April 3, 2013
Namche; Elev 11,350 feet. SpO2 = 90 RHR = 90
We set out from Phakding this morning at 8:30, blessed with clear skies and kind temperatures that soon encouraged trekkers to zip off pant legs and skinny down to T-shirts. The Khumbu Valley narrowed a few miles into the trek, the trail then scaling steep switchbacks. We would gain several hundred feet, then cash it in as the route descended to a suspension bridge down low. Our Team spread out quite a bit as each person dealt with the hills at his own pace. There were times I was all alone on the path. I felt excited by this. Though I knew at least one Guide was always behind us, sweeping stragglers along, I could kid myself that I was treading hallow ground as a pilgrim on his solitary quest.
At times the path would take me through tiny nameless villages of five or six stone houses. Two little girls played hopscotch on a grid scratched in the dirt. An elderly woman turned garden soil with a wooden hand trowel. Sherpa men sat on the front porch taking morning tea as the first direct rays of light touched their world. When we made eye contact I would offer “namaste’, to which they would reply the same in a quiet voice.
I had called Lin on my cell phone before leaving Phakding. Just hearing her voice filled me with joy and I found myself smiling as i reflected on it. I was playing our conversation back in my head as the trail started across a high suspension bridge perhaps 150 feet long. The river was crashing over massive boulders far below and the tattered remains of many prayer flag strings stretched out horizontal in the powerful wind passing through the canyon. I looked up into the small window of sky above. A snow-capped peak taller than anything I have ever seen consumed much of that window. I could tell by the shape it was not Everest, but thought it must surely be something close to that scale. I would later learn this was a paltry 19,000 foot mountain. As intimidating as it was, Everest will be half again it’s height.
The final four hours to Namche required 2,000 vertical feet of tight switchbacks. But we took it slow. This combined with stunning views of Ama Dablam passed the hours pleasantly, even while working. Soon we eased past women scrubbing laundry by a stream and up into the horseshoe-shaped caldera where Namche is built among the terraces of steep hillsides.
Namche probably has better electricity than Kathmandu, where sudden blackouts are common. Unlike the other villages of the Khumbu, which must rely primarily on solar power, Namche enjoys the fruits of a hydro-electric facility built several years ago. This has made possible the proliferation of Guest Houses, Tea Houses, Internet Cafes, Pubs, and a myriad of other services aimed at the needs of Trekkers and Climbers. It is the last stop for anything important one may have overlooked in his kit and all major brands of climbing gear are proudly represented.
We took our rooms at the Khumbu Lodge, a humble establishment with enough history to boast “recommended by Jimmy Carter” on its restaurant menus. Indeed, a photo of the former President standing before Ama Dablam hangs in the dining room. I paid 300 rupees ($3.50 US) to use the shower, which was adequate enough to accomplish the basic purpose, though I doubt Jimmy Carter would have recommended it. I even shaved, using a razor for the first time in many years. This expedition is too long to let myself go ...as I have on others. After dinner with the Team, Ty and I turned in for the night at 8:30, tired but feeling good so far.