- Starting elevation: 12,687 ft / 3,867 m
- Ending elevation: 11,290 ft / 3,440 m
- Elevation change: -1,397 ft / -427 m
- Starting oxygen: 64% of sea level
- Ending oxygen: 67% of sea level
- Distance covered: 5.72 mi / 9.2 km
- Time hiked: 3h 30m
Opening my eyes to a starless sky I am greeted by another beautiful winter day in the Himalaya and the daily realization that I will soon need to remove myself from my sleeping bag and face the frigid morning air.
I pull my camera, cell phone, and collection of spare batteries out of the foot of my sleeping bag (where they spend the night to avoid freezing or losing their charges) to get my pack in order before wriggling out from my cocoon and then forcing it into its stuff sack.
Inside the lodge, all the trekking groups have nearly made it through breakfast. Fielding a barrage of questions from trekkers curious about my night on the porch, I take down a liter of water and a Clif Bar to sustain the hours of hiking to come.
When I started this trek I wasn't sure how many days I would need to make it back to Kathmandu.
Turns out that I only need eleven.
If I had woken up earlier and called Yeti Airlines to change my flight, I could have been back in Kathmandu this afternoon – but then what? As much as I enjoyed my time in Kathmandu, I prefer the mountains; and Namche Bazaar, today's destination, has more than enough to keep me entertained for a day or two.
South of Tengboche the trail dives down to the valley floor below where it crosses a river and shoots right back up – basically why we have bridges. However, like I said, I am not worried about getting back down to Lukla (despite to Tengboche from Gorak Shep yesterday).
The width of the trail has increased to surpass your standard sidewalk, and although still buried in the mountains, any feeling of remoteness that I may have had up closer to Base Camp has all but dwindled with the altitude.
Lower altitude also means warmer temperatures. I stop to remove by baselayer – which I've now been literally wearing for a week – and continue with rolled up sleeves and shorts.
After ascending from the valley to the ridgeline the hiking flattens out as the trail passes through small and seemingly identical outposts of civilization. Feeling the need to slow myself down – since I am on the cusp of completing my hiking for the day – I stop to load myself up on another liter of water and a pot of hot lemon tea courtesy of an old Nepalese woman and a boy who could easily be four generations removed from her.
Enjoying what may be one of my last cups of what is basically hot sugary lemon water (delicious, hot sugary lemon water), I watch porters and their oxen march past me as the never-ending train of supplies into the mountains continues.
“How much do they make per pound brought up?” I find myself wondering as I watch a crate of Everest Beer precariously teeter on the back of an ox's load. “And speaking of beer, I haven't had a drink this entire trek.”
“By golly, you're right, me!” The fear of compromising my hydration and risking any level of altitude sickness had prevented me from experimenting with alcohol during my trek, but now I was on the way back down and could safely enjoy a beer to celebrate a successful trip to EBC.
What am I doing drinking this lemony sugar-water? Time to get to Namche.
Namche Bazaar, the largest village in the Himalaya, was my home for two nights on the way up to Everest Base Camp, and now I would be spending a third and probably a fourth.
Knowing that I have plenty of daylight left, I begin what becomes a rather complicated search for the post office. Although it's not the highest in the world (that honor goes to the one in Hikkim, India), I think it would be neat to get a card from the Himalaya instead of down in Kathmandu.
The post office, if you could call it that, turns out to be a single room with about enough room for a couple of chairs, tables, and filing cabinets. The employee speaks zero English and I find myself doubting that this place is what I think it is.
After a lot of gesturing and writing/showing of numbers, I work out how much postage I need. I pay for my stamps, apply them to their rectangular postal carriers decorated with images of the Himalaya, and return them to the postmaster of Namche with no idea of whether any of them will reach their intended destinations.
Post cards away it's time to do a thorough reconnaissance of Namche before deciding on where I'm going to set up my sleeping bag tonight.
Thinking that perhaps my friend from the Namche Bakery will offer up his porch to me again in exchange for my patronage, I head down to the already familiar establishment for my first real meal of the day.
He's more than willing to let me crash, and with that business squared away I set off exploring.
It isn't long before I run into my friend Franklin from Chukhung-Ri. Together we peruse the local vendors, work on our haggling skills, and toast an Everest Beer to a safe return from the mountains.
Tomorrow is New Year's and I can't say that I'd rather be anywhere else than here.