Seeking Oxygen

Post Kala Patthar, after a hearty breakfast, we began our rapid fire descent, flying down from Gorak Shep, past the memorials for Everest climbers who perished, in time for lunch at Thukla around noon. We said goodbye to Andrew as he ventured off to tackle Island Peak, and geared up for a very snowy walk down to Pheriche.

I never said I’d be the most attractive hiker on the mountain, but I hadn’t quite realized my cold, snowstorm outfit would be this sexy:

Pheriche, where we slept on our first night descending, was a surprisingly large town. I think a number of trekkers on the traditional EBC route stop here on the ascent. We were delighted to find that this tea house turned the stove on early in the afternoon and in the morning. Talk about living large!

The next day was a full day of “downhill.” In reality, I think we may have actually ascended more on this day than we ever did on a day of actual “uphill” climbing! I might be exaggerating, and my mind might have mentally checked out of trekking once we hit the “big four.” But, man, was it hard to motivate this day. I kidded with Rishi often, “so when do we get the helicopter?” Little did I know, it pays to be whiny! 😉

This day of descending brought us through much of the EBC trail, nearly all of which we hadn’t seen yet since we turned towards Gokyo slightly after Namche Bazaar. We passed a valley where we could see the path to Dingboche and Chukhung. After a while we came to the little village of Pangboche that had nice views of Ama Dablam, Lhotse, and Nuptse.

Later we saw the turn off to head right for Phortse, but we continued left all the way down to the river, crossing it before another steep uphill. The river was beautiful and flowing vigorously. Finally we were in Tengboche, a lovely little town where we had an absolutely fantastic lunch at Tashi Delek. I had to wait almost an hour for a pizza since they turned on the special pizza oven for me, but it was definitely worth the wait and probably the best meal I had in the Himalayas. Also, they had a western toilet (with a flush!!!), which was impossibly exciting after days of deprivation. By now it was much warmer (and greener! We’d made it back down past the tree-line) and we shed layers (I removed the second and third pant layers for the first time in over a week) and ate outside with a spectacular view of Everest, Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Nuptse, as well as the beautiful monastery here. To say we were pleased would be an understatement.

After lunch we briefly explored the monastery before continuing down (and up and down and up and down).

We passed a field of yaks being loaded up for hauling expedition gear to the top. And we also saw loads of sherpas carrying NBC Discovery gear for coverage of the BASE jumper (good luck to him, that sounds like a terrible decision…). [NB: The jump was canceled due to the avalanche.]

It was only about six hours of actual walking, but this day felt much harder than many of the others (even despite the fact that the oxygen levels felt indulgent to us at this point). I always find the downhill a bit of a struggle, between the impact on the knees and the inevitable blisters (by the end of the day I had band-aids on seven of ten toes), and the whole already being “done” mentally thing. Over the past two days we descended 7,000 feet, not to mention the ups and downs, which would make it probably closer to a figure around 9,000. That’s a lot of hills. (Also, the second day of descent was very dusty.)

We stayed at the same tea house in Namche Bazaar (in the very same room!) as we did on the way up. This time again we showered, and it was either much warmer or the higher altitudes gave us thicker skin because it was the most glorious shower of all times and I didn’t even complain about waiting for my hair to dry in the cold.

We had a celebratory dinner of meat! And apple pie! Eventually Jenni moseyed on up to bed, and while Alan was hanging out in the common room, Rishi wandered up to Alan and began a conversation with, “so, if you were serious about the helicopter thing…”

It was hard to believe. Very hard to believe. But Rishi informed us that another Himalayan Glacier client had hired a helicopter for the next morning because she was ill. Her guide was unable to go down with her since he was still taking the rest of his group up to Island Peak. Since she had the extra room in her chopper, and Rishi would be able to make sure she arrived safely at the clinic down in Kathmandu, we basically got to freeload rides in her rescue chopper. We were skeptical up until the last minute. Even walking up to the heli-pad. Even sitting there waiting with a sick woman who’d painfully made her way up there. But then there it was.

Sweet, glorious, helicopter in the Himalayas. Was that not one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! Alan had already been in a chopper, but this was Jenni’s first time. It took a lot of self restraint not to gush about how excited I was (out of respect for the poor girl sitting next to me), but knowing she was there also helped me to not freak out about the whole heights thing. I knew I couldn’t make it about me, when this lady was sitting in her generously shared rescue ‘copter fighting for air.

After a refueling stop in Lukla, we arrived in the Kathmandu airport and (no joke) took the ambulance with this poor sick woman all the way to the clinic (talk about overstaying your welcome and feeling a little awko taco). We grabbed a car back to Hotel Shanker and that night we celebrated our farewell dinner with the EBC trekkers from the other Himalayan Glacier group. Somehow, even with the loss of a day on the front-end, we finished our trek early! So our 14 day trek ended up being a jam-packed and adventure filled 12 day trek, but we wouldn’t change a thing. (Well, except maybe the headaches and nausea).

Practical Info

Accommodation: In Pheriche we stayed at Pumori Lodge. There are several accommodation options in this village, and others we saw offered WiFi. But the welcome was warm at our tea house, both literally (as noted, the stove was fired much of the time) and figuratively. In Namche, we stayed again at the Nest (in room 211), which we already covered in our previous post.

Food and Drinks: We had lunch in Thukla the first day of our descent…meh. The food at Pumori Lodge in Pheriche was fairly good. Lunch at Tashi Delek in Tengboche was great, both the food and the view from the large deck. It was glorious to enjoy milk in my coffee and soft butter at breakfast back in Namche Bazaar after a week plus of avoiding meat and dairy.

Activities: It was nice to see the monastery in Tengboche. There is no entrance fee but a small donation is recommended.

April 14-16, 2014 (Monday-Wednesday)

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