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. ¬†They 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……