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The fourth day began with anticipation of trekking deeper and higher into the vast Himalayas. After a day of rest, we were all ready to stretch our legs. I had awoken at 5am that morning (as I would do most mornings of the trip, and not always on purpose, either) so I took a quick walk up to the park HQ to photograph Everest at sunrise, but it was too overcast. A typical morning consisted of getting up in time to get ready and having our duffels and day packs packed by breakfast at 7:15-7:30a. After breakfast, coffee, and tea it was on trail by 8. Every second day the breakfast was a choice of porridge or muesli. The other days it was usually eggs and toast with occasional pancakes or potatoes. Depending on the length of the day’s trek, lunch could be along the trail or at our destination for the night. Lunch was usually soup, or pasta, sometimes fried noodles, always vegetarian. In fact, meat was only available 3 times in the 13 days we were in the mountains, chicken twice and yak one night.
On that morning, we gathered in front of the Hotel Namche in the blanket of mist, the cool fog dampening the sound and lending to a spiritual or mystic atmosphere ( I’m more of a mystic, less of a spiritual person myself) as we readied to start our day. That day we would have a shorter hike, about 3 hours hiking time, to the village of Khumjung at 12,400 ft. Most trekkers go to Tengboche or Deboche (where we would be trekking to the next day) but our itinerary was to spend an extra day ascending to help with acclimatization. Everyone in our group was taking Diamox about this time except for myself (I’m lucky enough to not have problems with altitude illnesses, at least up to 19,000 ft.) and our group leader, Sheryl. Of course our Nepali guides weren’t taking it either. Diamox is a diuretic that has been shown to reduce the risk of altitude illnesses when taken as a prophylactic.
While in Namche Bazaar it was driven home that this is a serious undertaking. We had learned a 23 yo female had just died at Gorek Shep (17,000 ft.) of pulmonary edema, an altitude related illness where the capillaries in the lungs leak and the lungs fill with fluid. The shame of it was she didn’t need to die, had she and her companions been prepared. Their first mistake was not learning the signs and symptoms of altitude related illnesses so when she got sick they didn’t recognize how sick she was, just thought she was dehydrated, and put her to bed without anyone watching her. In the morning they found her dead. Their second mistake was not asking for help at the few lodges there. All Gorek Shep is really is a collection of a few lodges next to the Khumbu Glacier below EBC for the trekkers. Sheryl had solicited donations earlier to buy 4-5 pressure chambers for the region. The most well-known pressure bag is the Gamow Bag. The bags are essentially a sealed chamber with a foot pump. You place the patient in the bag and inflate it with the foot pump to a psi of ~2. Depending on your elevation you can lower a person up to several thousand feet. The chambers are a way to improve someone enough so they can either walk out themselves, be able to sit on a horse for evacuation, or wait until a helicopter can arrive. Just so happened that Sheryl had place one of her bags in Gorek Shep.
As Namche is nestled part of the way up the valley slope, the hike started with a steep climb right off the bat. The trail led steeply up the mountainside, past prayer wheels and mani stones, passing into a sparsely vegetated, almost tundra like terrain, leading to some stunning views of Namche Bazaar through holes in the clouds below. The trail topped out after about an hour of hiking near a small gravel airstrip that serviced Namche, with several memorial chortens and the remains of a small bulldozer and front-end loader visible nearby in the surrounding whiteness. After this the trail became a more gradual ascent up the valley to the Everest View Hotel, with occasional glimpses of the valley below through the mist and none of the surrounding peaks. Our first few days on the trail had been sunny, warm, and humid; now we were experiencing the unpredictable nature of Himalayan weather with the cool mist making us feel isolated and alone on the trail, as the surrounding mountains and valleys were mostly hidden from view and all sound dampened.
A wide stone staircase marked our arrival at the Everest View Hotel, perched on a ridge above the Dudh Kosi River. Below the hotel is the more popular trail to Tengboche as it follows the river ever upwards. Khumjung is located higher up and away from the river and uses a separate trail. The Everest View is situated by itself, partway between Namche Bazaar and Khumjung and has stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, it did not live up to its name that day due to the clouds but was still a welcome break for tea and coffee. The hotel itself was beautiful, with immaculate stonework and stunning images of the surrounding mountains photographed by a Japanese photographer decorating the lobby walls. After a nice rest and drink, it was a short, downhill hike to the village and the Khumjung Lodge, where we would be spending the night. Khumjung houses the school started by Sir Edmund Hillary and there is a small clinic in the neighboring village of Kunde that people would walk for miles to visit. The clinic had 3-4 rooms, a small procedure room, an old xray machine, and, surprisingly, an ultrasound machine. There is also a donation box in front of the clinic to help buy supplies and medicines, so please leave a small amount if you are able.
As the day’s hike was fairly short we had some time to visit the school and clinic (although school was out, so we really only walked through the yard) and, after a rain, explore the village and meet some of the locals. Children were out in force in the central square, playing soccer or marbles. After lunch and a relaxing afternoon, we spent some time on education, dinner, then rest and sleep. The next day was a moderate day, with a steep 1 1/2-2 hr climb from the Dudh Kosi River to the monastery at Tengboche. The rooms were spartan, although larger than what we would have farther up the trail and there were 2 clean bathroom just down the hall. We were still where the toilets flushed (that would change farther up also) but showers were now several dollars for 2 pots of hot water and a quick shower the rest of the way, when they were available. Glad I brought large bath wipes.
I awoke early and spent some wandering the empty village streets at dawn, in the morning fog. The central square is a large open dirt patch where the impromptu soccer game took place the previous afternoon, bounded on one side by the Khumjung School, another by a large pair of chortens surrounded by prayer wheels, and lodges on the others. The streets were often bordered by walls of old, worn mani stones that lent an air mysticism and reverence. After some photographing it was time to pack, eat, and ready for the day’s hike to Deboche, which would turn out to be a warm sunny trek.