Gear Night in Kathmandu

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

The airports went by like a foggy dream — MSP, LAX, BKK (Bangkok), and, finally, the destination, KTM. It was four flights, two movies, ample book-reading time, seven hours of sitting-up sleep, 9,000+ miles in the air, and over 30 hours of travel time. But Gear Junkie is now in Kathmandu! Expedition Hanesbrands kicked off last week when Jamie Clarke, the lead climber, and his family began a trek toward Everest Base Camp. Scott Simper, the expedition’s videographer, and I will be playing catch up on the Everest Trail this week. But first, Simper, our guide Min Magar, and I have a bit of time to explore Kathmandu.

Gear Junkie in the Thamel District

It is 4:30am as I type this post. Jet lag has me up early, though I feel rested and well. Last night, Simper, Magar, and I explored the crazy narrow alleyways and streets of the Thamel District, a shopping and tourist area 10 minutes’ walk from our hotel. The scene mixes beggars with trekking guides, tourists and locals. Stores sell live chickens, fabrics and jewels, or Mountain Hardwear expedition gear.

Pedestrians beware! Motorbikes and tight crowds.

Trucks and taxis push through people in Thamel. On the tight streets, motorbike drivers rocket and weave, roaring inches past your heels. They honk and accelerate, pedestrians leaping and fast-stepping to get out of the way. Kids thrust their hands in your face, begging for change. Incense and fried-food smells stream from stalls, thick smoke mingling with exhaust and garbage decaying in piles out front of book shops and places that sell beads.

Thamel streets

We browsed the gear shops in Thamel. The knock-offs are plentiful, from duffel bags and down pants, to shell jackets, fleeces, and assorted climbing gear. Almost none of it felt authentic to me. “Look out for rip-offs,” Magar had warned. At one shop, I unzipped some authentically-branded climbing pants to inspect their quality. Thin nylon that looked sun-faded served as the outer fabric. “Waterproof! Good!” shouted the shop owner. He offered them for $35, a steal had they been authentic. But they were junk. The zippers were cheap. The fabric would shred on a climb. I tried them on but left without a sale. The shop owner shouted “$10, please, you buy!” as I walked away.

Trying on gear in a Kathmandu trekking shop

Scott needed some medication for the trek, and so we went deeper into Thamel for a pharmacy. Horns, shouts, pleas for money, and happy “hellos” or “namastes” overloaded the senses. Buildings propped high, precarious structures connected by electric wires and prayer flags. The streets are canyons below. Pigeons roosted, cooing on the wires, then taking off in group flutter as lightning started to crackle in the sky.

Street canyons and teetering buildings

We ran back toward our hotel in the rain. The motorbikes were slower, drivers shielding their eyes from the big drops and truck spray. I wrapped my camera in a shirt and stuffed it in my pack, praying it didn’t get wet. We jogged, stopping to dodge cars and play “Frogger” at each street crossing. “More dangerous than the trek to Everest,” Simper yelled.

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Stephen Regenold is Founder and Editor-In-Chief of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for nearly two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of four small kids, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.