Namche Bazaar, Nepal—11,296 feet (3,443 meters)
N 27° 48.300’ E 086° 42.667’
The rain finished sometime during the night and left partly cloudy skies for our morning walk out of Phak Ding. These improved to sunny, clear and blue skies for a few hours as we wandered the trail through the small villages and farms along the Dudh Khosi. The trails were quite busy with trekking groups and heavily laden porters. There were numerous groups from Europe and Japan but none that we recognized as being from the United States.
I walked along with Erica and Ed Dohring and Seth Waterfall. We didn’t do much instructing as to how to walk or climb the steps in the trail. Ed and Erica do hike plenty, in addition to the mountaineering they’ve accomplished. I did ask them to slow down just a bit to match my pace, hoping that I’d be able to pass on a rate appropriate for all we needed to accomplish today. The main wisdom I try to impart at this stage of a long climb is simply an awareness that our performance on any given day is an integral part of our overall performance. For instance, it wouldn’t have been so useful for us to attempt to set some speed record on the day moving to Namche if that meant being wasted for our first night at a new and significant altitude. Conversely, walking too slowly toward our intended goal could tire us out just as much by keeping us on our feet with packs on our backs for too long. It isn’t like figuring solutions to the world’s financial troubles or landing spacecraft on Mars, but walking uphill is none-the-less my specialty and it turns out that getting the walk to Namche right is crucial for climbing Mount Everest.
Everest didn’t show itself for us today, but we were granted tremendous views—seemingly straight up—to the wildly fluted snow-faces guarding Thamserku’s pointy summit. There was an unreal contrast between the rock and ice we could see by tilting our heads and the lush pine forests we walked through. We passed the odd flowering rhododendron and still a number of blossoming cherry and apple trees, though not quite as many of these once we’d gone through the gates of the Sagarmatha National Park and gradually started to gain a bit of altitude. My little gang enjoyed a hot lunch at the picnic tables outside a teahouse with members of our “production team” (Jake, Cherie, John and Tom) while the other climbers continued on toward the big “Namche Hill,” anxious to get the day’s work done.
The sky clouded up again and vaguely threatened rain as we continued along the Dudh Khosi. I found myself recognizing boulders and bridges along the way and remembering the friends/partners/clients from past expeditions who’d lounged here or there and stopped to take pictures in this or that spot. As we walked I counted myself lucky that most of the people in my memories were still my friends after those expeditions. In these days when I have to so often justify going back to the same mountains year after year, I wonder if I’d get away with that as a worthy argument... that they remind me of good people.
Of course the big Namche Hill reminds me of a lot of good and sweaty people. We gained over two thousand vertical feet on the dusty switchbacks, passing lots and lots of porters straining under loads of hand-hewn lumber. Someone up-valley must be building a wooden WalMart. In mid-afternoon, we crested the hills and rolled into Namche, the Sherpa capital. I bumped into a number of Sherpa friends in the narrow streets and as we passed along I just got in the habit of saying “Namaste” to all the shopkeepers, whether I recognized them or not. We caught up with the rest of our team enjoying the lemon tea at the Camp de Base guest house, where we’ll spend the next three nights. And now I’m sitting at the comfy dining room tables looking up at the usual posters of Hans Kammerlander, Hillary and Tenzing, and the Dalai Lama. We are home in the Khumbu.