Tag Archives: Lobuche

From Temper to Trees – Nepal – Chapter 16

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Gorak Shep (5160m) – Kala Pattar (5550m) – Lobuche (4910m) – Pangboche (3980m)

 Date = 30-31 March

 L&D get out of bed reluctantly.  It’s minus 5°C indoors and snowing outside.  Angtu has booked breakfast for 6.30am.  They’ve got a 400 metre climb to the top of Kala Pattar.

They inspect the sky, which does not look promising.

D:  I really want to climb the mountain.

L:  I don’t seem to mind if we do or not.

D:  I want to see if it clears at all.  If it does I’m going up.

L:  OK, if it does, I’ll come too.

There is a French boy at the next table.  Despite the fact that it’s still only 7am, he says he’s already been to the top and back this morning.

D:  How was it?

Boy:  It was super-cold and not worth it as there was nothing to see.

D:  I think it’s clearing.  The sky’s lightening.  It’s stopped snowing.

Boy:  That’s so not fair!

L:  (joking)  You’ll have to do it again!

P1030397 (2)They leave him to his breakfast and set off.  There’s a thin crust of snow, a bitter wind and a leaden grey sky which is slowly shifting and cracking.  Without the sun the landscape is monochrome and harsh.  There is rock and snow.  Black and white.  Cold and colder.

A helicopter thuds up the valley.  It lands in a snowfield below them.  Three tourists get out, take photos of Mount Everest, get back in, and fly away.

The path up Kala Pattar is clear and unchallenging but steep, until the last 50m of bare rock.  It seems that at 5,500 metres L has reached her temper threshold.  D&L stand just below the summit and bicker.  Angtu looks uncomfortable and pretends he can’t hear.

L:  You go. I don’t even care about getting to the top.

D:  But I want you to be with me.

L:  I can’t breathe.  I’m too cold.

D:  Come with me.

L:  I don’t want to.

D goes ahead on his own and reaches the summit.   L comes slower.  D is delighted.  L couldn’t care less, although through her sulk she recognises that on a clear day the views would be unequalled.  Just behind them, looking close enough to touch, towers the peak of Pumori.  Below them lies Everest Base Camp, and the Khumbu Icefall, and beyond the glacier soars Everest – today glimpsed only fleetingly through the shifting cloud.

P1030423 (2)D:  It’s amazing!  Take photos of everything!

L:  I can’t.  My hands are numb.

She hands the camera to Angtu.

D:  Here – have a celebratory Snickers!  We’re at 5550m!  The highest we’ve ever been!

L:  It’s too cold.  Let’s just go.  Let’s celebrate later – somewhere warm.

D:  Oh.  OK.

L:  Have I ruined it?

D:  A little bit.

L:  It’s just so cold.  And grey.  And cold.

They start down.  L’s mood and fingers thaw a fraction.

L:  Sorry.  I think it’s the altitude.  Now we’re a bit lower, I’m less horrible already.

But she continues to feel negative all the way down.  Bad vibes are streaming out of her.  She’s worried the mountain will feel her antipathy and be offended and cause her to strain a knee or an ankle or fall.  For an hour she mutters “thank you Kala Pattar, thank you Kala Pattar” over and over under her breath, a mantra of gratitude to drown out the rest.

On the descent they are overtaken by a youth, skipping down the mountain.  It’s the French boy, who has summitted a second time that morning, and this time been rewarded with views.  L is pleased for him, and continues her muttering.  “Thank you Kala Pattar, thank you Kala Pattar”.

They arrive back at the warmth of the lodge in Gorak Shep and drink hot chocolate and eat pancakes.  It’s taken nearly 2 hours up, and just over 1 hour down.  D is glowing with a sense of achievement.  L feels nothing – she’s just been for a brutally cold walk and come back again.

P1030431 (2)They set off back to Lobuche.  Without the sun to melt the dusting of snow, the landscape stays monochrome and the windchill is biting.  Once again they across the chaotic maze of glacial moraine.

