Each of us in our own way can try to spread compassion into people’s hearts
Day 8 – Heading to Lobuche
Today, we continue to head higher into elevation that we’ve never before experienced. We leave the teahouse under crisp blue skies and a brilliant morning sun. We’re starting out again with every layer of our clothing for the first part of the walk before our bodies start generating heat. This morning, the temperature is colder still at -3F / -19C as we make our way over icy pathways to head out of town. We gain the same first ridge that we climbed yesterday on our acclimatization hike and now drop down a bit to head off towards Lobuche on a high plateau to the northwest. High above the tree line, we hike a soft beaten path that slowly undulates as it gradually rises towards higher elevation. To our right is the peak of the hill we climbed yesterday and, to our left, the landscapes drops down to a flat river valley that houses the town of Pheriche.
We continue to gain elevation on this pleasant trail with peaks and sights coming into view. Ahead of us, we see the new peaks that we’ll be gaining prominence by the end of the day. The view to the South unravels impressive steep icy slopes that rise up to the peaks of Tabuche and Cholatse, both rising above 20,000’ / 6,300m. We pass low stone walls and seasonal outposts of farmers and herders. We noticed that in Dingboche, these walls are seemingly everywhere as fence lines inside the town. You think this is some impressive amount of effort in assembling these fences. But, it actually turns out that these stones are all native here and these paths and walls were built during the process of clearing the fields for agriculture and herding.
We also see wild yaks on the slopes above us. Given the elevation and the constant climbing we are doing, there is a tendency to get into a quiet rhythm of automatic movement. That predictable movement suddenly gets interrupted in front of us as we notice a yak charging a trekker about 50’ in front of us! This yak is either annoyed this morning or just giving a stern message about his space being violated. The trekker and his guide snap to attention and start moving at a speed you don’t see at this altitude. Luckily, the yak stops his charge and provides those people only the benefit of even louder beating hearts. Suffice it to say, we picked our away across the trail methodically and slowly as we made our way towards this yak. By now, he’s just staring off into the distance and I made sure I gave him many look-backs as we pass.
We eventually round a corner in the hillside and start descending towards an icy river crossing and we can see two teahouses on the other side that we’ll stop for lunch. The teahouse that we stop at has a separate bakery seating area that we choose since it’s sunny and empty. Some baked goods are still in the case and you can tell they’ve been there a long time. Thinking about these stale croissants and cookies that are as hard as rocks, we see the sign above the case that says “guaranteed fresh”. Perhaps true, in the high season.
Our guide tells us that the looming hill climb right ahead of us after lunch will be a significant one. Not only is it steep and a good amount of climbing, but also because of the elevation we are now at, this is where many people get AMS. These teahouses are in a place called Thukla and we will gain this hill to head towards Thokla Pass above it at 15,846 ’/ 4,830m (56% of the oxygen at sea level). We carefully climb the hill with a consistent pace and top out onto a small plateau. We heard about this place before from our guide. There are monuments here dedicated to many climbers that have perished in this area over the years. We take a short break reviewing the pictures and stories placed on some of the monuments. This becomes an emotional time with the combination of the high altitude, exertion, pictures of the lost climbers, and the words of their loved ones all in this inhospitable but stunning place surrounded by towering mountains.
We reach Lobuche, considered the last small town on this trek towards EBC. Gorakshep, the destination for tomorrow, is more an outpost for climbers and trekkers. We are now at 16,210’ / 4,940m and still feeling healthy and strong. This elevation at night can have temperatures can easily reach -20F / -29C, so we ask if there’s the possibility of a warmer teahouse, if such a thing exists. It turns out that a new teahouse has just recently opened and it actually has electric blankets! We opt for the new teahouse and enjoy the comfort of the electric blanket on a bitterly cold night. At this elevation and level of cold, the western toilets don’t work, of course. So, the bathrooms are supplied with large plastic bins of water to manually flush by pouring water into the toilet. This works well as long as your large bins of water don’t freeze. Since they do freeze as the inside temperature of the teahouses are mainly below freezing (unless you are in the kitchen or night next to the stove in the dining room), that means you are smashing ice to get water, after you use the bathroom and need to flush. You learn new skills on a winter trek in this part of Nepal!