Wednesday, July 18, 2012

EBC TREK: Namche to Tengboche (Day 4)

     At 7:30 I finished my cheese omelet and cinnamon roll at the Everest Bakery, ready to leave Namche Bazaar for the tiny mountain-top town of Tengboche. The day started out beautifully. The weather was perfect, bright and clear. It was the first time since reaching Namche that I didn't need a jacket. We weaved our way up and out of Namche, a giant nest in the side of a mountain. As soon as we reached the peak and the trail rounded the ridge there were insane mountain views in every direction. I could see far in the distance. There were ivory snow caps above and an icy river carving its way through the valley below. The trail itself was one long, snaking pathway wrapped along side the mountain.

     An hour into the hike we came to a Sherpa woman in the middle of the trail. She was sitting on a chair behind a table with a box of money. It read “donations” and next to it was a log for passing trekkers to sign. She manned her post with a smile and I gave her the equivalent of a dollar, a voluntary toll. The log displayed the names and countries of hundreds of trekkers that passed before us. I wrote my name. Next to it, large and with pride, I represented in giant capital letters... U.S.A.!
Ya gotta pay the troll toll...

     I took pictures as we walked. I closed my eyes and concentrated. I tried to burn the scenery into my memory. I always thought that I preferred the beach. I do prefer the beach. But there was something magnificent about the mountains that struck me. Something ancient and grand. It was awesome in the true sense of the word.

     The first half of the hike was fairly easy. When I felt my knees bothering me a little bit, I realized that we had back walking downhill for quite awhile. The difference in altitude from Namche to Tengboche is only about 500 meters. The hike so far had been so easy because, after hours of progress, my friends and I had gradually gone down in elevation. Now we had to go back up.

     We crossed a small suspension bridge and came to the foot of the mountain that Tengboche sits atop of. The day's final climb was a steep 610-meter ascent. The dirt trail was filled with obstacles, fallen trees and small boulders to trip over. It zig-zagged back and forth all the way up to Tengboche.

     Mike power hiked ahead of us. Britt and I trailed far behind and Leanne was somewhere in the middle. We were still sick and the long day was starting to take it's toll. I notice Brittany wasn't looking too good. We'd foolishly skipped lunch and she seemed tired and frustrated. I offered to switch packs for awhile. I put heaved her pack on to my shoulders. “Holy shit! A midget? Is that what you have in there?” I knew her pack was heavy but, WOW! We continued up the trail and I was impressed that she'd gone so far with so much weight! She didn't find my jokes about packing extra granola bars, clothes, and possibly an anvil very funny. The sky turned cloudy, foreshadowing bad weather ahead, so we bundled up. We toughed out the remainder of the treacherous trail and reached the top before dark. 

     Mike greeted us as always, full of energy. He'd already arranged rooms for the night at The Gomba Lodge (200 NRS/night). On the way to the room I looked around Tengboche. The tiny “town” consisted of a handful of tea houses and a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist monastery. It was positioned like a fortress on an open plain at the top of the hill we'd just conquered. The Tengboche Monastery is the largest gomba in the Khumbu region of Nepal. It was originally built in 1916 but was annihilated by an earhquake just 18 years later. It was then rebuilt only to be destroyed for a second time by a fire in 1989. Volunteers from around the world helped to construct the monastery that stands there today.
Tengboche Monastery

     We were now at 3,867 meters in elevation and as soon as the sun began to set the air became frigid.
I walked around outside admiring the monastery and taking pictures. I watched as a few yaks and some horses roamed the giant field freely. I stared into the distance searching for the panoramic Himalayan views that Tengboche is renowned for. The peaks of Tawache, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Thamserku, and the mother of them all, Everest, are all visible from Tengboche. The sudden change in temperature had pushed a thick cloud over the town. Quickly and stealthily the fog crept in and laid on top of us like a damp blanket. The mountain views would have to wait til morning.

