- Starting elevation: 15,518 ft / 4,730 m
- Ending elevation: 15,157 ft / 4,620 m
- Elevation change: -361 ft / -110 m
- Starting oxygen: 57% of sea level
- Ending oxygen: 58% of sea level
- Distance covered: 6.9 mi / 11.1 km
- Time hiked: 3h 30m
Sharing a room with Franklin from Brooklyn may have been the worst decision I've made since coming to Nepal (yes, worse than sleeping with the stray dogs).
The entire night he managed to produce the loudest most awful sounds I have ever heard come out of another human (sleeping or awake). If my sleeping bag wasn't so damn comfortable (and I didn't have headphones), I might have just gone to sleep in the dining hall with the guides and porters.
It didn't help that my dreams were some of the craziest I've had in years (I think it's the altitude – or all the dhal bhat).
Shaken from my troubled slumber for what must be the twentieth time tonight, I am finally greeted by the sun (I don't know if I am happy the torture has ended or sad about the sleep deprived hiking ahead of me). Franklin has already vacated the room (probably knowing what I plan to do to him).
I pack up and head to the squatty potty (because stretching is important). Fortunately, there is a map pinned to the wall which saves me from having to read the back of my hand sanitizer yet again (isopropyl alcohol…polyacrylic acid…hmmm). I search for my day's destination – the village of Dughla. It appears to also be spelled “Dhukla”, and maybe also goes by the name Thukla (alternate spelling or different name?); no matter the name you're probably saying it incorrectly in your head right now.
Chances are it will be where I sleep tonight (despite it being at a slightly lower elevation than Chukhung – where I am now). If I had made it back down to Dingboche yesterday I might be heading up to Lobuche today. However, I slept 1,049 ft / 320 m higher than I had meant to, defeating yesterday's goal of acclimatization.
Would the extra 951 ft / 290 m gained heading past Dughla to the next village, Lobuche, put me at greater risk for altitude sickness? Should I just say “fuck it” and keep pace with the groups I've paced until this point? What's the worst that could happen? I die? Well I've never been in a helicopter before – this could be my chance.
Either way I need to head to Dughla (henceforth how I shall refer to it) just below Thokla Pass. I'll take a look at the climb when I get there and decide if the trip to Lobuche is worth it today.
After a breakfast of macaroni with tomato sauce (a meal I am growing quite tired of), I decide to hike down the glacier to back to Dingboche with Franklin – despite his unforgivable behavior last night.
For the third day in a row I have fantastic views of the monster Ama Dablam, and the surrounding peaks – these perfectly blue skies are something I won't grow tired of waking up to. It's a good thing that the forecasts predicting four straight days of snow and clouds were completely inaccurate.
We make good time down and by 10:00 we are brushing our teeth and filling up on water with a small piped stream we find near the trail. Keeping to the north of Dingboche to avoid descending back down to where we entered it two days ago, we traverse over to the ridge on the northern side of the village.
Today we have a choice how we wish to arrive at our destination: we can follow a gently inclined plateau as the trail winds its way up to Dughla, or we can drop steeply down into a parallel valley and follow a river past the village of Pheriche before climbing up to Dughla.
Don't think there's much of a choice – less climbing and higher elevations take the win.
Franklin and I share the ridge above Dingboche with a group of a dozen hikers who are deciding how far they want to climb up the peak just north for their acclimatization day.
I considered this peak instead of Chukhung-Ri, but was advised against attempting it by a lodge owner (apparently a summit isn't possible – or at least isn't safe). I still don't know how accurate his suggestion was (but Chukhung-Ri was well worth the trip so I'm not worried about it).
We decide the trip past Pheriche can't possibly be worth the extra effort. Down to the yak infested plateau it is.
The yaks don't appear very concerned by our presence, but as Franklin gets comfy with one for a photo it decides to give an unsettling bellow and aggressive jab with its head. Forget about the yeti, the yaks are the real threats out here (I wonder if BearCat roams these mountains too).
Another hour of hiking and we find the Japanese couple who smoked me up Chukhung-Ri yesterday. We leapfrog each other as we all keep stopping to bask in the wonder of the glorious place that we've found ourselves in (but mostly to take pictures).
“Just around this bend and we'll be there,” I stupidly think to myself. It doesn't matter how much time I spend outdoors or how many times I am deceived by false summits and tricky ridgelines, I will always think I am closer to my destination than I am. However, I guess the better solution would be to just stop worrying about it – I'm not in any rush to spend my day sitting around in Dughla (although I am exhausted from not sleeping last night).
