30 October 2017
Today was supposed to be a relatively easy day. Heading out of Duboche, everything was covered in snow. Everywhere I turned was a stunning scene of white, yaks plodding past, both with and without burdens. The forest looked enchanted, like any minute a unicorn would come trotting out, dip its horn at me, and continue on.
Michael decided today was another good day for talking to his GoPro and taking lots of photos. Before long, I was well ahead of he and Chuda and decided to attach myself to Aaron and Phil. They were moving at a faster pace and their guide was Chuda’s cousin.
I also took many photos as we walked but unfortunately, in my excitement, I didn’t check my settings carefully. The exposure was all wrong for the brilliance of the snow and many images were not salvageable. To be fair, I’d never taken photos of snow before.
By the time we came to yet another bridge, Chuda and Michael had caught up. It was covered in melting ice that promised to be slippery. As we walked slowly across it, Chuda pointed out a site slightly upriver where a Frenchman had fallen in last year. His body was never recovered. About 10 minutes later, we passed his memorial, a simple photo and plaque in French on a rock. Chuda said he had walked off the trail to take a photo of the bridge we had just crossed and lost his footing and slipped down the cliff. The path was quite narrow there.
Narrow enough that a few minutes later we came upon about 20 hikers stopped and blocking the path. A woman was vomiting over the side of the cliff, two men holding her by the arms so she didn’t fall. The volume of vomit was incredible. Her group appeared to be heading down the trail, not up it but to be that ill, at this part of the trail, must be hell.
We waited a few minutes but she continued to vomit, almost without pause. Like I said, the volume was unbelievable. We squeezed through her hiking group and I breathed through my mouth as we passed her.
The path began to steadily decline, as it always seemed to do and it almost always meant a long hard climb after lunch. The air was definitely getting thinner. While my muscles seemed to have adjusted well to the physical demands of the hike, breathing was becoming harder. This lack of oxygen meant my muscles fatigued quickly and made walking even up short inclines a struggle.
I was also becoming conscious of how much water I was consuming. I ran out of water today and had to borrow a bottle from Michael to pour into my Camelbak. I had already drunk three litres but was fighting the beginnings of a headache so I knew I needed more. But it also meant I needed to pee. All. The. Time.
I dropped my first squat behind a large rock some way off the side of the trail that had evidently been frequented by many people. But it wasn’t long before I needed to pee again. I knew that my pee should be copious and clear, which it was, but I also knew the temptation would be to stop drinking so I didn’t have to keep peeing. I learned this the hard way on Kilimanjaro and paid for it with the most maddening headache once I arrived in Moir Camp.
After lunch in a village called Pangboche, despite the very slight gradient, my pace slowed exceptionally. We were now above 4,000m and my breath was hard and shallow. I put one foot in front of the other, trying to draw in longer breaths. It was frustrating, knowing your body could go faster and was stronger than it appeared. But again, that sense of calm settled over me and I didn’t worry that I was behind Chuda and Michael. They waited for me at every bend or rise in the trail and eventually I would catch up to them, have a long drink, and keep moving.
Chuda is so patient with me. He jokes all the time but never makes me feel like a burden. We were resting at the top of a reasonable climb and I asked how much longer to go. Chuda said two-and-a-half hours. I knew he was joking but he refused to tell me how long. Shouldering into my day pack, we set off again, a line of ants in this landscape dwarfed by giants.
Within 20m of setting off, we rounded a bend, and there ahead, maybe 10 minutes away, was our stop for the next two nights, Dingboche. I was ecstatic. I was feeling the effects of the altitude and had reached my limit for the day. Tomorrow is an acclimatisation day, so I have at least 24 hours to let my body adjust with minimal effort.
As we came to the outlying buildings of the village, I inwardly prayed that our teahouse was close. My energy was spent and it was with relief that we turned into the Summit Hotel. Aaron and Phil are also staying here but were already out on the acclimatisation hike that we would be doing tomorrow. The boys are on a shortened itinerary and are moving on the next day.
Our accommodation is much the same as the other places we have stayed. We have an ensuite but were warned the hot water would likely not be working. I also have no phone service and was told I probably wouldn’t again until Gorak Shep.
It’s cold here at 4,400m. Even in the sun, the wind bites through clothing, although Chuda said he didn’t think it would stay overnight. We are once again surrounded on all sides by mountains. I spent the afternoon at one of the village bakeries where they showed movies. Today it was Everest, the same movie that was showing in most villages. It was eerie to watch it, seeing the locations we had only recently walked through and also seeing base camp as it was in summit season.
The bakery was crowded but the people were quiet as they watched the likes of Rob Hall and Scott Fischer perish on the mountain. It was even colder once the movie had finished and I had to walk the short way back to the teahouse. The air was thick but not with oxygen, with smoke from the yak dung fires. I covered my mouth and nose with a buff I bought from a small shop earlier in the day. Note: a buff is essential on this trek. It protects the nose and mouth from dust and smoke and helps retain moisture in the freezing air.
The moon was out and shining like a beacon above the peak of Ama Dablam. It was spectacular but almost impossible to photograph. Another evening was spent in the dining room of the teahouse with Phil and Aaron, playing cards and drinking tea. I can sleep in a little later tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it.