Day 3: The “Acclimatisation” Day
Namchee Bazaar (3440m) → Everest View Hotel (3880m) → Khumjung Village → Namchee
Morning, and I was first awake and down to the main room where I spotted a bunch of laundry, largely (but not exclusively) socks, laid out to dry on the yak-dung-burning stove.
Of course, as you will have already guessed, they were my socks. On the downside, the stove wasn't lit, so nothing was all that dry. Nonetheless, the proprietress emerged to gather up my pants &c., and also offered me tea. Masala tea! I'd like to say it never got old, but really it just took a long while to get old.
The Austrians whom I previously misidentified as Germans were next down, and I talked with them about their development work here. Turned out they both have day jobs, and do this stuff on their holidays! They originally came here for one project, then just kept coming, and fell in love with the country and now have two godchildren here. Dawa (the other Mountain Monarch guide) came down and greeted them in excellent German. Then we were joined by a stranded, older, Canadian man by which I think I mean that he got dinged by AMS and had to stay behind while his trekking group went up. He had a big puffy white beard and a ponytail.
Darby appeared, and Dawa took our breakfast orders. I broke down and checked my phone for five minutes, noting the power was down to 28%. As mentioned, and as I mentioned then to Darby, I'd been avoiding charging it so as to avoid looking at it, and instead be where was I actually at. And where I'd gone to some trouble to get to.
Being up in the mountains makes everything amazing. I reflected that I'd hardly touched my ginormous bag of custom trail mix. We were getting fed well. Still, it was mountain food, mostly starchy densely caloric stuff. I decided I needed to try to eat lighter/greener at meals, and top up calories as necessary with healthy nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Because f*&^ white flour products.
In further conversation, it turned out that all three Austrians and Canadian had been here during the earthquake! The Canadian ended up holed up at the British Embassy. A Turkish Airlines flight had crashed at the airport meaning international air travel was basically closed out. All of them had some harrowing stories. The Embassy parcelled everyone out, sending the Canadian folks to the AMA which the Americans hired guys from the Nepalese police to guard. So here are these Nepalese people, who have lost houses, family members, whole schools… and they're put to work guarding Westerners. Our Canadian guy went out on his own volition into Durbar Square to try to help with search and rescue. But… it was just extracting dead bodies.
Me: “Or the guilt of one who holds a Western passport. Get out of Hell free card, just extract.”
But then it was time for us to get (a bit) out of Dodge (albeit we'd be coming right back). As previously noted, this was an acclimatisation day we'd gone from 1440m (Kathmandu) to 3440m in two days, which was a hell of an elevation gain. One of the tricks of the acclimatisation trade is to hang around at higher altitude, or trek around at the same altitude and, as we were about to discover, this was a hell of an area to just trek around in. Another is to always sleep a bit lower than your highest point on the day, so we were going to be climbing up to 3880m, and hanging out there for a bit, then coming back down. Along the way, we'd also see some amazing stuff, including the delightful Khumjung Village. And it was a gorgeous day for it. The main reason one treks this region SepNov is the blemishless skies you see below, riven by the snowy 8km peaks (and many more 6km+ ones).
You'll recall Namchee sits down in a bowl. You may also recall that Fujijilm cameras, which I favour, produce just gorgeous shots in really good light. (Less gorgeous in less good light…)
We were working hard and panting but what a setting to do it in! That twin peak that overlooks Namchee is called Kongde Ri. It's over 6km. We all heard a faint rumbling from somewhere. Guess who spotted it.
Basically, there are only two ways up here (or down again): on foot, or by helo. And don't count on the helo. More on that later.
Aakash made a drinking motion at me from down below. (Hydration is also a critical part of acclimatisation.) He then suggested we grab a rack in the sun and acclimatise. (The laziest guide in Nepal never missed a chance to remind us that “doing nothing [at altitude] is acclimatising.”)
Aakash: “You already have seven or eight favourite spots on this trip.”
Me: “And we haven't even gotten to the good part.”
Behind, and way down below us, we could make out two stupas and a schoolyard. Students lined up in ranks and sang the national anthem, which floated up to us there on the heights.
