EBC Part 2 – AMS – Namche Bazaar to Tengboche, to Dengoboche, back down to Somare, then back up to Periche

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June 18th 2013
Published: June 18th 2013
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The last leg of the trail to Tengboche was, in my humble opinion, the most difficult of the entire EBC trek. The views, of course, were fantastic, especially coming out of Namche; but I huffed and puffed trying to keep up with Pikay (the guy can seriously move) as we edged towards the monastery of Tengboche at 12,680 ft.

The monastery at Tengboche, located 7 feet above 12,680 ft, was built in 1916 by a Tibetan lama and is the largest in the region. It is located in a sort of epicenter of magnificent views, from which can be seen Lhotse, Ama Dablam in all its glory, and Everest in the distance. We attended a puja at the monastery, for which I was late, which led to a slight faux pas on my part when I wandered in while the ceremony was in progress. Everyone was to remain seated during the puja – a crucial announcement I’d missed - while I stood there for a good few minutes wondering why everyone was curiously staring at me, including one young, exasperated monk. Klaudia finally got my attention and motioned to me to sit; not fully grasping her motioning, I shook my head and motioned back that I wanted to stand. Finally, someone whispered to me that everyone was requested to be seated. Oops… My misunderstanding, though, wasn’t as bad as another woman’s when, while the puja was still progressing, she started visiting the monastery and taking pictures. I was back in school trying to hold my laugh in. The same monk who was displeased with me earlier was most vividly infuriated at that point, his face almost contorting in dumbfounded astonishment. He reminded me of a monk who’d been annoyed with me in a movie theater in Warsaw while watching "Casino Royale": I’d been eating popcorn too loud when finally the monk had had enough and fiercely shushed me. The puja finally ended calmly enough.

We awoke to unbelievable views the next morning and headed to Dingboche at 14,800 ft., which was 300 ft. higher than the highest point Klaudia and I had been. About half way there or so, we rose above tree line into rocky, granite terrain. The views were more extraordinary, but unfortunately only for short times: the time of year during which we were doing the trail, just before the monsoon season, had cloudy late mornings and afternoons. It was foggy and snowing when we reached Dingoche; it was also cold.

The first thing we noticed about our guest house was the number of Koreans around in really clean clothes. We especially noticed them during dinner: while I was eating some chili fries and eggs, and Klaudia was having some Sherpa stew, the Koreans brought in cases and coolers full of kimchee, wild greens, legumes, various types of noodles and other Korean delicacies. They also threw in some sushi for good measure, and brought in their own fire wood for the stove in the middle of the dining hall (usually, the stove’s fodder is yak dung, which has a surprisingly pleasant aroma). We learned later that they were a sponsored expedition to Everest peak and were in Dingboche acclimatizing for a month, hiking to some of the lower peaks in the area (when I say “lower”, I mean peaks over 20,000 ft.). By their manner of eating, and from the fact that they had heaters in their rooms, I took them for soft, rich tourists (please remember that everything has to be carried up by a sherpa, yak or donkey); and, well, maybe that was confirmed when we met a professional climber who was leading a group of Spanish tourists to the top of Island Peak. We learned from one of the Spaniards that their tour leader, JG, was one of ten individuals in the world to have climbed all 8000-meter peaks in the world without supplemental oxygen. He was also missing all the fingers on his left hand, a couple from his right hand, and had his nose sewn on, bodily extremities he’d lost while attempting to save a friend who’d fallen ill during their summit of Everest – the guy was no joke. Yet he was very humble and didn’t really talk about himself all that much, but did talk highly of Polish climbers as one of his first major expeditions was with Krzysztof Wielicki, one of the most celebrated climbers in Poland.

During the night, having never slept so high before, I had some issues getting shut eye when I’d awaken abruptly gasping for air. I worked on sustaining rhythmic breathing as my brain naturally adjusted to a different tempo of oxygen intake; I finally fell into a deep sleep around 3 am. Nonetheless, around 7 or so, I stood from bed energetically, prepared for our acclimatization hike to Nangkartshang Peak at 16,699 ft. Klaudia, who’d basically spent the entire night awake, was now still asleep, but I found Pikay at breakfast; we discussed our acclimatization hike. I went to check on Klaudia, who was still lying in bed: she explained that she wasn’t feeling well, had a debilitating headache and would probably not be going on the hike. Anyone who’s hiked with us knows Klaudia has some issues with altitude, but she loves to hike, and is stubborn, so she keeps going - it’s not uncommon for her to overcome the ill feelings and continue on later. I was disappointed, but gave her some space hoping she’d recuperate before we went on our day hike or, in any case, before we pressed on to Lobuche.

