Himalayas Day 20 – The Final Day!

So today was (I hope, as I write this) my final day in Kathmandu. It is now the 8th November and I have been here for almost what seems like forever. That is no bad thing, it is just because of the delays in Lukla stretched the whole thing out so far that I was almost not sure what reality was like anymore.

I have to say that waking up this morning was so utterly wonderful, for two reasons. Firstly I woke up in a bed, with my head on a pillow! Being that was the first time I did so in about three weeks, I cannot even begin to describe to you how good that feels. Secondly, I could walk into a bathroom, and have a shower! That was also such a novelty that I did it twice! The water in hotels in Kathmandu is a bit yellowy, but no matter, it was warm and wet, and that is a whole lot more than I got in the Himalayas.

At breakfast time we (Tony, Stefan and I) got a phone call from Ngima up in Lukla (they did not manage to escape yesterday) to say that the others had been issued with boarding passes for a flight today, which was great. We didn’t know when, but it was just good to know that they’d be back on terra firma and make their flights back to the UK tomorrow. In the meantime we had a day to kill of just getting used to being out of the mountains, before tomorrow’s long day of flights home.

After breakfast Tony and I had a walk to Durbar Square, the sort of ceremonial/temple end of Kathmandu. The temples were incredible, in fact the whole place was, and I loved it, all of it.

Here are some images of the place:

The start of Durbar Square, Kathmandu

Old Alfred Hitchcock movies, anyone?

One of the many temples around Durbar Square

And another

And the local trader's market

And a plaque describing how it all came about.

One of the many amazing Stupas in Durbar Square

And finally, walking back out into the madness that is Kathmandu traffic.

It was actually quite ridiculous to come into this, an alien and amazing world anyway, after being in the mountains for just under three weeks. I felt a bit like I had just landed from Mars, or Japan, or somewhere, so snap happy was I :).
We returned with Stefan to Thamel at lunchtime and took our hired climbing gear back to ‘The Summit Brothers’ (not I suspect, their real names :)) hire shop, and thereafter had a very nice and large pizza for lunch. It is incredible how much I now need to eat. I have eaten what seems like, erm, mountains of food up there, but when I put my jeans on last night I would estimate that I have lost about two inches around my waist in three weeks.

In the afternoon the rest of the party made it back to Kathmandu, and we arranged for a dinner to round off the trip. Six of us made it for the dinner in the end, as Dave was suffering from sinus pains and Stefan suffering from a bit of ‘Nepal belly’, but the food was great and it was nice to chill and relax as opposed to worrying about helicopters or anything at all. Eating meat again, especially being as carniverous as I am, is a very good thing, believe me!

It then felt very strange that all of a sudden our trip was over. We’d spent altogether three weeks in each other’s company, and tomorrow would be day 22. When you consider that this is a bunch of disparate people almost thrown together, and that we would spend often 15 or more hours with each other in a bunch of sometimes trying and often almost unpleasant (despite the scenery) circumstances, everyone got on great. Really great in fact. I don’t think I saw or heard a crossed word between the eight of us the whole time, which is fantastic.

So tomorrow we will get up at 5am for an early morning flight to Delhi in India. There is then a three hour layover before a ten hour flight to the UK, and all being well I should be back on the ground at about 5.30pm UK time.

It will almost be strange to be back – I think this is the second longest ‘holiday’ (it seems a bit strange to call it that though) that I have ever had, and all of a sudden from it being still fairly warm before I set off, it is now just five or so weeks to Christmas. News just came in also that my friends Darina, Paul, Jason and Ryan just completed the New York Marathon at the weekend, so my congratulations to them. I have a lot of catching up to do, and I suppose that means back to work as well.

All good things come to and end though, or so they say, and despite the frustration of the holdup in Lukla at the end this has been an absolutely fantastic trip, with memories that will simply last forever. I can’t wait to download the photos, relive the memories, and extol the experience and excitement of seeing and experiencing Mount Everest close at hand to people back home. I also can’t wait for my own bed, and another few showers, and also some normality, even, whatever that is.

Himalayas Day 19 – Lukla to Kathmandu!!

So after last night’s tipping ceremony (it’s now Monday, 7th November, and I have been stuck in Lukla for a ridiculous six days now) for the Sherpas and guides, and a very sore head due to the rum and beer consumed, I woke up at about 5am. Daylight was trying to appear, and I could not tell at first whether it was the customary cloud and fog, or just early morning mountain mist that clouded my view. Determined that somehow I would escape this place somehow today, I decided to get up, pack, and see what the day brought.

