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Trek to Everest Base Camp, November 2003 - part 2

Wednesday 12th November

Today is an acclimatisation day and the rest of the group headed off up a nearby hillside for a walk that should take them above 5,000m. Unfortunately I still feel crap and so Dawa is taking me across to the next valley to Pheriche to see the doctor.

The walk took us part-way back the way we had come yesterday before heading up the next valley to Pheriche where there is an Aid Post run by the Himalayan Rescue Association. Once there, the doctor examined me and asked me lots of questions about how I felt and how I'd been eating, before diagnosing me with mild Acute Mountain Sickness. He prescribed a course of Diamox - a medication that helps increase the oxygen-carrying red blood cells and so aids with acclimatisation - which ironically most of the rest of the group are already taking. I had opted not to take it in advance as I wanted to see how I coped with the altitude - guess I now know... The doctor also said that as long as I felt OK tomorrow then I should be OK to continue upwards, but if I didn't, then I would need to head back down to lower altitude. I had visions of my trek being over before I got to Everest Base Camp, but knowing what was wrong with me and having a potential solution in Diamox was a big relief and I immediately felt more positive. Dawa and I returned to the lodge taking a longer route, walking right around the village to get some exercise. When we got back Tom was already there, having cut short his walk to conserve strength, and so we sat in the sun (sheltering from a cold breeze), reading and writing our journals.

At about 1:30pm the inital group of walkers returned from their hike up Kartesanga Peak, with several having made it all the way to the top at 5,083m. I was feeling jealous but still had a lingering headache and knew that the rest would help with the following day's trek. When the rest of the group returned we went into the dining room for lunch - potato soup followed by rice and vegetable curry. I managed to get some down me, and my fellow trekkers kept reassuring me that I'm looking better that I did in the morning. I'm feeling better too, though I still have a headache and an ache in my lower back (probably caused by all the coughing!). It is also bitterly cold, so I sat shivering in my room wearing my down jacket and woolly hat. The doctor who saw me earlier in Pheriche is giving a talk on altitude sickness in the village at 3pm (in 20 minutes) so most of us are planning to wander on down.

The lecture was delivered by the doctor from Pheriche who had wandered across in the snow that has now started falling. He was very interesting, explaining what the causes, presentation and treatments are for Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), Cerebral and Pulmonary edema, together with the symptoms of each. Both cerebral edema (fluid on the brain) and pulmonary edema (fluid on the lungs) can be fatal if not treated rapidly (initially by returning to lower altitude). He then measured the blood/oxygen and pulse rates of each of us (something he had done when I visited him earlier). My level is in the normal range for this altitude - 88% (normal at sea level is 97-100%) and my pulse rate was 67bpm (which is considered good). Following the lecture we walked back to the lodge in the snow, which was still falling lightly. It was very cold and I was glad I'd broken out my down jacket - I just wished I'd also brought some warm trousers!

Dinner was disappointing - vegetable soup with too much garlic, greasy popadums, greasy noodles and banana pie. I managed a little of each but still didn't feel hungry as my appetite has not returned. I've started taking Diamox - Tom gave me a tablet earlier and Clem gave me one before dinner. Hopefully I will wake up fit and well, because tomorrow promises to be a long day as we go to Lobuche to prepare for the ascent of Kala Patthar and our best views of Everest.

The lack of photographs from today is an indication of just how rough I was feeling at the time. I didn't take my camera with me on the trek to Pheriche, so have no photos of the Aid Centre or the doctor who examined me, which I regret. I also don&t have any pictures of the lodge or the hill the rest of the group climbed on their acclimatisation walk. The relative lack of photos over the next couple of days is reflective of how the altitude sickness had affected my mood.

Thursday 13th November

I woke up at 6:30am after the best night's sleep so far (I only got up 3 times) and after some really weird dreams, including one where I was putting a mushroom topping on a pizza - I think the lack of variety in the food is finally getting to me! I had a quick wash in the bowl of luke warm water that had been placed on the step outside our door, although that had frozen by the time I got to cleaning my teeth! Yes, it really is THAT COLD! I then packed up my bags again and went to the dining room for some hot lemon drink. I managed to eat a couple of digestive biscuits and a mouthful of porridge, but I still have no appetite. I bought a Mars bar and a bar of chocolate for later in case I can manage something. I feel a whole lot better than I did yesterday, but still have a dry hacking cough that knocks the wind out of me - not what you want when the air is so thin already here at 4,350m.

