Nate’s Journey: 27 May

So I spent my first night in Gorak Shep in the very last room available, located in the basement of a tea-house, filled with dozens of folks prepping for the Base Camp to Namche marathon. I was to the left of what smelled like a gas-can storage room and beneath the communal dining hall. I heard the fools above me pushing tables about, drinking whiskey and singing songs until about 3:30AM. I wanted to go upstairs and show those kids how it’s done, but I had work to do today. Lucky for them!

I also had brave aspirations to make the 2 hr hike up Kala Patar, at 5AM, and see the peaks. But the thunderstorm that kept creeping up the valley all night, had left a cloud obscuring everything from the dry lake bed on up. I slept in till 7:30 and once breakfast was done, I went outside to feel snowflakes lightly pelting my face. To see this happening when it’s almost June, really drove home the severity of the heat loss problem this biogas project must overcome. The snow continued all day, but as it hit the warmish May ground, it instantly sublimed into a vapor phase.  This left the whole area in a mysterious blanket of snow falling through fog. What a crazy place.

Mingma spent his day in a string of interviews with the blue barrel porters and tea-house owners. I tried not to spend too much time by the stove, drinking tea, looking out the window. I was of course contemplating various aspects of the project while doing so. But once this critical portion of my mental preparation was concluded, I went outside to scout the materials we will need for the project.

My mental list ran something like: water, Carbon rich waste, stone, solar panels and other building materials. Right now there is a line of HDPE & plastic pipe running from a lake behind Kala Patar down to the dry lake bed. The water is constantly draining into the lake bed unless someone is filling up. This is because the lines would freeze and burst the first night the water in them was left still. I also scouted literally every roof’s edge in the place. One had a gutter that was clearly just to keep the low room beneath it from flooding. But I did find one building with a gutter being used to harvest water. Since we are to dilute the waste 1:3, we’ll need about 36m3 of water to deal with 12,000kg of filth. One idea is to install gutters on the porters’ shelter. This way we could harvest a good volume during the summer monsoon. And probably top off the difference, with the flow lost into the dry lake.

I peaked around and saw something our team already knew, the yak dung is a fuel source that no one is about to handover to the project.

Next, I spied a lot of kitchen waste abandoned in greywater and also being fed to yaks. From the looks of it, there is a fair amount of starchy stuff the marathon runners with wobbly guts didn’t manage to finish. Again, since the tea-houses seem to use their kitchen waste for animals, it may be hard to ask for it. Of course the yakherds had also brought up hay with them, so it’s not like we’d be starving Yaks if we digested the old spaghetti.

To the North of the tea-houses I could see signs of granite harvest going on. But for all of that, the same stones types can be found next to our digester site. There was also a stack of wooden beams and so many foam boards beneath some tarps. These seem to be awaiting the day they become a new tea-house addition. We are not about to try and haggle for these construction supplies. But it was interesting to see what materials are available and chosen for use up here.

There were a lot of solar arrays around the place, but they were put in by companies not present to be questioned. And just so you know, don’t try to ask a tea-house owner for any sort of DC power harvested record. This is not the sort of thing they waste their time writing down. I also tried to get some meta-data, in the form of, number of batteries charged etc. But they don’t store these hard records once their guest notebooks get filled, I’m guessing that lights the stove at night. However, I did learn that in addition to Gham Power, a Kathmandu company we have been courting, they also have panels from Lotus power up here. Now I have another Nepali solar company to visit when I’m back in the capital.

I saw Mingma at dinner and he read me his notes from interviewing ¬¬¬ Tobkay Lama. This man has worked as a waste porter for 18 yrs, one of the original two. There are now 23 blue barrel porters and they have to go farther down to reach the current pit. He also said the pits are further off trail now, since yaks had been tripping in the unconsolidated pits covered by a shallow cap of soil.

Tobkay used to be paid 20 rupees per kilo in the beginning, but now his compensation is 150 rupees a kilo.  That’s around $2 US, not a great deal. Mingma asked him what he thought of our project and his thoughts on being the eventual operator. He was for it on both accounts. I hope we get this thing up and running in the next few years. These people never complain, and deserve better than what is going on right now.

When Mingma and I return to Kathmandu, we will create a full document of his interviews with the blue barrel porters. This will be placed on the web to help the international community see the human face of the chronic waste issue at Mt. Everest. Thanks for your support everyone.