     We ate dinner in the warm bakery attached to our tea house. We talked about the incredible views and the arduous hike at the end as I nursed my sore throat with lemon tea and apple pie. The day had been full of peaks and valleys, both metaphorically and literally. I went back to the room and laid in bed, fully dressed and under a gigantic wool blanket trying to get warm. A failed attempt to read put me to sleep and continued the trend of an early bedtime. It had been the most scenic view day yet, but also the most demanding.

Tengboche the next morning, clear and crisp.
prayer rock.  one of many.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

EBC TREK: Lukla to Namche (Days 1-3)

Leanne, the mythical Lesbian city of Shangayla is right there!

Day 1: Lukla to Pakding

"going for a wander" in Lukla
The adrenaline from the helicopter ride was still rushing through my body as I took a mental snap shot of the mountain views surrounding me.  We’d finally made it to Lukla, the starting point of the journey to Everest.  My three friends and I walked elatedly up the sloping runway of the airport and into town.  In my head, I’d imagined that Lukla would be bigger. 
Leaving the airport, we made our way over to what one could refer to as Lukla’s Main Street.  We walked down the undersized stretch of tattered street lined with guesthouses, cafes, and several small shops selling everything from toilet paper to North Face jackets.  Lukla is a trekker’s final opportunity to grab any last-minute essentials before setting out into the mountains.  It’s also the last chance to get money, as there are almost no ATM’s further along. 
the "Everest" burger... womp womp
After spending half an hour finding the local bank to stock up on cash, we decided that we should also stock up on calories.  I sat down with my friends at the first place we came to.  The restaurant was empty but the elevated outside seating let us enjoy the crisp mountain-town air.  For the time being the change in weather felt refreshing, but I had in a feeling that in a few days I would have a different opinion about the cold.  So, we sat.  A friendly Sherpa woman brought us menus and in unison the four of us ordered the Everest burger.  How could you not order the Everest burger?
Our yak-patty burgers arrived 40 minutes later and even though they proved to be nothing short of disappointing, they served their purpose.  We were now fully fueled and ready to go.  Full, stomachs and backpacks alike, we tottered down the short, main stretch of town.  Street turned to cobbled path and as boulders replaced buildings, I knew that the trek had finally begun.

Filled with energy and excitement I hiked briskly, stumbling many times.  It can be hard to focus on the trail in front of you with so much amazing scenery to look at.

With our late start there were not many other trekkers headed toward Pakding with us.  We did cross several groups finishing the tail end of their treks, heading in the opposite direction, back towards Lukla.  Their faces were weathered with pride and there was an unusual liveliness amongst them; a radiance of accomplishment.  Most had overgrown beards and were covered in mountain dirt.  Yet, undoubtedly exhausted, every single one of them still had the energy to put on a smile and greet us warmly, “Namaste!”  One middle-aged man chuckled “You’re gonna love it!” as he passed.  His friendly salutation was surely genuine.  Still, I couldn’t help but sense a hint of mockery hidden behind his steel wool beard.  Enjoy your clean clothes! or Hope you remembered your blister cream, Newbies! is what he was really thinking.
a Sherpa family greeting us as we enter Pakding
And so we hiked.  Up and down, and then up again.  After 2 ½ hours we reached our first checkpoint, the tiny “town” of Pakding.  The sun was retreating behind the mountains for the night and we settled on Buddha Lodge for our first night’s accommodation.  Some effortless haggling with the manager got us two free rooms for the night as long as we agreed to buy our dinner and breakfast there the next morning.  
the common room at Buddha Lodge
A common room with a hot stove kept us warm as we drank tea and ate Sherpa stew.  The hike was short but it had been a long day.  Whatever energy I had earlier had been sucked out of me from the excitement of the day’s events.  I wasn’t sure if I was just tired or catching a cold, but with a headache and what felt like a the beginnings of a sore throat, I went to bed early, eager to continue the next morning.

