1 November 2017
It’s fucking cold. We’re in Lobuche at 4,940m. I have no appetite, I’m tired all the time but sleeping is difficult. I was supposed to go on an acclimatisation hike this afternoon after we arrived but I piked. Chuda was trying to psych me up to do it, it was only an hour after all, not even a 100m ascent. But I was pretty determined that I was done for the day. I told him it was too cold and looked like it was going to snow (because suddenly I’m an expert on snow). He told me it wasn’t going to snow. I gave in and said let’s go outside and see how cold it is.
Two steps out the front door of the teahouse and it started to snow. Nope, not going, I spun on my heel and walked back into the dining room. It was warm and cosy. We’d nabbed a table in the corner furthest from the two doors so we weren’t blasted with cold air each time someone came or went. But somehow I was still cold, palms cupping a hot chocolate.
Michael went on the acclimatisation hike along with Julie and Barb. I borrowed Julie’s copy of Everest and was reading it for the 10th time. I didn’t want to move from my nest among the tables until bedtime or until I inevitably needed to pee again.
The pipes were frozen, as they had been doing since Duboche, which meant there was no running water to wash your hands after squatting. Thank god for hand sanitiser. Side note: squatting is impossible to do well when you’re wearing hiking pants over thermals and boots. There’s just not enough room for everything to sit neatly around your ankles. And squatting is an exercise in balance and there’s nowhere to put your hands to steady yourself. There is currently probably more urine on my boots than I’d like to think about.
Anyway, getting here was another tough experience, perhaps on par with the hike into Tengboche. Leaving Dingboche started out easy enough, and I was ahead of Michael most of the way. It was a reasonably flat hike, cutting across the foothills of a mountain rather than climbing up it. There was a gentle rolling to it and we were high above the valley below. The big climb came after lunch, again, and sucked just as much as I had been expecting.
As we neared Thukla, our rest stop for lunch, we had to cross large white boulders of a glacial moraine that heralded an icy river. A very dodgy bridge allowed us to pass over it and I watched in amazement as horses carrying clients, that had either paid for the privilege or were too ill to walk, navigated the treacherous path.
I managed to choke down same rara noodles (2-minute noodles) and buy some more water in Thukla. I was not looking forward to the climb up to Dughla Pass. It looked horrible. Most had been horrible but this one was plain to see. There was no forest to hide the steep ascent. The barren landscape was not my friend.
It took maybe 45 minutes to climb 300m. I stopped frequently and spoke little to Michael and Chuda. I knew I’d get there, like every day before that, but it was so bloody steep. And yet here were porters carrying loads of 20-30kg outpacing me. I’d said it before, but the stamina and endurance of these guys is incredible. They deserve every rupee that they earn and I suspect they should get a lot more.
When we finally reached Dughla Pass at 4,830m, we stumbled into the Climbers Memorial. It was a place to commemorate climbers and sherpas from all over the world who had lost their lives on Everest. The memorials mostly comprised rock cairns with plaques and bedecked with fluttering prayer flags. The largest by far was for Scott Fischer, who perished in the 1996 disaster, along with Rob Hall. Rob’s memorial on the other hand was a humble cairn, his name scratched in marker on a rusty piece of metal. It was here that I strung up my first set of prayer flags that AndrewNotChris had given me.
We spent about 20 minutes here, wandering the memorials to this climber or that. It was a beautiful setting, overlooking Thukla far below and was a reminder of how deadly these mountains could be.
From Dughla Pass it was a relatively flat and easy run into Lobuche across a barren moraine. Moraines by the way are accumulations of dirt and rocks that have fallen onto the glacier surface or have been pushed along by the glacier as it moves.
It was at this time that Chuda stopped. We in turn stopped and put down our packs, unsure why we had stopped in this spot as there was nothing around us except rocks and an icy creek. Sitting down next to the creek, Chuda pulled off his boots and his socks. What the hell was he doing?
Washing his feet and socks. Without any fanfare, he stepped into the water and scrubbed his feet. Then he sat back on a rock and washed his socks. He pulled a fresh pair from his pack and pulled them on, then strapped his feet back into his boots. Wet socks were wrung and fastened to the outside of his pack.
Michael and I had watched this in some awe and when we dared to feel the water, it was numbing. And then we set off, like it was nothing, and continued along the path, stopping only for the occasional yak. The yaks were getting few and far between now. Chuda told us that yaks live above 3,000m but below 5,000m. Any higher and feed had to be carried for them.
As Lobuche appeared on the horizon, I had my doubts that we would actually be sleeping in a teahouse. The village was tiny, and I saw more than a few tents. There had been some tents in most places we had stayed and I had always dreaded ending up in one. The cold would be unbearable. As for those in Lobuche, they didn’t even look habitable. It seemed there was only one or two teahouses that looked like they could withstand a strong wind.
Fortunately, Chuda led us into the most solid-looking of the teahouses and bustled us into the dining room. I have a dull headache now but it’s manageable. I know that sleep tonight is going to be elusive and cold. Tomorrow is the day, the big one, the one I had been thinking about since I booked this trip in May.
Quietly, I’m shitting myself.
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