Lower altitude permitted some sleep last night. It is snowing, and all views have disappeared, only the sense of the gulf down to the river. Quiet, with that sense of mystery and stillness. After a steep rise, the path is contouring round. A yak follows us. There are footprints in the snow, but surely not made by a snow leopard? Madhu thinks Temba has made them with his trekking pole. It was fun though, the thought, while it lasted.
A yak follows us. We come across a group of sheep, scampering on the edge of a cliff. Madhu says that they gather in such areas for defence, against a leopard, for example.
Lunch is at Somare, and the wait feels very cold when you are not moving. On to Pheriche, the lodges mostly empty and deserted. At night, there is no electric light as the dull day has not allowed the batteries to charge up, so candles illuminate the long corridor, clearly a fire hazard in the wooden building. A bleak place in this weather, like being stuck in a Scottish glen in winter.
Tuesday 8th January 2019 Pheriche to Lobuche
The morning, however, is radiant again, all the more welcome after the mist, with the mountains jagged and striking, and a fairly gentle ascent to Dughla, gingerly crossing a frozen river before enjoying a hot drink in the sunshine.
We speak to someone who had suffered from altitude sickness the day before, and is now waiting for the others in his group to come down from their attempt at Kala Pattar (5546m). He is Australian, his father is ethnic Egyptian, his mother ethnic Greek. There are quite a few groups of Australians here, as January is the summer holiday. But despite the implied warning about AMC, after resting I announce to Madhu that we can go on to Lobuche. Maybe it turns out to be not such a good idea, as we shall see later on, but I thought that Lobuche was in the plan for today. In fact, we have gone faster than planned, on the whole trek, but it seems without rushing, and surely we are already acclimatised?
But there is pure exhilaration on reaching the top of the pass with the sense of openness, light and joy, and being a very high place, in a circle of mountains, and far away from the human world. We are going to stay the night in the Pyramid, the Italian research station lodge. It is a bit warmer, as there are two layers of glass on the windows.
Wednesday 9th January 2019 Lobuche to Base Camp
A slow climb to Gorakshep. It is misty but the mountains are visible.
We soon see down below the lodges of Gorakshep, clustered together for mutual support in the high desert. And onwards to the base camp after lunch, quite a scramble as the rough path is often through boulders. Up and down, and certainly still up! No activity at this time of year, and at least it has been cleaned up, though the spring onslaught is not far away.
The glacier below has vast ice auditoriums, but all covered in grit and stones. You can see earlier marks where the glacier has been much higher on the hillside. The icefall is clear of debris, all white. We hear the explosive sounds of an avalanche while returning.
Sun warms the lodge a little. A breeze startles the wind chimes into melody.
Thursday 10th January, 2019. Kala Patthar
This is the day. Another cold night and not much sleep. It looks straightforward, but a slog. Very few people out on the hill.
No energy, but at least no headache. Stopped a couple of hundred metres below the summit.
It was probably the correct thing to do, as it took an hour to recover in Gorakshep, with complete weakness but still no headache. A bit dizzy on the return to the Pyramid in Lobuche that afternoon.
Friday 11th January, 2019 Lobuche to Pangboche
Another splendid morning, and the comforting thought of descent. At the top of the pass there is an elegiac atmosphere, as there many memorial cairns for deceased sherpas.
After tea at Dughla, we take the high trail to Dengboche, a wide trail, with many variations.
You can see the village below finally, and there is a sense of the very modest amount of flat land having been consumed by the building of the lodges, a reminder of the question of how to balance the economy of tourism with the fragile environment. One trekker we met suggested that there were too many yaks for the landscape, but maintained due to the need for yak dung as fuel, but now denuding the soil and pasture.
Saturday 12th January, 2019 Pangboche to Namche
There are dogs on the way, who sometimes will accompany you to the next village. They respond to friendly words, but are not used to overt affection. Himalayan Hounds … looking quite well-prepared for the cold.
We can see on the other side of the valley the way we had come from Phortse, in the snow, but now the snow has rapidly evanesced in the January sunshine.
The familiar amphitheatre of Namche comes into view again.