I’m several years late figuring this out—since November 2000. But I learned something this spring—March 24, 2009, to be exact. I had just hiked down from Everest Base Camp (at 17,800 ft) past Gorak Shep to our camp at Lobuche (15,200 ft) to rejoin the other members of our trekking group.
The next morning, I went up to Kongma La (La = pass), which was a “short-cut” pass to the small town of Dingboche. The others took the gentler route, all downhill. But I took the “short cut,” with more than 2000 ft of ascent and 4000 ft of descent.
Now, I gotta say, above 16,000 ft, I was not blindingly fast. But I was in fairly good shape for a gringo, and I was definitely in the best shape of anyone in our party. Nobody else wanted to come with us. So I started out with our sherpa and guide, Kalu Tamang, whom I had known for 10 years.
He goofed easily up the hill. I worked hard and took many little breaks, as gringos often do at those altitudes—16 steps up, and four or six steps worth of wait. I paced myself, as I could see there were no easy parts of the hill. When we got to the top, we had a glorious view of a couple of lakes and tarns and a big, broad valley. Suprisingly, there were no yaks in it. They had moved out already! The Nepalis take good care of their assets.
According To The Book...
The guidebook indicated that the trails in this valley were rough and obscure. But the books must have been old and out of date. The trails were a bit rough, but very easy to follow, and we descended easily and surely. I never slipped or fell. I stopped at a small stream where I refilled my water bottle with a dot of iodine for purification. On the downhill, we did not get very dry.
We descended part of a mile, and then Kalu veered off to the right to see if we could shave off part of a mile. We went off the trail and descended some steep gravel slide slopes for 20 or 30 minutes. In fact, I don’t think we saved 20 minutes, as the trail was nearby. But it was the adventure of it. Sheer inertial trailblazing, even if trivial. I mean, we could see down into the river valley. We could see the hikers and the yaks. We couldn’t get lost. It was a clear, sunny day.
After we got to the foot of the steep gravel, we stopped and Kalu lit up a cigarette. I took one puff. That’s the only tobacco I’ve had for 10 years. Then, Kalu said, “Are you okay to hike down from here to Dingboche?” I said, “Sure.” So he started scampering down the slope, as Nepalis often do. He was soon outta sight! And I angled down slowly and carefully to Dingboche. I didn’t even see anybody for an hour. Barely one yak. But I wasn’t worried.
And what I only figured out in March was that Kalu trusted me. If I had screwed up and turned an ankle on the way to Dingboche, he would be embarassed as a guide, and I would be embarassed as a hiker. Yet we both knew I was good hiker and would not do anything stupid.
A Bucket Of Trust
It took me nine years to figure that out. My goodness, I think I got to Dingboche about 80 minutes later than he did. Kalu dumped a bucket of trust on me, and I responded okay. (He knew I had done a lot of solo hiking for several days, and I didn’t screw up much.)
The funny thing was that up at Everest Base Camp, the previous day, the guy who was guiding me was a young porter, Puri Rui. He said, as we were descending, “Will you have any trouble getting down to Lobuche?” I told him “No problemo,” since we were already on the Airline Trail. (See www.national.com/rap/nepal/index.html, parts 10 and 11.)
So he trotted off down to Gorak Shep (which means Dead Crow) and Lobuche, far ahead of me, and I didn’t see him for hours. Problem was, at the south end of the Airline, I thought we had to ascend a few hundred feet above the Airline to get on the descending trail, and I screwed up and temporarily got slightly lost and delayed. But I soon figured out how to get back to Gorak Shep and then to Lobuche as the sun was setting. No problemo.
So if you want to go on a good trek in Nepal, ask Peter Owens ([email protected]) to set you up with a good guide like Kalu Tamang.