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

Day 8: Ten Minutes on Gokyo Ri

Gokyo (4750m) → Gokyo Ri (5300m) → Gokyo

So, I might have given the impression yesterday that climbing Gokyo Ri was something we were going to do to kill time while hanging around having an additional recovery day in Gokyo. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact:

Gokyo Ri was the crown jewel of the trip for me.

This was because, in all my research, I'd developed a strong sense that the top of this peak might actually be the best view in the entire world. It had always been, in no small measure, one of the very main reasons I wanted to take this trek in the first place. So, I was always going to climb it. The difference was that Darby wasn't.

It's also perhaps worth pausing to note that this dispatch series is slightly misnamed: this trek was actually the Three High Passes and Peaks of Everest. We'd be crossing three passes to transit across the four valleys that, very roughly, make up the Everest Region. But we'd also be climbing three so-called “trekkers peaks” along the route.

Today's was first. I was beyond excited. Crown-jewel time, baby!

A's knock on door interrupts epic dreams.

Apparently, if my notes are to believed, my dreams involved fully half a new Shane Black movie – which I wrote. And not, “Oh, I'm watching this Shane Black movie, and I wrote it” – but half a freaking movie: every detail, scene, character, narrative turn. An original screenplay. Similarly, I was sight-reading a musical composition – which I wrote. If I didn't write it, I don't know who did, because I heard (and played) it all in my dream, and I'd never heard it anywhere else…

Down for breakfast, I managed to get a sliver enough of WiFi to send Anna a happy birthday message. Waving my phone around, vaguely hoping someone would turn a damned router on…

Me → Aakash: “I've turned into Darby. I'm always on my device. I think I'm declaring defeat on that one…”
Little rush of excitement. Today's the day. It's what I came for.

We set off across the little causeway that led to the foot of the peak.

That's her, dead centre That's her – towering over us
Bang – climb starts right on the other side of the stone path across lake shallows.
Me: “As a traveller, you have a few days that you remember very vividly. I have a sense that this is going to be one of those. So thank you for taking me up.”
Aakash: “Thank you for coming. Because of you I get to go up again.”

Aakash has been to the top of this peak fifty times.

So far at least, we've got the mountain to ourselves. Only sound of breathing and trilling calls of Ruddy Shelducks down in shallows of lake.

That huge grey line or scar above Gokyo is Ngozumba Glacier – the same “dirt-coloured/covered” one we saw from close up yesterday. It looks much bigger from above.

Me: “That is one big-ass glacier.”
Aakash: “It's the biggest in Asia.”
Me: “I've got 5103 – another couple hundred metres is nothing… Uh oh, we've got pursuers. Maybe it's the super-posse from Butch & Sundance. ‘Who are these guys!?’”

On reflection, maybe the low oxygen was making me loopy. As we struggled to get enough in our lungs to maintain the climb, also pausing periodically to ogle what was spreading out behind and beneath us, Aakash went ahead and deployed his favourite play on words:

Aakash: “Breathtaking views.”
Me: <grimace> “And to think maniacs summit Everest with no oxygen. Air's gotta be so thin up there.”
Aakash: “It's about thirty percent.”

We took a bit of an Aakash-mandated break, I guess to catch up on our breathing, as well as our ogling.

Rest stop. I'm not good at resting.

The view behind and below was becoming recognisable as the one I'd seen in all those photos online, in all the long run-up to this.

Me: “Dreams made real. I imagined coming to this place, and tried to figure out a way to make it happen, and now here I am.”

But we definitely weren't at the top yet. Taking it slow and steady, sucking wind noisily…

Aakash: “We walk like zombies.”
Me: “Hey, don't laugh –
zombies paid for this trek. Hell, zombies paid for my writing partner's wife's new kitchen…”

Very first glimpse of the flag marking the summit.

Me: “5246. Last push.”

Ole Sagarmatha again

And just like that – summitting.

Unbelievable. I think of my father. This one's for you, Rich.

There's a group of Japanese up top, who I happily greet (“Ohayōgozaimasu!”), while waiting for them to move, so I can get my trophy photos.

Eventually gaggle of Nihonjin clear out and a sacred silence descends. Just regard it for a bit. Can't believe I'm finally here.
Aakash: “Another beautiful day.”
Me: “Every day is beautiful. God forgets no one.”

Aakash jumped way out onto a dodgy pillar of rocks for a photo. (Big surprise he knew the best spot.) Then I followed him out and made him take about six panoramas of me, admonishing him to get the prayer flags in.

