We had a stormy night indeed
I had a fitful night's sleep, tossing and turning, alternating between burning up and feeling frozen.
At around 0300am, a massive storm began shaking the valley. Lightning would illuminate the entire room, and shortly after the thunder would rumble, often for as long as 20-30 seconds as the sound echoed its way down the valley. The storm seemed to last for hours, but in my addled state, it was difficult to tell.
At around 0530, I seemed to come out of a trance. I woke up, which meant I had obviously finally got some sleep, and everything was quiet. I felt good - drained, but not sick. I looked up at the window, and could see snow falling.
Over the next 15 or so minutes, others in the lodge starting waking, and excited murmurings about the snow made their way though the halls.
Soon, Zev woke up. "It's snowing", I told him. He sat up and looked out the window, a huge grin spreading on his face. "Have you looked out the window?", he asked. I sat up, expecting to see flurries of fat snowflakes disappearing as they hit the ground.
Instead, I saw the entire town blanketed in white. It had clearly been snowing for quite some time, and it was definitely cold enough for the snow to be settling.
By now, the whole lodge was in an uproar. People were throwing on their clothes and boots, stomping up and down the stairs to go take pictures and play in the snow. The Indian man in the room next door was video calling everyone in his phone to show them the scenery. He'd gone outside and built a snowman, and was singing songs to it through the window. All thoughts of being unwell fell straight out of my head - I couldn't wait to get walking!
We ate breakfast (I forced down a little toast and some tea, and Zev ate apple porridge and a hot lemon), paid our bill, threw on our packs and dashed out the door at 0745.
Tengboche to Pangboche
Stepping out the door was like stepping into Narnia. The previously grassy paddocks of Tengboche were blanketed in pristine white snow, and melting clumps were dropping off roofs and trees. I crunched through the fresh crispy powder, marvelling in the change the night's dusting had brought to both the vistas and my mood.
Although the primary goal was to make it from Tengboche to Pheriche, a relatively unchallening 9.8kms away, there were plenty of villages between the two, so we agreed to play it by ear. While I was feeling much MUCH better than yesterday, the lack of food I'd consumed over the last 24 hours had contributed to some seriously low energy on my part.
The snow had certainly brightened my mood though, so as we set off, I had a very small spring in my step.
Immediately out of Tengboche, we began descending though trees laden with snow towards the nearby town of Debuche. As we walked, the melting snow fell from branches onto our heads, dripping down our collars and into our shirts. Everyone we passed had a big smile on their face, as if the snow had given everyone a little extra pep - although maybe I was projecting a little!
The only downside of the snow was that it made the terrain difficult to see, hiding ankle twisting rocks from view, and turning the trail to mush underfoot, particularly once the yaks and donkeys started making their way though.
As we passed out of Debuche, we saw a dead yak under a tarpaulin on the side of the trail. It was unclear how it had died (it didn't look malnourished or unwell), but we were sure that it would soon be appearing in someone's yak burger at some point along the trail.
Much like the hike out of Namche, the path was once again following the ridgeline, with the mighty Dudh Kosi flowing hundreds of metres below us. Even though the path was relatively flat, I was still struggling to find the energy to keep going. The slightest uphill would leave me completely drained, and I was having to stop regularly to catch my breath.
I was struggling mentally, because the surrounding scenery was so beautiful, and if I'd been well, this section of trail would have been an incredibly enjoyable part of the hike, so I really felt like I was missing out on some of that enjoyment. Nonetheless, I resolved to keep looking around, drinking in the beauty, and most importantly, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
We climbed up to yet another suspension bridge, crossed the river, and immediately spotted some mountain goat type creatures playing on the hillside. While Zev snapped some pictures, I took the opportunity to keep plodding along, knowing that Zev would catch up with me in no time.
Here, the trail became a bit more of a scramble, and a short while later, we were rewarded with eye watering views of Ama Dablam at the end of the valley.
A short while later, we reached a fork in the trail indicating that we'd reached Pangboche. We stuck to the lower trail to pass through the town, and looked for a nice spot to stop and refuel. We passed snow dusted fields and lovely little tea houses, but were looking for somewhere we could sit and eat the muesli bars we'd brought with us. We walked past a bakery that looked nice, but there were no seats left so we carried on.
About 10 metres past the bakery, the smell of cinnamon hit our noses in just the right way, and we backtracked to the bakery, powerless to resist the delicious aroma.
