Hey Bruce, over here.
Bruce! Hey, up here.
I have slowly walked up the main cobbled street into Namche and a steady cold rain is falling. At each minor intersection I pause and look around before fully committing to it. Old habits die hard but in this jumble of lanes and stone buildings it’s a habit that should help me track down where my colleagues are. We have spread out along the course of the track and over the length of the day. At the end of the street there is a T intersection and I pause as I approach it. Ahead of me is a well stocked pharmacy. Always worth noting. I glance right through the grey rain down a narrow street that curves away out of sight. Intuitively it doesn’t seem likely anyone has gone down there. I glance left and spot three or four of the gang on a verandah above me, looking a bit damp and bedraggled. I step forward and left and start towards them. The rain started a few hours ago and I did not stop to change and have continued on in shorts and T-shirt which are now thoroughly soaked. That water is cold down my back but while ever I keep moving it is tolerable. The others soon spot me and shout to get my attention but I was heading their way anyway. It’s good to see them all and I quickly strip off, towel off and throw a merino layer on. That felt good.
We were ready to leave by 0730 and our yaks headed out about then. We eventually departed at 0805. So did everybody else and it seemed that every tea house was disgorging trekkers in all sorts of colours and sizes. A long procession of coloured dots marked the tracks up the Khumbu Valley and it was not hard to spot in the distance where the track climbed a bluff to get past the river. After two hours we were forced to stop at a police check post. We had gotten ahead of our Sherpa who carried our passes. Why we were not issued our own passes mystified us all but there we sat, forced to drink hot tea and watch others stream past. All those who had started out around us and who we had gradually left behind now caught us up in a large pedestrian traffic jam. But it was not all negative – another chance to get to know each other a bit better. By now our very strung out group were collected in one place and it was a great chance to talk and tell tales, tall and mostly untrue.
Shortly after getting past the police post the track brought us into view of two suspension bridges, one high above us the other very much higher again. And so began the climb to Namche. A serious haul up thousands of steps and stones that seemed endless. I crossed the upper suspension bridge with our yaks that appeared out of nowhere via another track. I over took them and they overtook me but eventually they vanished ahead of me, only their bells assuring me they were there. But even those soon faded. At a point high above the river and marked by a little brick privy the track flattened out a little but there was another hour of uphill work. I felt myself running a slight temperature thanks to the mother who sneezed in my face as I showed her a photo of her child (the one posted here). The back of my throat is scratchy. Not a good sign. The weather closed in on that spur up to Namche and by the time the track flattened a light rain was falling through the pine, leaving the mud slippery but so far also leaving dry range rings under the trees. But the rain was driven and the higher I went the more set it became until it was a steady pour that was thoroughly soaking. Despite that I stopped under a beautiful deodar on the side of the track where it was comparatively dry, unburdened the pack and had lunch, other trekkers heads down, blown and staggering past. So few returned greetings, save for an elderly chap who seemed to be enjoying himself and had a laugh with me in that steady, cold grey rain. That lunch was necessary as I suddenly realized I was pushing myself on an empty tank. It can be startling the difference some food makes, especially if one of the courses is chocolate. I set off again very much revived. But still in T-shirt and shorts. I shivered for the first ten minutes until the slope had me warmed up again.
Ha! I had a theory that if I carried more than I needed to then I would be helping get myself into shape as I went. There has been plenty of gym work over the last twelve months in anticipation of this expedition but I thought I might add to that preparation. It was a good theory until I hit the ascent to Namche Bazar. We are finally here huddled around a pot belly stove and I am in that fine merino layer. I am carrying far too much and am resolved that tomorrow the yaks will get the worst of my gear. The last of the team stagger in behind me at 1521, soaked but pleased. We are in the first tea house that will take our coffee and cake orders but to my surprise there is no accommodation organized. Dan goes looking but it’s Kevin, who knows this town well who secures a place for us in a rather run down tea house which is of course right at the top of town. So we plug uphill again before we can unpack and get a hot meal into us. But its good to be here even if the rain is making things miserable.
