Coming Down from Everest Base Camp
Everest Base Camp the Lazy Way Day 16 – Pheriche to Tengboche
The next day’s walking is, like Pheriche, almost new to us. It’s perfectly possibly to walk from Pheriche to Namche Bazar in a day, but Zac isn’t keen for an early start, so we wander up a ridge to look at the views.
The air is warming rapidly as the weather clears – apparently, there have been snowstorms all the way down the mountains, and it’s been hard to get out of Lukla – and, blissfully, we shed down jackets and walk in our double-layered fleeces down stark valleys, towards forests of juniper and pine, rimed with snow melt and ice.
We’re headed to Tengboche, home to the most famous monastery in the Himalayas, where one can, with sufficient blankets, watch the monks hold their ceremonies and play the traditional instruments we’ve only seen unused.
And a bunch of folk we’ve met at Base Camp are headed there too. It is, by the standards of the Himalayas in December, a jolly, sociable stretch of path, with a kind of “school’s out” atmosphere.
It would be unfair to say that we’re bored of walking, but we are, both of us, looking forward to the metropolitan sophistication of Kathmandu, which is rapidly transforming in my head into a city the size of Bangkok, London or – at the very least – Melbourne.
“So what do you think we should eat when we get to Kathmandu?” I say. (The food on the Everest Base Camp trek, while not exactly bad, is repetitious in the extreme.) “Do you think they’ll have sashimi at the Japanese restaurants in Kathmandu?”
“Sashimi in Kathmandu? Sounds legit,” my spawn says. He is growing, if possible, even more sardonic with his approaching teens. “What with all the hyper-fresh fish they have from the seas around Kathmandu, and the wonderful toilets to vomit it up into. Sounds like a GREAT idea.”
“OK,” I say. “You’re probably right. Steak it is. And a green salad. With vinaigrette. And a NEGRONI.”
I have a picture of this Negroni in my head. It’s served Japanese-style, like they do it on the bars in Gubei Lu in Shanghai, with a hand-crafted ice ball, or perhaps an ice diamond, Carpano Antica and a flawless orange twist, in an elegantly minimalist handblown tumbler.
They’ve got five-stars in Kathmandu, right?! Oh god!!! What am I going to wear?!
“And a TONIC for me,” says Zac.
“And a glass of IMPORTED RED WINE for me,” I say. “And BACON… Did they have bacon in Namche? I’m sure the Irish Pub was offering a full Irish breakfast.”
“They only have spacon in Namche,” says Zac. Although even a reheated slice of spam is sounding quite appealing right now. There are times in one’s life when one actively fantasises about a full English breakfast, and the descent from Everest Base Camp is one of them.
The landscape shifts around us, Kong De looming atop the valley, Ama Dablam transforming again into the witch’s finger I remember from the route up, the monastery of Tengboche proud on its ridge above suspension bridges lined with fluttering prayer flags, the Everest View Hotel marooned in a sea of juniper.
We are back at the altitude of yakalos and mules, not yaks, and human porters, burdened with awe-inspiring loads – four pine tree trunks, an entire brazier, endless heaps of plywood – bound for the tourist trade.
There are so many baby yakalos about that Zac almost has a squeezure, and we halt endlessly for him to pursue the poor little critters.
But that’s OK.
I am going to miss this, I think. The simple rhythm of wake, carbo-load, walk, carbo-load, walk a little more, chat, carbo-load, sleep.
And then… God I want some bacon. And a Negroni. And…
Why hasn’t the cocky one texted?
Nir, too, is thinking of home, and his next steps. We discuss the price of yak, and yakalos (chhong-ri), and goats, and the economics of portering with yaks and people, the price of the load.
The peak farming seasons coincide with the off-season for tourism, and when Nir’s not working in the mountains he farms millet and vegetables near Jiri.
We are the second job he’s worked back to back as a porter-guide – he only had one day back with his wife and two kids in between the jobs, for which he’s walked three days to and from Jiri unpaid.
“So…” I run a quick calculation. “You could buy a buffalo AND a chhong-ri with the two jobs.”
Now we’re near Namche and cash advances, I’m starting to think about his tip. Standard is 25%, but 120,000 rupees (US135, or 40%) will cover the school fees for his kids for a year.
Or a bunch of goats, of course. His business.
We stop for lunch at a lodge. They have chicken!!!!!!
Succulent, tender CHICKEN nestles where the scraps of long-dead yak usually float scummily in a sherpa stew. It’s so delicious I assume it’s snowcock.
“Little bit up,” says Nir, as we look down the valley to the ridge of Tengboche. This no longer fills me with the fear it used to.
Zac’s shoulders are broader with the walking, and he seems to be filling out, though he’s still got close to zero body fat. My butt, I think, has lifted at least an inch, and my legs are toned, although the carbs seem to have settled on my tummy.
“So,” I say. “Little bit down. Then little bit up?”
“Yes,” Nir says. My pack feels lighter the lower we go, although it’s filling up with down jackets, and the walking gets easier as the oxygen in the air increases.
We cross a high bridge without even a pause for panic.
