Day 4: The Monastery Above Thame
Namchee Bazaar (3440m) → Thame (3800m)
So Aakash's nightly briefing had reassured us that today was going to be a mere 4.5-hour ramble, in what was supposed to be glorious weather, and we were in no rush whatsoever, and also the post office in Namchee opened at 10am (the last and only place to send postcards), so no one would be racing out of bed in the morning. We also learned that our destination, the village of Thame, was birthplace of the world-famous Tenzing Norgay Sherpa as well as the unfortunately less-well-known Apa Sherpa, who summited Everest 21 freaking times before retiring and settling in the US. Even cooler, we would actually be staying in the dude's childhood home from which spot we'd be surrounded by a lot more 6k+ peaks, and officially be at the edge of the treeline, as well as past the last hydro-electric power, with solar being it from there on out. The forecast was good, but Aakash's rule was:
It's perhaps worth noting that I wore my awesome new Sherpa Adventure Gear watch cap in the common room, through dinner and the briefing.
Morning, and I sat in the main room nearly alone, scribbling.
Also worth recounting (with regard to the unexpected and rather unique hazard of showering at altitude) is the fact that a whole group of French had moved in last night and one of them literally passed out in my arms as he tried to exit the shower, and I was queueing for it outside the door and quickly had to go into ELS mode. There was some suspicion of his health, but the most-drawn conclusion was that the damned natural-gas-heated shower was leaking fumes. Gack.
Anyway, just as both the main room and the WiFi were slammed last night, this morning, in time, breakfast was hopping. Aakash was apparently having a lie-in, so D and I managed to order breakfast for ourselves. I had muesli wetted with pineapple juice we were already way up above the soya milk belt and but the juice had pineapple chunks, so I could hardly complain. Outside, another glorious Himalayan day had broken crisp and cloudless.
I paid the lodge for my value-add services (laundry, two showers, juices, and device charging), then darted across to the Walmart to buy stamps for my postcards… then it was farewell to Mountain Dreams (the name of the lodge), and on to Mountain Reality. At the last moment, the little multilingual four-year-old girl came out to say bye. Bye!
Because I'm dumb, and don't remember things, and also take these treks not nearly often enough, I'd forgotten how to use my camera's damned panorama mode a source of enormous frustration the prior day, due to the Himalayas turning out to be kind of big. Anyway, it finally came back to me.
It was also only this morning that I noticed Aakash and I were wearing nearly the same boots, which definitely told me I'd bought the right ones. This is worth a few characters on, because they ended up being the most revolutionary piece of kit I bought for this trek. Historically, the tension is between comfort and stability: the wisdom is that, for really rough and jagged terrain like we were in, you needed big solid boots, with a lot of support (including to protect your ankles), and stiff treads to keep the sharp rocks from obliterating your sole(s). The downside was, well, you're wearing big, solid i.e. less comfortable boots. But Salomon has rewritten the rules. I'll spare you a review, but just suffice it to say my Salomon Men’s X Ultra Mid 2 GTX High Rise Hiking Boots were more comfortable than my beloved Asics Gel-Kayano running shoes and across all the ass-smashing terrain of the Himalayas, they never once let me down in support or protection. They're truly like magic; and probably the best £111.13 I ever spent on anything.
Random conversation on the trail.
I was righter than I knew by the time I'd get back down to Kathmandu, my body fat was simply gone. More on that then. As regards the cold, I did actually do rather better stoking my heat cocoon on the second night in Namchee by morning, my hat, gloves, and (gobsmackingly) both pairs of socks had come off. But, as noted, this was going to get a lot worse before it got better. Then again, the glorious scenery and terrain of the Nepal Himalaya just kept getting better.
A bit later, up at this (second!) gorgeous stupa, while Darby shot caterpillar signs, I talked trips with Aakash.
And it wasn't just the place but the people we'd met so far. The sense of civil society, of politeness, of tradition and right behaviour.
Those two huge bags above, by the way, were carried (every day) by Shyan and Lakhdan, who we finally actually met officially today, and who were extremely high-quality human beings, and more on whom later. For now back out, along the river, and up the Thame Valley!
