May 17, 2013: Active Day 12, Kala Patthar

Gorak Shep to PericheThat night on one of the inevitable midnight trips to the toilet I found myself side-stepping a bunch of dal barf in the hallway. There was splatter in front of every doorway between our room, which was right in the middle the hall, and the two Asian-style toilets at the end. Ew, sucks to be whoever did this. When DK got the Kala Patthar trekkers out of bed at 0-dark-thirty the first thing he asked us was, "How are you feeling?" It didn't appear as though the culprit was among us. Mike, Sara, Ele, Amanda, DK and I donned our headlamps and moved out. The other three opted the night before to sleep in or take a shorter hike with Sudip at dawn. We were all still tired so we took our time up the hillside. In the dark there weren't many distractions so I was free to just stare at my feet in the glow of the headlamp (this is a good chakra healing exercise) and give all my attention to putting one foot in front of the other as we climbed. As it began to get light, we looked around. The hill we were on didn't seem to be all that steep, yet the views were spectacular.
Everest and Nuptse

Everest and Nuptse, first light.

Khumbu Glacier

Sunrise on the Khumbu Glacier

Everest (29,029 ft. / 8,848 m)

Everest (29,029 ft. / 8,848 m)

Clouds rolling in...

Clouds rolling in...

Kongma Tse (19,095 ft. / 5,820 m)

Kongma Tse (19,095 ft. / 5,820 m)

Above the clouds on Kala Patthar.

Above the clouds on Kala Patthar.

Everest and Nuptse (25,791 ft. / 7,861 m)

Everest and Nuptse (25,791 ft. / 7,861 m)

 
"Wow, it's so nice up here!" I breathed, taking it all in. An understatement; any eloquence I may have possessed had gone out the window down around 14,000 ft. Indeed it was "nice." It was also remarkable how the vistas could continue to get more stunning by the day. We took pictures and not long after clouds began to roll in. "Can we keep going to at least get to 18,000 ft.?" Sara asked DK, who wore an altimeter. We all agreed this was a worthy goal and slogged on. It didn't take long before we climbed above the clouds and were grateful for the opportunity to get more pictures as the sun rose. The clouds caught up with us again. We could see the top and it was too much of a temptation to resist. We took a page out of Forrest Gump's book and said since we had gone this far, we might as well keep going to the summit. At around 18,200 ft. / 5,545 m, we reached the highest point of our trek. I sat on a rock, which was starting to look soft and cozy, and DK passed around some cookies / biscuits to celebrate. (Probably Coconut Crunchees. That's what it looks like he's pointing to in the photo.)  I took a bite, discovered with dismay that I had no spit, and managed to finish the cookie with a couple mouthfuls of water.
From left, Mike, DK, Bibak, Sara, Me, Ele Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

From left, Mike, DK, Bibak, Sara, Me, Ele
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

We took another photo to document the achievement. Let my red, peely face and raccoon eyes caution you to bring fresh sunscreen with a high SPF and apply liberally and often if you ever spend any time at altitude. "We've certainly seen each other at our worst," Sara said, in reference to our sunburns, windburns, illnesses and general unpleasant effects stemming from multiple days without a shower. "And our best," I finished. Up there we were real. We had no need to hide ourselves behind pretention or define ourselves with competition or materialism. The longer we stayed, the more we became completely authentic. Human beings, each with a body that may not always work the way we'd like it to, yet finding the strength to carry on anyway. Spiritual beings who valued looking after each other more than looking important; who appreciated a shared experience more than we ever could a shiny new "thing." The clouds were relentless in their pursuit and we still had a lot of walking ahead of us so we didn't stay long before heading back down for breakfast. As the Gorakshep dry lakebed came into view, I was able to see clearly why we started off so slow. The first part of the hike was much steeper than it seemed in the dark. "Wow, did we really just climb up this?" I asked.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Down on the lakebed people had written messages with stone. My favorite was the one that read I ♥ EBC. I paused and took the picture, though I like Ele's better. Dhanyabad (thank you) to whoever made it. Back in the common room, the topic of conversation returned to the incident the night before. In the light of day we could see that the piles of puke ran all the way down the L-shaped hallway from the common room to the toilets. Unlike the poor soul in Namche, whoever did this was stealthy. No one heard a sound. Kevin said he thought the regurgitated rice was snow when he first saw it in the middle of the night. "Good thing you didn't make a snowball," someone joked. Stacy ran down her list of many, many other possible solutions. "They could have just gone outside, they could have used one of the 20 bins outside of every doorway..." "How are they supposed to clean the carpet?" someone wondered. The "carpet" was a green plastic porous Astroturf-type stuff. "We'll call Stanley Steamer!" chirped Dovile. "♫ Stanley Steamer, there's nowhere in the world we can't clean! ♫" she sang. We laughed. "I'm really good at jingles!!" she continued. We laughed harder. When we put on our packs to leave, we looked distastefully at the hill we had to climb to get out of the valley. "I'm so happy to be going back down!" Kevin said as he pointed up. "Jaam jaam! (Let's go!)" said DK. We stopped at Lobuche for some more kerosene fumes. DK was still in his parent role and told us we should try to take a quick nap before we continued. Instantly all of us were asleep at the table... no need to tell these kids twice. Down the valley our final destination was Pheriche (13,911 ft. / 4,240 m) and a lodge called the White Yak. It was another new off-the-itinerary facility we'd be trying out. DK was looking forward to it. After the awesomeness that was Rivendell we completely trusted his judgement. That and anything would be better than another night in Gorak Shep or Lobuche. He said we'd be safe to eat meat when we arrived because it was flown in by helicopter. Slaughtering animals generally is not permitted in Sagarmatha National Park. Any meat on the menu is typically carried up from below and can be quite old by the time it reaches your plate. A refrigerator would also have to be carried up on someone's back, so the existence of one was unlikely, even if a lodge actually had the power to run it. We walked through more yak herder shacks in the valley below the original yak herder shacks. In a field behind the stone cottages was a whole herd of yaks, many with babies. It was nice to see them in their more natural element, rather than working on trails. Some of them got really close. Sara and one yak startled each other, and then ran off in opposite directions. Those of us who witnessed tried not to laugh... too much.
Herd of Yaks