L:  What’s the most overpriced thing you’ve come across up here?  Bearing in mind that everything’s justified somewhere this remote.

D:  It could be the 4 dollar Kit Kat?

L:  Yes.

D:  Or the 400 dollar horse – for a day’s hire?

L:  Also yes.  One could surely buy a horse for less than that.

They join the wide, dusty, well-trodden corridor of the main trail and stride onwards and downwards.

L:  I think being at altitude might be good practice for extreme old age.  I imagine it’s just the same.

D:  In what way?

L:  Walking everywhere really slowly, with sticks.

D:  OK.

L:  And being always out of breath.

D:  I suppose.

L:  And needing to pee all the time.

D:  I think that’s pregnant people, not old ones.

L:  And not enough personal hygiene.

D:  That’s not old people or pregnant ones.  That’s just us.  I’m not sure this analogy is working.

L:  Oh.  You could be right.

D:  How long ago did we shower?

L:  Does a bucket of warm water attached to a hose count?

D:  Yes.

L:  10 days.

D:  And wash our hair?

L:  Two weeks.

D:  Nice.

L:  Quite.

***

It’s minus 4°C in their bedroom this morning, but outside the sky is clear.

P1030438 (2)A team of yaks, heavily laden with equipment for Everest Base Camp, drink from Lobuche’s stream.  A helicopter lands outside the lodge, throwing up a mini blizzard of fine snow which sparkles in the bright sun.

L is cheerful at the prospect that later today she will have a hot shower.  They have splashed out a shamefully enormous sum for a night of luxury tonight and she’s looking forward to washing two weeks of dirt from her hair.

The blue sky above adds welcome colour to the rock and snow of their surroundings.  As the valley widens, the horizon opens to display a succession of jagged distant peaks, and closer to, in the foreground is a similar series of turrets and pyramids, standing a couple of metres high.  They are spread out across the snow-encrusted plateau, with prayer-flags flying from one to another.  It’s a memorial field to climbers lost on Everest and elsewhere.  Many names are Sherpa, others are from all over the world, and they include some of the biggest and most respected names in mountaineering.

P1030449 (2)Among them is Scott Fischer, the American mountaineer and guide known for ascending the world’s highest peaks without extra oxygen.  In May 1996 he led a group of clients up Everest, assisted by two other guides.  After helping others, he summitted Everest late in the day and during his descent was caught in a violent blizzard that took the lives of 8 people, including Fischer.   In this spot there is also a memorial to Anatoli Boukreev, a respected Russian Kazakhstani climber and one of Fischer’s fellow guides on that day.  After rescuing others, Boukreev did manage to reach Fischer, but he was already dead.  Boukreev survived, but was killed in an avalanche while climbing Annapurna 18 months later.    One of the largest memorials is to Babu Chiri Sherpa, who climbed Everest 10 times, holding the record for the fastest ascent (under 17 hours), and for the most time on the summit without auxiliary oxygen (21 hours), as well as summitting twice in two weeks.  He died on his 11th summit bid of Everest, falling into a deep crevasse in April 2001.

P1030459 (4)From the memorial field, the trail descends through rock-strewn mayhem to the valley floor.  The clouds build, settling on the peaks and draping everything in grey.  The temperature drops.  Porters toil their way up through the boulders under enormous weights bound for Base Camp.  Angtu leads L carefully across an ice-bridge spanning the river, the pair of them slipping and dancing in unison, holding opposite ends of a walking pole.

The broad flat valley floor stretches on forever.  They glimpse the tin roofs of Pheriche at the far end of the plain, but the village remains resolutely distant.   They are now at around 4,300 metres.

L:  Look – juniper!  Actual alive growing things!

They realise that it’s been 10 days or more since they’ve seen a plant higher than a centimetre.

L:  And people living their lives!  Not just looking after trekkers.

They are passing tiny stone cottages, used only seasonally and empty this early in the year, and a patchwork of stone-walled yak paddocks.  A stream runs through the valley and the peak of Ama Dablam soars overhead.  In the sunshine it would be stunning.

