayas in the distant.

From the river we hiked to the hot spring, a good 8 hour hike or so.  The hot spring requires crossing the river to the east side on a wooden bridge, and there is accomodation and a place to pitch a tent, which is what we did.  We had prior been told that there was no bridge or accomodation, but that information was incorrect. The hotspring itself is well developed, built with a roof, concrete walls, and next to a large waterfall.  It was an excellent place to spend the night and rest our legs, and also a great way to start the morning.  We were served food by the locals near where we pitched our tent.

The next day, day4, we hiked to Doban, which took around 7 hours, a common day hike so far.  It rained a solid 2 hours along this hike, which was the first real downpour we had yet.  When we arrived to Doban, the rain had let up and it was incredibly pleasant.  The “hotel” there was empty so we ended up staying there instead of pitching the tent out front.

Day 5 was to Italian Base Camp, the last place along the route that served food, and also the place where we’d spend 2 days to rest up and acclimate before heading towards the main base camp.  Along the way we stopped at an abandon rock structure to eat breakfast, dry our clothes, and charge devices with the solar charger while the sun was out.  We also stopped at the village of Sallagiri to eat lunch. There we chatted with a couple locals about everything from visas to the US to radical Islam.  It was surprising of how well informed most of the Nepalese were about world affairs.

italian-base-camp-dhaulagiri

Italian Base Camp

There are signs along the way with arrows showing directions and estimated hiking times.  We noticed that on many of the signs the estimated times are off, either overestimating or underestimating the hiking times.  Some villages also weren’t show on our map, but were shown on the signs.

We arrived into Italian Base Camp in the late afternoon and were greeted by several people on the Indian Expeditions to summit Dhaulagiri.  Also at the camp were several other groups, in total probably 60 people were at the base camp, inlcuding an older English group of 7 people plus several porters.  We chatted with others, and had dinner there before calling it a night.  Most of the others there had arrived earlier in the day and were also resting the following day.  Prior to arriving at Italian Base Camp, we hadn’t seen or met many others aside from a French couple in Mudi, so seeing so many people at Italian Base Camp was a bit of a surprise.

The following day we woke to see the surrounding mountains covered in fresh snow.  The views from Italian Base Camp are remarkable – you could literally sit there for an hour just staring at them.  Andrew, Drew (his dad), and I hiked up to some nearby hills to gain some elevation and stay active.  Drew and Andrew went up a bit higher while I rested and took in the views and headed back to camp afterwards.

This sherpa climbed K2 twice and Everest 3 times, among many others.

At the camp I met the Nepalese guide who was leading the Indian expedition of 14 people + porters to the summit (which in total takes 1-2 months).  He had climbed like 12 of the 14 highest mountains in the world, including Everest 3 times, K2 twice, and Dhaulagiri twice.  He said he hadn’t started climbing until 8 years ago when he was 22, but has since done 2 big expeditions a year.  Impressive feat to say the least.

We spent the night there eating dal baht (salty lentil soup with rice).  The portion sizes were massive, and included free refills.  There was a shirt we saw saying “dal baht power, 24 hour”.  It is a great meal for hiking, and literally everyone there was eating it as it was all that was offered.  Italian base camp was our last place along the route where food would be served, so we made sure to indulge.

The following morning we woke, ate breakfast, and packed up. The Indian expedition and various other groups left about an hour before us.  We hiked through the beautiful valley along the water toward Japanese base camp.  Like most days, it was quite sunny and hot in the morning, and by afternoon it was snowing.  During the morning as the ground began to heat up, we could see rocks falling from both sides of the valley – it was quite the sight and made quite a loud echo throughout the valley.  There were several areas along the route where rocks were falling down onto the trail, so we paid close attention to the right side to avoid getting hit by any coming down.  It’s definitely important to be very cautious here.

On the way to Japanese Base Camp

By the time we reached Japanese base camp it was snowing.  Within a couple hours there were several inches of snow on the ground and we had setup our tent and had a little snowball fight with the English group.  The Indian expedition and others had continued on several more hours to Dhalagiri base case, while us, the French couple, and the English crew had all stayed at Japanese base camp for the rest of the day and overnight.  In the late afternoon we saw 2 porters walking back from Dhauligiri Base camp in flip flops and limited warmth, appearing to be quite cold.  It was quite the sight, but apparently normal for these guys. There’s a big ethical debate around hiring porters and treating them properly (assuring they are well equipped and not over worked).

