Travel blog

#45 Day 20: Gorak Shep – Dingboche, Nepal

Saturday 15 Apil 2017

We woke up to a white world; it had continued to snow overnight and there was a couple of inches on the ground. The walk was supposed to take around 6hrs but progress was slow as this part of the trail is mainly boulders and uneven ground and with all the snow it was not possible to see the path. In some ways the snow made it easier to navigate because instead of having to pick our own path we just followed the trail that people who had left earlier had created. Feeling some trepidation about walking a whole day in the snow on slippery rocks I decided to stick directly behind Sherpa Gite and basically followed his footsteps all day. The weather was pretty good, I tried to ignore the harsh glare of the reflected sun on the snow by looking at Gite’s shoes and surprisingly enough I quite enjoyed the days walk, despite now having a cough and minor chest infection! 

As the surroundings were totally white I couldn’t recognise the landscape that we had travelled the previous few days. We descended around 1,000m in total and it was interesting to see the change in the flora and fauna. We started with bare rock and by the time we got to the ridge above Dingboche there were small shrubs / bushes like gorse or heather – it reminded me of Scotland!

It took eight and a quarter hours to make it to the Lodge, as we entered our rooms we were very excited to see there was an en-suite toilet – of course it was too good to be true, there was no water! Haha. As we warmed up with a hot lemon in the communal area, Amanda crossed the room to speak to someone and suddenly she was surrounded by feathers and there an acrid smell became apparent …

In the Lodges there is only one room that has heat and that is the communal room where we eat. A wood-burning stove, with a pipe that goes up to the ceiling and out to the roof, is usually located in the middle of the room and the Sherpas feed it wood all night and it gets really, really (really) hot. This particular communal room was quite small, it had chairs around the edge of three sides of the room with tables in front with the stove in the middle. As the feathers continued to float to the floor we realised that as Amanda walked across the room she had brushed against the pipe with the arm of her down jacket and it immediately burnt the outer material, exposing all the feathers. She didn’t realise for a few seconds but as the arm started smouldering she hurriedly took it off and one of the boys whacked it a few times to put out what could have become a fire. Bearing in mind that the Lodges are made entirely of wood – that would have been a disaster! Someone had some duck tape and the big rent in the sleeve was repaired, poor Amanda had to walk around with a very strange looking jacket for the rest of the trip!

Once the excitement had died down, a few of us decided we needed to recover by having a cake at one of the bakeries up the road. Compared to the conditions we had been living in this bakery was positively luxurious, it was warm, had seats with cushions and a TV with some DVDs stacked up next to it. I wouldn’t have minded sleeping there the night! Someone got talking to the owner and he agreed to let us come back after dinner and watch a DVD. Movie night! We were so excited. 

We ate dinner (pasta, veg and roast potatoes) and rushed back and then had the hard choice of what DVD we should watch. I wasn’t party to the discussion and didn’t see what was available but, inevitably, we ended up watching ‘Everest’. You know, the one based on events that took place in 1996 where various groups of people tried to summit Everest and the majority of them died! It was actually quite poignant, we spent the early part of the film happily re-living the trek we had just done to Base Camp and then watching in horror as the catalogue of disastrous events leading up to their deaths unfolded. That day we had walked back through the memorial to the fallen climbers and it was strange to think that the people represented in the film were remembered in that place (see cover photo for today).

We walked back in a somber silence until we got back to the Lodge where we found we were locked out! When we eventually got inside we didn’t realise how much of a maze the place was and confusion ensued. With no lights in the corridors we had to rely on our head torches and it was quite perplexing to go down a corridor thinking it was the one where our room was only to find completely different numbers on the doors. At one point I was convinced I was actually dreaming; with the altitude and exhaustion, coupled with my cold and cough it wouldn’t have surprised me if I had woken up in my bed at home with the sun streaming in the window (or as it was April, more likely hearing the rain on the roof and the wind buffeting the window). You’ll be pleased to hear we finally found our room, sank into our welcome sleeping bags and tried to get some sleep. 

#44 Day 19: Everest Base Camp!

Friday 14 April 2017

I started writing this post sitting on a beach in Nicaragua in 30 degree heat and high humidity. The environment here is completely the opposite to that halfway up a mountain in Nepal, but the weather was not too dissimilar to what we experienced on Base Camp day (minus the humidity).

