Homeward bound

Another long walk for Jonny and a new chapter for the rest of the team.

My two weeks in the field setting up the research project were over.  Due to family commitments, it was time to head home.  So far, we’d conducted 15 interviews and almost 150 household surveys.  We were well on our way to achieving our goal of 26 interviews and 260 questionnaires in the Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park – 25% of all the households in the area.

I would be back in April and May for the last few weeks but, for now, I was leaving the management of the project in Maurice’s capable hands, ably assisted by Niki and Rinzin.  Walking down from Khumjung on Monday 24th, we celebrated our progress with pizza and a final round of Uno in Namche Bazaar.

It is important to pause here and preserve for posterity the final results of our Uno championship.  Shortest time for a round: 45 minutes; longest time for a round: 4 hours; fewest number of a games in a round: 13; longest number of games in a round: 75; final results: Niki, 1 round; Maurice, 1; Jonny, 3; Rinzin, 3. Along with reading, this was the way we’d passed the long, dark evenings!

Weighed down with a bellyful of pizza, I also left Namche packing even more weight in my rucksack than when I had come.  The others had generously, and gleefully, gifted the completed questionnaires and interviews sheets as a parting token.  So much for being principal investigator; pack mule was a more apt description.

The route back to Lukla airport was supposed to be easier than on the way up.  But walking at 3,000m/10,000 feet with 26kgs/62lbs on your back is never really easy, just varying degrees of hard.  And again, the continuous descent and ascent of the path into and out of river valleys meant that for every 100 metres you went down, you had 60m or so to climb back up.  Having already walked 90 minutes from Khumjung to Namche that morning, it was dusk by the time I shuffled painfully into Lukla.  Another seven hours of the toughest walking I’ve ever done.

The physical challenge of the mountains goes with the territory of researching snow leopards.  So too does, or should, making a meaningful contribution to snow leopard conservation, including for the benefit of the communities who live alongside this magnificent creature.  So from households we’d surveyed we had collected email addresses from those that had them, in order to pass on a short, easy-to-read summary of our findings, in English and Nepali, at the end of the study.  We will also produce a more technical report for stakeholders – groups and individuals with a professional interest in the management of the species and the study areas.

Back in Kathmandu, I had a number of meetings with various organisations to discuss how the information from the project could best be used for effective snow leopard conservation and development.  Back in the Everest area, the rest of the team discovered fresh snow leopard scat (poo) while out with some of the National Park staff.  A typical demonstration of Murphy’s law – as soon as I leave the real fun begins!  And over the next 7 weeks or so you’ll be hearing about this and other developments as Maurice, Niki and Rinzin chart the progress of their work.  I’ll also be filling in some of the background details about the study, the species and the area from Ireland.  Onwards and upwards and homewards.

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