Just because we were heading down doesn’t mean all our trails are downhill. Today we retrace our steps from the valley of Periche all the way to Kyangjuma where Allan and I bought yak cheese on one of the hardest walks in the trek. At this stage, Allan and I were trying to recall the trail in order to prepare ourselves for what was to come. We could definitely remember that from Namche, it was downhill after Sanasa and then uphill to Tengboche. Reversing that then, we were in for a significant uphill. Again.
But before that, we had to make our way to Tengboche and that meant passing by Shomare where I recovered from my AMS. A stone’s throw away from the lodge where we stayed, we were “trapped” as a djopke (remember them?) caravan was passing. As we passed, I called out a “Namaste Elena” to the little girl who spoke to tried to speak to me in Nepali. And then it was on to my most memorable trail, the “Trail of Death” as I recalled it. It was where I struggled to make sure I don’t fall off the mountainside. I was surprised to find the trail much wider than I remembered it to be. I suppose in my altitude sickness-induced state in the past, my mind was playing tricks on me, making every action much harder and the path much narrower. We passed it easy enough and reached Pangboche where we were stopping for lunch. We were there for a while as Ang Dawa was catching up with some friends. We didn’t mind, it was good to rest.
After lunch we pushed on to Tengboche, where I was surprised to realize that there was an uphill immediately before we reached the village. As this was downhill when we passed it last, I didn’t remember it all. It was not the worst uphill we’ve had though and we eventually resurfaced and found ourselves again at Tengboche, the home of the Gompa (monastery). We took a break here for some snacks and photos. At that point I knew that the next bit would be downhill with a gradual slope — we could manage that.
On the way down, we had to negotiate quite a bit of traffic — yaks, porters and most important, trekkers. I could see most of them struggling in their uphill — it was very familiar and we ourselves were in that same state just a few days before. I was grateful that I was done with that and we survived. A litte further on, Ang Dawa turned to us and said he wanted to take us through the old trail, the one used up until the new trail opened about 3 years ago. Hey, when your guide says to go that way, you follow.
It was nice to avoid the traffic, however, rarely used trail meant that the rocks and soil were much much loose than on the main trail. This, plus the fact that this was a steeper downhill meant we were struggling on the way down. We had lots of slips and slides heading down, and when you’re on the mountain, you don’t want to slide too far and fall off. Our poles were handy for keeping us steady and also to keep a little bit of pressure off our knees. Downhills are painful on the knees, and Allan, who gets an occasional discomfort from his knee was feeling it for sure. At one point I had wished we were back on the main trail with its more forgiving slope. It may have been a longer trail than this one, but I was certain we could have traversed it much faster than we did.
We lost quite a bit of time there that it was a bit late when we crossed the river, the start of the uphill to Sanasa and Kyangjuma. It was already late in the afternoon, our knees were sore and we were tired from the slippery downhill and we were still faced with a long climb. Just like on other days, I knew that this was the point where the happy trek turns into agony.
My journal says it took us about 1.5 hours to manage that uphill, but I remember it feeling longer than that. By the time we got to the lodge, the sun was behind the hills already and it was darker — plus there was pretty bad cloud all around, ruining the views of Ama Dablam that Allan was looking forward to. The upside to this was that the lodge we were staying at was pleasantly warmer. The dining room was warmed by the stove and even the rooms were warmer. We still used our sleeping bags though, as it was easier to remove layers if its too warm rather than add them on at night when all you wanted to do was sleep.
It was a long day, covering distances that took us 3 days heading up. We were tired, but admittedly, the trek was much better than any of our uphill treks. We were amazed at how much stronger we were and how much faster we walked. We kept saying to ourselves, if only we were that fast and that strong when we were gaining altitude, the trip would’ve been much different. But then again, that’s altitude for you…it adds another level of difficulty to your trek. Tomorrow, the walk promises to be easier, without any significant uphills anymore. We were quickly leaving behind the alpine landscape and I was both relieved that we would soon be “back in civilization” and a bit saddened that our biggest adventure was drawing to a close.