We eventually got ready and set off up the trail and out of Dingboche as the sun started to appear. The first few steps were very difficult and even when I'd dropped into a very slow rythm I was still breathing very heavily and having to stop frequently to catch my breath. At the top of the hill we started to move around the hillside neither gaining nor losing height and the going was easier, though at this altitude nothing seems easy. With the sun out and the wind dropping, and spectacular views all around, my spirits were again lifted and the walk became quite pleasant. We continued round the hillside, gradually gaining height until we reached a crossing over the river. This can't really be called a bridge as the first stage was simply a plank across the fast-moving water with large ice-pools scattered amongst the rocks. The second stage was slightly more substantial, with several planks strung together to form a sort of bridge. Just the other side of the crossing was a lodge where we stopped for lunch - noodle soup, sausage and chapati and vegetable curry and rice. I managed the soup and some sausage, but couldn't face the curry. Straight after lunch we had a long climb up to cross the ridge by a lot of memorials to those who have died on Everest. This climb was very difficult, even at the very slow pace I was travelling, the altitude making me huff and puff like the big bad wolf. After the memorials we had a fantastic view up the terminal moraine of the Rhonbuck Glacier towards Pumori (the mountain of which the hill of Kala Patthar is part). We then followed the hillside around before dropping down onto the moraine and continuing along its left side, finally arriveing at Lobuche after a long day at around 2:30pm

That is when the day took a turn for the worst. There had been a cock-up with the booking of the lodge - the booking having been made for the 15th. As a result, we are staying in the only place in this hell-hole with enough room for us, the Above the Clouds Lodge, in a dormitory room with 2 bunk beds, each of which sleeps 7. Cosy it isn't. Needless to say it's also very cold here at 4,950m. The lodge is also very crowded, so there's isn't even enough room around the table for us all to sit and wait for dinner. As it is now 6:15pm and we have to be up very early to start the trek up to Kala Patthar (the highest point on the trek), it hardly seems worth waiting up for dinner...

Dinner arrived eventually - tomato and garlic soup (I'm getting really fed up of soup with shredded garlic!) followed by vegetable curry and rice, which I simply couldn't face.

Friday 14th November

Today has been, without a shadow of doubt, the hardest day of my life so far.

It didn't really get off to a good start, with an almost total lack of sleep - sharing a large bunk bed with 13 other people is not exactly conducive to a good night's kip. Then we all had to get up around 3am, get dressed in our warm clothing and down jackets and attempt to eat something. I managed a couple of biscuits but they made me feel sick. We drank some hot lemon then we hit the trail just after 4am. Travelling by head-torch under a royal blue sky dotted with pin-pricks of bright stars with an eery glow from the snow-clad Himalayan giants all around should have been a highlight of my existance, but wasn't. Whether it was the lack of sleep, low energy as a result of not having eaten properly, my persistent cough or the effects of altitude it is hard to say, but I was feeling pretty miserable and the going was slow and hard. After about 45 minutes the flat boulder-covered ground we had been crossing was interrupted by a wall of moraine - rocks and boulders that we had no option but to climb up onto. I have never felt so much like packing it all in as I did halfway up this climb - exhaustion and the difficulty of breathing at altitude getting the better of my spirit.

Somehow I managed to keep myself moving forwards and upwards and soon I was at the top, now travelling across a moon-like alien landscape of boulders and rocks, each slight incline slowing my pace to a crawl and leaving me breathless. By now we had already lost one of our group, with Dorothy deciding to turn back, beaten by the lack of sleep, the cold and the difficulty of the terrain. I had seriously considered quitting and going back with her, but somehow I didn't. Onward we went as the sun finally appeared, revealing a landscape unlike anything I have ever seen. The boulder strewn moraine on which we travelled was joined by the glacier in the valley to our right, complete with large ice-cliffs and pools or pure green water.