13 October 2014
Namche Bazar Acclimatisation Day
Jas, our ponytailed, Seattle coffee sipping, UK passport holding fellow with Punjabi roots proved the master of faux magic, and in keeping the four year old daughter of the proprietor entertained last night entertained the rest of us as well. Jas has a great capacity to laugh at himself and his antics soon had a small crowd of Sherpas involved as well. Between magic tricks and making tissue tulips (duly trotted off to the kitchen by the four year old) it proved a lively evening with the four year old eventually falling asleep in my arms. It was not so easy to stay awake as I rocked her to sleep and I was soon off to bed myself.
Today has been an overcast day and quite chilly and we were peppered by an occasional shower. The wet weather here is heavy snow elsewhere but we are well clear of the worst of it. We had been expecting storms but they landed off to the west in the Annapurna region. It is an acclimatisation day and we have scattered to do our own climbing and wandering about town. I started out giving Dan a hand with some of the permit application paperwork then climbed 300+ metres to the top of the airfield via a bunch of crisscrossing animal tracks and a small local quarry from where small lads lift massive blocks of granite and then shuffle off down the hill past the monastery and out of sight. I found myself off the beaten track but the upside of that was spotting Tahr on the ridges below me. Interesting to watch them being harassed by ravens who wanted to land on their backs. I wonder what is going on there. Some of the Tahr tolerate being treated to carrier landings but others buck and kick and chase the birds off. Perhaps the birds are chasing ticks.
It’s an amusing distraction but I force myself onwards, following random animal tracks but always aiming higher above the Nangpo Tsangpo River (clearly Dr Suess has been up here naming the rivers) towards the village of Thamo which I can see in the distance. I am flying by my own INS and start to circle around, a course which takes me through moss covered rocks the size of small houses, through stunted cypress and juniper and variegated plants the names of which I don’t know. But even in this remote and elevated place you are never alone. The mountain side is laced with a network of tracks and every now and then I spot someone skirting across the hillside making from one village to another. At one stage I spot movement on the ridge just above me so I step up against a mossy rock to see what it is. Soon a small boy appears beside a bush, scans the gully I am in then vanishes again, only to reappear a bit lower from behind a boulder. He must have spotted me earlier and was now looking for me again. He scans the gully as I watch him then he freezes stone still in front of the rock, like a small animal, eyes locked on me. I wave and smile and he waves back. Shy, and a little embarrassed it seems, at being caught like that. He waves again and vanishes. I start to circle away from the river as the afternoon is drawing on.
I put Kongde Ri behind me, the massive 6000m peak that looms over us from the other side of the Nangpo Tsangpo and climb to Syampoche, a cluster of three or four houses that for reasons obscure to me is blessed with a village name. Tea houses here are empty and I wonder that anyone would actually stay up here. It is located at the top of the dilapidated airstrip at an altitude the same as Mt Cook – 12,100’ or thereabouts. I wonder at that, but am more surprised to see a piece of earthmoving equipment all the way up here, slowly rotting away. No doubt used to clear off the runway. No aircraft use this strip any more – allegedly. I can see where something has landed and rolled to a sticky stop in the mud. It would be a handy chopper stop I guess but there are a couple of chopper pads down in Namche which would be more relevant. It’s a sorry place that even the yaks move through quickly. I stop and talk to a friendly fellow called Muhlaj who hails me with a very welcoming “namaste” and queries if I am cold. I am wearing shorts and assure him that after climbing up here that I am feeling quite warm. He shakes his head. And sells me a bottle of water and a piece of jewelry from off the stall he has on the top of a stone wall. A chap who is clearly not in his right mind tries to steal my camera from under my nose as I made the purchase. Muhlaj shouts at him and I wrestle it back and take his picture which placates him somewhat. I say my farewells and trudge down the strip towards Namche. Other groups are clearly up here doing the climb-high/sleep-low thing as well but I keep my distance from them, especially a loud and raucous flock of Americans who can’t seem to go anywhere without broadcasting they are there. I am sure US military SF training has to start with “How to be Quiet 101”. How any of them managed to sneak up on Osama is beyond me. (Actually they didn’t did they – they managed to crash a chopper into his orchard. Shouldn’t surprise any of us who have heard them crashing around out here.)
I get back to the tea house mid afternoon. The others are making plans to visit cake shops but I surprise myself by not wanting to join them. After the solitude of the mountain I am not in a frame of mind to be socializing and hunt out a quiet corner instead. After a quick nap.
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