The highest Jews in the world

    The trek team

    In October this year, Geoff Cohen, Gary Anstey, Steve Kruger, Marc Cohen and Michael Gavronsky went on an incredible trip to the Himalayas in Nepal. Below are some of Geoff (GC) and Gary’s (GA) reflections on their experience.

    The team:
    GC: Our team comprised 11 individuals, mostly from Cape Town but also Vancouver, Toronto and San Diego. I approached the trek with huge excitement mixed with a healthy dose of trepidation.
    GA: Our group comprised Marc, Geoff, Leigh, Tania, Tina, Jeremy, Jan, Michael, Roxanne, Steve and myself. We settled seamlessly into each other which made it memorable and enjoyable.

    GC: Preparation plays a huge part in the success of the trek and reaching the goal. It is really hard to train for altitude so my preparation was climbing Table Mountain and Lion’s Head and endless running loops around the Molteno Reservoir. There is not much one can do to prepare for the ascent of two Himalayan peaks of 5400m above sea level. One has to hope that the altitude does not affect one’s body.
    GA: Ganesh was our guide, host, carer, and companion, assisted by his designated assistant, Ramu. Ganesh is a climbing guide so this experience had to be rather tame for him. However, his experience of altitude climbing made him more aware of the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (which everyone experiences in some form or another), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (which fortunately none of us experienced). Safety is the most important concern of any high altitude trek and so taking necessary precautions is critical.

    GC: The capital of Nepal is an exciting vibrant and historic city with huge numbers of tourists experiencing the wonderful culture of Nepal. While walking around the streets of Kathmandu I came across Chabad House and was immediately drawn to the welcoming sign. It was the festival of Succoth and the local Rabbi invited us to come celebrate with them. So on Erev Succoth we arrived at Chabad House, Davened Ma’ariv and at the insistence of the Rabbi I addressed the over 100 Jewish guests that had come for the Succoth dinner. I was blown away by the number of Israeli and Jewish people who, like me, were drawn to the comfort and familiarity of our people. The young Rabbi and his wife had created a little oasis in the heart of Kathmandu where Jews of all dominations could find a place to be with each other. The feeling of familiarity, connection and being part of something greater was palpable.
    GA: Nepal is one of the worst gastric offenders and few people escape without some form of food poisoning or a gut that did not adapt. Cleaning your hands before every meal and after visiting a toilet is a non-negotiable. Many visitors experience Delhi belly so if you are entreated to avoid salads and stone fruits, listen to the experts. One of our party demonstrated incredible perseverance — after stupendous stupidity — when she staggered up the trail for the first two days. She had no recollection whatsoever of the route when we backtracked the last two days.

    GA: Acclimatisation becomes the object of any trek — our rule was go as high as you like but sleep not more than 400m from your previous altitude. On the itinerary the misnomer was ‘acclimatisation day’, interpreted by some of us to be a day of rest! It means go stagger up a few 100 metres so that tomorrow’s walk is more enjoyable.
    The symptoms range from headache, nausea, shortness of breath, disturbed sleep, tiredness, difficulty breathing, and loss of appetite. It is important to drink water, and eat. Diamox is a personal choice but it definitely helps with processing of oxygen, and results in a less disturbed sleep. For some, its diuretic properties are a turn off, but others use pee bottles and the rest of us just get out of bed and go to the bathroom, or look at the stars.

    Gokyo Ri:
    GC: The ascent of Gokyo Ri was probably the hardest day of my life. We woke up at 04h00 to begin a 600m ascent to the top of Gokyo Ri which sits at 5840m. 600m might seem like a very small number when you are in Cape Town at sea level. When you are ascending 600m at an almost vertical angle and you are at 5000m it is a very different story.
    My ascent of Gokyo Ri was torturous. It took over three and a half hours to get to the top and I am not ashamed to say that I cried when I got there. It may have been the exhaustion or the fact that I had reached my goal but there is also a strong possibility that my emotion was due to the fact that all our team stood at the top waiting to welcome me. It was an incredible moment of team cohesion, camaraderie and family.
    The emotion continued as a few of us had planned to put on Tefilin when we arrived at the top of Gokyo Ri. This was another incredible moment of connection and feeling part of something greater. Standing there at that moment looking out at the panoramic vista of the huge Himalayan peaks with Mount Everest standing out tall as the majestic mother mountain of them all was clearly a remarkable moment. I will never forget this awesome experience.
    GA: From the heights of Gokyo Ri (5357m) — a hill really, and the Renjo Pass (5360) I looked at the panaroma of mountain giants — the walls of Choy Oyu (8201) to our north, Everest (8848), Makalu (8463), Lhotse (8516) and Nuptse. Four of the tallest mountains in the world in front of us!

    Tourism in Nepal:
    GA: Nepal is a poor country dependent upon foreign aid and foreign agencies. Therefore tourism is very important as it provides direct employment and indirect employment. No-one is left untouched by the sight of human donkeys staggering underneath their loads with their bent backs, weighed down by building and food supplies. On one occasion I tried to lift the two 20 kg kit bags on my back as they do, and staggered unbalanced with the unfamiliar and disturbing weight. Yet as Ganesh explained on our last party night in Lukla tourists create opportunities that otherwise would not exist. In fact the career path to Sirdar begins as a youngster staggering under the weight of other entrepreneurial ideas.

    Nepal/Israel Relations:
    At one particular point on our trek we came across a statue of Sherpa Tensing Norgay, who together with Sir Edmond Hilary, were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. As I looked at this monument to a great man, I noticed a smaller monument just off to the right and went over to take a look.
    The inscription read as follows:
    On this site are placed stones brought from the Dead Sea in Israel.
    Stones from Mount Everest in Nepal were placed on the shore of the Dead Sea. The exchange of these stones is a symbol of friendship between the two peoples and the relationship between the highest and lowest points on earth. Long live the friendship between Nepal and Israel. This was another special moment of connection to our people.

    Reflections on the return to Cape Town:
    GC During the three weeks on the mountain I had to dig deep into reserves, both mental and physical to complete my challenge and reach my goal. When you are down below you need to look up with hope and when you are up above you need to look down with humility. That is the lesson that I learnt. You must always be hopeful but you must always be humble.
    GA: My overall sense and experience of the trek can be described as awe-inspiring. Blessed to be in that environment, blessed to be on those remote high mountain trails, blessed to be surrounded by glaciers, blessed to be amidst snow covered mountain giants, blessed to be in good health. Thus it was unsurprising for me personally that putting on teffillin was a most appropriate way to express my humility and gratitude.
    The objective for many trekkers is to go as high as possible and each day is sequenced and structured around enabling you to do so. The sense of accomplishment is indescribable but fleeting. And so I realised, unwittingly, the real objective of my tea house trek was the journey.


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