Namche to Thame. Only Apa and I will trek to Thame. The rest of our team is going part of the way, about half the distance, to Thamo. We will all eat lunch there, but then the team will return to Namche for the night and Apa and I will continue to Thame. Dawa explains that Sushma hasn’t been feeling well, is still cold, and he doesn’t want to push it. The Thamo to Thame leg has some uphill in it. Dawa’s philosophy is to go at the speed of whoever needs the slow pace at the time. I like this idea since later on it may well be me who needs the slower pace. Dawa wants to keep the team together, but Apa and I need to be in Thame by 4 pm for the Puja ceremony. We will catch up with the rest of the team in ten days or so at base camp.
On the way to Thamo Apa teaches me about the omane stones. These are actually huge bolders the size of cars on which prayers have been carved by hand. We are to walk to the left of the omane stones, clockwise. The second omane stone we come to I don’t see, most of it is buried in the hillside to the left of the trail. Apa has the location of all the omane stones memorized; he has been walking on this trail for most of his 51 years. To go clockwise around this particular stone we have to detour off the trail and down what looks like a rock stairway leading to a hut 20 feet below. Apa goes first but I have to wait for a cow in front of me to descend first. The stairs are only 2 feet wide. This is an amazing sight. Cows on steep stairs are not something I have seen before, let alone threading themselves between rock walls 2 feet apart. A second cow closes in behind me and I’m sandwiched. I’m not sure whether to be concerned or not, but the cows go at their own pace down the stairs with no concern for me one way or the other. Just before the entrance to the hut the stairs end and a path veers to the right, wraps around the backside of the rock, then climbs back up to the main trail. Where the cows are headed I have no idea. “We should always go clockwise around the omane stones,” Apa says, “For good luck,” he adds. I’m all in favor of good luck.
At Thamo there’s a steep rise and we break for lunch at the highest tea house. I sit in the sun with my back against the rock wall of the building and take in the view down the valley. We all drink Hot Lemon which I learn is Lemon Tea without the tea. Hot Lemon is basically lemon-flavored powder in water, served hot. Lemon Tea is the same lemon powder base, hot, but with tea leaves added. The conversation of the team drifts across a range of topics including the war in
Afghanistan, the fate of gays in , and the rules to a card game Wiggy says is the staple of base camp. I am describing our Nepal sponsorship and pointing out that the Suunto watch I’m wearing has gone blank. Last night it was bizarre pixels that plagued the display, now it’s a dead battery. The team discusses the possibility of buying a P3 battery in Namche and having it ferried up to base camp to rendezvous with me there. This is a nice offer but I’m concerned we won’t have HR data collection for ten days. Johan from University of Utah notices that his watch is the same Suunto model as mine. “Look,” he says, “I’ve had to duct tape the back plate on mine to keep pressure on the battery contacts. My watch goes blank without the duct tape like yours.” He takes his watch off and underneath it has silver duct tape holding the battery cover in place. At breakfast this morning Dawa kindly surprised me with a roll of blue duct tape he purchased in Namche to replace the one I had confiscated at the airport. We try a piece on my watch and sure enough it comes back to life. “Good watch, bad design,” Johan says, “I’ve worn it for years.” I ask him if he has the heart monitor belt on now. “Only for training,” he says, “but I like it very much. Very helpful.” When the food has been cooked we move inside to get out of the wind. Spaghetti and tea. “Right,” Dawa says, “World capitals.” He proceeds to name off countries and the challenge is to name the capital. Our group is diverse enough that someone has the answer every time. Johan is strong on Spain Europe. Chris on South America and Asia. Wiggy on South America. I’m good at the Pacific Islands and Central America. Actually, just listening to Dawa name off countries is interesting in itself. Of people I’ve met, only Gerhard Arndt from whom I purchased Diamond Mold is as geographically savvy as Dawa.
