Day 2: Ascend The Rock Stairs To Namche

November 5, 2022
Start: Phakding 2610m (8561fr)
Stop: Namche Bazaar 3440m (11,284ft)
Distance: 10km (6.2 miles)

I get up twice to pee during the night. That’s in between being woken up by the rats that are scurrying back and forth on the ledge outside our window. It’s hard not to imagine that they’re going to run right across my head at any second. It’s a 6am wake up for 7am breakfast and an 8am departure. The morning starts out with more undulating trail. For every little ascent, we immediately hike back down. To our right, the roar of the Sapta Koshi River is constant while the occasional waterfall cascades down to our left. We dodge donkeys as we pass through little villages. We pass people living their daily lives doing gardening and laundry. One young boy is getting a bucket shower by his Mom right on the edge of the cobbled trail. I even spot my first cat as it slinks behind some nasturtiums. There’s an old man walking by in down puffy pants but wearing flip flops. I can see him looking intently at Caspar and then his eyes come to me. He immediately bursts into laughter as I move past him. I don’t know what was so funny but I hope I made his day.

We go through a Sagarmatha National Park check point just before our lunch stop. After another descent, we find two oxen that are situated just above the trail. We stop to give them a full berth. The first one comes to the edge and successfully negotiates the two large rock steps down to the trail. The second oxen comes to the edge and stops. It decides that it’s not going and does an about face. It launches into a full speed run back in the opposite direction. The guy leading the oxen starts yelling and goes running after it. Amazingly, oxen #1 just stays put right where it landed on the trail. Somehow it knows to wait? The guy is still yelling and running all around trying to catch oxen #2. At which point, oxen #2 decides to head down the suspension bridge that it has just previously crossed. I only watch until oxen #2 is halfway across the bridge because now it’s time to order lunch. You can imagine that the guy finally caught oxen #2 but how far did he have to go? And did oxen #1 just wait in the middle of the trail until he returned?

After lunch we immediately approach the suspension bridge where oxen #2 was making its escape. We let the 10 donkeys go before us and then wait a few minutes for the bridge to stop bouncing. We take a group picture with the Hillary Bridge in the background. The lower bridge is no longer used since the addition of the newer bridge above it. This is the last bridge before the big climb to Namche Bazaar. From the Hillary Bridge to Namche Bazaar is a gain of about 505m (1,657ft) over approximately 4km (2.5miles).

It’s a warm, sunny day so I’m grateful that our stair mastering takes us up into the shade of the forest. Despite the gift of the trees’ long-reaching branches and the cooling effect of the elevation, I’m sweating as I slowly plod along. Slow and steady. Caspar and I take a standing break and enjoy an orange that our guide Bikram gives us. It’s not much farther to the point where Bikram points out the first view of Mt. Everest peeking through the trees. We hit another Sagarmatha check point about 20 minutes before arriving at Namche Bazaar. After the hot and steep two hour climb, the sight of Namche Bazaar is a joyous one. We climb even more stone stairs to our home for the next two nights, Everest Hotel. We drink tea and cookies before relaxing in our room. The room division and setup is the same as last night except this time we have sit toilets and a sink in our rooms. Now that’s something to celebrate! The six of us at dinner are rather quiet because I think that everyone is fairly exhausted from the challenging day.

Namche Bazaar is the cultural center for Sherpa people. Westerners are familiar with the term sherpa and generally have learned to use it to refer to people who work as porters. But using the term sherpa in this way is considered slang. Capital S Sherpa refers to an ethnic group who live in the Eastern regions of Nepal. The term sherpa from the Sherpa language literally refers to their geographical origin of Eastern Tibet. Traditionally, Namche Bazaar was a trading post, with locals bartering nak cheese and butter for agricultural goods grown at lower altitudes. Now, between tourists and Sherpa, Namche is a hub of activity with pubs, bakeries, tea houses, gear and souvenir shops.