NEPAL: Eat Pray Hike – Life on a Himalayan Trail Part 2.New Zealand’s most famous adventurer, Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” As mentioned previously, our goal was to climb our own personal Everest, to summit the peak of Gokyo Ri at 5483m. We were about at the halfway point and had slept the night at 3600m at Portse Tenga where the temperature had dropped below freezing.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2012
New Zealand’s most famous adventurer, Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” Our goal was to climb our own personal Everest, to summit the peak of Gokyo Ri at 5483m. We were about at the halfway point and had slept the night at 3600m at Portse Tenga where the temperature had dropped to well below freezing.
This day’s journey was much shorter with just a three hour morning hike to the sparsely inhabited village of Dole. We departed at 8.15am after being allowed to sleep in until 6.30am. The trail on the western side of the river rose steadily as the noise of the glacial ice cold water started to eventually fade away. Yet we were still following the Dudh Kosi River towards its source, the magnificent Ngozumpa Glacier. At strategic points on the trail Stupas (a spiritual monument that represents the Buddha's body, his speech and his mind, shows the path to enlightenment) stood proud draped in pray flags fluttering in the wind.
From open sky footpaths we were otherwise cloaked beneath a shaded canopy of red birch, fir or dwarf rhododendron forests. We began crossing a series of small bridges over tumbling waterfalls, slowly gaining altitude. Unlike the main Everest route that had a phalanx of trekkers, it was relatively quiet as we had split away from that trail into a far more isolated and pleasurable region, a place where solid ice had formed on the side of streams that raced below the bridges. The way forward was at times well maintained and at other times just loose gravel that was generally uneven and inevitably once or twice a day I’d lose my footing and slip. Our lead guide Bebe had a habit of calling it, “the Nepalese dance.”
Tonight in Dole we were scheduled to sleep in A-frame tents, smaller and more compact that the larger, roomier permanent tents we had used previously. One of the tricks with A-frame tents is to pack an inflatable mattress, as besides giving you more comfort it further insulates your body from the frozen ground below. In some ways sleeping in A-frame tents reminded me of my early youthful camping experiences – fond memories of camping in Dorset’s New Forest with my parents.
Dole at 4080m was supposedly well-known for Yeti stories as one had apparently been sighted there many years ago – something that greatly intrigued Dave from Melbourne. The location is in a beautiful valley with high-sided grouse-coloured hillsides and vertiginous snow-capped Dracula-black mountains rising above that. After devouring a lunch of noodle soup, French fries, cooked vegetables and chicken sausage with onions and yak cheese, some of our group hiked to a small nearby peak but the views had be all but obliterated by cloud that had descended into the valley.
With the cloud came more snow flurries and by late afternoon it reminded me of a Welsh valley, all it needed was a Welsh choir singing in Gaelic. That night the temperatures dropped dramatically. For the first time I wore three pairs of socks, three layers of thermal leggings and four thermal tops inside my down sleeping bag. There was a veritable chill in the night air – it had plummeted to about 10 below.
At these elevations insignificant tasks such as changing layers of clothing, climbing over a low wall or going to the toilet took on new meaning – the effort inadvertently expended energy!
Dinner tonight was our cook, Yum Yum’s famous Sherpa stew with pasta, vegetables, potatoes, cauliflower and yak cheese sauce followed by a meringue pie. With so many of our meals high in fiber, our group found it caused excessive gas in our digestive systems. So much so that on the trail the next day I overheard Andrew apologize to Phil who was right behind him, “Sorry about that – I now know what a wind turbine feels like.”
Dole to Machhermo was the route for Day 7. At 8am we began with a steep climb until it levelled off and traversed a long sloping hillside with the river hundreds of meters below hurtling to even lower elevations. This was a long valley where a scree incline rose vertically to where fresh snow coated the upper slopes.
At just before noon we arrived at Machhermo. My altimeter reading was 4410m. From now on altitude sickness could affect anyone. Cerebral edema can be a killer but there are telltale signs and one of the ways to describe it is by rhyming the following words: grumble, mumble, fumble and stumble. Yet headaches and nausea usually give off the first indications that someone isn’t coping well. Luckily for our group no one succumbed.
In Machhermo our permanent campsite was pitched in a dry-stone walled former yak enclosure with views looking down another long valley. Above us mist swirled around at higher elevations. The weather gave off all the signs of snow and about 2pm it started coating the tents. It was bitterly cold and as the weather closed in another World Expeditions group arrived glancing enviously at our larger more spacious permanent tents as their porters pitched their A-frame tents.
The communal stone-built dining room quickly filled up as porters stoked the pot-belly stove with more dried yak dung. Head lamps were the gadget of choice allowing people to read, write notes, play games or more importantly to help see what we were eating. In our case dinner was a mixture of chicken and chips, spaghetti noodles, cauliflower, vegetables and garden salad.
