Lobuche East Island Peak
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This is a detailed account of the full 32 day mountaineering expedition to Lobuche East and Island Peak, two of Nepal's 6000 metre "Trekking Peaks" It is a long (26,000 words and personal account)
20 Years ago I was introduced to Christine and Margaret Gee who had recently started a company called Australian Himalayan Expeditions. It was one of the world’s first adventure tourism companies, that at the time, specialised in treks to
Both the ocean and the Mountains are special places in my mind as they both have life and a spirit that gives them both beauty. They are both unforgiven environments that demand respect and those who ignore their power often pay the ultimate price. Over the intervening years I had visited the European Alps, in
As day broke today, I was finally going to satisfy a 20-year dream to visit one off the most special places on this Earth. Not only was I going to visit the Kingdom of Nepal and the mighty and majestic Himalayan range, but I was going to attempt to climb a couple of small peaks, something that back in March I wasn’t even contemplating.
A midnight flight meant that today was going to a long one as the excitement built.
Finally at 11:45pm we boarded and settled in for the nine and a half hours to
International flying has both its ups and downs, and not in the literal sense. The waiting around airports is a pain but a necessary evil, however, there is a majesty in transcontinental flight. After dinner I was relaxed thinking of what lay ahead. The night was dark, but the moon was full. Its glint was shining on the wing gently highlighting the perfectly straight lines if rivets. Below the sky was overcast, and subtle shapes of the clouds seemed to dance in the moonlight. Superimposed on the white hue of the moon is the gentle but ever steady red flash of the strobe. It is funny how little things can bring back memories and my mind wondered back to my childhood and the many flights to
At this point the Sun finally rises over the horizon and we begin our descent into
At 11:00 am our flight was delayed. The joys of international flight. The waiting finally got the better of Louis and I and we had a quiet beer will we waited. At 1:00pm, after a 7 hour transit stop we finally left for the 2 hour 45 minute flight to
The mountains disappeared toward the front of the plane as we turned inbound to
As we taxied into the Kathmandu terminal building it was as if time had stopped, or rather the march of time had forgotten about the
From the rarefied air of aircraft and terminals we had arrived in
The hustle and bustle of the city was replaced by the serenity of the Raddison Hotel. Again like the first impressions of the airport, this place was in another time warp, but to the days of colonial
It amazing what a good nights sleep can do! Woke to a beautiful 24 degrees with a light mist covering the
After breakfast the group headed off towards Bordanath to be blessed for its upcoming expedition. The blessing was done in a Nepalese house by a tradition Lama. Each participant was given a small red string necklace. The power of the necklace was in the knot that tied it together. It addition we each had a friendship scarf (Kata) which we presented to the Lama for a blessing. The group as a whole presented three prayer flags, one would be left at the base camp for Lobuche East and the other two on each of the summits that would attempt.
After our blessing we proceeded into the hustle of the outer
Arriving back at the Raddison we headed off to explore the Thamel area for the rest of the morning. Thamel is amazing, a labyrinth of tiny streets that twist and turn. Ever sort of ware and article of clothing is contained within its tiny streets. The place is alive with people and traffic. Apart from the locals the people are clearly trekkers either on their way into the hills or relaxing on their return. It is almost impossible to describe the energy of this place. Apart from the plentiful nick naks, gear is also in abundance, especially the cheap Chinese copies of the big American brands. If I was doing another trip I think I would buy some of my gear here especially the stuff that you might only use on one trip of a lifetime.
Tomorrow it all begins with the flight to Lukla, with us being up by 5:30 for an 8:30 flight.
After our wakeup call at 5:30 and a quick breakfast were on the bus by 7:00 for the journey to the airport. If I thought that the international terminal was a step back in time the domestic terminal was something else. There were people everywhere. It was about now that I appreciated the fact that we were on an organised trip. I would have hated to arrive at this place on my own and tried to negotiate what can only be described as chaos. Somehow through all of this our bags were loaded and we made our way through the security checks. Those checks themselves are interesting and it became a game of negotiating skill to see how low the bride would be. Not serious stuff but it involves a handful of chocolates or a pen or an Australian coin, as long as something is parted with. Once inside the terminal waiting room the waiting started. Almost without warning we were whisked through yet another security check and on another bus for the short ride across to the loading area for Yeti airlines, to wait for the arrival of Flight “T”. The twin otter soon arrived having already completed its first flight of the day. The turnaround was run with precision, which was a surprise given the chaos of the terminal. As we crammed into the tiny plane with out backpacks across our laps, almost up to our chests one couldn’t help but laugh at what Australian safety officials would think of this! Through the clutter in the cabin the hostess made her way up the isle to hand out sweets and cotton wool for the ears. The engines were already running and were off. The little windows were scratched and stained from the years of operating on the dusty little strips. As we progressed into the hills the mountains got closer and bigger. While it may seem strange you have to remember that all Himalayan expeditions start the same way and I guess the level of excitement was building quickly. Just looking out the window at the awe inspiring sight you couldn’t help but be excited, after all this is the roof of the world. While that might sound corny, it is not until you see it that you understand the expression. It is not just the mountains with the white stuff on top but it is the beautiful valleys that pass beneath and the rugged cliffs that the wing tips seem to scape as you fly pass. The shear power of Mother Nature as she created this is clearly visible wherever you look, but is starkly contrasted by the delicate way the clouds wisp through the valleys seemly soothing the rugged outlines of the rock. Out little plane weaves its way around the clouds and even at 12,000 feet we seem to be low flying! As we turn into the Lukla valley the tiny runway is visible in the distance through the cockpit window. It looks awfully short with a solid wall of rock towering above it at the far end. With a deft touch we land and taxi to the terminal and with the same precision as in
Standing on the rock wall at the far end of the strip another thing hits you in the eye, and that is the vivid blue of the tin roofs of the buildings. For a poor country its residents as obviously intensely proud people. Lukla is an obvious starting point for trekkers. The town is full of gear shops and gear rental establishments. Porters stand waiting for the next group to arrive in the hope of finding work for the next few days, some are lucky but on this day most people are obviously pre organised. The other strange thing about the town are the chickens running around the streets. Not just any ordinary chickens but a deep vivid orange brown chicken that seems to shine as if it had just been to the best hairdresser in Melbourne. Having done our brief tour we returned to the Sherpa Inn just in time for lunch. Expectation was now high it was
time to start the adventure, as the porters left with the bags. We settled down for lunch and our significant change of diet! Lunch consisted of spam, tomato and cheese sandwiches, coleslaw and chips
At 1:00pm we started our descent into the mighty
The campsite was associated with a physical camp building and we were lucky to be able to use the dining hall for our first night. It was over diner that you first got a taste for the tradition that surrounds these expeditions. A set of traditions that clearly date back to the first British expeditions to
Inexperience started to show in dramatic way early in the piece. Going to sleep last night we put our sleeping bag inner in the bag and crawled in. The bags were 1100 grams of down and clearly are designed for high altitude temperatures. Within half an hour the liner was out, clothed were off and the bag unzipped, still it was unbelievable hot! The gentle sounds of the river that I thought would put us to sleep were more like a freight train. Morning could not come soon enough! At six o’clock another tradition of the expedition was started. Two of the kitchen boys came around to the tents with “bed tea”, a Nepalese tea consisting of a weak milk tea with sugar and cinnamon. It was soon followed by a bowl of hot washing water. Breakfast would be served at 7:00 and in the meantime we were supposed to be packed so that the porters could make their start for the day. The first pack up would be frantic, as we progressed into the trek we became far more organised and quick. Packing two full sized kit bags inside a two-man tent was an interesting experience. Speaking of interesting experiences, last night was our first encounter with the “eastern toilet” At least this one was in a shed but still only consisted of a set of floorboards with a strategically place hole in the middle. Having been 20 or more years since I last squatted it tested the knee muscles more than the hiking to date! I guess it doesn’t matter who are in life, the three great levellers of human society are the fact that each of us needs to eat shit and sleep and no amount of money status or ego will ever change that.
