Nepal

Day 19: Monjo to Lukla

Last night turned out to be an interesting one. We’d not really thought much about the lodge we checked into, just that it seemed nice. Around 4:30pm or so, a couple of Exodus groups showed up. It was certainly the most full we’ve seen a teahouse during the entire trek. One of the groups, the “geriatric” group (as deemed by Murray), had only gone as far as Khumjung. The other, far more raucous group had been as far as Gorek Shep and base camp. Nothing of real note happened until after we’d had dinner, when the Gorek Shep group started drinking. It started with a round of beer, followed with some whiskey. From there, the party went on until the wee hours of the morning, with much drinking and dancing and other celebration. Fortunately, we had a room on the third floor of the teahouse and slept soundly through the night, not hearing any of the commotion below.

We were up early in the morning, both Anne and myself now suffering the full effects of the dreaded “Khumbu Cough,” which was really more like a bad and persistent cold. With a sore throat and cough, it made sleeping later in the morning hard. Even harder was getting out of the sleeping bag as it was still quite cold out and with our proximity to the end of the trip, motivation to move fast was starting to leave me. However, we were packed by 8am and had finished breakfast and were on the trail by 8:40am.

The hike to Lukla was a reported 4 hours, making most of the way uphill as the cruel and lasting shot from the Everest region. But the skies were clear, the sun was soon shining in the valley, and it made the first part of the hike to Phakding enjoyable. Anne and I sort of assumed, given the fact that Dorje had family in Phakding, that Dorje would want to stop for tea. We agreed that we didn’t want to stop in advance so when the question came, we said no in unison and said that we’d rather motor on to our intended lunch spot. Next thing we knew, Dorje had again performed his disappearing act. He caught up 40 minutes later as we were taking our time photographing a large complex of mane stones just outside of Nurning.

We finally stopped for tea around 11:20am. Anne really wanted to push on to Lukla before eating lunch. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it so I ordered some soup, which finally forced the issue of food and Anne decided to grab a bowl of soup too. We soon found out that this teahouse was owned by another uncle of Dorje’s who’d summited Everest 3 times himself and had the pictures on the wall to prove it.

After a short lunch break, we made the final push for Lukla. While relatively short, the trail climbs nearly 300m in the final bit to Lukla. Since I’d already mentally prepared to be done the night before, assuming a short day, it made it that much more difficult to push on. Finally, however, Lukla came into sight on the hill above us. After only another 30 minutes of gradual uphill we crossed the “finish line” which Anne and I crossed together, hand in hand.

As is now customary as we get to town, Dorje bolted ahead making for his uncle’s lodge (The Sunlight Lodge). There, he tried to woo us into a double bed room with an attached shower. When I asked the price he said it was 500 rupees. I somehow figured that wasn’t it so I asked about the shower, which as expected cost extra to use. Anne and I pressed that even the most expensive rooms in Gorek Shep were 250 rupees. After some bartering and a little threatening to go somewhere else, we finally got a room with double bed and no shower for 300 rupees. Even though it was a nice enough room, it was hard not to feel like we were being hustled.

Anne and I wanted to look around the town a bit and grab some coffee so we went to find out when dinner was before taking off. It was then that Dorje starting informing us of his plans for us that night. First, we were to all have dinner together. Next, we would talk about the good and bad parts of the trip, giving him feedback on what he did well and not so well. Finally, we would give he and Renche their tips. Along the lines of tips, he went into suggesting the amounts we should tip, for a good guide such as himself (and the good weather) 10,000 rupees and for our porter 5,000 rupees. Anne and I both felt like a line had been crossed.

We went to check out the airport but instead found what appeared to be a town talent show by the airport. We only later found out that this was a once a year event that brought crowds from all over, some flying in from Kathmandu to attend. As we watched, the woman from our lodge danced a Sherpa dance. We only found out later in the evening that it was her, and that she had seen us from on stage! We also found out from her that the event would continue on until the early hours of the morning, getting more vigorous and alcoholic as the night progressed (Dorje actually said that it wouldn’t be safe for us to be out).

Next we had coffee a couple doors down from our lodge, where we determined several things regarding our current situation:
1) We’d never be able to have a fruitful conversation with Dorje about his shortcomings. Especially since his English was one of his biggest shortcomings
2) We really didn’t want to get into the conversation at all and would try and avoid it if possible
3) We would only give the tips out once we got to Kathmandu

We finished our coffee (which was awesome), went back to the lodge, and waited for the inevitable.

A note about the coffee: There’s a “Starbucks” coffee in Lukla. No, it’s not the real thing, but the sign looks nearly identical. It was closed, so we couldn’t try it, but I would have loved to have had a “Starbucks” in Lukla!