In Pheriche they pause in a large lodge to rest and get warm whilst Angtu books rooms for a future group.  On their way out of the village, they spot their kit bag sitting on a wall, and from the interior of a dark tin hut comes a peal of laughter and a quack-quack-quack.  Phurba has found some friends.

P1030470 (2)Over a rise they look down into the next valley, a steep-sided groove cut by a fast-flowing river.  As they drop lower, the vegetation gets taller.

L:  No way!  Real trees!

She points.  On the opposite side of the valley, the hillside is cloaked in woodland.

D:  Oh – how we’ve missed them!

L:  Look how lovely they are.  Even though they’re not in leaf.

The tiny village of Shomare is a cluster of proper homes.  There are hens and little veg plots.  They stop for lunch in one of the only lodges.  The dining room is beautifully draped in wall hangings and the floor is spotlessly swept.  Outside the window a tiny girl toddler stands on a narrow ledge.  She puts her head through the open window and roars like a lion.  Then laughs.  She tries to climb in through the window, gives up and disappears.  P1030476 (2)She potters through the door curtain and climbs up onto the bench next to L.  They stare at each other for a bit.  She puts her face right up to L’s, and laughs.  She pokes L.  L smiles and pokes her gently back.  She giggles and pokes.  And giggles and pokes.  And giggles.  The soup arrives.  Her mother shoos her off the bench.  The little girl tries to climb out of the window, gives up and disappears back through the curtain.  She makes herself busy in the yard throwing cups of water at hens.

The onward path is narrow, high above the river.  They’ve not got far to go, and so amble leisurely behind a train of yaks.  A man scrambles up the bank from the river, hauling a sack of hay.

Man to Angtu:  It’s my mule.  He fell.

They peer over the edge.  On a faint trail 15 metres below them stands a brown mule.  He seems miraculously unharmed by his fall.   Two boys try unsuccessfully to pull and push the animal back up to the trail.  But the mule has had quite enough excitement for one day.  He’s going nowhere.

Pangboche is big and spread out.  There’s the first bit they come to, the bit round the corner, and the bit up the hill.  Their luxury lodge is in the first of these.  The extortionate price buys them a warm welcome with a hot towel, a cup of tea and a large slice of chocolate cake.  After the last fortnight, it’s paid for itself right there.  The room is surprisingly cold, despite the fact that they’ve dipped down to just below 4,000m, and the quality is of European 2-star level.  But it’s easy to forget that this village is still a week’s walk from the nearest drivable track.  It has comfortable beds and proper bedclothes.

P1030501 (2)Lodge:  The hot water bottles are free.  Would you like some?

L:  Fantastic – yes please.

Lodge:  Great.  How many?

L:  Oh – umm….

Lodge:  As many as you like.

L:  I think three.

Their en-suite bathroom has hot running water.  They launder some essentials and then lower the tone by hanging them up to dry in the corridor window.   The loo is all their own.  The gas powered shower is weak and fills the room with noxious fumes but the water is scaldingly hot and doesn’t run out and they both wash from top to toe, thoroughly.

L:  It’s so wonderful to be clean.

D:  Though our clothes still smell.

L:  Who cares?

Angtu urges them not to waste yet more money on forty dollar meals in the hotel so they follow him to the lodge opposite.  D is feeling queasy from the gas fumes.  L orders a cheese & tomato pizza.  Angtu returns from the kitchen.

Angtu:  They have no tomato.  You could have just cheese.

L:  A cheese pizza would be great, thank you.

The pizza arrives.  The kitchen have decided that just cheese won’t do.  They have compensated for the lack of tomato, with alternatives.

D:  What’s on your pizza?  That’s not just cheese.

L:  No.  There’s cheese…and carrot…and cabbage.

D:  Good luck with that!

He smirks and tucks into his dal bhat, though the gas has dulled his appetite.  L is hungry and starts on her pizza.

D:  How are you doing?

L:  It’s OK.  But it’s not right.  It’s great to eat cabbage and carrots, and it’s great to eat pizza, but combining the two should be illegal.