I try my luck at accurately finding my location with my map, but the scale is too large for me to pinpoint exactly how many more turns I have before Dughla comes into view (or I just suck at reading maps – completely possible).
Another thirty minutes of hiking and Dughla appears in the distance.
But can that really be Dughla? What I'm looking at can't possibly be my destination – it's only noon and there are only three buildings that I can see. However, there's no mistaking the climb up to Thokla Pass just beyond the outpost. I suppose it's almost time for lunch.
I hope Franklin's buying.
With Dughla in sight, the trail forks: to the left it drops suddenly to meet the trail climbing up out of the valley (and then up to Dughla), to the right it follows the ridge and wraps around to meet Dughla at an even elevation (maybe even dropping a bit).
Too far in front of me to hear my shouts, I helplessly watch one of the Japanese hikers miss the fork right and unwittingly drop down to the valley floor (but maybe she just wants a little more of a workout).
I decide to wait for Franklin, but before he catches up, the other Japanese hiker arrives and discovers the error in his partner's ways. He screams down to his companion, but she's already gone too far to turn back. I guess I just wasn't shouting loudly enough (or in Japanese enough).
She's probably going to be killed by Tusken Raiders down there.
Franklin catches up we cross a short bridge over a delicious but freezing looking river to arrive at Dughla. Here I find my Australian friends, Bain and Sara from day one, and their trekking group.
Dhuglha is hardly a “village”. It is home to only three buildings, one of which is closed for the winter. I hear there was a landslide here that destroyed what used to be at very most a couple more buildings (but I guess that would have effectively halved the size of this place).
Best that I get myself a pizza and hot chocolate before deciding whether or not I will be pressing on to Lobuche or completing my shortest day of the trek thus far.
Brain and Sara's group properly acclimatized in Dingboche yesterday, and so they set off up the climb to Thokla Pass – I'll miss you, friends.
Franklin decides to hang around Dughla with me because he also doesn't want to risk altitude sickness (but I suspect it's really just because I'm such fantastic company). We spend the afternoon outside in the sun writing postcards and calculating how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit (°C * 9/5 + 32 = °F is what we came up with – hooray middle school algebra!).
I investigate the lodge's snack selection to find a lone pack of Oreos – the mere sight of which makes me far too excited. However, my delight is short-lived as I discover they are three years old (I guess I wasn't that excited). The lodge owner kindly returns my 400 rupees (~$4 US) and I dig into my Snickers reserve to fill the void in my stomach.
As the sun hides behind the mountains and the temperature plummets we head inside to warm ourselves by the poop-fired stove.
As I sit and write in my notebook, an elderly guide looking over my shoulder appears to have become fascinated with it. He starts talking to me, but he doesn't speak a word of English. He is unphased by my lack of understanding. I can tell he wants a closer look at my writing and notebook (probably because it's Star Wars themed), so I hand it over to him like something shiny to a child.
His group of five Australian trekkers are seated nearby and they are more than willing to entertain me while their guide has his way with my most intimate thoughts (mostly bathroom themed). Soon our conversation turns to Diamox – a drug used to treat glaucoma, certain types of epilepsy, and altitude sickness. I have chosen not to take it on this trek because to me it's just more thing to worry about, but it turns out I am in the minority in this regard.
As we talk, two more hikers enter the lodge. It's Bain and Sara, my Australian friends who had left here just a few hours earlier. This can't be good.
Apparently they weren't feeling hot headed up the 15,846 ft / 4,830 m pass, and once they managed to get beyond it in the direction of Lobuche, things only got worse. They made the tough, but smart, choice to not risk their health for the chance to make it to Base Camp.
Before it gets too dark I decide to take one last stroll around Dughla – just to see if I missed something earlier (still on the lookout for a trampoline). As suspected, I only find giant mounds of dried yak turds, but I do get to see yet another glorious sunset in the Himalaya.
Tomorrow I will have an equally short day with a trip up to Lobuche. There I will have to decide once again whether I want to press on to the next village (Gorak Shep) or play it safe with the altitude and hang around with the yaks.
Back inside I have my second meal of macaroni for the day (I am very much considering switching to meat). Bain, Sara, and I spend the night swapping travel stories and sharing tips on what to do and where to stay in Kathmandu (hot pressurized showers are a valuable commodity).
Before long its hiker midnight and time to crawl into my feather sack once again.
In my 200 rupee room (~$2 US), with Franklin aggressively sleep moaning on the other side of the wall, I soon slip into a crazy hallucinogenic state and proceed to have some of the most bizarre dreams imaginable for the second night in a row.
Must be the altitude (or maybe those mushrooms in my macaroni).