Kathmandu, Nepal
8:00 P.M. local time (10:15 A.M. EDT)

CLEAN! Long shower, shampoo three times, trim the new beard, brush the teeth for an hour, it seemed. Should I keep the beard? Maybe just to show the gang when I return. It’s been years since I sported a beard—since my New York country-music-band days. That’s before Louisville and is another story in itself.

The story at hand is almostEverest and, as my mother said in a recent e-mail, almostIslandPeak. It is a story that will not end, although we officially end the adventure May 1 when our jet lands at Louisville. Today, David asked me what was my favorite part of the trip, and as I sat and thought, images flashed though my mind: seeing the Himalayas at night as a planetarium theatre, a laughing little girl joining us for hackysack at 14,000 feet, sharing Chang with a Buddhist monk, being presented with a blessing scarf at Nawanz’s home, calling loved ones back home via satellite phone and hearing the surprise and tears in their voices, the soft clanging of the yak bells…these and more images will stay with me for a long, long time.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite, or even a worst memory. Was it the long, long, climb to Namche that seems so long ago—as I arrived, zombie-like and was sick the entire next day? Hearing about my stepfather’s sudden bad health recently during a satphone call? Or seeing a porter shoulder some impossible load and climb resignedly uphill on callused, bare feet? Was it wondering, probably too briefly, at what cost to the culture of Nepal my trekking experience comes (and I include the other flocks of tourists who come here as well)?

But to return from whimsy to reality…

Did I mention that our room on the second floor of the Sherpa Lodge was by the staircase, and at the bottom of the landing were stored twenty jerry cans of kerosene? This gave much food for thought.

This morning at 6:00 A.M., we hauled our three big bags downstairs and prepared to leave for Kathmandu. The head of the Sherpa Lodge, also called Ang Karma, had arranged for our flights and boarding passes. We were to leave early on Shangri La Airlines. Then the fun began. Someone informed us that we were only allowed 15 kilos each of baggage and that the extra baggage would cost 1,700 rupees (about $23 U.S.). Plus there was the “airport” tax—30 rupees each. That about exhausted our currency and cash on hand.

Finally, we were informed that three bags could not go on one flight and they would send the third bag on an unspecified later flight. Whatever…just get us home! That’s what happens when you split from your expedition without the right info. (Later, the other Ang Karma—the head of Windhorse Trekking—said he would reimburse those fees, bless him.)

The siren went off at Lukla’s airstrip, which meant planes were coming in. First one prop job, then some giant relic of a transport helicopter with rusted orange paint and huge rotors taxied to the side of the airstrip (it was the first time I’ve seen a helicopter taxi), then two more planes—ours being last to arrive but first to go.

I bet you’ve never taken off on a prop plane that hurtles down a gravel airstrip tilted downward and that ends in a cliff! The plane stood at the head of the runway, full throttle, as long as the brakes could hold it, then lurched and bounced down the runway for all it was worth until it actually became airborne a bit before the end of the runway.

I was sitting right behind the pilots. One of them remarked to me, with a smile, before the plane took off, “Lot of turbulence today.” Indeed. We didn’t so much fly to Kathmandu as fishtail like a car on an icy road. Slip, slide, slip, slide—crosswinds, air pockets—how these guys do it, I don’t know. They had a little GPS attached to the center of the dual flight controls that the pilots checked periodically. The copilot had a list of numbers clipped to his steering column—13,11,6=30, and so forth. Somewhat concerned, I checked the addition more than once while they fought the controls, trimmed the plane, white-knuckled it over the top of peak after peak that fell away into valleys, only to be replaced by others. Mile after mile of tiny terraced villages perched on lonely mountaintops. What a country!

Ang Karma met us at the airport, and we sat in the balmy air, waiting for the third bag. Finally, he took us to the hotel, loaned us some money (because we were out of rupees and couldn’t get a cash advance on Saturday), took us to lunch, and basically saw to our needs. The bag arrived hours later. David felt claustrophobic back in hectic Kathmandu. I felt a wonderful sense of “mission accomplished” and soaked in the balmy air, the flower scents in the garden of the Nirvana hotel—bouganvillias, roses, pansies, too many to name. I watched the exotic birds wheel and call, sipped mineral water, and we each ate a banana split made with little bananas that we hear come from Malaysia and are so delicious!

David and I had steak for lunch and steak for dinner (a humongous steak costs about $3.50 U.S. at the Everest Steak House!). We bought more gifts for home, and now we sit at Alice’s Restaurant’s Internet Cafe once again writing to you all, free of the gel cell. (We presented it to Sherpa Lodge owner Ang Karma as a gift. We probably could have sold it to him, but just imagine the baggage costs we saved by dumping the 20-kilo gel cell!)

Van Morrison is blaring from the Restaurant Casa Della Pasta across the narrow street, or perhaps it’s Paddy Foley’s Irish Pub. The Euros are out in the streets, with the American neo-hippies and their flip-flops, dreadlocks, and toe-rings, the air is cool and balmy, the dust is down because of the rain, and all seems content. I read the papers today: A counterattack in Groznia, Elian again, China criticizing the U.S. for its Star Wars policy during the Nuclear Arms Non-Proliferation Treaty talks, blah, blah, blah. Yep, civilization is just as I left it. Why do I feel like hanging Buddhist prayer flags from the top of every mountain and building and watching them flap in the winds, carrying their prayers for peace aloft?

Is this a wrap? Not quite. When we return to the U.S. in a couple of days, we’ll be bringing you more news, product wrap ups, answers to your questions, and more.

Thanks to each of you for putting up with our stories and digressions, for writing to us with encouragement, and for helping us accomplish our almostEverest techxpedition. We hear the local paper and news have covered our contact with Most Blessed Sacrament in Louisville, and that you enjoyed our writing and photos. Glad to do it.

And to answer one question from both a reader and a 6th grader: Yes, the Matzoh was delicious up on the trail, and it seemed everyone enjoyed it.

Want to win a TechRepublic baseball cap? Share your climbing experiences or give the guys encouraging words by posting your comment below, or send us an e-mail. It’s that simple.And so you don’t miss one step of David and Mike’s climb up Island Peak, subscribe to our free TrekMail. Be one of the first 2,000 subscribers to our TrekMail, and you’ll get a cool TechRepublic flying disc!

Mike Jackman is an editor in chief of TechProGuild, an editor of PC Troubleshooter and Windows Support Professional, and also works as a freelance Web designer and consultant. Together with his co-editor in chief David Bard, he is traveling to Nepal to report on high-altitude technology and to climb 20,285-foot Imja Tse. In his spare time (when he can find some), Mike’s an avid devourer and writer of science fiction, parent to two perpetually adolescent cats, and a hiking enthusiast.