Monday, September 12, 2016

An attempt at 3 passes - Day 8, 9 & 10 - Back to Kathamandu via Phortse

One of the five lakes
Morning of Day 8 I woke up refreshed, thanks to a good night's sleep. We left Gokyo at 7:30 am and stopped for some photo ops along the other smaller lakes that we encountered.

The sun was out and soon we found ourselves delayering to get cooler. Getting rid of inner thermal layer is not an easy task out in the open :)

River crossing

The warm weather and loss in altitude helped my body and I practically started running down the trail. The original plan was to descend to Dole and then go to Phortse the next day. However an hour into the trek (near Machermo), we took a stock of my energy levels and decided to cross the river and instead go to Phortse via Thare. This way reaching Gorakshep or EBC would take same number of days as it would have taken if we had crossed Cho La.

Since our earlier plan was a shorter hike, we hadn't carried any food as we hoped to  reach Dole by lunch time. Now, we needed a lunch halt because we had increased the trek duration. Due to earthquakes some of the tea houses on the way were closed and we wondered if we would go hungry today. On top of that, the weather had turned cold and windy - not easy to manage on empty stomachs.

Around 1 pm, we reached Thare and again found most of the tea houses closed, but as we were about to give up all hope, we found a place that was open and willing to serve us some hot food. While the options were limited - we were more than happy to get some shelter, hot food and hot tea inside us.

The tough climb between Thare and Phortse
We left this place around 2:00 pm and realized that weather had turned for the worse - especially the wind. So far the descent was mostly downhill or flat (barring some uphill portions as is common with Himalayan hikes) but now we encountered a long and steep portion.

Since I was still struggling with uphill portions, this one literally took my breath away. Slowly and painfully I climbed the innumerable stairs and once at the top I decided that I won't be visiting EBC in this trip. If I cannot manage uphill at this lower altitude of approximately 13,500 ft,  no way would I be able to complete the hike from Lobuche (16000 ft) to EBC (17,500 ft)

View of Dole - our originally planned halt
We finally reached Phortse around 4 pm and went to the teahouse suggested by the trip organizer (Tashi Friendship Hotel). He had talked to the owner there to help me find a porter if I decide to descend further to Lukla. There were no attached bathrooms here but the common loo was fairly clean and hence we decided to stay the night.

Over dinner, I informed the group about my decision
View of Phortse - our actual destination
to drop EBC (had done that already 18 months back) and head down to Lukla instead. While they were disappointed, they understood my predicament. Now the next item on agenda was to find me a porter. Why?

Because...Phortse is at ~12,500 ft. The route to Namche means descent to Phortse Tenga at ~11,500 ft and then a climb up to ~13,100 ft to Mong La before descending again to Namche. Today I had carried my backpack but I knew that I will not be able to climb 1600 ft with it on my back.

Finally with much effort, the owner was able to find me a porter - a lady porter! Initially I felt pretty weird asking another woman to carry my load but later on I realized that she was much stronger than me :)

Day 9, I started for Namche Bazar amidst the sad good byes and promises to meet again soon. Plan was to reach Namche, stay overnight and then proceed to Lukla next day. The descent to Phortse Tenga was easy, especially now that I had only water load on my back. The climb to Mong La was quite tough but lack of backpack helped again and lo behold I was at the top in just 90 minutes. Beyond this point, the hike was easy-peasy and we were in Namche Bazar at 11:15am.

I had called in ahead to book myself a room at Camp de Base hotel but since it was pretty early in the day, I decided to just have lunch there and proceed to Phakding instead. My thought process was to spend the night at Phakding and reach Lukla by 8 am next day to catch the flight back to Kathmandu. This would save me another day's expense on the trail and will allow the porter to get back to Phortse sooner. Since her fee was based on destination and not number of days - it was a win for her also.

My porter and I weren't able to communicate the normal way as she didn't speak any Hindi or English and I don't speak Nepali. With help from kitchen staff at Camp de Base, I conveyed my plan and she agreed. After a hearty lunch of spaghetti, we started for Phakding at little past 12 noon.

We walked fast (except when I encountered steep uphill portions) and took only couple of short breaks (mostly for her benefit as she was carrying the load) between Namche and Phakding. Near Sagarmatha check point, it started to drizzle with a clear sign of it turning into a downpour. But she kept walking unfazed and I simply followed suit.

At around 3:30 pm, we reached the Sunrise Lodge in Phakding (the same place where we had stayed on the way up). I think I was more relieved than her because the threat of downpour had become a reality. The clouds simply burst open as if they were just waiting for us to get a shelter. As usual, I ended the day with hot shower and a sumptuous dinner (my appetite was back now that oxygen was flooding my lungs). Since it was quite an achievement to reach Phakding from Phortse in 8 hours, I further rewarded myself with a beer :)

Day 10, we started very early as I wanted to reach Lukla by 8 am to catch the 3rd or 4th flight into Kathmandu. By 5:50 am we were back on the trail and walked quietly while enjoying the beautiful morning. I was a little sad as this was to be my last two hours on the hike and then I would be back to reality.

We reached the airport in Lukla at 8:15 am to meet the contact person who would help me get the flight to Kathmandu. The airport was in chaos as no flight had left for Kathmandu the previous day due to bad weather and I couldn't locate my airlines contact. I decided to wait for him at the Numbur tea house run by his wife (just next to airport) - so I paid my porter, gave her some energy bars for the hike back and prepared myself for a long wait. Given there were many people waiting there in the tea house for their delayed flights to take off, I realized I may not reach Kathmandu today.

After multiple check-ins with the wife, who wasn't able to locate her husband as his phone was off, I finally gave up on the idea of leaving Lukla today and decided to relax with a glass of wine. And as it usually happens, once you stop running after something you get it - some 45 minutes later, she informed me to go back to the airport as her husband had found me a seat on the last flight out.

Dornier that flew me back to Kathmandu
Happily I lugged my bag to airport, completed the formalities and parked myself for another wait as the flight had not yet left Kathmandu due to some air traffic issues there. Finally the flight too off from there, landed here and we were airborne.

I reached Kathmandu around 1:00 pm - both sad and relieved. Sad because my hike had come to a premature end, relieved because my head no longer ached and my appetite was back.

After I checked into Hotel Friends Home, I spent the afternoon running around to get my tickets to Bangalore for the next day. Once that was out of the way, I treated my self to a Café Mocha and Chocolate Brownie at Himalayan Java - by the time I was half way through my brownie, I realized this was way too much indulgence after 10 days of simple food.

I wrapped up my trip with a big dinner with the agency owner and dear friend RT. I had a lot of amazing local food, a mind blowing Bhutanese dish and some good Chilean wine. And I believe I ate enough to make up for the times I couldn't eat during the trek. If you ever want good food in Kathmandu, do visit this place - "Dechenling - A Garden of Joy" located near the North Face showroom in Thamel.

I left for Bangalore the next day, with a promise to myself to be back again soon!

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