Day 14: The Last Pass (And My Best Day)
Lobuche (4940m) → Kongma La (5470m) → Chukhung (4730m)
I don't suppose I mentioned the abiding (post-Khumbu-Quickstep) constipation. For, obviously, excellent reasons. As we prepared for the last climb, and last big push, Darby bundled up and said:
Me: “Girls are always saying that to me.”
Yep one more glacier to cross, before we could even start the climb.
I asked Aakash the elevation of the pass again: 5470. I stole a look at my altimeter: 4940. Yep, this was gonna hurt. And it wasn't going to suck itself…
Plus the all-important hat change (silhouetted in next photo).
There are sadly no photos, and I can't even quite recall whether it was someone in a full-on Batman costume, or just a hat or t-shirt or something. Also in a turn that was as inevitable as it should have been predictable we soon walked right back into the (freezing) shade of the mountain…
…and then things got worse.
It was not only frozen solid, it was steep as hell and it was big, seeming to cover this whole section of mountainside. Worse, rather worse, Aakash eventually opined that we were actually on the wrong side of the damned thing (to get up to the pass).
That is, there was seriously no way to get up this 45-degree chute of ice safely without them. And we were all out of crampons.
Me: “What the hell kind of cold freezes a stream solid as it's tumbling down a slope this steep!?”
There were two other dudes up there, equally trapped and flummoxed, and soon all five of us were trying to plan a route through the danger zone. Now it was a full-on expedition. As I necessarily laconically noted in the notebook:
As we searched for bits of non-frozen boulder to inch and hop across, Darby bollocked me for taking a picture in the middle of it, and generally falling behind. This was because, basically, she had to follow literally in Aakash's footsteps, and I needed to follow in hers.
That's why there are only three photos of this madness, above; and the last one is from after we got clear of it, as is this one. →
Once we got clear of the death zone, and into another ass-kicking and endless-seeming climb, Aakash promised we'd take a proper break on a flat place about 200m below the pass.
Me: “Stop the train! Stop! Darby's hungry! Darby must eat!”
Yeah, she's one of those fail to feed her regularly at your own peril.
That rumoured, if not actually mythical, ‘flat place’. It didn't last.
Yes, seriously we started the day's walk DOWN THERE.
And after that last (new, unique) peril, all that was left was the final ascent. As I passed over the last rock before the summit, I said aloud:
Probably needless to belabour (on top of shots like this), the views and setting at the top of Kongma La were stunning standing up very well even against the lakes and 8k peaks of Renjo La and the mountain-top glacier of Cho La. It even had a summit pooch.
And down. The difference this time was… I had no idea what we were in for on the other side: the Imja River Valley.
Me: “Don't tease… Wow! This is what most people mean by hiking.”
Aakash was right (as always). Everything would get easier after this.
On the other hand:
We were a long way from in for the day.
On the other other hand: we were starting to properly emerge out into the Imja River Valley and it was getting bloody breathtaking, and fast.
Me: “It's the most beautiful place I've ever been.”
We took a rest stop for Second Lunch. I racked out on a flat rock, head propped on med kit, face under my hat. (Only learning months later that Aakash had immortalised the moment.)
On this stop, I also had what was for me a pretty big epiphany about the conclusion of the series, which I wrote down in the back of the notebook, and shall reproduce here. Apologies if you don't give a damn about ARISEN; but of course I mainly do these dispatches for myself, and like four other readers, and I think two of them read the series…
It's pretty interesting to see this, in light of how the series ultimately turned out (and what I had to go through to get it there). Prior to this moment, I had honestly been thinking particularly with how hard Books Eleven and Twelve had been that I could kind of just wrap up. And that, having pulled those off successfully, it was now mine to lose. But no. The reality was I had to prove it again, and take it up multiple notches every time out.
Me: “Ha jur?”
Aakash: “How are you.”
Aakash: “Good day?”
Me: “The best.”
Aakash: “Every day is the best day of the trek for you.”
Me: “No the best day of my life.”
Aakash: “What made it the best?”
Me: “It was the hardest and most beautiful.”
And but of course inevitably the end of the day still turned into a death march (as asskickingly long trekking days like this always do), with us in the role of the walking dead, and culminating in crossing a frozen stream ↓ when we were too tired to do it safely. How do I know? Lapidary end-of-day death-march notes!
And but this very special look from Darby (back at me) reminds me of what there are (necessarily) no notes of: the fact that she basically told me to put the damned camera and notebook the hell away and light a fire, for once. Basically, she was just crushed, and just wanted to for God's sake be in for the day and not hanging around while I, you know, did yak portraiture. I think she expressed it respectfully, that it was my trek too and she didn't want to ding it for me, but on this one I, you know, needed to take one for the team (read: her). I agreed; and complied. Maybe this is actually the dodgy frozen stream crossing:
And at very long last in to Chukhung, 4785m. The lodge was an absolutely beautiful place and a placard on the desk indicated they took AmEx! Muahahaha. Darby came back singing the praises of the flush toilets. Civilisation indeed. And then… and then I went straight for that long-awaited, desperately needed, and long-fantasised-about shower.
Speaking of which (a fifth), I immediately went and bought beers for everyone in the party. Beer! Freaking beer! We were officially descending, and could drink again! Yee-freaking-hah!
But the beer was truly awesome.
And so it did. From contemporaneous facebook post:
Here are four lovely photos that Aakash took of us, what I think were from today (or today-ish), but can't quite figure out where they go and so here they are.