29 October 2017
Today would have been my sixth wedding anniversary but, instead, I saw Mt Everest. We headed out of Namche bright and early to a stunning clear sky. The climb through the terraces was trying on my cold legs but once we reached the track proper I was able to fall into a steady rhythm. The going here was easy with the hard slog coming after lunch.
There was a lot of traffic on the track today, both people and yaks, all eager to reach the next stop. As we rounded a bend in the path, I saw dozens of people stopped and milling around a large Buddhist stupa, white and gleaming in the morning light. But it wasn’t the stupa that had their attention. Beyond it was a peak, snow capped and pyramid like. It was my first sight of Everest.
Stunning, spectacular, just wow, doesn’t begin to describe my elation. This day was so clear, so perfect, that I felt I could do anything. I stared at the great lady in awe, my mouth probably hanging open as I snapped pic after pic. For long moments, I just looked without moving, without speaking, trying to sear this moment into my memory forever.
After a long break, we were back on the trail with many downhill sections which as we know doesn’t bode well for what’s to come. What goes down must come up when you’re climbing a mountain. We lunched overlooking the river and yet another long suspension bridge. We were headed to Duboche, a small collection of teahouses downhill from Tengboche, a town famous for its Buddhist monastery located at 3,867m. But to get there, Chuda told us, we had a two-hour uphill slog.
The climb began almost immediately after lunch and it was brutal. Easily the hardest section so far on the trek. The day was hot, too hot for long sleeves or jackets. I was wearing only an exercise singlet and light hiking pants and sought the shade wherever possible. The sun beat down mercilessly as I stepped, one foot in front of the other, at what was easily a 20-degree angle and sometimes more. I could feel the muscles extending fully down my calves and into my achilles, such was the incline.
Once again, I deployed my switchback technique of walking diagonally across the path to reduce the strain on my legs. It probably looked ridiculous to those coming behind me, but you do what needs to be done in these situations. I stopped frequently and sucked back on my water. I was slow but determined even if I occasionally let out a quiet “fuck” to myself.
The higher we climbed, the cooler it became, until low cloud started to roll in over the surrounding mountains. And no sooner was the sun obscured, but the air turned bitterly cold, and I sought the warmth of jacket and gloves.
I was done with this climb and all its steps. According to my Garmin Vivofit, I walked 23,000 steps today, or 14.88km. I was feeling ready to collapse with exhaustion when signs of humanity emerged from among the forest. Tengboche was only minutes away and it was just as well as it was beginning to drizzle rain. Wait, is that rain? It can’t be snow. It must be sleet then.
“It’s snowing,” Chuda said, waiting for me on the last step.
Snow. It was the first time I had ever seen snow fall from the sky and it was magical. It was still very light and almost impossible to see but the sudden drop in temperature was undeniable. I was beyond excited. Finally standing in front of the monastery, I could see the surrounding trees had a light dusting of snow on them, while a mother and baby yak meandered through the scene without supervision.
But we couldn’t stay long. We needed to either go inside the monastery for a look or continue on to Duboche. It was far too cold to hang around gawking. We opted to keep walking before the snow got heavier. A downhill section in icy conditions didn’t sound fun. As it was the track was already a thick icy sludge that made walking perilous. We took it as quickly as we could in order to keep warm but it was still slow.
Duboche was little more than a few teahouses with no shops or bars. Inside we found our room, dumped our bags and headed for the dining room which always promised to be warm. Inside were two guys who we had seen at most rest stops since we left Phakding. I introduced myself, because a) not doing so was awkward in an otherwise empty room and b) one of them was really cute! While their accents were British they assured me they were Australian and had lived there for seven years. It also turned out their guide was Chuda’s cousin and we would be walking with them for the next few days.
I joined them for hot tea and coffee and talked away the hours until dinner time. Just before dark, the snow became heavier and I could not stop staring out the window. It was like a Christmas movie, although the English guys couldn’t understand my fascination. I went outside to take some photos and video to capture the moment. It was magical if not freezing. It may have been my wedding anniversary but I felt so ridiculously content in that moment. I had seen Everest. I watched snow fall. I was here on this journey, and I was doing it on my own.
Back inside the dining room, the yak dung fire was burning. I had a cup of hot chocolate in my hands and pleasant company to talk to, although it turns out both fellas were married. After dinner we played cards, as seems to be the thing to do on this journey. The dining rooms, while warm, offered little other distraction than talk with fellow hikers. There was limited phone service and the higher up we went the more expensive the wifi became.
Tomorrow we’re heading to Dingboche at 4,410m, 1,000m higher than Namche Bazaar, and where Chuda warned us we would begin to seriously feel the effects of altitude.
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