Gokyo Trek - Day 8 to 11 - Sagarmatha National Park - Nepal
October 29th, 2011 - Day 8 - Nala (4375m) to Phorche (3860m) in 5.5 hours (9.85km)
With the weather still perfect, we headed out of Nala by 8am for the round-a-bout journey back home... I say round-a-bout because we had some extra days to spare now that the trip to EBC was cancelled. The decision was made that we would make our way to Panboche near Ama Dablam, then cross the river and make a stop at the monastery village of Tengboche before returning to Lukla via Namche.
It was nice knowing that the pace would be more leisurely and the hiking mostly downhill from here on out, but at the same time it felt like the "main course" was complete and I was starting to imagine myself being back home again. It's always harder for me to stay motivated for the return trip, but I knew it would be a while still before I could start settling in to the idea that the trip was almost over, and so I kept up my mantra for the journey back to Lukla.
The fine weather and the beautiful landscape still made for excellent hiking of course, but strangely enough, this day was one of the worse days for feeling the altitude. It was the same stiff neck, pressure in the head sensation I had the day before, but it seemed to stay with me for the whole hike giving me a throbbing headache with every movement. It certainly wasn't the most enjoyable day of hiking for me. The others seemed to be doing quite well though.
It's funny the things that can end up standing out in our memories. One of the things I really remember from this day was when we stopped for lunch and George pulled out a handful of pepperoni sticks to share with everyone. After so many days of eating virtually the same thing, the taste of these oily, spicy and fatty pepperoni sticks were absolutely fantastic. I savored every bite and tried to take my time consuming it. There is nothing like a taste of home when you are so far away.
By 1:30pm we reached our destination for the day... the village of Phorche. We got some rooms in the Peaceful Lodge, which in comparison to the lodges we were in since Namche, this was an incredible step up. We had full size single beds and even a light that functioned well! For all of us, this seemed to be the spot we chose to try and rejuvenate ourselves. Both Peter and Suzanne took showers (which is quite the process considering how much time it takes to boil up enough water for a 5 minute "hot" shower) while I went the route of using my wet naps to wash myself down, do a little grooming and finally change in to some clean clothes. It's amazing how much of a little cleaning can do to make someone feel refreshed.
October 30th, 2011 - Day 9 - Phorche (3860m) to Panboche (3940m) in 4.5 hours (5.7km)
Waking up to another beautiful day and a solid night of sleep, we were ready to go by 8:30am for our relatively short hike to Panboche. It was an uphill hike for the most part and was only difficult because of some soreness I was feeling in my hips. Thankfully I wasn't experiencing the altitude issues of the previous day.
The best part about this hike was the fact that Ama Dablam was in view the whole time... well that and the Mars bar we splurged on at lunchtime! I was really starting to understand what people meant by "comfort foods".
As we made our way closer and closer to Panboche, I started to realize just how close this village is to the base of Ama Dablam. I stared at this incredible mountain for the entire hike, slowly beginning to feel its call as the hours progressed. I began to wonder if it would be possible to make a go of Ama Dablam base camp the next morning. I visualized myself at the base of one of the most beautiful mountains I had ever seen and thought how that would be just as incredible to me as being at EBC.
With these thoughts whirling through my head, I eventually approached the others with the idea. George, of course, was all for it and thought it could be possible the next day. Gopal being always so accommodating, also seemed ok with the idea since his plan was to go to Tengboche the next day, which was only a 2 hour hike from Panboche. We decided we would sleep on it and make the decision the next day.
Arriving in Panboche at 1pm, we had plenty of time to rest in the afternoon and then had a long evening sitting by the stove and eating with other hikers. After some drinking and exchanging of stories, we headed back to our rooms and slept through another frigid night.
