After what may have been my best sleep of the trip thus far, I spring out of bed to meet Pavel in the common area for our early-morning breakfast (Olga's decided to sit this day's hike out). There's only one problem: where's breakfast?
Typically, you order breakfast the night before and tell the staff what time you plan on eating. We ordered breakfast for 6:30. We enter the common area to find everyone (everyone being the staff) still sleeping at 6:25. I am not optimistic we're going to be fed in the next five minutes. Protip: if there's a large group staying at the same lodge as you, make sure you order your food for before whenever they plan on eating (this goes for dinner too).
We inhale our breakfasts at just after seven and head outside to find the village and surrounding mountainsides devoid of hikers (I guess everyone is sleeping in today).
Our day's objective? Nangkartshang Peak, just north of Dingboche.
Today is the second of two acclimatization days that I will be taking on this trip.
If you've forgotten (or somehow find yourself reading this without having previously known), acclimatization days are aimed at preparing the body for the elevation gains to come (aka to decrease the risk of acquiring some altitude-induced ailment – which could kill you). These days require hikers to head up to as high an altitude as they can manage before then descending to sleep at (or around) the altitude the day began at.
Hike high, sleep low.
It's 2,200 ft / 760 m up to the 16,601 ft / 5,060 m summit and we're lucky it's a nice day because this climb is brutal. For the first time this trip, I am being crushed by the altitude.
Any attempt to increase my pace beyond one step per breath forces me to stop and wait for my stamina to recover (if only Pavel could use Vigor Aura). I am literally climbing at .5 mph / .8 kph. Imagine walking laps around a field – that's one lap every thirty minutes. The world record for one lap? 43.03 seconds.
Despite our fantastically slow pace and a soul-crushing sense of “we're never going to make it”, we eventually make the summit (praise be to the prayer flag decorated summits of Nepal).
On top there is a rocky ridge leading north to another (taller) peak beyond. “Is that actually where we're supposed to be going?” I ask myself, and then Pavel. We aren't sure.
I decide to investigate. Using my hands for stabilization against the knife-edge ridge, I slowly begin making my way across. It's a huge, nearly vertical drop down on either side and the ridgeline becomes thinner and more unstable with every step forward. I'm around twenty-five meters out when I decide this is a horrible idea and most definitely not the way up to Nangkartshang Peak. If it is, then it's far too sketchy to be done by your average acclimatization hiker (that's us).
We begin our descent and slowly regain more normal breathing abilities. Around two-thirds of the way down we meet Olga. Apparently, she has decided to do some acclimatizing, after all. Pavel, being the gentleman that he is, volunteers to go back up the mountain with her; me, being the gentleman that I'm not, instead continue my descent to get a feed.
For tomorrow's hike, I was thinking about heading over Kongma La (the first and easternmost of the three passes this trek gets its name from) and then down to Lobuche. However, I meet a Nepalese guide (accompanying two beastly Australian hikers) who advises me against this. Despite my usual attitude of not listening what anyone tells me, I am inclined to take this man's advice (especially because I'm still concerned about my shoe situation).
Since I'm not keen on hiking up to Chukhung this afternoon, I decide to stay tonight in Dingboche and then enjoy a short walk to Chukhung tomorrow (with a possible climb up the neighboring Chukhung Ri for even more acclimatization).
When I arrive back at the lodge there's a medevac (helicopter) arriving to take a member of the large trekking group back to Kathmandu – our current altitude? 14,461 ft / 4,410 m. Don't forget to stay hydrated and respect your limits, people.
The remainder of my afternoon is spent using my 1,000 rupee internet (good for 24 hours), chatting with a friendly Bulgarian man (who teaches me that nodding in Bulgaria means “no” and shaking your head means “yes”), and prodding the enormous blister that decided to form on the bottom of my foot today (can't wait to pop this thing).
The evening isn't much more eventful.
I go to the shop and buy some toilet paper and candy bars (aka the essentials). I watch a group of three teach a fourth how to play hold 'em and then watch the student get angry and protest when it's their turn to pay blinds. I watch a girl, who had recently purchased internet, yell at the lodge owner when the solar-powered internet turns itself off. And I order another one of the best veggie burgers (also one of the only veggie burgers) I've ever had.
Tonight's also probably my last night with Pavel and Olga (we've been together now since Lukla). It's incredible how quickly you can bond with people after spending just a few days hiking together.
They will be missed.
- Start: Dingboche (14,461 ft / 4,410 m)
- End: Dingboche (14,461 ft / 4,410 m)
- Distance: 3.5 mi / 5.6 km (actually a little longer – I started my GPS late)
- Sleeping elevation change: +0 ft / 0 m
- Day's elevation change: +2,200 ft / 760 m
- Total time: 5:02:19
- Moving time: 3:58:46