The setting for breakfast was idyllic on the banks of the
We were on the trail by 8:00 for a relatively short day to the town of
At the base of the final climb into Monjo, we crossed a stream, raging river in “Victorian” terms on the banks of which was a small village hydroelectric unit. Everything was hand made from the shed built of stone again to the network of hand laid channels that directed the water. The final climb into Monjo was short but steep. One thing that we didn’t expect was the number of steps laid of stone. Steep paths are one thing but step after step is another. There is another lesson in preparation for these trips find lots of steps and walk up and down them! Monjo is a small village nestled into the side of the cliff. The small village houses are nestled along the main trail that runs through the middle of the town. Out campsite is right in the middle of the town right on the edge of the trail and opposite a couple of local houses. The paddock is actually the local Yak paddock. AS with yesterday the Sherpas quickly put the camp together and we have plenty of time to establish ourselves, as the afternoon is free time. AS with yesterday the passing trade of trekkers and yaks is fascinating. Trekkers are all nationalities. But there seems to be a domination of East German and French at this time of the year. Some are clearly enjoying their surroundings and are open and friendly, while others are doggedly determined, don’t appear to notice their surrounds at all, and don’t readily acknowledge others. One can’t help but notice the surroundings, especially as the curious local children wander up for a look at us and our camp. Children are the same the world over, untouched by ego, just curious and themselves content to play and look. At 4:00pm afternoon tea was served. Afternoon tea was either tea or hot chocolate and biscuits. Already our appetites are growing and we all scoffed a least four sweet biscuits and a couple of mugs of hot chocolate. Even though the chocolate was made from powered milk it seemed to taste good. As with last night the cloud had rolled in and the Light was fading. Monjo with its steep surrounds had a different feel. As the clouds filled the valleys and rolled in through the high stands of trees the valley took on a mystical feel. Some very special, even spiritual seems to be associated with this region; it was almost as if the valley had an “energy” of its own that pervaded a soothing influence over the people within it.
It was dark by 6:00 and we all gathered around the mess tent for dinner. As an aside you could always tell when dinner was near from the sound of the kero pressure stoves lighting up. Dinner tonight started with cream of vegetable soup, laced with garlic, followed by spaghetti, pizza and pappadams, with apple pie for desert. Tonight we were all in bed by eight.
Up at six for Sherpa tea and breakfast. Today is a big day as we enter the national park and climb to Namchee Baazar, at vertical rise of 700 metres. After following the
After lunch we started on another short walk, a further 200 vertical metres to the airstrip that was built for the Everest view hotel. The walk was part of our acclimatisation. The story of the airstrip is interesting in itself. It was built to service a wealthy market of people who wanted to fly into the Everest View hotel for a look at Everest and fly back out. At 3700 metres it proved to be a too greater strain on the body and after a few deaths, most people spent most of their stay on oxygen. Today the airstrip is seldom used for paying passengers.
For the first time on the trip I hadn’t cooked during the night and also had a good nights sleep. I was up early to catch the sunrise on Kongde. It was rewarding as a the red glow started on the top ridge and gradually worked its way down the face. It was as if the giant mountain was slowly awaking to watch over Namchee for another day. The silence of the cold morning dawn was interrupted only by the rhythm of the click, click, click, the sound of the stonemasons at work on a new lodge just down the hill. They were up early and would work until the sunset carefully chipping away at stones for the walls. It was a back breaking and tedious occupation, which we would learn later, is largely done by Indian workers imported to do the work. Almost all of the lodges are own by local Sherpa families as there is no foreign property ownership allowed in the
I say majestic because it is such an elegant mountain standing almost as a sentinel over the Kumbu valley. Unlike Everest, which was also visible, Ama Dablam stands on its own like an island, its shape both daunting and inviting. From this angle the normal climbing route of the southwest ridge and northeast face was clearly visible.
The balcony of the Everest View hotel was a magnificent place for morning tea. On the right were the faces of Kang Tega East and West, in front Ama Dablam, and to the left Everest and the magnificent south face of
After lunch we walked down the hill into Namchee to look at the stalls and the market. The stalls were full of all sorts of local handy crafts but the hats and scares made of yak wool were the standouts. The market was definitely for the locals consisting mainly of clothing and
Again woke early to view the sunrise over Kongde. It was not as spectacular this time with just a soft white light, non-of the beautiful redness from yesterday. It was also far colder. After breakfast we started our long days trek to Phortse. Today would be our first full 8-hour day. Leaving Namchee we traversed around the hill we had climbed the day before. It wasn’t long before we were again rewarded with the view of the magnificent Ama Dablam. By the end of the trek we would see the mountain from three of its four sides. The weather was almost becoming monotonous; lulling us into a false sense of security as it would turn out later, with clear blue skies and a light wind. The chill of the morning had gone and it was pleasant walking in tee shirts and shorts. We were on the main trail so the grades were relatively easy and traffic was steady in both directions. I was still surprised by the lack of chat between the groups; everyone was just intent on their walking. Even within our own group, there was the group who wanted to treat the trek as a race from camp to camp. Their objective seems to be only bagging the peaks they had come for. Their pace gave them little time to soak in the surroundings. On the other hand there was a small group were clearly in awe of the country. It wasn’t just the photo opportunities but around every corner you help but stop and soak in the countryside. The valley was steepening and way below on our right was the Dudh Koshi. We proceeded to the little town of
From Sangnasa we, left the main Everest base camp trekking route and continued on a long steady assent to our lunch spot at Mongo on top of the
The morning ritual continued, up at 6 for Sherpa Tea, breakfast at 7 and on the trail by eight. We were getting our routine on order now and were packing quickly in the morning. We were now on the far less travelled east bank of the Koshi river on route to Gokyo. Today would be relatively short as we climbed another 400 metres, and we would be in camp by lunchtime. The Gokyo valley can be a trap for the unwary. You climb relatively quickly and unless you keep the days short you can gain altitude too quickly. The villages on this side of the valley are traditional Sherpa villages mainly of herdsman. The stonework continues to amaze, but this time it is more practical and traditional. The architecture makes use of every stone face it can to minimise building. Houses are invariably built off on existing rock. The doors are unbelievable small. None could enter standing.
