Deboche, Nepal—2,252 feet (3,734 meters)
N 27º 50.498’ E 086º 46.359’
Our guesthouse in Namche was packed to the gills with other trekkers and climbers last night. But as it was our third night in the same place, we felt pretty much like we owned the place anyway. We packed away the chapatis, the thak tok soup, and the chicken chilly (yes, it is spelled that way), as if we’d been living above 11,000 feet [3,350 meters] for weeks. Erica pretty much won the eating contest by knocking back a plate of veggie chow mein, two boiled eggs, AND macaroni and cheese. The kid can eat... and that is a good thing, since that particular skill, or the lack thereof, has made a huge difference in climber success at altitude over the years.
Some folks wither away as they go higher. The reasons aren’t complicated; we all burn calories faster up high since everything is more work in the thin air, and of course life in a cold place tends to burn extra calories anyway. One of the troubles with simply eating more to compensate is that most people don’t feel like doing it. The human gut gets overwhelmed fast when the blood it depends on is poorly oxygenated. So eating becomes a chore and—this being a trip full of mountain guides—we tend to nag each other a lot to do our chores. Erica has discovered that the path of least resistance is to say “yes, please” when the momo plate comes around again. (Perhaps it helps that Melissa bet her a fancy Kathmandu dinner post-trip that she wouldn’t be able to maintain her weight for the next 60 days.)
We were up, breakfasted, and on the trail out of Namche by 7:30 a.m. For the first hour or so, we wound our way along on a traverse across a steep hillside. Far below us, the Dudh Khosi was making plenty of noise as the waters crashed through continuous and ridiculous rapids. Far above one could watch eagles and hawks soaring—provided that one didn’t look up for so long that one walked off the edge and fell down to the Dudh Khosi.
The trail was busy with yak trains coming and going. This was actually our first dealing with true yaks as they don’t generally live below Namche. We’ve so far seen plenty of dzokials carrying loads—and while dzokial is not an acceptable Scrabble word, it is nonetheless a sturdy animal representing the cross between a lowland cow and a high-altitude yak. Now it is mostly yaks carrying loads to and from Everest base camp. They are strong, surefooted, surprisingly feisty, and a little tough to pass when they want the whole trail to themselves.
By 10 a.m. we’d descended a few hundred meters back down to the Dudh Khosi and found our place in the sun. We sat at the tables outside a couple of teahouses drinking milk coffee, milk tea, and hot lemon. This rest break was a nice time to collect our various camera teams, to make a head count, to people-watch (we watched Ed Viesturs head out at flank speed for his workout on the big hill to Thyangboche), and to eat another plate or two of fried rice.
Eventually, we pried ourselves out of our comfortable sidewalk cafes and got busy on the hot and dusty trail going up to Thyangboche. The hillside was mostly covered in pine and rhododendron forests, but there were also enough clearings to get a dose of strong sun. Typically, the day had begun clear and bright but was clouding up some as we approached noon. Thyangboche Hill, like a lot of the hills in this part of the world, goes on forever, but our entire group made it up the thing in about 90 minutes. Then it was time for another sit-down for snacks on the majestic hilltop. The place is famous for its elaborate and somber monastery, but also these days for having another last-chance Internet café, which Peter Whittaker took advantage of to connect once again with his family. We’d begun our hilltop break with views of Ama Dablam, Kangtega, Lhotse, and Everest but after a couple more milk teas the clouds won their battle and concealed everything.
Now wrapped up in cozy First Ascent jackets and sweaters, the whole gang trooped on down the shady side of the Thyangboche Hill through a thick rhododendron forest to Deboche... our home for the next two nights.