Saturday, June 7, 2008

Pheriche to Namche Bazaar, 26 May 2008

After sleeping away the night in the first bed I have seen in two months, I wake up to the thumping, high-pitched mechanical whining of a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter whizzing 300 meters by my window. Whoah.. I guess the flights are going today, no? Francisco and Lhakpa are targeting a 07:30 flight out, so while I stagger to my feet and begin the daily chore of waking up, those two are out of bed like a shot and packed up within minutes. And who can blame them? If I were flying out from here, I'd be motivated too. Not to say that I'm not motivated to get out of dodge, but knowing that we still have roughly 40km of an 80km trek left ahead of us it's not really the same thing. Our goal is to be back on the trail at 08:30 with the ultimate goal of Bridey, Willie, me, G-Man, Lhakpa, Jetta and Lhakpa today being Namche Bazaar. Tendi, of course left with the HAPE-stricken porter at 01:00 and is well down the trail already. And do I have a story for you in a little bit about that one.

Off we went, like a shot. Right past the hotel, we pass a stainless steel monument to fallen Everest climbers, updated through last year's season. Lhakpa's father is on there too. He died in 1982 during a West Ridge expedition when an avalanche came off the LoLa Face. So is Danuru's oldest brother. And there's Scott Fischer's name, along with Rob Hall, now famous from the '96 disaster Jon Krakauer profited on in the book where he talks about how awesome a climber he is but then stayed in his tent when the shit hit the fan. Very few people in this valley haven't been touched by tragedy in some way, shape or form so putting the monument here in Pheriche is highly appropriate.

The trail between Pheriche and Namche.. oy. It's amazing how your brain softens memories over time, glossing over rougher experiences to the point where you only remember the good times. Tame trail? Slow, gentle grade? Not a chance. But fortunately for us, almost every yak train save our own was headed in the opposite direction- looking for Base Camp work, likely.

We passed oodles of porters too, but again, almost all save our own were heading in the opposite direction. This is the danger that caught our porter, where he raced up from the lower valley in just two days because he wanted the work. Taking time getting in to Base Camp, the porters gently acclimatize with western climbers over ten days to build up to the altitude. When left to their own devices, HAPE and HACE become threats to them and they don't even know it. For our porters though, most are ok and continue down the trail, happy to have the work and carrying enormous loads of our gear.

For the one, unfortunate kid who we treated for HAPE late last night. After several hours of up and down, Willie and I learn that Tendi made it as far as Tengbuche. Tengbuche! That's a four hour trek from Pheriche in the daytime, with day pack. Tendi made it with a 140 lb kid on his back. Willie and I get the news and turn on the jets, leaving the rest of the team strung along the trail to catch up. Up, down. Up, down. The trail snakes down through the valley, linking up with the Dudh Kosi River and finally making contact with Rhododendron trees in full bloom. If we weren't so interested in getting to Tendi, we would be at a light clip, trying to enjoy ourselves and suck in the green scenery. How long it has been since we saw green! It truly is beautiful. There is one ridiculous hill between the river and Tengbuche which I swear I hate but push through, finally emerging at the monastery.

We find Tendi and the Porter over by the helicopter pad at the end of town and hear a crazy tale of pitch black trails, drunken Sherpas and life saving that leave us in awe once again of Tendi's strength. Wearing no socks and borrowing a head lamp, Tendi had used a burlap strap fashioned into a seat/head strap for the porter who was completely immobile. He left Pheriche at 1am and walked the narrow path up and down with the Porter throwing up and coughing up on him. Finally, he reached Dingboche several hours later, which is roughly 1,000' lower. The Porter hadn't shown any signs of improvement and the town medical clinic was closed so on Tendi went, bumping into two drunk Sherpas who hassled him for money and were curious about why he was carrying this kid on his back. Tendi asked them for help, which they refused to do, so he continued on. The trail wound up and up, finally emerging at Tengbuche where Tendi found help, including a western climber who used a Dex injection to bring the Porter back from the brink. Now close to daylight, the Porter started showing signs of improvement and the decision was made to use a helicopter to get him down to a hospital in Kathmandu quickly. While the porter continued to improve over the next few hours and actually looked fine by the time we arrived, Tendi's efforts to carry the porter on his back through the night had undoubtedly saved his life.

While we waited for the helicopter to arrive, we learned that Lhakpa and Francisco hadn't been picked up yet, but their ride was soon coming. And that it did. Finally, we heard the whirring of helicopter blades and a white Air Dynasty bird came in on final approach for Tengbuche. When the help touched down, I was standing next to G-Man and we both looked inside. Lhakpa and Francisco! Willie brought the now grinning Porter over to the helicopter and put him inside while Tendi tried to see if he could scam a ride- his reward for the nights efforts. Sorry Charlie, we are at capacity. Tendi smiled and was fine with it, which I wouldn't have been if I were looking forward to a helo ride instead of 40km walk. As the bird lifted up and pointed it's nose toward Lukla, I related to Tendi how many times in the Marines & Seattle Mountain Rescue I have been expecting a helicopter egress and then found myself using black Cadillacs to hoof it out.

The rest of us set back out on the trail for Namche Bazaar- close enough now, but still an ungodly distance away thanks to this ridiculous 1000' downclimb to the forest and river.. followed immediately by a 1000' upclimb back to almost the exact same altitude we were at an hour earlier. Once we made the top of the ridge again, I looked at Tendi, equally out of breath, and said "I bet you are happy you missed that helicopter ride now, aren't you". Dripping sweat, he just rolled his eyes and moved on. It was miserable and the way I found myself getting through it was by saying over and over to myself that I'll never have to do this trail again.

I did pass one sign along this particular stretch of trail that caught my attention though. Wild life conservation takes on such an important tone in this part of the world, where Bengali Tiger, One Horned Rhino and other endangered species are being poached to the point of extinction. The Snow Leopard is one of the rarest and most endangered cats in the world and looks absolutely beautiful from every photo I have seen. They even dedicate an entire segment to it in the BBC documentary Blue Planet. But here in the Nepali Himalayas, it appears to take second billing to the Musk Deer, as seen in this sign where someone penned in a piece on the rare cat with a Sharpie.

Finally, we pulled into Namche for the night. Woo hoo!! Back! Namche! It's warmer now, there is much more green, and it has a much more relaxed tone than just 8 weeks ago. But it's Namche, and it means we are one night away from Kathmandu.

We pulled into our hotel for the night, and I recalled that this city was the last place I found a mirror on my outbound leg. Remembering this, I went into the bathroom of the hotel, found a mirror and took a pic of what closely resembles a Raggedy Andy doll.

Next: Namche Bazaar to Lukla

Last: Everest Base Camp to Pheriche

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