Day 12: Glacial Yak Cooling Spa

November 15, 2022
Start: Gorak Shep 5164m (16,942ft)
Via: Dughla 4620m (15,1547t)
Stop: Pheriche 4371m (14,340ft)
Distance: 12km (7.5miles)

The electric blanket is incredible. Even though I turn it down to its lowest level, I’m almost too warm. But without a doubt I feel the most contented I have this whole trip. Despite all that contentment, Caspar and I have trouble sleeping. Periodically throughout the night, the wind gusts and I can feel the building shake in an unnerving way. I occasionally have moments where I feel like I can’t breathe. The wall next to me also seems to vibrate from the neighbor’s snoring. Just as I am exiting our door for the one sit toilet down the hall, the snoring neighbor comes out just ahead of me. So I wait my turn before more frozen flush water adventures. Luckily there’s not too much skating rink action this time. At some point during the night, the power to the blanket goes off but no worries, since peak warmth has already been achieved.

The night seems to creep by and I am eager for the morning to arrive. I’m fully awake by 5am but hints of sunrise color don’t paint the sky for another hour. We can hear the staff trying to start a generator outside but the thing never gets going. We sit in the dark of the dining room as the staff struggles to prepare everyone’s breakfast and hot beverages. Because the end of the trip is nearing, I don’t need to ration my snacks as much so I supplement my plain omelet with a lemon luna bar. After so many days with so little food I am getting SO hungry! We chat with our group about the electric blankets but it turns out that no one else had such a luxury. Sophie who had paid for power never got any. I guess the power must have gotten turned on in the wrong room. Smile.

After breakfast, I feel like I need to go the bathroom so I go searching. I go out behind the lodge but the toilet doesn’t have a seat and it’s just not working for me. I then climb the stairs to the second floor bathroom and there’s shit everywhere. I climb the stairs to the third floor bathroom and there’s someone in there vomiting. Between the shit and the vomit sounds, I feel like I’m going to be sick myself. I give up my quest as it’s time for us to leave. We step outside and immediately have to get out of the way for a stretcher that is coming through. The person is completely wrapped in their sleeping bag as porters plod in the direction of the helicopter landing area. I can’t see the person but someone later said that it was an elderly woman and that she was still alive. It’s a tad unsettling.

We jam down the trail but still have to deal with the same bottlenecks that we experienced yesterday. I’m feeling pretty lightheaded so I can’t really bounce around the rocks as well as I did yesterday. The sun sparkles off all the snowcapped peaks as helicopters fly up and down the valley. Ironically, at almost the same spot on the trail where we saw Thomas yesterday, we cross paths with two more guides from Tanzania. Kombe and another guide are leading a group to Everest Base Camp. There’s a flurry of Swahili between the four guides as Tiger jumps in the photo with them too!

I hold my variety of bathroom duties until we reach Lobuche. We resupply water as most people take a short standing break. I thought we might go in EcoLodge Lobuche for a warm beverage but we’re soon marching out of town. I guess Sophie has not been feeling well and Dipak is carrying her backpack. We move quickly downhill, passing the point where our Cho La Pass trail converged with this main Everest Base Camp route. A short climb brings us around the bottom of the Khumbu Glacier and to Thukla Pass (4800m). The hillside is dotted with hundreds of memorials for Sherpas and other climbers who have lost their lives while mountaineering on Everest. Stone and cement structures, topped with prayers and prayer flags, have names and sometimes pictures. One of the many memorials is a tall stack of stones topped with prayer flags for Scott Fischer, who died in the notorious May 1996 blizzard. It draws the brutality of these spectacular mountains into sharp focus and requires a prayerful moment.

Tiger stays behind with picture-taking Silke as we descend the short distance to Dughla. Around noon, we break for lunch at the Rest Point Bakery & Cafe. This cafe has a hip feel to it complete with a Kenyan flag on the wall. For lunch I play it safe and I have a bag of my trail mix and tea. My stomach rumbles for more. Caspar even has a steaming espresso for dessert. This place has a pretty nice sit toilet so that’s a luxury. After lunch we step out into the sun and it’s cold. The wind rips at us as we continue our descent. We immediately have to cross a semi-stable bridge over the main drainage from the Khumbu Glacier. Even at this altitude (15,154 ft.) the yaks are regulating their temperature by dipping in the stream aka glacial cooling spa.

It feels like a bit of a battle as we work our way down the massive Khumbu Valley, once carved by the now receding Khumbu Glacier. The wind pulls so hard at my layers that it’s necessary to have my buff up around my face. Even with the sun out, the wind and the wind chill is an assault on the senses. Once we drop farther into the valley the wind is not as bad and I have a chance to talk with Bikram. He tells me about his village and his wife and children. Bikram tells me that he learned English by going to night school. I commend him for his effort and diligence to advance his career as a guide. It seems to me that being able to speak English is the biggest barrier between a porter becoming a guide.

Having time to chat really changes the vibe. It feels like the hard things are behind me now and I can relax a bit. Plus the downhill hiking makes it way easier to have a conversation. We cross little creeklets but the big Tsola River is off to our right. The outskirts of Pheriche are dotted with rock wall boundaries which also serve as yak and oxen pens. There is a picturesque house built out of stones with large rock slabs for the roof. Grass grows at the roof border and upper parts of the wall. We meander through Pheriche which does have a hospital open during trekking seasons. Bikram points out some oxen getting fed and teaches me the difference between oxen and yaks. The most notable difference is that yaks have much longer and thicker fur and are bigger in size. I suspect that I’ve passed many oxen that I was thinking were yaks!

We arrive at Hotel Pumari about 2:30pm and thaw out with some hot chocolate. We check out our rooms which each have their own squat toilet. After changing clothes and getting things set for the night Caspar and I head back to the dinning room to hang out. The group happily consumes popcorn and biscuits and I have more hot chocolate. Unfortunately, there’s a giant popcorn mess all over the floor now. There is a TV in the dining room and one of the hotel staff puts on the 2015 movie Everest. Jeremy makes sure the volume is turned up all the way but it’s still hard to hear it. Since Jeremy knows the movie well he narrates for all of us. As dinner time approaches, more and more hikers filter into the dining room. Everyone seems to be immediately captivated and mesmerized by the movie. The young woman that caught my eye at Gorak Shep arrives late in the afternoon and she is still looking quite distressed.

As the movie is ending, the yak dung stove is lit and the usual haze fills the dining room. Between all the snacks and a giant plate of boiled potatoes I feel pretty full. Apple wedges for dessert. Some members of the group want to get to Namche Bazaar as early as possible tomorrow so its decided that we will have an early start. We hang out for a little while after dinner but the lack of sleep last night has us ready for bed early.