Within perhaps 20 minutes or so I was actually greeted with, guess what, a sunrise! Hallelujah! The mountains around us (yes they are still here, despite being entirely invisible for six whole days) had been dusted with a light covering of snow, and we could see right down the valley! It was all too much – would this be the day?

It's a miracle - there is actually a sky up there!

By about 6.15am the dining room of the lodge was full with expectant people, when, lo and behold, a plane flew in to the runway! Out lodge (although we wouldn’t have known it the last few days) actually overlooks the precariously sloped runway, and then the tiny plane landed you would think that everyone had just won the lottery – there was cheering and shouting and jubilation all round, which made it very exciting indeed.

Within about 10 minutes, Val from Exodus told me to have my bag packed and ready for 7am, and said that I ‘might’ get out on a flight if I was lucky. I didn’t need to be told twice, and my bag was duly ready and waiting within minutes. During this time, the sun kept singing and the planes kept coming.

By about 8am, after nervously waiting and watching as certain people began to get called to go the the runway, it was all of a sudden my turn! I could scarcely believe it was happening, and actually and resolutely refused to, until I knew I could actually get on a plane and it had taken off.
The others from my group watched me I suspect somewhat jealously as I made my way out, as I had been given priority over them as I had been on the waiting list for six days. Bidding them goodbye and wishing them good luck to get down during the day also (hopes were high for everyone so good was the weather in fact) off I went.

Waiting excitedly now to escape.....

And we can see the runway - yippee!

I ended up with a group of sixth formers and their teachers who had also been up to Base Camp with Exodus at the same time as us. They too had been in the lodge in Lukla the same amount of time as me, and they had been incredibly patient. After waiting for some time in the departure ‘hall’, the sixth formers got their break – they would all get onto the same plane and fly off down the mountain. How jealous was I then!

Within a matter of a couple of hours of thinking ‘will it or won’t it’, my chance finally came at just after 11am. My Agni Airways Dornier plane came rushing up the runway, and in no time at all I was clambering abroad.

This felt like a winning lottery ticket, believe me.

I almost had no time to be scared at the take off, for when the plane lurches forward down the slope you fear there is no way the thing will lift off at all, never mind get up in time to not hurtle straight into the hillside opposite. But take off it did, and missed crashing into the mountains opposite also, and then I was up in the air – I had escaped!

The plane before us gets ready to hurtle down the hill......

..And finally I get into one too - get out of my way!!

After a slightly bumpy flight, I was so happy to get onto the ground in Kathmandu. What an amazing shock also to see so much traffic and congestion! After 17 or 18 days in the wilderness where the only traffic is the occasional Yak train, to see so may cars and buses was a nightmare, and I (despite wanting to get away for so long) immediately longed to be back in the clear mountain air.

Approaching Kathmandu from the air at last.

After a three quarter of an hour slog through the fumes of Kathmandu in a taxi, I was back in the Royal Singi Hotel. Sadly they didn’t have a room for me, as there was still a backlog of people trying to get up to the mountains as well as away from it, and so I got sent to another hotel temporarily. The shower when I hit my room was even better than the one I had when I went to Kilimanjaro!

I actually managed just one shower in the Himalayas, and whilst I was pretty diligent with the wet wipes on a daily basis, you cannot believe just how good it is to wash your hair and body and stand under hot water for half an hour. Bliss!

About two hours later I was back in the Royal Singi, and delighted to see two of my fellow trekkers, Tony and Stefan, who had also just made it back from Lukla. They had been lucky enough to get two places on a rescue helicopter, having drawn lots with the others for the privilege of doing so. They said the helicopter flight was fantastic, but I would have in the end been glad to leave by camel if it would have got me out of there. The others would unfortunately not make it back today, but hopefully would get a flight out in the morning, the weather forecast now being entirely clear and sunny for the rest of the week.

Having donned shorts and flip flops, the three of us ventured into Thamel, the bustling shopping/market/nightlife side of Kathmandu for some food. We found ‘The Everest Steak House’, and pigged out on meat for the first time in a fortnight (it’s recommended not to eat meat up the mountain even if you do come across it in a lodge, as it won’t be quite digestable to the western palate) in the midst of a three course meal completed with Apple Strudel and ice cream. Mamma Mia!

