Thursday, July 09, 2009

Nepal Trek 2009 - May 11-12, Dingboche

After that walk in the snow from the previous day of trekking, it was nice to bundle up and fall asleep in my down sleeping bag. Steve and I had -40°F down bags from North Face. Very, very comfortable.

We were at around 14,000 feet elevation in Dingboche so the nights were cold. Having snow each day kept the temps low along with the overcast skies. I slept with my fleece layers over my wool base layer, plus a fleece hat at night. I also zipped up my bag so that my face was mostly covered - an attempt to keep from breathing the cold, dry air at night.

My upper respiratory infection was in full bloom, beginning May 12th. Stuffed up head, bronchitis, and the start of the Khumbu crud. I finally got over this infection - about a month after returning home and a round of heavy-duty antibiotics.

May 12th is John Fera's birthday. The Sherpas went to extra efforts to make his celebration memorable. First there was the birthday greeting melted into the morning snow.

Ahem - don't let your kids look at this too closely. The Sherpas made an anatomically "correct" snowman - an effigy of John for his birthday.

Jon Miller, our podcaster from "The Rest of Everest" recorded everything for posterity ;-)

Another festive touch was the decorating of our tents with heart-shaped balloons. We're camped along one side of the guest house.

We spent quite a lot of time inside the tea house. We didn't know it on the 12th, but we ended up spending an extra day and night in Dingboche due to being snowed in.

Sonam Sherpa gave each of us some paper to write a birthday note to John. You can see all the sheets posted on the wall behind John. the decorations were another nice touch.

I thought this was a cool way to spend a birthday.

One of the amazing things to a westerner's eyes was the lack of "proper" footwear for our Sherpa staff in this inclement weather. It was common to see Sherpas wearing sandles or Crocs in the snow - sans socks. I asked Karma Sherpa about this and he said the weather wasn't cold enough for shoes on this day.

A snow gnome, built by our Sherpas.

Dingboche was a scheduled acclimatization stop - meaning we were to spend two nights there. We did an acclimatization hike up to the top of the ridge above Dingboche to visit one of the stupas that line the valley. We gained about 900 feet of elevation, putting us higher than any spot in the continental USA.

Most of the snow melted off by noon time, so the path was a bit muddy, but not too bad for walking.

Trekking poles came in handy, though.

From the ridge above Dingboche there is a beautiful view of the valley. Stone walls surrounding farms make a crazy patchwork quilt of enclosed fields.

You might be able to see the line of green tents of our campsite in this image.

Once we reached the stupa, it was time to take in the scenery of the prayer flags against the valley below. I really enjoyed the sight and sound of prayer flags flapping in the wind.

As the flags weather, they become translucent.

Megan - getting that "perfect" frame.

The rocks are covered with various species of lichen and moss.

Prayer flags are left in place to decay from exposure to the elements. I don't know how long they last, but they seem to be replenished regularly. The brightly colored flags are younger than the faded, ragged ones.

We came down from the ridge on a gentle trajectory that put us a bit of a walk from our campsite. That gave us a chance to explore Dingboche a bit. I saw this woman and her family clearing rocks from the path leading to their home. I asked if I could look at the hoe they were using and she gave it to me to examine. It's made from hand-forged steel - very sturdy - and the shaft is hand carved.

She also allowed me to photograph her in action.

Along the trail near tea houses one can always find porter's packs. These probably weigh somewhere between 100 and 150 lbs, perhaps more.

Right along the path through the village is a drainage stream. It ws pretty full from melting snow.

Near our campsite I found this little gem just coming into bloom. The small shrub looked ericaceous to me, but the flower doesn't seem quite right.

The next day and a half were spent inside the tea house for the most part. Fortunately, for our entertainment value, Megan had brought along a fun card game (Phase 10). I wasn't feeling very well so I didn't play cards very much, but I did enjoy watching the action.

Please note the Pringles can there in the foreground. That was a luxury treat some of our trekkers just couldn't do without. I think some of us were already starting to lose appetites at this elevation, but most everyone had challenges eating after this point.

Woohoo! The Sherpas baked a birthday cake for John. Most of our "dessert" choices involved hot canned fruit cocktail. I think everyone was interested in having something different for dessert.

This was kind of like a cross between a biscuit and a scone. It tasted pretty good, though.

Ah yes, the other featured event of the day was the filling of the stove with yak dung. The stove was lit only from tea time onwards unless we really were cold, and then it was sparingly lit earlier in the day.

After the dried dung is added to the stove kerosene is poured over it and a match lit to ignite the mixture. Sometimes, if the stove is already hot, the flame added to the mix causes a huge flare (POOOOOOF!). After the first time, everyone was keen to see it again and so the audience for this event was attending to every move the tea house hostess made. There was a collective sigh of disappointment if the stove lit without a flare-up.

Our kitchen boys were assigned the task of lighting the stove if we needed more than one load of dung per day.

I think they enjoyed this ritual just as much as us snow-bound trekkers did.

Speaking of snow bound - this is why we ended up staying in Dingboche the extra day. On the morning we were scheduled to trek to Lobuche, we awoke to about six inches of snow. The decision was made to wait out the bad weather in Dingboche rather than risk the trail on the ridge that leads to Lobuche.

I actually was secretly grateful for the extra rest day. My respiratory infection was just getting worse and worse and I felt miserable that last day in Dingboche. I spent a significant portion of the day in my tent and skipped the hike and workshop the rest of the group did. I think Steve was also not feeling well on this particular day - mostly with digestive track issues.

It seemed as if much of our group conversation revolved around everyone's lower GI status. Chris Marquardt even coined a scale for describing outhouse adventures. A good day was a 1.7, a bad day was a 1.0. You figure it out. I had enough of that conversation during the trek. The last time my life focused on such matters, my kids were in diapers.

You can read my post from Dingboche by clicking on my link to "Stuck in the snow in Dingboche."

Additional pictures from this day are in my Dingboche album.

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