October 31st, 2011 - Day 10 - Panboche (3940m) to Tengboche (3860m) in 2.5 hours (3.8km)
Waking to our first cloudy morning, I don't know if it was the weather or lack of energy, but none of use mentioned the idea of going to Ama Dablam base camp that day. I guess the physical toll of the journey had sapped some of our drive to push ourselves any further. Faced with the idea of going on a long journey to high altitude in cloudy weather, versus doing a simple 2 hour hike to Tengboche... well, there seemed to be a silent agreement on what we all wanted to do that morning. So by 9am we were on the flat trail to Tengboche.
Almost the entire trek from Panboche to Tengboche is on an easy trail following the river. It is only towards the very end that you have to start going uphill to reach Tengboche, but as a hike it had to be the easiest one of the whole trip, which was nice to get a break like that.
By 11:30am we arrived in Tengboche. The clouds and mist covering the village gave it an enclosed and gloomy feel. I don't know if it was that or the dampness in the air, but I was starting to feel less interested or social. Reading some e-mails from home in an internet "cafe" also really kicked in the feeling of homesickness for the first time. Even watching the sacred prayer chants and rituals in the monastery later that day couldn't get me out of my funk. I was feeling especially chilled that day and couldn't warm up even after spending hours in the afternoon wrapped in my sleeping bag.
The only saving grace for that day was at dinner time when we met the wonderful South Korean, Mr. Ban. I hadn't met anyone like him on the whole trip. His enthusiasm and good spirits were such a contrast to the way I was feeling, it was refreshing and needed. His generosity with sharing many of his home country treats added that extra zing to our bland meals. He was also constantly surprising us with some story, gadget or ability he had (producing origami creations out of nowhere). He truly was the highlight of the day in my opinion.
November 1st, 2011 - Day 11 - Tengboche (3860m) to Namche Bazaar (3440m) in 5 hours (8.9km)
As would be the case for a long while, we awoke to more clouds and mountain mist that morning in Tengboche. Peter and I were pretty anxious to reach Namche and enjoy some of the extra luxuries available there and so when we all left Tengboche by about 8am we found ourselves hiking ahead of the group for most of the day.
The beginning of the trail out of Tengboche is all downhill to the river, which concerned me as I knew that there would have to be a big uphill hike to be able to reach Namche from there. Sure enough, after crossing another suspension bridge, we proceeded up a long and steep uphill section of the trail. Looking at Google Earth, it is still a bit unclear to me exactly what trail we were on after the bridge on that day. I don't know precisely which villages we went through before arriving on the main trail to Namche, but the hike was not as difficult as I thought it would be (I had assumed we were trying to make it up to Mong again).
I remember Peter and I waiting for quite some time for the others to catch up in some village, since we weren't clear on what path to take next. Speaking of which, this was a rare occurrence out there. It seems that almost all the trails we followed didn't require much guidance at all. I don't recall ever feeling like I had taken a wrong turn or worried about heading in the wrong direction. Even though there are no signs out there, the openness of the terrain makes route finding self evident for the most part. This was the only point in the trip that I wasn't clear on where exactly we were headed.
Once Gopal and the others caught up, he pointed us to the correct trail and off we went once again. I believe we stopped for lunch in the tiny village of Kyangjuma near the cross trails of Namche/Gokyo and Tengboche and I ate my first "spaghetti" of the trip. Like I have said before, if you go there expecting all these western named meals to be as they are back home, you will be disappointed.
Peter and I were obviously anxious to keep going, because once again we charged ahead as soon as lunch was finished making good time on the final leg to Namche. We were so excited to finally reach this cool market village that we missed the turn off to get in to the town and found ourselves on an upper trail following the outskirts of the village from above. We had to backtrack a ways to find the turnoff we missed and eventually found our way through the side streets like old pros, easily arriving back at the lodge we had left days before. By 1pm Peter and I were chilling out in the dinning room of this comfortable lodge and planning the rest of the afternoon.
Once the rest of the group arrived we all went out for some apple pie and coffee, which were both excellent and a nice change of pace. I also took a chance that evening and ate a "Yak" steak, which was quite delicious as well, but paid for it later that night with all my bathroom visits! All in all, it was great being back in Namche and it allowed me to finally make a call back home after such a long time away. All was good.