Back in the welcome but almost shocking bedlam of Kathmandu

On our way home we stopped in for some beers at The Rum Doodle, the famous bar where all Everest Summitteers sign the wall, and where there are many tributes to previous Everest expeditions.

The Rum Doodle - never has a beer been more welcome!

The Everest Summiteers Board in the Rum Doodle - Chris Bonnington's name up there amongst many others

Perhaps the best thing of all was yet to come this day – a proper bed! This was the first time again in 17 days that I would be able to put my head on a pillow, and to not sleep in a (now damp) sleeping bag. Absolute luxury! I went to bed very content indeed, so glad to be out of Lukla, and yet already missing it. I could now reflect on all that had happened to me, which I will share on another occasion.

For now I hoped that the rest of the party would get down safe in the morning, and I began to look forward to my return to ‘civilisation’ in just two days time. Goodnight!

Himalayas Day 16 – Lukla, bored now

So one good thing and one bad thing already happened to me today, and it is only 7am.

Firstly the good news – wait for it….. I slept through the night! I could not believe it when I woke up at 5.35am, and I hadn’t stirred since about 9 last night. That is literally my best sleep in the Himalayas. I will put it down to the four Everest beers that I had last evening, they obviously did the trick. Maybe today I will have six and sleep for ten hours, who knows.

Then the bad news, or should I say the boring and predictable news – yes it is still raining, yes the cloud is lower than even it was yesterday, and yes the prospect of the weather changing for the foreseeable future is not even close to slim. We are in the clouds, it is as simple as that, and Kathmandu is also cloudy, so no planes will fly here for a fifth consecutive day, and my third day of being marooned here.

The North Face Lodge is looking like some sort of refugee camp now. I am very lucky to have a bed, but have no idea if I will be able to keep it. Everything is so damp though due to the weather, that you wake up damp, your clothes are damp (and unspeakably dirty of course, there is nowhere to wash much less to dry anything), and it makes you even more miserable. There is in fact no running water here at all any more, which makes washing impossible other than (and thank goodness for them) with wet wipes, and the whole toilet situation a bit, well, smelly let’s just say.

I exhausted the shops yesterday and am running out of rupees, and so am not sure how much longer I can hold out. If yesterday was a looonnnnnnng day, then today is going to be longer still. More later……………

So it is now 7pm, and I got promised a helicopter at about noon. Apparently an army 24 seater helicopter was going to fly in, Apocalypse Now style (is that the right film I’m thinking of?), and I can pay $600 and be transported off into oblivion, or Kathmandu, whichever I get to first. I agreed to it, more readily than I thought I would, as I really just want to get out of here now. Somewhat predictably, the helicopter never comes. I am only glad that I didn’t pay my $600 first.

Trouble is, the weather is actually getting worse. You can now see about 50 to 100 yards in any direction. The bigger trouble still is, that in Kathmandu where we are trying to get to, some 5,000 feet below us, the weather is actually worse. They even cancelled the international flights there today, and so the chances of a single-engined ironing board with an outboard motor landing at the world’s most dangerous airstrip are laughable at best.

The runway, or all you can see of it, at Lukla.

I gave up even hanging around the lodge in the end. In fact even the shopkeepers here have given up trying. Normally the Nepalese are very good, they don’t actually pester you too much. They do try to help you however when you go to their store. Now however they have seen the same faces walking backwards and forwards all day long. It is like Shaun of the Dead versus Zombie Dawn at altitude.

Horse getting a bite to eat from the Organic Food Store was one of the highlights of my day

So my afternoon was a couple of hours in ‘Starbucks’ (that’ll be fake Starbucks, a bit like the ‘North Fake’ clothing that you see everywhere). I caught up on emails, caught up on what is happening at work (yes I was that bored), and caught up on Facebook etc too, putting up my Kala Pattar Everest picture up there, of which I am really proud.

Everyone else is just hanging around in the rain.

When 4pm came I went to the Irish Pub, which is becoming my local now. I walk in there now and the bartender puts a Tiger Beer in front of me before I ask for it. I am part of the furniture it seems – which is fine with me. I am stuck here for as long as I am stuck here, and that’s just how it is.

Back at the lodge in the evening I got in with a crowd from Canada and Germany playing card tricks. It whiled away at least 45 minutes of my life, which was a good thing at the time.