Our first stop this morning was at a small Chorten on a saddle. It is from here that we got our first glimpse of the full Gokyo valley and
This morning was cold. We were deep in the shadows of the valley and would not see the sun until we climbed back to the main path. The tent this morning was frosty on the inside, but our kit bags keep the sleeping bags clear of the sides. From our camp site we climber straight up 100 lung busting vertical metres to rejoin the path. The sun finally made its appearance and we began to thaw out. Passing through the two small towns of Tsom Og and Tsong Teng the stone work continued to amaze. I would love to know how these people make a living in this part of the world. This time of the year the Yak dung has been collected and is carefully placed on top of the stone walls to dry in the sun. The Yak Dung is the main form of heating fuel these days as most of the forests have been depleted. The Nepalese government is clearly trying to do something about this with major reforestation projects under way throughout the valleys. Beyond the valleys we descend slightly to the Naktok Khola before a massive climb to our campsite for the next couple of nights. Our campsite is at 4780 metres. The effects of the thin air are already starting to take its affects. Several of the group are already on Daimox to combat the affects of altitude.
The campsite itself is out of this world sited right the lateral moraine of the Ngozumbu Glacier. Having studied glaciers at University level geography to stand on the site of
The food again was good, after the standard garlic laced soup, it was more pasta, pizza, fresh cauliflower and custard for desert. It was cold in the mess tent and everyone retired to their tents by 7:00. At late start tomorrow meant that bed tea wasn’t till 7:00. They are very long nights up here. The bags and the tents are warm but the level of clothes warn in bed is increasing. Tonight was the first time I wore a thermal top to bed.
Tea arrived at 7:00 with breakfast at 8:00.It was a pleasure not to have to go through the packing routine for a change. We had a leisurely morning around camp before an early lunch at eleven. Today we would cross the glacier and climb
After a short break we started our climb of
Even if you went home from here you would feel very privileged indeed. As we headed down I kept the video camera rolling to capture the last moments of the colour. The descent in the fading light was difficult and extremely hard on the knees. At about ¾ of the way down it was too dark to see so we broke out the headlamps to pick our way down. The light was enough to follow the path along with the expert advice of Dendi. At Gokyo the remaining Sherpas led by Tika were waiting for us with thermoses of hot lemon and energy biscuits. It was a short break as by now it was extremely cold and we still had a long way to go. The trek across the glacier was even more difficult than in daylight with an extremely uneven surface and loose at times steep terrain. The sections of stones, eight to ten inches in diameter were especially hard. The night was dark, with no moon, it was our first experience with walking with headlamps and it was 8 hours since we left camp. Our legs were heavy and it was effort not to trip as we trudged on. Like all journeys of this kind there is that wall that you tend to hit. On this trip it has occurred three times. The trick, if you can call it that, is to ignore the tiredness, and the body saying enough is enough. There are times where the mind joins the chorus. Especially this day, as we were so far out of our normal comfort zone. It is surprising though, that once you break through that barrier the body just seems to be able to keep going. I have said it before. But if the average person, you know the one that complains about everything, really visited a place like this it would be amazing how much could get done in the world. During the crossing there were some interesting moments. One in particular was as we traversed a ridge. On the left side the ground seemed to vanish into a void. Our lights, even of high, could not penetrate the blackness. We picked up a couple of stones and threw them over the edge. None heard them land. I still wonder just far it dropped away! Finally at 9:30 we stumbled into camp. Remember we were used to going to bed at 7:00! After a quick change of fleece about half of us met back at the mess tent for dinner. For the others, the day had proved too much and they went off to bed. The day had been just short of 10 hours and we had climbed to 5500 metres. I was tired but felt ok. The training routine had clearly started to pay off. The diners are a continual surprise, this time it was pasta, a samosa thingy filled with mash potato and some form of curried bean, finishing with a strawberry jelly for desert. It had been along day and probably a touch dangerous given the lack of definition that surrounded the trail, which had apparently deteriorated markedly in the last four months. The sherpas did a magnificent job in guiding us back home especially when joined by those from camp when it was apparent that the group were late and the path was hard to find. With path being so ill defined we wasted a lot of time on the way over which made it a rush to reach the summit of Gokyo on time, still the view of Everest and Makalu in most stunning colours made it worthwhile. It is one of those experiences that I am sure I will never forget, and it was one of those experiences in life that you really had to earn.
After yesterday, today is a scheduled rest day. It was a lazy start with tea served in the mess tent from 7:00 Breakfast wasn’t served until 9:00 and with no packing again it was a very leisurely morning, by Himalayan standards. The morning was spent fitting crampons to our boots and going through the basics of rope work. After lunch we moved to a small slope and covered the used of the ascenders and prusik friction knots for down climbing. Our final session was the use of prusik loops for crevass self rescue. The mood of the mountains was changing, with the wind high on
We awoke to sound of snow still falling on the tent. There is nothing quite like that sound. And somehow makes you feel good to be alive. Upon opening the flap for the morning Sherpa Tea we were greeted by a blanket of white, with at least six inches of snow on the ground. The place had been transformed into a fairyland of white. At breakfast it was agreed that there would be an early lunch and we would decide then wether to push on the high camp below the Cho La at 5100m or wether we would stay put here for another day. At 11:00 the decision was made to stay rather than risk a move to high altitude in bad weather. The decision was made not only for our benefit but also for the welfare and safety of the porters.
After lunch Sandra we continued to explore the Glacier. At about 3:00 p.m. the snow started to fall again and everyone retreated to their tents to read or write up their journals. Dinner was at 6:30. Tonight was soup, cheese potatoes, curried vegetables and curry puffs, followed by cherries for desert. The night was relatively warm with a thick cloud cover and the light falling snow. Through the night the snow became a lot heavier and twice the Sherpas were up banging the snow off the tents to ensure that they didn’t collapse under the weight. With this weather continuing it was looking less likely that we would be moving tomorrow.
Tea arrived at 7:00, and this time the scene outside did look like a wintry wonderland. There was at least a foot of snow outside and the Sherpas were busy with the snow shovels clearing the snow away from the tent walls and clearing paths to the mess tent. After breakfast we walked up the Cho La passage route as an acclimatisation exercise to an altitude of 5050 metres. For the first time on the trip we got out our Gore-Tex coats and pants that had been gathering dust in the bottom of our backpacks. I was disappointed with the level of waterproofing of my boots despite the treatment I had given them back home. They got quite waterlogged but they didn’t actually get wet through. It was a very pleasant walk although the snow was not hard packed and it hid rocks and holes just below the surface, which required an added degree of care. As we walked the snow continued to fall. We followed the stream for most of the way. It was very picturesque with the rocks covered with a cap of snow. Picture taking was difficult with snowflakes continually landing on the lens but hopefully I captured the mood. The flakes of snow are so unlike
The night continued to be clear and relatively warm. The skies are so clear up here that the stars seem to hang in front of you so large and bright that you feel you can just reach out and grab one. The constellations however are all unfamiliar. The shooting stars are also novel as you can see them all even the faints ones that are normally lost to the bright city lights. I the hour that I stood and watched I counted thirty. While I said it was warm it was not that warm and I retreated to the tent and bed.
We awoke to the first sunny morning in a long time; however, there was a thick black row of clouds down in the valley below. At breakfast it was agreed that we would wait an hour and decide what we would do. A team member wasn’t well again this morning after having spent an hour in the PSC bag yesterday afternoon. Today he was beginning to slur his words, a sign, of acute mountain sickness. With the clouds indeed thickening, and his condition getting worse it was decided that we would abandon our attempt of Cho La and head the long way around back by Phortse. The day would be a long one as it had taken two days to climb up here and now we would descend the 1000 metres in a day. The trip back was more breathtaking than the one coming up with the valley now white. All of the stone fences were covering with a hat of snow and the paddocks all white contrasted superbly with the dark greys of the stone walls and houses. The extent of the snowfalls were clearly visible as a stark snowline along the valley wall. I probably used more film going down than I did coming up.