The snow the night before was just a light dusting so it had gone by the time we set off in the morning. It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and as it was so hot I had stripped down to my base layer within about 10mins! It’s not actually that far to Everest Base Camp (EBC) from Gorak Shep but you have to go quite slow because of the altitude. Out of Gorak Shep it’s quite flat and then you ascend onto a ridge and follow it until you can see the entrance to EBC on the other side of the river. You cross the river and then you are there. I thought I’d be really emotional when I arrived but I think it was one of those moments when you’ve strived for something for so long that when you achieve it you have to come to terms with it and it takes time to sink in! We took some pictures and then found out we had a further 45min walk to get to the Gurkha camp. This was a bit of a blow, but the promise of food got us going.

The terrain at EBC is a bit like very large gravel and is slippery in places as it is actually on the glacier, so to me this felt like the hardest part of the walk that day! When we got to the Gurkha tents I did at this point feel quite emotional and stood to one side hiding behind my sunglasses while everyone walked past. The Camp was at the furthest end of EBC close to the Ice Fall, the sky was a beautiful blue and we had great views while waiting for our lunch to be prepared. It really does feel like you are at the end of the earth. The whole trek has always had something in front of us, a path going onwards, the next place to aim for, but this is the end; there there is no way forward apart from up the Ice Fall or back the way you’ve come. We were quite disappointed not to actually be having lunch with the Gurkhas. They had reached EBC a few minutes behind us (they were the ones we had met when we did the acclimatisation walk at Namche), and as they’d just arrived they were preoccupied with sorting out their tents and settling in. They would be attempting the summit mid-May, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for them.

Lunch itself was not quite what we expected – spam, baked beans, potatoes and a cinnamon roll! But it was very welcome nevertheless and we were really grateful to the Gurkhas to use their supplies on us. Usually people walk to EBC, take some photos and then turn round and walk back, we were so lucky!

The walk back was a bit of a trudge and at the very end we were going so slowly that it took my little group ages to do the last bit up to the Lodge, it was like we were walking but not getting anywhere! It was also beginning to snow so I was glad to get back and rest before dinner. I’m not sure what I expected that evening e.g. a party because we had made it, but everyone was so exhausted that we ate a bit of dinner and went to bed. Tomorrow in one day we will trek the distance that we covered on the last two days on the way up, and would stay the night in Dingboche (which was over the ridge from Pheriche).

Despite my tiredness that night I reflected that EBC and the trek was truly amazing and I’m so glad that I have done this. I know that lots of people do it, but for the majority of my friends and family who won’t have the chance I’m glad I can share my experiences and enable people to live it through me. 

 N.B. A total of 13 Gurkhas made it to the summit on 15 & 16 May 2017, I’m so proud of them!

#43 Day 18: Lobuche – Gorak Shep, Nepal

Thursday 13 April 2017

Lack of sleep is par for the course at this altitude however the situation was compounded by a group of Australians noisily getting up at 5am and waking up what felt like the whole town! They had also stayed up chatting and laughing the previous evening. It had crossed my mind to say something to them but I didn’t want to get out of bed, and it wasn’t bothering me enough as Amanda and I never went to sleep really early. But it obviously bothered others as out of the blue, one of our group opened her door and shouted at them really loudly to “****ing shut up”. If you had been asleep at that point her shout would have definitely woken you up! I couldn’t quite recognise the voice so that morning I made it my mission to find out who it was; it turned out to be one of the more mild-mannered people in our group. Apparently she, and then someone else, had politely asked them to be quiet earlier on but they had continued so she had got really fed up and lost it at them. It just goes to show what altitude, basic living conditions (no western toilets at this height, and one wash basin in the corridor where we all communally brushed our teeth) and next to no sleep can do!

The walk to Gorak Shep wasn’t too long or that difficult really, but mentally I found it the toughest day (so far). My nose was constantly running, by now it was chilly – although the weather continued to be clear and sunny – and I was wearing two layers, plus buff, hat and gloves so it was a pain to wipe my nose. The terrain was basically dust, small rocks and larger boulders and lots of relatively small ups and downs as we made our way along the side of the mountain. I found it a bit soul destroying as every time we ascended a rocky hill thinking we were almost there, the path went down, round a bit of the mountain and then ascended again. I’m not sure how long the up and down went on for, I felt like I was in a never ending dream (or possibly a nightmare, haha), but finally we rounded a bend and saw Base Camp! 

I didn’t realise we would see it today; It looked so close, but of course in reality it was quite far away. I can’t describe how it felt to see it, part of me couldn’t believe that I’d made it this far and was excited and the other part was frustrated that we had to wait another day to actually get there because at this height lots of things can happen that might prevent us going further.

