24 Apr A Girl Gone Mountaineering: Second Despatches from Ama Dablam
Day Five: Namche Bazaar
I woke up at 5am after another stellar sleep. This is starting to feel like a holiday. I open my cotten curtains and outside deep blue and white mountains stand surrounding Namche. What a view!
We head up at 7:30 after a bowl of cinnamon porridge to Everest View point, another 400 meters higher. The stone step warm up to get out of the town was a little brutal and I had to remind myself that this is just me getting into the swing of things. I felt great once we hit dirt steps, and made sure I paced myself, trying to keep in ‘Zone 1’ by nose breathing.
Then I saw it. Ama Dablam. I wanted to cry. Tears if joy and relief as I felt a rush of all the months of hard work to get to this very spot rush over me. Tears of fear also. This mountain is HUGE. Can I do this?
I had tea at the top, a bustling alpine view restaurant full over slightly overweight tourists who took helis here. We headed back down and I spotted a set of binoculars at another tea house. I asked the guy sitting next to them if I could have a squiz. He waved ‘of course’ and I peered through, following the Ama Dablam ridge line route up to the summit. It looked even steeper closer up. I ended up sitting and chatting with the man, Paul, who was off to Cho Oyo next year without oxygen. We sat and had tea together talking mountains and then I bid him good luck with a handshake. He commented that I was ready for the mountain, saying I was “strong” after shaking my hand. It made me feel pretty good for a second, until I looked back up the mountain again.
I trotted downhill, taking 20 minutes to decend what took us 2 hours to get up. I wish I was as fast going up. I flew past wobbly trekkers and people on their way to the lookout. At least I can feel good going down!
I spent the afternoon wandering around Namche, stumbling across cows tied up in between stone buildings, children drinking masala out of glass teacups and what could be women perpetually beating dust from duvets.
I bought some baby crampons that stretch over normal hiking boots for Chola-la pass, and sat in a cafe and had a hot chocolate next to some doctors who were testing spleen expansion as a sign of altitude sickness. I offered my spleen to be a part of the study, and got my vials tested and an ultrasound whilst yaks jingled past the open cafe door.
Day Six: to Dole
Up and up and up and up. We walked firstly on the EBC highway, bumper to bumper with yaks, porters, people and guides. It thinned out an hour in, the whole time we stared at Ama Dablam on the other side of the valley, imposing and spectacular. Your eye is drawn to this mountain. It’s magnetic and dominates the sky.
Lunch was inside a warm teahouse, panoramic views of the mountains glare in from the surround glass paneled walls. A woman with a sleeping baby strapped to her back serves tea and steaming mounds of pasta and rice to windswept rosy cheeked trekkers.
After lunch the landscape changed. Up and down through willow forests, the afternoon sun streaming on the wide soft path. The trees were red and silver and gold, unwrapping bark offering fluttering silk guru scrafs as welcome to us climbers. Black yaks softly plodded in front of us, sans loads, leading the way.
We arrived in Dole, walking past village horses tied to stone walls to our freshly painted hut. The evening meal offered me appetizers of Everest, as I overheard American climbers on route to Sagamatha and Lhotse chatting away. Later that night, heading to bed I met the same climbers in the hall. On of them let out the siren of a Dahl Bhat dinner. I said “Did one of you guys just fart super loud!?” They burst into giggles and all pointed fingers at another. I wished when I go to Everest that I’m on a team like that.
Day Seven: to Gokyo
We started on the trail at 7:30. Slowly slowly I shuffled. Determined to make this the easiest uphill I’ve ever walked. Determined to get to base camp in six days fresher than fresh. Determined to keep my cards stacked*. (*I heard this from another guide. When on a mountain you have a deck of cards. Each day, or time you ‘get worked’ you give a card away. You want to make sure that on summit day, you’ve got a bunch of cards up your sleeve. So keep ’em stacked.)
We stopped for lunch and I met the Chilean guy I sat with at dinner. He left an hour after me. Shows you how slow I am. He gave me his number for “whenever you come to Chile”.
Slowly slowly up again. We are accending 700 metres today. I had sweet day dreams of home. I walked along a grassy ridge, fat and wide, the valley floor droping below on both sides. 6,7,8000 metre mountains in panorama around me. Moby played in my ears and I had a distinct feeling of expansion. The landscape is truly incredible. Blue frozen lakes glared glared fluorescent white and grey in the midday sun. Gokyo layed ahead, large and established next to a lake. I had a slight headache and tried to cure it with a cigarette standing outside my teahouse in the afternoon sun. That didn’t work, but the panadol did.
