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Apr 112020
 
Fonzi of the Khumbu

After successfully flying to Lukla, the Mount Everest Guides’ climbers and trekkers completed the first leg to Phakding for the night. Today our fictitious team will take on the infamous Namche Hill.


Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas is a joint project of Alan Arnette and several global guide companies. Our objective is to entertain Everest fans during the Coronavirus spring closure and raise money to help the Climbing Sherpas who were not working this spring. While there will be accurate historical references, this series is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents either were products of my imagination or were used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Please join us by making a donation using the links below plus by adding your Everest experiences in the comment section.


Trek to Namache and the “Hill”

As the Twin Otter whined to a stop on the airport tarmac in Lukla, a large group of porters lined the chain-linked fence protecting the area. Dawa and a few other Climbing Sherpas took charge of distributing the duffle bags. She watched with admiration at the precision the Climbing Sherpas did their job. The eager group of porters took one, two, even three of the 60lb bags. Carefully strapped to their backs with a head strap, aka tumpline, providing most of the support, they left Lukla to meet the team at Phakding in a few hours. She watched one porter in Chinese-made canvas shoes grab her yellow North Face duffle. “I think my duffle is larger than the porter.” She told girlfriend with a mix of admiration and embarrassment as they walked to a teahouse for breakfast.

Sitting between Loner and Dutch, She ate her breakfast of porridge, garnished with plenty of brown sugar, rice, eggs, and toast. Sherpa Tea had become her favorite drink. A concoction of tea, butter, and salt, slowly cooked, it tastes good and replaces the salt lost from sweating and provides fat in her diet. Leaning over to Dutch, She said: “I spent the last year avoiding too much fat and salt in my diet, and now it’s all I want!” Loner stared out the window, watching a fleet of helicopters continuously landing and taking off, never shutting down their rotors.

The team of Guide, three trekkers, eight Everest climbers, and of course, Dawa left the teahouse in Lukla for their first overnight of the expedition away from Kathmandu. The trek to Phakdang, about 8km/5-miles away, was downhill, a rarity on this expedition. The trails were dirt, the surroundings; fir and pine trees and snow-covered mountains provided the curtains. A mix of white and grey clouds allowed a filtered sun to warm the day. Guide, having done this many times, dressed in shorts while everyone else was in long nylon trekking pants. He was cooler than everyone else, in many ways!

She began to understand the attraction of trekking in the Khumbu as the dirt trail followed the Dhudi Kosi River on her left. Dawa told the group, “Sir Edmund Hillary helped move the trail from beside the river higher up on the hillside to keep it open during floods.” There were no paved roads, no cars, and only a few power/phone lines. They shared the trail with everyone and everything. It was a simple world filled with people living a simple lifestyle.

Khumbu Trekking

About half an hour outside of Lukla, they passed a collection of huge chortons and Mani stones, with the mantra of Avalokiteshvara (Om mani padme hum) chiseled into the stone. Prayer flags adorned the structures. Looking high up to her right, She saw a small monastery perched on the hillside. What dedication and skill it took to build that.

A train of Zos, the cross between a yak and a cow, was loaded with barrels or duffles on their way to the villages, or maybe even base camp. These days mules were replacing many of the Zos to carry loads. An occasional horse went by but only a couple as they don’t like this rarified air. Often they are used to transport sick trekkers.

She let every sense take in the sights, sounds, and smell. It was intoxicating.

In the distance, She heard hammering and voices. As She approached the noise, She saw a new house under construction. Stone walls formed the outside structure. Men with simple chisels and hammers created perfectly formed blocks that fit together as if molded from the world’s finest kiln. The men were speaking in quiet tones as they worked. Their work was not simple but rather highly skilled.

Phakdang

The team passed fields, where women, bent at the waist, tended potato crops, or perhaps it was buckwheat. Their lavender-colored dresses blew in the soft breeze. A cow tied to a stake in the ground grazed nearby. Two children played near the women. One more bridge crossed the raging brown-colored water of the Dhudi Kosi. They arrived at Phakding, their stop for the day.

While downhill and only three hours, Old Man volunteered while glancing at Guide in his shorts, “That got my attention. I don’t remember it being so hot last year.” He found the room he shared with Loner and fell onto the small bed, going to sleep quickly, allegedly still fighting jet-lag. The rest of the team found their bags that the porters had dropped off an hour earlier. In their rooms, they sorted gear, for the hundredth time. They passed the time until dinner. It was a simple fare of Momos, steamed dumplings filled with veggies or meat. After dinner, She, the couple, and Guide played cards.

The night went fast; She was still recovering from jet leg like Old Man. Getting up at 7, everyone felt a bit more human. A breakfast of fried egg, toast and coffee started the day. She was starting to see a pattern with the meals. She packed her sleeping bag into her duffle and took out another layer. There was a chill in the morning air this early April morning.

“Today is a big day.” Guide addressed the climbers and trekkers. The porters had already left Phakding with their duffle bags. The trekkers and climbers carried small packs with water, snacks and an extra layer. Everyone had gloves, a knit hat, and sunglasses already on. Most had light down jackets. But Guide was still in shorts. “What does he know, we don’t?” Boyfriend asked his mate.

Guide continued, “The trail is steadily up now because we were going from Phakding at 2,610-meters/8,562-feet to 3440-meters/11,286-feet in Namche. The trek should take about six hours. We will go downhill a bit before crossing the river and then uphill to a double bridge and the start of the Namche Hill. Take your time; no need to race. “Race? Like Hell, I’ll race,” grumbled Old Man. Loner starred at him.

The next section of trail was outside the Park, so there were many villages along the way. She had heard about the “Children of the Khumbu” and had brought writing pens to give away. A decade earlier, trekkers gave away chocolate, but today, school supplies were more meaningful and the kids were grateful for them.