A bit later we made it to the Lodge in Gorak Shep and settled down for the night. This was the most basic place we’ve stayed in so far but I didn’t really mind – or perhaps care at this point! – I just wanted to make it through the night and get on my way in the morning. Dinner was the usual carbs. I’ve actually been eating quite well on the trek, a lot better than I thought I would, and as I wasn’t that hungry I just ate some potatoes and didn’t beat myself up about it as I knew I’d eat some eggs or porridge for breakfast the next morning. I did however buy myself an orange Fanta as a reward for getting this far, and it was nice. It cost around £3-£4, I can’t remember exactly, but it was worth it!

N.B. point to note about the toilet. As it’s so cold the water freezes in the evening, and that evening it started to snow. The light in the room was very dim so every time you went to the toilet you were risking life and limb. This is because you have use a jug to scoop water from a barrel (which also freezes overnight, to a depth of about a centimetre) and throw it down the squat to make it clean for the next person. Invariably some water gets spilt around the squat making the whole area sheet ice and very treacherous as you can’t see what is concrete and what is ice … let’s hope I avoid any unnecessary injuries in the night …

#42 Day 17: Pheriche – Lobuche, Nepal

Wednesday 12 April 2017

This morning we all gathered outside and had a group photo, as Walker and now Tim (another of the Americans) were leaving us. In total there are around 45 in our group, not including the Sherpas and Porters – or the yaks! Quite a crowd, but it’s nice, it feels like one big family.

The walk to Lobuche was relatively short however with my cold, and now a sore throat, I trudged along in my own world following the line of others like a yak. Amanda wasn’t feeling well either, she had developed a cough and as the day progressed it got worse and her chest hurt. We were all suffering one way or another!

Despite not feeling 100% I quite enjoyed the trek today. We continued along the valley, up about two thirds of our final hill and over the river to the lunch stop. The terrain is mostly rocky with small bushes dotted around, and while there is no snow on our path you can see it either side on the mountains close by. You can see the vastness of the landscape in the header photo, the tiny people on the right hand side engulfed by the rocky peaks surrounding them.

After lunch we climbed to the top of the hill and entered a memorial for fallen climbers- people who have lost their lives on Everest; each person has a mound of stones and an inscription. It was quite an emotional place as it is very bleak and windy and it’s as if you are at the end of the world. We sat for a bit, recovering ourselves after the climb and then continued on, the path winding its way ever upwards … we were in a small group, Gite, Amanda, Richard and one or two others It feels as if we are in a Tolkien book, our mission to reach the gates of Mordor (Lobuche) and Orcs are going to ambush us as we round the next bend. I wanted to head the blog with a picture of this however I didn’t take any on my phone so it will have to wait until I’m home and I can download my photos from my camera.

It was good to reach the lodge, and as the group is so big our trek – the A team – are staying on our own. It was quite nice to be only 15 of us for once, everyone in my group is lovely and we all enjoy each others company.

One more day and we will reach Gorak Shep!

#41 Day 16: Pheriche, Nepal

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Today was another DND (do nothing day), it was our last in Pheriche before starting walking again – after today its two more days until Base Camp day!

I felt better so went off to do my testing at 7am – last time I had to do the step test (yay) and then after breakfast I went over to the lab for my blood test and echocardiogram for the Nebraskans. It’s quite cold now, and walking anywhere takes energy, conscious of still needing to rest I didn’t go for an acclimatisation walk up and over the hill to Dingboche. I figured that I wasn’t missing anything because we would be stopping at Dingboche on our way back. 

After lunch I went with a few of the girls to visit the HRA and then we relaxed in a bakery. I chatted to a lady called Patsy, I believe she was the eldest in our group – I’m not sure how old but in her late 60’s / early 70’s! She was really interesting, she is still working (and works for) the air ambulance which has taken her to many interesting places in the world. At one point she was working abroad in Europe and had to help transport patients back to the UK on Lear Jets!

Today was Walker’s last day, he was the guy doing the echos. I saw him and a few people walk past while I was in the bakery, it turned out they were all going for a game of pool so I was sad to miss out. The Sherpas presented us with cake after dinner and there was a little ceremony for Walker and he was presented with a medal. It felt like a mini-celebration, the fact that we had made it this far. I was grateful for this stop at Pheriche to enable me to have a rest, however I’m now keen to get on to the next stage. Lobuche here I come!

