Monday, October 25, 2010

Trip Report: Everest Base Camp Trek, Part II

From here, where to go?  Our original plan to cross the Cho La pass seems unlikely; we lost too many days when I got sick.  The weather would have to be perfect for us to cross safely, and we'd have a very short window of opportunity.  To complicate matters, the bad weather has meant that flights to Lukla have been grounded for four days.  The valley up to Everest Base Camp is slowly emptying out, and only trekkers crazy enough to walk from Jiri or rich enough for a helicopter ride are coming in.  Our original plan was to skip the crowds and to head up a valley to the west, but at the last minute, we decide to go for the famous Khumbu Valley.

10/14:  We walk to Tengboche, home of a famous monestary.  Unsurprisingly, there's another huge hill up to Tengboche.  You'd think this country was full of hills and mountains or something...  oh wait.  Yeah.  Tengboche has a lovely little museum with exhibits on the Tengboche Monestary and Tibetan Buddhism, the predominant religion here.  This was my first direct experience with Vajrayana Buddhism, the mystical, tantric cousin in the Buddhist family, though my favorite author (Pema Chodron) is an American woman ordained in this tradition.  The monks permit foreigners to attend their puja (prayer) services.  I sat in the monestary for a long while in the evening, until all but one other foreigner had lost interest in the funny costumes and mumbling prayers.  The other white woman and I sat next to each other in meditation and the monks dedicated their practice to all sentient beings.

10/15 and 10/16:  We walked to Pheriche, right behind the South Africans whose schedule has mirrored our own.  I found a friendly lodge where the woman in charge spoke excellent English and had the most amazing little baby.  Seriously, where is the factory that pumps out all of these adorable Nepali and Sherpa children?!

We all were scheduled for a rest day in Pheriche, after ascending about 1,000 meters from Namche.  Together with Greg and Duncan, we took an acclimatization walk over the ridge to Dingboche, where there was an excellent bakery.  Once again, I'm so happy we walked in from Jiri.  The trail camaraderie built over that week is a totally different experience compared to the anonymous mass tourist experience of the Khumbu.

10/17:  Our walk up to Dukla was quite short--just up the valley and up a hill.  It took two hours, but in order to stick to our <500 meters per night ascent plan, this is our last stop for the day.  Originally, we were going to take a walk in the afternoon, but the weather turned very bad very quickly, so we stayed inside and studied Nepali.  I know my handwriting must look like a child's--the porters get just as much entertainment out of our butchery of their language as we do.

10/18:  In the morning, Dave tells me he was up for much of the night with terrible nausea...  then three times to the bathroom before breakfast.  Uh oh.  He doesn't want to stay in Dukla, since it was likely the food here that made him sick, so we head up the hill to Lobuche.  Once there, he takes a turn for the worse.  He vomits so hard that mucus and stomach contents are pouring out of his nose--so hard that soon there's blood in his vomit.  If he can't keep down liquids, he can't keep down an antibiotic; at this altitude, he will be very dehydrated and very sick very quickly unless he gets medical attention.

So I barter for a donkey, have him put on all his clothes to stay warm, and we walk 3+ hours back out of the valley to Pheriche, where there is a medical clinic with western doctors.  They gave him a shot in the ass (oww!) to kill the nausea, so he could take an oral antibiotic and start rehydrating.  It was a rough day...

10/19:  Dave was feeling a little better when he woke up in the morning.  He went back to the clinic to check in, and they agreed that the worst was over.  We spent the remainder of the day resting in Pheriche.

10/20:  Time to head back up the valley!  Now that both of us have been sick, we have just enough time to make a trip to Everest Base Camp and to climb Kala Pattar before three big days hiking back out of the valley.  Hopefully the weather and our health will cooperate.  We made great time up to Lobuche, without needing to overnight in Dukla since we had already acclimatized a night there.

10/21:  We wake up to snow and fog.  It's freezing cold.  Since the lodge was so full, Davo and I shared a single bed; between that and the altitude, I'm really really tired.  But this is what separates the women from the girls--or the slightly demented from the sane--so I lace up my boots and we hit the trail.  Gorak Shep is the "village" (i.e. collection of lodges) highest up the Khumbu Valley, closest to the border with Tibet and to Sagarmatha/ Mt. Everest.  By the time we arrive, the weather is improving.  The clouds dissolve as the sun warms the air.  The atmosphere is dreamy and heavenly.  There must be gods living here.

The walk from Lobuche to Gorak Shep is fairly short.  After some food and a power nap, we decide to press on to Everest Base Camp itself, while the weather is holding.

There are no expeditions at this time of year, so we don't continue to the climbers'/ mountaineers' base camp. We stop where everyone else stops.  There is a large group of hilarious Brits who have brought a wealth of alcohol, chocolates, and cigars.  Obviously, I'm not going to drink or smoke, but I had to join in the festivities somehow...

After our excursion to base camp, I was completely exhausted.  Just to kick the adrenaline up a notch, my cough worsened severely and I started running a fever.  Pneumonia at 17,000 feet, anyone?  I went to sleep at 7:00 p.m.  Would the weather clear up to climb Kala Pattar?  Would I be healthy enough to make the walk?

10/22:  I was woken by Dave at 6:00 a.m. saying, "It's clear.  Are we going for it?"  Damn right, we're going for it.  I didn't walk all this way to turn back so close.  I felt like I had enough energy, and I thought I'd be able to control my cough well enough to breathe my way up the hill.  So we went.


Nuptse is on the right, the summit of Everest is in the center, and the western flank of Everest is on the left.

We had the most perfect weather of the entire trip.  This is the view to the south, down the Khumbu Valley, from the summit of Kala Patthar.

I reached my personal highest altitude, 5,643 meters/ 18,514 feet.  After so much difficulty, seeing "the big one" up close, in such detail, with such lighting, was pure magic.  Beaches are lovely and cities are lively, but the gods live in the mountains for a reason.

With wings on our feet and a fine spirit in our hearts, we walked from Gorak Shep down to Pheriche that afternoon.

10/23:  We walk from Pheriche to Namche, with a long stop in Tengboche.  It's the day before Mani Rimdu, the famous masked dances.  We can't stay long, as we need to make Namche before nightfall.  Still, attending the blessing ceremony for about an hour gives me positive physical and mental energy.  It's a long day, but I made it.

10/24:  It's a fairly long walk from Namche to Lukla, but it feels longer since we've been putting in long days.  My boots are busted, and my feet are about to follow.  We need to get to Lukla before 4:00 p.m. to confirm a flight back to Kathmandu.  One foot in front of the other...  we do make it in time, and we've got a flight for the next day.

10/25:  Last day.  I'm so dirty.  It's been 13 days since my last shower.  I wash my feet.  They really needed it.

The flight out of Lukla is insane.  The plane goes to the very back end of a very short runway, then the pilow floors it...  and basically drives off the end of a cliff.  Fortunately, we started flying then.

As we flew back to Kathmandu, we passed over the villages we'd walked through between Jiri and Lukla.  It was a very special moment for me.  I thought of the people I'd met, the trails on which I'd pounded my boots, the hills I'd climbed.  It was an incredible month.

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