Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nepal Trek 2009 - May 13 - Dingboche to Lobuche

After three nights in Dingboche, an extra night due to heavy snow that kept us from going on to Lobuche, we awoke to beautiful skies and the news that we would be moving on this day.

Before breakfast, I decided that I really needed to get some pictures so I wandered outside the tea house and found this scene. Thilo was doing the same thing, but wanted to come back inside. One of our yaks had different plans.

"Now what do I do?" asked Thilo.

"Wait right there while I get your picture," said I. Now, is that a sign that we were in the middle of a three week photography workshop, or what?

This is the scene from our campsite, looking to the southwest. It was the first glimpse of these snow clad peaks we had during our entire stay in Dingboche.

Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak . . . .

After breakfast it was time to start the trek over the mountain to Lobuche. We would be gaining 1650 ft of elevation. Starting out with blue skies was a good sign, but one has to remember that the weather can change very quickly in the Himalayas of Nepal.

May 14th is Megan's birthday. After John's big to-do we were expecting something similar for Megan, but all was quiet during breakfast. I would have been disappointed if I were Megan, but, other than being a bit on the quiet side, she acted as if everything was a-ok.

We climbed the first ridge, where we had visited the stupas a couple of days earlier, and were on our way down the other side when Sonam, our guide Sherpa, stopped the group and told Megan to look at the hillside. You may have to click on the photo to see the words spelled out in rock on the slope. It says, "Happy Birthday Magan." She has a new nickname now, of course.

It was a lovely surprise and the Sherpa staff members arose very (Very!) early in the morning to pull this off with such efficiency.

I think Megan was very pleased by this surprise. The rocks were still in place when we came back this way about a week later.

L to R: Megan, Jon and Sonam.

Megan with our Sherpa staff. Actually this was a subset of our Sherpas. Tendi, our lead trail Sherpa, learned a couple of days prior that his brother had died up at Everest advance base camp. His brother was advance base camp cook for the Mountain Tribes-supported expedition. Tendi and half a dozen other Sherpas from his village left to quickly fetch the body to take it to Tengboche monastery. We were all very saddened by this news, but the Sherpas look at death very differently than do we. Death is just a part of the wheel of life and the most important thing Tendi could do for his brother was to make sure he was assisted to the next life by the Lama at Tengboche monastery. The group returned to us just a few days later.

The really sad thing about Tendi's brother's death is that it could have been avoided. There was a batch of illegal liquor up on the mountain that was tainted with methanol. His brother died of alcohol poisoning - very, very sad, but, unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence in the region.

The walk over to Lobuche follows a glacial valley flanked by tall mountains. We hiked a ridge on the north side of the valley.

L to R: John Fera, Sonam Sherpa, and Steve Wolfe there in the background.

We were truly in the alpine zone here - small cushion plants and thin air. It was cold, and everyone put on extra layers. We also walked right into the clouds, which gave us some drizzly sleet and then snow.

You can see that some of us, including me, were really feeling the altitude at this point. That plus the various illnesses can take a toll on one's endurance and energy levels.

The slope was generally gentle, but we gained 1,650 ft (500 m) of elevation during the day. You have to remember that 500 m is the total gain for the day, we also did a lot of up/down/up/down/up as part of the day's walk.

I've seen pictures from the web of what this scenery looks like with blue skies. We were somewhat cheated in terms of mountain views, but I found the landscape to have a mysterious beauty with the foggy ambiance we experienced.

The one tea house along our track was not open. It would have been nice to warm up next to a yak dung stove.

Ahhhhh - this little primrose gave me an energy spurt. I was so excited to find it in a melting snow field.

Coming off the ridge toward the river, we spotted some porters carrying very awkward loads of plywood. The wind was blowing and they kept getting thrown off balance and losing their load. Our Sherpas stopped to help them reload and balance.

Construction materials are moved between villages by porters or yaks. It's a huge amount of work.

The last bridge before reaching the Khumbu glacier - just a couple of rails with boards nailed across. The river is full of glacial milk - microscopically ground rock - and it's flowing fast and furious at this spot.

It's a bit intimidating to walk across a small bridge like that with the sound of water roaring down a boulder-strewn river. It's also very fun.

Just up the hill from this crossing is Dughla - a collection of tea houses. Our group was gathered in the courtyard of one and it was windy and cold. I was already chilled, coughing my lungs out, and was totally, totally miserable. Our sidhar took pity and organized for our group to go into the tea house where it was warm and dry, but very crowded. That was a huge relief. The toilets were also clean in the tea house, compared to the small, freezing and drafty outhouse we would have had to use otherwise.

I was so cold that I decided to put on my down pants in addition to my other layers. I had to peel off my rain pants and trekking pants to get down to the wool thermal underwear. I was so cold that I just did it in the tea room - in front of everyone. Hey, I had my woollies on - it's not like I did a floor show or anything. It was definitely a big improvement in my comfort level. I finally warmed up during lunch.

Dughla sits at the base of the terminal moraine for the Khumbu glacier. You have to climb up 150-200 or so meters to get to the top of the moraine. Once you arrive, a vista opens up of cairns and stupas sprinkled across from one side of the moraine to the other. This is a memorial park for climbers and climbing Sherpas who have lost their life on Everest or other mountains that flank the Khumbu glacier.

The only color in this landscape are the myriad piles of prayer flags draping each memorial cairn. The mountain framed by prayer flags in this photo is Taboche Peak.

This is Cholatse.

Most of my trekking friends went for an explore around the park, searching out the names of climbers who've they've read about, or in the case of Jon Miller, they've known. I wasn't feeling well, so I took advantage of the rest break and sat near the main trail, which gave me an opportunity to capture the dramatic sky above the cairns.

For some reason, the "zone system" finally clicked for me on this day and my digital photography skills really improved. I think it might also have to do with the fact that I was so focused on the moment - each and every moment - throughout the day. I was so ill that I had to think constantly to myself about each step, and to remind myself that even baby steps will get you there eventually. Thus, every time I took a photo, I thought about exactly what I was doing at that moment.

Another view of Taboche Peak.

And, off we go - hiking the moraine of the Khumbu glacier. Our destination for this day was Lobuche - at 16, 210 feet (4910 m).

It seems like such a desolate landscape, but I assure you it is one of the most stunning places I've ever seen in my life. You don't have views of the mountains when the clouds close in, but when the sun is brilliant in a clear blue sky, you see the top of the world. I do have pictures to post from later in this week to give you an example.

In the interim - here is a classic glacial moraine. There is ice below those boulders to the right - we're at the very tip of the Khumbu glacier here.

I scarcely remember the rest of this day, I was feeling so ill. I remember walking into the tea house at Lobuche, seeing that Steve was in an inaccessible corner and I wanted to be next to him, but couldn't get there. Room was made for me on the bench near the door. Every time the door opened, cold air flooded into the room, and I was not very happy about that. Jeff became the door monitor - very nice of him to help me out. I started to feel better after a few cups of hot tea and chocolate. At this point in the trek, food was totally unappealing to me. I think I had popcorn for dinner. Popcorn, hot chocolate and sugared tea - what more can a person want at 16,000 feet?

Additional pictures here: Dingboche to Lobuche album

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