#40 Day 15: Pheriche, Nepal

Monday 10 April 2017

My headache didn’t get better so at around 3.30am I woke up my room mate (sorry Amanda!) and we went to see Kay. The headache was right at the back of my head, I’ve had one like that before when I went to India and didn’t sleep for 3 days! so in my mind the headache was from lack of sleep. However at that height – over 4,200m – you can’t be too careful. My sats were ok but I could tell that Kay was worried. She advised me to take two paracetamol and said she would come and see me at 6am. My headache was still not gone by then and my sats were quite low, she got a second opinion from a colleague and suggested I start to take half a diamox (acetazolomide) in the morning and evening as a preventative measure against AMS. I  was instructed to rest and have a lay-in, no testing for me today, and she would see how I felt in the evening. We were to stay in Pheriche for 3 nights as it is one of the places to stop to acclimatise so I had a couple of days to get better.

I didn’t want to take the diamox but she kind of indicated that if I didn’t follow the medical advice it might end up with my journey finishing in Pheriche, so close but yet so far. I felt fine, apart from the headache and my cold, and I didn’t have other symptoms of AMS e.g. dizziness, lack of appetite, rapid pulse, so I wasn’t personally convinced I had it. However, propped up in bed alone in my ‘cell block H’ cold room (there was ice on the inside of the window!) with a bowl of porridge that Amanda had kindly brought me I had a bit of a crisis of confidence. What if I did have AMS and it got worse and I really did have to go back down the mountain? I was so tired and knew that if I let my mind continue in that vein I would end up convincing myself I wouldn’t be able to do it. I took the pill and ate my porridge and tried to rest however we were right near the helipad and loads of helicopters kept coming and going, someone was doing some DIY in the courtyard so there was lots of banging and crashing and the yaks kept milling around under my window so all I could hear in the gaps were the yak bells … eventually I got annoyed at being in bed and got up. I figured this was a good thing, if I was really ill I would have stayed in bed!

At this height water (let alone hot water) is in short supply so you have to pay for a shower. As it was nice and warm in the lodge I decided to have a shower and sorted out some washing. I sat in the communal area for the morning waiting for my hair to dry and doing a bit of reading. I managed two bowls of lunch, which was a soup that contained pasta and potatoes (our usual staples!), and felt better. When we were in Namche you may remember I agreed to take part in the research being done by the Harvard Division of Wilderness Medicine: the cognitive tests and eye ultrasound. The second, and final, tests were to be here at Pheriche with the lady leading the research. She had limited availability tomorrow so I did my tests – last time I got 30/30 and this time I got 29/30 so I don’t think my brain is too impaired …

At Pheriche there is a Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) medical centre. The HRA is a charity that provides medical services to trekkers (for a fee) and to locals (for a much smaller fee) and is a life-saver for many people. At 3pm each day the staff give a talk on AMS so a group of us went along. Even though we were thoroughly schooled in how to recognise AMS by now, many of the group were medics and were interested in seeing the medical centre and learning more about how they deal with emergencies and the range of medical issues the staff are presented with. The talk was interesting and it was nice to while away part of the afternoon learning about the HRA, and helping the charity by buying the merchandise. I bought a patch to add to the collection on my rucksack 🙂

Next to the medical centre is the Everest Climbers Memorial, an art installation dedicated to the 280+ climbers who have lost their lives on Everest; each name is detailed on the memorial (see the cover picture for this post). The shape is an upside-down cone, cut in half vertically, and it’s made of stainless steel and filled with rocks from Everest. It was designed to reflect the mountain not compete with it, and the “space between the two halves is like a crevasse or doorway or hiding space. In there you are forced close to the names of the dead, and the closeness feels like a kind of intimacy”. The memorial does indeed capture the beauty of the mountain as well as illustrating its perils.

After the little outing I had another rest before dinner and was feeling well enough to play cards afterwards – although I avoided the Irish snap game this evening!

#39 Day 14: Deboche – Pheriche, Nepal

Sunday 9 April 2017

It was another fine day and we enjoyed more stunning views of Everest. Today I’m finding the walking a bit more tiring, probably because of my cold and the fact that my nose is constantly running. In the end it got too annoying to keep wiping it so my buff is now functioning as a temporary handkerchief, positioned just under my nose … sorry if that’s too much information!We made good time again for lunch, and just as we were tucking into our food there was a commotion and suddenly a run-away yak burst into the courtyard! There were two long tables set up; as you come through the opening they were to the left and right. The yak somehow ran behind the back of the left hand table and got penned in by the back wall. There was a moment of panic as everyone on that side got up and ran to the relative safety of the side I was on. The yak stood stock still, not knowing what to do and we all stood staring at the poor thing not knowing what to do either!