Eventually, after 3.5 hours of hard slog we saw the first sight of Gorak Shep - site of Lake Camp for the 1953 expedition and now home to a couple of lodges and a desolate camping ground - at around 5,000m. We went into one of the lodges for a much-needed drink, with almost the entire group looking totally exhausted. Elaine, in particular, was in a sorry state, having not had a wink of sleep and with her cough now causing her serious pain in her ribs. What a sorry bunch we must have looked as we sat there drinking lemon tea and trying to muster up some energy for the climb up Kala Patthar. From where we are (just a short walk from Everest Base Camp) Everest is not visible, being farther up the valley and beyond the icefall.

Having concluded that I didn't come all this way to give up now, I had no choice but to get on with it. I left my rucksack with Elaine, who was simply not fit to continue, and joined forces with Clem so we could both encourage each other (he looked as bad as I felt!). And so off we went, out of the lodge and back into the weak sunshine and across a flat area to the start of the hill. Kala Patthar rises some 500m from this point and it is a relentless slog. Words can't really describe how debilitating the lack of oxygen even at this altitude is. All up this hill were groups of people walking like snails, gasping for breath, stopping frequently to cough and pant, then continuing upwards, only to stop again after a dozen or so steps. The hill got steeper towards the top, but despite this we knew we would get there in the end, even if it took the rest of the day, and at the pace we were going we thought it might. Clem and I were joined at this point by Dave, who settled in to our group of 3 as we continued relentlessly upward. The last 30 or so metres were over rough boulders, but we could see some of our group sat at the summit and so, spurred on by the knowledge of impending success and the sounds of their cheers of encouragement, we plodded on, stopping every 5 paces to catch our breath. And then we were there. On the summit of Kala Patthar, at 5,545m or 18,188ft.

The views were simply stunning. Everest across the valley with the South Col and Hillary Step clearly visible, the tumbling Khumbu Icefall cascading down towards Base Camp (hidden from view below), Lhotse, Nuptse, Pumori, Ama Dablam, etc. etc. Breathing became easier as we had stopped climbing, and we sat there, taking it all in, taking photos, chatting and laughing and waiting for the final members of our group to arrive. Before long, Bill and Melissa arrived, the last of the 11 still making the attempt, but by now Tom and Clem had headed back down, so the group photo only shows 9 of us, 9 very happy people...

From this vantage point, so painfully reached and after so much effort, is the classic view of Everest that has appeared in all the books I have read since I was a little boy, dreaming of my heroes. Simply fan-bloody-tastic!

After about an hour on the summit we started back down, which was much easier than going up! We descended at a fair rate, though close to the bottom I stopped to sit on a rock before Everest went out of sight again, and waited for John and Andy to catch me up so I could pinch some water. The final few steps to the lodge were uphill and the agony returned, though thankfully only for a few minutes before we got to the lodge and collapsed into the seats. We ordered lunch from the menu - egg and chips! - and I actually managed to eat most of it. We sat there for a while, not wanting to contemplate the return journey to Lobuche until we could delay it no more. We set off again, slowly, over the moraine that had been so difficult that morning. The problem now was exhaustion. I was so very tired, but we just kept plodding along - John, Andy and me sticking together with Mike, Bill and Melissa not far away. About half way back, Bill was really suffering, so Pemba took his pack and they dropped behind, still plodding along slowly but surely. Just after we descended the wall that had demoralised me so much earlier in the day, we were met by Pemba 2 (there are 2 guides both called Pemba), sent by Dawa to come and greet us. He cheerfully insisted on taking my pack, and informed us that Dawa had managed to get us moved to a new lodge for the night. Encouraged by this news, we picked up our pace, finally arriving at the lodge some 13 hours after we had departed that morning, completely exhausted.

And what a lodge! I'm sharing a room with Mike, there is an indoor sit-down toilet (4 cistern rating!) and we have ordered dinner - cream of mushroom soup, vegetable spring rolls (which I couldn't eat) and chocolate pudding (which was delicious but I couldn't eat it all either). Straight after dinner, at around 7:30pm I turned in for the night and had the best night's sleep of my life...

Interesting facts. It is 6.5 miles from Labuche to Gorak Shep, meaning that today we had walked 13 miles plus the ascent of Kala Patthar, most of which had been at over 5,000m. No wonder it was a difficult day!