I am not even making any predictions for tomorrow. When I was in Fakebucks I checked the weather forecast. It is shocking through at least Monday (this is Friday). I therefore have at least three more days of looking at the rain, and then the people round at the airport have a week’s backlog of really really really pissed off people to try to process through an airfield with no controls, no gates, no nothing. It is going to be an unholy free-for-all on an epic scale.

I shall have a few more Everest beers now and sign off. If I could sleep for the next two days it would be a lot better than what I will actually face. Oh well, at least I am still in the Himalayas (well sort of, even if I cannot see them).

Instead of doing daily updates, I’ll return now to this only when I know for certain that I am heading out of here, to save anyone reading this with as much boredom as I am suffering from right now.

Here’s hoping it’s not too long before that happens………..

Himalayas Day 15 – Lukla to Nowhere at all

I woke in my fairly nasty room in the North Face Resort at 2am. It was strange, it was actually warm, the comparatively oxygen rich atmosphere of 2,800m elevation was strange, and after a quick “where the heck am I” (fourteen different locations in fourteen nights will do that to you, believe me), I realised I was in Lukla. Would I fly today? The answer was obvious when I began to listen to the sounds outside.

It was pouring. Not just any old rain mind you. Cloud was effectively below the level of the lodge, and it was monsoon style, torrential, beating rain. I drifted back into a warm slumber but never really slept again until 5.30am came, when the sounds of a German couple humping about 3 feet away from my head, and separated from me by the thinnest sheet of plywood, told me that I may as well just get up and see what the day would bring.

What the day would bring however, was sadly obvious from the moment I looked outside. The air was totally still, the cloud level some long way below us, and it was raining heavily still. This wasn’t going to shift anytime soon, and I knew it.

My slightly less than salubrious, and a bit damp, room in Lukla

By the time The dining room filled with people at about 7.30am, all the talk was of helicopters and of how to get out of here by whatever means. Porters scurried around from time to time and got their clients excited with talk of a trek up or down the valley to a helicopter pad at exorbitant expense, but it was all for nought. Nobody moved, everyone sat and hoped in vain.

Hanging on in quiet desperation, North Face Lodge, Lukla

And so began one of the longest days I have ever experienced. I walked around Lukla for a bit in the morning, and for something to do. It took about ten minutes. There are probably 20 or so shops, but they all sell pretty much the same tat, so once you have seen one you have seen them all. Although my hotel overlooks the airstrip, I also walked down there just to kill time. The ‘terminal’ was closed, so that told me all I needed to know for the day. I did then see a helicopter take off and fly into the clouds, and then turn straight back again, so obviously they thought it too risky too.

Wandering around aimlessly, Lukla style

There is also, horror of horrors, a Starbucks here! I am entirely sure that it is not a proper Starbucks having been inside and tasted their coffee, but it is a bloody long way for them to come and sue whoever it is using their name, and they had free wi-fi (albeit ridiculously slow), so it worked for me :). This enabled me to get online and catch up with work, and that will tell you how bored I already am.

In the afternoon I killed time by walking back and forward up and down the shops again. I bought incense sticks from practically every store just to mull away the time. I bartered every time too. It is amazing how much time you can waste just by simply arguing over 50 rupees, I also bought a wooly hat. The in thing round here it seems is to have is an “Everest B C 5364m” hat, but I had to be different and got a “Kala Pattar 5545m” one, principally because a.) 5545m is higher than 5364m, and also because I was there after all. It was my summit, and I’m bloody pleased about it, so for my bartered 250 Rupees I will jolly well wear my hat!

When 4pm came around and I literally could not carry any more incense sticks about my person, I dumped them all back at the lodge, and headed back out for the Irish Bar. It seemed a good way to pass a couple of hours before dinner, and also it was Happy Hour from 4pm to 7pm, which means here “buy two get one free”. That is a good enough reason for me any day of the week to wile away a couple of hours. Oh and as an added bonus there was Beach Volleyball being shown on the big screen – I seem to have forgotten the score and who was playing, but that doesn’t bother me too much :).

Whilst in the pub, the group next to me were debating (as every single person in Lukla is who has someone to talk to, except for me as I am on my jack) whether to sit out the weather or to walk to Kathmandu. They opted to walk, on the basis that a.) the weather is set now until Sunday or Monday apparently, and b.) they’d just rather keep moving than hang around. The walk is six days, plus a 12 hour bus jouney. I think that’s a lot, but I am seriously considering it. If I am still here in six days time I will have gone completely mad, I know that for sure.

