The first things you notice as you fly into the khumbu in a rattling metal-can are the towering rock faces and the cold, you step outside onto lukla and your breath is a frozen fog in front of you. Knees knocking together with the sudden chill, we see that we are already among “lesser” peaks of the highest place on earth. Our instinct looks for warmth, so out of the airport we have tea.
Once our team of five assemble, we are off, after more tea.
What was the first day from lukla to namche like? It was beautiful, crowded and freeing. We were on the trail checking each other’s pace, always ahead of the queue going north. Yes, we had our first taste of Sherpa stew that day, an instant favorite. Deep valleys and towering mountains on every valley head, climb to the amphitheater, that is namche, felt mild. namche was a surprise! Throbbing heart to a pulsating webs of trails.
On the acclimatization hike from namche, there is a turn on the trail. As you take it, your heart stops for a moment then flutters in awe as you see the glorious mountain amadablam and the trio far ahead for the first time. The kid in you is happy. Maybe the love affair most have with the khumbu, is not just exaggeration! We feel we can hike for ever, following the horizon, one ridge after another but its only our second trail day.
People ask us, why are you running? We are fastpacking, we cry as we fly downhill. Following the scent of glacier air, we arrive at thame and after lunch with a lot of potatoes, we start to climb again. Through a path draped in autumn color, we reach thame gompa, where a puja is being held. It’s a well preserved heritage, with the very young avatar of old Rinpoche falling asleep as the mass of monks in front prayed and rolled drums. As we get out of the reverberating monastery, we are followed then led by a dog who jumped here and jumped there, telling us we were too slow on only two paws.
Already amidst giants, our strut to the windy place, lungdung, was too fast, as per assistant guide Nigma. He said we were always fast! You tell him, he hadn’t really met fast people! They are days just to hydrate and eat as much of the famous potatoes of khumbu as possible but you can’t contain energetic people in a lodge for two days when outside are wonders. People scatter among hills, boulders, sun, clouds and eternal chimes of yak bells.
Without the sun, it is cold. Four days before our first pass, renjo la, are warm-ups. On the second pass, cho la, we will realize; renjo la was a warm up!
renjo la is a simple climb if scores of factors are under control. Pacing yourself steadily, let the pass come to you. The top offers an impressive extravaganza. But, things can go wrong. Seated by the turquoise expansion of gokyo lake and Mt. Choyu; Win informs you he might have to go down to Lukla, given his chest condition. We mull over Win’s condition as we distract ourselves with excellent coffee and the ethereal display on gokyo lake. Most people climb up gokyo ri the next morning or we could go on a run up north along glacier moraine towards Choyu basecamp. It’s cold, dry air either way.
Three cross the glacier from gokyo to dragnak, without the youngest and oldest member of team EFT 2018. Team Prancing potato poopers had split.
More acclimatized cho la was easier but long with false summits, scramble, rockfalls and icy glacier crossing. It was special because of its unexpected steepness and the crunch of crampon on ice. Still the day was very young as we reach dzongla on run.
Already deep inside the khumbu mountain, dzongla to gorakshep is a walk disorientated with looming grandeur and chain of life forms against ocean of mountains. gorakshep and EBC are focus for thousands of bucket list and feels like it. It is dangerously high, as cold and crowded. It is almost at an end of a circus but what a place it is! Can we choose between sunrise and sunset? Or is the time in between that is the best? Same can be said for the climb to kalapatthar. All that is certain is the frozen air up there.
Out of gorakshep, even loboche feels warmer and cozier. kongma la across the exposed khumbu glacier looks forever in shadows, high up in the sky. But it is just there. With few probabilities under control crossing of forever morphing khumbu glacier, the top of kongma la is a steep climb through rocks and alpine bushes covered in white frost from laboche.
That climb will be different for everyone, depending upon who you are and how you get there. It is steep but it is glorious,it was the best day for the three remaining potatoes climbing up and the view! The view! And the isolation, to find a magical corner in khumbu all to yourself! The way down was a run to chukkung! All the while dazzled and breathless. It was a day inside the greatest faces, they didn’t even stare down at us, they were eternal, we were fleeting. Life felt clear and crisp. Life veered toward the next adventures. More tea and Sherpa stew then run down to dingboche. Its warm in dingboche as the snow floated down in a confused flurry.
The best running day of the EFT is on the day from dingboche to namche. It is freeing, the speed. And, going against the crowd panting their way up. You can run through the exclamations, those yaks and porters, the locals and the tourists. It is not flat, it is not too steep but beautiful trails in mountain. You might suffer but we love it. namche is the head of a circus, reaching there we laugh and take a long hot shower.
Last trail day of the EFP is too short, it cannot be stretched even with an hour long tea break! Too conditioned we are and find too much oxygen, as we run lower and lower before the strangely long climb to lukla. Yak hotel at lukla has the best food and potatoes! We stare at the ceiling not know what to do all day before we decide to get some drinks and go to bed very late at 9 pm!
Forget the short runway of lukla airport, the true purgatory is in how its functioning. Twenty minutes from there we are in Kathmandu and you stare around dazed. Surprised and disoriented, our body cannot accept the air or the cabs. Shouldn’t we be somewhere running? Had we even left?
We have dinner at a cozy place in a dreamy garden. The food is an explosion on our palate after ages of lodge food. the wine is excellent, so is the cheese.
What do the three potatoes think as they get warmer with food and wine in Kathmandu?