Day 5 – April 2, 2013 – Pangboche to Dingboche
In case you couldn’t tell from the video documenting our terrifying landing at Tenzing-Hillary Airport, I had some trouble understanding our Everest Base Camp trek guide.
In addition to his strong Nepalese accent, Lakpa had a tendency to speak much too quickly, blending each sentence into a smoothie of syllables. My response to most of what he said over the course of our 12-day hike was “Huh?”
Lakpa would then repeat the name of this mountain or that safety instruction and I, still unable to decipher his message, would try to save face my nodding, smiling and saying “Ohhhhhh,” as someone does to indicate they understand when, in fact, they have absolutely no clue what was uttered. As was his custom, Lakpa would then typically acknowledge my acknowledgment with a giggle.
Luckily, Him could more or less translate smoothie to English for me.
“He said, ‘Don’t walk behind the yaks because they might push you off the peak.’”
To avoid this routine, I made a show of listening to my iPod for the first few hours of our hike out of Pangboche (3930 meters). Through a combination of hand gestures and map pointing, I learned it was Tabouche Peak on our left and the beautifully rugged Ama Dablam Peak towering above us on the right. Under their impressive height, we passed through a rocky, barren valley. The path ahead would follow the Imja Khola River, veering us slightly off the main trail leading to Everest Base Camp for a two-night acclimatization stay in Dingboche (4410 meters).
I couldn’t wait for that blessed point in the morning when I’d grow warm enough from slogging 30 pounds up a steep incline to start shedding layers, but my sweater stayed on that day. We were reaching higher and higher altitudes with less and less tree cover to block the wind, and the cold was setting in.
We left the shrubby valley by crossing a bridge over the Imja Khola. From there, the incline increased as we followed a landslide-prone path hugging the mountain. Eventually, Dingboche revealed itself below, a sizeable village of low buildings and stone-walled dirt fields.
The upper terrace of our lodge, “Hotel Family,” resembled a motel with a bank of rooms offering direct access to the outside and the communal dining area. Our room, in the “hotel” section on the lower level, was a plywood box connected to a dozen other plywood boxes and the communal bathroom by a long, dark tunnel.
We settled into our room and then made our way up to the second level for lunch in the dining room. If you’ve never eaten in a Nepalese lodge dining room, here is what you might expect: a large space with carpet-draped bench seating and tables enclosed on three sides line the perimeter. In the middle is a rudimentary, yak poop-burning stove surrounded by bone-cold guests in plastic patio chairs reading or writing in journals. Homemade posters and T-shirts commemorating past expeditions are signed by participants and pinned to the walls. The guides generally take their group’s food orders before retreating into the much-warmer kitchen to chat with the proprietors as the food is cooked.
Lakpa served up two “Nepali Sets” (rice, lentils and curried vegetables) and a large thermos of boiling water we used to make tea and, later, to wash our faces in the shared bathroom. Thus refreshed, we climbed into our sleeping bags for a post-lunch nap.
The sun had been shining through our room’s single window when I drifted off, but I awoke to see clouds had moved in, bringing snowfall with them. A quick lap of the town left us dusted with flurries like the dzos and dzomos (the male and female hybrid bovines born to yaks bred with domestic cattle) staring blank-eyed from their stone pens. We shared a slice of incredibly dry, but considering our whereabouts, decadent chocolate cake at a small, family-run bakery before returning to the lodge to sit by the fire.
Daily Hiking Time: 2:33 — Total Hiking Time: 22:54
Day 6 – April 3, 2013 – Dingboche
As day six of the trek was an acclimatization day and we wouldn’t be progressing toward Base Camp, we slept in to 8:30 a.m., waking only when Lakpa knocked on the door to announce breakfast.
Our acclimatization exercise of the day proved fairly easy, consisting of a 45-minute hike up a hill directly behind the lodge. From the top, we snapped some pictures of Lakpa with Paper Hailey, marveled at snow-capped Ama Dablam and then retreated down the rudimentary path to do some laundry.
There are no laundromats on the Everest Base Camp trek. If you’re lucky, however, your hosts may grant you access to a shallow mixing bowl and frigid rainwater collected over time through an assortment of plastic jugs. We were so blessed, and took the opportunity to wash underwear and socks with bar soap on the lodge’s upper terrace.
After snow the previous day, the warming rays of the sun were too tempting for the guides and other guests to resist, and they sat sprawled in patio chairs and on the terrace and watched us scrub our unmentionables. We pinned our clothes under rocks across the length of the corrugated roofing of the lodge’s lower level to dry.
I’m not sure swirling graying underwear in cold rainwater has much effect beyond redistributing dirt and sweat, but we liked to think it did. By that time, I had been wearing the same pants for six days straight, and I had not showered for four days. The thought of clean anything was thrilling, though actually wearing the laundered items meant I would have to strip off the clothes currently keeping me warm.
“I’ve never felt so gross and it’s only going to get worse because I’m not ready to expose any skin long enough to wash in this weather,” I wrote in my journal that night.
Reading material is nearly as rare as washing facilities on the trek, so bring your own. We carried a loaded Kindle with us throughout the World Trip, but it was our single source of entertainment on the trek, and Him was reading Cormac McCarthy’s “The Orchard Keeper” that night. The lodge’s single bookshelf contained a total of eight books, six of which were written in French. Of the two English books, the heavily alliterative Harlequin romance “The Billionaire’s Blackmailed Bride,” proved so appallingly bad that I couldn’t progress past the first page. Instead, I entertained myself by interrupting Him’s own reading by sharing the best (and by “best,” I mean “worst”) excerpts aloud.
When that grew old, I picked up the only other English book, “The Trekker Intention Book,” a communal diary left at lodges along the trail to keep track of hikers should one go missing. The book was self-published by the family of Gareth Koch, a young British man who disappeared in March 2004 while trekking from Chukung toward Namche Bazaar. Although Koch began his trek with a work colleague, the pair split up after an argument, and Koch continued through Sagamartha Park alone.
Through Google searches, I later learned Gareth was an experienced hiker and scout leader. In September 2004, his parents flew to Nepal and spent four weeks trekking 142 km to retrace his steps but found no evidence of his body, passport, camera or luggage.
Considering how heavily trafficked the Everest Base Camp trail is, I initially thought the incident must be isolated, but recent media reports indicate, unfortunately, that it is not. Never hike alone. If you’re tempted, just think back to that American canyoneer who became trapped by a boulder during a hike in Utah and had to saw off his own arm. I haven’t seen the movie, but I hear it’s pretty gruesome.
Hotel Family’s “Trekker Intention Book” hadn’t been written in since 2006, but I remedied that by adding our names to the list.
Daily Hiking Time: 45 minutes — Total Hiking Time: 23:39