Dinner came and I bought a couple rounds of beer for both Dorje and Renche. Since we’d seen other groups treat their guides and porters, it seemed the only appropriate thing to do. This lead inevitably to “the conversation.” At this point, Anne had abandoned me to her new friend Joanna leaving me to chat up Dorje alone. To her credit, she checked in regularly with an inquisitive look to which I could only reply with a sad puppy dog face. Dorje started with lodges… Which lodges were good and which weren’t. To this I had no problem. Both the lodge in Dole and the lodge in Dingboche were duds. Dorje totally appreciated this, telling me he’d not take new clients back there. Then the topic of his service came up. I told him that his English was hard to understand and needed some work. I completely skipped the part about feeling like he’d had his own interests in mind more than ours on several occasions. Dorje, trying to take back the discussion, felt compelled to remind us both of the good weather we’d had and his good service, also then taking pains to invite us for lunch when we were back in Kathmandu (to which neither of us wanted to go).

All the while both Anne and I felt that Dorje was pushing too hard for a tip. Fortunately, I’d managed to dodge the topic of the tip for the majority of the evening. However, it came to a belligerent head later in the evening as Anne, Joanna, John, and I were talking. Dorje made some remark to Joanna and John to be quiet, apparently upset that the four of us were talking. John immediately interjected “What are you on about!?” as I quickly pulled Dorje to the side to grab more water. I reinforced to him that he’d get his tip in Kathmandu, which seemed to quell the immediate issue and make him happy.

Sensing the lull in the mood, Anne and I made for the bedroom, retiring early to pack and get ready for the flight out the next morning. It was good, we weren’t sure how much more we could take, and we’re certainly worried about how tomorrow will go, especially since Dorje wants to have us to his home for tea. For now, we’re packed, ready to go, and dreaming of hot showers and indulgent food…

Stats for the day:
Miles: 5.7
Ascent: 621m
Descent: 583m
Total Time: 4:59

Day 18: Namche to Monjo

Change of plans this morning. We chose to stop short of Phakding to break up the trip to Lukla a bit. That allowed us to get a slow start this morning and check out the gompa and Saturday market, enjoying our time and taking lots of pictures rather than rushing the whole affair.

Dorje had plans for us that were slightly contrary (wanting to do the market first and then the gompa, us wanting to do the reverse) and it was hard as hell getting him around to what we wanted to do in the order we wanted to do it. Finally, we said we’d just do it on our own, specified a meeting time, and took off. Not more than two minutes out the door and along come Dorje and Renche, now apparently having a change of heart. Dorje helped us find the most direct path over to the gompa (a path that involved a lot less up and down) and even though the place was closed managed to get us inside!!! We took a ton of pictures, made a donation, and I even followed along with Dorje as he made a blessing to the lama. All in all, it was a great time.

Next we made our way towards the market on the other side of town. The market was a crazy scene, reminiscent of the sort of chaos you’d expect in Kathmandu. Lodge owners from all over the Khumbu descend on the market to load up on supplies and it’s not uncommon to see yak trains inbound for the market on Friday and leaving Namche on Sunday loaded with goods. Again, we took lots of photos trying to capture the life of the market and the people who frequented it. After we tired of trying to find places to stand where we weren’t in the way, we again made our way back to the Namche Bakery where we both enjoyed a latte before heading back to the lodge for lunch consisting of tomato egg drop soup.

Around 1PM we left for Monjo, saying goodbye to Natang and the Moonlight lodge for the last time. We took an interesting turn that lead us through the market and almost immediately thereafter Dorje was gone. We’d later find out he was grabbing yak butter but assumed he was running some errand for his family up and down the valley. Renche took on the role of guide and the three of us carried on. As we made our way along the trail, we looked back frequently to see if Dorje was catching up but as we reached the valley below it became apparent that Dorje was further behind that we’d all thought.

It only took about an hour to drop the elevation to the valley floor and reach Jorsale. Apparently, Dorje had instructed Renche to get us a room there to which Anne and I both protested. In fact, Anne pressed for Phakding (still another 2 full hours away). Renche looked as though he didn’t quite know what to do, but acquiesced to the request and so we kept moving along. In the end we wound up stopping in Monjo, which was the next major town down the valley. We’d probably have gone further yet had it not been getting late in the afternoon. Because we didn’t know precisely how much longer it would take to get to Phakding and because it was clear daylight wouldn’t last much longer we figured it was better to take what we’d gotten than to push it. Dorje was still nowhere to be seen so we found what looked to be a nice lodge, asked a couple guys sitting on the patio if it was any good, and checked ourselves in. While Anne got the room set up, I stayed and chatted with the two while waiting to see if Dorje passed. Scott was from Canada and Murray was from Australia. Both were hiking along but had paired up after meeting each other on the plane.

