We left Namche on 1 April, no joke on us. After yesterday’s snow and cloud the morning of our departure was as perfect as a mountain day could be. The peaks above the town shone bight with their new coating of snow. The air was fiercely chilly in the shade, but as we climbed up into the sun it warmed to a comfortable trekking temperature. It had been a stiff steep climb and my lungs were soon screaming for more oxygen. Good excuse to stop and remove my warm down jacket and stuff it into my pack which seemed to weigh twice its normal amount. Some days seem to be perfect for trekking. All the stars align – the weather, the trail, the scenery. This was one of those days. We’re getting into the real mountains now and although we walked through some beautiful old growth rhododendron forest and pine forest, much of our day was out in the open scrub land of the high alpine. Namche is 3440m and by our first tea break of the day we were at 3973m in Mongla. It was about 9 in the morning! We then descended to Phortse Thanga at 3680m for an early lunch. It kinda breaks my heart to loose hard gained elevation. By 1:15 we were in Dhole at 4110m. And here we needed to stop for the day. We’d gained enough – in fact 200 metres more than the recommended – elevation for the day. Within a few minutes of our arrival mist swirled up from the valley below and shortly after that it began snowing. It was nice to be dry if not warm in our lodge. The fire in the dining room was lit at 5 and soon after coats came off, and toes were stretched out to meet the warming yak dung heat in bliss. The 6:30pm scamper up to a fridge of a room and sleeping bag was as swift as possible. Thankfully this lodge provided enormously thick comforter to add on top of sleeping bags. Soon I was very cozy reading a few pages of Edmond Hillary’s autobiography – seems an appropriate book.
So as much as I loved yesterday’s trek, today’s was even better. In fact perhaps my best trekking day ever! It was way too short at only 3 hours including a tea break but we gained 360m and are now in Machhermo at 4470m. We arrived here at 10:30 in the morning under a blazing sun – in rolled up sleeves, down jacket well buried within my pack. So what does one do with a long day in a place like this? Well first I washed myself in freezing water. Next I took my dirty clothes – and trust me on this – they were really filthy – down to a fast flowing glacier fed river not too far from here. I happily washed the filth out of several items. It was very satisfying to see the grime streaming away in the current. I climbed puffing and panting back up to our lodge and hung my clothes in the sun under the dining room window. One does wonder a bit about how appropriate it is to have one’s “smalls” hanging outside a public dining room. Never the less that is where I was instructed to do my hanging. Since then I’ve had numerous cups of tea, lunch, and simply sat in the sun basking in its warmth and soaking up the phenomenal views of grand peaks surrounding us. The inevitable mist has now arrived and we’re in the dining room. Wonder of wonders – at 3pm the stove got lit. Yak dung piled in, a bit of fuel poured on top, a lit match dropped in, a tremendous whomp, and heat! My clothes are now draped on a chair in the dining room, close to the stove. So much for being reticent about hanging “smalls” outside…..
But you may be wondering about this perfect trek I enjoyed today. It started with one of those lung busting, gasping, breathless, pulse pounding climbers out of Dhole. Then we rounded a corner and there before me stretching way into the distance was our trail, gently – ever so gently – climbing along the side of a vast ridge. Where were the stairs and clambers up and down? There were none. All there was to do was to walk along and take in the glorious, stunning, vast scenery all around us. We were completely surrounded by massive jagged peaks. There were no trees, just low alpine scrub. There was no wind, no dust, no clouds, no other people. There were a few free ranging yaks, their bells blending with the roar of a river way way far below us. So anyone with vertigo may not have liked today’s trail as it was high and there was a vast expanse of very steep terrain below – but the trail was wide and we crossed no scree slopes, landslides or cliffs. Today met my definition of a perfect trekking experience. I come here to feel the breath of the grandest mountains on the planet – today I got that!
So for the past two days I’ve been saying that each day has been a fabulous trekking day. Am I getting tedious? Well stand by for more of the same because today was another of trekking perfection! We climbed slowly and steadily up to Gokyo (4790m) passing two pretty little lakes and through absolutely stunning wild rocky scenery!
The day actually started cold and foggy and pretty grim really. There was a rawness in the damp air that easily eats into the bones and lays down a deep chill. I dressed warmly and as quickly as possible in my room which was the same -5 degrees centigrade as outside. We left our fog shrouded guest house at 7:30 and started climbing. Almost instantly we popped out of the fog into brilliant warm sunshine! Coat and hat off! Within half an hour I was down to my Tshirt! Looking down the valley below us, the fog looked dense and miserable but it was staying in place, not doing that sneaky creepy climb up the slopes it does in the afternoons.
We walked for just three hours to get to Gokyo so it was a very easy day. The entire walk was through a wide valley strewn with large boulders of glacial debris. The remnants of the once massive glacier that carved out this valley hang on the steep sided mountains that rear sharply above us. During the ice age glaciers descended through these mountain valleys carving and devouring tones of rock. The glaciers carried the rock within their hungry bellies as they gorged their way down from the heights above. Then when they began receding they dropped their load of boulders and rocks large and small in haphazard heaps. And that is the crazy landscape we see today. Rocks of all sizes and colours – some as big as busses, some just tiny pebbles, some rust red, others black, white, pink or copper. Some dull and many sparkling like brilliant jewels. Some of the larger boulders are home to green or orange lichens which cling to the rocks and eke out an unlikely but cheerfully bright existence. Some provide shade in which piles of snow hide from a relentless sun. Through this landscape a furious river runs milky blue, leaping along its course from a glacier far above towards green valleys below. Through this wild landscape our path wound, our tiny selves plodding along, and in every way extremely insignificant.
The afternoon in Gokyo remained warm and sunny so I sat outside and read and suntanned. Tendi, Puri, and I also climbed the ridge about our guest house and looked down on Ngozumpa Glacier. She’s like a mythical beast all covered with rocky debris and with enormous crevasses gaping like mighty wounds. She grumbles and creeks as she grinds along her path. Small rock slides fall onto frozen puddles within her cold blue belly. She’s left a rubbled wasteland in her wake. She’s not very pretty but I take a few pictures anyway.