Saturday 15th November

I got up at 6am, feeling better for a good night's sleep during which I only got up twice. We've had to pack our bags in pairs as the yaks will be taking a different route to meet us at Gokyo, so it looks like I'll be sharing with Mike for a few more nights. Having sorted that out I had a leisurely breakfast - black tea and porridge (I even managed to finish a full bowl!) - and then wrote up the journal from yesterday as I was too tired when we got back to do it last night. We are now getting ready for the off, towards the start of the Cho La Pass.

The path from Lobuche rose gently to the side of the river, clinging to the hillside and following the contour of the hill down the valley back towards Pheriche, but on the opposite side of the river to the way up. The going was easy but slow, my energy levels are very poor as a result of all the exercise on an empty stomach as I've no appetite. Gradually the path started to head West, but not before affording us good views of the Everest memorials on the opposite hillside, with Ama Dablam and Pheriche in the background. The weather is cloudy so it's not as warm as it has been and the breeze is very cold when it blows. The bulk of the group, with the exception of Rick, Tom, Jonathan, Mike and Dawa all seem to be struggling for energy today, so the slightest incline is cause for much stopping and panting as the path winds slowly up and down towards Dzong Lha. The final pull up into Dzong Lha was the familiar slog and then we arrived at the lodge around 1pm, in time for lunch. The mushroom soup was good, but the fried potatoes and veg I couldn't manage. Fortunately there is a good choice of chocolate, so perhaps I can get some energy from the Crunch, Mars and Balance Gold bars I have just bought.

Once again the sleeping accommodation leaves a lot to be desired, but fortunately I'm in a room (sharing a double bed with Mike) as opposed to the dormitory where Jonathan and Rick will be sleeping on what looks like a floor with wall-to-wall mattresses. Far from ideal!

Now we've had lunch we are chilling out for the rest of the day, conserving energy for the long day ahead tomorrow. I spent a contented and comfortable afternoon sat in a plastic chair by the dung-burning stove, with only my runny nose and nasty cough to interrupt the peace. About half the group now have the same symptoms, so there are lots of runny noses, snuffles and coughs also breaking the silence.

We had dinner at 6pm - cream of vegetable soup and egg and chips, and I managed to eat all my soup, both eggs and half the chips (back home I would never have left any food on my plate!). Dessert was fruit cocktail so I skipped that. After dinner we sat in the common room with quiet conversation, diary writing, sniffling and laughing whilst trying to stay warm around the stove. Tomorrow promises to be a long day, wth an estimated 10 hours walking over the high Cho La Pass, so breakfast is scheduled for 6am. I just hope I get some sleep in the double bed I'm sharing with Mike... (note: we are both in our own sleeping bags, so no spooning!).

Sunday 16th November

I woke in time for a 6am breakfast after a restless night - my cold has now got a hold of me and I woke several times with coughing fits, so once again I've not had enough restful sleep before a long day. Straight after breakfast (toast and marmalade and black tea) we set off on the trail up and over the rolling hills over grassy terrain gradually rising towards the head of the valley. The going here was easy and we dropped into the rythm and began plodding along. It was around this point that I noticed my inner thighs were sore from chafing, but I wasn't in a position to do anything about them.

When we reached the head of the valley we were faced with a large wall of rock buttresses that rose at least 200m upwards, with a path best described as a scramble leading up to the top. Each step up this path required a rest-stop to try and catch my breath and the going was very slow, but eventually we reached the top of the rock wall around 10:30 - a full 3.5 hours after setting off. The terrain now changed dramatically with the Cho La glacier abutting the top of the rock wall, and a gentle snow slope showing the path over the pass. By this stage I was again running on empty, a combination of the altitude (approx. 5,000m), my bloody cold which made it so hard to breathe as my nose was constantly running, and the general loss of energy due to no food and no sleep. Nevertheless, the scenery was beautiful, so onward I trudged across the snow until I reached the end of the glacier atop the pass, where the rest of the group were waiting with a stunning panorama of mountains in the background. The rest stop for us at this point was very short, largely due to how far behind the lead group we'd become, and the need to press on, out of the wind for lunch.

