Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Day 7: The Melt-Down Day

(Also, The Hidden Lakes of Gokyo)

Best night's sleep ever, all the dreams in the world. Got this whole cocoon furnace thing nailed. It really is possible to sleep comfortably in subzero temperatures. Even midnight bathroom breaks go smoothly now.

Yeah, the hardest trekking day of one's life will do that for you, in term's of an outstanding night's sleep.

I had a bit of a wander around in the glorious morning sunlight over the lake, ogling this weird frontier town, before heading down for breakfast.

Me: “Is it just me, or does this place feel like more of a hostel, based on its occupants?”

Breakfast was jasmine tea, and muesli with apple! Afterward, Aakash and I huddled around the stove waiting for Darby. I reported how much I was looking forward to more pizza tonight. That's the wonderful thing about a trip like this – all the pleasures become simple ones: food, sleep… If we could only appreciate these things so much in regular life, we'd really have something.

I'm still getting breathless occasionally, performing simple tasks. Worth remembering we're still at 4800m, which I'd never seen before yesterday.

So today was to be a non-through-hiking day: we'd just be popping out to see the fourth and fifth (so-called "Hidden") Lakes of Gokyo, then coming back. I'd requested this segment because I spent like two years trying to plan this trip, and I guess felt like that had better fructify in a custom itinerary – and the best damned Everest-region trek anyone'd ever had! In retrospect, of course, I should have gone with exactly what Mountain Monarch recommended, i.e. their bog-standard Three Passes trek, as there are many very good reasons why they do this for a living, and I don't. There were other pretty big problems with today, which would manifest soon enough. (Sneak preview: today turned into a circular death march, for not a ton of payoff – and was, basically, just way too much after yesterday's crushing pass crossing.)

Anyway: off!

Seriously – weird frontier town Gangsta!
Me: “I feel like I could walk for minutes!”
Darby (laughing): “How long have you been saving that one?”

Not long; but what was really not long was how recently we had crossed Renjo La. Basically, we were still fairly destroyed. (Both body and soul, as it turned out – and the latter a much bigger problem…)

Seriously – f this segment
Dirt-coloured glacier. (Or, rather, dirt-covered.)
4869m (!)

Rest stop by the fourth lake. This is, evidently, the world's highest freshwater lake system.

Me: “Silence doesn't get much more silent than this.”
This is really hard – a lot of up and down; particularly up. And we've punched through 4900 again.

A reminder, perhaps, that all endurance sports are mental. In purely physical terms, this was a doddle compared to yesterday. The big differences were that we were still mentally crushed from yesterday; the payoff from this was a fraction of what that had been; and we'd had to cross the pass to continue the trek. But this? Really, I don't think it was abundantly clear to anyone why we were doing it. (Darby was fast reaching that conclusion, as I'd soon learn; I was definitely having my doubts; and Aakash, probably unsurprisingly, was mainly just keeping his head down, his mouth shut, and taking us where I'd not particularly cleverly said we wanted to go.)

No denying it was gorgeous; but one needs, as always, eyes to see.

That vaunted fifth lake, which is evidently holy. From there, it was another climb up to a hilltop where we had a view of Everest, one evidently not too many people got. (I might, at this point, have said there's a reason why…)

And up… Everest 'n' Me …and down

And, down again – finally to drag ourselves back the way we came.

Gangsta! So gangsta!

Somewhere along here, Darby – and I want to take care in how I characterise this, and you know what I don't remember a single word of what she actually said, and didn't even write anything down – but somewhere along here Darby's demeanour made it clear that she had sort of entered taking-my-ball-and-going-home mode. (God knows I've been there.) I think she was not only not having fun, but was done pretending she was having fun. [Sole relevant note: “Crushed morale (D)”] The social space got a little tense, or grim. I finally decided to write it all off.

Fuck it. You know what? I'm still hiking in the Himalayas of effing Nepal RIGHT NOW, and it's freaking amazing.

I think I must have had some sense, overreacting no doubt (as I do), that the trek might be over:

Now, knowing this might be IT, every second is precious.

Or maybe I just meant life. I don't know. In any case, we slogged our way back to Gokyo in tense silence.

We are not amused

Back in the lodge, we huddled up and sort of just hashed everything out. I didn't make many notes, and don't remember it all that clearly, and arguably shouldn't be airing the internal politics here. But suffice it to say Darby was having a bit of a crisis of faith about why she was there, and then (subsequently, to her credit) freaking out about ruining the trek for me. Aakash very, very sagely suggested taking an extra day in Gokyo to recuperate (physically – but, mainly, mentally), which Darby initially opposed, not wanting to cause me to miss other days at the back end. I counter-objected that A) a missed day or two hardly mattered:

Me: “Both because I've already seen so much more than I expected, and because it's been a lot harder than I reckoned on, having one or two activities fall off the back is totally fine.”

I.e. basically Tim was right all along, and this trek was always going to be amazing whether or not I completely optimised the itinerary or saw every damned single thing here. And B) I felt pretty adamant that missing a day or two wasn't a problem like sort of having the whole trek fall apart from overdoing it and freaking out would be a problem.

Aakash sealed the deal by reassuring Darby in no uncertain terms that they build in flexibility for this sort of thing – Darby was hardly the first trekker who got hit by AMS and/or got tired and needed a little more recovery/acclimatisation time – and he could twist the itinerary in all kinds of directions to make it work. As usual, Aakash very much knew best, and we were smart enough to see it his way. So: we'd stay an extra day in Gokyo, which we'd use by me and Aakash climbing Gokyo Ri – and Darby hanging out in the lodge with her tablet and lots of tea. And, with that, we were all de-stressed, and all friends again.

In part just to get out of the one damned room, I think – and also because we'd heard a rumour about a great bakery with good coffee; and also because this crazy-ass movie-set frontier town called for some exploring – we ventured a terrace or two higher, and located the bakery half-hidden in the upstairs of a ramshackle building, with a great view of the lake. Sitting in the dappled sunlight, we considered that going out for coffee could be our thing. (Twice makes a tradition.)

Gangsta!… …so Gangsta!
Me: “I feel like I've got a lot to learn from this guy.” <points at Aakash> “And this guy.” <points at Dalai Lama book> “And perhaps from you, too.” <pokes Darby>
Aakash: “I think I agree with your priority order.”

Back in the lodge, Darby and I mooched around the common room – waiting for dinner, as one does – doing crap online, and commiserating about the complexity of modern digital life. If I didn't mention it, and I didn't, there was nothing like cell service up here, and so you had to buy these scratch-off WiFi cards that got you a certain amount of time, and a small amount of data, on the local network. Though I fought it, we both ended up buying a lot of these cards.

While mooching and waiting for dinner, we also listened to a lot of spoken Japanese and German, which I confess to not finding equally mellifluous (though I do like hearing both, and catching sort of every 35th word). I love the sound of spoken Japanese, w/its lovely sing-song cadences, and the unassumingness of the Japanese national character built into the language not just at the semantic level, but also, I'd claim, at a phonetic one.

Gokyo Ri, 5300, 500m total climb.
2-2.5 hours up. More panoramic than Renjo La. 45-60m at top. 1.15-1.30 descent.
7AM wakeup, start 8.30. back by 13.15.
Pack same as today.

Tomorrow, Day Eight: GOKYO RI

close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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