18 Apr A Girl Gone Mountaineering: Despatches from Ama Dablam
Day One: Kathmandu
I arrived! A big 23 hour (very cheap) flight had me land through the now familiar liquorice all sorts houses of Kathmandu. Hundreds of hopeful trekkers and climbers lined up for visa applications, passports in hands, high ankle hiking boots afoot.
My guide Subin picked me up from the airport, his mega watt smile making me feel at home again here. We drive through the city into Thamel, catching up over the last few months of life and discussing what needs to be done tomorrow. Gear checks.
I have an early dinner and my second beer in 10 weeks, and hit the hay at 9pm, sleeping a dead mans sleep.
I wake up at 5am and lay in bed for an hour, chatting to a friend on WhatsApp back home. I lay all my gear out for the umpteenth time on the second single bed in my room, putting my printed out list of things I need on top. After breakfast Subin comes over to check my kit. He feels my down pants between his fingers, looking into the distance thinking. He asks me about my layering systems, my puffy and pant combo. We make a list of what I need and I hope I have enough money for it all.
Subin leaves and I lay back in bed, finishing some writing. At midday I head out, grab a bite to eat on a rooftop cafe and watch a protest bell through the dirt streets. It’s been overcast and raining on and off and all the dust has washed off the city.
I head to the gear shop, opposite Subin’s office and owned by a friend of his. I give her my list, Subin is busy trying to get permits sorted, and we start the list ticking process. 3pm rolls around, (Nepal had a way of making the days slow and fast at the same time) and I’ve got to meet a friend for a chai.
A friend and mentor is a more apt description. Brigitte Muir is the first Australian to climb the 7 summits, and after reading her book I sent her an email four years ago saying it was the first book which spoke to me about what I was searching for in the mountains. She asked to skype, and we have been in contact ever since. She lives in Natimuk, Victoria, but we’ve never actually met. I saw her post a picture of the Boudhanath Stupa, a famous temple in Kathmandu on FB. What!? She is in Kathmandu!? Yes, and I’m going to meet her now!
I sit at Mitra cafe, and Brigitte comes over, I stand up and we have a great hug. She’s a wonderful hugger. We sit and order tea and chat. Mountains, safety, rapell systems, peeing in a harness. Brigitte quizzes me and gives me gems of advice. Most notably she tells me to climb conservatively. It’s too easy to die in the mountains. I know that she has had many friends die in the mountains. And I can feel that history in the sentence when she tells me to be safe.
Brigitte pays the bill and we wander to another shop, she tries on some moss green fleeces. I say it goes with her eyes. She buys it and I have to go back to finalise my own gear. Brigitte gives me a bracelet she is wearing for good luck. We hug again and I float back to the gear shop with a smile in my face.
Another four hours and too many chais later I have all my gear. Second hand Scarpa boots, which will also serve me for Everest. A new harness, jumar, big mitts, sleeping bag and Subin is lending me a down suit at no cost. What a champ! Everything fits well and I feel ready.
I take dinner in my room, and repack the now 3 x duffel bags, and my backpack to stay here. I get to bed at 11pm, and set my alarm for 2:30am. The “alarm will sound in 3 1/2 hours” notification makes me sad. And I sleep.
Day Three: Lukla and Phatking
The alarm sounds. I peel myself up and take the last shower I will have in three weeks. I do two trips to get my stuff down to reception, and my guide from Mera peak Sabin (not to be confused with Subin) comes to pick me up. We leave in a white car, it’s pitch black outside, I lay down in the back seat and pretend the Nepalese pop music which is blaring from the stero is a few decibels softer. I sleep.
I wake up needing to pee, and we pull over at a rest stop with other van fulls of tourists. Pee, tea and some boiled eggs, it’s getting light outside and we head back to the car for round two of our four hour journey. This time I’m not alseep, but fully witness to the hairpin turns and tokenistic small concrete bolards that prevent cars skidding off to the valley floor thousands of metres below. Our driver has the spirit of a competitive rally driver, and we bleep bleep our way to overtake wide eyed tourists in the silver buses, and more terrifying khaki loaded lorries from a bygone era. I take consolation in the fact that surely our driver doesn’t want to die either.
We make it to the airport, park next to a goat and try to get our luggage weighed. Two hours later and I’m trundling down the airstip in a metal tube, thinking positive thoughts. We fly over the Everest region. And I see it. Ama Dablam. I lean over and tell the Chinese girl next to me that’s where I’m going. She doesn’t understand and looks at my lunatic grin with suspicion.
We land, it’s 8am, and I find the Himalayan Kitchen (the red building Sabin said) and order second breakfast. My trekking guide Ram meets me and we set off to our first night in the teahouses. It’s a blissful three hour downhill walk to Phatking, we take some lunch on the way and Ram tells me I walk fast. The reason, which I tell him; is so I can get to the teahouse to take a nap. He thinks I’m joking but I’m totally shattered from all the travel and early start, it feels like I’m hungover.
We arrive at the teahouse and I eat a garlic soup and sleep for two hours in my blissfully long bed. Dinner, then into my -40 sleeping bag for another 11 hours sleep. This is more like it.
Day Four: To Namche Bazaar
We start off at 8am, after delicious apple cinnamon porridge and chai. I try to walk slower but seem to be overtaking group after group. The route is like a highway and there are spots where we walk bumper to bumper with yaks, porters and three dozen trekkers. We stop for lunch at 11:30, and I get quizzed about where I’m going. I feel kinda weird saying that I’m climbing a mountain. Weird because when I say it, people react with awe and some sort of reverence. For sure this is my biggest, hardest and most technical mountain yet, but there are people who are so beyond what I’m doing, that comparatively it’s not the biggest deal.
I also felt at first that I was a little annoyed by all these trekkers. But then I realised and saw that this trek is someones’ biggest, hardest, most technical trek they have ever done. And that seeing some of these people push themselves beyond their comfort zone has actually made me pretty inspired.
So, still yet to reconcile that feeling of ‘being awesome’. Maybe I won’t reconcile it. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
We arrived at Namche. It looks so beautiful, I can see a lot of new and freshly built buildings from the earthquake, bright blue and whitewashed cement. There are proper looking horses here and I got to scratch one pretty good which made me happy.
Now I’m sat in a warm dining room, with a Chinese man eating his steak very loudly, a sneezing coughy russian and a belg who just cut out the first quater of paper back book and threw the pages already read in the fire. This place is freaking great. Tomorrow we go to Everest lookout, and maybe even get to see Ama Dablam again.