The problem now facing us was the descent down an even steeper scree run that leads from this side of the pass down to the valley below. In the Lakes such a scree-run would be taken in a series of long, sliding, jumps, but here the slowness of movements and the difficulty of breathing made it a slow, careful, process. The lunch stop was then on boulders, just away from the fall-line of this scree-run and lunch consisted of bits of food we'd chosen last night and brought with us. All I could manage was 2 bits of sausage, some cheese and a chocolate wafer biscuit. The lunch stop was not a long one, especially for those of us at the back of the group, and all too soon we were off again across boulder-strewn moraine and then up into the hills. At this point my pace was very slow - the exhaustion making the going hard - so I dropped into a concentrated pattern of looking no further ahead than 10-12ft, day dreaming of home, warm baths, good food and wondering what the folks back home were doing. This rythmic approach soon brought me to the top of a ridge, and all it was possible to see was the clouds in the valley below, the river by which the path ran, and the boulder-strewn hillsides. Onwards I trudged down this path, in a reasonably happy state, interrupted by the growing pain in my groin caused by the chafing, until eventually around 3:45pm I could see the lodges of Dragnak and Dawa's bright pink hat.

The lodges, and clusters of tents, wee surrounded by patterns of dry-stone walls. With the low-lying mist and cloud it looked for all the world like a small Scottish highland settlement. The room at the lodge was small but at least Mike and I had seperate beds and I took advantage of mine to grab a snooze before dinner. I managed to eat about half of my tomato soup and vegetable fried rice, then Dorothy kindly gave me some paracetomol to help me with my cold and I went to bed around 7:30pm (after cleaning my sore groin and applying a liberal quantity of antiseptic cream).

Monday 17th November

I woke late - at 6:40am - after a good night's sleep, despite the occasional bout of coughing, having only got up once in the night. I still felt exhausted and aching (from all the coughing) and full of a cold, but today is a short day, only 2.5 hours to Gokyo, so after breakfast of black tea and paracetomol (I couldn't face the porridge) it was time to set off again.

The path out of Dzong La wound it's way through a couple of fields before heading gently up and over a hill and onto the remarkable landscape of the Ngozumbu glacier - the longest glacier in the world. This was truly odd terrain - the moraine is slowly being pushed down the valley on top of the glacier and has turned great hillsides into rocks of all sizes, from boulders to sand, and with huge pools of water dotted about, into which rocks continually fall from the hills. It was across this that the path weaved it's way, up the hills and down into short valleys, changing direction frequently as it searched out the safest route. It took about 1.5 hours to cross the glacier, but it wasn't hard going, and the views up the valley towards Cho Oyo (the sixth-highest mountain in the world at 8,188m) were stunning.

Once safely on the far side of the glacier we joined the main path to Gokyo, by the side of the 2nd Lake at the side of a stream. The sun was shining again and when the cold wind dropped it was warm and pleasant, though by this time my energy levels had reached empty again - courtesy of a constantly streaming nose and hacking cough - so my pace dropped me towards the back of the group again. Adopting the now very familiar Trekking Pace we follwed the path up the valley to join the 3rd Lake and saw the welcome sight of Gokyo - a few lodges on the hillside by the lake. Naturally our lodge, the Gokyo Resort, was the highest in town, but affords wonderful views to the lake and tomorrow's challenge - Gokyo Ri.

Mike and I have a lovely room at the from of the lodge, facing over the lake. Lunch was taken in the sunny dining room - tomato egg-drop soup and what should have been cheese on toast but was really grated cheese partially melted on bread. I ate the soup and picked the cheese off the bread. After lunch we ordered dinner - French Onion souip and Thai vegetable fried rice (I live in hope!), then went to the room where we were provided with a bowl of warm water so we could wash. I didn't feel much cleaner afterwards and suspect I won't until I get a proper shower back in Kathmandu.

I then went and sat in the warm sunny dining room, drinking fluids and trying to break the back of my cold. Dinner was good and I actually managed to eat all the soup and half the rice before retiring to bed around 7:45pm in preparation for the early start (6:30am) to climb up Gokyo Ri.

Tuesday 18th November

I woke up feeling dreadful. I was up most of the night coughing, shivering, sweating and unable to sleep. There was absolutely no way I was up for a walk up Gokyo Ri, so I asked Mike to inform Dawa and the others and turned over again in bed, feeling sorry for myself. I finally got up just before 7:30am in order to pack and get some breakfast - just lemon tea and paracetomol - then sat in the sun room with the others who have opted not to go on the climb - Clem and Elaine (who think's she may have cracked a rib by violently coughing), Dorothy (who is also not feeling good) and Tom (who wants to go and build a memorial to a friend who was killed last year climbing Cho Oyo). We sat and watched the dots on the hillside opposite slowly heading upwards whilst we coughed, sniffed and generally felt miserable.

