I awoke on day five of the trek proper with a nervous feeling for two reasons. Firstly I was worried that my stomach had not settled properly after yesterday’s diarrhoea, and secondly I was concerned about altitude, as yesterday I had my first altitude headache, and had taken paracetamol to alleviate it.
To help with the first of the above I had been given two sachets of hydration salts by Ngima, our guide, and I had drunk most of this with one and a half litres of water, during the night. The effects of the water, coupled with the fact that I am taking Diamox for the altitude, made me want to pee like a Russian racehorse, and then about every fifteen minutes. Trouble is, that even in a teahouse, the temperature gets pretty cold at night (we are talking below zero), and so you really don’t want to get out of your sleeping bag if you can avoid it. I managed in the end with just one trip at about 3am and a lot of willpower.
I felt thankfully actually better on both counts by the time I had looked out of the window. We were greeted by perfectly clear skies and a view of the colossal and majestic Ama Dablam (22,500 feet), staring right at us. This view could clear the sickest and sorriest of souls I can promise you.
After a breakfast of the now ubiquitous watery porridge and toast, we were set for the off at about 7.30am. Today was to be a short day in terms of distance, and practically speaking our second acclimatisation day since reaching Namche Bazar. This was great as far as I am concerned, as there is no such thing as either walking too slowly or too much acclimatisation for my liking.
After a brief group photograph (see below) we set off first downhill, and then crossed the river to begin a steep uphill climb towards Mong La, the highest place we have been to yet at 3,975m (13,117ft).
So in the above you will see, from left to right, Ngawang, Ngima (kneeling), Ram, Rob, yours truly, Ben, Stefan, Pasang, Tony, Bruce (kneeling), Dave, and Mo.
The walk is the most picturesque we have been on yet. There were simply staggering views of Ama Dablam, which has now surpassed the Matterhorn as my most photographed mountain (are you reading this Paul?). But better, there is just magnificent scenery all around us. We can see the trail that we will start to take in two days time towards Dingboche, we can see the Gokyo River far below us, we see snow capped Himalayan peaks stretching into forever. It is magical.
We have a tea stop at Mong La, and are afforded the best views yet. Just look at this:
This is by far the best view I have seen yet. I stand here and get all misty eyed all over again. I could have stayed there for days on end.
After our rest we descend steeply around 300m to a break in the Gokyo River, at a tiny hamlet called Phortse Tenga. On the way down we see mountain goats, pheasant, a peacock, and a musk deer! I had not expected to see anything but Yaks on this journey, and so this is a huge bonus.
Following lunch we have to gain the majority of the altitude we have just lost, and walk up the other side of the Gokyo River. Again it is stunning. The trees are lichen covered, and the sun shines like a perfect summers day. As we ascend we are afforded a view of Cho Oyu behind us, the sixth highest mountain in the world at 26,900 feet. It looks even bigger than that, if that is at all possible. How good can the views around here get? I want to stop every twenty yards at times to take photographs, as it is just so ridiculously wonderful.
Eventually we reach our destination of Phortse, at 3,840m. This will be the highest we have yet slept, but I feel now comfortable at this altitude. Our guide Ngima is brilliant at a practically making us go as slowly as we wish. Seven of the eight are happy with this, but one, Stefan, wants to get ahead most of the time, and I really hope for his sake that he doesn’t pay for it as we get higher.
The one thing that I have learned as possibly my most valuable lesson in the mountains is that you have absolutely nothing to gain, and possibly everything to lose, by going up too quickly. That is perhaps an excuse, or a justification for the fact that I am probably the slowest of the whole group and lingering at the back most of the time, but that is just how it is, and doesn’t bother me one iota. I am just happy (the understatement of all time) to be here.
Aside from that fact, by going quickly you don’t get to stop, look up, and take in the sights like we did today. There are always things above you, around you, and below you. They are to be treasured. I am reminded of what someone told me when I did Kilimanjaro, which was ‘the worst thing you can do is put your head down and end up looking at the boots of the person in front of you – stop, look around, take it all in!’.
After we arrived at our lodge, the Namaste Lodge, there was a huge treat in store – a shower! The shower consisted of standing in an outside cubicle under a bucket of hot water, but the word hot was all that mattered, and it was my first shower in four days, so it was hugely welcome. In fact to have a shower you first ask the kitchen staff at the lodge to boil some water for you. They then take a big kettle, climb the ladder outside and fill up the bucket on the roof of the hut below. You then pull a chain inside and the water comes down. It works!
You may notice that up against the wall in the above picture is some brown stuff. That is in fact yak dung. They dry out the pats in the sun, and then use it for both heating the lodge dining room, and also for cooking – all kitchens that I saw had a nice big bucket of yak dung in there for fuelling the oven. Nice!
After a dinner which was as welcome as the earlier shower, we had the briefing for the following day. Tomorrow’s walk is a tough one, both in terms of distance covered and most particularly (combined with) the altitude. We will leave for Dingboche, at 4,400m (14,500 feet) at 7am. Hopefully we are blessed with the same clear skies as we have had for the first four days. We must be due some bad weather at some point, and I just hope it holds as long as possible.
Today’s walk was simply the best day’s walking I have ever done. I may have better to come, but even if I don’t, I will always treasure this one very dearly. I feel so very blessed indeed. In fact it can’t get any better than this – can it?