Roll on tomorrow – except I somehow know very well where I will be both spending and finishing my day…………

Himalayas Day 14 – Kyangjuma to Lukla

So this morning I woke up to beautiful clear skies, and the news that the two day backlog at Lukla airstrip had cleared, and that I would be able to fly today. Then I woke up properly from my dream. It was actually 2am, and it was snowing. My heart then sank at the prospect of even getting down the Khumbu valley today, let alone the airstrip reopening.

I tossed and turned for the remaining four hours of the night, and hoped that the clouds would lift by the time Saroz knocked on my door at 6am. ┬áThey sadly hadn’t, but a boy has to keep hoping, that’s all. The snow that fell in the night was thankfully just a dusting at this level, although my thoughts turned to the rest of the troupe up in tents at Island Peak, and I hoped that they weren’t snowed in altogether.

Saroz and I set off for our long trek at about 6.45am, accompanied by a porter to carry my kit bag and climbing stuff, which had come down from Island Peak the previous evening. We were in clouds for much of the way. The path round to Namche Bazaar was a quick one though, Saroz setting off at his breakneck speed, the porter in pursuit, probably not used to such a light load as 30kg on his head (some of them can carry over 100kg this way), and we got there inside an hour.

Following Saroz down the path from Kyangjuma - the clouds now below us...

After Namche (which I hardly noticed, so dense were the clouds) we set off down the steep hill and made the 500 or so metre descent to the Khumbu river in no time at all. Soraz was on the phone most of the way, either getting updates from Lukla or Kathmandu on the weather conditions. It was bleak bleak bleak basically. No planes were coming in or out due to the low cloud.

The problem is that the planes, being 8, 12 or 16 seaters, have to be flown entirely manually, and therefore rely entirely on being able to see the airstrip before attempting the hair-raising landing. If there is low cloud, they don’t fly, simple as that.

Saroz kept trying though, and told me that he had said a prayer for me. An ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, or something like that. I think this is the Buddhist mantra but can’t rememeber what it means for now, but hope it works whatever it is. He also kept turning the prayer wheels on the way down, and never missed a prayer flag or mani stone, so he must have meant it.

We reached Monjo in about two and a half hours, and then Phakding, where we stopped for lunch, in about 4 and a half. Lunch was again my usual spaghetti with Tomato sauce, in case Ben is reading this once more – are you there Ben?

Setting off after lunch at about 12.45, the clouds appeared to lift, and Saroz got his hopes up when he thought he heard a plane. This thought vanished though when it turned out to be a rescue helicopter. They must be nuts, or it must have been a total emergency, for them to be even attempting to fly in these conditions.

The walk back to Lukla from Phakding is largely uphill, and gains in fact about 300m, making this at the end of a 20+ mile haul a real slog. I was therefore very happy to arrive at about 2.45pm.

The North Face Lodge, my home for the next 'x' nights....

As we arrived at the North Face Resort, my lodge in Lukla for the night, it was chaos. There were bags and people everywhere, as most folk had been sat here for two days waiting for a plane. The airstrip is the only way out of the Himalayas, other than on foot, which would take a week or more, so there is simply no choice but to sit and wait. The problem will get worse day by day as more people arrive hoping to fly out of here too. I was told shortly after arriving that the forecast was for rain for the next four days. Oh heck, and words like that.

Lukla - not really much happening under the clouds at all.

I had a quick look into Lukla, which is a pretty nasty place, but it does have a pub or two, for people to “enjoy the last time in the Himalaya”. I ventured into an ‘Irish’ bar, to kill the time, and had my first beer in a fortnight. It would have tasted good if I knew that I would be able to leave anytime soon, but instead I sort of stood there frustrated. There was a muted atmosphere everywhere in fact, people walking around a bit zombie-like.

This place at least offered me something to while away the odd hour or three.

Dinner back at The North Face Resort was a fairly somber affair. I did meet a Canadian guy, a dentist from Toronto, who had just arrived from Kathmandu however. He had managed to charter a private helicopter to get him to a village about two hours walk down the mountain. It was apparently the only helicopter to leave Kathmandu the whole day, so I am guessing he paid a rather large fortune for the privilege. He told me he is acclimatising in the Himalayas for a running event in the Annapurna circuit next week which is 250km over six days. He had to be totally nuts, as he does these things about 10 times a year apparently.

After dinner I caught up with Pasang, another Exodus trek leader, who we have seen several times up and down the mountain. He is in charge of around 16 sixth-formers from Wells School, and he told me that he has a place reserved for me on a flight at 11am in the morning. The chance of it flying of course was written all over his face.