Day 2: Pakding to Namche Bazaar

just spin 3 times to erase your sins!
The next morning, I woke up feeling worse.  I wanted a shower, but for a ridiculous $5 charge, I decided to skip it.  A breakfast of overcooked eggs and undercooked bacon was somehow satisfying.  It shot some life into me and by 9am the Fantastic 4 were back on the trail.  We spun the prayer wheel outside for good luck and headed to our next checkpoint, Namche Bazaar.  The hike started out awesome!  The weather was warm but cloudy.  I trudged along without a jacket and took in the epic panorama.  My eyes followed the mountains up and up, turning from green to brown to grey, and then finally disappearing into the ceiling of clouds so high above.

We arrived at our first suspension bridge about an hour into the hike.  The bridge stretched across a giant gap between mountains, separated by the roaring Bhote Koshi River hundreds of feet below.  We waited for a group of Sherpas and their yaks to cross the bridge and then we set out upon its narrow, bouncing frame.  Blue, white, red, and yellow prayer flags were strung along the entire length of the bridge by previous passers-by for good luck.  They flapped in the wind, snapping loudly.  Below me the rapids rushed and swirled together on their descent from the top of the world.  The water was a glacial gray-green that I can only describe as cold.  It was just short of being ice.  Arctic cold.  If Crayola made a crayon that color it would be called cold-as-shit-blue.  COLD.

About halfway to our checkpoint, we stopped in the small town Josale, just past the even smaller town called Monju.  Here we caught the first glimpses of a few snow-capped mountaintops while we ordered lunch.  I ate garlic soup, which, according to Sherpa lore, is supposed to help with acclimatization and adjusting to altitude.  Also, it’s friggin' delicious.

Eventually, we passed through the entrance of the park, signed our names in a log and showed our TIMS permits.  We were officially inside Sagarmatha National Park!  We continued on.  A light rain accompanied the hardest part of the day’s trek, a steep zigzag ascent of 750 meters.  Back and forth, we climbed.  Mike and I led the way until finally we rounded the final bend and Namche revealed itself, an entire town nestled in the side of the mountain overlooking the valley.  It looked like a painting.  It looked epic.  It looked fake.  We made our way past a giant prayer wheel and into town.  As we entered I could smell food cooking and music blaring from a bar further up.  Axel Rose’s voice boomed from the speakers, “Take me down to the paradise city…” How appropriate.
Welcome to Namche Bazaar!  Altitude: 3,440 m

After checking into Hotel Namche (pretty nice for 200 NRS/ night), we ate dinner and warmed up in the heated common room overlooking the enormous gorge.   The clouds parted and revealed a mountain-sunset more incredible than any beach-sunset I’ve ever seen. 

I felt a fever creeping, so after I finished the meat momos (dumplings) and a bowl of Sherpa stew, I went straight to bed.  I wanted to shake whatever sickness I had.  Day two had been everything I had hoped it would be.  We were now at 4,330 meters in altitude.  Before going any higher, I wanted to be at 100%.

Day 3:  Acclimatization day in Lukla

For everyone doing the Everest base camp trek, day three serves as a mandatory acclimatization day to help adjust to the drastic climb in altitude.  While Mike and Leanne used it as a day to venture out and explore the town, Britt and I used it as nothing more than a rest day.  I battled a fever the entire night before and Brittany, coping with splitting headache, was worried about altitude sickness. 
Red card!
The rainy weather took away some of the guilt of staying in bed while Mike and Leanne got to check out the amazing viewpoint at the top of the mountain.  They were overlooking the entire village and the valley below it while stared out the window.  Being that Namche is the absolute last place to get necessities (without paying astronomical prices), I stocked up on batteries and cough drops and bought some dope yak-wool socks that would prove invaluable later.  Aside from that and walking across the street to Liquid Bar to watch the afternoon movie (fittingly, the Imax Everest documentary), I stayed in bed and read.  Staying up past 8 pm was the most adventurous thing I did that long, slow day.