Pheriche, Nepal—14,030 feet (4,276 meters)
N 27º 53.601’ E 086º 49.197’
Down in the shadowy forests of Deboche, we passed an easy bunch of hours yesterday. The sun was blazing at midday, but otherwise, we were under lowish grey clouds. Many of the team made their way back up the hill to Thyangboche to see the large monastery or to sample the food at the bakery or to hook up to the Web at the cybercafé. Then it was back down to our place next to the nunnery in Deboche. The woodstove in the common area of our teahouse kept the place cozy and hard to leave.
We left it this morning at 8 a.m. in seemingly perfect weather. There were wind-sculpted lenticulars and cat’s paw clouds hovering over Everest and Lhotse, but the other hundred mountains in view were cloud-free. We crossed the river to the sunny side of things and walked gradually up the track with Ama Dablam straight ahead and apparently welcoming us with her outstretched arms.
The “Dablam” is the jewel that sits in the hollow of the mountain’s throat, as if on a necklace. This jewel is composed of ice—a hanging glacier discreetly sized and sitting improbably on the face of a great mountain. I was curious to see it again, since I’d heard so many stories over the winter about its demise. During the popular season for climbing Ama Dablam, in the fall of 2008, the Dablam had calved off massive avalanches, and everybody I spoke to claimed that one could easily see the difference. Sure enough, while still beautiful, the jewel seemed half its former size.
Of course not many people register such a marked change in the “health” of a glacier without wondering if the world is changing too fast and whether there will be glaciers enough to climb on forever. So it was, burdened by the weight of the universe and the health of the planet that I, along with Ed Dohring, Erica, and Seth, joined the rest of the team in Upper Pangboche at Lama Geshi’s house. We’d come to seek the blessing of perhaps the most revered man in the entire Khumbu region. Lama Geshi, although he doesn’t sit in some grand temple or cathedral, is a man of great significance in the Buddhist religion of the Sherpa people. It is quite normal for climbing Sherpas and the Western teams they assist to seek his blessing before approaching Chomolungma... the Mother Goddess of the Earth, or “Everest” for short.
Lama Geshi greeted us, basically in his living room, and got right down to giving each one of us a friendly head-butt as he tied a specially blessed and knotted gold string around our necks. I felt immediately happy to watch him go through a brief prayer ceremony for us. Although I tend to be slightly cynical about such things, that is a hard attitude to maintain around Lama Geshi, as he always seems to take such a genuine interest in the climbers that visit him. Their summit pictures (at least a hundred) are on his walls and he must have seen thousands over the years, but somehow he still seems interested and enthusiastic. Such prayers... basically asking for his help to keep us from killing ourselves... might be a heavy thing, except that Lama Geshi always breaks out laughing as he utters them. His joy is infectious and welcome and seems to put us all in the perfect frame of mind for continuing our walk toward the mountain.
After leaving Pangboche, we gathered again about an hour up the track at Shomare for a rest and some refreshment in another fine teahouse. The clouds were steadily rising up-valley and covering the big hills as we set out for the final push to Pheriche. This meant that we could only see about 50 unbelievably beautiful mountains (rather than a hundred) as we turned the big sweeping corner around Tawoche and headed north into town. We were all stunned to see our lodging for the next two nights: The Himalayan Hotel, a beautiful new and spacious building of stone and wood. It didn’t take long for each of us to find a comfy spot in either the sun or sitting rooms. There are hills aplenty around to keep even Ed Viesturs content as he “rests” and acclimatizes.