20,000 leagues under the sky, 2004- travel blog

Misty view above Pheriche.

Peek of Ama Dablam.

Bridge to Lobuche.

Flowers in Khumbu Valley.

First view of Khumbu Glacier

Tricky route to Base Camp.

But no safer by helicopter.

Waiting for the Russians.

More flowers on return.

Tengboche to Base Camp.

The third day's walk was an uneventful stroll, gradually climbing 400m to Pheriche under the usual overcast sky and constant threat of rain. As I arrived by lunch time I was happily inside when the afternoon rain arrived. I chose the biggest Lodge in town and found that I was the only person staying there, at least the restaurant service was attentive and I had lots of room around the fire in the evening.

The standard schedule includes another acclimatisation day in Pheriche and this time, after 3 days of carrying my pack, I decided to have the rest day. I still went for a walk, climbing another 400m up the ridge behind the town to look over into the next valley and the town of Dingboche. Unfortunately after 15 minutes walk the only views I had consisted of the ground about 10 feet infront of me and a dense wall of fog. I was surprised when I walked back into the Lodge to find it relatively full, mainly with sherpas who unusually heavily outnumbered the trekkers. I later found out that the two Russians in there were Helicopter Engineers on their way to Base Camp to dismantle a broker chopper to be airlifted out - they had about 10 porters carrying their extensive gear.

Day 5 brought an interminably long walk along the valley then another "bastard climb". This one was nearly 2 hours up the rocky slopes and over a makeshift bridge finally into the Khumbu Valley. I passed a young Nepali couple near the start of the climb then, as I took a rest, they came past me again and had a brief exchange of greetings. Five minutes later when I started walking again they were waiting just around the corner to point out the new route (over the makeshift bridge as the main one had been washed away). This time I had a slightly longer conversation and they said that they had a Lodge in Lobuche (they looked about 15 to me but then again I am becoming an old git) so I said I would stay there. For most of the rest of the walk I noticed that they never got more than so far ahead and rarely out of sight. Then he must have hurried ahead to open the Lodge but she always hung back until she knew I was on the right trail like a little Tinkerbell in the distance. In Lobuche I followed her to their Lodge and again found myself to be the only guest, travelling off-season certainly has it's advantages, they gave me the room for free and included free boiled water. They didn't have a great choice of food in but what they did have was very well made.

Another early start the next day, the day that finally led to Base Camp. Supposedly another easy walk, only two hours in total this time following the lateral moraine (actually one of the many) of the Khumbu Glacier. The moraines were so large that I didn't actually see the glacier itself until nearing Gorak Shep I had to cross over a few side glaciers, the short climbs taking quite an effort at the altitude as I passed the 5000m mark. Gorak Shep when it appeared was 4 guesthouses set on a dry lakebed in a cloudy valley. The couple from Lobuche had told me that the Kala Patter Lodge would be open so I headed there. I jumped in surprise when I walked in the door and found the place full, after seeing so few people over the last few days it was totally unexpected, although I should have realised that I'd seen nobody heading downhill. It transpired that the weather for the previous three days had been so poor that there were no views of Everest or any other mountains and most people had hung around in the hope of a clear day.

After a second breakfast and half a gallon of tea I got ready to walk to Base Camp itelf. As Base Camp doesn't really have any great views it doesn't matter if the weather is cloudy for a vist there, it's more a case of just having been there. It's a 5 hour round trip mostly following the lateral moraine again, but the final section crosses the actual glacier and the route is constantly changing. As you follow the moraine it becomes obvious how rapidly the glacier can change and how dangerous a place it can be as rocks crash through and off it and big thundering cracks appear. All along the trail and in Kathmandu I'd seen posters asking if anyone had seen a 25 year old American who was last seen on the glacier approaching base camp in July. Until this point I'd thought he'd been stupid to walk on the glacier, now I realised that I had to if I wanted to get to base camp. The usual method of trail finding in this area is to follow the yak shit if you want to stay on the main trail. I'd been told that 40 yaks had headed for base camp that morning with some of the Russian Engineer gear so no problem. Except, why do yaks only crap on the obvious parts of the trail with lots of muddy footprints and not on the tricky rocky bits? Secondly I think these 40 yaks must have been constipated, thirdly how do I know that the paticular pile that I'm about to follow wasn't left by a yak shitting itself just before it fell into the abyss?

Eventually I got to the crashed helicopter, broken helicopter and few tents that mark Base camp. One and a half days in a Land-cruiser, four taxis, one flight and six days walk to get to a point 14.9km from where I started on the other side of the same hill! Then it started snowing. I turned around to start walking back and everything looked the same and the trail had vanished. Thank you Mr Bush for the GPS system. If I hadn't logged my way there on the GPS I think I might have joined the missing American, even with it and it's +/-6m accuracy getting back to the moraine was a terrifying walk and I was sweating heavily despite the snow and cold. I let out a massive sigh of relief when I got back to safety.

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