Thursday, April 4, 2013

A rest day in Namche

Sunrise on the Himalaya
April 4, 2013
Namche: Elev 11,350 feet. SpO2 = 93  RHR = 74

I woke at 5:00 a.m. feeling fully rested and restless. I love mornings, and the thought of wandering the empty stone alleys of Namche was just too tempting. I pulled on some clothes and eased out of our room. I had noticed a sign in the lobby the day before informing guests that the doors would be locked at 10:00 p.m. “So don’t come back later than 10:00” it counseled. I understood how literally this was meant when I came upon a large timber thrown across metal brackets on the inside of the hotel doors. I removed the timber and let myself out. 

A soft hue of pre-dawn light was settled upon the snowy peaks above. The shops were shuttered. A lone black cow starred me down from the other end of the alley. No people moved about. Very few windows shown light. I climbed higher up the terraces, taking the uphill fork whenever the path split. There were pastures and gardens, one-room homes and brightly painted prayer wheels. A man in a yellow jacket emerged from one teahouse with a tripod and camera. He had set them up by the time I passed. It seemed likely he knew something I did not, so I lingered for a moment. The day’s first light suddenly grabbed the tips of the highest peaks around us. Magic. 

I called my son, Trevor, in Chicago from the dining room of the lodge. It was marvelous to hear his voice and share a few of my experiences. He told me about his school work and thoughts he was having about joining a fraternity. There are many advantages the Everest Climber of today has over Sir Edmund Hillary. I count this as foremost; the ability to hear the voices of loved ones while so far away for so very long. 

Though acclimatization requires us to stay in Namche today and tomorrow, we nevertheless will tease our physiology higher with day hikes. After a breakfast of apple/banana pancakes we set out on one such sojourn today, our objective being the Everest View Lodge, approximately 1,200 feet above Namche. Japanese investors built this magnificent Guesthouse on a hilltop with it’s own airstrip. The rooms are pressurized with oxygen piped in so high-end guests may fly in from lower elevations without suffering the discomforts of altitude. It has a stunning view of the Himalayas, including our first sighting of Mt Everest. 

I spent a bit of time writing in a Namche bakery after returning from our hike. Guy Manning, from my Antarctica Team, came in with his team for lunch and I was introduced to them. Guy's wife is accompanying him as far as Everest Base Camp. I had heard much about her during our Vinson Massif climb and it was good to finally meet. I left the bakery and, a short bit later ran into two team members. While we chatted there in the alley a tall figure walked up to say hello. It was Mike Roberts, my Guide from the Mt Elbrus climb in Russia. He and I had been in contact recently as the local newspaper back home sought permission to use a photo he had taken during that climb. I knew Mike would be leading a Team for Adventure Consultants on Everest this season and sooner or later we would meet up. It was good to see him. Mike is probably my favorite of the excellent Guides I have had the pleasure to climb with. I look forward to catching up at Base Camp. 

Trek to Namche

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 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.