The team heads back to Namche, Apa and I up the trail, but not before Kusang, the manager of Apa’s lodge in Thame comes along. He has been down to Namche and has supplies in his pack. He walks with us for an hour or so but then picks up the pace and disappears. He has work to do and can’t crawl along for the purpose of acclimating. Not long after Kusang has gone, Apa’s nephew Nima, comes up the trail behind us. He is about 13 and continues with us all the way to Thame. Apa actually lives in Lower Thame as opposed to
Upper Thame. The two towns are separated by a ridge that’s 400 or 500 feet high. As we walk Apa and Nima show me the devastation the 1984 flood caused on the river valley. Entire hillsides have disappeared, bridges destroyed, hundreds of homes swept away, and countless people drowned. The evidence is not easy to see, but wherever they point out the scars I can see the work of a wall of water 100 deep and a quarter mile wide. It takes me a while to understand that “floods” in the Himalaya are caused by lakes bursting. When the monsoon dumps large amounts of precipitation and/or glacial melt fills the lakes faster than natural runoff can tolerate, natural lakes can burst. We’re not talking man-made dams breaking, but the actual earth that retains a naturally formed lake just letting go. The lake ceasing to be. This is exactly what happened in the Thame valley in 1984. No warning, just a wall of water racing down the river gorge taking out everything in its path. Lower Thame was spared, but Upper Thame and all the downstream towns suffered life changing damage.
After a long two hour uphill and a spectacular suspension bridge river crossing we turn a corner and there is Thame just like in the photos. Apa’s lodge looks just as I envisioned it, blue roof, two buildings forming an L-shape, the potato fields to the sides. Yaks are grazing along the stream, and the neighbors all stop on the trail to say hello as we enter town. “It’s been ten months since I was home,” Apa says.
Kusang is there with tea and has assembled Apa’s immediate family. There are Apa’s mother, Yangin’s mother and father, Apa’s brothers, sisters…over the next three days his aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends, neighbors, monks, hired help from the lodge, children, toddlers, school board members, and passers-by all of whom have know Apa for years, drop in. After I’ve met 25 or 30 people and failed miserably with their names I make a list on the back of a paper napkin with Apa’s help. “You need a list like Mr. G makes,” Apa says, and it works. The list is a good one. I have a good portion of Apa’s family tree on a torn napkin folded carefully in my wallet. I’ll try to sort it out into something more substantial when I get back to the
We put our bags in second floor rooms 15 and 16 respectively, and the whirlwind of greetings continues in the main room of the lodge. The Puja ceremony starts in an hour and beforehand Apa is directing Kusang where to hang the framed memorabilia he’s carried from
. The frmed Guiness World Record for ascent number 20 goes on the wall nest to eight others. A couple of new summit photos from number 20 need a place. We discuss options and Apa likes my idea to move the Everest panorama to a different wall and use that space for the two new photos. The nails are already in the right place to hold them. The living room will hold 20 people or more with a wood burning stove in the center. Kusang’s assistant fuels the fire and I am fascinated by the yak dung she is putting in. “It’s better to mix the uyak dung with some firewood,” Apa explains. “It burns better.” Apa’s family is plying us with chang, fermented rice beer, kind of like unfiltered sake. We make toasts and as soon as we have sipped our glasses are refilled instantly. We are both trying hard to stop them from refilling the glasses but it is a losing proposition. “We won’t drink any alcohol after today, right?” I implore Apa. Hiking the Khumbu is hard enough without a hangover. “Nothing after today,” he says, and I know he knows we are in for a non-stop festival, and there’s really nothing he can do about it. The extended Sherpa family is the most cohesive unit I’ve seen and the immediate family is the nucleus of that. Tradition and culture have expectations of us for our visit. Apa does his best to keep me from being overfed and overserved, but a lavish party is in the works and there is no turning back. We manage to limit the Everest beers to two between us, but then Kusang brings out the San Miguel. Fortunately Apa is able to plead the Puja ceremony and the San Miguels stay un-opened. Salt Lake
So much transpires in Thame I will have to recount it at a later date. Originally we were to stay for two days but it was clear two wasn’t going to be enough for all we had going on. Apa was stressing: we had the Puja ceremony, Yangin’s sister’s funeral, and all the visiting, plus Apa had to sort his gear and pack. “Let’s stay three days,” I suggest, and Apa takes me up on it. “I like your decision,” he says as if it was a decision I had made. It was just a suggestion, but it turns out to be a good one. Details of the Puja ceremony, the funeral and visits to the monastery and the Thame school that Hillary built will hopefully show up later in another post. I am not fond of flashbacks, but Kusang’s two sons Pasang 13, and Payma 7, have been assigned to take me to the monastery. “Today you will have two sidars.” Apa says. When I return Apa has all his gear spread on a blue tarp in the front yard. The tarp is 20 x 40 feet. That’s how much gear he has. Inside of an hour he has it pared down to the essentials and consolidated in two duffel bags, plus a 3rd bag for the bulky foam sleeping mats. Included in this is a red and black 40-below Marmot sleeping bag that I will use.
We depart Thame about 11:00 am on April 12. There are four highlights of the trek to Khumjung.