Herd of Yaks

Yak Herder Shacks

Yak Herder Shacks

Baby Yaks Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Baby Yaks
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Baby yak wrestling match. Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

Baby yak wrestling match.
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

The White Yak did not disappoint. It was a beautiful building with lots of stone, wood, and clean relatively oxygen-rich air. In the dining room they passed out little skeleton keys with wooden key chains shaped like mountains. Dovile and I would be staying in a room named Lhotse. For dinner we looked at the entire menu and not just the vegetarian options for the first time since Kathmandu. Mike ordered yak steak. Before we retreated up to our rooms, DK passed around a hat filled with bits of paper. "There's only one shower," he said. We had gone at least four days without bathing with anything more substantial than wet-wipes. Some people thought he meant only one of us would get a shower and eyed the hat with competitive interest. In actuality the hat contained the numbers one through eight and we'd be drawing to see what order we'd get to clean up. I drew a 7. That shower was well worth the wait, my hair was beyond gross. A party was well underway by the time I made it downstairs. DK had introduced the group to Kukhuraa (chicken) rum, and even convinced a few that it was really made from chickens. The bottle was about gone by the time I made it back downstairs. I was content to just be clean and sober that night. The other girls sat around the wood burning stove, which was burning yak chips instead of wood, and gossiped while their hair dried. Mike, Kevin and I played Crazy Eights. Well, Kevin and I played Crazy Eights. Mike won Crazy Eights. Every hand. Green Day played over the speakers. "I'm back in Jr. High!" I said to a room full of people who would have only been in elementary school, or maybe even kindergarten. Dammit, when did I become the geriatric?
From left: Stacy, Amanda, Sara, Dovile, Ele, Mike, Me Photo credit: Stacy Rothenberg

From left: Stacy, Amanda, Sara, Dovile, Ele, Mike, Me
Photo credit: Stacy Rothenberg

At dinner DK told us in a whisper that Sudip would leave the tour early the next morning so he could be in Kathmandu in time to pick up his girlfriend from the airport. "When I go over the itinerary for tomorrow, I want you all to point at him and say 'Oooooo!'" he said mischievously. When the time came, we all performed admirably and Sudip seemed sufficiently embarrassed. After dinner we all sat around the stove again. We got to hear more from Sudip that night, I'm not sure if this was because he had some of the chicken rum in him or was just excited to be seeing his woman soon. Maybe both. He told some funny stories from past treks involving alcohol-related pranks and fights with a girl. I suspected some of them were intended to embarrass DK to get even for dinner. It was no use, DK was not the sort of person to lose his cool any time for any reason. I may have caught a hint of vulnerability after one story but it was probably the rum. I'm not sure if I've ever met anyone so chill. We also got to hear about the real Nepal. How there hadn't been a stable government since the fall of the monarchy and corruption was rampant. His and Bibak's run-ins with the law. How the caste system was only now beginning to dissolve.  How he was breaking tradition by courting a woman from Australia. One question came up that everyone had a different answer to. Nepal, as small as it is, has over 100 different languages and sub-cultures. How do you unite a country so diverse long enough to form a stable government without killing off that diversity and culture? DK favored a republic approach. Let the smaller sub-cultures remain mostly autonomous, they've evolved to suit their location and probably have a sustainable lifestyle for the region. I agreed. Dovile favored a more democratic majority rule approach. There is no right answer to this question, and anyone who comes up with a workable solution holds the key to peace and stability not only in Nepal, but the entire world. The fire had long gone out and most people had gone upstairs after the long day. We diehards played a few more rounds of cards, using the stove as a table before calling it a night.

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