This was actually one of our yaks as it was carrying Xtreme Everest packs and it had a red tasseled rope around its neck. We later found out that the naughty yaks get the red rope so we had a naughty yak on our hands … after a bit of a stare-off a couple of the Sherpas approached and after much shoo-ing they managed to encourage it to go out the entrance way, only for it to start running down the mountain instead of up. A few minutes later there was a clatter of hooves as it came back up, someone had chased it and managed to turn it around, and it tried to get in again but there were Sherpas with walking poles at the ready and eventually it went off where it was supposed to go. After all the kerfuffle we settled down to finish our lunch and continued on our way to Pheriche.

We are now above the tree line so the landscape is more bleak but at the same time it’s also beautiful. I really feel like I’m approaching the ‘roof of the world’ now as Pheriche is in a long valley by a river and to either side are rocky mountains as far as the eye can see. When we started in the morning the weather was warm enough for one layer but when we arrived it was noticeably colder and the wind more chilly. And about time (not that I want it to be cold of course) as we are now above 4,200m!

On arrival we stepped into a lovely lodge, comfortable and warm, with a bar, a western toilet – and soap! It was, however, too good to be true as after a cup of hot lemon we were told to get our stuff as my group would be staying somewhere else. Now all of us were feeling quite tired and when we got to the other lodge we nearly cried. If, in Lodge terms, the other one was a 5-star this was a 1-star. The toilet didn’t have a seat and really smelled and the rooms were cold and miserable. We sat around for a while bemoaning our fate and then as you do in these situations we accepted it and went back to the other lodge for dinner as we were all going to eat together, so that was something. While we were socialising back at the first lodge we were approached by one of the trek leaders who had some Good News; we could stay at the nice lodge! We ran back, well we walked slowly as by now even turning over in bed gets you out of breath, to get our stuff and were given our room keys.

We were put in what I personally called the servants quarters, but what became more commonly known as the ‘cell block H wing’ amongst trek team A (my team). It was a line of about six rooms with a solitary toilet (no hand basin) and over the courtyard from the main lodge. This was where they were originally going to set up the laboratories, but when the trek leaders saw the other lodge they decided it was unfair to make us stay there and swapped the arrangement around. Beggars can’t be choosers and we were just happy we weren’t at the other lodge so were in good spirits as we went in to dinner. I went to bed with a bit of a headache, hopefully it will ease off overnight.

Yak Attack video (courtesy of Amanda Martin)

#38 Day 13: Namche – Deboche, Nepal

 

Saturday 8 April 2017

The first part of the walk wasn’t too taxing, with lovely views of Everest as the weather was still warm and sunny – I might run out of sun cream at this rate! We got to the lunch stop by about 11.30am and sat down to wait for the others, who came in dribs and drabs. 

Today we had a cheese toastie, along with the usual potatoes and veg. While I was not expecting this kind of food I was actually quite thankful for it as it was easy to eat. After lunch we had to face our second big hill (Namche being the first). As time had gone on we had settled into small groups of people, within our actual trek group, we liked to walk with. The groups weren’t really based on personality as such, it was more about who walked at your speed. Amanda and I were generally in the same group and a Sherpa called Gite (I don’t think that’s how you spell it but it’s pronounced the French way with a J sound as opposed to G) had adopted us. He walked at the perfect pace and so the three of us plus Richard, one of the eldest but one of the more experienced people on the trek, started on the hill. We only stopped for two water breaks and were hardly out of breath when we got to the top a few hours later.

It’s quite amusing and sometimes frustrating dealing with some other groups on the trail. On this day there was a small group of Italians and we played tag all the way up the hill. They kept pushing past us at a rate of knots, now bearing in mind that the trail is 1) steep 2) uneven 3) tight in places where you have to go single file 4) and dusty, this is very annoying because you have to pull over to let them pass and then breath in all the dust they kick up. As they were going too quickly they got tired and had to stop to rest, at which point we caught them up and overtook. They then started off again and the cycle repeated itself. I don’t think they got up the hill any quicker than us, going at our steady pace, and I’m sure we felt a lot better than they did when we got to the top!