We woke at sunrise and after chatting with others we decided to continue on to Dhauligiri Base Camp.  The English crew decided to stay another day, as did the French couple due to the trail being covered with snow and avalanche danger.  We determined that we knew the route well enough to proceed and also decided that avalanche danger would be looming whether we waited another day or not.

Our tent the morning after at Japanese Base Camp

The hike was excellent and we found the path without much issue.  It was sunny pretty much the entire way, and we saw a couple avalanches in the distance as well as more rock falls.  During the previous days, I kept getting the sound of thunder mixed up with a rock slide mixed up with an avalanche.  They all sounded somewhat similar and spooky when they echoed along the valley.

dhaulagiri-base

Saw some big rock falls along the valley on the way to Dhaulagiri Base Camp

When we arrived into Dhaulagiri Base Camp we saw about 100 tents with 10+ expeditions based there in effort to summit Dhaulagiri, including the Indian Expedition we met at Italian Base Camp.  When we first arrived we met a couple Japanese guys and chatted about Japanese politics, mountains, and advice on where to put our tent.  One guy was 67 years old, and the other was 62.  Both had retired in the last few years and since had been climbing the highest mountains in the world, including Manaslu and Denali.

After setting up the tent, we chatted with one of the Indian guys, and he invited us to dinner later in the evening.  Andrew and Drew had been offered dinner prior by the porters for the Indian expeditions, while I went for a tea into the Indian expedition tent.  The eldest Indian had climbed most of the 8,000 meter peaks in the world, and also had climbed the highest mountain on 6 out of 7 of the continents.  He said he would be heading to Antartica to climb Mt. Winston in December.  After chatting with the expedition at dinner, I learned that they were all part of the Indian Air Force which sponsored these sorts of adventures every couple years.  The eldest Indian was a skydiver for most of his career, and was incredibly friendly and generous.

dhaulagiri-base-camp

Arriving into Dhaulagiri Base Camp with Mt. Dhaulagiri in the background

He offered tea and biscuits, and later a 4 course meal with fish.  It was an unexpected invite and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the stories and having dinner with the expedition, one I won’t forget.  As they had just arrived at base camp the day before, they had plans to spend around the next month acclimizing and were planning to summit on May 10th if the weather permitted, the night of a full moon.

I got to chat with about 5 of the 14 Indians on the expedition, and one asked if we saw the avalanche by Japanese Base Camp.  He pulled out his phone and showed me a video he took of a massive avalanche coming off the top of one side of the valley – it was incredible.  They were 3-4 hours ahead of us, so we passed the area a few hours later, not suspecting a thing.  It really put into perspective the dangers of hiking that aren’t really noticeable.

Early the next morning we proceeded on the Dhauligiri Circuit up and over French pass, which was around 5,300 meters.  It was another nice hike up.  Along the way we got a nice view of Dhauligiri and could see an expedition of 20 or so people heading up to Camp 1.  About 30 minutes after we saw them, we watched an avalanche break right where we saw them before.  It just reinforced the risks involved with hiking in this area at any given time.

fench-pass-dhaulagiri

Heading up to French Pass looking back at Dhaulagiri.

After reaching French Pass and dropping into Hidden Valley, it was quite windy and snowy.  The drop down into hidden valley was along territory with avalanche danger, which made the tranverse a bit more stressful. We weren’t sure exactly where the Hidden Valley camp was, but when we got to the approximate area we found a low spot on the back side of a hill and setup camp, around 4/5pm.  It was an excellent spot to spend the night and have dinner.

The next morning we hiked up towards the base of Dhampus Peak, a peak we planned to climb the following day.  The hike to the base was across a flat area of Hidden Valley and then up a steep snowy slope.  Upon reaching Dampus Pass, we decided where to set the tent.  Drew and Andrew thought it was best to pitch the tent near the pass, though I thought a lower point out of the wind would be better.  At the time, it was sunny and calm.  We ended up setting up camp in the spot near the pass.

