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The Wild West of the East, Part II

The Wild West of the East, Part II

[ September 30, 2009 - 1:44pm ]
Kris Erickson, Jamie Laidlaw, and Kip Garre in Kathmandu.
Writer Devon O'Neil is just days into a 40-day ski mountaineering expedition to western Nepal with North Face team athletes Kris Erickson, Jamie Laidlaw, and Kip Garre. And already, they're being nearly attacked by butcher's knives and disrupting meditation ceremonies. The good news: Their skis have finally arrived.

It is high noon on Monday, Nepal time, when the phone rings. Jiban, our expedition agent, has the news we'd been waiting for since we landed in Kathmandu five days earlier. "Your ski bags have arrived."
It is probably not the most appropriate time to celebrate. Fifteen Nepalis are sitting in the same small concrete apartment we are, quietly drinking whiskey and beer and soda, nobody saying much because a group of monks are in the middle of an intense, once-a-year Buddhist ceremony through the curtain door in the next room. Still, we can't help ourselves. The four of us high-five like we'd won the lottery as our company laughs and whispers.
We'd been invited to the housewarming celebration by Pema, a 26-year-old lama (Nepali religious figure) who is friends with Pete Athans, the renowned Everest guide from Seattle. Athans introduced us to Pema over dinner the previous evening, and Pema met us at the famous Boudha stupa (basically a temple that you can't go inside of) that morning then lavished us with drinks and heaps of Nepali food for the next four hours.
After five days of wondering whether we'd be able to proceed as planned with the expedition, our skis’ arrival delivered a jolt of energy we'd been sorely lacking. We ached to get to the airport and pick them up. Alas, Nepalis run a hard line when you're trying to excuse yourself from their party. We politely explain no fewer than three times that we have to be leaving before they actually allow us to leave. Finally, they adorn us each with a silk scarf and bid us farewell.
Pema accompanies us to the main road and begins the highly entertaining bartering process to find a good deal on a taxi. He announces he's secured a ride to the airport for 200 rupees (about $2.60) but as we approach the hatchback, a sidewalk dice game taking place as part of the 15-day Hindu festival Dasain erupts like a volcano. A man with a flame in his eyes and liquor on his breath begins slashing the air with a butcher's knife an arm's length from Kip Garre, trying to get at another man who apparently tried to run off with the game's money.
Recognizing our increased need to get the hell out of there, the taxi driver raises his price by 50 rupees—now $3.25. This infuriated Pema, who orders us out of the taxi as we try our best to roll up the windows. By this time the guy with the butcher's knife is chopping at a man trying to break up the fight, and his original intended target is exchanging haymakers with a new guy. The crowd is going nuts. We tell the taxi driver to go, fast.
By the time we find our ski bags (Kris's is tucked away in a customs hold, having arrived the night before, unbeknownst to us—or anyone else, for that matter) it is late in the afternoon. We tie them to the roof of our Smurf-size taxi and drive through the heart of Kathmandu in 85-degree heat. What had seemed a grim prospect only five hours prior was again a reality. We were going skiing. Check back for more updates. —Devon O'Neil
Breckenridge-based writer Devon O'Neil and North Face-backed ski mountaineers Kris Erickson, Jamie Laidlaw, and Kip Garre are in the middle of a 40-day expedition to the remote Saipal region in far-western Nepal, where they intend to climb and ski multiple unnamed peaks. You can read his first installment in this series here.


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