A huge smile developed on her face as a group of kids went running by, all in school uniforms. “Hey, I’ve got something for you!” She called out, not knowing if they spoke English. A young boy and his two sisters stopped. “Namaste.” the boy said with a huge grin. His sisters eagerly looked at her. “Namaste, She replied hands together with a slight bow. “I have writing paper and writing pens for you.” She said as She offered them a pack of 24 Bic pens and several writing pads. “No chocolate?” one of the sisters asked, her smile now a straight line. “No honey, this is better for you. But we brush our teeth twice a day!” the young girl protested. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any.” She negotiated. The young boy, still smiling, stepped in. “My sisters love chocolate and sometimes tourists give it them when they ask but school supplies are better.” She walked away impressed by the Kumbu Kids and thinking of her own kids.

Sagarmatha National Park

The team entered Sagarmatha National Park. Dawa and Guide managed the permit check by the Park Officials and soon the team was going down a surprisingly steep set of rock steps to a swinging bridge crossing the Dhudi Kosi River, again.

Beautiful rhododendrons and magnolia trees were full bloom filling the vista with bright purple and white blooms. “Its spring in the Himalaya!” Snorer announced.  Continuing by the river, two swinging bridges – old and new – marked the crossing and the start of Namche Hill. Now gaining elevation once again, they reached the start of the new bridge – it was a bit higher than the old one. Pausing here, one of the Climbing Sherpas explained that the old Namche Hill was much worse. He pointed upriver to a hillside so steep you wonder how trees held on.

Bridge Crossing in the Khumbu

Crossing the bridge woke up any malaise that the climbers, and trekkers, might have been developing. The wind was strong. The prayer flags flying in the air horizontally as the bridge gently rocked under the weight of its passengers. At the other end, once again, She paused to take it all in – the river, the bridge, the mountains, the chill in the air.

Namche Hill

Turning the corner, the dirt trail, started going higher. Old Man paused, while Loner picked up his pace and left the other members behind. She joined up with Guide and the couple and set a slow but reasonable pace up the Namche Hill. A stunning view of snow-covered rugged peaks was blocked by the dense forest. She paused to catch her breath. Looking behind, Old Man was making steady progress. It seemed everyone was finding the steep angle of the trail at nearly 3,048-meters/10,000-feet.

Dawa, seemingly always around, walked slowly by, “Hey, it’s only another two hours.” She slowed down. Determined to find her “go all-day pace,” She focused on one foot in front of the other, controlling her breathing, staying focused. “I can only image summit night at 28,000-feet,” She said to no one.

Everest!

At a spot on the trail, Dutch called out – “Hey, it’s Everest!” Everyone stepped to the right side of the trail and peeped through a clearing in the trees. She was rewarded with her first view of Everest. Even from almost 40 miles away, it looked overwhelming. The trademark white plume was in full bloom today, suggesting summit winds well over 150 mph – the jet stream parked on the summit. Sitting next to Dutch, She took a break for an energy bar and water. “Can you believe this? We just saw Everest for the first time.” She was in her element. Grateful to be on this journey.

The team snaked along, steadily gaining altitude when the trails flattened. “Ah, finally, we’re here.” She thought, but it was a trick. Around the next curve, the trail continued to gain elevation. Step by step, She moved along. The conversation evaporated in the thin air. What was there to say? No, She was not going to waste her breath on small talk now.

Another corner and now a building. “Hmm, another check-point.”  The guides handled it all as She sat on another convenient rock. Her face was covered with salty sweat. She needed water. Another few turns, and She left the trees. Then a welcome sight unfolded before her eyes: Namache.

Namche

Built-in a natural amphitheater, Namche Bazaar had grown over time to be the hub of tourism in the Khumbu. Once the home of a few teahouses, today, it has bars, hotels, discos, coffee, and gear shops. Basically, you can get your haircut, buy climbing boots or a down sleeping bag, hire a guide, porter, a yak or helicopter – literally anything you would ever want.

Namche Bazaar on April 29

Namche Bazaar

The dirt streets were lined with rocks to keep the running water behaved. But the occasional Dzo cleared the streets, and for the first time She saw a yak – they were huge, furry, and plodding seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. She was excited to tell her husband and kids. Some were loaded with gear; others were just being moved. They didn’t seem to mind – both literally and figuratively. She would see more of these beasts as they live above Namche and not lower.

Walking towards their hotel, She sees a sign “Everest Bakery – Free WiFi!”

Welcome to Namche. Home for the next two days.

Climb On!
Alan
Memories are Everything


Climbing Sherpa Support

Who, how much, and how often you donate is a personal decision. Maybe you climbed with one of the guides, or plan to one day. Perhaps you have followed them for years and want to support their Climbing Sherpa team, or maybe you support by geography – Nepali, American, Austrian, British, New Zealand. It’s up to you and will be much appreciated.

My sincere appreciation to those companies who accepted my invitation to join Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas:

For an overview of the Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas, please visit this post.


Previous Virtual Everest 2020 posts:


Comments on/from Facebook

  2 Responses to “Virtual Everest 2020: The Trek Begins”

  1.  

    Dear Alan,
    Thank you so much for running virtual Everest this year, I love your annual coverage and was so grateful that you had this idea to do this for 2020. I have trekked to Everest base camp a couple of times now and can’t wait to go back. The Namche Hill day is always exciting and of course hard but that final walk into Namche is just amazing.
    Thanks again so much.

    •  

      Thanks Janine, Glad you got to EBC! That was my first time in Nepal in ’97 and also loved it. Yeah, that Hill is, umm, well it’s “fun?” 🙂