The evening I had quite a headache, and didn’t sleep much that night.  We were sleeping around 5,300m (17,300 feet), so the headache wasn’t all unexpected.  We woke the following morning at the crack of dawn and began hiking with the idea to summit Dhampus Peak.  Drew and Andrew has microspikes and I had a rubber boot grip with springs that Drew had let me borrow, and we all had ice axes.  The hike was steep, but the slow and steady pace gave us great progress in the morning, as it was a crystal clear view and the snowy surrounding mountains were stunningly beautiful. It felt like we were walking through the sky.

View from hiking up Dhampus Peak, shot at around 19,000 ft.

Around 10am we got to a point where we had to traverse a steep slope to the right of a rock formation.  The risk if you slipped would have been a couple thousand foot slide down the icy slope, though not a fatal fall.  The biggest risk there would have been the day or two hike out from where you end up, which wouldn’t have been easy, as well as the avalanche danger all around.  After the 3 of us got past that part, I looked further and noticed there was a sketchier part ahead, and at least another 2 hour hike to the summit.  Additonally, I noticed clouds starting to come in from below. The lack of oxygen at that altitude was very noticable, and I decided I would turn back to the tent.

At Italian Base Camp a few days prior we met a Nepalese guide who climbed Dampus Peak before.  He said he summited by 11am and was down before the weather changed.  With that in my mind, I knew the turnaround time was sometime around 11am-noon.  Andrew and Drew pressed on, and I hiked down to the tent.  A gorgeous hike down, with a fair bit of glissading which was a perfect condition for it.  I arrived back down to the tent around an hour later, and the weather was sunny and dry still.  I dried some clothes and blankets, and rested in the tent.  About 30 minutes later it started to snow a bit.

Heading down Dhampus Peak

Within an hour it was nearly whiteout.  I listened to podcasts and read a book for the next several hours. I was concerned for Drew and Andrew, but unsure how to potentially help them.   It wasn’t until 3 or 4pm that Drew and Andrew arrived at the tent.  They got somewhat lost in the whiteout, and luckily ran into a cairn, which there was 1 or 2 within 500 meters of the tent. Apparently they had made a couple snow caves to stay warm while they searched for the tent, and had they not found the cairn things could have turned out much worse.

When they arrived we cooked some food and then rested, with the plan to leave the following morning and traverse to the far ridge to drop down.

The next morning we woke to still whiteout conditions, and probably 3 feet of fresh snow.  We hiked for maybe 200 feet before deciding to setup the tent again and wait for better conditions.  It could remain whiteout for days, we weren’t sure.  It was bad luck to have a whiteout the last morning of our hike out as literally everyday prior in the hike the mornings were clear.  We sat in the tent for several hours listening to the audiobook “Alone on the Wall” with the plan to resume hiking as soon as the weather cleared up.  During this time, Drew noticed the tips of his toes were beginning to turn black from frostbite, likely from the day before.

For much of the last couple days, our boots would freeze solid at night, which made it difficult to put on in the morning and also cooled down our feet quite a lot.  As soon as he noticed the frostbite, it became a bit concerning because we weren’t sure how long we’d be stuck in the tent before being able to resume – could be a couple hours or several days.

Traversing past Dhampus Peak after several feet of fresh snow.

Around 2pm the snow let up and we could see blue sky and the clouds clearing, but it was incredibly windy.  We prepared our gear and got ready to go so as soon as the weather improved we’d break down the tent and move east.  Luckily, the wind slowed and the weather became more calm.  Our strategy to take down the tent was to leave the bags inside until we took out the poles, and as we pulled out bags I’d lay on top to prevent the tent from blowing away – the wind could stop and start up again with little warning.

Over the next 5-6 hours we dropped down and hiked up as we traversed through several feet of fresh snow, often sinking up to our chest.  Along with the stress of avalanche danger, the lack of water and food, and the shear difficulty of carrying bags through that much snow at elevation, it was a test to our mental and physical power to make it as far east as possible and begin dropping down.  We had enough food for a few more days, but our gas was getting low (which was needed to melt snow).