We managed to snag a table outside, and spent about 30 minutes sitting in the sun, staring up at Ama Dablam, eating Pringles and cinnamon scrolls and drinking milk tea (900r/$9USD).
Pangboche to Pheriche
When we'd soaked up enough sun and cinnamon, we rejoined the trail. After managing to keep down some Pringles and tea at lunch, I was sure I could continue the full distance to Pheriche without dying.
As we hiked out of town, the scenery began to change. We climbed above the treeline, the pine forests on the hillsides being replaced by glacial boulders and alpine meadows. Soon, we reached Orsho, where I was about ready for another rest.
In the middle of a field, we dropped our packs and stopped to look around. We were surrounded on all sides by enormous mountains, freshly coated with snow, and the sun was beating warmly down. Although we were only a few metres off the trail, hardly any people were passing by, and we really felt like we had to whole gigantic world to ourselves. This was probably one of my favourite moments on the entire trek.
After about 30 minutes of procrastinating, it was time to make the final push to Pheriche. I knew we were close, but my energy reserves were desperately depleted, and I could see the final hill we'd have to go over to get there.
Regardless, we carried on.
For the next 45 minutes, we climbed what would, on any other day, been a perfectly manageable incline. On that day, it felt like my personal Everest. When we finally reached the top, and I could see Pheriche in the distance, I could have cried.
We scrambled down the other side of the hill, crossed the river, and walked into Pheriche.
We had no accommodation recommendations for Pheriche, so we stopped at the first place that looked warm and welcoming - Hotel Edelweiss (500r/$5USD per night). We arrived at 1.40pm
I dropped my pack, then dropped myself, collapsing on to the bed exhausted in our beautiful, warm and spacious room. Zev immediately headed out for some veg noodle soup and a hot lemon, while I used the time to squeeze in a quick nap.
Some time between leaving Pangboche and arriving in Pheriche, Zev and I had passed into the highest altitude we'd ever been to. The previous highest altitude we'd reached was 4095m, while climbing Mt Kinabalu in Malaysia. Pheriche is located at 4200m abovve sea level.
Himalayan Rescue Association
At 3pm every day, the seasonal local clinic in Pheriche, run by the Himalayan Rescue Association, give a free talk on acute mountain sickness. We decided to head over and check it out.
Right outside the clinic is the memorial to all the climbers who have died on Mt Everest, so we took the time to look for the familiar Kiwi names from the 1996 Everest disaster, before heading in to the room for the talk.
The doctor, Helen, introduced herself, and we were joined by 2 americans and a canadian, who were on their way back down from Base Camp.
In addition to talking about the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness, and its prevention and treatment, Helen filled us in on the type of work they do at the clinic.
In addition to treating foreign climbers and trekkers, the clinic also sees local Nepalese guides and porters, who are treated for a nominal 50r (50c) fee - the high prices for treatment for tourists subsidise the cost for treating locals. All of the staff are there on a volunteer basis - their food and board is covered, but otherwise, all their costs are their own.
According to Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air, prior to the establishment of the clinic in 1973, acute mountain sickness (AMS) killed 1-2 out of every 500 trekkers who passed through Pheriche. Now, that rate sits at less than one out of every 30,000.
That said, people still die from AMS, even with all the education in the world. Later, when we were back in Lukla waiting for our flight out, we heard that a trekker had got sick at Gorak Shep, and had been put on a horse to get him down to lower altitude at Dingboche. He died on the way down. Even though thousands of people with varying experience trekking complete this trail every year, altitude is still serious business, and there's just no way of knowing who it's going to hit.
Once the talk was complete, Helen showed us around the clinic, and on the way out we bought some stickers and left a donation to contribute to their good work.
Looking forward to a rest day
Feeling pretty zonked, we went back to the accommodation and took up residence in the toasty warm common room, reading and playing cards. Dinner (sherpa stew and veg noodle soup) was a tasty affair, and I managed to eat a little more than in previous meals.
We headed to bed early, hoping to catch up on some lost sleep, looking forward to a rest day in Pheriche the next day.
Lots of love,
S & Z
Time: 6 hours, including LOTS of stops and very slow walking
Elevation gain: 333m
PHERICHE ACCOMMODATION INFORMATION:
Lodge: Hotel Edelweiss
Room Price: 500r per night
Total Bill: 10,500r for 2 nights' accommodation, 2 x breakfast, 2 x lunch, 2 x dinner, plus extra tea, and 1000r to charge Zev's camera batteries