We ordered lunch a bit earlier than usual - French Onion soup and a tuna mayo sandwich - so we could set off towards Machermo ahead of the others. As it turned out they arrived off the mountain looking exhausted just as we finished lunch, so we said our goodbyes and hit the trail around noon.

This then turned into the most enjoyable afternoon's walking in ages, as Elaine, Clem, Tom, Dorothy and I followed the path back along the lakeside. Then by the river to the second lake, past where we had joined after crossing the glacier, and on down the valley. After about an hour we were joined by Pemba, sent out to catch us up and ensure we didn't get lost. After a little while we crossed the river where it joined the melt water from the glacier and turned from a clear stream to a dirty, dusty, river.

The path then clung to the hillside about 200ft up from the river, exposed in parts but gradually following the contour lines around the hill. Before too long the path broadened out over the hills and delivered us high above Machermo. A short drop down to the Yeti Lodge, where we have small double rooms and I'm sharing with Mike again. Having settled in, the rest of the group arrived after just 40 minutes or so, and once again we sat in the dining room, around a yak dung stove, chatting, writing notes and coughing.

Dinner was vegetable soup followed by hash browns with cheese and fried egg, and I managed a couple of mouthfulls, although of course I skipped the apple fritters that were served for dessert. Almost immediately after dinner I decided to turn in as tomorrow is another early start (6:30am for breakfast) and I needed to get out of the smokey dining room, which was exacerbating my cough.

Note: once again I have no photographs from this day, largely due to how rubbish I was feeling for most of it. Sorry!

Wednesday 19th November

I had a good night's sleep again, confirming the pattern of alternating good and bad sleep I seem to have developed, getting up twice (at 8:45 and 01:30) before finally emerging at 5:40am. I don't think I slept all the time as I repeatedly woke myself up coughing, but at least I feel refreshed. Breakfast was limited to a cup of lemon tea and half a bowl of porridge as I still have no appetite and then I was off on the trail once more, departing around 7:20am. The initial steps before the sun rose were cold and interrupted by stops while I gasped for breath brought on by fits of coughing due to the cold air, and stops to blow my ever-running nose.

The path initially climbed the hillside on the opposite side of Machermo and it was as we reached the chorten at the top that the sun first appeared and started to warm our frozen bones. It then wound it's way around the hillside to the small hamlet of Luza, surrounded by glorious mountains and by now under a warm sun. The walk was incredibly pleasant, gently rolling around the hills and by now dropping back into rhodedendron trees as we dropped below the tree-line again. Before long the path brought us back into small woods beside huge part-frozen waterfalls cascading down from the high mountains on our right and down into the valley far below on our left. Our lunch stop was at Phortse Drengka in a small and dingy tea house on the hill. I could hardly eat any of the vegetable curry and rice, cheese, sausage or beans on offer, but stocked up on water and had a short snooze.

We had been warned about the hard 300m climb after lunch, but whilst it was a bit of a slog up to Mong La, taking an hour, it was quite easy, with the sun beating down and the familiar slow pace making it even enjoyable. We stopped at Mong La to regroup and the views from here to Tengboche and Ama Dablam were stunning, despite the rolling mist. They seemed very familiar now we are closer to our vantage points of all those days ago.

From Mong La the path clings to the hillside and is very exposed in places, as it drops down towards Kyangsuma. In one short hour, after a total of 7.5 hours walking, we strolled back into Kyangsuma - where we stayed on Saturday 8th, though this time we're in the lodge we should have been in last time. The rooms are bigger and there is an inside loo (Asian style, so only a 2 cistern rating) and we each have a bowl of warm water to wash in. So after a wash I sat in my room whilst Mike rearranged his bed and listened to the BBC on my radio (this being the only place where I managed to get any reception), writing my journal and eating ginger biscuits.

