April 1st, 2010 - I mentioned that it was beginning to snow as I crossed the glacier and made my way to Gokyo. Well, it did not stop for a while and I estimate that by the time it was over last least six inches (fifteen centimeters) was dumped upon the region. I love snow as much as the next guy but I still had another mountain pass to cross so I found the weather developments decidedly inconvenient. When I awoke the next morning I thought my designs on the Rengo La would be foiled.
A snow covered trail solo in the Himalayas? I might be crazy but I isn't stupid……probably. However, Lady Luck would have a hand in my forward progress. From the window in the sun/dining room of my lodge I watched as a group of tourists led by what I presume to be their guide and seven yaks made their way towards the pass. Although I was slightly astonished by this I was also supremely grateful as they would blaze a trail through the snow that would be easy to follow, assuming no more snowfall of course. Score.
I was also thankful for having crossed the Ngozumpa Glacier the previous day as doing so on the following day would have been near nigh impossible, at least without a guide. I had little hope of seeing the Other Rich again as I was quite certain that he would not be crossing the glacier but instead skip Goyko and head south towards Lukla via another trail. Wrong again.
So after breakfast it was time to go for a stroll up nearby Gokyo Ri. It would prove to be most challenging for two reasons: 1) the aforementioned snow; and 2) the intensity of solar radiation. The snow and ice were no picnic but nothing compared with the heat from Mr. Helios. It was a hazy day and the thin cloud cover served only to intensify the ultra violet light. Moving slow was imperative as the danger of overheating was pronounced. I was sorry I wore pants. Actually, I was sorry I wore any clothes at all but since I did not have enough sun cream to cover my entire body it was probably for the best. I am willing to bet the temperature on the way up was no less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) on the trail. I almost felt like going for dip in the frozen lake beside Goyko.
When I did make it to the top I was rewarded with a degraded view of the nearby mountains (Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyu). That is not to say the view was terrible only diminished relative to what I had witnessed thus far. Essentially, I had been spoiled. Cry me a glacial river.
|That's Gokyo Ri behind the snoozing yak|
|Gokyo from above|
They way down was much more expeditious due in no small part to the fact that I spent much of the return sliding on my feet. I did manage to avoid going ass or tea kettle. A moral victory.
On my ascent I met a German woman (Madeleine) who was exceedingly outgoing and friendly (not to mention physically appealing) and invited me to stop by her lodge after my hike for a hot beverage. As I stood I thought to myself, Yep, you got it going on you sly devil you. I was right on the money if by 'it' I mean an uncanny ability to misinterpret and engage in delusional self-aggrandizement regarding a potentially romantic encounter. After my climb I stopped by her lodge to say hello and was met by her and her husband. Yep, you got it going on you sly devil you. I'm all that and a bowl of grits.
My time spent with Madeleine was not in vain as I was reunited with the Other Rich (admittedly he was not nearly as attractive but with the right wig and a bit of rouge….). It turns out he hired a guide and made his way across the glacier after all. Apparently, it was no pleasure stroll and had him trudging through a glacial moraine covered in snow. Hidden rocks and boulders became the equivalent of Himalayan land mines. But he made it. After catching up a bit I said my final farewell to my clone and went back to my hotel for dinner and an early retirement. I had the Renjo La in my sights and the next day would be 'go' time. I had hoped I would meet another group or individual headed my way but no such luck. For the final pass it would be me, myself, and I. Solitude would reign supreme.
One more pass. I arose promptly the next morning, threw down as much breakfast as I could, and set off. The weather was exquisite and I left Gokyo in high spirits. No intensive mental processes required. All I had to do was follow the trail of yak and people prints. Easy.
Dead horse time. What can I say? I found myself once again enveloped by the haunting solitude that is the Himalayas (at least if you are alone that is). Just me and the result of 70 million years of continental collisions. Along the way I took time to just stand there and absorb the brilliance. I did this not only out of cosmogonic appreciation but also because the grinding nature of the sojourn was beginning to catch up with me. I was a little pooped. As I drew closer to the slope below the pass my motivation was on the decline. If you listened to my inner voice (something nobody probably wants to do) it sounded something like this: No. No up. Richie no want go up. Richie want go down. Up bad. Very, very bad. Up can kiss Richie's ass. No uppy. Make it stop.
Along the way Mother Nature provided entertainment in the form of my own private avalanche viewing. Two thumbs up. I suppose if I wanted to dwell on this experience a bit I could go in the 'if a tree falls in the woods but no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?' direction. In this case I was the only sentient mortal in the entire universe to be ringside for this natural exhibition. Only me. It will never happen again and once I am no longer among us it will be as if it never happened in the first place. Kind of blows your mind, huh? Or not. The same could be said for just about anything. Being the only one around to hear a mountain gorilla fart is not the kind of existential poetry answer seekers long for. But then again…
I did manage to reach the pass fairly early and was presented with the view I had hoped I would see on the top of Gokyo Ri. Not so many clouds on this morning. Another pass, another dazzling panorama. Ho-friggin-hum. Well, not really but I imagine reading the same description over and over again gets to be a bit tedious. I suppose I should dig a little deeper into my thesaurus. The views were superb, admirable, august, best, breathtaking, choice, elegant, elevated, exalted, exquisite, fine, glorious, grand, great, lofty, magnificent, majestic, marvelous, matchless, noble, optimal, optimum, outstanding, peerless, prime, proud, resplendent, solid, splendid, splendiferous, splendorous, standout, stunning, sublime, super, superior, superlative, unrivaled, the very best indeed.
