We’ve had a lazy rest day today in the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar. On a good day this is one of the most spectacularly situated villages anywhere in the world. It lies in a natural bowl on the hillside hundreds of metres above the Bhote Kosi gorge. Row upon row of multi-storeyed stone tea houses are piled on top of one another stretching up the hillside, and narrow streets are lined with bookshops, bakeries, outdoor clothing stores and trekkers’ lodges.
On another day the picturesque snowcap of Kongde towers over everything across the valley, but today the village hung under a grey cloud, not a patch of blue sky was to be seen, and the Statue of Liberty might have been sitting on the hillside opposite for all we could see of it.
It’s not been a day for sightseeing, and my camera has remained firmly in my pocket. Most of the team have been sitting in cafes this morning playing with their smart phones and iPads, and doing their best to squeeze whatever they can from the meagre wifi facilities available here, which grind to a halt whenever too many people try to connect.
At one point Edita told me where to find Kevin because she’d seen him post his location on Facebook. He was sitting in a bakery across the road not twenty metres away from her reading my blog on his iPad. It freaked him out when I pulled up a chair and sat down opposite.
I seem to be the only person in the team not particularly bothered about surfing. I made a short visit to an internet cafe to post this, and otherwise my phone has remained buried in my pack. I have no one at home I need to keep in touch with, and for me an expedition is a good opportunity to get away from it all for a few weeks.
We flew into Lukla by helicopter on Thursday, a much better travel option than the Twin Otter planes that have a safety record comparable to Evel Knievel’s. This meant we bypassed the crowds queuing to board the fixed wing flights at Kathmandu Airport, and avoided the scary runway at Lukla by gently hovering to a stop beside it.
I shared a chopper with Ian, Margaret and Edita. We are four out of five of the team climbing Lhotse. Expedition leader Phil Crampton has labelled us the “Dream Team” because we have all climbed Everest and have twenty-seven 8000m peak expeditions between us. But with myself and Ian Cartwright in the team, all I can say is, it must be a pretty bad dream – the type you might suffer after seven pints of Guinness and a few shots of tequila.
Margaret is a different matter, though. At sixty-four years old she is making her fifth trip to Everest in as many years. Back home in Perth, Australia, she is known as Supergran. She doesn’t look sixty-four, or a gran, and it certainly confused the officer at the police checkpoint as we approached Namche. I gave him our Lhotse permit to write down our details in his log book, and when he reached Margaret’s age he paused, looked up at her, looked down at his paper, paused again and finally scribbled down forty-six.
It has taken us two days to walk up to Namche along a beautiful pine-clad gorge, hemmed in by tall cliffs. The trail was busy, though, and the sprawl of tea houses erased any sense of remoteness. I normally plod slowly at the back while I’m still acclimatising, but yesterday I found myself overtaking large groups of trekkers and porters with impossibly towering baskets of provisions to supply the teahouses. I risked life and limb to slip past laden trains of dzos and horses always ready to barge me off the trail and down a bank.
But on the long, forested climb up to Namche, a guide from another team overtook me at pace playing Venus in Furs by the Velvet Undergroud on his iPhone. The first I knew of it was when I heard Lou Reed droning “I am tired, I am weary” in my ear. So much for motivational music.
We are all feeling good today, including Louis the South African who did not have such a good day yesterday. By eight in the morning he had already been to the toilet an astonishing forty times. He was severely dehydrated on the hot and dusty trail to Namche, and limped into the tea house three hours after the rest of us.
An Everest summiteer who starts flagging on an easy trail below 3000m doesn’t get much sympathy from his team mates. He is the fifth member of the so-called Dream Team, but yesterday he managed to make me and Ian look like a pair of superstar athletes. Phil wanted to order a horse for him just so that he could accuse him of making an ass of himself when he arrived in Namche. Last night we watched the T20 world cup cricket semi-final in a bar. Louis was looking a lot better this morning, so I was unable to resist telling him that Dale Steyn was producing as much crap with the ball as he was out of his arse.
Tomorrow we hit the trail again, and if all goes well we’ll be spending tomorrow night in Deboche with views of Everest.