Sunday, February 21, 2016

Everest Base Camp Trek - Journal (Part 4)

For our EBC Trek cost-cutting tips.
For a guide to take you there, contact Ngima Tamang.
For part 1 of this EBC Trek journal. It covers days 1 to 3, from Lukla to Phakding to Namche Bazaar.
For part 2 of this EBC Trek journal. It covers days 4 to 6, from Namche Bazaar to Tengboche to Dingboche.
For part 3 of this EBC Trek Journal. It covers days 7 to 9, from Dingboche to Everest and back to Gorak Shep.

Gorak Shep, the town at the end of the world, seen from Kala Pattar. In the middle of the night, it looks smaller, almost fearful of the mountains surrounding it.

Day 10 - The Town at the End of the World
Waking up at 3 :30AM, we threw on every piece of clothing we had in order to take on Kala Pattar before the sun brought the world out of deepfreeze. Leaving Gorak Shep, we were not in total darkness. A crescent moon smiled at us, and the canopy of stars, though not as impressive as in Dingboche on day 7, reserved a special gift for us. Squid saw a long shooting star. 
The sun is just about to take a peek in the valley.
We slowly, tortuously made our way up the snow and rocks, and from a height, all alone in this inhospitable landscape, Gorak Shep looked puny and lost. We were looking at the furthest reach of human civilisation, an isolated outpost forgotten on a distant planet. We certainly dressed the part, bundled up and protected like astronauts. But the cosmos shrank a little when, gingerly at first but with increasing regularity, other hikers came to join us, making us feel connected once again. Then the autumn sun dawned, and all but the Morning Star took a bow in the now purple sky. When it turned pink, even Venus conceded defeat, as we almost did. The trail took us 400 metres up through treacherous rocks and ice in arctic weather. Squid’s feet were wet somehow, and she imagined her toes blackened by frostbite. They felt as though they would have to be amputed. She was not having fun. We left Kala Pattar almost as soon as we reached it, unable to bask in our accomplishment, and our longest day had only begun. Even after a 3-hour hike, a 9-hour slog awaited us, going back through Gorak Shep for breakfast, then on through Lobuche to Thukla for lunch, and finally to Pheriche, with a brief camera pause at the Everest victims’ memorials. That’s what I’d forgotten on day 8.

The view from the memorials.
The location for the memorials was well-chosen, providing probably the most striking views of the entire trek. There you can find the memorial for Scott Fischer, immortalized in Everest (based on Into Thin Air), as well as the memorial for Babu Shiri Sherpa, who summitted Everest ten times before the age of 36. He once climbed it twice in two weeks, and he set the records for the fastest summitting and the longest time on Everest without auxiliary oxygen. He also holds the record for being the youngest to summit. But I don’t know if anyone can ever conquer Everest. Babu Shiri Sherpa died during his 11th attempt to summit, falling into a crevasse. A chilling reminder that Everest defeats even our most gifted and deft. That Tenzig Norgay and Edmund Hillary won the battle of Man vs. Everest for the first time over 60 years ago is a herculean accomplishment. First atop Everest, they have become giants in my eyes.

Other pictures from day 10:

The last of dawn's pink light is almost gone, and there's finally enough
light for my camera to take usable pictures.
Wherever the sunlight isn't hitting yet, it is minus Jesus! Fuck! degrees.
Even our guide was cold because we were so slow.
Near Pheriche, racing against the sun and clouds to arrive before nightfall and its chill.

Day 11 - Making Up for Lost Time
A day lost to snow and rain in Namche on day 4 meant another long day today to catch up,from 8AM to 5PM with about an hour’s break for lunch in Phungke Tenga. I was too tired to write. Still, today was one of the best days of the trek. The road from Pheriche to Tengboche, and Tengboche to Namche carries you through a variety of landscapes, and a relative multitude of towns. 
Mornings make you feel reptilian. The first order of business is always to get your ass into the sun as quickly as possible.

We got to see Ama Dablam in all its glory, dominating the Khumbu Kola valley, magnificient in the midday sun. We got reacquainted with fire bushes and ghost trees, but just when we thought the trip was winding down, and the trail had nothing new to offer, it proffered up birds of all kinds, including a vulture and the strangely out of place looking national bird of Nepal. The Himalayan Monal is much more colorful than I expected Himalayan birds to be.
As the clouds rolled in close to Namche, the world disappeared, enveloped by clouds to leave only the trail about as far as a lantern's glow. There was nothing but the trail and us. It was a fitting image for what the past 10 days had been, when our life shrank to one objective and the road that was taking us to it. I relished the simplicity and peacefulness of it, the camaraderie born of sharing the same goal, and the small town feel of bumping into the same people over and over again. For 11 days the world had made sense, and I knew my place in it from morning to night. All the little nags of the daily grind, all the suffering in the world had receded from my mind and it would have been happy never to bear their assault again.
At that moment I was melancholy, reluctant to leave behind this simple, fulfilling life. Then a light breeze blew. The fact I could smell my own stink brought me back to reality and the need I had for the creature comforts of the civilized world : a hot shower, warm nights, internet access, varied cuisine, beer, skyping with family, a change of clothes, clean clothes, a heat source other than yak dung…  They say meditation brings enlightenment, but breathing your own stink works just as well. Just one more day until Kathmandu.

Other pictures of Day 11:

Once you hit sunlight, you hit your stride. All you need to do is to
avoid the yaks.
I don't know what they're called but you can see why I choose to
call them fire bushes.

Ngima Tamang and Squid, near one of the many "tea houses" or
Nepal's national bird. What exactly is such a large colorful bird
doing 3000m. up?

Day 12 - Day of the Donkey, Squid Takes Off
The trail was very crowded as it was market day in Namche. Porters zipped up and down the trail as though they weren’t carrying the equivalent weight of a small whale, while donkey caravans and ox trains created traffic jams. Of all the pack animals, donkeys are the smelliest, and on parts of the trail, it was impossible to avoid the dung. We did our best to keep moving and we scored a small moral victory : we could hear Ngima breathing.
Not hard, and it was probably because he was sick, but nevermind all that. It felt as though we were finally fast enough to give him some exercise. The man once made the entire trip down from EBC to Lukla in twelve hours, because one of his charges had been airlifted out, but we chose to ignore the more obvious culprits and decided it was because we were setting a good pace. Stop scoffing ! We finally arrived in Lukla at 3 :30PM. Our journey was at an end at last. A hot shower was just a night’s sleep away. Or so we hoped. I was worried our flight the next day would be cancelled, as they often are, forcing us to extend our stay. We would then have to withdraw more money at a very bad rate, and I’d had enough of that. But there was nothing to do but hope for good weather and watch the children of Lukla at play from the hotel windows. The hotel was freezing cold, the bathroom smelled like someone had died in it, but the food and the company were good. That was all we needed anyway.

Day 13 - Departure ?

I woke up at 5AM, worried about the flight. I heard what sounded like rain, so I had little hope. In the end though, our luck came through again. By 8, the skies were clear and the sun was out. We boarded the plane, as the exhaust from the plane made the plants behind it shiver. The flight was beautiful. This time, there were no clouds to hide the valleys and villages. I marveled at all these isolated hamlets, tenuously sewn together by thin trails, spreading over plateaus or nestled atop ridges. I remembered signs on the trail talking about the musk deer of Phorche, the various monastic retreats, the festival in Tengboche or the painting school in Lukla. Each of the villages we were flying over seemed to hold such a secret, waiting to be shared with travellers if only they could find their way there. Nepal looks full of surprises waiting to be reavealed. I can't wait to return.

Our thanks go out to Ngima Tamang and the team for making it possible.

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