I lingered for a spell gazing from the pass east and west pondering the scene all by my lonesome. The truth is sometimes I want someone to be there to share the Kodak moment and other times I am content to sit in silence alone and pretend I am the only being in our solar system. Had I had the mental fortitude I may have assumed the position and put forward my best meditative effort. However, at that point I was in no condition to summon the powers of my own psyche. I took a rain check. Next mountain range.
|That's Everest on the left|
|Mt. Makalu, Everest impersonator|
|View from other side of Renjo La|
Along the way I met a guy that appeared to be carrying his entire life on his back. Not really sure where he was from as I could not place his accent but he seemed a little off (I wonder if that's others' general impression of me as I coming bopping along the trail?). He said something to me about setting up high camp for a trekking peak, not realizing there were none close by, moving on to the pass, something, something, so forth and so on. High camp? I wanted to ask him what the hell he was talking about but I was afraid he might actually tell me. He was either one of those clueless semi-lunatics that will end up freezing while trying to eat his own underwear or a mountaineering prodigy/savant that never quite came to grips with everyday social interaction. No way to be sure. I pressed on.
As I ventured downward I passed through small villages and abandoned summer grazing areas that gave the whole area an 'edge of civilization' feel to it. The clouds eventually rolled in casting that dismal semi-apocalyptic shadow that makes one feel like you are trying to find that last hidden enclave of survivors. As you can imagine fatigue was starting to set in leading to series of circus-type slips and falls. As the day wore on the snow on the trail began to soften providing a slip n' slide like arena for me to negotiate. Falling on your ass four or five times does little to soften one's disposition and had me swearing like an intoxicated truck driver at times. But I pressed on.
Sometime around three or four in the afternoon I arrived in Thame in the midst of a light snowfall. Thame is a quaint little village nestled in the valley beneath Kongde Ri. What gives it its charm is the manicured nature of the village. The stone walls are well maintained and the buildings are all constructed out of stone. And unlike most places along the trail this is an actual village that exists for reasons other than tourists. In fact Thame lies along the ancient trade route between Khumbu and Tibet which includes the Nangpa La pass (In 2006 Chinese soldiers opened fire here on Tibetan pilgrims making their way to join the Dalai Lama in India).
Thame is also the original home of Apa Sherpa otherwise known as Super Sherpa as a result of having summited Everest 19 times [Author's Note: As of May 2011 he added ascent 20 and 21 to his CV]. That is not a typo. He is not apparently borne of the earthly realm. I just happened to stumble into the Everest Summiteer, the lodge he owns. I had dreams of meeting the man but they were dashed when I learned that he lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. The walls of the dining room were basically a shrine to the man and his family (educational certificates belonging to his sons also adorned the walls). I've read that his actual age is not known but estimates put him somewhere in his fifties. Personally, I think that is the perfect age to make a twentieth ascent of the planet's highest summit. Apparently, so does he. This May he is going for number twenty. I'm all about tempting fate but this guy is on another plane of existence.
I had a bit of a late start the following morning (8 am) and was really starting to feel the trip. I think my brain started to sense that the end was near and began sending signals to my body that it was okay to take a breather. My motivation was just not there either. My goal was to get all the way to Lukla that day so I could catch a plane the following morning. I was not entirely sure this would happen. I had an open plane ticket but who knows if a seat would be available let alone if the weather would permit take-offs and landings (In 2008 a Yeti Airlines flight went down just below the airstrip killing 18 passengers and crew). Luckily, when I arrived back in Namche Bizarre my cell phone once again became more than a mere alarm clock. I made a call to my travel agent and secured a seat on a morning flight. Looks like I would be going to Lukla that day after all.
I would have to say that the most challenging part of the journey came on the last two hours of the trip from Phakding to Lukla. My body just did not want to go and my mind was already back at my hotel in Kathmandu. As I had already passed this way it was not terribly exciting so boredom was a factor and the minutes dragged on. I was also a bit irritable and was in no mood to do things like wait for a train of yaks to cross a suspended foot bridge suitable only for one way traffic. This is especially true when I am already half way across the bridge and the yak driver ushers his herd of pack laden animals on the bridge anyway knowing I would have no choice but to turn around and walk back the way I had come. The fact that he yelled and gave me a dismissive hand gesture did nothing to improve my disposition. Actually, it made me want to smack him when he crossed the bridge. I am sure my countenance conveyed ever iota of vitriol I was harboring at that moment. Of course, this was nothing more than childish petulance stemming from fatigue but he is lucky I did not go spider monkey on his ass and start flinging my own pooh. Instead I pressed on.
In retrospect my timing was impeccable. I'd entered the region and completed my trek before the tourist herd assaulted Khumbu. I was extremely thankful for that and the hordes of human yaks I passed on the way out underscored my sentiment.
I arrived back in Lukla and did something I'd neglected to do for eleven straight days: showered. My guide book pointed me to a lodge that even had hot water. Never in my life have I appreciated hot water more. Had I been given the choice between that and an evening with a female Danish beach volley squad I would have had to seriously consider my options (ideally the two would be combined). It was sublime.
"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."
— Albert Einstein
Great blog mate - thanks for the insight -I'm off there tomorrow on a solo trip tooReplyDelete
best wishes paul
I appreciate that. Good luck on your journey. I hope it goes as well for as it did for me.Delete
Great read, glad you were willing to make it personal and distinctive. Fantastic photos too of course. Doing that solo is quite an undertaking, I am sure as much mental as physical.ReplyDelete
I'll be heading up there Feb, 2013....
What beautiful photo gallery, i'm sure it was difficult to walk on the hives of fresh snow.ReplyDelete