1. A visit to the hydroelectric plant constructed in 1995 and financed by the Austrian government. Mingma gives us a tour of the inside. He is the plant manager. I was first introduced to Mingma at Apa’s house two days ago. Mingma is also one of the four members of the Thame School Board. Apa is another, and the remaining two board members I didn’t meet. In the plant we get right up close to the spinning steel flywheels that are 5 feet in diameter. I take some great photos. We can see the 15” diameter pipe the water flows through all the way from the reservoir 500 feet above in Thame. Must be a lot of pressure in that pipe. The spinning generators don’t look large enough to power Diamond Mold, but this plant supplies electricity for Namche Bazaar, Thame, Thamo, Khumjung, Tengbouche, and a smattering of other towns. Shows what I know about electricity.
2. After a few hours we stop at a teahouse and warm up with lemon tea. Out the window we see a paraglider hovering in the wind a few hundred feet in the air. Could this be the Brazilian from our team practicing? It isn’t we find out, it’s a local Nepali, but he’s fun to watch as we drink our tea. Tashi Dungbu who is a friend of Apa’s and owns a hotel in Loboche just happens to walk in. “Apa,” he says, “I heard you were in
. It is good to see you, but you know what the people are saying about you: no one recognizes you anymore now that you have turned into an American.” We have a great laugh about this and from that point on wherever we go we call ourselves American tourists. One of us just happens to be a successful mountain climber of some renown. Nepal
3. Toward the top of the climb before we descend in Khumjung I spot a porter carrying steel roofing on his back. When he takes a rest break I ask Apa if he’ll ask him if I can try lifting his load. It is so heavy it takes me two tries to get it 2” off the ground. I try to walk a step and falter, almost losing the load backwards if the porter hadn’t braced it. I try again, this time managing two full steps. Apa gets a photo of this, and all the porters resting at this rise get a kick out of the westerner being humbled. The load must have weighed over a 120 lbs, maybe quite a bit more.
4. Ama Dablam is sighted. Apa says it is one of the two most beautiful that he’s seen in the Himalyaya. The other being Pumori. “It’s beautiful but it’s awfully steep,” I say to Apa. “ A very technical climb, that one,” he says. I ask him what Ama Dablam means. Ama is mother and Dablam is necklet. He explains that the mountain used to have more snow on it and received its name because it looked like the white cloth a mother would wear. In 2007, he tells me, a huge cornice broke off and Ama Dablam now no longer has the necklet look. It is beautiful to me all the same, a spire rising into the mist. Kim Wirthlin who is the Marketing Director (might not be the exact title) for
University of Utah Health Care, is sponsoring part of our trip, plus a teacher’s salary for a year at . She is going to climb Ama Dablam in October. Knowing this we spend quite a bit of time analyzing the probable route, the ridge, the difficulties one would face achieving that magnificent summit. Thame School
April 13. Khumjung to Tengbouche. An uneventful trek. I seem to be holding up ok.
That night we count 24 Finns in the dining hall. “Large group,” says Apa. The group leader recognizes Apa. He has climbed Everest before, not on Apa’s team, but at the same time. Phir isn’t going up Everest this year; he’s leading a trek of his Finnish countrymen in the Kumbu which helps him acclimate for his own climb which is coming up: Dhalaghari. He is going to try to solo the ridge just east of the route Apa was on in October, 1998. After Phir goes back to sit with his group Apa says to me, “I didn’t tell him, but that route is dangerous. Two Sherpa from our group died on that route when I was there. Avalanche.” This is pretty sobering dinner conversation. I force myself to think about other things. Pretty soon the cameras come out. The Finns all want their photos taken with Apa. While this is going on I tinker with the pulse-oximeters. The Sherpa who work at the lodge are interested. We all try the finger-tip sensor and laugh about the readings. I have the lowest percentage at 85. The Sherpa are all in the low 90s. When the photos are over Apa tries the pulse-oximeter. He is at 92. Puli, my porter, is also captivated. She tries the finger-tip and is at 90. We amuse ourselves watching the numbers fluctuate, but the range is clear. Under just about every circumstance Apa has at least 5% more oxygen saturation. Jetta, Apa’s porter, comes in. The fog has given way to snow and the wet flakes are clinging to Jetta’s short-sleeve shirt. “Does Jetta have a coat?” I ask Apa. “I don’t know,” Apa says, “I will ask him.” There is something surreal about the evening. The darkness and snow outside makes me feel like we’re in a lifeboat floating alongside the monastery, which itself is like a ghost ship moored a hundred yards away. We’re sitting around an iron stove with 24 Finns eating Sherpa stew and fiddling with Chinese-made electronic pulse-oximeters. Oddly, the Suunto watches we have on are made in
. Several other guests are from Finland and their wonderful accents are fabulous to listen to. “Not many Americans this year, “Apa says, and in this room I am the only one. The Finns give a rousing toast to each other. It occurs to me that the inside of this lodge looks very much like the one featured near the beginning of Speilberg’s Raiders of the Lost England Ark.