After about 10-15 minutes Dorje came trotting along. It was a frustrating experience. You hire a guide to be a guide rather than run personal errands and leave you alone all day. We felt bad for our porter, who’d clearly been put in a position that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with. We resolved to adjust the tips based on the experience, dinging Dorje 1000 rupees for being more interested in his motives than his clients. It wasn’t the first time. On our rest day in Namche it became apparent that Dorje wanted to get a coat at the Tibetan market rather than spend additional time walking to Khunde. That not only resulted in our day being cut somewhat short, but also his racing ahead of us and feeling pressured to keep up at a pace that wasn’t ours. It was also apparent leaving Tengboche as Dorje had wanted to get an unreasonably early start given the distance we needed to cover in the day, again apparently due to some ulterior motive in Namche. All up, we’re starting to feel a little tired having to “fight” to get some of the things we want. Hopefully, it will all be over soon and we’ll be relaxing in warm beds and hot baths.

Stats for the day:
Miles: 2.9
Ascent: 168m
Descent: 756m
Total Time: 2:00 

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Day 17: Tengboche to Namche

Feels like we’re finally on the homeward leg. We left Tengboche this morning for Namche, and then it’s just another day or two to Lukla.

While we were having breakfast this morning, the Sherpa crew got moving along to the funeral. Apparently the back story was that this nun lama, back before she was a lama, didn’t want to get married. She became a nun and meditated for 40 years to gain enlightenment. It apparently resonated with the people because the entire valley is on the move to come to the ceremony. As we headed down the steep path from Tengboche many others were coming up for the service, including whole families with children who must have gotten a really early start.

The path down to the valley was steep and slippery and all of us took turns slipping on the dirt. Renche took probably the most spectacular digger, slipping quickly right onto his butt. The depressing part of the morning was that all of the elevation we lost we then had to immediately gain back as soon as we crossed the river. But, we knew we were closer to the end than not and that helped to lighten the mood if not always the step.

We grabbed tea and Sanasa, where we were finally at the elevation we needed to be at to make the final traverse to Namche. Here we were able to sit on a nice terrace facing the sun and look across the deep valley to Tengboche, only a small elevation above us. I made both our guide and porter laugh by mistakenly using the ladies toilet rather than the mens (there’d really been no previous distinctions for pit toilets, so I didn’t even both looking at the door).

After warming ourselves and drying our damp socks a little, we were back on the trail. It only took about an hour more to reach Namche. Along the way we passed some photogenic chortens and a monument to Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who in 1953 along with Sir Edmund Hillary made the first successful summit of Mt. Everest. We took pictures of it all, knowing it was our last good change to take pictures of Ama Dablam and Everest, sad and yet happy at the same time.

About 4 hours after leaving Tengboche, we were headed down the last little hill to the Moonlight lodge where we checked into the same room we’d had on the trek in. Since we got to Namche around noon, we had all sorts of time to stroll about town. We’d heard great things about the Namche Bakery, so we made our way there first. I grabbed an Americano and Anne and I shared an apple strudel. The strudel, as promised, was excellent. After weeks of trekking and eating only teahouse food, the strudel was downright divine. We scarfed it down quickly, resisting the urge to go back and help ourselves to more of the enticing pastries.

Instead, we strolled down to the “bottom” of town to check out the Tibetan market. A semi-permanent fixture, the market takes up most of the main square in Namche. The Tibetan proprietors actually sleep right there, in makeshift tents and tarps. We wandered around looking at all the variations of imitation Mammut, Mountain Hardware, and North Face clothing, piles of fake Adidas and Nike shoes, and all sorts of other stuff. It was boggling to behold, I have no idea how anybody finds anything they might want. From there we wandered about town, stumbling onto the official Sherpa Adventure Gear store and finally the authorized Mountain Hardware and Cascade Design store.

Back for dinner, I indulged in my first beer of the trek. I’d made up my mind when I first saw Everest Beer in the teahouses that I’d needed to drink it along the trek. Since we were now on our way down and at a sensible altitude, I figured it was safe enough and about time to grab a beer and celebrate. Needless to say, it was great and made the perfect pairing with the spaghetti I had for dinner.

Tomorrow the plan is to check out the Saturday market and the local gompa before heading down the Phakding for our last night on the trail. From there we’ll hike out to Lukla for a flight out the following morning.

Stats for the day:
Miles: 5.95
Ascent: 476m
Descent: 814m
Total Time: 4:21
Moving Time: 2:54

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Day 16: Pheriche to Tengboche

It was cold when we woke up this morning, as predicted by virtually everyone we talked to. Pheriche is in a valley and doesn’t get early light. As well, something about the way the wind and the clouds form up makes this part of the valley particularly cold. We did our best to get out of bed and stay warm, but even the dining room wasn’t really warm and the hot tea only did so much to warm the extremities. After an extended breakfast to try and stall as much as possible to allow the sun to poke out, we took off.

Pheriche pass was the first destination, we dropped down briefly, crossed over the river, and then enjoyed a quick climb out of town that crossed into the sunlight and helped us warm up. The trek back to Pangboche was uneventful and we stopped for tea at a great little spot in town that was warm and sunny. There we met a couple from Tennessee who were on their way up to Gorek Shep, the southern accent seeming somehow out of place in the Khumbu valley.