Just after leaving camp our team members condition got worse with a now confirmed case of HACE. He would have to make his way on foot another four hours down to Phortse and weight for a chopper tomorrow.
After lunch Dendi was despatched to Namchee to organise a rescue helicopter to meet us at Phortse tomorrow morning. After lunch we continued down the valley. The weather got worst with snow again starting to fall. It got heavier throughout the afternoon and we arrived at our campsite just after dark. Being such a long day we were well ahead of the porters. Next to the camp sit was a small stone house that had the camp kitchen annexured to it. The house was a bit of a trading post for trekking groups and contained supplies of every description. The Sherpa family invited us in while we waited for our tents and dinner. The house was typical of all Sherpa village houses. At one end was the fire place/stove and around the room bench seats covered with ornate woven rugs. In front small tables to place things on. The walls were covered with shelves with all of the trekking items. The roof was lining was blue plastic sugar bag material and the floor earth. Being such a long day and loosing altitude we all participated in a beer or two, and generally chilled out. The last of the party arrived about an hour later, still looking worst for where but ok.
Half way through our dinner, the woman of the house put her two small children to bed on the benches in amongst the group. Both just snuggled into their blankets and went straight off to sleep. Here is a family with, by our standards, nothing happy in the life that they have. I still have to wonder just how much affluence, takes away from the true meaning of life.
After dinner a subdued group headed off to bed hoping that Dendi that made it successfully to Namchee and that the rescue chopper was indeed on its way tomorrow.
An early morning saw us up at six for another major walk up the traditional Everest Base Camp valley but on the other side of the valley to the main trail. As we climbed out of Phortse, our spirits were lifted by the sound of a chopper in the distant valley. The sound grew closer and soon the white chopper with the distinctive two blue sashes on its fuselage came into view. It seemed to pass Phortse and continue up the valley before it doubled back and landing in a field on the edge of town. The group stopped on top of the hill and waited till our team member was safely on board and the chopper took off on its way back to
Kathmandu. The chopper ride is $US 3000!
As we rounded the next corner we were greeted by Ama Dablam once again. Even through Everest was also there is something about that mountain. The Tengboche Monastery sat on its own ridge on the opposite side of the valley which we would pass through on our way home. At this point our walking was easy and I started to reflect on the last few days. So far this trip was far more than I expected to it to be and we still had out two major targets ahead.
Our path took us up the valley to Pangboche for lunch. Our picnic spot was again majestic on the outskirts of town looking straight at Kang Tega East and West. Both of those faces are still unclimbed and looking at them from this distance it is not hard to see why. They are so close that you feel you could start an avalanche with your trekking pole.
During the morning Dendi had caught the group and joined us for lunch. What an effort!
After lunch we proceeded through Pangboche and unlike the remote Sherpa villages we had come from it was obvious that were back on the main trekker trail. Pangboche was well laid out with neat house, lodges and shops and was clearly more affluence and reliant on the tourism dollar.
From Pangboche we continued up the valley which became narrower and more rugged. The Imja Drengha twisted through the remnant glacial moraine and made a great picture against its almost shear valley sides. At the tiny
we veered left for our final destination of Pheriche. Just above the town is a saddle with a Chorten. From here we got our first good look at Lobuche East. From this angle the mountain looked daunting and for the first time my spine actually tingled with the realisation that we were actually going to climb it. Pheriche is quite a large town again being on the main route to Everest Base camp. If is also the site of the high altitude medical centre. village of Tsuro Og
Our campsite was right in the middle of town with the back of it looking out over Lobuche East. From the here the mountain didn’t look any better. The night was getting cold so we ate in the lodge dining room out of the cold. Our kitchen staff would still did the cooking. The inside of the lodge was quaint lined in plywood and in the middle of the floor was a bid yak dung heater that churned out delightful warmth. The views out of the back of the dining room were grand. The sun was setting over Ama Dablam, which was a stunning way to end the day. At least here we had indoor ceramic toilet, even it was an “eastern type” This was the first time we had come across a ceramic bowel set into the concrete floor with a separate tin in which to place the soiled paper. A large dish of water sat in the corner with a small tin to use to flush with. But as I have said earlier it is amazing how quickly you adapt to things. It was at least better than a hole in the ground and a draughty toilet tent. We all filed off to bed still filled with apprehension, as tomorrow we would trek to case camp.
We were back to our normal routine, this morning with tea at six and all packed up by 7:00. It was cold and we headed back to the lodge dining room for breakfast. Unlike last night the room was extremely smoky from the kitchen fire. Three Lamas were in the room this morning going through their prayer ritual, each had a pile of what looked like parchment sheets with the prayers written on them and they slowly worked through their respective heaps while we ate.
By 8:00 we were again on the trail headed for our base camp. Initially we followed the base camp trail but branched left after a small tearoom at the base of the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier. We were again on the route to the Cho La but from the other side. We climbed onto a small saddle and from there the view was magnificent. A small green glacial lake was nestled below us right at the foot of the mighty north face of Cholatse, which towered over the pass. In fact 7000+metre mountains surrrounded us from all sides. Ama Dablam was changing character as we moved further around it. The delicate shape it had from the Everest View hotel was now replaced with a much larger bulk, but no less impressive. We were now back above the snow line and it was getting on towards midday. We were all overdressed from the cold morning start. The heat from the snow was intense, as was the glare. If have skiing for over twenty years but have never experienced glare as strong as we were getting today. From the saddle our campsite was visible not far below. A mess tent from a British expedition was already there. The British team had advanced to high camp to make an attempt on the summit tomorrow. Their task would be that more difficult than ours as they would be the first team on the mountain since the snow falls and they would have to break trail. Our job would be a lot easier as a result. As we moved down into the bowl the heat and glare became oppressive. We were now at 4900 metres.
Late in the afternoon Dendi mustered the group together for a Puja. Dendi had spent seven years training as a Buddhist monk and a Puja is a blessing ceremony around a relegeious fire. During the ceremony our Ice Axes and crampons are blessed to carry luck with us in our climb. One of the prayer flags that were blessed back in
Kathmandu was erected over the camp. The gentle breeze carrying its prayers over the tents. Flour was thrown at stages during the ceremony by all and again was carried away in the breeze.
Yak steaks were served for the first time along with our ration of carbs with spaghetti and potatoes in a tomato sauce. We finished with lime Jelly. The combinations are strange to say the least and I would love to see the looks on diner guests if you served it at home. At here, though, it seems to work, maybe because you are so damned hungry.
After a latish start, bed tea at 7:00, we started the 300-metre climb to our high camp. The climb was relatively steep, and our packs were heavier than normal loaded up with our climbing, sleeping bad, down Jacket and normal Gore-Tex ware. To conserve weight for the porters above 5000 metres we had repacked our essential gear for the night into one kit bag, the other being left at base camp. The climb took an hour and a half before we reached a small plateau. Nestled with the plateau was a small lake. The water was so clear and still that the surrounding mountains were reflected perfectly in it. It was something out of this world and at times I wondered wether we hadn’t stumbled across Shangrila. From the edge of the plateau we got the best view of Ama Dablam to date and looked simple awesome standing there, as there was now nothing between it and us.