“Where will Jetta and Puli sleep?” I ask Apa. We have been lucky to get the room we have and it is only because of Asian Trekking’s influence that we are not in a tent tonight. The rest of our team is two days ahead of us. They will leave Dingbouche for Loboche tomorrow, and two days prior have stayed in the lodge we’re now in. “I don’t know,” Apa says, “Jetta can stay with the porters in the porter’s lodge, but Puli is the only woman. Perhaps she can get a room here.” I have seen some of the porter’s accommodations and they range from an overhanging rock with a fire pit, to a one-room rock barn with dirt floor. I’ve also seen rooms adjacent to ours with beds wall to wall, no floor space whatsoever. Those are the lap of luxury but tonight they are taken. The trail we’ve been on is the highway to Everest, and the porters heading up and down are like semi-trucks in the
plying the interstate. Base camp in April and May has an insatiable appetite for food and supplies, and the towns along the way are, in essence, the preliminary camps. Logistically, the whole Everest economy is like supplying and feeding an army that plans to lay siege to a foreign city. The Sherpa are in their homeland but I am feeling very far away from mine. It is odd to think of US 8,000 miles straight below my feet. Kind of like the darkside of the moon, this is, or Utah is, I’m not sure which. For a while I let my homesickness percolate, but after that bit of indulgence simmers it seems overdone. Utah
Outside in the dark the snow is melting off the corrugated steel roof and falling in rivulets which we have no choice but to walk through. I cover the camera with my hand, and go up stairs as steep as a ladder to our room which is tacked on like a plywood afterthought, almost like a tree house really, it projects out toward the valley. I’m not sure what is under our room but it feels like cold air. Ama Dablam is to our right. “You will see it tomorrow morning when the fog clears,” Apa says, “but get up early for your photos. This is the best view of Everest between here and base camp. Take lots of photos in the morning. Early. Just as the sun comes up.”
My first priority is getting through the night. “What are you worried about.” Apa says, “You have a 40 below.” Sleeping bags are referred to by their temperature ratings. “I used that bag at camp 4 last year,” Apa says. This reminds me of the agreement Apa and I made at the start of the trip. The Rules of Engagement for Complaining. ROE for short. Carolee does not like acronyms so please disregard that.
A parenthetical note here, and I think I may have written this earlier so apologies as necessary for the repetition: Mr. G and Apa are a team at Diamond Mold. Together they comprise two of the longest-winded titles in our organization. Mr. G is Vice President of Esoteric Affairs, and Apa is Goodwill Ambassador/Director of Outdoor Product Development. Since those are a mouthful we just refer to them as Mr. G and Apa. Apa gave Mr. G his name, and Mr. G calls Apa by his given name: Lhakpa Tenzing, but no one else does. The rest of us just call him Apa. Since Mr. G and Apa have worked together 8 hours a day for almost 4 years now it is no wonder that Mr. G figures heavily into this blog.
