- Starting elevation: 12,697 ft / 3,870 m
- Ending elevation: 14,469 ft / 4,410 m
- Elevation change: +1,772 ft / +540 m
- Starting oxygen: 64% of sea level
- Ending oxygen: 59% of sea level
- Distance covered: 6.71 mi / 10.8 km
- Time hiked: 3h 30m
It was cold last night.
I'm not even that high yet (I haven't even had my morning spreef) and already I've got ice floating around in my water bottle (and in my mustache; if only I would figure out how to not breathe out my nose at night).
From the deck of the Tashi Deleck Lodge I can see Everest peeking out from behind the ridge at the end of the valley and Ama Dablam shooting skyward to my east. Why would I want to sleep inside again? Oh, that's right, no dogs.
Packing my enormous (but incredibly warm) sleeping bag into my 58-liter backpack once bordered on impossibility, but I'm happy to say that I have become quite good at it after almost a week of practice. With my bag packed I head inside to take care of the morning routine (make poop), fill up on carbohydrates, and get hydrated.
After a chat with the trekking group I have seen off and on for the past few days, I start down the trail and towards the village of Dingboche. For the first time this trip I start my day by equipping my down jacket and a pair of lightweight gloves – it's cold.
The sun remains notably absent for most of the morning as the trail now leads through a valley surrounded by impossibly tall mountains. This means a lot more snow and ice on the trail (but mostly ice) and a lot more slipping than I am comfortable with (I typically enjoy sliding after slipping – preferably headfirst down a large piece of well-lubricated plastic).
The trail takes me past a few scattered homes and lodges before happening upon a collapsed bridge and then crossing a river (sadly, via a different bridge).
The good news? I am finally going to get some sun and be able to strip down to my shirt and shorts (maybe today will be a naked hiking day?). The bad news? It means it's time to go up (I've decided I've changed my mind about the sun).
Not far into the day's first climb, I hear something racing down the hill above me. Before I can turn to look, whatever species of large horned mountain goat/ram lives up in these mountains (I think a Himalayan tahr?) rushes across the trail in front of me. OHMAHGAWD IS THERE A SNOW LEOPARD CHASING IT?! No, just another horned (and probably delicious) beast. But still an exciting wildlife sighting.
At the top of the climb I am now in full view of the sun and as a result, my clothes have been engulfed in a strange salty liquid. Time for a break.
I grab a seat next to a fellow hiker on a conveniently fashioned stone bench. We get to talking and it turns out he hails from Australia (as do 90% of the people I have met up here). A few brief moments of conversation later and for some reason (probably because of my incredible looks) he offers me a single jelly bean – and not just any jelly bean.
It's impossible to say if it was the heat, the altitude, the time of day, or the time of the month, but this is without a doubt the most delicious jelly bean I have ever eaten (I have eaten a lot of jelly beans). Unfortunately, he brought them to Nepal from a land down under and I could not look forward to enjoying another one anytime soon (I briefly thought of killing him for the rest of the bag – briefly).
Somehow this blog comes up in our conversation (it wasn't me, I swear!) and my new favorite person in the Himalaya (world?) is insisting that he will be reading up on what I have to say. So if you're out there, you beautifully altruistic jelly bean giving man, then thank you (and hello!).
Reinvigorated and already wanting another meal, I start off again in search of the Dingers (heard someone refer to Dingboche as such and liked it).
Passing through the next village of Pangboche brings with it another climb and another temptation to stop and satiate the hunger pangs. Yet I can't bring myself to stop after only an hour and a half of hiking (it's only been an hour and a half!?). I settle for a Snickers and scenic lookout.
Leaving my perch overlooking the village, I manage to get myself behind a group of five yaks and their wrangler, which would normally present a frustrating “goddammit I want to pass” situation. However, this group has a nice pace going. I tail them and now have an easy way to pass the large trekking groups plugging up the trail (I seriously can't imagine the high season here – it must be awful).
Crossing another river means it's time to climb again (which I hate even more than hiking). As I sweat my way up the exposed ridge, I catch a whiff of air that immediately takes me back to the Sierra. It's a beautiful moment that fills me with saudades.
At the top of the climb, the trail continues straight for an Ama Dablam viewing filled half hour before finally dead-ending into Dingboche.
Could this really be it? It seemed a bit too quick getting here. Maybe I need to take more and extend the length of my breaks? My mile crushing mentality of the Pacific Crest Trail refuses to let me linger too long between destinations. Will have to work on this.