I had to curtail my enjoyable relaxation eventually to go down to the dining room, which is a vast improvement on recent lodges, being large with a warm but not overpowering yak-dung stove, parafin lamps and plenty of space. I sat there in comfort and distributed the remains of my first packet of ginger biscuits around the group. When dinner came it looked good, but the mushroom soup tasted of garlic and the steamed vegetable dim sum were too much for my reduced appetite. After dinner we chatted a while and agreed to split into two groups in the morning - those that want to go shopping in Namche aand those who want to go uphill via the infamous Everest View Hotel. I finally turned in around 8:45pm.

Thursday 20th November

After a reasonable night's sleep, once I finally managed to doze off, which took a while as I was engulfed in on bad coughing fit after another for what seemed like hours. Regardless, I woke in good spirits and wandered outside to look up the valley to Ama Dablam and to watch a couple of Himalayan pheasants in the field opposite. Breakfast was the usual toast and jam and I managed one slice with a cup of hot chocolate.

After breakfast the two groups were formed - I chose to go to the Everest View Hotel along with Jonathan, Tom, Andy, John and Rick, with Pemba(1) as our guide. So off we set in glorious sunshine up the hill behind the lodge. The climb was steady if a little long for our weary bodies this early in the morning, but soon we came to the outskirts of Khumjung, where the path veered left through a rhodedendron wood, now with great views of the valley towards Everest. Soon we came to a building in the wood and when we had worked our way to the front of it discovered it was the hotel itself, with a lot of well-spaced steps leading to the main entrance. Up and in we went, through the deserted lobby and into the lounge, where we were met by one of the hotel staff. We were directed out onto the terrace, where the view was simply stunning - our old friends, Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam with Tengboche in the foreground. The mountains are now very familiar after we have spent so long amongst them.

We ordered drinks, with some of the group opting for steak sandwiches (real beef, flown in from Calcutta apparently). When the sandwiches came they looked amazing, but despite them only being 150 rupees (about £1.35) I disappointingly declined, my appetite still being AWOL. And so we sat there for a very happy hour in the sun, with probably the world's best view for company. It was so peaceful, with hardly a sound, and for once on this trip, clean and without the constant dust and smoke of yak dung!

Finally we had to wrench ourselves away from this spot of paradise and head back down to Namche. The path was dusty and followed the hillside before dropping across the bottom of the Syangboche airstrip and then plumetting steeply down in a mass of dust, emerging at the top of Namche just above the Panorama Lodge, where we stayed before. We continued down into town, the wind now blowing dust and dung off the streets, and found the other group in a lodge where we were to have lunch. I managed to eat the cheese omelette despite it being positively swimming in grease, before we set off again. Thankfully the wind had dropped a little and the sun was lovely and warm as we headed down through Namche to join the main route down. Leaving the town under the sign I'd had my picture taken below just a couple of weeks earlier started to bring it home to me that I'm heading back now, and each step down the steep, dusty path just made that sensation stronger, as we left the high Himalaya behind us and dropped down to the valley below.

Rounding one corner on the descent we caught our final view of Everest high up the valley and stopped briefly to contemplate all we've seen and experienced, before heading on downwards at a fair pace. At the bottom of the hill was the scary bridge that we'd been so apprehensive about before, but now, even with the river flowing more fiercely than before, we bounded across without a care in the world. Slight inclines still made me breathless, though nothing like before, and soon we passed Josale, where we'd stopped for lunch on the way up and been entertained by the little girl. We crossed another bridge and climbed to the gate at the entrance to Sagamartha National Park. I hesitated a while before passing through the gate, wanting to linger in the company of the mountains for just a while longer, but my desire to go home is even greater than their pull, and so it was with a smile that I stepped through the gate and out of the park. We continued on for only a short distance before Pemba directed us behind a lodge to a new lodge building round the back, in Monjo. The new lodge building is only part-finished, but the rooms have beds, there are 2 indoor toilets (one either end of the building) and in comparison to some we have stayed in, is luxurious.

So now we have settled in again, placed our orders for dinner and have written up our journals. Dinner tonight consisted of onion soup followed by a cheese spring roll (more like a pasty) but at least I managed to eat most of it. Then we sat chatting until 8pm when we turned in, shortly after I had my first loose bowel moment of the trip (I'll spare you the details, but it took me longer to clean the bathroom afterwards than it did to go...).