At the end of the plateau was a steep rock valley that led to the upper snow slopes of Lobuche East. After lunch we loaded our packs with our plastic-climbing boots and proceeded up the valley to those snow slopes some 300 vertical metres above. This would save carrying them in the morning and would allow us to climb the rock valley in more flexible trekking boots. From the stash our rout for tomorrow was clearly visible, looking menacing and steep as it towered above us. As we came back to the head of the
Dablam stood proud at the other end. Its reflection was perfect in the lake with our tents in the middle ground on the opposite shoreline. It made a suburb picture. lake Ama
I decided to come back on sunset to try and capture that as a reflection. Luck was again on our side as the normal afternoon cloud failed to materialise. As the sun set we took up our position back at the head of the lake. As the sun set the sky slowly turned pink and the mountains a deep shade of grey. The majesty was indescribable and I wondered if the pictures would really do it justice. There is something about these mountains that you can’t describe or pass on. You have to experience it and let their might and power just soak into your soul. Sometimes it pays just to put the camera down and let your senses do the feeling. When you do you whole body just seems to relax but at the same time there is an inner strength.
Being a spartan camp there was no mess tent. As the night was so still and clear and the shy still a deep shade of pink everyone stood outside and soaked it in as we ate perched on rocks scattered around the camp. The kitchen crew did a greet job again despite their lack of equipment with a full three courses, soup, Dahl Baht and beef curry and mixed fruit for desert. After dinner the shy was still pink and the sun was still shining on the very top of Nupse, at 6:30 through we all turned in, as tomorrow we would be up at 12:30am for the attempt on the summit.
Day 19 (
The wakeup call was a little academic, as I doubt that many people had a good nights sleep. Firstly at this altitude sleep is interrupted, you are very conscious of your breathing which quite laboured and deliberate. Your heart rate is still quite high from the lack of oxygen and having to go the long way around we missed our scheduled night at 5200 at the base of the Cho La. Heat is no longer a problem, and to save time in the morning we are dressed in the clothes will ware for the climb. The second reason for the lack of sleep was where we were. It is very easy to forget, until you are sitting at the base of it, that this is a 6000 metre peal right in the middle of the
Himalayas. Not any more it was towering right above us and in less than 6 hours we would be attempting to climb it.
At 12:30 the kitchen boys arrived with Sherpa tea shortly followed by rice porridge. Rice porridge is hard enough to take at a civilised hour but at just after midnight in the freezing cold, I don’t think so! Fortunately they then also brought around pancakes and omelette. Still early to eat a full breakfast. We had been warned that everything takes an age to do at this altitude by I must admit that I didn’t find that to be the case at all. It was cold at around ��"20 degrees C. Clothing was interesting. On the feet we had 2 pairs of socks, thermal long johns under our Gore-Tex overpants. On the top was a thermal undergarment, followed by a 100-weight fleece, a 300-weight fleece, which was the windstopper, followed by the Gore-Tex jacket. On the hands glove liners, and Gore-Tex alpine gloves, and finally on the head a double weight fleece beanie and the required head torch. In the backpack was the down jacket, over mittens balaclava and ice axe. We were now as ready and we would even be as we all gathered at the edge of the lake. At 2:00am Tika lead the group out around the lake to start the climb up the rock valley. Everything was so different in the dark and I really didn’t have to worry about putting one foot in front of the other, it was about as far as you could see! I was with Tika at the head of the line and it was an interesting sight to look back and see the trail of headlamps winding their way up the hill. After about an hour we reached the gear we had stashed the night before. At this stop the effects of altitude were definitely noticeable as we struggled with the relatively simple task of putting and lacing up our plastic boots. It seemed to take an age and it was cold on the fingers tying up the laces without gloves. Even the extremely simple task of putting on the crampons seemed impossible hard and there are clip ons after all. After what seemed an age, most of the group were a lot slower than I was, we finally set out again with Tika in the lead. The initial few steps were some of the most uncoordinated I have ever taken. The crampons are hard to walk on and the semi rigid plastic boots are like walking with your ankle joints fused. Because of their bulk you have to walk with you feet well apart, most ungainly. It took about fifteen minutes to get the rhythm. The first surprise came after about half an hour when we hit our first rock and ice wall. It wasn’t all that high but required some basic rock climbing sticking fingers and crampons into the cracks and ledges for hand and foot holds. I will never forget the sound of the crampons scrapping on the rock. Two more of these walls were encountered before we started a long transverse across a snow slope It was the first time the ice axes were really needed as a support into the bank on the uphill side. Daylight was just starting and we could see a large icefall just up the hill from we were. At 6:00am we stopped for our Alpine Lunch! We were now at the half way mark in vertical terms having now climbed the first five hundred metres. The site of our high camp was clearly visible and it looked a long way below. Even at this altitude the sunrise was spectacular and so was the full vista that opened up below us. We were now on the top of the rock face that we had seen from Pheriche and the full Kumbu Glacier opened up below us as the light grew.
Tika and the rest of the Sherpas were busy setting the fixed ropes for the rest of the climb and after about an hour we were set to continue. We pushed on over our first razorback but it was relatively wide until we reached the first section of rope. With our safety caribiners and ascenders attached we started what would prove to be one of the gruelling experiences of my life. Slowly we inched our way up the sections. I say inched because the going is extremely slow and painstaking one foot after another. The action of the crampons is exhausting and ten steps at a time is about the best anyone is doing. It is times like this that you realise what a joke films like Vertical Limit are. At the next corner, still attached to the rope I belayed my backpack and shed most of my top layers down to the 100-weight fleece. Now it was starting to get real tough. The slopes were steeper now as we were within 150 metres of the
. It really is a matter of mustering all of your energy filling your lungs with air and physically counting to ten and moving your feet as you count, stop re energise and count to ten again. The mental effort is more than the physical, as by now the body has long passed its use by date. At each breath stop, though, you just have to look around and the inspiration and power is just there for the taking. During this climb there were points where you just felt that it was too hard and you had to drive yourself on, but now with one section to go I felt the energy everywhere and nothing was stop be getting to the top. It was just as well really because the final 20 metres to the top was extremely steep requiring crampons firmly planted into the snow and the ascender and ice axe used to pull you up. That upper bodywork had come in handy after all! I was amazed at the holding power of the ice axe once it had been planted into the snow. Finally Tika grabbed my arm and did the last bit of pulling and attached the final summit safety line, I was there. It was now 11:00am, it had taken 9 hours to reach the top. Summit
It is a funny sensation being on the top and anyone reading this may not be able to understand what I am about to say. There is now great rush of wow, and you don’t immediately look in all directions at the view. You know its there but your first reaction is to simply sit down get the pack off and catch your breath and have a drink. You are simple too exhausted to do anything else. After the exhaustion wares off the enormity of the view begins to sink in. Right in front of you are Everest, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Cholatse, and a sea of mountains in ever direction. That is the other surprise, the shear number of mountains is astounding. From the valleys you have no appreciation of the size of this place, and now it is all laid out before you eyes from ones of the best vantage points there is. As took both a series of still shots around the full 360 and a video of the same 360 I knew that there was no way of capturing the sense of grandeur. I also felt very privileged knowing that I had seen some that very few people get to experience. Looking down on the Everest Base Camp and Kala Patter, which seemed like a little pimple below I realised that all of the expectations of a twenty year dream had been fulfilled. I was sitting here looking at the roof of the world and was even more excited than I was twenty years ago. It had not disappointed.