Re the ROE for Complaining, I actually came up with the rules even though Apa is the boss. The reason for my doing so was strategic, a matter of self-preservation. There is nothing that undermines faster one’s ability to keep going in the face of adversity than complaining, or as the Australians say, windging, so I’ve vowed to myself not to windge once the entire trip. Except. The exception being rules 1 and 2 of the Rules of Engagement. The first rule, Rule 1(a), states that if Apa complains then I can complain. There will be a one-to-one correspondence in complaints, but this can only be triggered by Apa since he’s the boss. Rule 1(b) states that a reciprocal complaint does not have to be exercised immediately; it can be stored. If Apa complains on, say, Tuesday, I can note the complaint and save mine like a coupon to use on Thursday, or any later date of my choosing. Rule 2 states that either of us can invoke the Mr. G clause anytime we want, under any circumstance. The Mr. G clause is like an asterisk. It is the fine print that says that either of us can say what it is Mr. G would say if he were here. The Mr. G clause is also known as the Complaint in Absentia which I explain to Apa. For instance, when Kusang was pouring us can after can of Everest beer in Thame, a legitimate use of the Mr. G clause would be for me to say to Apa, “Mr. G would call this being overserved.” It’s technically not a complaint because it’s what someone else would say in a given situation as opposed to what either of us would say. There’s an argument that the Mr. G clause is a loophole, but any carefully crafted legislation usually has something in it for the party in power. Neither Apa nor I are above working things to our advantage. So we like Rule 2 of the Rules of Engagement. “A good rule, that one.” Apa says. Back in the
, Apa is in charge of rules. “Seat belt, Mr. G,” he will say, or “No socks in the back seat Mr. G. Bad karma, that one.” Here in the Khumbu since Apa is boss, and we have role-reversal, I am in charge of rules. For instance when Apa wants to skip shaving I say, “Rules, Apa. You know the rules.” US
Clearly the difficulty getting through the night at this stage are the trips to the loo. With all the milk tea we’ve been drinking, and Sherpa stew and nak butter pancakes, there is no choice but to wake up every 3 or 4 hours and brave the elements. The loo at the Tashi Delu lodge is rustic at best, a breeding ground for disaster at worst. For ten days I have been training myself not to be overwhelmed by the facilities, but the facilities in Tengbouche are just that—overwhelming. After gymnastics in the loo to avoid falling in, the ice water in the blue bucket is no big deal. Mind you it’s dark and cold and snowing. The hand sanitizer I bought in
Kathmandu is running out fast, but who cares, the faster I can get back into the 40-below and warm up the better. First, careful not to fall in the mud, then up the stairs and through the gauntlet of water sluicing off the roof, then into the dark hallway. Boots and coat off, I’m back in the sleeping bag. Now to fight off the chill. Feet are ok, but hands are frozen. This is only 13,000 ft. What will it be like at 17,500? Or, if I can actually make it higher than base camp, what will simple tasks be like at camp 1 or camp 2?
April 14. 5:28 AM. I wake up. A layer of snow on the ground, everything is frosted, it’s colder. I toggle the Suunto to Display 2, and is says 77 degrees F. That’s on my wrist. Clouds of breath, it must be 30 deg. F. in the room. It would be interesting to see what the ambient temperature is, an experiment I’ll have to perform at a later date with the watch off for 5 or ten minutes. A glint of sun on the east face of Ama Dablam, likewise the ridge leading up to the south summit of Everest. I open the window and click a few photos. Yesterday when we arrived I asked Apa, and the south summit is the right-side knuckle clearly visible. The Hillary Step to its left, the summit higher up, the dark triangle. Apa is still asleep. It turns out he can go to sleep anytime, anywhere, and sleep through anything. I am making a list of the reasons why I think Apa is the most prolific summiter to date, and on this list is his ability to sleep—to stay rested. I remember when we were in Peggy Battin’s living room after a trial run with the Apa Sherpa Carry Chair, and while the Carry Chair team was tired, our idea of resting was to take refreshment, beer and a cheese tray; Apa’s idea of resting: to fall asleep sitting upright. I’ve watched Apa sleep 5 minutes here, five minutes there. It is an amazing skill. Mr. G will give him the elbow in the ribs when Apa falls asleep in the passenger seat of Mr. G’s truck. “Hey, no sleeping,” Mr. G will say. “Rules. Apa, rules.” This is technically a violation of who is in charge and who isn’t, but one of Mr. G’s skills is to usurp authority so he tends to get away with a variety of indiscretions that no one else could.
After Kusang overserved us Everest beer in Thame, and simultaneously overserved us a Nepalese knock-off of Red Label whiskey (we’d already finished the real Red Label that Apa brought from Bangkok with the monks after the Puja), and then when Kusang unlocked the phone from it’s box on the counter, we called Mr. G to find out why he wasn’t in the Kumbu being overserved with us. “Watching the college basketball finals on TV,” Mr. G said. That was his excuse for not being here…the kind of guy he is. Mr. G, among other things, is a world champion waffler and hedger-of-bets. Lots of people would claim his waffling to be a form of excuse making, but Mr. G has taken the excuse to a higher level so that it is often hard to tell if it’s an excuse or a verbal sleight-of-hand. Try to pin Mr. G down and he’ll come up with the most elaborate side-steps imaginable. Invite him on a trip to Everest and he’ll play the “Just had my knee operated on” card. Or ask him to go next year and he’ll say, “Let me take that under review.” Try to get him to commit to a training climb on
Mt. Olympus two weeks before our departure to and he says “When I decide I’ll have my people talk to your people.” He ultimately had his people say yes, but then he showed up at the trailhead half an hour late with a McDonald’s egg sandwich in a bag looking like he was late for the office. “You look like a cowboy,” Apa told him. “No hiking in cowboy clothes.” On the spot Mr. G. had to reconsider his wardrobe for the Nepal Olympus practice hike, and he did leave his Tommy Bahama shirt (or maybe it was a different brand), in the truck. To his credit he did really well on Olympus for 11 hours soaked to the bone in blue jeans while post-holing in snow up to our hips. That said, next year when you are in the Khumbu with us Mr. G, you’ll need better togs. You’ll also need what they call a “buff.” No worries though, you can buy your buff in Kathmandu after you arrive. Be forewarned though, you’d better start getting in shape now--and no waffling.