I went to bed in the same state as the day before, hoping, praying for sunny skies the following day. Om Mani Padme Hum…….

Himalayas Day 13 – Dingboche to Kyangjuma

So today was a very up and down day, both literally and emotionally. I would wake up at 4,400m, and end up at 3,740m, but covered a heck of a lot of ground inbetween in every way. Let me explain:

There was firstly only Mo, who was suffering badly from a sinus infection and AMS, and myself, with just mild AMS, staying in the Friendship Lodge in Dingboche last night. It was a very weird feeling having stayed in full lodges all the way so far, so walking into the dining room here it was so strange to be the only person there.

Inside the Dining Room at the Friendship Lodge at Dingboche

I awoke at about 6, and got ready for our departure to Tengboche at 7. The idea of Tengboche was that it would be the stopping place of the rest of the group, including Mo’s husband Dave, who remained with the rest of the climbing group at Island Peak. I was to accompany her, and we were accompanied by two guides, Pasang would look after Mo until Thursday when the rest arrived, and Saroz would come with me all the way to Lukla. Today though we would just go to Tengboche, at 3,940m, a journey of about five hours.

The weather turned today, and we walked in cloud practically the entire way. The mountain tops were largely obscured, although there were occasional glimpses of Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Pumori, and even Everest herself along the way. All were fleeting though, and as we were walking away from them all, and also predominantly downhill, it really was not a sightseeing sort of day.

Already out of the snow and ice, our descent down the valley was well and truly underway now.

It was actually a great walk though, although I was helped by feeling better as I descended into more oxygen rich air. Mo was still feeling terrible, and it was sadly just a chore for her. We walked along the Khumbu river, which flowed like the torrential white water that it is, about 200 feet below us.

I could have done with one of those horses on the way up!

After an hour or so, the path split to the high path on the one side, where we had come from Phortse last week sometime, and to the left for us, down and across the river towards Tengboche. The bridge over the Khumbu way below us was breathtaking, if thankfully just a short walk of faith:

About to cross the Khumbu before heading to Tengboche

Saroz seemed to be pushing along the pace, and secretly hoping that this was a challenge of some sort (I certainly did not want to just stop at Tengboche if I could get away with it, I wanted to go lower) I went with him. We left Mo and Pasang some way behind, and although I felt sorry to be not walking with Mo, she was in safer hands than mine alongside Pasang.

Not long after we crossed the river, I noticed that we were down to about 3,600m or so, and knowing that Tengboche was at 3,940m, and wasn’t too far away, it would mean a steep climb. It was indeed a bugger of a climb. We stopped at the start of it, and realising also that we were going to get to Tengboche before noon, I chanced my arm with Sarod. I said “it’s a real shame that we can’t go further down the valley today”, hoping that he would sense what I wanted from the statement. He clearly did, and just said in reply “let’s see when we get to Tengboche”.

The next 30/45 minutes were brutal, and if he wasn’t testing me out before, he clearly was now. He just walked up that steep hill “Sherpa style”, and if you have ever been to the Himalayas before then you will know just what that means. I knew I had to try to keep up. I couldn’t of course, but neither was he at full tilt, and I felt really strong now, and just gave it all I had. We got to the top without stopping, and I was breathing as hard as I ever have, but we were in Tengboche inside four hours, for a journey at we were told would take five, and so I just hoped that that would win me a further walk this afternoon.

By the time Pasang and Mo arrived at our lunch stop in Tengboche, Sarod had already come to me with the news I hoped for. He said we could go on today to Kyangjuma, some three hours further down the valley. I was delighted, although again sad to have to leave Mo on her own. I knew that Mo was in good hands with Pasang though, and also she desperately needs rest, so a couple of days with little to do (although Tengboche does have the most attractive Gompa in the whole of the Khumbu region to while away a little time) will no doubt be good for her.

After a delicious lunch (my usual of Spaghetti with Tomato sauce in case you are reading this Ben :)), I wished Mo a speedy recovery, a Happy Birthday for Thursday, and a fond farewell. I hope to be able to keep in touch with her and Dave, and in fact with everyone on the trek. It really was a great group, with no issues between anyone at any time. I also wished Pasang goodbye, and thanked him for everything and asked him to say the same to Ngima for me. Everyone at Exodus really has been faultless, but more of them in a later post.