At the top was a place called Tengboche, a lovely village with a monastery, a few lodges and a fab bakery. As a reward for getting up the hill I bought slices of cake for the four of us and Amanda bought the drinks; I had lemon meringue pie, which was to die for, and a hot chocolate. The cost of the cake slices was almost £20! But they were worth every penny. We decided to stay for the prayers in the monastery at 3pm and then walked down the hill to our Lodge called ‘Rivendale’, named after the elvish valley from Lord of the Rings as it lies hidden between two mountains with a river running through it. The trip down from Tengboche was really pretty as we walked through a forest of birch trees and rhododendrons. The actual Lodge was lovely as well, with fantastic views of Everest – from the window of our room, and I got some great shots of Everest at sunset (see cover photo).

When we got there I wasn’t feeling great, my heart was racing and I had a bit of a headache. I am intolerant to caffeine, hence my bush tea, and since starting the trek I’ve not eaten chocolate (which contains caffeine) plus by then I had a cold. Our trek leader Kay came to see me in my room and as my sats were ok said to take some paracetamol and see how I was later. 

I had a bit of a rest and felt better by dinner time, where we got up to date on another drama. As we were walking in the afternoon we had seen one of our trek-mates Becky at the side of the path with someone from another group. She had her medical kit out so we walked past so as not to be nosey. It turned out that she had come across this man and immediately saw that there was something wrong with him, after examining him she realised he had a high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). His group were all standing around, I don’t think they had any medics with them and they hadn’t a clue that he needed immediate medical attention. Luckily she had the right drugs in her kit and I believe that Chris Imray walked past after us and also gave assistance. The upshot was that he had to be airlifted off the mountain in a helicopter! I have no doubt that without Becky’s intervention the condition probably would have proved fatal (he made a full recovery once at a lower altitude). As she and her boyfriend Brad had waited a few hours with this man the helicopter pilot gave them a lift to Deboche so they didn’t have to walk up the hill. How nice of him and how exciting for them!

That incident brought home to me that I am in a dangerous place and I have to take care of myself and say if I don’t feel well. Of course there was a very slim chance of getting HAPE or HACE on our trek as Jagged Globe are a very experienced trekking company, and our ascent profile is tried and tested and we are given plenty of time at the right places to acclimatise. It was a slightly scary end to the day, however I feel safe in the knowledge that I’m with the best people and they are looking out for me. Onwards and upwards!

#37 Day 12: Namche, Nepal

 

Friday 7 April 2017

Having had a better night’s sleep, Amanda and I opted to stay in bed while some got up early to go and see Everest at sunrise. I guess we could have got up, we were certainly awake as the Lodges are not quiet places. On the outside they look solid, being made of brick/stone, but on the inside everything is made from plywood – the floors, ceilings and the partitions between rooms. You can hear everyone clomping around in their boots, people snoring, and in one place I could hear the rustle of the sleeping bag of the guy in the next room turn over in the night! You see young Porters on the trail walking with five or more massive plywood sheets on their back. They have a band of cloth that is secured to the load and then wraps round their head like a ballerina’s headband and that’s how they take the weight. Must be so heavy!

We eventually got up for egg on toast and met outside at 9am to walk to the monastery where the Xtreme Everest talk was being given. The purpose of this talk was to share the findings of the ten years of research to the Sherpa community, as they had been an integral part of the research and a number of them had been participants in the testing. It was really interesting, there was a slide show and five of the team took it in turns to talk about the different areas of research that had been investigated. It was all simplified, so that was very good for me – being a non-scientist – as I could understand what they were trying to explain.Afterwards the team were presented with cream scarves by an official from the town and we were free to look around the small museum at the monastery and enjoy the rest of our day. 

We were standing around (waiting for someone to go to the loo!) and got chatting to two Americans, who had come to the monastery to find us I believe, as they were conducting some research and were looking for some additional volunteers. Of course we agreed to take part and ended up going to a very good German bakery with them, where I had a very nice apple tart waiting for my turn. These people were from the Harvard Division of Wilderness Medicine at the University of California and San Fransisco and were looking at cognitive impairment at high altitude. We had to do a series of cognitive tests and have an ultrasound of our eyeball as they were measuring the size of the optic nerve (or something around that area). We would be tested a second time when we get to Pheriche, altitude 4,200m. After that we stocked up on snacks and then I had a shower – a luxury I won’t get again until we get back here I expect!

With it being our last evening at Namche I had possibly my last game of pool on the world’s highest pool table with a Sherpa for a partner, and allowed myself an Everest beer at Club Namche, after a dangerous game of Irish snap (my middle finger is never going to be the same again after getting it caught up in a tangle of flying hands at a crucial part of the game). Tomorrow we are off to Deboche, via Tengboche, and have to walk up the second of our big hills (Namche being the first).

#36 Day 11: Namche, Nepal

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.