- Starting elevation: 11,290 ft / 3,440 m
- Ending elevation: 11,290 ft / 3,440 m
- Elevation change: +0 ft / +0 m
- Starting oxygen: 67% of sea level
- Ending oxygen: 67% of sea level
- Distance covered: 4.72 mi / 7.6 km
- Time hiked: 4h 00m
Forty-eight hours ago I was in Kathmandu at an elevation of 4,600 ft / 1,400 m; today I am waking up in Namche Bazaar at 11,290 ft / 3,440 m.
This much elevation gain over such a short period of time (with more than a vertical mile to go before my destination) calls for a day spent acclimatizing. What does that mean? It means that I need to spend another night at this elevation before making my way further up into the mountains (to find and kill God).
Huzaa! A zero day! Time to ingest an unreasonable amount of food and alcohol.
Although some may choose to spend their days acclimatizing in such splendid and barbaric a fashion, I am intent on not acquiring any measure of altitude sickness. That being said, I have resolved to day hike the area before returning to Namche for sleepy time (sexy time?).
I wake up to the elderly man who I assume owns the Everest Bakery (since he is the oldest person I’ve seen here, he must be the owner – logical, right?) enjoying a tea alongside the dogs who kept me up all night.
He sees me sit up, and without a word he disappears inside (contrary to popular belief I’m not very beautiful in the morning). However, he soon emerges with an offering of Nepali tea for me (am I going to have to pay for this?) and we enjoy our morning caffeine in silence, lazing in the chill mountain air, listening to Namche Bazaar come alive for another day of hiker hosting.
Soon, my English-speaking friend Susan shows up for work and takes my breakfast order. After eating my assorted vegetables, drinking my morning liter of water, and squatting over a hole at the back of the restaurant (because stretching?), I inquire as to where to hike my day.
Susan kindly makes some suggestions, but my mind decides to drift as he explains where I should go. No worries, I prefer aimless wandering (also, I am not 100% confident that Susan knows what I was asking in the first place). I know I must go up to assist the acclimatization process, and so I set off north, winding my way north through Namche’s narrow streets.
Passing a lodge at the edge of the village I come across my Japanese friend Kae from yesterday. She has resolved to go to Gokyo instead of Everest Base Camp to put some distance between herself and the EBC crowds (even in the low season, there are far too many people up here). I am very tempted to go with her (I’m so lonely).
However, I decide to stay true to my original destination and rationalize I may have time to jump over to Gokyo after paying homage to the foot of the world’s tallest mountain. Kae and I say farewell as the trail splits, and, as usual, I continue upwards (why always up, trail?).
Steeply climbing out of Namche, I soon become the final trekker in a German tour group’s conga line (eins, zwei, drei, wiederholen!). I slowly leapfrog and switchback cut my way up to the front of their group, and when I break free I find myself atop a hill overlooking the Bazaar of Namche.
This place is home to Syangboche Airport (12,402 ft / 3,780 m), which is literally just a flat, vegetation-free, patch of dirt with zero facilities. Even calling it an airstrip would be silly (landing strip, heh).
From here the trail fragments into a dozen smaller paths crisscrossing across the plateau, and the trail I follow soon runs dry. No problem, I can see a lodge a few hundred yards away and figure it will be a good place to pick up a trail again.
Although it appears closed, I find the gate unlocked. I go inside and head around back where I find the two Australians I asked about mani stones on my first day on the trail. Garth and Michael are well-traveled and are quite knowledgeable as far as the Everest Region is concerned (at least they appear to be relative to my near zero knowledge).
I discuss my options for heading to Gokyo after EBC with them and discover that with the time I expect to be up here, said endeavor would be totally doable via Cho La Pass (so long as it is (relatively) clear of ice and snow).
Neato – I love not having plans.
From here my destination becomes the Hotel Everest View (or Everest View Hotel), which is supposedly a nice place to break and take in some views of, dare I say, Everest? (Spoiler Alert: No views of Everest to be found today.)
The trail lazily curves along a ridge to the hotel which is the final destination for many acclimatization hikes (despite getting to the hotel from Namche requiring little effort). Apparently people also charter helicopters to fly them here from Lukla (or Kathmandu?) for ungodly sums of money. On that note, I wonder how much it costs to stay at this place. I’ll bet it’s on par with the ridiculousness of Sweden’s ICE HOTEL.
