We left the Tea House early this morning and, as the sun rose, got our first sense of the views ahead. In the Everest region the valleys are deep and sharp. Carved by frosted blue glacial rivers, the Himalayan flat was a welcome orientation for what Kale says was our toughest day.
The up down up down pace is slow due to the opening of “peak” trekking season. After a dramatic drop following the spring earthquakes of 2015, the tourists have returned in force. October’s bright, warm days provide the “once-in-a-lifetime” views of this highest plateau on earth. They do not disappoint.
I expected the crush of hikers to keep things slow, but the real Nepalese traffic jam is the burrows and Caks (Yaks bred with cows to allow them to work at warmer altitudes). In short time I learned to stand mountainside when they pass to avoid being pushed over a cliff. The adventure begins when the Caks behind you meet the burrows coming toward you. “We’ve got a four yak pileup on the trail to Namche Bill!”
The depth of the valleys engulf you in peaks turning natural vistas into storybook illustrations come to life. Adding to the wonder, the random Buddhist prayer tower or old monk carved stone mantra tablets.
Making our way past the tea houses and porters, the kids played along the trail. The youngest sitting on stone stoops watching the world trek past. On one level we are clearly “other” and how strange we must look and sound. Simultaneously, since the 1950’s, strangers walking these paths in search of the world’s greatest challenge has been a common site. I try to snap clandestine portraits of the children as they watch us pass and wonder what’s behind those beautiful eyes.
By mid-day I’d left my life behind. The natural beauty had transported me, the people and culture bewitched me and stopping for lunch on the deck of tea house by a raging glacial river, I felt the stress and pace become a world away.
After a lunch of soup and mo-mos (Nepalese dumplings that clearly get better the more remote we get.) we began the 4 hours of “straight up.” But first, we had to cross the last of the “bouncy bouncy” as Kale calls them.
Bouncy-bouncy’s are the cable suspension bridges that stretch over the rivers. Nicknamed for the motion, they make under heavy loads and high winds. The first couple were no big deal but quickly escalated to roller coaster adrenaline levels. I’ve never loved heights but in college coached myself past the fear with logic and physics. (Weight, cables, tensile strength etc.) But this bouncy-bouncy took more than logic.
Suspended 1600 feet over the raging river below and taking 2+ minutes to cross, this was an unexpected “cherry on top” of a fantastic day.
After a quick water break and watching some hikers question if this was the end of their adventure, it became apparent. The trick is not to think about it and just keep walking. I marveled at the challenge of crossing this cabled monstrosity wrapped in frayed prayer flags but even more when Kale said all the cables and concrete had been carried down and installed by hand. The construction supplies were helicoptered into Namche, 4 hours up the mountain and were carried down by Sherpa porters.
Erasing the questions about Sherpa construction prowess, I posed for a picture then headed across. There’s a rush in doing something you are afraid of. It’s a sensation not provided by anything else.
Thanks to my recent bike ride from San Francisco to LA we made great time up the grind up to 12,000 feet. An hour before reaching Namche we caught a crystal clear view of Everest between two other peaks. Not earth shattering but not something to be scoffed at either. Kale says it’s possible to climb for days and never have the clouds lift. I keep telling myself that if this is all I get I’ll be happy but I’m not convinced.
Arriving in Namche is odd. As you break the tree line near the top of the valleys, it suddenly appears. It looks like an amphitheater carved out of the side of a mountain. After two days of seeing only tea houses, the bustling town is both welcoming and jarring. Bars, coffee roasters, banks and bakeries, all the comforts of home and all supplied by porter or yaks. The business of hospitality in Namche is world famous and has turned the sleepy town into the highest income city in all of Nepal.
After procuring souvenirs, a Nepalese wool beanie, and a yak bell, Roberto and I got a hot latte retreated to our tea house for the first hot shower in 3 days.
After a mediocre dinner and beer, I without shame crawled into bed tonight before 8 pm. Listening to the perpetual yak bells outside, I’m wondering if “the journey really is the thing.” It’s a cliche we drop like Yoda, but I’m wondering if it’s true. Would climbing all this way be worth it if I never get to see Everest? I guess I’ll find out. The weather forecast is for dark and cloudy the next few days…
Typed by thumbs from the tea house. Please forgive the typos and such.