A mountain hidden in clouds

28 October 2017

I was excited waking up this morning, thinking I would finally have my first glimpse of Everest, but my expectations were exceeded the moment I stepped out of the front door of the teahouse. It was early, the sun still behind the mountains that embrace Namche Bazaar. But the skies were clear, unlike yesterday afternoon when dense low cloud had obscured our view. I went outside to wait for Michael and Chuda and gasped aloud. Before me was a tremendous mountain, a white blanket of snow covering its highest reaches sparkled with the first sun of the day. It was stunning. I stood in awe as dozens of Japanese, also guests in our teahouse, took group photos in front of the scene. I breathed in the icy air and waited for my turn to take a photo, but my snaps didn’t do it justice. It was one of those moments when I wished I was travelling with someone I loved so I could share this with them.

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The view when I stepped outside our teahouse.

The sun rose higher and finally touched our teahouse and I quickly felt too warm in my jacket. I shed some outer layers and reslung my pack over my shoulders. Today we were going to visit a museum, from which there was also said to be a great view of Everest, before heading on an acclimatisation hike to Everest View Hotel. We’d be back at the teahouse by lunchtime.

We set off into the maze of terraced streets we’d explored the day before but kept climbing, higher and higher, and out of the town proper. We started up a long-paved path to the museum and through a wooden gate, designed to keep wandering yaks out. The Sagarmatha National Park Museum was primitive by modern museum standards but the displays were surprisingly informative. There was information on the Everest region, its flora and fauna, its people and agriculture and of course, those mountains that made it famous.

I walked the displays with interest until I came to a corner that bore no sign or information, but an ancient stuffed dummy wearing what was supposed to be a 1950s snowsuit. It had a very creepy face drawn on it. Outside the museum was a larger than life bronze statue of Tenzing Norgay, the infamous Sherpa who summited with Sir Edmund Hillary. God knows how they got it up here.

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Tell me that’s not a creepy face

A little further away a crowd had gathered on a small viewing platform, I can only imagine was designed to allow people to view Everest. Unfortunately, the clouds had mustered overhead since we left our teahouse and our view was completely obscured.

We had walked steadily uphill through the town to get here but our ascent for the day had only just begun. Looking across the town below us, I could see the ant trail of hikers on today’s route, zig zagging a path almost vertical. It was another of those moments where I wished I couldn’t see where I was headed, how far there was to go and how challenging it was going to be. But again, that calm that I had experienced yesterday settled over me. The only way to get there was to walk. Whinging wouldn’t make it any less difficult. It was what I needed to do to acclimatise and I would do it. On Kili, there had been acclimatisation walks I should have gone on but found myself too exhausted by the time we reached our camps. I was determined not to skip out this time. Besides, it was still the morning, I had walked very little today in terms of distance and felt reasonably fresh.

Slowly, slowly, we climbed the path, step after rocky step. Shortly into the climb, I had to duck for cover as a porter carrying a 6m long, corrugated and insulated metal panel on his head came down the path towards me. He needed a wide berth but seemed oblivious as he balanced his load with one hand while chatting on his phone with the other. It was comical but the laughing stopped there. Once again it became about putting one foot in front of the other, resting when I needed to release the tension in my muscles, and then plodding on.

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The porter taking a break from his wide load that he had been carrying on his head.

I managed to stay ahead of Michael the entire way and took it as something of a personal challenge. I’m still amazed at how I am keeping my emotions in check. It’s proving to be such a different experience to Kili.

When we finally made it to Everest View Hotel at 3,880m, alas the view was of clouds. But Chuda guided us out onto the wide patio that faced the direction of the big lady. There we drank tea and hot chocolate and waited, hoping the clouds would part and give us a glimpse of the most famous peak in the world. I imagined that, on a clear day, it was quite beautiful but today was grey and threatened rain.

We must have sat there for close to an hour but by 11.30am, Chuda decided it was time to go. We commenced our steep descent, a much easier and quicker experience for me, although Michael took it much slower to protect his knees. My knees so far are proving strong, which is surprising given the pain they were giving me during training. I suspect my hiking boots are providing me better support than my trainers.

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Namche lay far below me on the acclimatisation hike.

Back in Namche, I bought three litres of water, having sucked my Camelbak dry from the morning’s exertions. In our teahouse, we dumped our packs and had lunch. I wasn’t hungry, which was a bad sign, but I forced myself to eat it. My body needed the calories but it felt like my stomach just gurgled unhappily. I had resolved to explore but ended up pulling off my boots and hiking pants and crawling into bed. Snuggled under the heavy blanket the teahouse provided, rather than the sleeping bag, my legs finally had the freedom they craved and I could sprawl comfortably. It was nice to enjoy the room alone for a change. So far there’s been no issue with sharing but sometimes I would appreciate having a little time to myself in privacy.

I didn’t intend to sleep away the afternoon but figured my body probably needed it. When I finally stirred, it was 4.30pm. I wanted to buy some eyedrops from the pharmacy; my eyes had been irritated since Phakding, a combination of the cold, woodsmoke and tiredness I suspected. They were stinging and red.

I had just pulled on my hiking pants and boots when I heard a sound I hadn’t heard since being in Nepal – rain. Boots and pants came off, and trackies and socks with thongs went on. I headed down to the dining room where I have spent the afternoon writing and listening to the general natter of guests and guides, speaking in plethora languages. I am warm and content.

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Inside the dining room of the teahouse.

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