We had a minor disaster on Day 8. We had planned to walk to Surke from Kharikola and made good time in the morning to reach a village called Puyan (Paiya/Chutok) in five hours at 1pm. From Puyan, it was only a 2-3 hour flat/downhill walk to Surke and we wanted to get there that day so that we had a chance of reaching Namche Bazaar the following day.
We stopped at a lovely place in Puyan called the Beehive Lodge. As we were getting ready to leave after lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse again and a few drops of rain began falling. We were determined to get to Surke that day so put on our wet weather gear and set out. It turned out to be the wrong decision as a full-scale storm broke out. We persevered but the rain became torrential and we were getting soaked. There was also an almost constant booming of thunder around us and the sky was literally electric. At this altitude, it felt like we were actually in the storm itself and the lightening was a bit too close for comfort.
When large hailstones started falling, we thought it was just too dangerous and decided to turn back to Puyan. The path to Surke rounded some high ridges and the drop-off at the trail edge fell thousands of feet all the way down to the river at the bottom of the valley. It would have been a risk too far to have tried to negotiate the paths when slippery with hailstones.
So after covering around 2km we turned back to Puyan very wet and annoyed with ourselves for leaving when it was so obvious a storm was coming. Our mood wasn't helped when the storm moved away later in the day and left enough time for us to make it to Surke if we had hung on. Oh well, no harm was done. When we got back to the Beehive lodge the owner kindly stoked up the big stove in the restaurant so we could hang our clothes up to dry. Water had managed to get into our bags despite them being 'waterproofed' and some of our clothes had got damp.
Above: The Beehive Lodge, Puyan. They were very kind to us when we returned with our pride dented and wet clothes.
Later in the afternoon whilst we were drinking tea and waiting for our clothes to dry, Jose arrived with another trekker from Sydney named Rick. They had also been caught in the same storm lower down in the valley and had witnessed the hailstones. Rick had been to the area before and had reached base camp. It was good to talk to him as he had some useful information from the time he had spent there. He was going to the Gokyo region this time around.
Above: The trail leading out of Puyan.
The next day we were aiming for Phakding or, if we made good time, Benkar or Monjo further on. After walking for around an hour we had a quick rest at a lodge from where we could see Lukla and we watched the planes coming and going. We didn't need to pass through Lukla on the way up and it was an hour out of our way, but it was interesting to see from afar. On take-off, when the planes become airborne, they bank steeply to the left in order to get out of the valley and thereby avoid crashing into the other side!
Above: Lukla on the right of centre. The airstrip runs steeply downhill before the land disappears and the planes hurtle into a narrow valley. You can see a plane coming in to land if you look closely.
Jose had caught up with us whilst we were watching the planes and we invited him to walk with us. It started raining again when we arrived in Surke so we stopped for some tea. Luckily it soon cleared up and we were able to press on shortly afterwards. We were going great guns that day. The enforced rest the day before must have done us good and we were keen to make up lost time. After climbing out of Surke, we took another rest at a picturesque village called Chaurikharka. On our way out of the village, a crowd of locals had gathered who seemed to be celebrating something and they offered us some warm orange squash which we accepted after deciding whether it was safe to drink! They wouldn't take any rupees when offered and were genuinely kind people.
Above: Looking back down the valley to Chaurikharka. Jose named this place 'the town of a thousand steps' and he wasn't far wrong.
The trails in this area were fairly flat with the occassional short, steep climb or descent. We were still making good time and reached a village called Ghat (Nurning) when another shower broke out. We took refuge again in a lodge for tea and snickers bars and by the time they were consumed, the rain had stopped. We had been quite lucky with the weather after our experience the day before. As we left the lodge we bumped into Rick on the path with his Nepali porter friend, Pemba, who he had picked up en-route. We said hello, got going and quickly left them all behind.
We made it to Phakding by around 3pm and because there were still a few daylight hours left, decided to carry on to Benkar or, possibly, Monjo.
