The sound of rustling woke me.
The power was still cut from the night before, so I yanked open the curtains. Light flooded the room as two mice darted from my backpack. I didn’t need to look to know what they’d done. The bastards had eaten my Snickers bars.
When trekking for a long time, it’s the small things that boost your morale. Like a chocolate treat tucked away in your bag. I was gutted to throw the mangled Snickers in the bin. But my spirits remained high — for I’d reached the big mountain country — and the views were unreal.
I was in Tengboche, a day out from Namche Bazaar. Tengboche is home to the largest monastery in the Khumbu Valley, but it’d been damaged in the 2015 earthquake and was still being repaired. Instead of finding the bustle of young monks, there were empty halls and freezing stone floors beneath my socks.
So after a breakfast of porridge and honey, I set off with Connor and Zak to Dingboche. It was constantly cold now, the sun brought light but forgot the warmth. As usual we followed a river up the valley, large chunks of ice now floating on its surface.
Ama Dablam watched as we ascended, the dusty track barely visible on the arid ground. We crossed the Imja Khola river, looking down at the carcass of a dead bridge.
It was now my twelfth day of trekking, but my legs no longer cried with each step. The magic of the Khumbu revealed itself with each spur we passed; a bleached stupa surveyed us with disapproving eyes.
A spell was cast and a thick wall of cloud materialized, paired with a bitter wind. The cloud rushed across the ground like the spirits of the dead, a clammy feeling filling the air.
Fortunately we were close to Dingboche, and stopped for the night. Dingboche was just a collection of lodges surrounded by stark mountains. Lhotse and Island Peak were both visible, adorned with frozen crowns.
We stayed the next day in Dingboche to help with acclimatization — and saw the reason to do so first-hand. A trekker at the lodge was critically-ill with altitude sickness and needed evacuation by helicopter, unable to even move.
I went for a day-hike up Nangkor Tshang, stopping at 4,900 metres high. The views were classic Nepal. Crumbling chortens were framed by the mountains; the red, yellow and green of prayer flags competed for attention with the blue sky. From here I saw Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain.
The next day we walked to Lobuche. The landscape was completely barren now, the trees unable to survive at this altitude. We passed a seasonal herder’s village, its stone buildings abandoned to the bitter winter. While the lower valleys had been overflowing with gardens, I hadn’t seen fresh vegetables for days. One of the locals informed me, “during the winter we bury our potatoes in the ground, it’s better than a freezer!”
The trail crossed a glacial stream and went through Dughla, a village that had been swept away in floods ten years ago. Then it was up the Dughla Pass, walking over the gravelly end of the Khumbu Glacier — which flowed off Mount Everest.
An array of chortens covered the pass, like chimneys of terraced houses. Spread more haphazardly were memorials to climbers who’d died in the Himalayas. Scott Fischer’s was here, a victim of the 1996 Everest Disaster, along with Rob Hall, whose memorial was further up the valley. What’s shocking though was the amount of Sherpa names represented on the memorials. A disproportionately high figure.
The frozen river led on to Lobuche, while yak trains came in the opposite direction. Lobuche was the night’s stop, a miserable little village. I spent the whole time in my sleeping bag or around the dung-fuelled fire, along with every other trekker.
I chatted with a couple on their way to support a Spanish climber who was attempting to climb Everest that winter without supplemental oxygen. But this wasn’t the extraordinary part.
“We are trekking without eating any food,” they announced, “our doctor said it’s healthier, for our bodies don’t waste energy digesting. They can just focus on acclimatizing.” Silence followed this statement. “Oh, and our doctor gave us this to help,” the woman said, producing a sack of pills.
I thought they were joking, but changed my mind after watching the man struggle to even stand up from his chair. I was convinced they’d be on the next helicopter home.
After a restless night, I was excited to leave the next morning for Gorak Shep. I filled my bottle in the lodge’s kitchen, the water in it froze when I went outside. I walked along the trail with my gloved hands in my pockets, just to maintain feeling in them.
The path vanished and became a mad scramble over boulders, the terminal moraine of the Changri Shar Glacier. Beside us, the Khumbu Glacier creaked down from the world’s tallest mountain.
An hour later the boulder-field ended. Gorak Shep appeared, a handful of lonely guesthouses sitting in a dusty bowl. The excitement grew. After two weeks of walking, I’d reached the final stop before Everest Base Camp.
If you missed the first part of the trek, from Shivalaya to Lukla, that’s available here. The second part of the trek, from Lukla to Namche Bazaar, can be found at this link. Part four, Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp, is available here.