I was dreading this day from the moment I sat down and really looked at our EBC trek itinerary. It showed an estimated 6 1/2 hours of walking for the day, with a net altitude gain of a little over 400 meters. This, added with the fact that I had overheard other trekkers (who were on their way down already) that the way to Tengboche involved a rather difficult uphill in the beginning. Also, the previous day’s acclimatization climb to Khumjung made the challenges of altitude very clear. At one point Allan and I were walking like we were 30 years older and suffering from all sorts of aches and pains — walking poles forward, right foot first and then left foot closes the gap. After a few steps (think 5 steps up a flight of stairs), we would be breathing heavily as if we had been sprinting, and our hearts would be pounding against our chests. It was scary, and very humbling at the same time.
However, I consoled myself with the fact that if other people can do it, then we can do it as well. We could take as many breaks as we needed. We had the whole day to walk if needed.
We left Namche sometime past 8am and I am not exaggerating when I say that taking those first few steps up around the corner from the hotel left us already struggling for breath. Good thing that we were promised our first glimpse of Mt. Everest just a little further out, once we’ve left Namche. Sure enough, after half an hour of walking we finally saw the highest mountain in the world. We overheard some people saying that they can understand why some people go as far as this point and then turn back. How many people can actually claim to have finally seen Mt. Everest? Sure, from this distance, it was a tiny triangular peak behind other mountains, but it took how many days of traveling and walking to get this far. For us at least, the journey continues.
And continue it did.
Our guide Ang Dawa had pointed out Tengboche to us…it was a tiny cluster of houses still far, far, far away. Worse, it was sitting on top of another hill. At that point I realized, the uphill that I’d heard about was not happening before lunch — it would be after, and it would be HARD. But we moved on and were in good spirit, stopping in Kyumjung to buy some Yak cheese (it tasted like cheddar) and in Sanasa to have lunch, where a little boy was playing on all fours and making a noise that we can only was like that of a yak’s. Before Sanasa was quite a long downhill trek and at the back of my mind I kept thinking that if Tengboche is on top of a hill and we were still heading down…then the climb to our destination is getting higher with every step down.
After lunch, it was time to face what I had been waiting for — the dreaded uphill. We started out in our usual slow pace. We knew that we had to go slow because a faster pace will be harder to sustain. In that first part, I actually found it hard to maintain a really slow pace, because it was unnatural for me. I tend to want to keep going uphill until it ends. In my mind, the only end to an uphill is well, the end of the uphill. But Allan kept me in check and we kept going slowly, focusing on our breathing.
And we kept going
And we kept going
And we kept going.
We did take breaks, and they become more and more frequent as time went on. We had gotten tired and we were running out of breath. To make things worse, I could feel a slight headache developing. Nothing major, but the headache was there. We were setting visual “targets” for ourselves…we would walk up to that next bend, or up to that rock. Each target was not necessarily that far away from each other. Ang Dawa kept telling us that we were getting closer and yes, of course we were because we kept walking. However, at one point I had gotten so frustrated that I started to walk faster. He said that Tengboche was not so far away…and I couldn’t see anything but trees and the trail! I wanted the darn walk for the day to end already…where was Tengboche? I was tired and becoming increasingly frustrated. It was at that point I think that our porter showed up.
See, our porter Dil always heads out before us, reaching our destination before we do and reserving the room at the lodge for us. Whenever we’d arrive our duffel bag would already be in the room waiting for us. In this instance, he was already at the lodge at Tengboche and he had come back down the trail to bring us tea. Yup, he had a thermos full of black tea and three mugs for myself, Allan and Ang Dawa. I think that calmed me down, and I finally believed that Tengboche could not be far away. So we sat on some trees and rocks and sipped our tea, it was nice to have something warm especially as it was getting cold out.
It took us possibly another 20 minutes of walking before we finally reached the top of the trail and was greeted by the welcome sight of houses. The monastery is a prominent fixture in Tengboche and having arrived past 5 PM, we were told that it was about to close. So we headed in and took our photos. Not the very best of photos, I might add. We were tired and cold and at this point, I had a headache that I wanted to sleep off, so we headed to our lodge. We washed up best as we could, had dinner during which Ang Dawa had discouraged us from taking diamox as headaches will be expected (at this point we were now at 3860 masl) but they normally disappear after a good night’s sleep. I did feel better after dinner, although I could barely finish my food and could barely drink all the water we had to drink to keep ourselves hydrated. We did decide to take Ibuprofen to help with the headaches, walking these distances was hard enough, the last thing we needed were headaches.
We snuggled into our sleeping bags a little more than we had in the past nights and covered up with the blankets…it was much colder at this height and the warmth was welcoming after a long day’s walk.