NAMCHE BAZAAR, Nepal -- Pasang Sherpa, and the rest of the Sagarmatha National Park, are open for business.

Sharpa's Mount Kailash Lodge has its tables out on the sun deck, with a beautiful view overlooking the Dudh Koshi River. He's strategically placed in the village of Monju, halfway between the airport town of Lukla where most of the tourists arrive, and the park border, where everyone jams up getting their trekking permits checked.

"We have so many lodges with no problems, but we have so few clients," Sherpa said. "I get asked on the Internet if it's safe to come to Nepal. It's difficult to make people believe after they've seen so much of the disaster on the news."

The route to Everest Base Camp is Nepal's version of the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park -- the marquee destination for people wanting to experience all the country's famous offerings. Only instead of a scenic day hike, it's a one- to two-week marathon of exertion and exhilaration.

And until the border of Sagarmatha, the trail offers an unending supply of tea houses, snack shops and guest houses. Along the way, stone benches provide rest stops.

The crowd feels similar to the Highline. However, American, German, Polish, Chinese and French tourists weave around trains of ponies carrying propane bottles and yaks carrying more diverse loads.

Then there are the porters, who are schlepping everything from Snickers candy bars to chain-link fence. Many carry a T-shaped walking stick that triples as a support for their load when resting and a thumping horn when they want to pass.

Eric, our Goma Airlines pilot, said tourism is down about 35 percent from usual. But he's staying busy ferrying loads of plywood, zinc sheeting and, in today's case, about a thousand pounds of cement. His ground crew installed five extra seats for passengers.

We were hoping to get the other plane that day -- its cargo was San Miguel beer and ramen noodles. If we crashed, it would still be a good party.

Gorkha earthquake

The Gorkha earthquake that ravaged the capital of Kathmandu did little damage in the Everest area, except for an avalanche at the Everest Base Camp that killed at least 22 people -- most of whom were battered to death when the shock wave sent their tents airborne.

It was the aftershock of May 12 that rattled the Solukhumbu region that includes Everest. That shock measured 7.3, which given the logarithmic scale means it was only 60 percent as strong as Gorkha's 7.8 temblor.

Still, it was enough to slice whole hillsides off, dropping boulders the size of mobile homes into the river bottom. Buddhist stupas cracked like huge white eggs. Houses made of hand-stacked rock crumbled. The village of Toktok, across the river from the main trail, lost 90 percent of its housing.

Then the summer monsoon season came, making extensive repairs impossible. The rains dried up in late September, and reconstruction season has begun in earnest.

All along the trail to Mount Everest, the sound of chipping hammers plinks in the air.

Stone masons are turning piles of rock into building stones to repair or replace earthquake-damaged structures.

This time, they're going up with a lot more cement and rebar.

And they're open for business.

Rob Chaney can be reached at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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