And so it came to pass under a golden halo sky that all members of the Ama Dablam quest came to meet in Namche Bazaar unimpeded by the ever-present windstopper ninjas. Vanessa bought up the rear and despite her humble denials, credible reports have surfaced that she came to Namche fresh from summiting two further 6000m peaks.
In the morning we flied from Kathmandu to Lukla. Later in the day we started the trek from Lukla to Phakding. It was an easy half-day walk starting at an elevation of 2800m and ending up in Phakding at 2650m.
Dispatch from Stu Remensnyder:
We arrived Lukla by a 35 minute flight which brought us over small villages and within a few feet of the wall of the Himalayan massif, before swinging sharply into a ravine and heading directly for the opposite wall. As we neared the wall it resolved as a small town with brightly colored roofs. Suddenly there were house windows flying by my view and a gentle lift in the plane and we landed without barely a bump on the inclined tarmac of Lukla. As many as 25 flights managed to come in reload and depart that morning and it was fun to see the planes do a circle dance in the small area near the terminal. We remained at a tea house near the terminal for a few hours while bags were counted, porters contracted and lunch was served. We got our first taste of the cooking we are to have for the coming weeks and curried beans and carrots, chapattis and fried strips of spam hit the spot for all of us. At 11:30am we headed off through the busting town of Lukla where one could easily outfit for an expedition in fleece, down and soft shell clothing. It felt good to breathe the fresh air after a few days in Kathmandu dodging taxis and we walked with no urgency to our destination of Phakding some 2-3 hours away.
The farming plots and tea houses dominate the scenery low down while pine trees, cascading waterfalls, sheers cliffs and a few shining white peaks greet the upward eye. We ambled into Phakding and found a flock of yellow North Face tents awaiting us at one tent per person. Tea time gave way to a nap and then soup and then dinner of dhal baht finished us off and we retired early (8pm) too our tents.
Today we were walking from Phakding (2650m) to Namche (3480m).
Dispatch from Stu Remensnyder:
Being greeted at 6am by a bright "good morning" and a hot black tea is a really good way to start a day and such was out good fortune today. After savoring the hot drink we all prepared our bags and met for a robust breakfast of eggs, chapattis and cereal accompanied by tea, coffee and hot chocolate. Today was our big day to pass through the last of the red tape and enter the Sagarmatha National Park. Nima filled out the forms with Mike while the rest of us sat by basking in the warm morning sun. Without a hitch we continued on our way around the corner where our cook staff greeted us with a hot lunch. After our decadent break we left for the true work of the day, an 800m climb to Namche on a gently graded pedestrian highway. Our greatest concerns today were the altitude gain and avoiding a close encounters with the yak/cow combo, the dzo, whose horns look very sharp up close. In particular the bridges present a great challenge as they are long spans and if a dzo enters from the opposite side you have two choices:
1) press yourself heavily against the edge and pray the yaks stay the course (Brad's choice)
2) turn tail and out run them while filming the whole time (Stu's choice).
The bridges were a high point as the bouncing and wiggling a few hundred feet over the Dudh Kosi (Milky River) made great photography and exhilarating walking.
All of us arrived in Namche within a few hours of each other and we lazed by our camp site until the bags all arrived and the tents began to go up. Our team Colorado friends were not to be seen until late in the day and they had gone for a great walk up to Khumjung and on the hill above. They intend to hike to Deboche tomorrow and take a big walk the day after from there. We shared a carbo loading dinner of pasta with a side of potatoes followed by hot peaches in syrup. All of us are groggy and looking forward to another 10 hours sleep.
We were mainly resting in Namche, but had a short walk to Khumjung in order to start the acclimatizing process.
Dispatch from Stu Remensnyder:
It has been an eventful day for our team here in Namche as we have gathered in our remaining members, seen Ama Dablam with our own eyes for the first time and acclimatized very well to around 3800m. Brad J and Vanessa officially joined us after a successful climb on Island Peak which saw Brad reach the summit ridge and Vanessa tag the top. Both are feeling like the air here in Namche is a bit thick and ready to get back to the rarefied air of basecamp and beyond. Brad J was able to enjoy his day off by repairing his earlier bout of GI distress in the evening...clearly something in Namche he just should not be eating or drinking! (I suspect the milkshake is the culprit). Herb awoke feeling quite poorly and rested up while the rest of the team took a stroll up to the Everest View Hotel and then ate mildly undercooked pizzas at the famed Everest Bakery in Khumjung. A few mild headaches but otherwise a good showing for the team on a lovely day. As we broke the crest from the bowl of Namche we were treated to Ama Dablam rising above heavy low clouds and rather nasty lenticular clouds capping Everest and Lhotse. Ama Dablam looked to be the place to be and we spent a good hour videoing, photographing and binocularizing the route from C1 to the summit. We could make out tents at C3 and tiny figures going from C3 as well. We have heard of 4 expeditions that have reached the top and this bodes well for us! No doubt Ama Dablam cuts a striking pose and appears for the entire world to be vertical from C3 on though we know that just not to be the case. Gets the old heart rate up thinking about bashing into the snow and ice at 6800m!
We had one more “rest day” in Namche. Most of us headed out for a long day hike in order to acclimatize faster.