We continued along a trail traversing the valley, with the river following alongside.
And then, of course, there was the inevitable climb up out of the damned valley. Enjoy some narrative-free photos while I was huffing too much to take notes.
And then a stop in Samde for lunch. Cracking spot, as you can see:
Afterward, we sat in the cool sunlight and chatted and were happy.
Aakash: “We will stroll through the passes as well.”
The toilet, it transpired, was a hole in the floorboards of a proper outhouse.
On return from the floor hole, I asked Aakash if he ever gets angry, what things bother him.
Aakash: “I'm basically a happy person.”
Me: “Then you've really got something, my friend. Most of the people I know go around angry or sad half the time.”
Or maybe I was just talking about me. Who knows. After lunch, we faced another steep climb, still on the shoulder of the river:
In our discussion of happiness, Aakash also said, “I get paid to come out in this. How could I not be happy?” It occurred to me that with my last trek 4.5 years ago maybe my problem is as simple as that. I'm not coming out here enough.
We descended down to a bridge via a variety of funky Buddhas painted on the stone, crossed over…
…then straight back up the wall of the valley.
And it was only then that it hit me: THIS was the valley! I.e. the Thame Valley I had read about in the guidebooks. Somehow I had pictured it very differently a lot broader. But seeing this dramatically narrow thing, mountains towering on both sides, I belatedly realised: No damned wonder you can only get up into the Himalaya via one of the valleys all the terrain in between is impassable, unless you happen to be some kind of an ultramarathoner version of a mountaineer: scaling 12 peaks in a row, up and down. Simply, the river made a path for us.
And, just like that, we were into Thame.
Darby: “That makes this, what, a 3-star hotel by local standards?”
Aakash: “Masala tea?”
Me: “Yeah, why the hell not.”
While waiting for the tea, I circled round the room, taking in the profusion of wall-mounted awards, certificates, accolades, and photos of and for Apa Sherpa (including a photo with His Holiness), other climbers, and mountaineering in general.
Most striking were Apa Sherpa's Guiness World Record certificates initially for his record-breaking 15th summit of Everest… then for breaking his own record six more times in a row.
Since the sun had effectively set down here in the valley, and it was already freezing, I broke out the big guns for the hike up to the monastery: my Corbett Extremities gloves (so far I'd been getting by with my glove liners), my Polar Buff (first time for that, too and more on it anon), and my stylin' new Sherpa Adventure gear watch cap. I was ready for heavy weather… and looking like a badass. Then Aakash recommended another layer the down jackets that Shyan and Lakhdan had been humping all over the country. I hesitated but only briefly.
Heigh ho. Finally, I remembered what David Stirling, one of the founders of the SAS said: “Any damned fool can be uncomfortable.” And then it was out into the freezing dusk, for the climb up above the village.
When we finally reached the monastery where my altimeter read 4003m (it would be constant new records from here on out) we found the inside was closed. But it didn't matter. We stood in awe, watching until the very last blood-red light disappeared from the white mountaintops.
Because it didn't photograph well, that meant I actually had to look at it and try to remember it. Or maybe even remember the feeling. Darby pointed out that with the sun gone, the sky above and behind the peaks had turned the most spectacular shades of azure and postal blue.
Me: “Two words: Photoshop saturation.”
Darby: “Now it's gone purple.”
But, even when I tried it with my camera-camera… I had nothing. Back to looking at it. By and by, we went back down, for dinner and the evening briefing.
Another easy day, mostly gradual. 4.5-5 hours, but we'll add on a little hike at the end, to get higher than we sleep. Up at 7, leave 8.30. Up above the treeline. Lumdun not a village a settlement, solely for trekkers.
It was put there basically to make it possible to cross Renjo La, the first pass, in a single day. Which we'd be doing the day after. Gulp.
Here are some pictures that Darby shot of me, I think all from today, but which I can't be arsed to put in sequence. They do capture how I spend most of my trekking day billygoating, shooting, and being awe-struck.