We left Pangboche and made our way towards Deboche, which is a short climb below Tengboche. Personally, I found this part of the trail to be inspiring. Before crossing the river over a high suspension bridge, we passed many mane stone walls and chortens with incredible views up the valley towards Ama Dablam and down the valley to the gompa at Tengboche. The trail was full of people engaging in the daily walk of life, old men and women hauling huge loads of wood up the steep path towards villages higher up the valley. Crossing the river high above a water cut gorge, we then passed into rhododendron forests on a nice and mostly flat trail to Deboche.

In Deboche, we stopped for lunch at a nice looking lodge that was unfortunately really cold inside. Anne noticed a post card of Mount Rainier and eagerly explained to Renche and Dorje that she’d climbed it. Dorje seemed impressed, both of the climb but more so seemingly about the fact that there were no fixed ropes! Proud, Dorje passed along the accomplishment to the lady working the kitchen, who was also impressed.

Climbing out of Deboche, the trail headed uphill sharply following an old “paved” road. Dorje had told us the hike up to Tengboche would take about 40 minutes. Anne put on a tear and made short work of the steep section, topping out in Tengboche a short 20 minutes later where we checked into the Tengboche Guest House. Most of the land here is owned by the gompa, and so our lodge was actually part of the monastery. We landed our bags, went outside and warmed ourselves in the sun a little, and went for tea while waiting for the monastery to open at 3pm for pictures. While grabbing tea in the dining room, we were shocked to find Natang, the owner of the Moonlight lodge that we stayed at in Namche, sitting right beside us. When asked what he was doing there he casually replied “Sherpa trekking.” In reality, the Tengboche Guest House was owned by his brother in law. More than a friendly family visit, we later found out that people from all over the valley were converging on Deboche for the funeral of a lama the following day. Natang asked us about our trip and we told him how it had been going, also telling him that we’d be back in Namche at his lodge the following day.

At 3pm we went to the gompa for pictures. We had really hoped for chanting, but that didn’t happen. So we resigned ourselves to the pictures we could take, wandering inside and out taking pictures of anything and everything that inspired and making plans to come back at night and try and do a little night photography of the place (one of the very few things that was lit at night in the valley).

Just before dinner, a large group of the owners friends showed up from Namche transforming the dining room into a bustling hub of activity. This group too was in town for the funeral. Beers and wine were broken out and all of them chatted vigorously for the rest of the evening. Dorje sat off to the side, clearly an outside to this party and seemed in some ways frustrated that he wasn’t the center of attention. We ate our dinner and watched the show before us, wondering how much of this was “normal” life when us westerners weren’t around. Dinner itself was again excellent. Anne wolfed down a vegetable curry with rice (though not as good as the previous night’s egg curry) and I helped myself to a couple helpings of dal bhat.

After dinner we made our way outside, tripods in hand, and did some night shots of the gompa. I stayed out a little past Anne, tromping around the sloping fields to try and find some better angles from which to photograph the gompa and stars. It’s clear my night photography skills need honing as I didn’t really come away with any keepers, but just the experience of being outside and being able to look up into the night sky where there is so little atmosphere above you and virtually no light pollution is incredible. I took as much as I could in, and made my way back to the warmth of my sleeping bag.

Stats for the day:
Miles: 5.5
Ascent: 347m
Descent: 727m
Total Time: 5.01

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Day 15: Gorek Shep to Pheriche

We woke this morning with the weight of trekking to Everest Base Camp weighing on us. Anne had another bad night of sleep and at one point I was really quite worried about her safety. We quickly decided that base camp wasn’t in the cards, though it was a particularly tough decision for Anne as it was one of the primary objectives of the trek. The reality is that Everest Base Camp is really just a bunch of prayer flags on a glacier that involves a long slog to get there. After the view from Kala Patthar yesterday, it seemed that base camp would be a letdown. Plus, given the pace at which Anne is now traveling due to her breathing difficulties, the round trip probably would have taken close to 4.5 hours and hence endangered our plans to make Pheriche that evening. So we ate breakfast and headed down the valley rather than up it.

We made slow progress to Lobuche where we stopped for tea. Anne ordered mint tea, which was confused for milk tea, so I swapped my hot lemon for hers and also grabbed her camera to put in my pack, thus helping reduce her load. As we descended, progress became quicker and by the time we were in Thukla for lunch, Anne was hopping along much more quickly, with less coughing and hacking.

At lunch we ran into basically the entire contents of our lodge in Gorek Shep, all headed to Pheriche for the night. We also met two Irish men heading up to climb Lobuche peak. They found a friend in Dorje, who started giving them beta on which camp to make and some limited details of the route.

The last bit of downhill to the lower valley went quickly, with Anne passing people as we dropped in altitude. In the valley, we spent time taking pictures of a summer yak station with its rock walled pastures and flags. It was just another 15 minutes to town where we checked into the Pumori Lodge. It was a nice place on the far side of town. The place was huge, clearly designed to hold the large crowds of the high season, though only contained 2 or 3 parties for the night.