We made solid progress that afternoon, and ended up camping on a more level area toward the end of the ridge, or at least it seemed.  The evening was calm and clear, and as it got dark the stars shined clearly.  It was relieving and relaxing to see.  That night we cooked near the tent and melted snow.  At this elevation, around 17,500 ft, the lack of oxygen makes it quite difficult to cook as the flame doesn’t light easily and when it finally does, it takes a long time to cook.  The slight breeze also kept blowing out our flame even with a barrier.  To melt 2 cups of water seemed to be taking around 20 minutes, so we certainly weren’t drinking as much water as we normally would.

The next morning we woke with the sun and could see the steep ridge in the distance that we were aiming for.  We let our boots melt for a few minutes in the sun so we could get them on, which helped tremendously. We packed up gear and decided to snack along the way rather than spend time cooking breakfast. After a couple hours of hiking we realized it was further than it first seemed, but we pressed on.

Eventually we made it to a cairn with a view of Mustang to the left and a drop down to the right, with a steeper ridge in front of us.  It was relieving to know we were on track, as this was the first cairn we’d seen in nearly 24 hours and weren’t certain of the path. Drew knew that we had to keep pressing east until we couldn’t any further, and as we did so we saw other cairns.  Eventually after a steep climb along the furthest ridge, we decided to drop straight down toward the blue roofs that we could see at the bottom, some 8,000 feet lower, which we assumed was Marpha.

Andrew and I at the furthest east ridge the steep before descent

It was a steep decent with lots of loose rock, snow, and grassy patches.  We tried to strategize our best way down to avoid being cliffed out.  The left side looked good, but so did the right.  Eventually we found a trail and some puddles so get some fresh water, which we certainly all needed.  We kept heading down and at one rest Drew took off his shoes as his frostbite toes were hurting.  Many had blisters, some had popped, and it looked incredibly painful though Drew handled it like a champ.  We took some of the weight from his gear and kept heading down.

Eventually we came across a farm with about 50 yaks.  We weren’t sure of the trail to Marpha and there wasn’t any clear path – perhaps we should have stayed to the right instead of the left.  We decided to cross the creek near the yak farm, stop for lunch, and then take the trail from there.  Our map showed the trail going along the creek, but the main trail seemed to head up and into the mountains and potentially around the ridge.  By this point it was around 4pm.

We decided to take the main trail that went around the mountain in hopes that it would head down into Marpha and not just be a yak trail into the darkness.  We spotted some human boot prints at some point which was reassuring that it led to somewhere with civilization. Luckily, we saw a sign with an arrow pointing to Marpha and followed that.  Around 2 hours of a steep decent down a well traveled path, we arrived at Marpha, which was actually not visible from the earlier view above and the blue roofs we saw were actually a town across the valley from Marpha.

mustang

Looking north into the Mustang region towards Tibet

Upon arriving in Marpha we checked into the first hotel that looked decent, ordered dinner, and called a doctor to look at Drew’s toes.  The doctor arrived with his friend and looked at his feet, suggesting in broken english to not pop the blisters.  Several blisters on both toes has popped from the hike down, but others hadn’t.  The doctor cleaned and bandaged his feet, charging around $10 for the work, including some extra antibacterial cream.  While eating dinner shortly after, a group nearby in the room of a Nepalese and French guide came over to ask us a few questions. They suggested getting a helicopter to Pokhara or Kathmandu immediately to avoid further issues.  They advised checking with the insurance company to ensure it would cover it.

By this point it was around 11pm and we were all quite tired, and I headed to sleep. Our original plan was to get to Marpha, bus to Jomsom nearby, and get onto the Annapurna circuit.  However, after this ordeal, we decided to get back to Pokhara as soon as possible to make sure nothing worse came of Drew’s injuries.  We woke the next morning and decided to take the public transport to Jomsom.  Surprisingly, we couldn’t find any taxis, jeeps, or buses heading there.  Our plan was to head to Jomsom, get a flight to Pokhara, and go to the hospital in Pokhara.  After being unable to book a flight or get a quick transport to Jomsom, we were offered a bus to Pokhara which would arrive in 8 hours, which we decided to do.

Arriving into Marpha after our Dhaulagiri Circuit descent

We arrived into Pokhara that night and checked into a hotel offered by a guy waiting at the bus stop.  Drew decided to wait until the next morning to visit the hospital as it was quite late by this time, probably around 10pm.  The following day we walked to the hospital which was only 5 minutes away, and got everything taken care of.