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The Forgotten Pyramid – Nepal – Chapter 13

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Lobuche (4910m) – Italian Pyramid (4970m)

Date = 28 March

L:  So?

D:  Minus 5°C.

The cold is getting colder.  D&L are snug in their bedroom with sleeping bag and duvet and thermal clothing.  They need to cover their heads at night, wearing hats and pulling sleeping bags tight around their faces.  In the mornings, the inside of their window is coated with ice.  The air temperature in their room makes the water in their water bottle freeze when they open it to clean their teeth.  The loo cistern freezes overnight.  Even to flush the loo from a bucket they need first to break the ice in the bucket.

They slurp milky porridge soup at 8am while the lodge cleans around them.  All the other trekkers left hours ago.   Angtu shrugs at the staff.  He’s been trying for weeks to get L&D to set off early like everyone else, with very little success.

Half an hour up the valley they stop at a sign saying “8000 Inn” and pointing off the main trail.

Angtu:  Is this the turn?  Is it a hotel?

They are looking for the Italian Pyramid.  Angtu has never been there.  His clients have always been in too much of a rush to get to Everest Base Camp.

L:  I don’t think so.  It’s supposed to be a research centre.

D:  It says it’s just 5 minutes.  Why don’t we go and have a look anyway?

P1030212 (2)In a little barren side valley a solitary low stone lodge is half buried into the hillside and topped by a large glass pyramid sheathed in solar panels.  Behind, in a perfect mirror image, rises the white peak of Pumori, and opposite, a glacier tumbles straight down the mountain into the valley.   A few dumb-bells and makeshift gym equipment sit on a low wall.  They are definitely in the right place.

The catchily named Pyramid International Laboratory/Observatory High Altitude Scientific Research Centre was built in 1990 by a pair of Italians – a mountaineer and a geologist – to measure the exact height of Everest and K2.  It has been used for scientific research ever since, and is commonly known as the Italian Pyramid.

They are met by the softly spoken manager who speaks very good English and looks very Italian, with fashionably shaved scalp, designer stubble and blue eyes in a deeply tanned face.  After weeks of being immersed in incomprehensible Nepali, L&D prepare to break into a language they can actually speak.

L:  Hello!  Are you Italian?

Kaji:  No, I’m Nepali.

L:  Oh.

Kaji Bista welcomes them, makes them tea, settles them in front of a huge TV showing a cricket match, rustles up a plate of egg & chips for another visitor, and then shows them around.

Inside the pyramid a number of small rooms are crammed with scientific equipment, paper files and work spaces.  In one room a large yellow body bag lies on a table.  Stairs climb to an upper floor and a ladder to a space in the pyramid’s peak.  The glass is not glass – it is flexible Perspex.  The whole building flexed comfortably during the 2015 earthquake, remaining undamaged and protecting the equipment within.  There are Italian electronics labels and stickers everywhere.

L:  Look – it’s just like being at home!  We’re English, but we love Italy!  We live there half the year.

A look passes fleetingly across Kaji’s face, like a twinge of sudden toothache.  He says nothing.  Having clearly hit stony ground, D changes the subject.

D:  So what exactly do you do here?

Kaji:  We collect meteorological data, about the weather, from here and also from Namche Bazaar.  And from the top of Kala Pattar.  Have you been there?

D:  Next week.

Kaji:  You’ll see our weather mast up there.  Webcam too.

He walks to a monitor and clicks his way to live weather info and an image.  It looks cold.

P1030210 (2)Kaji:  We also collect geological seismic data – any earthquake activity.

L: Including the earthquakes in 2015?

Kaji:  Oh yes.

He waves at an information poster.

Kaji:  We gather climate change data on nearby glaciers – how fast they’re retreating.  Every month I go back to see what’s changed.

L:  And the gym equipment?

Kaji:  Yes, we get physiological data from people – on how they are affected by altitude.

D:  And what happens to all the data?