Wow, I think. I’ve been nicotine-free for over a month, now. I’ve barely drunk alcohol over the last couple of weeks – although all the lodges sell beer, you don’t want it at altitude, and even a passing fancy for beer is rapidly assuaged by the prices – and I’ve been exercising daily.
I need to do regular exercise, I think.
How are we going to manage this in China? Easy! Skiing.
This is going to be an all-new me. Goodbye bar reviewing, chain-smoking slattern! Hello, all-fit, healthy, Mum of the Year!
We wind up past mani stones and chortens and prayer flags, past yakalo dressed in bobbled head-dresses for one of Nepal’s many festivals, to the alpine meadow where the monastery stands, in all its rich panoply of Tibetan Buddhism.
And, OMG, sweet Jesus god, there’s a CHILD in the lodge. Another Western tourist child! A male Western tourist child of Zac’s sort of playing age.
It’s not as uncommon as you’d think, in fact, to do the Everest Base Camp trek with kids. While you’d be insane to do it with any child that won’t do what it’s told, let alone a child too young to understand and communicate the symptoms of altitude sickness, Narayan, who arranged our trek, says the youngest child he knows of to have walked to Everest Base Camp was six.
“We were a bit surprised,” he observed. “But they did it.”
However, even when we met a group of Aussie high schoolers up the mountain (at fifteen, at least when surrounded by 16-19 year olds, even the youngest struck Zac, who’s only just twelve, as quite awe-inspiringly grownup), my son has been by some way the youngest person in the room at all times.
“Look!” Nir says. “A friend for Zac.”
Did I mention I love Nir to bits?
Within seconds the two boys are playing Shithead, which Zac bowdlerises to Crudhead (the boy’s only ten), and chatting away like nobody’s business.
I watch the pair of them in action. Zac and I have lived on top of each other on this mountain, and it’s been lovely.
And, at the same time, both of us, I figure, need some space. And companionship of our own age.
Or maybe, I figure, looking at my resiliently-text-free phone, 10, or quite possibly 15 years younger than us, and HAWT AS HELL.
“How old ARE you?” asks the kid. He’s lovely, from Colorado, bright as a button and outgoing in the American way.
“Twelve,” Zac says.
“So I’m still the youngest kid on the Everest Base Camp trek?”
“Yes!” Zac says, absolutely unfazed. I’m pleased he doesn’t mention the six-year-old.
The kid’s dad shows up and we engage in a type of wary fencing around bragging rights, in which he has rather more invested than I.
Like every single man of my sort of age I’ve met up the mountain he’s a) married and b) leaving the missus at home – unusually, though, he’s brought his son.
He’s a serious amateur climber, with a bunch of 6000m peaks to his name, has proper maps with pencil marks and a dedicated guidebook to trekking in the Everest region, which I rather envy him. He’s clearly spent months of the year plotting his vacation itinerary, complete with rest days and acclimatisation days.
That isn’t how we roll, and I don’t think it’s ever going to be how we roll, but I’m wishing I’d done a bit more research myself, in fact.
I’d have liked to have seen the views from Chhukung, and if I’d known how much we were going to enjoy this and been sure, rather than confident, that we were good with altitude, I’d have gone for the Three Passes trek, rather than just the Cho-La.
Nir had, in fact, suggested this to me. But given my Lonely Planet describes it as “for experienced connoisseurs only”, I’d written it off as too difficult for a not-especially-fit woman of rising 40 and a scrawny 12-year-old, even if we have banked a number of multi-day hikes on tough terrain over the last three years.
Gentle reader! If you have a good guide, even if he’s “only” a porter-guide, trust his instincts.
“Oh,” I say, fake casually, engaging in the bragging rights thing and hating myself for it. “We went up Gokyo and over the Cho-La pass, and did Everest Base Camp, but we didn’t get all the way up Kala Patthar because we missed the time for sunrise. Gokyo Ri is lovely. You have to do it.”
“How was the Cho-La?” he asks.
“Tough. But so beautiful!” I say. “I thought it would be difficult for us, because I’m not that fit, but it wasn’t as bad as all that. I’m not sure it’s do-able now, with the snow, though.”
He pulls out his maps, sees my Cho-La Pass and raises me ten 5000m+ peaks.
Wow, I think.
That’s the way you do this. And then I brake. That’s the way you do this if you’re a bona fide climber who knows his stuff, and times his distances between towns. I feel, to be honest, a bit of a fraud.
Would we like to climb a mountain with them tomorrow?
Well, yes, we would. But, also, no, we wouldn’t. We amble up things aimlessly with lots of stops. They pelt up them with a stopwatch. And if we do a mountain with them, we’d need to do Namche to Lukla in a day.
More importantly… We’re on our way down. We’re out of the zone, now.
I’m focused on a hot shower in Namche, bacon, Negronis, blue steak and salad. Zac is longing for his computer, some solid gaming time, and the chance to catch up with his mates and his dad on Skype.
Frankly, despite the beauty of Tengboche, Kathmandu can’t come quickly enough. We are, in every sense, coming down from the mountains.
If you’re thinking of doing the Everest Base Camp trek, I recommend my Everest Base Camp FAQs.