Continued from Part Three
A few hours after setting off, the trees start to slowly fade and I find myself in a sub-alpine meadow at about 4000m (13,100ft). I sit and gaze at a massive gash in the mountain across the river, caused by a recent landslide. As I’m daydreaming about climbing Aba Dablam, now shrouded in clouds, some familiar faces crest the hill behind me. It’s Darren and Tanya — somehow they had gotten behind me. We greet each other warmly and set off together towards Pheriche, our next destination at 4200m (13.8kft). Soon we’ve crossed the roaring river again (on a sketchy! plywood bridge). By 1pm or so we’re situated in our hotel of choice, the Himalayan Hotel, which would become by far the most memorable of the trek.
As we sit down for lunch a group of other Brits run into us that Darren recognized from earlier. We celebrate our early arrival with a beer (quite effective at 14k feet!) and a delicious lunch, and decide right then and there to take a rest day the next day; not because of any need for acclimatization but rather due to the (relative) poshness of our environs: a brand-new cozy dining room with seemingly unlimited free reading material (so key!)
At Pheriche there is a semi-permanent camp of the Himalayan Rescue Assocation which happened to be staffed by three Americans while we were there. At three we decide to attend a talk about altitude sickness and it is excellent. The dude had a Gamow Bag, and due to my wearing an altimeter I got to take it for a ride. The doc gave it a pump for a few minutes and I watched my altimeter drop hundreds of meters at a time, until it read 3400m or so. It was pretty cool — a bit claustrophobic but extremely effective for treating altitude sickness.
We spent the next couple of days lounging around the hotel, reading, playing cards and eating. I took a short day trip to Chhukung (4730m/15.5k ft), another beautiful (forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but everything is stunningly beautiful up there) village nestled below the giant South face of Lhotse (8516m/28k ft). Unfortunately I was pretty much in the clouds and couldn’t see much. A nearby hill by the name of Chhukung Ri (5550m) would’ve been by next objective, but I figured there’d be nothing to see up there. Instead I headed back down the valley to Dingboche and Pheriche. Little did I know Cameron was staying in Dingboche when I walked past!
Early the next morning Darren, Tanya and I departed (Simon, one of the others, was feeling the altitude a bit so they stayed behind) for our next destination, Lobuche, at 4910m (16.1k ft). It was going to be a big day elevation-wise, a gain of 700m, so we took it fairly slow. It’s worth mentioning that about Pheriche, the hiking is never difficult or even strenuous, but the altitude starts to make things a bit unpleasant. By lunchtime we arrived, and right around then I started to feel a bit dazed. On my expedition to Mexico a few years ago I didn’t feel any effect from altitude until around 15k feet — this time I was a bit more acclimatized. Regardless, I felt a bit spacey during lunch and felt a moderate headache come on — I decided to pop some Ibuprofen and take a nap.
After waking up I felt awesome — the perfect cure for a hangover! Err, altitude sickness rather. I ambled down for dinner, and there I met a group of Americans in their 50s who were going to attempt Lobuche East, a 6100m trekking peak just west of town. It was especially interesting talking to their Sherpa, a former guide on
Everest, about the nature of commercial expeditions as well as the guiding lifestyle.
Gorak Shep’s alpine beach
The next morning we set off again early, excited to make it to the terminal town of the trek, Gorak Shep at 5140m (16.9k ft). We were all feeling pretty good, with slight headaches easily remedied with Ibuprofen (the wonder drug!)
Again we made excellent time and were able to have lunch at our destination. We seemed to have escaped the scourge of the clouds, as well, and finally were able to admire the astounding peaks all around us. The next day’s climb of Kala Pattar, the trek’s terminus, was looking pretty good, not to mention Base Camp…
To be continued…