But the path beckoned us on, and we still had a lot of ground and elevation to cover. And we weren't getting air transport. But sometimes you don't need it. Because, then:
Yep, big ole boulder on side of the trail, just beckoning me to scramble up it. Boy's own adventures. On top of to Darby's heroic shots of ME!, I got some very cool ones myself from up top.
My perch also provided a decent aerial view of the Dud Khosi river valley we just walked up that. Scrambling down and catching the others up again, I reflected:
You can finally see Darby's Darby-mounted solar panel out today. Good charging day, I suppose. And she's come a long way from buns.
That absurdly vertiginous peak in front of Aakash above, and then in close-up is Ama Dablam. It's got real drama. And, at 6812m, it dominates the eastern skyline for trekkers to EBC.
You can see the oglers in the first photo above, up on the hill to the right. In the third, the close-up, you can see Everest on the left, snow blowing off her summit, with Lhotse in the middle, and of course Aba Dablam on the right.
From up on this hotel's hill, we also got such a good view back down the valley, we could just make out the red roofs of the Sagarmatha National Park entrance we had passed through.
As we carried on contouring the side of this little hill, I felt my adductor muscle start to nontrivially complain in the wake of having felt it sharply twinge when I went leaping up that damned boulder on the side of the trail. Regular readers may recall that I tore the ever-living hell out of my groin, trying out Crossfit, six weeks before Nepal, because I'm an idiot; and for a while couldn't even hobble ten steps to the bathroom without howling in pain. With the help of a sports physio genius, I recovered and retrained in time for this trek (just). But, because I was clearly still an idiot, I decided it wasn't enough to trek the three high passes of Everest but I also had to go clambering up every damned steep thing on the side of the damned trail.
Obviously, I needed to focus on staying healthy and completing the trek. Not least since all three passes, and all three peaks we were going to ascend, still lay ahead of us…
Deeply unsurprisingly, in the last stretch, there were some hills playfully, Aakash went sprinting up them, shouting at us to keep up. On the last one nearly instantly throwing my newfound caution to the wind I took off after him. We reached the crest, turned, and saw a very bemused Darby plodding up from below. She said something about trying to figure out what the hell we were doing.
Darby: “You act as if sexual access to me were on offer.”
Me: “Hey, I'm sure neither of us has any conscious designs on you. But these things are hardwired very deep.”
Darby took this occasion to remind us that just as on the Coast-to-Coast she was in possession of all the sharp sticks in the group (namely her trekking poles). And at last, finally, our first and main destination: the world-famous Everest View Hotel!
As you can see above, they had a number of blandishments, starting with their world-famous Everest-view dining patio, as well as a clever 3D topographical map that allowed us to put ourselves in the picture. Moreover, I finally got around to calibrating the altimeter on my new watch, from a known elevation.
This, a new lifetime elevation record for Darby and me both, was 11,090ft if you're keeping track at home in America. Busting into our celebratory mood, Aakash busted out with the same damned Pink Floyd song he'd been singing across pretty much the entire trek so far.
Me: “You know what Mark would say it's time to break out the Mental Saltine! ROXXX-ANNNEEE!!!”
Giggling and falsetto-ing, we repaired to the world's best-sited al fresco cafe.
Me: “I love this trip.”
Darby raved about how the masala tea was different everywhere we went. Aakash explained that they put in different things: ginger, cloves, cardamom.
We sat in the glorious sunlight, making plans to buy more sun goop back in the bazaar, watching other lucky bastards drink Everest-brand beer, and regarding the crazy-ass peaks that perched all around us.
Aakash: “Many times.”
Me: “How? Ice axes and crampons, I guess…”
Aakash: “And ropes, and…”
Me: “I guess they've all been climbed by now.”
Aakash: “A group came back from climbing Aba Dablam yesterday. It's a very technical mountain as you can see.”
Me: <reclining and sighing> “I like acclimatising…”
But finally, alas, it was time to go. As we got up and got our stuff togther, we could see the Kongde Hotel just across the way, which was even higher, at 4100m. Aakash explained it was a luxury hotel, with electrically heated blankets plus oxygen. It cost $200/night, pretty pricey in these parts, but also included meals. Aakash turned to see Darby was still organising herself.
Darby: “If you wanted to move fast, you shouldn't have brought me along.”