Above: Some lodges on the west side of the Dudh Khosi, Phakding.
When we arrived in Benkar at around 5pm, we thought we could make it to Monjo 200m higher up but took the sensible decision to get a lodge (which was just as well as it started raining and got really cold shortly afterwards). It only left a short walk to Namche the next day so we were very pleased. As we were settling into our room, Jose and Rick arrived at the same lodge so again we spent the evening chatting over dinner. Rick had a portable-GPS gizmo which could measure distance walked and he said we had covered around 20km that day.
The next morning we all set off seperately. It may have only been a few kilometres to Namche but it was hard (probably not helped by our exertions the previous day). The path followed the river gradually up through dramatic gorges to Monjo and then Jorsalle where the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park was situated. The entrance fee was 1000 rupees each (£8).
Above: At the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park they keep a chart showing how many tourists have passed through.
After Jorsalle, the path continued up the river until it reached a near-vertical, wooded hillside that ascended steeply for 500m to Namche. You cannot see Namche until you actually get to the top. It's almost like a secret world up there - you would never find it if the path were not so obvious - a bit like a mystical land from a fantasy novel. Unfortunately, we didn't take many pictures that day but will post some that we took on our way down in a later entry.
It took 2 or 3 hours of hard slog in the heat before finally getting to the top and arriving in Namche. Hooray! We had achieved our first aim. From now on, all the villages would get more remote and it would become a lot colder.
Above: A picture of Namche that we took on our way back down when the weather was better.
Namche Bazaar is an amazing place. Considering it's remoteness and that it is at 3440m, it has everything that any other town has to offer; coffee shops, bakeries, internet, smart hotels etc. and it is reasonably priced compared to other small villages on the trail. In every shop, you pay only 100 rupees for a bottle of water, for example, which is less than a pound. We had bumped into Jose again as we arrived in Namche and he said that Rick would be staying at the Khumbu Lodge so we all headed there. The lodge was full of memorabilia from famous Everest ascents.
Above: Pictured at the Khumbu Lodge with Rick, Pemba and Jose.
We now had a difficult decision to make. Should we continue to Everest Base Camp?
We intended to take a rest day at Namche for acclimatisation purposes and to regain some energy so we would spend two nights there. On the rest day, we decided to walk a little way out of the town to try and get a view of Everest and the trail that would lead there.
We set off early with the aim of walking up the ridge to the East of Namche and to the Everest View Hotel. In the event, we couldn't work out how to get to the hotel but, after half an hour's walk, we rounded a ridge and had the most magnificent view of the Everest range. The weather was perfect that morning and the view was unobstructed. If we decided to continue to base camp, our next stop would be the village of Tengboche at 3860m which you can just about make out at the top of the ridge in the photo below.
Above: Tengboche can just be seen on the top of the horizontal ridge in the near-distance. The trail inevitably went all the way to the bottom of the valley before climbing steeply up the hillside. You can see Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse in the background.
Above: A huge yak we saw on our way back to Namche.
When we got back to Namche, we went for breakfast at the Namche Bakery and after much discussion made the tough decision to carry on. We had come this far and were in good spirits and health. We would need to buy or hire some more equipment so, once we had decided to go for it, we rushed around Namche trying to get everything sorted such as down-jackets, sleeping bags, hats and gloves. Later, we even splashed out on a can of beer - the only alcohol we consumed during the entire trip!
On our second night in Namche, Teresa developed a headache (not from the beer!) and we put it down to mild altitude sickness. If it wasn't better by the morning, it would not have been wise to go to Tengboche at a higher altitude. Teresa took one of the Diamox altitude sickness tablets that we had bought in Kathmandu and, thankfully, was feeling better come the morning so it was all systems go.
Above: The start of the Kongde Ri range to the west of Namche.
Above: Thamserku seen from the trail just outside of Namche.
Next time........Day 11 & 12 Namche - Tengboche - Dingboche