Then I ran around trying to pin every butterfly in aspic, freeze time, cage experience, deny mortality.

Just as A. was in no hurry for us to do the ascent, he is in no hurry for us to start down. This is a great gift to me.

When I was finally, if temporarily, photo'd out (on both the camera and phone), I sat, and drank water, and ate trail mix, and regarded the mystic sublimeness of this place.

A small bird, identified for me by Aakash as a Himalayan finch, set down beside me, keen, so I started pulling out the smallest seeds from my trail mix for the little gal. Not long after, she actually followed me around the side of some rocks where I was peeing.

Me: “Oh, hello! I guess you known when you've got it good.”

When I got back, Aakash asked what altitude I had: 5304. He had 5290. But it didn't matter.

Aakash: “The numbers matter to some people a lot. But what counts is the feeling. And no photograph can capture that.”

He was dead right, of course. He suggested we leave in ten minutes.

I find a nice smooth rock to recline upon, and as I scribble this, the clock is ticking on my last ten minutes on Gokyo Ri.

I vowed not to take any photos on the descent, and largely succeeded. I wanted to remember the experience. Not the photos.

As we descended the last stretches, a helo flared in, and Aakash said it was probably an AMS case, being evacuated..

Wow! That's what flat, never mind soft, ground feels like.

We found Darby in the same place we'd left her, looking productive and happy. I opted to skip lunch, because I was still full of trail mix; so as not to eat just because it was there; to emulate Aakash's self-discipline – he occasionally skipped meals we took, though whether for frugality or weight management it wasn't my place to ask; and, mainly, because Mountain Monarch's margins were paper-thin enough, without me costing them money just because I was entitled to. [If I never mentioned it, it still absolutely boggles my mind how they provided as much as they did for as little as we paid. Every time we had a cup of tea up at this altitude, it cost like a dollar, and I think we paid maybe like $1,800 for the whole trek: guide, lodging, meals, internal flights, equipment, porters…]

Amusingly, to me anyway, I heard German spoken with a Nepali accent by a guide. Made sense, from their commercial point of view. English-speakers ain't the only tourists with money to spend.

After lunch, but still very early in the day, it was time for… chores!

First I grabbed a shower, and coming back passed Aakash washing laundry in a little outdoor area between buildings. I had been vaguely planning to blow it off (laundry), or try to bull through, or just keep my head in the sand. But I figured, hey, if he was doing it, I knew he'd make me successful with it. Out there they had also repurposed old satellite dishes as concentrated-sunlight ovens, and they also made rather decent laundry drying racks. Aakash warned me to collect mine when the sun went down – five minutes later and they would freeze so solid I could use my socks as weapons.

Then I had to disinfect, debride, and re-dress that minor hand wound I'd picked up sliding on gravel on the descent from Renjo La. Also had to moisturise around miserably chapped nostrils, and apply more lip goop (to miserably chapped lips). After that, I passed Darby, looking wet, freezing, and miserable. Turned out she'd gotten totally hosed on her own shower – there was enough hot water to get immersed in, then it went ice-cold. Chores done, I decided to take myself for a turn around the ville.

On my ramble round town, up and down the muddy terraces, in and out of lot of half-completed construction – did I mention this place was like Deadwood? – I saw yaks being loaded up with propane tanks, porters playing cards outdoors in the warmth of the last sunlight, and a lonely black pooch sleeping curled up in the sun.

I stop on a wall, and stand facing the mountain-setting sun. Long harsh flashes of light skitter off the lake surface, while the water laps at the shore, and muted yak bells tinkle tinnily in the distance. Everything is very vivid, and in my nearly black get-up, I am warmed, for the last time today, by the sun. After this, it's yak dung. Dark brown hills and bright white mountains huddle protectively around.

Back in the lodge, a nice American couple reading (respectively) Midnight's Children and 100 Years of Solitude recommended another, better bakery/cafe: reportedly 200R coffee, better baked goods, and a warm room. I rounded up Darby and Aakash, and we hit it. Inside, every single person was reading, and there was like a ten-shelf library of used paperbacks, including a German edition of Dave Eggers: Wat Ist Die Wat.

Darby: “It cracks me up that there are like four establishments in town, and two of them are warring bakeries.”
Me: “This must be the literary bakery.”

Tomorrow, Day Nine: Crossing the Moon

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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