I had forgotten how crazy my dreams are when I sleep at elevation; last night did well to remind me (all I will say is dinosaur apocalypse).
After returning to bed following an early-morning excursion to the bathroom (it's quite rare that my bladder wakes me), I awake again and decide it's time to head downstairs for the breakfast I ordered last night (it's pizza).
Today I hit the trail with Pavel, Olga, and our new friend, Jaz the Englishman.
For trekkers to Everest Base Camp, the hike to Namche Bazaar is (typically) the day with the most elevation gain – up 1,985 ft / 605 m to 11,286 ft / 3,440 m from Monjo (or up 2,727 ft / 830 m from Phakding). For trekkers completing the Three Passes Trek (my current objective) that day will be the hike over Kongma La.
Passing north out of Monjo, we officially enter Sagarmatha National Park via the Jorsalle Entrance Gate. If you intend on continuing into the park, the cost is 3,000 rupees (~$30). Nothing you can do about this (unless you're Nepali or under 10, then it's free), so pay up, get your permit, and press on.
Once the trail passes the point where you behold the (iconic?) dual bridges crossing the river below (the one on bottom is no longer in use), the (sometimes) steep climb up the ridge to Namche Bazaar begins.
The weather has cleared since yesterday, and the temperature is comfortable. I've got wool bottoms on under my shorts, and on top I'm wearing just a shirt. As we climb past porters and livestock carrying more weight than any of us could imagine carrying ourselves, we approach a small rest area offering the first views of Everest.
You may be tempted to stop here and snap a million photos (“OH MAH GAWD! IT'S EVEREST!”), but I promise you there will be plenty of (better) photo opportunities, so don't go too crazy (or feel too bad if you can't see anything).
Today's hike will also be our last day of hiking below the treeline. Past Namche, the trail does some dipping up and down to Tengboche and then Pangboche, but today's hike is really the final walking under a canopy.
There's another checkpoint before you reach Namche where you will have to surrender your TIMS card and show your Sagarmatha National Park permit (which will be stapled inside your TIMS). As was done at the first checkpoint back in Lukla, the officer here also notes the model of my camera (I still believe this to be a means of identifying your remains).
Don't be fooled – there's still another thirty minutes of hiking to reach Namche once you've successfully made it past the checkpoint. On the way, the trail continues climbing, but we're rewarded with stunning views of Nupla (22,589 ft / 6,885 m) as we round the ridge to the day's destination.
When we arrive in Namche, I head straight for the centrally located Namche Bakery Cafe (map) where they have delicious sweets, functional wifi, a clean bathroom, and power outlets (this place is essentially my base whilst in Namche).
It took us under three and a half hours to get here from Monjo and it's still early. Pavel and Olga decide to go on a hike to Hotel Everest View, but since I'm feeling especially lazy I decide to stick around the bakery.
Over the course of the next several hours, I reunite with a friend from my day of waiting around at the airport, meet a Frenchman who has just completed the Three Passes Trek, and then decide to go on a hunt for some new shoes.
New shoes? Yes, I've been meaning to tell you about that. I'm a bit worried about my current shoe situation. You see, there's a chance the Three Passes Trek requires the crossing of some treacherous snowy or icy sections of trail. Do I have microspikes? No. Do I have boots? No. Do I have a well-worn pair of nearly-destroyed trail runners? Yes.
A hiker I spoke to in Lukla who had just completed the Three Passes Trek told me that my shoes “would definitely not be adequate” for completing the trek. That being said, I am always incredibly skeptical of what (most) others have to say about trails (people like to embellish their accomplishment).
Even before departing Japan for Nepal, I was searching for new shoes. Following extensive firsthand research, I have concluded finding shoes in Japan (or Nepal) to fit my incredibly fat foot to be nearly impossible. But if I am going to find shoes anywhere in the Himalaya it's going to be here in Namche.
Many of Namche's stores (like many in Kathmandu) sell knock-off gear that I would not trust to hold up very long. Fortunately, one store (above the Irish pub, across from my position in the bakery) sells genuine gear. I try my luck and miraculously find a pair of Mammut boots that fit perfectly. But there's a catch. They cost $290.
After some negotiating with the shop owner, it's decided that we can work out some sort of barter involving my GoPro. Since I will be spending tomorrow night in Namche as well (tomorrow is my first of two acclimatization days), I decide to sleep on it. For now, I head over to the lodge where my Russian friends are staying to see if it's dinner time yet.
I find Pavel and Olga sitting in the lodge and they explain how they took a wrong turn on their journey and ended up at the Sherpa Culture Museum instead of the (much further away) Hotel Everest View.
There's always tomorrow.
Our dinners arrive (tonight's chow mein) and as we eat Pavel and Olga explain to me the “American smile”. Apparently, Russians don't smile much (this includes in photographs), and they're told (or at least they used to be told) that Americans' smiles are insincere and just for show (which isn't completely untrue).
As a child, I was not particularly fond of smiling in photos. I can clearly remember being scolded (or at the very least criticized) for my lack of feigned enthusiasm in front of the camera. Perhaps this was simply my Russian roots manifesting themselves.
However, following a childhood of frowns and scowls, I've now wholeheartedly embraced smiling in photos (regardless of genuineness) and am committed to converting my trekking buddies to the Dark Side (because it is the only way you can save your friends).
- Start: Monjo (9,301 ft / 2,835 m)
- End: Namche Bazaar (11,286 ft / 3,440 m)
- Distance: 2.6 mi / 4.13 km
- Sleeping elevation change: +1,985 ft / +605 m
- Day's elevation change: +2,471 ft / +753 m
- Total time: 3:20:40
- Moving time: 2:17:20
NOTE: I have no guarantee that this route is correct, nor that it can be accurately relied upon for navigation. It should serve only as a general guideline for what the trail is expected to look like.