The night before the Tengbouche to Dingbouche trek I was up until half-past midnight when the laptop battery gave out. The laptop seems to last more than an hour now, almost hour and a half. Perhaps its lifespan is temperature dependent. Apa slept through all my rummaging with the computer, the head lamp adjustments, and my ups and downs to the loo. In retrospect I needn’t have worried about waking him up the night in Namche when I couldn’t sleep. Other accomplishments in Tengbouche: checking the pulse-oximeters for consistency. I may have mentioned this already, but I did the same thing for the pulse-oximeters as for the heart rate monitors: wore them both to see if the results with each were the same on me. The pulse-oximeters were easy to test. One on the left index finger, one on the right. They were within 2% of each other 50% of the time. And the other 50% they were within 1% and sometimes identical. They will record 30 hours of data, and after the 30 hours they will write over the oldest data. This will be good since the “last” data will be from the highest elevations. Downloading onto this laptop will be problematic: earlier it was all I could do to get the parameters set on each device so the date/time stamps, etc. are the same. I took a photo of my right index finger to show how mangled the nail is from trying to get the ID button to cooperate. Broken over way back to where it stings (I kid you not). Roger, when you review the graphs you should see a really good correspondence time-wise because we start and stop the pulse-oximeters at the same time and I think I have the time synchronized within about 15 sec. of each other.
9:00 am. A later start than Apa would have liked. I’ve been fidgeting with the thumb drive transferring off the laptop and onto the computer in the Tengbouche “internet café.” Posting to the blog seems to work well, at least on this end it looks like it’s working.
We descend 600 feet, maybe 800 feet, through thick forests of rhododendrons to the river below. The rhododendrons cover the mountainsides like aspen do the Wasatch, and they are huge, I mentioned this before, but they are worth mentioning twice. You actually walk through them they’re so big. I hope the photos do justice to them. In the
the rhododendrons I’ve seen are bushes that you have to be careful not to break. Here we’re steadying ourselves by grasping the trunks as we slide down the trail in mud from last night’s snow. It’s raining and my raincoat is in the bag Puli is carrying about 2 hours ahead of us on the trail. “You can get away with that today,” Apa says, “but tomorrow you need to carry your rain jacket with you for when it starts to get cold.” This is a bit disconcerting because it is cold right here, right now. A porter with a huge load of food for the yaks is having difficulty in the mud. He is about 5 feet tall and the load on his back is at least 7 feet high. I have a good photo of this, and it is amazing. He grabs the rhododendrons and steadies himself. I can only imagine how excruciating his day is. “There is a good side to this mud.” Apa says, “no dust today.” This makes me think of the half-full/half empty discussions I have with Mr. G. Often there are two sides to a situation, two ways to view it, the positive and the negative. “A silver lining,” I tell Apa, “no dust.” He hasn’t heard of a sliver lining before so we pass the time going over the meaning. US
We cross the river and on the ascent of the opposite slope the wind picks up. “We don’t go to Pangbouche,” Apa says, “we go next left to the monastery,” We are going to take a side trail higher on the mountain to visit the monks. “Left at the fork in the road,” I say to him. He doesn’t know what a fork in the road is. I describe using two fingers like a peace sign, but there’s something lost in translation. He’s stuck on the knife, fork, spoon connotation. When the trail forks he smiles, “Fork in the road. It’s like the silver lining.” We take the left fork, and climb higher to the monastery. There are a lot of “bouches” I say to Apa. Tengbouche, Pangbouche, Dingboche, Loboche. Some are spelled with a “u” and some without. It seems the spelling is not really the point. It’s bouche or boche, and the pronounciation is somewhere between boo-shay and bow-shay. “Means higher,” Apa says. So each successive town has its name and the word higher attached to it. Makes sense since we’re going higher and higher. It occurs to me that a better descriptor might be colder. Tengcolder, Pangcolder, Dingcolder… My back is sweating and the wind is full of spitting snow and frozen rain that stings the face. Each town has been colder than the previous, and the cold seems to be the factor that grips me more than the altitude. As we pass what looks like a cedar tree I touch it, knock on wood so-to-speak, the cold versus the threat