So we have finally arrived back in Lukla on our 15th day of trekking!
It has been an incredible journey and one that I will not quickly
forget.

I last left you on the afternoon that we arrived in Tengboche to visit
the monastery there, having detoured to stuff our faces with delicious
apple pie and real espresso at the bakery. Afterwards we went to the
visitor’s centre and watched a short documentary on the history and
purpose of the monastery, followed by the opportunity to witness the
monks chanting. It was a mesmerizing experience, in fact, listening
to the methodically and rhythmic words put me into a meditative and
very relaxed state, such that when it was time to depart- I had to be
knocked back to reality.

Descending from the monastery through a lovely birch forest, we came
upon our accommodation for our sixth night on the trail: The Rivendell
Lodge (which was named after the home of the elves in Lord of the
Rings- very exciting for a LOTR geek fan like me). It was in a
beautiful setting with views extending over Everest and Ama Dablam.
That evening was especially memorable for me as Vern and I were joined
by a wonderful guitarist named Ryan, who was a climbing member of
another expedition sharing the lodge that evening. After dinner, we
sat playing and singing tunes until about 10pm (which is in fact quite
late to be up on this trip, we’ve typically been going to bed around
8pm, so its not as lame as it sounds!) for a rapt audience of mostly
sherpas who clapped and sang along. I even got the chance to try out
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in an a capella style with clapping for
percussive background. Lots of fun.

The following day brought me my most memorable experience of the trek.
I had the incredible opportunity to witness the climbers receivng a
“Phuja” ceremony, where they are blessed by Lama Geishy to climb
Sagarmatha (Everest). A Lama is a Buddhist teacher, a holy man, who
is believed by the people to be a reincarnation of a Buddha. I
watched, entranced, as the Lama chanted, beat a drum rhythmically, and
then one by one, blessed each member of the climbing expedition with
prayer shawl and red corded necklace. After we were each given a
handful of rice which we threw in the air for good luck. It may sound
corny, but it was an extremely emotional experience and it had me in
tears very quickly.

Once the climbers left, the few trekkers who’d come the hard way up
the mountain to see the Lama were lucky enough to receive our own
Phuja. It was something that I will not soon forget.

We spent the next two nights in Pheriche (approx 14,000 feet)- the
following day being somewhat of an acclimatization/rest day. By this
point, a number of us had succumbed to hypoxia related conditions:
Harris had been flown by helicopter back to Kathmandu for a GI virus,
and now about four others were sick with GI/AMS symptoms. The degree
to which we were all at risk of getting so ill that we couldn’t
continue trekking, was not something I had given a great deal of
consideration to. As it turned out, one of the climbers, and six of
the trekkers got seriously ill on the trip at some point, and four had
to turn around before getting to base camp! In Pheriche, I came down
with a cold, but nothing more serious than a slight temperature and a
hacking cough (which still…eight days later has not gone away).
From what I can tell, the trouble is caused by a combination of
factors: 1 – altitude. Lack of oxygen (hypoxia) causes a weakening of
the body’s immune system making it more difficult to ward off bugs in
the first place, and harder to battle them once they are contracted 2
– melting pot of people from everywhere all crammed into teahouses
which become petri dishes for germs 3 – huge amounts of dust on the
trail get into your lungs and cause respiratory problems 4- Yak dung
and trash is burned and get into the atmosphere, and therefore, into
your lungs. Yuck.

Despite being quite ill, I still managed to sing to an even larger
crowd that night in the beautiful pine, large common room at the
Himalayan Hotel, which got so hot from the 50 or so bodies in there
that it seemed ridiculous to be dressed up in warm hiking gear.

After hacking all night, I was separated from my roomate and given my
own room to recover in the next day – score! I had a lovely hot
shower, napped, read, and tried to regain strength for the next
day…and more elevation gain. The sunsets at Pheriche were
astounding…lots of pink skies providing a dramatic backdrop to the
towering peaks all around us.

The next day was to be the last that the trekkers were walking
together with the climbers, and having gotten quite attached to the
latter group, I was not looking forward to saying goodbye. After a
morning visit to an Italian Atmospheric research station, I joined the
climbers for the afternoon steep slog up to the settlement of Lobuche
at just over 15,500 feet. I was definitely beginning to feel the
altitude, but pressure breathing seemed to help a lot. This was the
first night that I woke up in the night kind of gasping for air, and I
succumbed to taking half a tablet of Diamox…falling right back to
sleep. Lobuche was a tiny village…the facilities were becoming more
basic the higher we climbed. On the way, we stopped at a memorial
site to climbers that had perished on Everest. It was a sombre
location, covered in epitats and colorful Tibetan Prayer flags. I
found the memorial to Scott Fischer from the 1996 disaster.

That day the landscape really became more grand and awe-inspiring, now
we were walking alongside the towering giants like Nuptse. I snapped
a LOT of photos…can’t wait to share them!

Arriving at the teahouse with the climbers, I was dismayed to learn
that our two groups would be in separate accommodation that evening.
However, after taking some tea and preparing to leave, Lakpa Rita came
over and invited me to sleep in Jan’s room that night, and enjoy my
last evening dinner with the climbers. I was overjoyed and had a
thoroughly memorable evening talking, laughing, and sharing with my
new friends. Victor even shared one more scene from “The Holy Grail”
with me…which had me in stitches.

Having held it together the night before, I was not having such luck
in the morning. I sobbed my heart out as I hugged and bid goodbye to
Vern, Garrett, Victor, Jack, and….Quatchi! Yes…I decided to give
Quatchi to JR for the remainder of the expedition, as he said he’d be
happy to carry him up to the summit of Everest with him and his
mascot, Spike. So, as I type, Quatchi is at base camp preparing to
tackle the Khumbu Icefall to Camp I. Can’t wait to see the photos of
that!

Wiping away my tears and trying hard not to think about the potential
perils my friends would be facing in the next six weeks, I joined the
trekkers (although Don, a climber, was walking on with his wife Joyce
and the trekking party through to base camp, so one goodbye could
wait) as we headed on up to the trickily high base of Gorak Shep at
almost 17,000 feet! On arrival, I was quite pleased with how cute our
wooden little teahouse was, and we were given the afternoon to rest.
Rest? I was feeling pretty good, SO- Don and I decided to tackle Kala
Pattar ( a peak of just over 18,500 feet) that afternoon because of
the good light, instead of waiting until the day after next when the
group was scheduled to summit it together in the morning.

Initially, I planned to just walk half way…but I got summit fever
and Don and I decided to go all the way to the top. The views were
astounding and we got some incredible pics.

Will have to leave it there for now….in Lukla and will finish this
tomorrow in Kathmandu!

Love to you all!

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