As I walked along today I pondered a suitable theme for this blog, and settled upon “the great challenge”. I think I could have just as easily called it “the walk of the never ending switchbacks”, and that would have been a pretty fair description also.
For those who know me the picture below will explain clearly why I chose this theme.
But first, following is an extract from Mike’s briefing note of last evening, as it sets the scene for the day.
Downvalley tomorrow is the day they remove the plastic from the body and the cardboard boxes from the head of Hillary and Tenzing at Lukla airport. We'll see them when we get back to Lukla but here's a photo I took in 1983 of the one and only time Hillary and Tenzing were actually together at Lukla airport, thankfully without cardboard boxes on their heads. [my comment - this won't make much sense to those of you not here, but it will become clearer in a few days, so stand by.]
[Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary, 1983 - photo courtesy Michael Dillon]
Tomorrow we follow the exact route they took together in 1953 to reach the then tiny village of Namche Bazar on their way to Everest. No doubt they set a very fast pace up the hill, trying to prove to each other how fit they were, but when I followed Hillary up the same hill in his seventies, he had learnt that the best way to climb it was very slowly, so we too have to follow in his very slow footsteps. His technique was to climb so slowly that he never got out of breath.
When we leave the lodge tomorrow we will walk through the rest of Monzo and enter Sagamatha National Park. We have another hour or so's walk up the valley we are in during which we will stop for a drink.
At the end of the valley two rivers join to form the river we have been following. On the left is the Bhote Kosi, coming down from Tibet, and on the right the Imja Khola, coming down from Everest. We will cross a new swing bridge over this branch of the river and continue up the hill to Namche Bazar. The gradient of the climb is generally very user friendly, and about a third of the way up, there is a viewpoint where it might be possible to see Everest.
It's an amazing sight to finally see Namche Bazar, this city in the clouds, not literally hopefully. But if the weather is somewhat the same as todays, we can be assured of many blue skies in the days ahead.
We will reach Namche around 1pm and can spend the afternoon strolling around, in the coffee shops, and visit the market that gets underway tomorrow afternoon and continues on Saturday morning, our rest day here.
But let me start at the beginning of the day. After another early start we headed out of Monjo through the Sagarmāthā National Park gates, and onto the little village of Jorsalle for some sustenance supplies for the day. That involved another suspension bridge (easy) and then another shortly afterwards (also easy) as we criss-crossed the Dudh Koshi making our way ever so steadily uphill. The path along the left side of the river is vastly improved since my last visit, and the walk was pleasant.
But then ...
Once back on the right side of the river, as we rounded a bend, I saw “the challenge”. Said challenge is the double-decker swing bridge at the confluence of the Bhote Koshi and the Dudh Koshi. I had known that it was coming up, but that doesn't make the reality of a suspension bridge a couple of hundred metres above the river any less confronting.
I’d desensitised myself to the lower ones, but this one brought back all the fears from years gone by. Irrational I know, but real all the same. Anyway, some 30 minutes later I'd survived the crossing, admittedly by concentrating on a point on the back of the head of my companion in front.
Then came challenge #2, albeit physical not psychological. The walk up to Namche Bazaar on what's called the Namche hill is a slow, steady one foot in front of another climb. It’s not a particularly long distance, perhaps 4 kilometres or so, but the incline certainly tests the lungs. As we were now quite high above the Bhote Koshi, yesterday's sounds of the river were replaced by birdsong and the occasional chatter of either our trekking group or the stream of porters lugging impossibly heavy packs on their backs up the hill to Namche (although the staccato thrumming of the choppers still persisted).
We arrived into Namche early afternoon. It's changed a lot in the 13 years since I was last here. More developed. I was chatting to an AHF photographer chap this afternoon (he's here with a colleague to record the celebrations), and he in turn has been talking to some of the local folk who apparently are disappointed (saddened?) that the character of their town has changed so much with the increasing influx of tourists. Sounds a bit like Dunsborough!
This afternoon was an exploratory day. I couldn't easily distinguish new Namche from old Namche. There's more shops, but they look similar. There's a few more bars and coffee shops.
Here's a few pictures of the day, more or less in order ...
Leaving Monjo - entering Sagarmāthā National Park
Some good life advice
Bridge #1, near Jorsalle
Jorsalle and the Dhud Koshi, from bridge #1
Note the fine balance. Note also the death grip on the phone. Photo courtesy Rishikesh Dhillon
The bridge ...
The beasts get right of way, naturally ...
At the top of the Bhote Koshi valley, part way up the Namche hill. The silly grin is caused by breathlessness. photo courtesy Michael Dillon.
Namche entrance and stupa
Tomorrow we're exploring Namche, and weather permitting going up the hill to check out some mountains. Until then ...