Dingboche is much larger than Tengboche (which really wouldn't be much of anything if not for its monastery), and even though the lodge where my tour-bound comrades will be staying sits at the entrance of the village (Peaceful Hotel), I decide to explore since it's still early in the day and I don't expect them for a bit (one of the drawbacks of being part of an organized tour).
I walk for what feels like a good twenty minutes, climbing ever so gently, before coming to a row of lodges overlooking Dingboche on the village's northernmost side. The place has dozens of lodges, a handful of shops, a bakery, and even an internet cafe (500 rupees / ~$5 US an hour). Now I really am hungry; I head into a lodge.
My lodge of choice is completely vacant except for a lone employee listening to a strange mashup of Top 40 and what I can only assume is Nepalese music. This won't get annoying, right? But the tables look clean and the food is priced to my liking (a meal for the price of an hour of the internet). I enjoy my lunch alone while my new friend the receptionist/cook/DJ makes small talk with me about the US.
Filled once more on mediocre pasta with tomato sauce and frugally sprinkled cheese (seriously, it's like they aren't even trying), I head back down to the village entrance to set up shop in the Peaceful Lodge to write postcards and await the arrival of familiar faces.
After an hour of writing, I grow tired of my newly adopted sedentary lifestyle and I abandon my things to venture outside and snap some photos of the yaks (but are they yaks? That's what I'm calling them).
Returning from my safari I find that the lodge has now been occupied by the aforementioned tour group. They have assumed four of the lodges sixteen tables, one of which happens to be the table playing home to my neatly placed possessions. However, said possessions have all been lumped into a pile and moved into a corner. This infuriates me beyond reason.
I still can't say whether my reaction was reasonably justified, but just something about the situation really set me off. To me, it says, “Hey! We know you were sitting here ordering drinks and were planning on ordering dinner, and we know that there are plenty of other unoccupied tables, but this tour group is far more important than you and so we're basically just going to pretend like you don't exist and let them have their way here, cool?”
Between this and the tour guide (from another group) telling me to get lost on night one in Namche, I am really beginning to develop a loathing for said groups. Instead of dwelling on how I was wronged, I simply pack up my things and leave (yes, I paid my tab before doing so). I'm sure I will find something better anyway. I do.
Next order of business: where to sleep?
To the east of Dingboche lies a river that would provide me with some excellent white noise, but would also put me far from breakfast in the morning (also, I have an irrational fear (at least I hope it's irrational) or being trampled by livestock during the night, and I feel the river would be a great place to make this happen).
Still wandering as the sun sets I decide that it's time to make a call. One lodge has a nice-looking courtyard suitable for sleeping in and so I decide to go talk things over with the owner. As usual, once I convince him I actually want to sleep outside, he agrees.
I sit down for dinner and am soon joined by Michael and Garth (the two Australian gentlemen I met on day one and then again on my first acclimatization day). Tomorrow I need to spend another day acclimatizing and so I talk over my options with them.
Many hikers simply opt to hike up towards the peak on the northern side of town, but I prefer something that will occupy my entire day (so I don't end up bingeing on four-dollar candy bars and the most sugary (yes delicious) tea I have ever had).
Garth tells me that Chukhung Ri, an 18,209 ft / 5550 m peak to the north of the easterly village of Chukhung, would be feasible if I woke up and got my ass moving in the morning. I like this idea for a few reasons:
- It is not the thing that everyone else will be doing to acclimatize tomorrow.
- I can see numerous reasons why a person would make a case against this being a good idea (aka I perceive this as somewhat of a dangerous thing to do).
- It will put me at an elevation equal to that I will reach atop Kala Patthar – the highest I expect to reach this trip.
- It will definitely make me work my ass off and help with the acclimatization.
Looks like I know what I am doing tomorrow.
I finish my pizza (which is the best I have had thus far), and head outside to set up camp (aka lay down on the ground). Unfortunately, two large yaks have occupied the courtyard in my absence, and I am not faced with a serious dilemma: sleep here and risk being stepped on by these massive beasts of burden (how good is their night vision?), or go search in the dark for suitable accommodation elsewhere (because sleeping inside is not an option).
After a few moments of deliberation, I decide that I will have some roommates tonight.
Please don't trample me.
Since last night proved to be bitterly cold, and since I have climbed higher today, I use my powers of reasoning to decide that the chance I experience yet another chill filled night tonight is quite high.
I put on my synthetic base layer for the first time and crawl into my sleeping bag.
Tomorrow will be a good day.