Anne was in good spirits and we listened to audio books together, sitting side by side in the dining room basking in what remained of the sunlight. As a nice touch, the host served us warm hand towels before dinner to wash off our hands. It was unexpected and it really set a great mood for the evening. For dinner, Anne had egg curry. This was notable because Anne proclaimed it to be the best egg curry in Nepal. As she’d not really eaten much for the past several days I was delighted she’d finally found a full meal she wanted to finish.

Tomorrow we’re off to Tengboche, which should be around a 4 hour trek. Tengboche sits on a ridge overlooking the valley and is host to a large gompa. Families from all over the Khumbu send their children here to study so we’re hoping for some great photo opportunities!

Stats for the day:
Miles: 6.8
Ascent: 148m
Descent: 1002m
Total Time: 6:13

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Day 14: Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar

We woke up this morning in mixed moods. I felt great, having gone to bed early and slept well all through the night. Anne on the other hand, didn’t get a good night’s sleep and didn’t feel well. This mattered because our intent was to leave early for base camp, get back for an early lunch, and then head up Kala Patthar for sunset. Regardless, Anne still wanted to give both base camp and Kala Patthar a go.

We got up for breakfast, which was a cold endeavor. At 5170m, Gorek Shep gets really cold at night. Virtually any water left out overnight freezes. The room was freezing and it took a lot of motivation to do anything even slightly resembling leaving the warmth of the sleeping bag. We suited up quickly in full down attire and went to the dining room, which was no warmer than the room. During breakfast Anne started feeling ill again and we backed the plan down to just doing Kala Patthar later that day, giving us more time to rest. We talked a little about doing Everest Base Camp the next morning, though after some further consideration it seemed increasingly unlikely that we’d ’e able to make that happen. Since I was feeling good, I suggested I do base camp and if we felt like it, we could go again the next morning. That way at least one of us would see it if something didn’t go to plan the next day. Shortly thereafter, I was headed out with Dorje to base camp, leaving Anne to rest and recover back at the lodge.

The trip to base camp was certainly a little harder than I’d thought, moving up and down the moraine with little regard for either a straight or level path. I’d lightened my pack down to the bare essentials so Dorje and I were able to travel fast (well, I was able to travel fast. Dorje was always able to travel fast). We traveled along the top of the moraine for a while, finally taking a steep path down to the glacier’s surface.

Everest Base Camp is literally out in the middle of the Khumbu glacier, so the final short section of the trail snaked around large rocks and debris on the glacier’s surface as well as huge rifts in the ice that lead to melt pools at the bottom. It’s a little hard to imagine how in the height of climbing season they are able to turn what appears to be a rocky wasteland into something that looks like a camp. The camp area itself was devoid of anything other than prayer flags that would mark the spot. What used to be a semi-permanent trash heap is now virtually spotless. The highlight by far was being so close to the Khumbu icefall. There are strict fines for venturing out into the ice field, but even from afar the cascading wall of ice was impressive. While I was looking, a large plume of snow from a collapsed serac emerged, indication of just how changing and dangerous the icefall is. Crossing the icefall is by far the most dangerous part of the Everest climb, with more climbers and Sherpas losing their life here than on any other part of the mountain.

Standing at base camp, it’s easy to see why it took so long for the first explorers to find the route to the mountain. The Khumbu valley, on first inspection, appears to end in a ring of cliffs. It’s only when you get right to the end of the valley that you can see the icefall cascading over a small breach in the ring of mountains surrounding the valley. This small opening, virtually invisible from even as close as Gorek Shep, leads to the Western Cwm and the route up the mountain. Dorje busied himself making a cairn and I took the opportunity to change out of my long johns. Yes, it was getting warm out and I was starting to overheat, so I found a somewhat private spot and proceeded to actually get partially naked at base camp (there’s a memory for the scrapbook!). I spent a while taking pictures and focused a little on grabbing a set of pictures for a panorama before finally heading back for Gorek Shep.

Dorje and I got back around 11:30am and Anne and I made plans to start for Kala Patthar at around 1:30pm. We ate some rama noodles and some maple nut Clif bars we brought from home. Around 1:30pm, as planned, we set out for Kala Patthar. Dorje immediately took Anne’s pack (as he’d done on Gokyo Ri) and we made slow progress up the hill towards the summit, which was hidden behind the ridge. The wind was starting to kick up making the ascent really quite cold and it wasn’t long before we were bundled up in everything we had. The cold was made worse by the fact that the sun was now hiding behind the adjacent hill, casting a long shadow over the trail. Several others passed us as we made our way to the top, including John who we’d met in Dingboche. John was from Scotland and his endearing feature was the fact that he wore really short shorts while hiking. Today, despite the cold, was no different. I really couldn’t imagine bearing the cold in shorts, but the Scottish are a hearty breed and John certainly was no different. John blazed on by us and proceeded to linger about the summit without pants for some time before changing into something warmer.

