Himalayas Days 17 and 18, still in Lukla

So having decided not to fill blog posts up with boring days in Kathmandu, I have now skipped through to Sunday 6th November. Since I last wrote, which was Friday, my third day in Lukla, I spent all of Saturday and all of Sunday doing pretty much exactly what I had done on the three days before. Mornings were waiting for helicopters which never came, afternoons in Fakebucks getting a bit of wifi and catching up with the outside world (if very very very slowly, the connection was slower than any old dial-up I ever remember.

The weather however has been exactly the same, and it has rained with low cloud both days, which means that no aeroplanes whatsoever have landed here now for six days now.

The odd break in the clouds offers a bit of a glimpse of the runway.

This plane (the only one here) has been here since last Tuesday and not moved.

Then a few beers in the ‘Irish Pub’, and then back to base for the evening of sitting and listening to everyone else’s tales of how near and yet so far the helicopter that never came really was.

A good thing happened mid afternoon today (Sunday) however, in that the rest of the Island Peak Group made it down the mountain. I had already heard their summit news from Val, the excellent Exodus guide who had made it down to Lukla a day before them. So basically, my huge congratulations to each of Tony, Rob and Dave, who all successfully submitted Island Peak, all 6,189m of her, on 3rd November at about 7am. I am really looking forward to seeing their photographs from the top.

Of the others, Stefan had tried but had to turn back, and each of Bruce and Ben had decided that it would be too much, and did not set out. They all made it to high camp though at 5,600m, and the photos look stunning from there even. As I look back now and reflect, there was no way I would have made it to the top, not feeling the way that I did, and so I did the right thing with hindsight in coming down early. I feel much better for some days rest, despite the tedium of not getting out of Lukla. The mountain will still be there should I decide upon some later occasion to try again, so there is nothing lost for me.

So anyway, each of them, having picked Mo up where I had left her in Tengboche five days ago, made it down the mountain, somewhat wet due to the rain, and settled in to the North Face Resort for the night. They had already heard that Lukla was a.) full, and b.) closed to air traffic, so there were no surprises in store for them really when they got there. They unfortunately had to stay in tents too, which made me feel a little guilty as I still had my room, although my room was by now so damp that I wondered if a tent would actually be a much dryer place.

The view down the mountain from Lukla, the tents in the foreground the sleeping quarters for the Island Peak returnees.

We celebrated everyone’s ‘coming down the moutnain’ in the Irish Pub, and then back at the Lodge in the evening we did the tipping ceremony. It is customary on these trips to pay your porters and guides to thank them for their support whilst out on the mountain. Each of us put in approximately US$100, and so they all seemed pretty happy with their share of the spoils, presented to them with appropriate aplomb by Bruce. We also bought them two bottles of the local rum, Kukira, which they duly despatched between them inside about an hour. Bruce and I had some of this noxious fluid also in a hot chocolate, and that was sufficient to give me rather a thumping head in the morning – I thought it was AMS all over again for an instant!

The forecast is much better for tomorrow, and so there are hopes of getting some of us out of here. There were significant gaps in the clouds at times today for the first time, and tomorrow could apparently even be a sunny day. Here’s hoping………

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………