And so we were off, now just Saroz and me. I was on my way home, sort of. After Tengboche there is a huge descent, going quickly down to about 3,500m, from 3,940m at lunch. We raced down it, and that was good as far as I was concerned – it was all progress to get nearer to Lukla, and the plan now was to try to get there inside a further two days, which would be tough.

As we mowed down the hill, past mainly knackered trekkers on their way up, Saroz was almost continually on the phone, making arrangements for me to change my flights out of the Himalayas, my accommodation in Kathmandu, and also my international flight back to the UK. At one point we had it sorted that with a heap of good fortune (and also my legs and lungs holding out on me), I could be on a flight out of Nepal as early as Friday (this is now Tuesday). I was overjoyed, the thought of a shower, a bed, a shave, another shower, followed by a bath etc, were just so exciting to me. The hotel in Kathmandu might get the surface layers of dirt off, but I really needed a lot more than that.

Then came the bad news. As we almost ran our way through the clouds, Saroz got a call to say any plans would have to be shelved. Apparently Lukla airport has been closed all day, and there are no flights out of the mountains scheduled tomorrow either. Worse, the bad weather is expected to last four days, and so there a no point in planning for anything. If this happens, there will also be a backlog like no tomorrow at Lukla itself of people trying to get out. Saroz explained further that accommodation may be a problem, and that I might be lucky to get a place on a floor in a lodge somewhere, and that he would try for me. Bummer. It was so disappointing, but what can you do? I would get a flight when I could, and the weather might change for the better, although of course it could also get worse!

For now I concentrated on my second big uphill stretch of the day. At 3,500m we had to get up to about 3,780m to the lodge in Kyangjuma. It was again a horrible hill, but it was helped by the fact that the weather was so overcast. We reached the lodge before 3, just one and a quarter hours from Tengboche. It is supposed to be a three hour journey. Saroz is a great guide, very patient and very friendly, and very quick!. My bags would take another two hours to arrive by porter, and so I sat in the lodge room drinking hot lemon by the fire until dinner time came.

I would need to sleep tonight. The journey to Lukla from here is normally a two day trek, and we are now aiming to do it in one. Sarod could do it walking on his hands of course, but he tells me that it will be for me “around nine hours”. That is him judging me on today when I busted everything I had to get me a chance at tomorrow. I will need to do it all over again to hopefully get myself a place on someone’s dining room floor for maybe one, two three or four days depending on how long this weather lasts. Apparently these things are not that uncommon at Lukla, but I feel a bit narked that I am going to be caught up in it nonetheless.

Oh well, just another day in the Himalayas I suppose. Overall I am still so enormously happy and privileged to be here at all, so I will take whatever I get, and just continue to enjoy my time in the greatest mountain range on planet earth. It is all just part of my greatest adventure ever, and every day is so different still.

We leave at six in the morning……

Himalayas Day 12 – Up or Down? (Or Lobuche to Dingboche)

Yesterday was such a remarkable and fantastic day, seeing Everest in absolutely perfect and breathtaking conditions (see yesterday’s blog post), but of course the trip is only half way through right now. Today, day 12, should be the day that we start ascending again, towards Island Peak. But for me, it wouldn’t be a day of ascent at all.

I thought that today would be tinged with some sadness and regret when I woke up, due to the fact that I had already decided (in my head at least) that I was definitely going down today and not up. I thought that perhaps part of me would wonder about whether I should have continued upwards. As it turned out, I needed have even bothered wondering, due to waking up with the mother of all headaches, and dizziness to boot.

I had gone to bed last night after a reasonable dinner with a lot of thoughts in my head. The briefing given by Ngima had contained a choice for the next day (i.e today), which was to involve the high pass route over the Komgma La pass (5,435m) to Chukhung. It would be a difficult walk, and so Ngima had offered the choice of instead walking down to Dingboche (4,400m) and then back up to Chukhung at 4,700m. Everyone bar myself and Maureen opted for the high pass, and if I had felt better under different circumstances, I would very definitely have done that too.

I was surprised in fact that Maureen was going to be able to walk at all. As well as her sinus infection she was now suffering from AMS like me. After discussing with Ngima and also Val, an Exodus leader of over 25 years who was to join the group for the rest of the trip, they said that if I needed to go down then that was all fine, and that my health was the most important thing. It’s a very comforting thing to hear, when you so want to push yourself to do what you set out to do in the first place.