Kaji:  It’s sent back to Italy.  All the data can be accessed and transmitted remotely.  Even the lights here can be controlled from Italy!

The whole place is astonishingly high-tech for somewhere so very remote.

L:  And the yellow bag – is that a decompression chamber?

Kaji:  Yes – we have a portable hyperbaric pressure chamber and oxygen.  This month we’ve treated 7 people.  But the lodges and trekking companies don’t like to bring people.  We don’t charge, so no-one makes any money from it.

L:  And now you’ve opened the place up as a lodge for trekkers too?

Kaji frowns.

Kaji:  I had to.  I’ve not been paid a salary for 3 ½ years.

L:  Sorry – what did you say?!?

He gently explains.  The Italian government stopped funding the centre without warning.  His Italian boss in Bergamo took the government to court, and won, but still no money has arrived.

L: (thinking to herself)  Me and my big mouth.  That explains the tooth-ache face.

D: (thinking to himself) L and her big mouth.  “Oooh we love Italy!”

Kaji:  We used to be a team of 14 people.  Now I am the only one still here.   I collect all the data myself.  If I left, the research station would close.  So now I use the empty accommodation as a trekking lodge.  To bring in some income.  Sometimes scientists visit too.

The lodge is cosy, the rooms thickly insulated.  The enviable bathrooms are tiny gleaming white plastic pods straight from an Italian motel.  D finds a tip-box and discreetly feeds it, attempting to compensate for the behaviour of his adopted country and his wife.

L:  Is there nothing you can do?

Kaji:  I hope the new Italian government will free up some funds.

L:  Couldn’t someone else take it over?

Kaji:  Maybe, yes, we could sell our data to richer countries such as China, but until now it has always been Italian.  For 29 years.  It would be nice if it could stay that way.

L:  How long have you been here?

Kaji: Eleven years.

L:  And does your family come to visit you?

Kaji smiles and shakes his head.

Kaji:  No.  It is too far.  Takes too long.  I have four children studying hard in school and college and I go to see my wife twice a year.

They leave Kaji living alone in his valley at 5000m, gathering data from glaciers and mountaintops, running a research lab and a trekking lodge, and saving lives on the side, working for no pay for a far-away country which has forgotten him.

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Danger: Crampons Recommended – Nepal – Chapter 12

 

 

 

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Tagnag (4700m) – Cho La Pass (5420m) – Dzongla (4830m) – Lobuche (4910m)

Date = 26-27 March

 D&L’s trekking map includes helpful annotations, mostly indicating things such as viewpoints and mani walls.  On today’s route over the Cho La Pass the notes read: “difficulty icy crossing”, “slippery path”, “possibility of rocks falling”, “danger of crevasses”, “glacier crossing stay on left side”, and “crampons recommended”.

Angtu is taking no chances and insists that they leave at first light.

They are joined for the day by Marion, a young French woman who is trekking alone.  She explains that she got lost the day before in the maze of unstable rubble whilst crossing the glacier from Gokyo.  This is her first solo trek and she didn’t realise how tricky the terrain would be.  With the glacier behind and the pass ahead, she is quite literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.

P1030020 (2)They set off at 5.40am.  From behind Tagnag, a cleft climbs and widens, the shallow stream turning to ice as they gain altitude.  Their fingers and toes become numb with cold.  L fumbles to unscrew the lid of her water bottle.  The cold air rushes in and the water quickly freezes.   The temperature registers as minus 7°C.  The sun rises and tantalisingly floods the mountainside above them but does not reach the trail.  They reach a first pass of grey shale, at 5100m, then drop down into a huge parched-grass valley sprinkled with boulders.  The views are magnificent but they remain in deep shade.

Ahead is a great wall of scree.  Their onward route is across, and then up the swathe of loose stones.  Up close, the steep slope is more rocks and boulders than stones.  There is barely a path.  Though not climbing, this is not walking either.  It is vertical rock-hopping.

P1030050 (2)Angtu:  It’s better early, like now, before the sun.  Later, when the ice melts it can be unstable.  Sometimes there are rockfalls.