For us it took a while longer, finally emerging from behind the shadow of the hill to gain some necessary warmth from the sun and bolster us in our final push. The summit itself afforded incredible views of the surrounding peaks, some close enough to almost reach out and touch. The timing was awesome, with sunset light now casting an amber hue on everything. The summit itself was small and sporty, with about 1000ft of exposure on one side that made you question every step. I was on hands and knees as I crawled up to the top. It was festooned with prayer flags, making it that much more treacherous lest you hook a foot and trip. But the flags added a great touch and made for an excellent subject along with the expansive vistas.

After 15 minutes or so on the summit, we headed down. The path was steep and we often found ourselves waiting for sections that we less steep so we could rest our knees. We were the last group down, just having to turn on our headlights as we hiked down the last short section of the trail. We were the last group to make it back to the lodge, walking in under starlight to the warmth of the dining room. We quickly ordered up some hot tea and kicked back to relax. In the dining room we did get a special treat. Another guide, Pasang Tenang Sherpa showed us a slideshow on his camera of his October ascent of Everest. He had pictures starting at base camp and working their way all the way up to the summit. Since it was October, and there were no already fixed lines. Pasang’s team of Sherpas had to set rope up the entire mountain, carrying 60 pound loads! And all this for a single client!!! On the trek, it’s really not uncommon to meet people who have summited Everest, but it was a special treat to be able to be shown pictures on the camera that made it to the top with the man who took them. It was an awesome close to the day. Tomorrow we’ll see if we make another run to Everest Base Camp with Anne. The effort today was a big one, and Anne’s lungs suffered from the altitude and cold. Anne’s not sure she’ll be up to it right now, so we’ll just have to see.

Stats for the day:
Ascent: 665m
Descent: 665m
Total Time: 4:07
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Day 13: Lobuche to Gorek Shep

This morning we got our now typical 8:30am start after yet another cold and restless night. We had a corner room, which we learned the first night we shouldn’t get. With the room as warm as it was when we arrived, we didn’t really think about the fact that it had two outside walls. Now we really know better!

We had mentally prepared for an easy day, into Gorek Shep in a couple hours and then resting for the rest of the day. After all, Gorek Shep was really just up an easy valley floor. As it turned out, the trek from Lobuche to Gorek Shep stunned both of us as we just weren’t mentally prepared for the elevation gain nor I suppose the fact that we were now back at very high altitude. What felt like several very long hours actually only took us 2 hours and 55 minutes. This was almost exactly what our guide predicted, but not at all close to the time the guide book suggested. The first part of the path was an easy stroll up the valley, as anticipated. That quickly ended at another moraine that had a steep goat path leading up it. This lead out rapidly to a glacier that resulted in a lot of short sections of up and down that served as both a physical challenge and a mental deterrent, making the short time seem like far longer. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that we couldn’t see where Gorek Shep was to orient us to how much more lay before us. We rolled into Gorek Shep beat and ready for tea, a room, and a nap in that order.

Despite having spent three days in Gokyo (4750m vs 5170m for Gorek Shep) I came down with a bad headache. While Anne tried her best to nap, I pulled out all the down I had, wrapped up, and drank a large pot of hot lemon. Diamox, ibuprofen, and a mid-day nap quickly did their work to restore me to normal.

It was good to flake out for the afternoon as both Anne and I needed the rest. We’d essentially not had a rest day since Namche, so time to just lay back and relax was welcomed, even if it seemed as though we were squandering precious time. During the day, the room gets good light, enough that it warmed to the point where you actually want to open the window to keep a nice temperature. We’re staying in yet another “Yeti Resort” (The name seems to have special affection, and there have been numerous lodges along the trek with some form of “Yeti” name) and this one really isn’t too bad given the remote location. The dining room is cold as it doesn’t have enough windows facing the light during the day. The main hallway also smelled too much of the pit toilet, which was a little off-putting. Otherwise, it wasn’t bad.

Tomorrow the plan is to summit Kala Patthar in the afternoon to catch sunset. Maybe we’ll also try for Everest Base Camp if we feel up to it.

Stats for the day:
Miles: 3.07
Ascent: 355m
Descent: 114m
Total Time: 2:55
Moving Time: 2:00

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Day 12: Dingboche to Lobuche

It was another full day of hiking as we climbed out of Dingboche (4350m) and headed for Lobuche (4940m). It started bad, with a really crappy night’s sleep. As mentioned already, we added foam pads to try and make the sleeping experience better. For me, it resulted in a slope on the bed such that I felt like I was falling out of the bed all night. This induced dreams of rolling off mountains and all sorts of other falling dream badness, which kept me waking up regularly through the night. Anne didn’t fare much better and so we were both slow to start the morning.

Dorje brought us a hot cup of Tiger Balm laced water, the follow up to the previous night’s Tiger Balm vapor therapy. With a slow breakfast we strung out leaving till the sun at least close to peeking out from behind the valley, hoping the sun would help warm everything up and help make breathing easier for Anne. Then we packed up and made a very cold trek up to the top of the ridge overlooking Dingboche.