We spent the next few days relaxing and recovering from the 2 week hike.  Drew ended up changing plans and booking a flight back to the US, so he caught a bus to Kathmandu and headed home.  Andrew and I stayed in Pokhara and paraglided and bungee jumped, which were absolutely amazing.  We then decided to do another hike for 6-7 days – the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) hike.  The Dhaulagiri Circuit hike was definitely a test of our mental and physical strength.  While somewhat stressful, it’s hard to not find the incredible beauty that the wilderness has to offer.  We had some bad luck with our weather, but were also incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to hike and lucky that things didn’t go much worse.

Annapurna Base Camp

This hike was well advertised throughout Pokhara and was a major tourist trek.  We took a cab from Pokhara to the trailhead in Phedi, which took around 45 minutes and cost 1000 Rs.  We began the steep hike there up a well-built stone path.  In the evening, after 8 hours of hiking, we arrived to Landruk, where we found a hotel for $3/night with beds, and to our surprise, wifi.  This trek was quite different than the Dhaulagiri Circuit. This ABC trek was considered a teahouse trek, meaning there were houses along the way with places to sleep, eat, shower, etc.  This means there isn’t a need to carry in much gear or food, so it makes hiking a lot easier.  The path was also well traveled and maintained, so there was certainly no need for a guide (though we found that 90%+ of the people we met on the hike had guides).

The first day we hiked to Landruk.  Once there, we got offered a hotel that surprisingly had wifi, hot showers, and served dinner.  By our room I saw the biggest spider I’d ever seen – a wolf spider that was as big as a turantula.

Local kids wanting to play with us on the hike to Landruk

The following day we hiked to the next village, Bamboo.  We decided to pass Chomrong (where most people stay) to make a bit more progress such that we could ensure we finished the trek in time.  We arrived into Bamboo around 7pm, hiking the last 2 hours in a misty rain, though quite a pleasant hike.  In total, we hiked for around 11 hours this day.  After arriving in Bamboo, we got a room in a local teahouse and had some dinner.  It was common that the further you get into the hike, the further prices go up.  All teahouses had the same menu and items, organized by the Annapurna Conservation Area.  However, the further they had to carry in the goods/supplies, the more expensive the rooms and food were.  Horses didn’t travel past Chomrong, so after Chomrong prices were double or more, and by Annapurna Base Camp triple or more.

Porters carrying gear on the ABC trek

From Bamboo we woke in the morning, had breakfast and went on our way.  It was quite a beautiful hike, though the second half was cloudy and the last 30 minutes it was raining quite hard. We passed through Dovan and Duerali, the common stops for people hiking from Chomrong.  We arrived into Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) around 3pm to the first guesthouse high above the creek as you arrive at the MBC sign.  Mt Machhapchhre is a holy mountain which you can famously see from Pokhara, and while this is called Machhapuchhre Base Camp, Machhapuchhre can’t be climbed, though from this base camp the views are spectacular.

After having some tea and reading a bit in the common area, we met a couple others who had arrived earlier in the day from Dovan and chatted with them.  We also met a guy from Siberia who was leading a Russian guy up the mountain.  About 90% of the people we saw on the hike were being guided, which was somewhat surprising considering how well established the route was.

View from our tea house at MBC.

Our plan for the night was to rest, wake at 4am to do a morning hike to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).  We woke for the hike and after an hour or so arrived into ABC.  It was a beautiful and easy hike, perched near the south face of Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world and also one of the deadliest.  Several peaks nearby weren’t much lower than it.  There we had breakfast and took in the views.  We also visited Anatoli Boukreev’s memorial stone, which is near where he died in 1997 in an avalanche. Several other memorials were nearby, with the most recent being a couple Koreans who tried to summit the south face of Annapurna in 2011 and died.  Ueli Steck, who had died near Everest just a couple weeks before, had been the only person to solo the south Annapurna face and one of the only people ever to summit from the south side ever. Standing at the base camp really gave perspective on the difficult and risk of summiting these large peaks, especially up the less traveled routes.