I arrive and meander through the hallways until I see the hiker filled patio through a wall of glass on the building’s north side. From the patio I spot the village of Tengboche – tomorrow’s destination. However, I can also see the gorge, 2,000 ft / 600 m below that need be descended into prior to immediately climbing out and up to Tengboche. Why must you be so cruel, Trekking Gods?
I also spot the French couple I met yesterday and again invite myself to sit with them (despite their guide appearing really unhappy with my decision to do so). Not wanting to buy overpriced tea or pastries I drink another liter of water from my bag and down a few Bounty bars (are these things available in the US yet?).
As nice as sitting on the patio of a hotel surrounded by other hikers can be, I prefer to be laying alone in the dirt enjoying the Himalayas devoid of commercialism (because you know, no money – and of course rejecting society, profound thoughts, freedom in nature, and all that good stuff).
So much perspective up here in the mountains.
Leaving the Everest View Hotel I can head back towards Namche Bazaar and arrive with more than half the day ahead of me (in which case I will undoubtedly spend far too much money gorging myself on trail luxuries) or I can venture north to the villages of Khumjung and Khunde (I have no idea what’s there – yaks?).
Off to Khumjung and Khunde it is.
After a brief marking of my territory, I continue down the trail towards the already visible Khumjung. The sun has turned much of the trail into a slide of mud, while what remains is covered with some slippery, white, reflective substance (possibly condensed milk?).
I can see three hikers spaced out in front of me, and as they carefully tiptoe down the trail I choose to ignore the slippery conditions and soon find myself alongside the group’s straggler (having nearly having shattered my coccyx only twice).
The latest victim of my banter is here with a friend from Germany, and as we catch up to said friend and their guide, I instinctively stop for the mandatory “Hey! You’re hiking here too, what a coincidence!” chat. Now’s the part where some people like to become awkward: do we keep hiking together? Does one of us feign a call from nature to provide a buffer between our parties?
In an attempt to judge my likability I ask the question that need be asked, “So, you guys want some company or what?” They do (I’m really popular).
We descend into Khumjung and stop for lunch at a lodge selected by my impromptu guide (all these places (literally) look exactly the same to me). More tea and even more carbs later and we are ready to continue our stroll through the mountains.
The weather remains beautiful and I am content wearing a single long sleeve shirt and pair of pants (although stopping in the shade does invoke some measure of chill). We take a brief tour of the local school before continuing through Khumjung and up to the next (very similar looking) village of Khunde.
The guide escorting my latest companions proves to be the friendliest I’ve met thus far, and he happily chats with me as we slowly gain altitude up to Khunde (and more importantly he does not appear to be bothered that I am not the one paying him).
Home to the area’s only hospital (a fact I just made up), Khunde sits at an elevation of 12,600 ft / 3,840 m. We stop by the medical facilities for a brief and self-guided tour before turning towards Namche and rounding out our circuit for the day.
Not many people have been through this area lately and as we break trail south towards Namche the terrain alternates between ankle-deep snow and mud. Prior to my arrival I thought hiking on snow and ice would prove the biggest obstacle, but now I would argue that mud presents a far greater challenge (why do you think it’s so commonly used for wrestling?).
Once back in Namche I retreat to the bakery where I again find my French friends, Manu and Paula. I take a seat with them and decide to get some postcard writing done.
Normally, this would also be the time to enjoy an alcohol infused beverage, but seeing as the point of today was to acclimatize, I don’t wish to undue any of my work at the expense of a shit local beer (but I won’t lie, I am excited to have you inside of me, Everest Beer).
Taking a break from my writing, I see a member of the group who expelled me from their lodge last night and decide to go see what all the fuss was about. Turns out this guy does not belong to said group, but I invite him (an Australian) and his female Polish companion to join myself, Manu, and Paula (who until this point were content minding their own business – sorry, guys).
We swap stories, feast on pastries, and listen to the Polish woman repeatedly attempt to incite arguments over trivial facts (the mountains are no place for politics). Isn’t meeting new people exciting?
As the sunlight vanishes and the Namche Bakery empties, I retire to the Everest Bakery to investigate whether or not I can arrange a more desirable sleeping situation for tonight.
Turns out that Susan owns (has access to?) a neighboring building (ask and you shall receive). He escorts me down the hill and I am thrilled to find that not only is this place covered and out of the noisy bar’s earshot, but it’s next to a small stream providing the perfect amount of white noise (why was I not made aware of this last night, Susan?).
Tonight, for the first time, sleep comes easy, and I drift off to the sound of water rushing down the hillside as the sky fills with the light of a billion stars.