of altitude sickness. We’re still lower than the top of Whitney and there’s plenty of real estate left to test my resistance to AMS (acute mountain sickness). So far I’d rather this cold than AMS. A baby yak is rooting around on the trail and I get a few good photos. By the time we reach the monastery I am chilled to the bone. The damp and wind together have taken a toll. We enter through a new entry under construction. The woodwork is exquisite, all done by hand. Nice joints and flourishes. I take a number of close-up photos. Inside the old part of the monastery it’s dark. Lit candles illuminate the shrine but I tell Apa I have to put on my down jacket on before I can do anything else. I didn’t put it on sooner because of the rain and how much I was sweating. There seems to be a paradox. Too much clothing, more sweat, and you freeze; too little clothing and you keep the layer you’re not wearing dry, but you freeze. Shivering, I watch Apa wrap an offering in the khata he’s carrying. I have one in my pack as well and do as he’s done. The monks are sitting in a row lotus style on a balcony. We climb up steep narrow stairs to the balcony and present our offerings wrapped in the khata we’ve received in Thame. In return we receive khata back from the monks. Ceremony and ritual are important but I’m still too cold to really care. We go back down the stairs into the dark shrine. We place offerings of paper rupies in small bowls of uncooked rice on what I would call an alter, but I don’t think that’s the correct term. It occurs to me that the bills are awfully close to the candles. There are so many candles and they are so close to the rice bowls, but I don’t voice this opinion. “This is the last monastery,” Apa says, “there are no more from here on up.”
We continue uphill. Shomare is the next hamlet but Apa suggests we go higher before stopping for lunch. He points out a trail leading to a camp on the other side of the valley. There are four tents and about two dozen yak a half mile in the distance. “That’s way is the approach to Ama Dablam,” Apa says, “Kim will go across that bridge down there,” I look down about 1,000 feet, “and then she’ll climb up to that camp there.” Is that the base camp for Ama Dablam?” I ask. “Oh no, just an approach camp, the base camp is way up there to the right in the clouds,” Apa says.
About 1:00 pm we come to Orsho and stop at a tea house. I have learned the difference between lodge and tea house. The latter is food only. A lodge you can sleep and eat at. There’s a mirror on the outside of the teahouse and it occurs to me to take a photo of myself. It looks like I haven’t shaved since Thame which means Apa is letting me slide for a while on the shaving rule. We order Lemon Tea and Mixed Fried Potatoes. The mixed means with fried vegetables, mostly onions, and a green chard of some sort. There is a side plate of tiny green chili peppers that look lethal. Apa shows me how to bite off about a sixteenth of an inch and dip the exposed end of the chili into a tray of salt. By repeatedly nibbling and salt dipping we put these chilis down in short order. They are fabulous. It isn’t five minutes before we are gasping for air and searching for more tea trying to cool our throats. My tongue is on fire and nose running. These are hot little buggers. Apa has eaten three of them and I’m well into my second, but he stops me. “That’s too much already. Your stomach will get sick later,” he says. “Can we buy some of these and take them to base camp?” I ask.
After Orsho the trail dives down to the river. We cross and climb back up to regain our altitude. There is a lot of up and down on the way to base camp. The down has the advantage of taking less energy, but there’s a steep price to pay afterwards. Huge landslides have avalanched on the opposite side of the valley. “Lakes,” Apa says. Meaning the glacial lakes above the ridge several thousand feet above us have burst and torn down the mountainside. The gash on the left is bigger than the right. The debis pile at its base is at least a quarter of a mile wide. The power of the water crashing down in one fell swoop must have been incredible. It puts a new light on the 1984 flood that devastated the edge of
Upper Thame and the towns lower down. We walk past a smaller version of the landslides on the opposite side. “Two Sherpa were killed here a couple years ago,” Apa says. They were walking with the tzopios and the lake burst above. No warning that one.” This gives me another pause for reflection and the trek once again brings home that we are venturing into wild territory. Ten minutes later Apa says, “Go fast here,” and we scramble over a stretch of trail 100 feet above which a landslide gash has left towering exposed bolders partially embedded in a dirt cornice just waiting to break loose and fall on the trail.