After a couple hours there we hiked back to MBC where we packed our bags and began our descent back down around 9am.  The weather was great.  We made it back to Chumrong by around 5pm, and to our surprise, found a cheap place with wifi and a hot shower, as well as excellent food and drinks.  Even after 5 days of hiking the Annapurna Base Camp trail, it was still somewhat surprising to find such modern, well developed guesthouses along the way.  The Annapurna Conservation Committee really worked together to tailor this trek to really anyone in the general public interested in a short and comfortable multi-day hike.

Reflection of Annapurna I mountain, the 10th highest in the world at 26,545 ft (8091m).

The following morning we had pancakes for breakfast and hiked back down, arriving to Siwai in the afternoon, where several locals and cabs were waiting.  We paid $30 for a cab back to Pokhara, which was slightly more than a bus ride for 2 yet half the time.

Because we got back to Pokhara in just 5 days instead of the standard 7-8 days, we had a bit of extra time.  We planned to rest in Pokhara for a day and then head to another town to make our way towards Kathmandu, and spend a day or two camping and rafting.  However, the following day after our rest day ended up being a big election, apparently the first one in 20 years, so everything was shut down – buses, cabs, and flights.  Because of this, we spent that day riding our bikes around to nearby villages.

We got to one village about 2 hours away and some kids wanted to play on our bikes.  A family offered us in and gave us hot tea, while we chatted with one of the guys who lived there.  He said he used to work in Malaysia, but was from there, and we chatted about politics and whatnot for an hour.  He got married at the age of 19 to a 14 year old and was now in his early 20’s.  It was interesting hearing his perspective on life, relationships, and love.

Cows are more sacred than humans in Nepal, and therefore freely roamed Pokhara.

In the evening we ate some excellent Nepalese food, which was spectacular in Pokhara and incredibly cheap.  The following day we left at 7am via bus to Kathmandu.  My friend Austin (who I knew from Bangkok) was in Kathmandu so after getting dropped off we found a cafe so we could contact him.  His place ended up being far away, so after a tea and waiting for the rain to stop, we took a cab over to Chandra’s house, a Nepalese friend of a friend of Andrews.  After meeting him at his office, we had dinner, and then Chandra walked us back to his place where he kindly let us stay.

The following day we went for some white water action.  Andrew had a friend from Colorado who knew Chandra, and Andrew is into kayaking so wanted to checkout the spots in Nepal near Kathmandu.  Chandra apparently originated white water tourism in Nepal and has an extensive background in kayaking all over the world.  Chandra and his son, along with a friend, took us to a river for rafting.  It took 5 hours to get there, and once we arrived we unloaded the kayaks and raft and started to get ready.

A local guy came up and chatted with Chandra, and then Chandra went over to Andrew and Chandra’s son who were already waiting in their kayaks and told them to go look for a dead body as an older man disappeared a couple days ago up the river and they suspect he drowned.  They found nothing. An interesting way to start the white water trip.

Preparing to raft and kayak

Me, Chandra, and his friend hopped in the raft and Andrew and Chandra’s son kayaked in front of us.  It was a fun experience on a hot sunny day.  The water level seemed somewhat low as the raft barely fit through some of the rocks, but overall it was a great day.  We ended up kayaking for about 6 hours.

After a long ride back to Kathmandu and unpacking all the gear at the office, we headed back to Chandra’s for a cold beer.  Once there 2 other girls from Salida, Colorado (Andrew’s hometown and where Chandra used to live) showed up at his house asking to stay there.  What a small world. Andrew and I were about to head out and grab a cab for 20 minutes to meet Austin at his hostel.  We ended up going and the two girls joined us.  Hanging out with Austin was great, as it had been nearly a year since I’d last seen him.

The next day (May 18th) the 2 girls, Andrew, and I went for breakfast.  Shortly after I grabbed a cab to the airport to fly back to Bangkok, while Andrew and the 2 others went rock climbing.  Andrew caught his flight back to the US later that night.

Overall, this was an incredible trip.  60+ days later I still have feelings and flashbacks to the incredible views, and often read stories about the Himalayas.  I’d love to go back someday.  A big thanks to Chandra for hosting us, Andrew for always being a great travel companion, and his dad for being an incredible sport at the young age of 58.  I thoroughly enjoyed our conversions and the trip.

Descent from MBC on the Annapurna Base Camp trek, May, 2017