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!
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…
We set off across the little causeway that led to the foot of the peak.
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.
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.
Aakash: “It's the biggest in Asia.”
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:
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.
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.
But we definitely weren't at the top yet. Taking it slow and steady, sucking wind noisily…
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.
And just like that summitting.
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.
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.
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.
When I got back, Aakash asked what altitude I had: 5304. He had 5290. But it didn't matter.
He was dead right, of course. He suggested we leave in ten minutes.
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..
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.
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.
Me: “This must be the literary bakery.”