We crest a rise and in front of us for miles stretches an incongruous flat. It’s a plateau in the valley intermittently strewn with bolders, scrubby deadwood, and wispy juniper. We’re walking in a worn path a foot deep in packed dead-brown grass that’s still somehow alive. It looks like this is the same grass the yaks have been walking on for centuries. I tell Apa this valley looks like the moon, which of course it doesn’t, but it is such a foreign plain of flat expanse that we are surely somewhere other than the Khumbu. After a mile or two Apa says: “Pheriche to the left, Dingboche to the right. Fork in the road,” He is clearly pleased with himself. “We go to Dingboche on the way up. It is larger and warmer, less wind. On the way down climbers go Pheriche. It is colder but shorter that way.”
Apa points to a brown hummock of rock ahead of us that the trail goes over. “That hill is where Roger got sick in 2007. The porters had to carry him over the ridge to the hospital in Pheriche. The doctor looked him over and said, ‘get him outta here,’ He was on the next helicopter out. Dangerous, that one.” I’m not sure what to say, “Not good for Roger,” is the best I can do. Maybe cold isn’t the worst enemy, maybe it is altitude.
We keep a slow, steady pace. Charles, if you are reading this in the Czech Republic I’d like you to know that I am starting to learn the small steady steps you were trying to teach me way back when. They make perfect sense here, and I should have caught on sooner to what you were showing me. It’s no wonder you were able to power up
Aconcagua with those small steps and consistent pace you’ve mastered. We are trying to do the same here, to go up as slow and steady as possible to mitigate the effects of altitude. “Too fast and you get sick,” Apa says. “No rush.” We take our time. The small steps are so small the heel is literally placed no further ahead than the toe of the other foot. Another trick Apa has taught me: when we stop for the day at the lodge we put our packs in the room and have a cup of tea. Then, instead of climbing into the 40-below to keep the warmth of the tea alive (like I’m tempted to do) we go back outside for another hike. “We go higher anywhere,” Apa says. “Keeps you from getting the tick-tick. If you go up just a little and come back down you avoid the headache. Go to sleep right away after stopping without hiking higher and you get the tick-tick.”
April 14. Rest day in Dingbouche. Puli who is Yangin’s cousin and my porter has taken an interest in my typing on the computer. We are sitting around the iron stove at the Snow Lion lodge drinking tea and I invite Puli to type her name. She is uncertain what I mean at first so I point at her and say Puli, I point at me and say Terrell. You, Pouli, me Terrell. Pretty soon she's got it. So I type the words “Your name is” and then I point out each key for her to press: P, U, L,
I. We point at each other and the others in the room, and we type there names. Puli is thrilled to see the names come up on the screen. we put each name on a separate line so there's less confusion. Puli types her name again. Apa and Mingma, who owns the Snow Lion, help out. The lesson is underway amid much laughter. Definitely a highlight of the trip so far: Puli’s reading lesson:
Your name is Puli. My name is Terrell.
We are in Dingbouche. Puli is from Thame.
You are Puli, you are from Thame. Yesterday, you Puli, Thame.
Thame. Thamo. Khumjung. Tengbouche. Dingbouche. Today we are in Dingbouche.
Tomorrow we go to Loboche. Four of us will go to Loboche tomorrow. That is called reading.
Warong shi sala Loboche. We are four tomorrow to Loboche.
Puli mic knee computer iggy ro. Puli uses two eyes reading. Warong is we are going. Shi is four. Sala is tomorrow.
Puli laga aring iggy ro. Puli works today reading. Laga is work. Aring is today. Iggy ro is reading.
April 15. 8:38 am. Am posting to the blog. We have just come from the Snow Lion where we returned after a night at the Moonbeam lodge. I had forgotten to pay Mingma for the hot shower at the Snow Lion and we find her washing clothes out back. There is a skim of ice on the standing water and it is cold, but the sun is out. "For you 350 rupies," she thanks me for remember to pay her. Apa has developed a sever Khumbu cough. Last night it was bad enough that he went to sleep at 7:30 pm. This morning he is hacking away and Mingma fills a plastic bottle with shreded fresh ginger and hoiney. "You are the boss today," she says to me. "Make sure Apa has a teaspoon of ginger to a cup of Hot Lemon every time you rest." Apa tries to take the jar of ginger to carry in his pack. "No way," I say, "I'm wise to you mister. It's ginger and hot lemon for you from here on out. Mingma says I'm boss today and you're in big trouble." Mingma looks at Apa, "Terrell laga," and she points to the ginger. Laga is work. My job is to make sure Apa gets the ginger into him no matter what.
We are off to Loboche...