L:  If I’d have seen a video of this route, I’m not at all sure I would have done it.

D:  But you’re doing it.

L:  And it’s excellent!

Above them there is sky and prayer flags.  They reach the pass and are suddenly in bright sunshine and dazzled by an enormous glacier snowfield spread out at their feet.

D:  Stupendous!

They scrunch up their eyes against the glare and scrabble for their sunglasses.  Angtu grins and looks at his watch.

Angtu:  3 ½ hours.  We are strong!

P1030058 (2)They sit in the sun at 5420m, feeling happy and healthy, and munching yak-cheese chapati sandwiches and Snickers and watching brightly jacketed ant-like figures making their way up the snowfield towards them.

D&L are pleased for an excuse to use their Yaktrax crampons, and carefully put them on.  Angtu produces some serious spikes – the sort one could use to walk up vertical ice walls – in orange.  Phurba has none but they lend him a walking stick, which he uses as a ski pole.  He slides gracefully down the snowfield and disappears.  Marion has neither crampons nor walking poles.

Marion:  I’ll be fine.

L:  Take a pole.  Or two.  We don’t need two each.

Marion:  No, really, it’s OK.

They set off slowly down the smooth icy slope.  The crampons are brilliant.  Marion falls over.

Marion:  OK.  One pole.  Or two.  Thank you.

They continue.   D gains confidence and goes ahead.

Angtu:  Not too low!  Crevasse!  Stay this side!

Unseen by D, on the featureless glittering field of snow there’s a faint blue shadow.  He doubles back.

At the bottom of the glacier, Phurba is waiting.  Sliding is quicker than walking.

P1030092 (2)They take off their crampons and negotiate a narrow rocky snow-covered ledge high on one side of a steep valley wall.  They should have kept the spikes on.  It is icy and slippery underfoot and the fall would be long and uncomfortable.  D watches nervously as ahead Angtu holds L’s hand as she skids and trips and wobbles along the path.  Angtu leaves her wedged securely between two boulders while he doubles back to help a pair of independent trekkers also unsteady on their feet.

Lower down the snow peters out and they reach the upper edge of a huge slope strewn with slabs of rock and car-sized boulders.  The rock here is all colours – white and green and red and black.  Far below them is an immense valley floor and beyond that the delicate spire of Ama Dablam and the rugged pyramid of Cholatse.

Picking their way carefully down, they meet a guide heading upwards, trailing in his wake a panting middle-aged client.  She does not look comfortable and has a long way to go.  Even lower and later, they come across a pair of independent trekkers also heading up.  By now the sky is clouding over.

P1030126 (3)On the far side of the valley, they come over a rise and arrive at Dzongla, a small cluster of scruffy corrugated iron farm-like buildings lying in a bleak little bowl.  They are tired and hungry but triumphant to have survived despite the dire warnings of ice and falling rocks and crevasses.  The lodge is busy but neither clean, warm nor fragrant – its only redeeming feature a beautifully crafted floor-to-ceiling tower of yak-dung in the hallway.

After lunch clouds swallow the village, and by mid-afternoon it is snowing.  A lone yak stands outside the window, looking cold and resigned, long black coat turning white.  L frets about the trekkers they saw heading up to the pass so late in the day, worrying that they have been caught in a blizzard.  They are grateful that Angtu had made them start early, with plenty of time and the best of the weather.

L:  I didn’t realise how much I’d appreciate having a guide and a porter.  I mean I knew it would be blissful not to have to carry a pack – and it is.  But it’s way more than that.

D:  I agree.  There’s no stress about decision making – on which route to choose…

L:  Or getting lost…P1030459 (4)

D:  Or when we should leave…

L:  Or what the weather might do…

D:  Or where we might stay…

L:  Or asking for what we need…

D:  Or paying bills…

L:  Or what to do if anything goes wrong…

D:  Or if we’re ill or get injured…

L:  Or how to communicate in Nepali…

D:  Or finding out about things we see as we go along…

L:  And we’ve been able to learn a little about Angtu’s life…

D:  And you’re relaxed…

L:  And you’re relaxed…

D:  Because you’re relaxed and not freaking out all the time about getting lost, stranded in a snowstorm, struck down by altitude sickness, attacked by a yeti….