All too soon it was time to head down. Going down the ascenders are put away and a prusik, or friction knot is tied around the rope and onto your harness. You walk down side on or face first. Face first is quicker if you have good balance and is it possible to slide and save energy. Spalling of snow on the crampons was getting to be a problem and I must remember, if I ever do this again to bring some gaffer tape to tape over the holes in plates on the soles to help prevent it. Some who had dome
were in the know. Either that or buy a good pair of anti spalling crampons. The prusik knots had to be tied at each anchor, and for the first five anchors the sherpas were there to make sure you were doing it right, after that you were on your own. Finally we reached the end of the roped section; we were half way down. The slope continued. By now you were really feeling it in the back of the knees. The three rock walls seemed harder going down, or maybe it was because you could actually see where you were going! After a quick change at the boot stash we continued down through the slippery rock valley to high camp arriving back there at 4:00pm We packed our kit bags and started down the last leg back to base camp. At least the backpacks were lighter now that the plastic boots were in the kitbags. After a final 45 minutes we staggered back into base camp at 5:00 p.m., 15 hours after leaving high camp this morning. The group was very quiet over dinner. Not only too tired to think but clearly engrossed in their own thoughts of the day. Mera Peak
I couldn’t finish the day without the normal narrative on dinner, which was spaghetti, fresh beans, and pizza. Desert was another cake celebrating our successful summit of Lobuche.
As we wander of to bed, in the full knowledge that tomorrow is a rest day, I wonder if any day in the future will top the experience of today. It is not about the view at the top, no matter how magnificent; it is about the journey. Twenty years dreaming, six months of training and 15 hours of mind over matter to do something that I had been thought impossible. A combination of something physical, something mental and something very mystical in those mountains.
Day 20 (rest day)
Bed tea didn’t arrive until 7:00 with breakfast not until 8:00 (some sleep in hah). The sun was well and truly up before we ventured out of the tent. The morning was spent relaxing around the camp. I went for a short walk to take some pictures of Lobuche East as it towered over the campsite. Especially now that you could see out route through the telephoto. As the sun continued to warm the camp everyone did some long overdue washing. Some of the clothes could have walked to the summit themselves I think. By the middle of the day our camp resembled a refugee camp with string clothes lines attached to anything that was even semi solid. Clothes flapped in the breeze everywhere. Boots were strewn all over the place as they dried and my solar charges were at work again topping up the battery again. So far I have gone through one full tape and not used one of the three batteries. Keeping them in the sleeping bags during the night seems to be doing the trick, as they have not suffered in the cold. Just before lunch I walked back up the hill a little way to have another look at Lobuche. The cloud was rolling in and within half an hour the mountain was covered. We had been extremely lucky again with our choice of days.
Just after lunch the groups drying plans were put to and end as it started to lightly snow again. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees and most of the afternoon was spent in our tents. The mood of the group had changed with the realisation that out main objective had been achieved, there seemed to be a feeling that everything from here on would be a bonus.
The period of contemplation was over and it was time to move on towards the second of the trip's objectives,
. The first stage of that was to move on to Dingboche. The walk would be a relatively easy one and we would be there by lunch. We left camp the way we had come in back up to the saddle above the little lake. The lake was much lighter this time due to a thin layer of ice on it from yesterday’s snow. These mountains are like the ocean; they are always chnging with the weather and light. It was slightly sad to leave base camp, as it was one of the most magnificent locations that you will ever find with the grand face of Cholatse within spitting distance. We traversed around the hill because we detouring to the head of the Kumbu Glacier to the site of the memorials to those killed on Everest. From that sight we could see the full face of Lobuche East. From here it looked even more daunting and it started to hit people as to what we had really done two days before. The memorial site itself was quite moving and it was good to see that both international climbers and Sherpas had been treated as equals. As always prayer flags adorned the monuments. As an interesting note at all these sites there is a mixture of new and old prayer flags as the old olds are never taken down. They must be left to wither in the wind. Ama Dablam was in the distance only this time it was out beacon to follow as it stood at the head of the valley and Dingboche. The walk was very pleasant, for a start it was mainly downhill, and it was through open alpine meadow. For the first time we saw herds of Yak grazing. As we walked you couldn’t help but keeping looking back at Lobuche and our route to the top. We passed above Pheriche this time and came to a large Chorten on top on a small saddle. The Chorten was the last in a string of them that stretched from Dingboche below. They we all link by strings of prayer flags. It was quite impressive and gave a lot of character to one of the nicest towns in the Kumbu. From the top of the hill Dingboche looked immaculate with as many as 15 lodges and stone wall Yak paddocks everywhere. In addition to the lodges the town had many campsites and at least 12 groups had their tents scattered throughout the town. The tents added colour and it almost remindered me of a holiday town. Our campsite was in front of one of the lodges and lunch was inside. After lunch Sandra and I explored the town. It was almost entirely made up of lodges and trekkers shops. One of the interesting things about this part of the world is the pricing of supplies. They are the same price wether you buy them in a lodge of a track side shop and they have been the same price since leaving Namchee despite the added effort to get them right up here. A Mars bar for instance is 100 rupees (2 bucks). Most of the lodges had there own showers. The showers up here are interesting. They are inside a corrugated iron box with stones on the floor. There is a shower rose piped to a 20 litre drum on the roof which is filled with hot water. For a 150 rupees that is what you get. One of the showers was interesting as it was made of fibreglass leaving little to the imagination! Yaks were free to roam about this town and twice during the afternoon with had one wander through our campsite. They don’t fill you with confidence. Island Peak
Afternoon tea was at four o’clock back in the lodge. The view was perched high on the hill and overlooked the town. It has one of the spectacular 270-degree views that you will find. Right up the valley you looked toward
, Ama Dablam sat opposite and down the valley you looked back to Namchee. The room itself was typical of all the Nepalese layouts with the benches around the walls and the little long tables in front. Again, in the centre of the room was the Yak Dung heater. The afternoon again clouded in right to ground level this time with thick mist. It was quite cold and damp outside so most of just sat around the heater inside and read or wrote up travel journals. Just before dinner the 3-year-old daughter of the lodge owner came into the room. The cassette player was on the local hit tune of the time. The song itself went for nearly 20 minutes and had a very catchy beat, but it did go on and on and on. It actually told the story of a tangled love triangle between a man and two women. The 3-year-old obviously had a terrific sense of beat and danced for the whole tune thoroughly revelling in all of the attention. We headed off to bed early as tomorrow will be another very long day as we climb 800 metres to Island Peak Base camp, at 5200 metres. Island Peak
The first stage of our walk was a gentle rise through pastureland at the side of the valley. After about two hours we reach the small hamlet of Chukhung. At 4743 metres. The gadget men are out again as the five GPS units are used to confirm what is written on the sign above the lodge door! Boys and their toys. This place is one of the most beautiful in the Kumbu. I know I have used that expression a lot in this narrative but this is truly the case here. It is a place seldom visited on most treks, which is a shame. If I was ever recommending a trip I would have to add a day somewhere and advise people to come up here for lunch from Dingboche. From here you are ringed by Nuptse, the mighty Lhotse face and Ama Dablam, with the lesser peaks of
