Today's hike won't be too intense since yesterday I was convinced that should attempt Kongma La (the first of the three passes) from Chukhung (the next village) instead of from Dingboche (where I am now). However, I am up early to say goodbye to Pavel and Olga, my Russian friends who have been with me since day one at the airport in Kathmandu.
The people I meet while traveling frequently turn out to be quite remarkable and these two are no exception. Depending on our timing, there's a small chance that we will cross paths again in Lobuche, but realistically this will probably be the last time we see each other (in Nepal – I'll definitely be hitting them up next time I'm in the Czech Republic).
With one last reminder that in English we “take pictures” and don't “make pictures”, we put on our best American smiles and forever freeze in time our final moments together.
From Dingboche, the trail gently rises 3.1 mi / 5.03 km northeast through the valley to Chukhung. When I arrive I will have the option of climbing the 18,209 ft / 5,550 m peak, Chukhung Ri, but since I already made the climb last year, I don't know if I will be in the mood to attempt it again (it's seriously exhausting).
Pavel and Olga, along with the rest of the trekkers to Everest Base Camp, will head northwest up the adjacent valley from Dingboche to Dughla (also spelled Dhukla or Thukla) and then over Thokla Pass to Lobuche. Tomorrow, I will be heading over Kongma La (18,136 ft / 5,528 m) to Lobuche (at which point one could easily make a day trip to Everest Base Camp thereby combining the EBC and Three Passes hikes).
Alternatively, if you wanted to hike to Everest Base Camp via Kongma La, this would be a reasonable (and challenging) alternative to the classic route out of Dingboche (although it may require an additional day to properly acclimatize). I've heard conflicting reports as to which pass is the “most difficult”, but most seem to agree that it's not Renjo La (the westernmost pass); I also hear that a lot of people skip Kongma La and do only two passes: Cho La and Renjo La (but where's the fun in that?).
Forty minutes into my hike up the valley, I receive a call from nature. From what I have seen, most people receive these calls shortly after waking up. I, on the other hand, ostensibly did something to anger the maker of said calls as I always receive them at the most inconvenient times.
Seeing as I've been above the treeline for a few days now, there's little cover besides the odd boulder, bush, or depression in the trail. This call is incredibly urgent and there's no way I'm making it to Chukhung (or back to Dingboche) before taking it. I get off the trail and, with a 360-degree view of my surroundings, take care of my business (yes, I am certainly living a life of luxury out here, friends). Fortunately, the trail to Chukhung isn't as popular a trekking route as the one via Dughla and I am able to avoid any awkward moments of eye contact with unsuspecting passersby.
I continue up the valley attempting to avoid following the trail as it descends (ever so slightly) to a creek, but despite my efforts, I am eventually forced down to the trail below. Even the smallest of climbs at this altitude is enough to leave me winded; I'll do anything to avoid unnecessary uphill travel. It's heated up noticeably since yesterday and I'm wearing only a single layer by the time I arrive in Chukhung.
The first lodge I check out in Chukhung is deserted. Since I'm hoping to find someone (or someones) to go over the pass with me tomorrow I move on to the next lodge, the Kangri Resort (I'm a little nervous since I have little idea what to expect in terms of snow, ice, difficulty, or yeti). Here I find a group of three guys – Doug from the US, John from England, and Trif from New Zealand.
They're planning on hitting Kongma La tomorrow and are just about to take an acclimatization trip 2,691 ft / 820 m up Chukhung Ri. They invite me to come along. Their pace is a lot quicker than mine and after about 1,000 ft / 300 m of climbing, I decide that I'm far too tired, dehydrated, and unmotivated to make the summit (again).
I head back to the lodge and on the way notice that 10,000 rupees (~$100) has worked its way out of my unzipped pocket somewhere along the way. By now, the wind has likely made any recovery effort hopeless; this doesn't stop me from clamoring about, futilely searching for my bartering papers. Accepting my loss, I continue down the slope and back to the lodge.
I'm fortunate enough that losing $100 isn't going to financially cripple me, but since there are no ATMs up here and because 99% of places do not accept credit cards, this particular $100 was quite valuable to the successful completion of my trek. I now need to stretch my remaining rupees until I make it back to Namche Bazaar (likely the final day of the trek).
Frustrated and needing to vent, I share my story with the lodge owner who offers to comp my dinner and breakfast. What an awesome guy; I told you Nepalese people are extraordinary.
My afternoon is spent hydrating and watching a Nepalese (or maybe Indian) drama marathon on the lodge's TV. I have no idea what's going on and am not sure who are the good guys are and who are bad guys (there's maybe some deception going on somewhere?), but I do know that everyone is incredibly dramatic – lots of zooming in on people's faces as they turn to face the camera with some exaggerated emotion splayed across their faces.
When the Chukhung Ri crew returns, any remaining hope of currency recovery is shattered when they report not finding anything (or maybe they're filthy liars).
After dinner and a long conversation about what time to get started tomorrow morning (I pushed hard for a pre-dawn breakfast), we decide to set off with the sunrise. I'm still a bit worried about my shoe situation, but these guys don't have any crazy boots or snow/ice gear with them which leads me to believe that all those fearmongers I spoke to on the way up here were full of shit.
We'll find out soon enough. Tomorrow it's up pass number one: Kongma La.
- Start: Dingboche (14,461 ft / 4,410 m)
- End: Chukhung (15,518 ft / 4,730 m)
- Distance: 3.1 mi / 5.03 km
- Sleeping elevation change: +1,057 ft / 320 m
- Day's elevation change: + 1,594 ft / 486 m
- Total time: 2:27:09
- Moving time: 2:09:19