When I returned to the dining room, the Spaniards were eating breakfast and checking their oxygen levels with an oxygen finger monitor. I asked if I could check mine – a healthy 92%, when it’s typical to have oxygen levels in the low 80s at that altitude. The Spaniards joked that I was like Superman. Gosia measured hers then had the prudence to ask if she could borrow it to check Klaudia’s. She departed for a moment while I was finishing up breakfast, deciding not to stress Klaudia out with my presence; Gosia then returned with a look of consternation: “Umm… we checked Klaudia’s oxygen,” she said delicately perplexed to everyone in the room, “and it was 40%.”

I figured that was low, but I wasn’t sure what that exactly meant; the Spaniards looked at Gosia in evident alarm and thought that we should wait a few more minutes and check again. We did so, then JG went with Gosia this time. I joined them a few minutes later while JG was explaining the affect of AMS – Klaudia’s levels were now just below 60%, at which point a conservative doctor would have put her on oxygen and sent her down to the bottom on a donkey. Also, her face was fairly swollen, which was a significant sign of the outset of AMS. He suggested we head down. We got packed and decided to head down to Somare, which was about 1500 ft lower, to see how she’d feel. Honestly, we were prepared that this could happen, since it’s happened before, but Klaudia’s tough and has a tendency to bounce back.

Once we arrived in Somare, she instantly felt better, especially after we’d seen the sturdy white horse that we believed was following us to Dingboche all the way from Namche – we were subsequently convinced he was indeed following us when he showed lower in Somare. Although better, Klaudia was still in no shape to hike. We made sure she was comfortable, then Pikay and I headed for Nangkartshang. Heading down to Somare added an additional 3.5 hours to the total hike to the peak – and we were getting a late start as it was, which meant cloudy weather, thus no views – but the top would be higher than I’d ever been. Along the way, Pikay and I “bonded” a bit: I shared some electrolyte candy with him, he shared some popcorn, and we discussed his job, information about which he was very forthright. It varied from porter to porter, he elucidated, but he was known in almost every town so he ate and slept for free. Usually, he explained further, that is the case for most porters as well since they are bringing in the business. There were a couple towns higher up, like Gorek Shep, in which he had to pay for food, but still had accommodation for free in the form of an unoccupied room or the dining hall if the guesthouse was full. He then gave me some more popcorn; I gave him a gummy bear.

We reached the top in no time and Pikay stopped to talk with a Sherpa, something he did constantly: everyone knew him; later I found out that he used to work at the airport and would sign out the products flown in to all the Sherpas. This particular Sherpa turned to me and said, “He says you walk like a Nepali.” What a nice compliment… I was feeling good, I will admit.

Unfortunately, as I've mentioned, the peak was enveloped by clouds, so I had no views whatsoever, but I’ve glanced at the pics from other blogs and they’re quite amazing. Pikay and I arrived at our guesthouse in Somare a few hours later and Klaudia seemed good: her spirits were high. She told me about a boy, the son of the proprietress, no older than 5 years old – the same boy who had earlier thrown a rock at Pikay on our way to Dingboche! – standing in the middle of the dining room smoking a cigarette, while his younger sister was peeing in the middle of the floor. My day was a little better, I think…

Since we still weren’t absolutely certain what the next day held, Gosia went ahead to Laboche early the next morning with a group we’d met in Tengboche, just in case Klaudia and I needed another acclimatization day. After a good night’s sleep, however, Klaudia felt fairly good the next afternoon, so we went on to Periche, which is almost directly on the other side of the mountain range from Dingboche. We spent the rest of the day eating, reading and relaxing. The next morning, Klaudia, who just needed an extra day to acclimatize, was in top shape again and we headed to Laboche; and eventually Everest Base Camp and Kala Patter.

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they almost always have a smile on their faces.

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