Having gone to bed last night at around 8pm (sad really, but most people do in lodges) and read for a little while, I was actually delighted when I woke up at 3am. It was the longest stretch of sleep I have had in about 5 nights. It was also freezing cold however, and my bottle of water had frozen on the bedside table. My head though, despite wearing a hat in bed, was throbbing with a headache and I felt simply sick. This despite having gone to bed with Paracetamol and Diamox, was at best really annoying.

I surfaced from bed at around 5.45, ready for the walk, and could hardly walk in a straight line. Breakfast was just a blur, and packing my bag an ordeal, but I got there. Seeing Valerie at the breakfast table I told her that I just needed to get out of altitude, and she agreed. The others duly trekked over the glacier for their trip to Chukhung, and I and Maureen got ready to descend. I didn’t say goodbyes to the others at this time, there didn’t seem any point in anyone trying to persuade me against my decision, or for it to be a distraction to their day ahead. I did feel like I was letting the team down a bit, but my body told me that it was time to go.

Leaving a very cold Lobuche for the last time - the clouds just creeping up ahead in the valley.

We walked through cloud, accompanied by assistant guide Pasang, for most of the journey to Dingboche, ironically the first time we had not had a clear and sunny morning. Maureen was clearly weak, but managed the walk of about three hours without incident. I was so happy to be entering more oxygen rich air – we would go down about 1,600 feet or so.

Maureen shared en route that she was most concerned on the way that her not continuing onwards would mean that her husband Dave would not continue with the climb. She knew that he was so determined to do a 6,000m peak, but she would now not see him again to be able to tell him this. She was also concerned that not seeing him would mean that she would spend her 60th birthday (this coming Thursday) alone. Both of these it seems had been taken care of by Pasang. In respect of the former, he (Pasang) would go up to Chukhung after dropping us off in Dingboche and tell Dave that Maureen was in good hands, and that he should continue his climb. In respect of the latter he had arranged for Maureen to go to Tengboche on her way down and to wait for the others at the lodge there. Dave would arrive on the 4th November, her birthday, in four days time, so that made her happy, and me too for her, as I felt guilty for leaving.

Our walk took about three hours to get to Dingboche, probably half or less than the time it took us to get up the same stretch some three or four days earlier. We walked again through the memorials at Thukla, which was again a very moving experience. It was still mid morning when we arrived at Dingboche, but Pasang advised us both to just rest and take it easy. It is amazing just how descending only around 600m can so rejuvenate you though. From feeling so dizzy up and above 5,000m, I now felt almost as if I could run a marathon – well maybe not quite, but you get my drift!

Arriving back in Dingboche, and my last view of Island Peak.

Once we were wettled in, Pasang trooped off back up the next valley to Chukkung, in order to make arrangements for both Maureen and I, and we stayed at the Friendship Lodge, the same tea house we had been to about three days previously on the way up. Pasang would all being well return later that evening with my climbing gear (which at this point in time was up at Island Peak having travelled thee by Yak). He would also talk to Ngima and Val about getting a porter to take my bags down the mountain, and make arrangements for me to stay in various lodges on the way. The remaining journey down should take about three days to get to Lukla. All being well they would be able to sort out an earlier departure for me on a plane, otherwise I would have a lot of hanging around to do, about four or five days worth in fact. I then had to think about how or if I might be able to change my flight back to the UK, but that could wait until the weekend – I had to get out of the Himalayas first.

My mind was now just on getting down to breathable air, and then to getting home. I spent the rest of the day just sitting around in a cold lodge and hoping that I would get a smooth and speedy trip back. Coming down would always be an anticlimax compared its the going up, but I felt a renewed sense of purpose, a new lease of life, a reason to be coming down. That kept me going.

The day was very odd compared to the days before. The lodge was empty apart from Mo and I, and instead of the challenge and excitement of Everest and all around her, it was all of a sudden just a quiet and almost eery experience. It was nice though, after expending so much energy, just to simply be able to take it easy. My thoughts though naturally turned to the others – they would be by now in Chukkung, and preparing to go to Island Peak Base Camp the next day.

In the evening, Pasang arrived back with Saroz, an Exodus assistant guide who we would be assigned to me alone to get me down the mountain. We would get up at 7am the next morning and (also armed with a porter to carry the bags) begin the trek to Tengboche, and that was great as far as I was concerned – it would get me another few thousand feet closer to the base of the Himalayas, and to air that I could breathe more readily. I would head to bed early and hopefully sleep really well………