Day Six: Tengboche to Dingboche (Walking Time- 4.5 hours. Elevation-Dingboche 4360m)
We got a nice early start on a bright, sunny, and clear day. We swiftly headed down the hill to Deboche and at the foot of the hill we stopped to take off our outer layers. It was here that we first met Kate and Cameron, two Brits who kept us company on many subsequent legs of the hike along with Kate’s trainee guide Chum. Kate was a forthright Child Protection worker on the NHS payroll who was taking a well-deserved year long sabbatical. Cameron was a former Forestry Manager who was taking a five month break before embarking on a change of career to yacht skippering. Kate was keen for us to join her crossing a few of the high passes that link the valleys in Khumbu but we were happy with the easier trails and lack of stress!
At Milinggo, a rickety bridge brings you over the Imja Khola River and leads you on to a fairly steep and precipitous trail up to a stupa. The view down is not for the vertiginous but at least we took the sensible route. Kate’s guide had led them up an alternate path, which is best described as ‘for goats only’. Cameron and Kate looked terrified when they got to us. Another reason not to rely on guides!
The trail continues on to the delightful village of Pangboche. Pangboche houses the oldest monastery in Khumbu, which was founded by Khumbu’s patron saint, Lama Sangye Dorje, in the 17th Century. We decided to skip a visit to the monastery since we were to pass through Pangboche again when we headed down valley. The trail passes through two more villages, Shomare and Orsho, before splitting into two paths.
The trail that heads down the hill to the right goes to Dingboche. The upper path leads to Pheriche. In the past, trekkers were advised to stay in Pheriche since it is at a lower elevation than Dingboche. But, Pheriche has a reputation for being damn cold at night and apparently it was hit harder than most by the recent earthquake. Dingboche is actually a more attractive place than Pheriche and has a better range of lodges.
We began to feel the altitude as we walked through the main street in Dingboche. No surprises though since we were at 4400m! Trees were suddenly conspicuous by their absence. We were now in the barren landscapes of the high Himalaya. Dingboche has a ridiculous amount of lodges but somehow still maintains the air of a genuine sherpa village. All the households had yak and herding them seemed to be the main occupation here. The village was a mosaic of dry stone wall corrals.
We stayed at the old school Valley View Lodge, which was another of our favorite places with great food, warm dining room, and HOT shower. Our main company here was a couple of German girls straight out of high school and on their first trip to Asia. They hiked in the hard way all the way from Jiri. Not as tough as my post-high school trip to Rhyl but I was impressed all the same! Late afternoon we climbed up the ridge behind the lodge to view the stupas and surrounding peaks as the mist swirled in and out.
(Breakfast $12.40; lunch $15.50; Dinner $11; battery charge $6; room $2)
Day Seven: Walk up Imja Khola valley to Chhukung and climb up Chhukung Ri (Highest elevation around 5000m)
Powered on by a delicious tsampa and peanut butter porridge breakfast, we marched up valley for an acclimatization hike to Chhukung. This valley is the entry point for climbers of 6400m Island Peak. Chhukung Ri, the 5500m hill above the village, offers great views. The only reason it’s not a famous viewpoint like Kala Pattar and Gokyo Ri is that Everest isn’t visible from the top. But this valley is so fabulous that it deserves to be a destination in itself, not just a side trip. The walk was over stark moraine through fields enclosed by dry stone walls. The views were stupendous to start with and just got better. The trees were gone but autumnal red-brown shrubs added bursts of color to the increasingly monochrome landscape.
We climbed up Chhukung Ri as far as our acclimatization would allow. We made it to a flat shoulder at around 5000m offering outstanding views of Island Peak, Lhotse, and Nuptse. Chhukung was a delightful village and in some respects we wished we had stayed the night here and attempted to climb to the top of Chhukung Ri. Next time!
The trail up valley was easy to follow but we lost the trail coming back into the village. We could see our lodge, but had to backtrack around the fenced-off fields. This is not an uncommon occurrence we later found out. We bumped into Kate on the way back and she told us that Cameron had had a flare up of an old knee injury so was resting up for the day. A tougher bloke than me though. He literally hobbled up and down the rest of the trail with us, grimacing all the way but he barely complained. The views must have acted as an opiate! Seven days in and we figured it was time for our first shower of the trek. It was SO nice. Just a shame I had to step out into the freezing cold outside to get back to the room!
(Breakfast $12.50; Lunch $11.40; Dinner $11; 2 showers $8; Pot of Tea $4.50; Room $2)
Day Eight: Dingboche to Lobuche (Elevation 4950m. Trek time: 4 hours)
Emboldened by our climb up to 5000m yesterday, we decided to push on to Lobuche at 4950m rather than stay in Dughla at 4700m.
Dughla was a windswept collection of grubby lodges so we were glad to push on. The walk to Dughla was fairly straightforward. We hiked up the trail behind the lodge and swung a right up the valley beyond the stupas. The views up and down this valley were superb. Huge peaks on both sides, the valley below, and a peek at turquoise Chola Tsho lake up ahead.
Dughla sits below the big slope up to the Pass so it is worth grabbing a rejuvenating tea or lunch before pushing on. Dughla was a busy little crossroads with smug well acclimatized hikers heading down and the up valley hikers huffing and puffing up slope. We reconnected with Cameron and Kate on the way up. Cameron looked in pain but he was determined to push on! It was a tough grunt up to Dughla Pass but the views were fantastic if a little sobering as the pass is also the spot for stupas remembering those that died on the big peaks. The unbelievably dry air was beginning to take its toll on Laura’s throat. We were thankful for the honey lemon strepsils to ease the pain.
We walked on through mildly undulating glacial moraine before finally hitting Lobuche. It is a fairly austere spot but the views up the Khumbu Glacier across from the lodges are truly spectacular. We ran up the moraine for views ignoring the altitude-induced headaches, and we got our timing just right since clouds started to roll in five minutes later.
A huge pot of ginger lemon honey tea calmed the throat a little more and the warm Sherpa Lodge was a welcome refuge from the freezing fog. We had dinner with Cameron, who told us about the forestry work he did. Pretty interesting and arduous stuff. He was still drying out from work since he was still gobbling down an incredible 8000 calories a day! A veritable eating machine. Granted, you need to eat a lot when you trek at high altitude. Our dinner was a huge plate of fried potatoes topped with fried eggs, yak cheese, and a big dollop of homemade chili sauce. The kind of thing we would never eat at home, but it was just what we needed on a cold night after a long walk.
(Breakfast $12.50; Lunch $12; Dinner $13; Pot of Tea $3; Ginger Tea $7; Room $2)
Day Nine: Rest Day in Lobuche (Elevation 5000m)
Unsurprisingly, next day we woke up with mild symptoms of altitude sickness. Neither of us slept well and Laura felt nauseous with a painful chest and throat. Only one thing to do in this situation: take a rest day. We weren’t alone. Kate, Cameron, and the Berlin couple we met a few days back were suffering too. We moved into the more expensive Ecolodge for the night to get a warmer and brighter room. We wandered back up to the moraine with Kate to keep up with our acclimatization regimen but most of the day was spent washing clothes, reading books,and sipping oodles of ginger lemon honey tea.
(Breakfast $12; Tea $5; Lunch $16.90; Dinner $17.80; Room $11 )