Thursday 6 April 2017
Today we are going on an acclimatisation walk in the local area taking in Kumjung and Khunde, two Sherpa villages. So far I haven’t really been affected by the altitude, apart from my inability to sleep – but I don’t know if that is just me (as I am not a good sleeper generally) or a symptom of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). As I was testing yesterday and didn’t do very much I felt the need to do some activity, but thinking and doing are two different things and as we left the Lodge if I am honest the thought of traipsing up the mountain for fun was not filling me with enthusiasm as the first section was a bit tedious; climbing loads of steps that zigzag up the mountain to get to the top of the ridge above Namche.
When we finally got to the top I was glad I made the effort and all the darn steps were worth the view of the snow-capped mountains that surrounded us. The only thing in sight in the distance is a Lodge which is just up the hill from an old airfield, which now has a helipad. Out the back is a toilet, and in Nepal if you see a toilet the best thing to do is to use it (even if it looks like a garden shed with a hole in the middle of the floor to squad over and a pile of leaves in one corner) because you don’t know when you’ll find the next one!
We all queued up for the loo and as we went out the back gate to continue on our way we were presented with an amazing view of Everest! It’s really hard to describe seeing something so awesome; this is what I’m here to do – to go to Everest – and there it was within reach, so close yet so far. The weather was perfect, blue sky, hardly any clouds and a light breeze to keep us cool. I think I mentioned before that I had visions of myself trudging up the trail in my full thermals, waterproof etc. but here I am at over 3,500m walking in my t-shirt, topping up with Factor 50 every so often. The sight of Everest with its signature plume of cloud blowing off of the right side of the tip of the mountain was magical and something I will never forget. As you get closer to Everest you can’t actually see it, so this was a great opportunity to get some stunning pictures and we were really fortunate with the weather.
While we were admiring the view a group of Gurkhas with a British Officer arrived. On our trip is a notable surgeon, Professor Chris Imray, who summited Everest in 2007 as part of the first Xtreme Everest expedition. The Officer recognised him, I think they knew each other, and they started chatting. It emerged that the Gurkhas were on their way to Base Camp too, and were going to attempt to summit Everest. The exciting news for us is that the Gurkha team already at Base Camp are going to cook us lunch when we get there! Usually people make the 3-4hr trek there, take some photos and then turn around and walk straight back to Gorakshep, but we are going to relax and eat lunch – we are so lucky!
Continuing on our way we came to the luxurious Everest View Hotel; at 3,880m it is the highest hotel in the world, built in the late 60’s. Rumour has it that in the 70’s rich people used to be flown in directly and then many of them got AMS, or worse, and had to be flown back out – as most people’s bodies don’t react well going from sea level to almost 4km up a mountain without stopping! Apparently they used to supply oxygen in each room – but I don’t know whether that is true. On the hotel website it seems you can still get a helicopter from Kathmandu or Lukla to the helipad I mentioned earlier, maybe those people only stay for 24hrs? There was another chance to take some pictures of Everest and then we were hurried along as our walk was only supposed to be about 4hrs but we had been dawdling, I think Chris had to get back by a certain time as he was testing that afternoon!
The two villages were down the other side of the ridge, they are not as commercialised as Namche although they did have some great looking (and smelling) bakeries! I had been too busy taking pictures at the Everest View to think about taking a toilet break so I stopped off at a German bakery whose outdoor shed was quite pleasant. An added bonus was that I was able to wash my hands with soap! Sometimes the smallest pleasures are the best …
Khumjung is best known for its school, built by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust in 1961. While we were walking through the playground I somehow got involved in a game of football briefly as the ball came my way and I kicked it back. Already impressed with my pool playing, Chris (Imray) asked if I was a footballer as well … I replied “In my youth Chris, in my youth” however I neglected to mention that it was a BBC lunchtime 5-a-side league (4 guys, 1 girl) and that my budding career was tragically cut short due to an ankle injury …
After climbing back up to the ridge and slowly negotiating the hundreds of steps down to Namche we made it back in time for some lunch and a well-deserved rest in the afternoon. After a dinner of garlic soup and poppadoms for starters, and one piece of fried chicken, chips, boiled veg and the obligatory spaghetti for main, we watched a short documentary about Xtreme Everest, played cards and then went downstairs to ‘Club Namche’ to play a bit of pool. This time I was teamed up with a Sherpa, still not lost a game yet!
I’m looking forward to the talk at the Monastery tomorrow and excited/nervous about the next leg of our trip the following morning. I’m taking each day at a time at the moment as so many things can happen that are out of your control when you are this high that can prevent you from going further. I am determined to get to Base Camp however every so often I have to remind myself that it’s 99% about the journey and the destination is just the icing on the cake.