Returning to the city from Lukla was a little of a culture shock. Swapping very basic wooden lodges with plastic sheet windows and long drop toilets in quiet valleys, for a plush hotel in Kathmandu with (relatively) endless hot water and busy traffic outside.
Swapping freezing at night in a sleeping bag clutching a hotwater bottle, for sprawling out on a bed under clean sheets with the air conditioning on.
And while I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Thamel with cocktails and dancing in the street in the dark amidst the crowds, the following morning I had to remove myself to find peace and tranquillity like I had in the Hinku valley – as close as I could find.
I couldn’t face the walk through busy streets from Boudha stupa so I negotiated a taxi to Kopan monastery and had a few hours of quiet bliss overlooking the city.
Kopan monastery caters for westerns keen for retreats as well as training local Buddhist monks. In its grounds you can wander round stupas and admire the gardens. It turned out to be a perfect way to relax.
After a rest day we started our descent out of Khare and back towards Lukla. Whilst we were starting on the home straight none of us imagined that it was going to be plain sailing back to Lukla – we still had to ascent back up to the Zatrwa La first.
It was certainly quick going though back down the valley from Khare, managing to get back to Gotay in a day – a route that had previously taken us 2 days to walk. It was nice to head down the valley in sunshine and appreciate our surroundings, as on the way up we had spent much of the time in the cloud and mist.
Not only did we not leave for the summit at 2.45am as planned but we spent all evening trying our hardest to weigh down the tents to prevent us sliding off the ledges. Around 8pm the wind picked up and was gusting at around 70-80mph, it was scary to hear it coming towards us like a steam train as it headed up the valley and across the glacier. I’ve been in tents in high wind before and even had them collapse on me, but never in such an isolated and precarious spot.
Our three team tents had been secured to the ledges by rocks pinning down the corners and the guy lines. During the night our tent had come unpinned at one corner and we had slide about a foot towards the edge of the ledge. Sharing a tent with our leader Natalie sounds like a good idea initially, to not have to be on my own and share body warmth in the cold and have conversation too. But Natalie as leader felt obliged to go and check the other team tents throughout the night, so at certain points I went from being cuddled in my sleeping bag to keep warm, to doing my best star-shaped ballast impression as I tried to prevent the tent from blowing away Wizard of Oz style.
Its Christmas Eve and I’m sleeping in a tent on the Mera La Glacier at 5400m!!
We left Khare this morning early and the walk up to the edge of the glacier took till lunch – its steep and rocky and in our mountaineering boots was really hardwork. There has been rockfalls in the last year so we had to wind through scree and boulders to reach the glacier rather than take a direct route.
We stayed one more night at Tagnag to allow us to acclimatise – which meant a walk to up a nearby hill top adjacent to the Kusum Kanguru and its glaciers. It was a tough slog up as it was quite steep and at this altitude it felt so much harder. Only two of us managed to get to the top of the hill at 4900m and while I felt ok I was certainly out of breath and as has happened before I had a migraine aura at 4500m (though thankfully no headache).
The view was worth the effort as at 11.30am when we reached the top we had amazing view across the neighbouring mountains and up the valley to our base camp at Khare and the Mera La Glacier. Amazing sunshine but at minus 10 degrees it was really cold and that doesn’t account for the wind chill.
It was freezing last night and while drinking 4 litres of water a day is good to prevent altitude sickness, the downside is numerous trips to the loo in the night. I’ve yet to risk using a pee bottle – it just seems potentially too messy for girls, especially when I’m using a borrowed sleeping bag. And frankly by the time I’ve psyched myself up to leave my sleeping bag, I might as well head outdoors. It was freezing – clear skies full of stars resulted in the water trough for flushing the loo being solid ice.
When morning finally came around I was surprised to find the bottle I was hugging was still full of warm water. I was toasty in my sleeping bag, the downside being getting out for breakfast.
I didn’t sleep well at Thule Kharka, mostly due to my cold, but we were also at 4320m so I think being so high so quick must have had an impact too and my sinuses felt really tight.
The trek to the loo in the night was not only cold but a long walk so I could certainly feel my head throbbing, which meant I hadn’t drunk enough water before going to bed and so the altitude was getting to me. Heading out in the cold was worth it though, the stars in the clear sky were amazing, and I even saw a shooting star. Magical, even with a throbbing head.
We left Thule Kharka at 8.30am with the sun shining, it was like a gorgeous alpine day with the snow on the ground.
Having woken with headache from a cold I acquired in Kathmandu I needed a good dose of decongestants this morning before we headed off. I’m glad I’ve been drinking lots of fluid so its not an altitude headache.
We left Chutanga at 8.30am and slowly headed up the mountain side, stopping at the huts we went to yesterday. We’d been given packed lunches today- boiled eggs, Tibetan bread, biscuits and chocolate – so since we were at 4000m I made sure I stuffed some food in, anticipating little chance to as we headed higher.
There’s no such thing as a rest day when climbing mountains or trekking, especially at altitude. Today has been no exception.
I think I was the first to bed last night at 8.30pm and thankfully only had to get up once for a pee in the night. God it was cold!
Pancakes for breakfast turned out to be just what I needed to get me fuelled for the day – even if it tasted smoky from the fire. I also managed to drink a litre of tea and water before we set off and managed another litre during the day, which has certainly helped today with the altitude.
It was cold and frosty when we left Chutanga, walking half way up and along tomorrow’s route, towards the Zatrwa La pass. It’s been easy going at a nice slow pace and when the sun finally came out we stopped to take off our down jackets and appreciate the warmth.