Dispatch from Stu Remensnyder:
We found Brad J and Herb both feeling much better though Herb opted to have a relaxing morning followed by an afternoon walk for acclimatization. Vanessa joined the rest of the gang and we set out ostensibly to reach the monastery in Thame at 3920m or so. The three and a half hour walk took us past a major hydro electric plant for the Khumbu and several Sir Edmund Hilary initiatives including a lovely tree nursery to counter the effects of years of building tea houses and cooking for trekkers. Our weather deteriorated as we reached the town of Thame and blocked our view of the ancient trade route which makes its way from Thame to Tibet. We caught glimpses of the pass and it certainly evoked memories for the scenery in "The Man Who Would Be King" as they cross into Kafiristan (it is a must see movie!).
We retired to a small tea house to drink "big pot hot lemon" and warm up from the raw half rain half snow we had trekked in for the morning. As it was Stu's 43rd birthday today he treated the team to 2 big pots and we recouped quickly. Luckily the weather turned to pure snow for which we were all better dressed to handle and 5 of us made our way up to the monastery to light yak butter candles for our family and friends and see the insides of a lovely monastery.
Early on in the hike, Anthony and Lyngve had turned off to try to gain some altitude more rapidly and after reaching near 4300m ran in to a small monastery and were treated to an hour long rest with tea by the local monk. They noted that all the time they were there the monk's mother was turning an exceedingly large prayer wheel and they were impressed with her stamina and reckoned she would be a great addition to our team!
Our return walk was cold and damp and upon returning to Namche, we quickly put on dry clothes and retired to the warmth of the tea house (Himalaya Lodge). A fine dinner of pasta followed up with a truly delicious chocolate cake topped off a fine day. While the singing of the timeless classic 'happy birthday' lacked discernable notes it was nonetheless a nice celebration.
Dispatch from Brad Jackson:
And so it came to pass under a golden halo sky that all members of the Ama Dablam quest came to meet in Namche Bazaar unimpeded by the ever-present windstopper ninjas. Vanessa bought up the rear and despite her humble denials, credible reports have surfaced that she came to Namche fresh from summiting two further 6000m peaks. In a unique Nepali twist, this was achieved with a 3 year old yak strapped to her back for a bit of extra resistance after her effortless ascent of Island Peak. In Namche after being paraded in front of the group I think I grudgingly met their approval and it is at this point that I would like to apologize to Mike to previously checking his profile against the FBI's most wanted list. In my defence it was a scary looking passport photo that Mike first submitted.
In other thoughts, Stu in my mind needs to dress in long flowing cape, carry a staff and ride a horse called Shadowfax to complete the image of being the wise and omniscient Gandalf the Gray of the group.
While most of the group spent the day reconnoitering the arduous path ahead, Herb and I tasked ourselves with the noble pursuit of the purchase of down booties. We both agreed that putting on down bootees at the end of a grueling day is almost as good as the thing that mommy and daddy do when they love each other very much. After much prodding and pressing and ruthless examination, a fine golden pair of booties was chosen to accompany Herb on his Ama Dablam attempt. During a break in the quest for down booties while drinking a coffee I noticed that I had almost unwittingly positioned myself to catch a view of the effects of the cool Namche air on the unsuspecting and generally unsupported German frauleins heaving up the hill next to the cafe. A disturbingly refreshing sight after two weeks adrift in the down clad upper Khumbu.
It was a busy morning in Namche. This was our last chance to send emails to a outrageous price of 20 rupees per minute (a slow and expensive satellite connection), as well as buying those down booties that Brad J and Herb are so found of. But I decided not to, afraid that Anthony would call me a soft guy. I had, however, spent the last night in the warmth of a teahouse (and not the tent), so he called me a soft guy anyway.
We headed off from Namche at 10am and as we descended to the Dudh Kosi the clouds started to build. I was afraid it would rain, so instead of having lunch together with the others, I almost ran the uphills to Tengboche and finally reached Dewoche (3750m) together with Lhakpa, one of our climbing sherpas. I had an excellent lunch (Sherpa stew and French fries) in the Ama Dablam Garden Lodge, while I waited for the other ones to arrive.
This was one of the big days in terms of elevation gain. In one single day we were supposed to hike from 3750m in Dewoche and all the way up to basecamp at 4600m. Thus we had an early start from Dewoche and we took it rather easy up to Pangboche where we had a cup of tea. Shortly after Pangboche we left the Everest-trail, and crossed the river on our way up to Ama Dablam Basecamp. I was the first one to arrive BC and Tshering greeted me and showed me to our designated area. Marcus and Brent arrived a few minutes later, and because we were the first ones we could pick the best tents and spots. In the evening we measured the oxygen saturation in our blood, and some of us had alarmingly low values, e.g. in the seventies. I were still in the nineties (92) and felt that the body adapted very well to altitude.
While most of the people decided to take a day off, three restless people (Marcus, Anthony and I) headed off for a scramble. Anthony experienced some problems with breathlessness and had to descend after a while. Marcus and I enjoyed the class 4 scrambling, but when we reached 5000m we decided that was enough for the day. We rested at 5000m for almost one hour, hoping that the thin air would boost our acclimatization process.
Journals from this expedition:
Intro to the Expedition
The Expedition Team
Part 1 - In Kathmandu
Part 2 - From Lukla to BC
Part 3 - Acclimatizing
Part 4 - To Camp 3
Part 5 - Summit Day