Friday 21st November

I woke after the best night's sleep of the trip so far, having only got up once and having slept soundly until 6:50am. However, I still have very loose bowels and so took a couple of imodium instants to try and calm things down as I still have some walking to do. For breakfast I had a drink and a mouthful of Tibetan bread (which is like naan bread) but thought it wise to avoid eating much, especially as my appetite is still far from normal. Once breakfast was over we hit the trail at 8:10am, still waiting for the sun to rise and followed the familiar trail towards Lukla. Before long the sun started to hit us and we removed outer fleeces and proceeded on the trail in brilliant sunshine and high spirits. It felt so good to have my legs feel as though they are powered by muscles and not just moving by habit! The walk was superb, back in the land of oxygen where the path rolled around hillsides, though small woods, little villages and across bridges, all in glorious sunshine. For once we were making good progress and I founbd myself in the lead group with Pemba-2, Tom, Rick, Jonathan, Mike and Dave. We walked for what seemed like an age, before some fairly steep climbs eventually led us to the lunch stop at noon, after 4 hours on the trail. Lunch was vegetable curry, fried egg, rice and dhal bhat and I managed a little, washed down with 3/4litres of water. We sat in the sun outside the tea-house, in Chaplung, relaxing before setting off on the final leg of the journey to Lukla.

The sun still shone as we climbed up the last few metres of the dusty trail and into Lukla. Spirits were high, though not without a little sadness at the end of the adventure, as we would our way through the streets to our hotel. And what a hotel! Right next door to the airport, Mike and I are sharing a triple room with an en-suite shower/toilet! After 18 days on the trail it feels like luxury. I've already had a shower - it took me 3 attempts to get even remotely like feeling clean, but it certainly feels good to get some of the trail dust off my body! Then I went down to the communal dining room, where I treated myself to my first beer since I left Kathmandu (which was quickly followed by my second...).

Dinner was also excellent - fresh vegetable soup followed by roast chicken, chow mein noodles and fresh vegetables, and I managed to eat a normal amount at last. Dawa then brought out the birthday cake we'd bought for Dorothy (her birthday being today) complete with candles and we led a roudy chorus of Happy Birthday. As I retired to bed I left Clem and Jonathan were trying to work out the distribution of tips we'd collected across our Sherpas (Dawa and the 2 Pembas) and our 5 porters. Not an enviable task!

Saturday 22nd November - back to Kathmandu

We woke early after a good night's sleep, packed our bags and congregated for the last breakfast of the trek at 6:30am (porridge, since you were wondering). After handing out the tips to the entire trekking crew - 5 porters, the yak boy and our 3 sherpas - we took several group photos and Dawa presented us with a traditional sherpa silk scarfe each, and then it was across the road to the airport. When we arrived we realised Dawa had already checked all our bags in for us. Despite the rumours of chaos at Lukla airport we had no such trouble, and quickly passed through security to wait for Yeti Airlines flight 3. We didn't have long to wait, as no sooner had we gathered in the departure area (lounge would be too grand a word although the airport buildings are quite modern) than we were being ushered out onto the tarmac apron and onto the little Twin Otter airplane. As with the flight out there was precious little room aboard for us and our rucksacks, but I managed to get a good seat at the front. As I fastened my seatbelt the door was closed and we were off. The plane spun quickly to face down the runway, the operative word being down as the runway is very short, very steep and terminates with a straight drop into the valley below. First built in 1964 by Sir Edmund Hillary and his foundation, the airport is often ranked as the most dangerous in the world due to it's position, and with a runway of just 572m, which drops at a gradient of 11.7%, it's not hard to see why! Once aligned facing down the hill, the pilot opened the throttles to maximum and we hurtled forwards, then there was a momentary drop before we started to gain height and turned away from the hill opposite the airport. Exhilerating stuff!

The flight only lasted 50 minutes, during which we caught our final glimpses of the Himalaya as we would our way back to Kathmandu and civilisation. Arriving back was a bit anti-climactic as we quickly collected our bags and located the minibus, onto which our bags were loaded before we were once again whisked through the bustling streets of Kathmandu to the hotel. On arrival our rooms were not ready, although Mike and I managed to get ours allocated and whilst it hadn't been cleaned at least we were able to collect the bags we had left before departing for the trek and drop all our luggage in the room.

The rest of this day continues on the next page, along with my final day in Nepal and my return home...

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