I stormed up the hill, trying my best to get and stay warm. It didn’t take long to gain the first bit of sunlight hitting the ridge where I warmed up and waited for Anne and the rest to join. From that first ridge, most of the walk to Thukla makes its way slowly upward over grassy plains, wide open with intertwined and myriad paths to choose from. The walk also looks over the valley below, full of empty yak pastures and stone houses. In the summer, this is where yaks are brought to graze.

We ate lunch in Thukla, a convenient stop since it is immediately before an arduous climb up an old moraine ridge to the higher valley that Lobuche sits in. Anne was still not feeling her best, so I grabbed her camera to try and lighten her load as much as possible and slowly trudged up the steep path. Renche and I bolted ahead at the paces we were comfortable with, Anne making her own slower pace with Dorje.

At the top of this climb was a whole field of stone memorials, marking the passing of climbers who had perished on the surrounding slopes. We found the marker for Scott Fischer, founder of Mountain Madness who died as part of the disaster on Everest in 1996. I placed a stone on it to honor his memory. It was a moving place, sitting under the view of high peaks like Pumori, Lhotse, and Nuptse who’d taken these people’s lives. An unerring reminder that you don’t conquer mountains, they allow you to climb them.

The rest of the way was mostly flat, following the non-glacier side of the moraine up the valley. We rolled into town and started the search for a lodge. It’s an unnerving process since it’s impossible to judge the real quality of the lodge from the outside. Often it takes overnight to know the place sucks. However, we lucked out and landed a nice and new lodge with rooms upstairs from the dining area that catch the evening light and allow them to stay toasty warm late into the day. Indeed, the room was so warm we could wear just our base layers.

There were a couple interesting happenings as we started to relax. The first was a helicopter rescue of two trekkers suffering from advanced AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). They’d apparently been up Kala Patthar and gotten severe nausea and vomiting on the way back. They loaded these two onto the helicopter and lifted them down to lower elevations. A third trekker suffering less advanced symptoms was also there, and they were being escorted down to lower elevation that night.

We also had an interesting misunderstanding with our guide and porter about the timeline we were on. We thought they were trying to cut us short a day of our trek by telling us we had to fly out on the 19th day (we’d paid for 20 days). We wrote out the schedule and were able to clear it all up, but was an indication of exactly how problematic some of the trip was given the very basic level of English that Dorje spoke.

Tonight, hopefully both Anne and I will sleep well. Getting a good night’s sleep for the day tomorrow would be nice, since every night at higher elevation makes sleeping harder…

Stats for the day:
Miles: 4.91
Ascent: 739m
Descent: 175m
Total Time: 5:20
Moving Time: 2:53

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Day 11: Phortse to Dingboche

Today we “turned the corner” from the valley that goes to Gokyo to the valley that goes to Everest. It was a long day, the elevation gains were supposed to be around 200m and 300m before and after lunch, respectively. However, even before we hit Pangboche for lunch, we’d already racked up around 400m gain. Again, this was along a trail that followed a contour line between the two towns that was more like an up and down squiggle. The most interesting part of the trail was a section we named “The Wiggles” after the famous section of trail in Zion leading up to Angel’s Landing. This little section of trail switched back tightly, gaining 70 feet or so in the process. Once at the top, it was possible to look nearly straight down on those coming up inviting vertigo for the faint of heart.

Once in Pangboche, we stopped at the gompa to take pictures. Gompas are fantastically interesting places, with lots of detail to shoot. I broke out the tripod (since they are also very dark inside) and started snapping away. You don’t wear shoes when you’re in the temple, and given the altitude, seasons, and closed space the floor was exceptionally cold! I quickly reached my limit and headed outside into the sun to warm up (feeling a little like a lizard looking for a hot rock to bask on). Anne took her time, meticulously working over the inside of the temple and doing some HDR.

After spending maybe 30 minutes wandering around the gompa, we headed just up the small hill to grab a bite before heading on towards Dingboche. At lunch, we met two folks from Canada who were trekking together. The gentleman was from Kelowna, BC and the woman was from Winnipeg. Anne engaged them in conversation during lunch, and we talked about Gorek Shep and the EBC and Kala Patthar hikes.

After lunch we set off for Dingboche, another two to three hours walk away. Surprisingly, there were few steep grades, most of it a gradual uphill that took us through a nice plain with expansive views of Ama Dablam and Lhotse along the way, the river below us to our right. The final grunt up a hill was immediately after a bridge crossing, which then leveled out to 4400m as we crested another small hill and Dingboche sprang into view.

It was near 4pm when we got into town, trying to follow Dorje as closely as possible to ensure that we got a lodge that was adequate. Sure enough, just as in Namche, Dorje went for the lodge that was clear across town, the highest up the path we would take the following morning. Having learned from some previous night’s sleep that you should mind the foam pads on the bed, we protested the poor quality and nearly non-existent padding. This prompted the addition of 3 more foam pads for each bed, which provided more than enough padding.