, sitting starkly in the middle of the glaciers, and the perfectly symmetrical cone of Peak 35 sitting behind it. This is the last point that most of the more adventurous trekkers reach for beyond year is the domain of the serious, or in our case the not so serious, mountaineers. From Chukhung we proceed up and onto the lateral moraine of the Lhotse Glacier, then the Imja Glacier and finally the Lhotse Shar Glacier. Island peak is truly an Island Peak Island sitting in the middle of three glaciers. We descended of the glacier to our lunch spot was another postcard setting (see I have almost run out of expressions) We were on the banks of a small but fast flowing river. Actually there were a number of rivers cutting their way through the stones that had been dumped there by retreating glaciers. It is when you are in a place like this that you can clearly see the effects of global warming as these big glaciers are clearly retreating back. The Sherpas talk of the glacial lakes that are becoming markedly bigger. When they talk that way they are not talking of decades but rather the last few years. The armchair greenies or disbelievers should get out of their offices and visit places like this to see what is really happening to the balance of life on this planet, but enough of the social commentary. The kitchen boys do a remarkable job and yet another feast was supplied. Considering that they lug all of the food all morning as well as the stoves, utensils and crockery and cutlery, arrive ahead of us and then cook, pack up and move to the final camp for the day and do it all again. The day was clear and not a breath of wind again. As we sat and ate our lunch three Yaks quietly grazed amongst the rocks in the creek bed. They made a great picture against the snow-covered pastures and the mountains behind. It was one of the most relaxing and peaceful lunches we had had. About 2:00pm we were on the trail again crossing the moraine of the Imja Glacier for the final walk to the base camp at Paresho Gyab. We were now at 5200 metres. Throughout this narrative I have raved about our campsites. This one, however, was a dog. We were cramped against the terminal moraine of the glacier. On the opposite side was the remains of a previous rockslide. The ground was covered in snow and there was not a hint of sun from the shadow of the mountains all around. Even at 3 o’clock the water was turning to ice and its getting bitterly cold and for the first time the wind was getting up making it seem even colder. When we arrived I had put one of my water bottles down and an hour later the contents were nearly completely frozen! The porters were running late and we all struggled to find a warm spot. After about an hour the porters arrived and the camp was quickly established as well all adjourned to change into our heavy fleeces and down jackets. Dinner was at six and we were in bed by 7:30 ready for our 12:30 am start in the morning as we attempted . Island Peak
Day 23 (
At 12:30 tea arrived at the tent door and it was time to prepare for the climb. Having had everything ready the night before and having been through it once already everything seemed far more orderly. At 1:00am I proceeded to the mess tent to have breakfast and collect the lunch bag. The morning was still bitterly cold and the pack was heavy with the plastic boots and climbing gear. At 2:00am we headed off again into the darkness behind Tika. The in initial part of the climb was easy as we followed around the base of the mountain for about half a kilometre before hitting the main route up. From there the route got steep quickly as we headed up a path of loose soil and shale like stones. The initial part of the climb was not dissimilar to the climb up
only steeper. After an hour we had gained 300 metres and the terrane had changed to rock. The trekking poles were now useless, as at time it was a full on scamble and at other careful steps on loose shale. The pre dawn darkness was the coldest and it was now about 5:00 am. With some prompting we continued up the slope. At 5:30 the sky started to show some signs of daylight and we were passed by a small East German team. They were only carrying a small daypack of the type you might carry in Gokyo Ri for a two-hour stroll to the local park. The poor Sherpas were loaded to the hilt obviously carrying all of their equipment. It is one way to do it I suppose but somehow I think it detracts from the achievement. At about 5:45 we reached a rock razorback that was the bridge to the snowfields and the beginning of the ice climb to the summit. It was one of those instances where you really didn’t want to look down. The sky had turned a deep shade of pink and the first ridge to cop the sun's rays was Ama Dablam. It looked so magnificent against the pink sky. The summit of Australia was still in shade but the snow drifting of its summit was being backlit by the sun and were glowing orange. It almost looked, as there was a fire raging on the summit of ice. Island Peak
Unlike Lobuche East, where we were full of apprehension this climb was so much more enjoyable, although a lot harder technically and far more physically demanding. As we changed into our climbing gear we had time to just soak in our surroundings. The sun was inching across the snowfield ever so slowly but when it finally hit the relief was instantaneous as it brought much needed warmth. At about 7:00am we were again on the move across the snowfields. The crampons were still awkward things to get used to but the slopes at this stage were gentle and it was very pleasant walking. From freezing cold to roasting in less than an hour I stopped to shed some clothes and have a decent drink. There was still no wind so luck appeared to on our side yet again. The heat and glare were now intense and at the base of the headwall I stopped for more water and a Mars bar as I was again beginning to feel light headed. After 10 minutes or so the feeling passed and I proceeded to the first rope section. The headwall is a steep 150-metre climb that leads onto the summit ridge. It would take over an hour to climb this short section. The climb was slow and arduous. About 20 metres from the top you had to lever yourself up and over an ice step of about six feet. Unfortunately digging in the toes of your crampons and really using the axe as a climbing pick gave you a real taste for ice climbing. Loosing so much time due to bad weather earlier on had meant that the ice climbing day had been scuttled, what a shame. Once on the summit ridge it was time for a quick rest and another Mars bar. Louis was already on the top, and while the rest of the group was still resting I continued up the summit ridge. The next 100 metres was relatively straightforward and then it was the final 50 metre push to the summit. This was steeper than the headwall and required immense effort and will power, however I was now running on adrenalin and was more determined than ever. Tika and Dendi were there as I climbed onto the summit, as was Louis. It was now 10:00am 8 hours after we set off. This time there wasn’t the exhaustion that there was on Lobuche and as I stood there the sense of achievement was overwhelming and I think more significant than the view. The view was superb. The shear face of
Lhotse is overwhelming. You can read as many books as you like about it being the largest granite wall in the world, but here you are standing right next to it. From this distance you can clearly see the power that must have in the earth’s plates to tilt the rock with such force. The layers are clearly visible including the famous yellow band, that previous I have only read about in mountaineering books. On the other side is Ama Dablam, which we are now looking at from the back, compared to the classic view from the Kumbu valley. As with the view from Lobuche the sea of mountains appears endless. Lobuche is clearly visible and it still looks daunting even from up here. We are now at 6189 metres. The rest of the group arrived and after a series of shots including a group photo it was time to head down. Once off the ropes at the base of the headwall the enormity of what I had done really started to sink in. The slow walk through the gentle snow slopes gave you tome to reflect and to soak in the grandeur of these mountains. I know I have said it before but there is something up here that gives you an inner strength and clarity of thought. While this is a sport that requires a team of people to make it possible it is in a strange way a very individual thing. No one can share you thoughts or derive your energy or will for you. You are very much on your own and your actual achievement is yours and yours alone. Even the beauty of the mountains manifests itself in strange ways that seems to get to the very essence of who you are. Today’s climb to me was made easier by not having the worry of Sandra on the mountain, and while this may sound selfish it seems to be the true essence of mountaineering. All there is to really share is the view and as I have said that is but a fleeting moment in the journey to the top and back down. Only those that have done this, and for the right reason (not just peak bagging), would understand the above sentiments.
