The poetry of the earth is never dead. ~John Keats
November 17, 2009 – woke up to lots of snow probably six inches, considering that November is the dry season it was quite a surprise to everyone. The weather forecast that we could get indicated that the temperature for the next few days would remain cold. This meant that the pass we planned to go over to get to the Gokyo Valley would be snowed in and may stay that way for several days. This left our group with a decision to make, we could trek up to Everest Base Camp and spent the next several days waiting for the pass to possibly open and possibly run out of time and have to skip the Gokyo Valley, or make a long trek back down, around and then back up into the Gokyo Valley. However the second option would mean we had to leave immediately and miss out on visiting Everest Base Camp. This was a tough decision for the group, base camp was a goal for many of us and had been the reason I had originally come on the trek. However, something I had come to realize walking up these mountains was that Everest no longer mattered. The mountains were unbelievable and although Everest may be the biggest, I had become more fascinated with Khan Tiega. It was no longer about just Everest and the group agreed we decided to skip out on base camp and head down the mountain to spend the night at Dingboche a six-hour walk.
Once the decision was made we packed quickly and got ready to move. It was a brand new experience, walking trails that we had done the day before, but now were covered with snow and ice. The snow wasn’t terribly deep and we were making very good time considering the conditions. We flew the two hours down to Lobuche and the pace was frankly too much for me. Even going downhill at almost 17,000 ft the altitude can get to you, I was never so excited for a cup of tea as I was arriving at Lobuche that day in the snow. I had been nauseas most of the morning and now was dizzy on top of it, I hadn’t eaten much at all, but it was time to go back out in the snow
Below is what I wrote that night about walking that day:
“Felt nauseas all morning and the dizziness was not helping at all. However the walk was spectacular as the mountains were snow-covered and kept dancing in and out of the clouds, it was the prototypical Himalayan Trekking day as I had envisioned it in my head before coming.”
It was a crazy day walking, at times the ground, the sky, the mountains and then fog crowded in on us and there were no borders to the world. There was a real fear of walking off the side of a cliff and luckily, as usual, my friend Mark and his size 14 boot prints were in front of me marking the way. Then, suddenly, the clouds would blow out and the sun would beat down reflected off of everything and you’d be hot as hell. At least four times during the day I either stripped down from my parka to my t-shirt or stopped to quickly bundle up again.
Retracing the steps we had done two days before we came to the ridge above Thugla and to the chortens marking lost climbers. It had been magnificent and somber a few days before, but now it had taken on utterly surreal quality in the snow.
We ate lunch at Thugla and then moved on towards Dingboche, as we came down the valley I took one of my favorite photos of the trip:
We arrived back in Dingboche and truly I’ve never been so tired walking down hill, but it had been a magnificent day. The effects of altitude are amazing, dropping from 17,000 to 14,000 feet my head felt clearer, and my appetite had returned. We made a lot of jokes that night about the fat air at 14,000 feet, a joke that I could not have imagined finding amusing even two weeks earlier.