If you have not read Part 1 yet, you should probably do that first.
That night, while we were bundled up around the stove in the old blankets all the lodges keep around, Chris came in telling us we needed to come outside right away to see something. The thought of leaving the warm room was depressing, but he was insistent and had already run back out, so Tommy and I went out to join him. He was standing with his head thrown back, staring up at the sky. Our eyes followed and we both froze in the same position, forgetting that it was -5 degrees. The stars were incredible. For every one star I had ever seen before, there were now 1000 of them. Orion’s belt had blended in with a light show of millions of pinpoints. We were so high and so far away from light, that there was nothing, not even a significant amount of air, preventing us from seeing all the starts there are to see. I got out my camera and tried some night photography, but left my remote at home, so I had to hold it open the entire time… not conducive to steady camera work when your hands are shaking like maracas.
As I was going to sleep I had concerns about taking it to fast up the mountain. There had been signs all along the trail saying “Go Slow, Altitude Kills.” I have heard the statistic is that a few people have to get air lifted off the mountain every year because of altitude sickness, and I didn’t want to be one of them. I wasn’t exactly sure how to contact my travel insurance company from the mountains. (Whoops, probably should have checked that out before I left huh?) We talked to a few guides that were staying in the area, and they said that if we were having no problems in Dingboche, then it would be fine to go on to Loboche, which is about 4900 meters. After talking it out we decided that if we felt sick, we could always turn around, since the height was the same we were going to be doing on our acclimatization day anyway.
We woke up around 8:00am and packed out stuff to head out. By this height, prices had started to rise and I was averaging 700-900rs a day, which is about $15-$18 USD., and the thought of cutting a day off the trip sounded nice. Soon after setting out, we came upon an Irish couple who were sitting with their guide on some rocks, panting and coughing. They said they were fine, so we passed them bye and kept heading across the dirt and scrub grass hill to the end of the valley. We were on the top of a hill, but the hill was actually a 30 story bump in a valley made by two towering mountains on either side. They were so gigantic that looking up at them made you dizzy.
We were taking it easy to make sure we didn’t have trouble with altitude, and we rested often. During one of these rest breaks, the Irish couple, or maybe they were brother and sister… I can’t really remember, came wheezing up. They sat down and just kind of looked miserable and naive at the same time. The doctors in training decided to take a look at them, and Tommy actually pulled a stethoscope out of his bag. It turns out that the guy has fluid in his lungs, and she is struggling with the lack of air. They both had headaches from coming up too fast, and it was actually the fault of their guide. He had an exam he had to take back at the bottom of the trail in a few days, and was trying to hurry up to base camp and back in time for him to make the extra two day journey to the testing center. The Irish people had just gone along with him figuring he knew best. The now pseudo field doctors convinced them to go back down and take a rest day to see if they could recover.
Part of the trip to Loboche involved going through something called “Loboche Pass”, a steep, boulder strewn cut on the side of a ridge that goes up about the length of three football fields. Some brilliant businessman has opened a tea house right at the bottom of it where most people stop to eat, catch their breath, and make jokes about the upcoming climb just so they don‘t have to think about how much it sucks. He makes a killing because people don’t want to leave.
We rested, took some photos, then headed out. This one cut took about an hour to get through because we would pick from one boulder to the next, each a full knee bend step up, then heave ourselves across and begin panting. Rest, shuffle forward, step up a boulder, pant, rest, repeat. We were dead tired at the top and still had a good trek ahead of us.
Loboche consisted of sitting by the tables, wrapped in blankets, eating garlic soup (it is supposed to help with altitude?) and for Tommy and myself – dealing with killer headaches. Maybe going up that day wasn’t such a good idea after all. I was okay when I didn’t move, blink, or think, so I stared at a salt shaker for the better part of half an hour before Chris just told me to take a decent dose of ibuprofen. This promptly made it feel better and I was able to function again. We decided that if we woke up with headaches, we would stay for another day to get used to the altitude. The night was early for all of us as the pass had worn us out, and we were all feeling slow and stupid from the lack of oxygen. At this altitude, there is less than 60% of the normal oxygen available to breathe.
We had a long day, so we woke up at 5:30 to get ready to leave. I woke up to chanting, and realized that Pasang-Dawa was sitting cross legged in his bed with his hands folded in front of him. I don’t know how long he had been chanting for, but I realized he must have been doing this everyday, and only because I had to wake up so early did I notice it. When he heard me stirring, he opened his eyes and asked me if I wanted some tea. Bizarre. It turns out that he does chant every morning, and once he knew it didn’t bother me, he started doing it later, and would sometimes be chanting for the first three hours of a trek. Just chanting and walking along with my bag on his back, as if he was singing walking songs. Every so often he would put his hands together as he was going along and bow, so we knew he was still going at it.
No headaches upon awaking, but if we thought that the previous day’s pass had been tough, the day of the trip from Loboche to Gorak Shep, which is the highest village about three hours from base camp, was a killer because it was so long. We got to Gorak Shep pretty early and had lunch while we waited for the sun to get in a good position for some Everest photos from Kala Pattar. Kala Pattar is the highest we were going to go, and is a little hill surrounded by a 360 degree ring of mountains. One of these is Everest, and a great view of it can be had from the top. The trip up took just as long as the pass because we were so worn out from lack of O2. I plugged in my iPod for the first time in the trip and started listening to songs that my addled mind thought made sense while going up a mountain. “Riders in the Sky” by Johhny Cash, “Oh my God” from the Kiser Chiefs, “Drive” by REM, then finally “Chopin: Nocturne In C Sharp Minor.” It just seemed appropriate for the view.
In front of Everest
When we woke up the next morning, we were going to Base Camp, which is Part 3.