Now that we had conquered Chukkung Ri, we had our sights set on visiting another mountain we had noticed on our way up the trail to EBC, Ama Dablam. As one of the more distinct and recognizable peaks in the region, it was also the one that I quickly found to be my personal favourite. I’d noticed it featured in many of the paintings of local artists, so it appeared I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The branch trail to Ama Dablam base camp jutted off at a village called Pengboche, which would be our next stop on our way down from Chukkung. A good day of hiking down the trail got us to Pengboche, where we settled into our lodge. It was quickly decided that it was high time for me to splurge on a shower for myself. Surprisingly enough, the bucket of hot water and pitcher made for one of the most enjoyable showers of my life!
The next morning we were up in good time for breakfast and ready to head off. We knew from what we’d seen coming down the trail the day before that the first leg of our journey would be a classic steep descent down to a river crossing from which we would start a series of grueling uphill climbs. These were broken up by short plateaus with beautiful views and many yaks casually grazing and enjoying the day, but we didn’t quite appreciate just how much hiking it would entail to actually reach the base camp. Luckily, we were well accustomed to being surprised based on our experiences over the past couple of weeks, so we were well equipped to continue pushing on. After about 5 hours of solid hiking, and 4 large uphill sections, we arrived at the plateau that was home to our destination, as well as a small lodge.
Hunger had gotten the better of us at this point, so we decided to head to the lodge first and sort out our lunch. We had only passed a couple of other hikers on our way up, and only encountered a few other small groups once we were up there, mostly made up of the folks who were actually attempting the summit of Ama Dablam. After discovering the joys of egg drop tomato soup at the lodge, owned by a man who had summited Everest 11 times, we hiked over to the base camp proper, got some shots of the mountain itself, and started on our way back down to Pengboche. Naturally going down was easier, but the truly enjoyable part was the views it afforded.
Although it had been a difficult slog getting up there, the vistas of this area were so very worth it. It was the only time on this trek that I had such a distinct sense of just how high up we were. We had a very clear day, and could see not only many of the mountains that make up the highest points on earth, but also the valley heading back down towards Namche, and for once, could see for a great distance. It was the most surreal feeling I’d had on the trip so far and we took a few minutes to stop and take it in. This was the Himalayan experience we’d been craving.
We returned to a nice hot meal at our lodge in Pengboche, and settled in for the night. The next morning we were off again, heading further down the trail, back towards Namche Bazaar. We also found ourselves unexpectedly joined by a local dog for this section of hiking. On the way, we encountered a large herd of yaks also heading down the trail, but without a herdsperson to keep them moving. They had bottlenecked a section of trail, and were just happily grazing and meandering around. After a few minutes of waiting to see if someone would show up to keep them on the move, I decided that I would at least move them far enough along the trail so that we could pass. Herding yaks while in Nepal was definitely not something I thought I’d be doing, but it was a very enjoyable few minutes for me. As I got the majority of them moving down the trail, some started to wander off into the woods, but there was enough space for us to get by. This was where my herding would stop. Some poor soul would be forced to hike off the trail and into the trees to collect the strays, but they all had bells on their necks, and were pretty hard to miss given their size.
We’d budgeted a significant amount of time for this leg of our overall journey, so we’d been discussing what we wanted to tackle next. We had heard great things about the small community of Gokyo, which was on the other side of a mountain pass not too far from EBC and had beautiful glacial lakes and mountain scenery. Most trekkers would’ve crossed the mountain pass where the trail diverges back up near Dughla (Thukla) on the way down after visiting EBC, but as there were only two of us, and we didn’t have a guide, we had decided against this. We’d heard mixed reports about the condition of the passes from other trekkers and guides, and although we likely could have joined up with other independent trekkers to make the journey, we decided against it. This left us with the option of hiking up the valley trail to Gokyo from the area near Namche Bazaar, meaning another 3-4 days of trekking for us to get up there. After evaluating our condition, our financial situation, and reviewing what we’d wanted to get out of this trek, we decided that we were happy with what we’d achieved, and were ready to move on to the next stage of our overall trip.
Once we reached Namche Bazaar, we checked into the Panorama Lodge, and treated ourselves to a room with a double bed and a private shower. It was pretty much heaven. Considerably more expensive than the other lodges in town, but we were happy to pay for the luxury. As we’d only really had tea, hot lemon, or water for the past couple of weeks, the bottle of Coke that I ordered in the dining room was, much like the shower in Pengboche, about the best I’d ever had. We were also fortunate to be there at the same time as groups of climbers who were taking a break from their Everest expeditions, and it was very interesting to hear them chat about their experiences and their time on the mountain. Some were definitely more positive than others, and when the discussion turned to money, many were announcing expenses in the ~60K USD range. A small fortune to get to the roof of the world, but for these people it seemed as though their sheer determination to summit would justify almost any expense.
Most of these folks were in Namche for their last break of relaxation before their target ‘weather window’ at the end of May. In the coming weeks, there would be many news stories about the line-ups for the summit of Everest this year, and the iconic pictures of a seemingly endless que of brightly coloured snowsuits huddled one behind the other for their chance to stand at the top of the world. This also resulted in a number of deaths and has generated a lot of discussion around the relationship we have with the mountain, the ethics of the commercialization of high altitude climbing, and the experience necessary to handle one’s self in the ‘death zone’ – above 8000m, where an individual only takes in about 30% of the oxygen that they would at sea level. We don’t have the expertise to weigh in on these complicated issues, but it was definitely a thought-provoking time to be there.