On the 12th day of the trek, Christen and I were to stay back at base camp in Khare while the rest of the group hiked to high camp, en route to the summit. They planned to get to high camp in the afternoon, rest for several hours, and then climb through the night to reach the summit early the next morning. After that grueling task, they would hike most of that day back down to Khare.
As I walked around outside the lodge, the air was thick with excitement. Matt and Andrew both had to exchange pieces of equipment that failed during the climb to Mera La the day before. I had felt for Andrew as we were hiking together the previous afternoon, when I saw his left crampon explode in a spray of metal rivets and bands as he was trying to knock some snow off. He felt better about the replacement pair he scrounged up, since his original pair looked like they summited Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. Glen and Karma were up to their typical mountaineering warm-up antics, which were part dance, part chant, and part making goofy faces and chasing each other around like kids. Kami had finally decided to take his flip-flops off and was, to my surprise, wearing boots. (I later learned he was back to flip flops while lounging at high camp, though).
Once again, I was feeling really good about the decision not to attempt the summit. Just watching the frenzy of everyone doing their last minute gear checks was more than my brain could take while fighting the thick fog of altitude sickness. I had not sleept well. I kept startling awake throughout the night out of breath. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest when I would try to sleep.
As the group said their farewells on their way up Mera peak, Christen and I settled in for a day of waiting and rest. We decided to hang out at Khare for one more day and then head back down to Khote, over 4000 ft below, where I would hopefully recover and we would wait for the rest of the gang to meet us after they summited. As we sat and had tea in the chilly dining room, we chatted with Pasang about his previous two days. While the rest of us had been acclimatizing and resting, he had taken on two sets of clients and summited Mera Peak two days in a row! I couldn’t even retort that I was by far the oldest member of the trek. I had just learned that Pasang is only a few months younger than me.
The next morning, Pasang, Sonam, Christen, and I ventured back down the trail making our gradual descent to Khote. It felt a little strange leaving the rest of the group behind us, since we were always bringing up the rear. We were also a little worried, since it had started snowing in the afternoon the day before in Khare. We did not know if the team would be caught in a snow storm while at high camp or if they were above it. Christen and I were both a little low-energy as we made our way. The weather started out sunny, but deteriorated quickly throughout the day.
After a quick lunch in Tagnak, Christen tried to get into a dice game with some locals. Sonam would not let her, to her chagrin. Gambling is illegal in Nepal, he explained. I do have to give him credit. For a 21-year-old man, he held his own in corralling Christen away from something that looks fun. The weather was also starting to turn very quickly. It was getting windy, and we were starting to see some rain drops. That probably motivated her more than anything.
As we continued along the river and starting nearing Khote, we met a tour group from England. They were a friendly, talkative bunch, and they were asking about the camera equipment. I explained the documentary and some of the goals that Karma has for his business, employees, and Sibuje. One of the English trekkers said he was extremely happy to hear that Karma ensures that his porters carry loads below the legal limit, as he was personally disgusted to see how much weight some porters are asked to carry by their companies.
I felt extremely relieved when they were excited about the documentary we were capturing. I had been worried about whether we had enough to make a movie people would even want to watch. Making the film while also trying to manage the demands of the trek was turning out to be harder than I had imagined. I was relieved beyond words that other westerners could “get” what I was trying to say.
When Christen and I stumbled into Khote, I had one mission. I went straight for a shower. I do not think I have ever had a more satisfying shower in my life. Even though it was from an old paint bucket with a tiny spigot on the side sitting on a shelf in what looked like a tool shed, the water was hot, and it felt like it was cleansing my soul. Of course, when you only have 3 showers over the course of 18 days, they feel like ultimate luxury.
I mentioned in a previous post that “rest” days on a Himalayan trek are rarely just that. Usually, they are used to hike around and acclimatize to the altitude. Since we were on our way down and waiting for the rest of our group, Christen and I lazed around and had a magnificent day of laying on the beautiful grass, reading, hanging out by the Tolkien-esque water fall, and catching up on days of nasty laundry. On top of that, if you are going to have a rest day anywhere, Khote is hard to beat. The sound of rushing water is everywhere, the air is clear, the grass is soft and green, and there are not rivulets of questionable brownness running down the hillside everywhere like in Khare.
In the afternoon of our rest day, the rest of the team made their way into Khote. Amazingly, everyone looked even skinnier than when we saw them two days ago. The summit seemed to melt the calories right off them. Karma, Matt, Andrew, and Becky all made it to the summit. In keeping with the general theme of the trek, the team hit the perfect weather window. They had mostly clear weather (they were above the storm that pelted us in Khare), in contrast to the groups going up before and after them.
Unfortunately, Becky was starting to take her turn with the dreaded trail sickness. Because we had been getting such good weather, we did not have to use any of our optional lay-over days yet. Given this, we all elected to stay one more day in Khote to help Becky recover and to give the rest of us time to catch up on much deserved reading and laundry. Ironically, when you are on a trek away from all of life’s daily chores, they can still pile up on you!