After a relatively sleepless night thanks to my freshly acquired sunburn, we were awake in decent time and all packed up, ready to start our journey back down the trail. Just prior to leaving, a long and somewhat heated discussion ensued with the lodge owner, as he had conveniently forgot a promised discount for the one night in the Porter’s quarters and clearly didnt much care about anything other than trying to squeeze as much money out of us as possible before we were gone. After sorting that situation out to the best of our ability, we happily headed off and were glad to put that experience behind us.
We had decided to explore some other sections off of the main Everest trail on the way down, and had our sights set on Chukkung. To get there, we would have to backtrack to Dingboche, and then it would be another ~3 hours up a slight incline to Chukkung. We had the magical chocolate cake from the bakery in Dingboche in mind, and that was all the motivation we needed.
After a few hours of hiking and enjoying some amazing views, we made it back into Dingboche. While enjoying our wonderful cake, a couple of climbers came into the bakery. We quickly realized that they were part of the Korean contingent of the NatGeo Defytime team that was attempting the notoriously challenging route up the south face of Lhotse, another 8000m peak right next to Everest. We had seen lots of banners for this expedition on the way up the trail, so it was quite thrilling to actually see them in person. Their base camp was ~1-1.5 hours from Chukung, so these guys had walked about 4 hours to get to the bakery, although they probably made significantly better time than that given that they were likely well acclimatized and in fantastic shape! Regardless, these two had committed to a roughly 8 hour walk just to get fresh bread and other goodies, and they made sure that it was worth it. After putting a few loaves of bread each into their backpacks, they loaded the remaining space with donuts, croissants, and pastries, right up to the brim. They would be dining well at their base camp for the next few days!
After our short respite in the oasis of the bakery, it was time to set-off for our final destination. I think some combination of the altitude, lack of sleep, and the fact that I hadn’t eaten much in several days due to a significant loss of appetite once we got above 4000m, I was getting a little loopy and finding everything quite funny. I was beat, and this stretch from Dingboche to Chukkung was an especially long 3 hours for me. We passed a couple of free grazing yak herds, complete with newly born calves, and a couple of local youngster out herding. By the time we reached the village and found that we had 2 lodges to choose between, I was too exhausted to even put much effort into evaluating them. Janan had a quick look at the first one, and decided there was no harm in checking out the second one as well. Once she walked in she ran into our German friend we’d met in Tengboche, who quickly announced that the lodge was the best he’d stayed in yet. Good enough for us. A few minutes later we were dropping our gear in our new room and heading to the dining area to get a quick meal before bed. Yet again, we were toast.
Chukkung is also the last village before the base camp for Island Peak, the main trekking peak in the area, and the one which our German friend was attempting. He told us that he’d come within a few dozen meters of the summit, but that the sun was heating the snow too much, causing melting and making it loose underfoot, and thus too dangerous to continue. He was taking a 30 hour break at our lodge before starting up again. He had to leave the base camp at 1am to have any hope of reaching the summit before the sunlight made conditions too dangerous.
As we’d skipped Kala Patar, we wanted to tackle one of the trekking peaks in the region. Although Island Peak is a Trekking Peak and is often used to help climbers seeking to summit Everest acclimatize beforehand, it requires permits and a licensed guide. There was a large group of older French gentlemen at our lodge that evening who would also be attempting Island Peak in the coming days. We however, were not interested or able to invest in permits and a guide, and as such decided to attempt trekking up Chukkung Ri, a mountain just to the northwest of the village. It required no permit and was a much more straight forward hike. A good night’s sleep was due, and we’d be off to attempt it in the morning!