I calculated that the temperature had dropped to five below inside the tents, as my water bottle froze and toothpaste had hardened overnight.
The morning like many mornings was bright and by the time we were on the trail the sun had started to warm up our bodies and in no time we were taking off the outer layers of clothing.
At one point I wrote in my notebook: “We’re following another long river valley with milky waters in a stiff, cold breeze. Going getting harder. Feet moving slower. Heart beating faster. Breathing getting heavier.”
On the trail our boots scuffed the worn-down glacial gravel that ran parallel to the lateral moraine that separated us from the mighty Ngozumpa Glacier. We then passed the first of three lakes before finally mist obscured the Dudh Pokhari, the lake we would camp on the shores of that night. It was 11.50am and we had arrived at Gokyo, 4759m above sea level.
Lunch was in the communal hut of the lodge we were staying at for the night. It was one of the few times we didn’t camp under canvas. From my room at the back of the building iridescent blue mondial pheasant (often known as a snow cock) had minor scuffles behind a crumpling stone wall. The mist had obscured everything including the proposed route on the climb tomorrow so within the heat of the room about 60 people sat with their respective groups as porters huddled around the pot-bellied stove. All anybody could do was eat, read or play games and pray the weather would lift by tomorrow.
At 5.50am the next morning after a bite to eat and a hot cuppa four of us were preparing to climb and four of us were already out the door and on the trail. At 6.10am we left the warmth of the hut and started hiking the long way round on a stepping stone path on the iced-over stream that fed the lake. Suddenly we heard a scream as a woman from another hiking party going across by the shorter route slipped off one of the boulders and plunged into the icy waters. Her porters quickly plucked her to safety, in shock but uninjured. We didn’t see her again until midday where she was drying out all her gear around the warm stove.
We then started the relentless ascent as swirling snow clouds brought flurries to the lower slopes. It was steep and dusty as we planted one foot in front of the other, taking rest stops every few minutes or so. Speckles of colour from expensive outfits on people above us showed how far we had to go. By 6.45am some people were already heading back down – they had failed to make it to the top.
It was way below freezing and I had every layer of clothing bar one under my Kathmandu Gortex jacket and pants. At almost 9am we reached the top. Earlier the spectacular view we had been told of was obscured by clouds. Abruptly, like the opening scene in a theater, the heavy cloud lifted like a stage curtain and many of mountain tops above 8000m appeared. As the sun came out and shone, we even got a view of the top of Everest as it peered out from behind smaller peaks – a magical moment.
For 45 minutes there was euphoria in the air above Gokyo Ri which was festooned with thousands of prayer flags, fluttering in the high altitude wind . . . finally our own mini Everest had been knocked-off.
North of us was Tibet. Surrounding us were some of the world’s highest peaks, Cho Oyu (8153m) Gyangchung Kang (7922m) Lhotse (8501m) Nuptse (7861m) Makalu (8463m) and Everest at 8848m. It was the culmination for us all that comes with hard graft and damned determination. Hilary’s words rang true; it was not the mountain we had conquered but ourselves.”
Shane Boocock would like to thank World Expeditions in Auckland for the outstanding organisation that went into arranging this Himalayan trek, staying in their purpose built, permanent tented camps and eco-lodges in the Solo Khumbu region of Everest. World Expeditions 18 Day trek to Everest Base Camp is priced at NZ $3050.00
World Expeditions is one of the first in Nepal to offer sustainable, responsible travel. They are at the forefront of developing permanent tented campsites in the mountain regions of Nepal where they operate. It’s proven to be a far more private experience staying in a permanent tent site than eating and sleeping in a crowded tea-house used by other trekking organisations. By setting a whole range of new standards, there is far less chance of catching infections as they sterilize all their own equipment, plates and cutlery etc. Each campsite has just eight large, head-high standing room two-people tents, each with single raised beds and mattresses. They have also have purpose-built stone huts for use as communal dining/breakfast rooms, composting toilets, use recycled paper and collect tank water for clients use.
Permanent campsites were primarily built because severe deforestation and pollution have proven that tourism growth in Nepal can be a double edged sword. A significant increase in accommodation throughout the region has been constructed to meet the demand and they rely heavily on wood for heating and cooking for tourists. The continued use of firewood by lodges and teahouses has contributed to the thinning of forests inside, but more so outside the national park. There are three key areas why the effects of deforestation are devastating including the major threat to the biodiversity of the regions flora and fauna, the human threat with its origins associated with land erosion which leads to landslides that have the potential to destroy entire villages and finally, deterioration in the aesthetic and cultural integrity of the region.
T: +64 9 368 4161
Shane Boocock would also like to kindly thank Kathmandu for their generous support and use of their high-quality outdoor clothing and equipment that was supplied for his trip to Nepal. T: 0800 001 234 or visit www.kathmandu.co.nz to find your nearest store.
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