Cool but not cold this morning. let me tell you about another danger of the altitude. HAF or High Altitude Farts! For some reason it’s not uncommon for me to suffer from bloating and the occasional cramps while at altitude and last night was a classical case. People were polite about it this morning but I’m sure that the sound of a methane gas explosion must have woken up everyone last night. I did feel a lot better after that though.
Today’s hike is a short one up the valley and while the walking goes well the altitude makes it hard work and a strong wind makes it harder still. While wandering along in the general direction of the cluster of hotels that makes up Chukung and carefully crossing numerous partially frozen glacial run-offs I was passed by a a young local woman. Turned out she was there to open up the lodge I was planning to stay at. Good timing on someone’s part. The mountains here are stunning and if I can handle the weather the plan is to stay here for a few nights before returning to the fleshpots of Namche Bazaar.
I was pleased to see that the two Australians were still alive this morning. They had arrived last night one of them suffering from bad headaches had gone straight to bed the other picked forlornly at his dinner before heading of to his room as well. They had made it in two days from Lukla to Pangboche “because we are really fit”. When several people pointed out they were suffering altitude sickness and were likely to kill themselves they expressed some surprise and when asked if they hadn’t read the warnings everywhere told us “who reads that stuff?” Personally I always wonder how people like that reach adulthood. But they are far from the only ones and on the upside they do keep the helicopter rescue service in business
The trail this morning leaves the last trees behind and the views keep getting better with snow capped mountains everywhere. The hotel I pick for my stay once I arrive in Dingboche looks nice but turns out to be a branch of Fawlty Towers with 3 young guys trying to run the place in an almost laughable manner. They muck up orders have trouble making tea and once a pre-booked group arrives loose the plot completely. Just when I think of looking for another place the owner arrives and remarkably within ten minutes everything is like you would expect it to be.
After things settle down I get into an interesting conversation with some members of the newly arrived trekking group. One of the older group members asserts quite aggressively that trekking by yourself is unsafe and implies that I’m irresponsible by doing so. I counter that in my opinion, it’s him that runs the greater risk by abdicating the decision of when, where and how to trek to a guide who has in all likelihood no other qualifications than that he speaks English. Needless to say, it’s on for young and old after that statement and everyone jumps in with their opinions. After awhile we settle on some common ground that group trekkers are more likely to ascend when unwell because of group-think and the pressure, real or imagined, to conform and that individual trekkers have less access to an organized response when they get into trouble.
There is actually frost on the inside of the window pane in the room of the lodge I’m staying at. As good a reason as any to crawl even deeper under my duvet and forget about the world a little longer. When I wake up again it’s still early, still freezing and quite a racket while everyone gets up and stomps about.
Lodges on the trail are never really known for their faultless workmanship and home comforts and this one is no exception. The walls are paper thin just a sheet of plywood and literally paper to cover the knot holes in the timber. The bed is better referred to as a cot made from local timbers with a cheap foam mattress that squeezes flat once you lie down. Heating is a wood stove in the dining room that is lit once the sun has gone down. People are frequently seen wearing gloves at breakfast. Thus I’m not really keen to get out of bed but now that I’m awake I really need to pee! The toilet in keeping with trail lodge chic is an Asian style squat pan with no running water and a rubbish bin for the toilet paper. So after you’ve done your business and cleaned yourself you throw the soiled paper in the waste paper basket and scoop some water out of a barrel in the corner of the loo to flush the toilet. Try not to splash your feet while doing this!
Anyway on with the day. The sun is up and hot tea and porridge while sitting outside seems the best option and while everyone rushes off to their next destination I enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and listen to the distant sound of monks chanting punctuated by the blowing of horns and crashing of cymbals. All is well in my little world.
Eventually, I pack up and start walking again. The trail goes down from the monastery through a rhododendron forest to where a suspension bridge has crashed in the river. Most people seem to think that it’s earthquake-related but the truth is it happened a few months before that. The river had eroded the anchors that hold the bridge up and it all came crashing down. A little upstream is a locally built replacement made from river rocks and some trees and it has proven remarkably robust so far. Crossing the bridge the trail heads up again and after a couple of hours, I arrive in Pangboche my destination for today. It is at more or less the same altitude as Thyangboche where I stayed last night and will help with my acclimatization. The monastery here has a Yeti skull amongst its collection of reliquaries so maybe I can spot a life one somewhere around town.
I walked from the comfort of Namche Bazaar to the far more austere abode of the monks at Thyangboche today. The trail follows a ridge above the Dudh Kosi passing a Stupa before continuing to Sanasa then descending steeply to the river below at Phungi Thenga. It was here that I stayed in a small lodge when I came by last time unwilling to climb the trail to the monastery. Today I’m both in good spirits and good form and after a cup of tea, I climb to Thyangboche in one go.
The trick to acclimate to the altitude is to do it slowly. Yesterday I spoke with a Spanish couple that I had met earlier on near Kinja and were like most trekkers going at a great rate of knots towards Everest. Today they came back down, a wise decision, after suffering from headaches and nausea. They had skipped the well-known rule to stop at Namche for at least two nights before going up no more than 300 meters to the next village. Instead, they had stopped for one night at Namche and walked all the way to Dingboche the next day. No mean feat but it’s likely to kill you as they found out and they had walked through the night to get back down.
The truth about my hikes is that often I enjoy the opportunity to sit down in peace and quiet and read a book just as much if not more than the actual walking. However, if you actually want to get anywhere a modicum of physical effort is called for. So off I go again today.
First, the trail undulates through a few hamlets then climbs steadily to Monjo where my TIMS card gets checked for the first time this trip than a short while later to Jorsale where I officially enter the Sagarmatha National Park. And then the trail goes up and up and up. The Namche hill as it’s known is infamous among trekkers for its steep and unrelenting grade without even a tea shop to provide an excuse to stop and put your feet up. Over the years I’ve met people who took almost a full day to make it to the top and it took me almost half a day myself last time I did this trek. Now my fitter self hikes it in two and a half hours.