Today started under bright blue skies and crisp cool air and finished under gray skies, cold wind and swirling snowflakes. We are now safely ensconced at the Tashi Delek Lodge just 50 m from the famous Tengboche Monastery. I had a chance to go into the monastery today (last year it was closed to visitors when I passed by). The main room with a huge Buddha in the back was the most colorful temple I have ever been in – and I have been in many. The walls were adorned with intricate full-color drawings from floor to ceiling. A lone middle-aged monk sat in the middle of the room, wrapped in dark saffron robes to ward off the 0 C chill, solemnly chanting from an ancient-looking book. Sorry, no pictures were allowed, but it was a magical scene.
Today’s hike was both pleasant and brutal. The first half of the hike was mostly down hill under sunny skies; the second half was a brutal trudge up the hill into the thin air to the high ridge where the monastery guards the entry to he Everest region. We both took it really slow, but still arrived by 3 pm. We are now sitting in the large dining room of the lodge next to a wood-fired stove, sipping various hot drinks. I still feel chilled to the bone, and it’s only going to get colder.
Tom and I were chatting the previous night and he mentioned that the trails here were not what he expected. He expected trails like Americans encounter in our national parks, well graded, switch backed to avoid steep sections, and, except for the most popular, largely devoid of hikers.
The “trails” in Nepal are their roads. They form anastomosing networks of pathways that connect every inhabited village in the rugged terrain that characterizes the vast majority of Nepal’s area. The paths that connect more densely populated areas and/or popular trekking areas, particularly here in Sagamartha National Park, have sections of trail that are dirt paths through pine and fir forests, but many sections are paved in stone. The steeper sections of trail consist of long stretches of stone stairs, engineered to withstand the hordes of boots and hooves. Everywhere, human and beast pack the trail.
The route to Everest Base Camp is akin to an American Interstate Highway. As I marched along today, it reminded me of the section of interstate 15 that connects the LA megalopolis and Las Vegas. Like that section of highway, a variety of transport plies our trail. The Yaks are the 18 wheelers of the Khumbu, carrying the vital supplies to feed and otherwise support the hordes of trekkers. The porters are Nepal’s pick up trucks. Just like in the USA they come in a variety of forms ranging from overloaded Ford 350s lumbering up the trail (porters can carry up to 100 kg – more than twice their weight), to trekking-company porters analogous to lowered Toyota pick-ups, complete with boom boxes blasting out the latest Nepali hits. Then there are the flat-bellied climbers and guides, the Ferraris of the Khumbu, flying by with crampons and ice axes dangling from their $400 back packs.
While I was a grad student, I took a term off, sold everything I owned, and went to Alaska and climbed Denali. When I returned, I was flat out broke. I bought a 1963 Ford Galaxy off a downtrodden used car lot in Missoula, Montana. It was 17 years old when I bought it for $200 cash. The seats barely kept your ass from scrapping the pavement and it’s muffler was partially intact and partially swinging in the breeze. But it ran…kind of. It blew blue smoke, and steered like a drunken party boat on Lake Mead. Every 100 miles or so I pulled into a service station and filled up the oil and checked the gas. Today, as I slogged up the trail, huffing and puffing in the thin air, I felt like that 1963 Ford, leaking oil and sucking air, amid the late model transport blasting by me. But I got here.
Scenes from the Khumbu Highway