I’d also determined to try and wash a couple things, having not done a proper wash of any clothing for several days. I mustered some hot water and quickly got to work. However, it wasn’t fast enough and just as soon as I’d hung my items to dry on the line, the sun set behind the hills. In about 10 minutes my wet clothing was completely frozen, resembling cardboard more than merino wool. I brought the stiff clothing into the dining room, where by now the stove was warm and proceeded to start drying it all that way. It took several hours, but by the end of the night I had clothing that was both clean and dry.

The most interesting part of the night was teh impromptu steam treatment that Dorje brought out for Anne. He’d gotten a large bowl of hot water, added some Tiger Balm, and brought the whole thing out with a large towel. Since Anne had started suffering from congestion at Gokyo, Dorje had been somewhat insistent on minor local treatments like Tiget Balm, garlic soup, and hot water to drink. Tonight, it hit a whole new level. The Tiger Balm laced steam was enough to make you cough at a distance. Anne gave it a go for a while and then I stepped in (now also starting to have my own sinus issues). I’ll tell you that I’ve never been cleared up so fast in my life, it was like detonating an A-bomb in your sinuses. We both went to bed clear as newly forged bells.

Tomorrow we’ll head out of town and aim for Lobuche. That will set us up for Gorek Shep on the following day assuming all goes well.

Stats for the day:
Miles: 7.96
Ascent: 948m
Descent: 471m
Total Time: 7:16
Moving Time: 4:24

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Day 10: Gokyo to Phortse

Big day today as we made our way all the way down the valley to Phortse. We knew it would take hours so we got an early start, which wasn’t hard because neither Anne nor I slept well last night. I only finally got to sleep at around 3am, and I have no idea about Anne.

It was also possibly the coldest morning yet. The room seemed noticeably colder than previous mornings probably due to the clouds last night. The frost was thick on the window and the water in the water bottle was slushy, the first time we’ve had problems not keeping the water in the sleeping bag.

We rolled out just after breakfast, around 8:20am or so and started slowly down the trail we came up just three days prior. Crossing the river just after the first lake, we made our way quickly down and crossed the river again on a small wooden bridge that was still slippery from the nights frost. Along the way, we crossed over braids of the river several times, finally making our way down the valley following a “contour” which lead us higher and higher above the river falling away in the valley below us. Despite this “contour,” there were still numerous short and steep sections where the trail would fall just to gain back the elevation, some apparently made on what appear to be the whim of whatever yak first walked the path.

We ate lunch at around 12:30pm in Thore, which looked across the valley and down on Dole. Given the long hike thus far, lunch was both well timed and tasty (probably all the more for the appetite we’d worked up going up and down so much). It was also plentiful and Anne and I were both stuffed. Which is exactly the point at which Dorje brought out a whole plate full of boiled potatoes! Anne and I were both touched by the gesture but at the same time horrified that we couldn’t possibly eat a bite of it! In the end, I took the plate back to Dorje, thanking him profusely for the offer and explaining that we were both far too full from the food we ordered to be able to eat any more.

Before leaving I went to go use the toilet. This is relevant because it was possibly the most horrifying toilet I’ve ever used. To get to it, you first had to head around the lodge and down the hill into the yak pasture. There was a small wooden hut with a small square door about the size of a Hobbit. After squeezing through the door, you were greeted with a wooden floor that looked more like my grandfather’s attic than something safe to stand on. Some of the boards were loose, threatening to either give way or fly up and whack you in the shin. Of course the toilet was really just a hole in the floor that meant navigating all the rest of these dangers. Even by standards on the trek it was a little bleak.

Barring mishap in the outhouse, we got under way after a longish rest in the sun. We’d hoped the rest of the way would be downhill to Phortse, but sadly that was not the case. Not more than 10 minutes out of town we again ran into a steep 50m descent followed by an immediate ascent of the same order. Three or four times we rounded corners only to see some steep descent followed immediately by a steep climb to a pass. Anne’s reaction: “Oh God!” It summed up the feeling perfectly and I couldn’t help but chuckle and share the same emotion.

We finally got to Phortse around 4pm, spent some time looking for a lodge and finally found the “Peaceful Lodge.” The name was only partially apt. We picked a comfortable and well-appointed room, unpacked, and then found that there was no key for the door lock. We found the key and found that the door lock didn’t actually work. Finally, we changed rooms moving from room 5 to room 4. We also took some time to do some mundane chores like minimal laundry, trimming nails, and washing up.

Tomorrow we’re off to Dingboche and then Lobuche, though as Dorje is starting to understand better, we’ll change the schedule as desired to fit our needs!

Stats for the day:
Miles: 9.96
Ascent: 505m
Descent: 1389m
Total Time: 7:38
Moving Time: 4:52

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