Me: “I bet Pradip was like, ‘Hey, Aakash, we've got this babe, why don't you take it?’ And Aakash was like, ‘Ooh, it's Darby, don't think so.’”
Darby: “I make up for it by going far.”
Aakash: <still waiting, resignedly> “I've had worse than you.”
Our next and last destination on the day was Khumjung Village. The walk there didn't disappoint.
Aakash: “It's my favourite town in the whole area.”
Inevitably, of course, we had to climb back up out of the village center to get to our lunch stop.
Aakash: “Normally I wouldn't tell you. Five minutes.”
But then into the teahouse! Aakash reported MM groups stay here on their regular treks (versus the private one we'd put together).
So the folks who ran this joint were not only Buddhists, but also Sherpas, and most Sherpa people are vegetarian. So here I got to tuck into my first Sherpa stew. Yummers! Also, the chapatis, which are baked here obviously; where the hell else? were amazing. And, like virtually all teahouses, it had a little shop, which I compulsively checked out.
Darby: “But Aakash is doing such a good job of keeping us fed.”
Me: “Yes. I suppose we need have no anxiety on that count.”
I noticed a wicker basket full of dark hockey pucks on top of the iron stove in the middle of the room. As I think previously mentioned, this whole region is way above the treeline; and way far off any electricity grid. So, not only can things only be moved around by human or yak power, but pretty much the only way to generate heat is to burn dried yak dung. This place also had a very special toilet, the sort of which we'd see a lot more of: it had no water tank, but just a big bucket of water, with a scoop, beside. You had to scoop enough water into the bowl to manually flush the thing.
Heating and plumbing fixtures aside, it was a cracking place, and I thanked Aakash for bringing us here. He demurred, saying that despite having been here a hundred times, it still made him so happy and excited.
We finally geared up, stepping out to where the Sherpa-run teahouse overlooked the whole lovely village. This alone would have made the climb up here worth it, if the teahouse itself already hadn't.
We passed a very active construction site, the construction techniques of which fascinated the engineer on our trek. We also met the one-man local concrete industry, breaking rocks into gravel and then into powder, by hand. I paid him 100 rupees for the photo I took.
We saw a huge, amazing stupa out in the open; then walked across a large open football pitch, part of the Khumjung Secondary School, which was founded by Sir Edmund Hilary. Apparently lots of people volunteer to come teach here; and it's free for all students.
And then, of course, there was nothing left but to climb ourselves the heck out of Dodge!
After the climb out, we stopped at a hilltop stupa. I looked up into the colourful flapping in the breeze and noticed for the first time that prayer flags… have prayers on them. Who knew?
Aakash also took us by a yak farm.
Me: “Freedom for yaks!”
We passed Syangboche Airport or what was intended to be that. While it was still under construction, the guys who run Lukla protested, and so now it's just used for big helos bringing in construction materials. They also evidently have an Annual Everest Skydive from helos, the jumpers landing on this airstrip.
The end of our loop back afforded some excellent views.
Me: “Ah that's the Namchee Bazaar I recognise from the photos.”
Darby: “Now you know where they take all those photos from.”
Me: “Man. On any other trip, this would have been a gigantic day. Here, it's just a little circular ramble.”
Darby: “Like we just popped out for lunch.”
Aakash: “And that concludes our rest day.”
And thus back to the guesthouse.
Because I stupidly relied on memory (rather than reliable memory protheses, like computers or notebooks), I mistakenly reported previously that yesterday we had our shopping trip to purchase last items from the bazaar before the shit-gets-real part of the trek, while there was still any prayer of purchasing them. But, actually, that was today. Here's the Namchee shop of the amazing Sherpa Adventure Gear folks! Including the hat I bought, and the poor employee I effused at.
And here's the everything store where we bought shower shoes, notebooks, postcards, more food (dark chocolate w/almonds in my case!) and other sundries plus Darby dodging a yak in the street. (Namchee! Jesus.)
Thence we repaired to the nice local coffee shop where they had proper coffee. On the tv overhead, they had (presumably on a loop) a documentary about Everest summit attempts.
Finally, on our walk back to the guesthouse, a woman darted out of a shop and called to a man, in a sharp Cockney accent: “Dave, they've got Haribo in there, as well!”