I stopped for a while and took some photo’s of the rest of the group coming down the final rope section, after all I was in no great hurry to go down and leave this magical place, before proceeding to the rock ledge and the stash of gear. The pack seemed even heavier which couldn’t be after all it had to be at least 2kg lighter with the water I had drunk! We could now see the steepness of the path and the trip down was painstaking as we negotiated the rock walls and loose shale. At the location of high camp. Which is seldom used these days, we had a short break before the final hour back to camp. At 3:00pm we arrived exhausted but elated. We just sat in our tents for about an hour before tea was served. It must have been the sugar in either the biscuits or the hot chocolate but I picked up and seemed far less tired after that. Dinner was even more quiet than the one after Lobuche. Half the group was already tucked up in bed. It was a pity really as after dinner the crew served another victory cake. This time it was a carrot cake and for the first time it was a proper square shape. It was so moist and sweet, the best yet. Finally it was time for bed as the night was getting bitterly cold and even the combination of long johns and fleece pants wasn’t enough. The bag was warm and as I drifted off to sleep I was happy to have had the experience of such a magnificent climb.
The morning was cold as we were still at 5200 metres but it was clear and I was up at 5:45 for the sunrise down the valley. I was not disappointed. As the sun began to strike the peaks the sky turned a deep pink, then light pink to orange. The show lasted about ten minutes and by then my fingers were ready to fall off and I hastily retreated to the warmth of the tent and sleeping bag. Bed tea arrived at 7:00. We had a late start as it was a relatively short four-hour walk back to Bibre at the base of the Kongma La trail. Despite the fact that we were backing the scenery is still grand and I took nearly a full roll of film in near perfect lighting conditions. You just never seem to get tired of the scenery. At about 12:00 we arrived at Bibre. We were back to our perfect campsites again, right under the face of Ama Dablam.
Days 25 - 28
The realization had finally come that we had done what we had come to do and we now heading home. Our route retraced the way we had come up. During our trip down our pace was clearly quicker and we obviously looked a lot dirty than those coming up. One of the more priceless moments was the descent done from Namchee looking at the exhausted faces of the trekkers coming up their first major ascent in
. As we did almost a month ago they must have looked at us a wondered what they we in for!! Nepal
Today had a different feel. Everyone including the staff were smiling. The porters who had lugged our stuff around these mountains for the last 24 days knew that by lunchtime their job would be done and they could start returning to their families. Their job is a back and neck breaking one as they carry nearly their own body weight in gear. Some of them have nearly sixty kilos on their backs and are walking the same trails as we are. Some of them still persist in wearing thongs. World expeditions equips them well including the provision of top sunglasses. It is funny to watch them; however, as most do not remove the stickers from the front of the lenses as they are worth more to sell if the stickers are in tact. The fact that they would have blobs in front of their eyes does not perturb them. Today we would have lunch in a small teahouse in Gnat as the kitchen crew went on ahead to prepare an end of trip feast. The little room was stunning as it was perched out over the valley with glass around all four walls. Something in
happens in hurry. We arrived at 11:00 and lunch was served at 1:00. Still it gave time to watch the passing trade of trekkers and Yaks again. After lunch we headed down the hill to Phakding and there up the hill for the final leg into Lukla. The chickens were still there, but the town was not as busy as it was now mid afternoon and today’s new batch of trekkers would be long gone. As we walked back into the Sherpa Inn we were glad to be finally back but at the same time sad knowing that what had been an experience of a lifetime was over. Nepal
Hot Chocolate was replaced with a beer for afternoon tea, as we were not walking anywhere else!!!!
Dinner was indeed a feast with twelve or more dishes served up. The array of meat was amazing and it tasted so good after having so little for so long. I am surprised though that there were any chickens left in the streets of Lukla, as it looked as though they were all on the table in front of us. The food was suburb and was well washed down with more beers. Just before desert there was another traditional activity where unwanted clothing was distributed amongst the staff followed by the distribution of the tip. Each member of our group received 1500 rupees which is fairly generous, but we had had a very successful trip and they had had to work hard to make up for the days that we had lost through the bad weather.
We were up a 5:30. Bags were packed quickly and we were in the terminal building at 6:30 and checked through the security. The tiny terminal was crowded with all nationalities. We waited and waited for the fog to clear at
Kathmandu. All of a sudden word came through that the planes were on their way and within 20 minutes the tiny airport was a buzz as planes arrived one after the other. If I thought the turnaround was quick in Kathmandu it was like lightning at this end. With only four parking bays each plane was turned around within 5 minutes. Ours was the 6th for the morning and without time to think were again crammed in and off. The takeoff is something that really has to be experienced to be believed as the engines roar and you race towards the edge of the cliff lifting off just feet before the end. The flight back to Kathmandu gave us time to reflect on the trip and the beauty of these mountains. I savoured what would prove to be my last glimpse of the mighty Himalayas. As I watched I knew in my heart that this wasn’t goodbye, something had got under my skin up here and I would be back. There was a least one more mountain out there that I now wanted to climb.
After a short flight we were back in the hustle and bustle of
Kathmandu. It seemed so foreign compared to the tranquilly of the hills, however it was still a fascinating city, waiting to be explored. We were quickly back in the Raddison, as we opened the door to the room we were amazed by the size and luxury that was in front of us. We were confronted by the large mirrors on the wall. We almost didn’t recognise ourselves with the grime and in my case the facial hair. The shower felt so good, but the colour of the water in the bottom of the bath was amazing. It is a wonder the plumbing still works with trekkers coming back in this state. The best bit of all was washing your hair; you actually started to feel human again.
Feeling alive we walked back into Thamel for lunch at the Northfield Cafe and then started our shopping in Ernest.
Loaded up with gear we headed back to the Radisson. It was an absolute pleasure to have a sit down toilet again and a nice soft wide bed.
The room looked so large in the morning! We were in absolutely no hurry to get out of bed, When we finally did the shower was luxurious. The grime was still coming out. After we were both ready we diverted upstairs to the gym to weight ourselves. Despite the quantities of food that we had eaten on the trek we had still lost a further five kilos while we were on the trek! With luxury in mind we went downstairs and had a big breakfast. Especially nice was the serial with fresh yoghurt, fresh fruit, fried eggs and some lovely pastries.
might have done a pastry course, but these were something else. After breakfast we headed down to the old town and now market Milan district of Durbar Square. The walk down was fascinating watching the locals at work. The street side factories and stalls are worlds apart from our own. This part of town was not as well kept as the main tourist section of Thamel. Turning off the main drag into new street were now in the centre of the electronics and camera district. The prices here are about three-quarters of those in and the models are all the latest. The old town was fascinating and we spent most of the morning there before heading back to Thamel for lunch. The market was fun. Unlike Thamel where the haggling seems to be confined to above a 15 to 20 percent discount these guys really know how to deal. In most cases we were buying at about 30 percent of the asking price. Some of the brassware was exquisite, and if we hadn’t been worried about the weight we would have bought a lot more. Australia
We savored the walk home this time, as really was the end of a trip to remember.
We were up early again as our bus would be at the hotel at 10:00 to have us at the airport in plenty of time for the 1:00pm flight. After breakfast we gather outside for the final farewell. Each of the Sherpas presented each member of the group with a Kata and by the end of it well were all feeling a bit like Hilary with a wad of scarves around our necks. It was a sad farewell to these great group of people who had looked after so well and with such good grace and genuine warmth. Anyone who comes to this country and doesn’t end respecting these people has no soul.And so with that we were on our way home again.