L:  What?  Oh.  How.  RUDE.

D:  (grinning)  You know I’m right.

L:   Let’s just say that having a guide and porter may cost a bit but it’s definitely worth it!

D:  Yes.  Let’s just say that.  And forget about the other thing.

L:   Let’s.

D:  Let’s.

***

P1030124 (2)From the warmth of their sleeping bags, at 6.00am, they check the temperature in their bedroom.

L:  So?

D:  Minus 4°C.

L:  There’s snow!

D:  An inch.

L:  We’d better wear our gaiters – just in case.

D:  In case of what?

L:  I’m not sure.

The skies are stormy-looking, and they realise how lucky they’ve been with the weather for weeks.  Soon the clouds clear and they are bathed once more in sun.  The snow quickly melts.  For the first hour or so the route is unclear.  Marion walks with them and they are also stalked by a lone trekker pretending that he’s not following them.  The trekker soon gets bored of their slow pace and frequent photo stops and overtakes, and then Marion’s onward path becomes visible and Angtu points her on her way.  She’s heading down.  They’re heading up.

P1030145 (3)On a meadow-like spur they stop to admire the views.   A woman walks past, driving her three yaks.  She is wearing a traditional full-length skirt and headscarf and carrying a high-tech trekking backpack.  The river meanders down the valley, back towards Lukla.  To their left is an immense dam of glacial rubble – the stony front end of the Khumbu Glacier.  At its foot, seemingly right in its path, cower the buildings of Dughla.  To their right towers the craggy shoulder of Cholatse.  Angtu and Phurba strike poses and photograph each other.  Then they sit and eat biscuits.

L:  Isn’t this glorious?  I could stay here all day.

Angtu stands up cheerfully.

Angtu:  It’s boring now.  Let’s go.

L:  Oh.

P1030147 (3)They turn their back on Cholatse to the west and Ama Dablam to the south, and head north towards perfect peak of Pumori.  There are only a very few other people on their path, but below them they can see strings of tiny figures zig-zagging their way slowly up from Dughla, climbing the rough tongue of the glacier.  This is the main Everest trekking route, and it’s busy.

Slowly but inexorably, the two routes converge, as D&L descend their private hillside to join the main trail paralleling the glacier – flat and wide and sandy and bustling with trekkers and porters.  A strong wind is blowing down the valley, hurling grit into their faces and mouths and eyes and making breathing and walking frustratingly hard going despite the flat terrain.

They reach Lobuche early, but are pleased to go no further.  A dozen yaks are idling in front of the lodges, saddled but unladen.  A pack of dogs roam and brawl in the dust.  Members of an expedition team in red padded onesies wash their feet in the stream.  There are lots of people looking busy, sorting equipment or talking earnestly.  This feels like a village with a purpose.  It’s not somewhere people live their lives.  It’s too high and too cold.  Nothing grows.  Though at one time it sheltered summer yak herders, now all the buildings and people are here for one reason only.  To service trekkers and climbers and Everest expeditions.P1030174 (3)

In the afternoon, the dog pack follows D&L up the slope of the glacial moraine, but dwindles away in boredom one by one, leaving a single four legged guardian behind who settles down for a nap.  They find a sheltered dip, in the sun, out of the wind, on a warm boulder, and bask.   Half a dozen helicopters fly busily to and fro over their heads, heading for Everest Base Camp, delivering supplies or evacuating trekkers with altitude sickness.

Unusually, the sky remains clear right through till nightfall.  They stroll back.  Their cosy and clean lodge bedroom has been warmed by the sun streaming through skylights in the roof.  At sunset the temperature plummets dramatically, but the dining room has lit its yak-dung stove and is toasty.

Soon, in their room it is too cold for L’s biros to write.  She switches to pencil.

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