Day Eight: Gokyo Ri to Dzongla
It was a beautiful morning. Actually, when I looked outside at 4:45am and saw cloud, I hoped our acclamation walk would be cancelled. Thus is the protests of the monkey mind. Getting outside, deep blue sky and fresh white snow made me forget my laziness. We walked (do I need to say slowly) up to 5420 meters, sat on top of a rocky and snowy summit of Gokyo Ri and looked out at Everest. Quickly down again, and we were down for breakfast at 9am. I asked if I could go to sleep for an hour, but laughed at by Ram, my guide, he just told me to pack my bag because we’re off to Dzongla.
We walked another two hours across a undulating glacier, turquoise lakes and grey dusty ice underfoot. Finally at our destination I open the teahouse door to see Tobias, the German I met last year in Kathmandu, and a member of our climbing team. “Tobias!!” I shout hugging him.
This has changed the mood completely. At first I was enjoying being alone, away from work and home and people. Spending time reading my book and writing. But after a few days I started to notice I was was eves dropping on peoples conversations, and laughing when someone made a joke. The group I was eves dropping on would then look at me like a crazy person, that lone girl laughing at the jokes of the group. Who is she?
Anyway, I met with Toby and a Chilean girl, Georgie who are both going to Ama in our team and we spent the afternoon chatting and playing cards. We aired our apprehensions about the climb and I was glad I was in the same boat as them, this would be the biggest, hardest climb so far.
Day Nine: Chola-la pass and Zongla
Another 5am start. Today we’re heading up to 5400 metres to go over a high pass, then back down to 4600 metres. I joke that Toby and Georgie might be faster than me. I literally lose them in the first ten minutes of uphill walking. I mantra to myself. Be the tortoise.
We move up through rocky paths following glacier streams, to patches of snow, through steeper boulders and scrambley sections. We hit a cliff which drops down to the final valley before the pass. Blue skies and fluffy clouds float around as I find the best ever poo spot in my life. It was glorious let me tell you.
We head down the valley, then back up to the ‘hard’ bit. Boulders and ice and slippery snow patches. I remember my deck of cards and be as slow as possible. We hit the pass, have some oreos and boiled eggs, stretch our baby crampons on our shoes and head down to the next town. I fly, past more wobbly trekking pole walkers and porters. It becomes a whiteout and I follow the visible footprints and accompanying pole marks through the cloud down down down.
I meet the rest of the team. How long have you been here for? “Two hours” Georgie says. Fuck she’s fast. I get wifi to chat endlessly on WhatsApp and sleep another 8 hours of smiling bliss. Actually that’s a lie. I wake up at 4am with chainstoke syndrome. Where in the night you stop breathing involuntary, then a minute or two later you gasp for air. It kind of feels like you’re suffocating. I forgot to take my 125mg of diamox last night, and I think that’s why it started (*we can and will debate the use of diamox as a preventative in the next dispatch).
Day Ten: Pangbouche
Down down down again. I think the more we decend, how high we have to go again. And I then put that thought in the lazy monkey mind category.
I’m faster than the Chilean this time. But only after a little brutal lesson. We had to go up for about half an hour to start. After a chat next to the black pot belly stove last night, Georgie said I could get faster by just monitoring my breath. So this morning, I tried to keep up with her. For ten minutes. It took me thirty more minutes to recover from the effort. My friend on WhatsApp told me last night that this was my own experience, and I don’t need to keep up with anyone. But the comptitiveness got the better of me and I tried it anyway. This is not the place to train my energy systems.
Decending ahead of everyone I remember something I read in a horse book when I was younger. A boy was riding in a national horse race. The track was sloppy and wet in sections. His trainer gave him advice before they ran; go easy on the hard bits, and hard on the easy bits. I remind myself to instill this advice on this climb. No more will I be chasing fast Chilean climbers up. This is my own climb. Hmm. Easier said than done.
Also! Today we also saw a rainbow around the sun, hovering above Ama. I was ecstatic when I saw it, and proceeded to tell every single person I passed, pointing and enjoying the astonishment on thier faces. What a place we are in!
Tomorrow we head to basecamp and the hard work begins.