November 11, 2018
Trekking Day: 19 of 22
Start: Lukla (Elev: 9,315')
End: Kharikola (Elev: 6,680')
Distance: 12 miles
Accommodation: Peaceful Lodge
The walk out has been pretty much what I remembered on the way in. Lots of ups and downs with relentless rock staircases: a knee basher. Add to that the slick rock and mud from yesterday's rain, and the poop, piss, and spit from the endless mule trains and their drivers that litters the way. It's a less pleasant challenge than the high Himalaya. Already missing the painfully slow progress and shortness of breath. Let's just say that the Jiri to Lukla Trek makes a better approach than it does an exit. I remember being far more excited about it when I was working toward the really epic stuff. Now I'm just sorta going through the motions - one foot in front of the other, just keep walking. Not so exciting or romantic, but still my element. And besides, there was no way I was going to pay nearly $200 USD for a flight to Kathmandu, especially with so much time between now and my flight home. I don't really like Kathmandu all that much.
Not much to report today. I just walked. Saw very few Westerners and very many mules. I was constantly battling the beasts for space on the narrow trail as long mule trains pushed passed in both directions fully loaded with goods.
I'm staying in the same lodge that I stayed in on the way up. It was mostly quiet (the kids make a raucous sometimes, but don't we all), and they treated me very well. Finally the overnight accommodation is cheap again, the food prices are dropping while the portions are growing, and there is a more authentic feel to the villages. I'm not in the national park anymore, and it's obvious. I certainly enjoy and value the contrast, so I'm grateful for that.
In the grand scheme of things, today wasn't so bad. Tomorrow will prove much more challenging, I think. I'll start with a downhill hike to the valley floor where I'll cross the river on another long suspension bridge. Then there's a killer climb of about 1,500 meters to regain the ridge on the other side. Then I imagine I'll go back down, then back up, then down, and on and on like that. Not such inspiring views, but it beats the gym stairmaster.
November 12, 2018
Trekking Day: 20 of 22
Start: Kharikola (Elev: 6,680')
End: Junbesi (Elev: 8,775')
Distance: 15 miles
Accommodation: Sherpa Guide Lodge
During the initial hike down today, I came across three kid goats pouncing and playing in the path. So freakin' cute. At first they were chewing on a porter basket. I just smiled and said "Oh, you're gonna get in big trouble for that move." Then they were hopping around on the stone stairs. I tried to get some snapshots, but nothing really came out. In the end, some things have to be experienced rather than captured. It was a small thing that I hope I never forget.
I stopped about halfway up the epic climb to Hill Top Lodge. I was taking a photo down the valley, and this little kid, maybe four years old, came up to me and said "Photo! Photo!" He begged with a stoic face until I snapped an image. Then he climbed up on the bench next to me and looked out over the valley with me. I had wanted to capture more images of the local people, but when the time I came, I had trouble asking. I felt uncomfortable as a privileged Westerner asking to shove my camera in the face of a person, or their child, who lives in another world. It felt inappropriate and disrespectful to me, especially as someone who isn't a professional photographer documenting the culture. As if capturing their lives in passing was some sort of appropriation where I capture the exotic aspects of their lives without enduring any measure of comparable suffering. I feel no judgment toward others who choose to ask; I'd just rather not.
I finally reached the top of the climb at 1230 and stopped for a much-deserved lunch, including my first soda since arriving in Kharikola nearly three weeks ago. For those of you who know me, that might seem like an achievement. The truth is that I just couldn't bring myself to pay 300, 400, even 500+ for a 500 mL bottle of Coca Cola. Hard to believe, but it turns out that I'm not quite that bad of an addict. Or maybe I'm just way more cheap than I am addicted?
It's so funny how you can tell the greenhorns out here. It's really clear who is on their way up and who is on their way out. The former are all so clean, wide-eyed, and unsure. The latter are scruffy, focused, and certain. I smiled to myself as I finished my lunch among the former.
It was cloudy nearly all day. They rolled in within an hour of leaving Kharikola, and they just got thicker as I climbed in and descended out of them. Saw very little of the sun's rays today. It was quite chilly. And since the gorgeous views have abated, I'm ready to not be cold and alone all the time. There's no internet tonight, which is surprising. Had hoped that Junbesi would be a big enough village to have WiFi, but it looks like it's just the Everest Link. It's hard to not be able to reach out to Mallory, though. I miss her all the time, and it's only worse when I can't talk to her. Light of my world, that woman.
November 13, 2018
Trekking Day: 21 of 22
Start: Junbesi (Elev: 8,775')
End: Bhandar (Elev: 7,220')
Distance: 17 miles
Accommodation: Shangri La Lodge
I spent the first two hours today climbing up into the clouds at Lamjura La, which sounds much more romantic than it actually is. It was mostly just cold and wet up there. As I descended toward Sete over the course of a few hours, the sun generally won out against the clouds. I stopped in Sete for lunch and found the menu to be more expensive than I'd anticipated in such a small, rural village. I ordered some Sherpa Stew and resolved to make quick work of the second half of my walk today. The sooner I could finish, the sooner I could eat dinner and get to sleep, which would bring me one step closer to home.
Bhandar is a bustling little village. For how remote it is, there are many shops, including groceries, electronics, clothes, and gear. It must be a regional hub. Makes sense because I've been traveling through mostly rural farming and agriculture-based communities the last few days.
There really isn't too much to say about the walk out via the classic Hillary route. I mean, it's pretty. And I'm really grateful that I'm experiencing it. And if I hadn't, I wouldn't have been missing much. The villages are cute, quaint, authentic. I get a lot of odd looks from locals. From what I can tell, it's not common for folks to hike in from Jiri, nevermind walk out this way. It's both physically and mentally demanding; the trail becomes more and more difficult to follow the closer I get to Jiri. It's not very well-marked, and really only marked at all for those traveling toward the Himalaya. I constantly have to turn around to watch for markers and figure out based on the placement which way I need to go. It was pretty straightforward until I got passed Kimja village. After that, the trail became faint, braided, and broken. And since it travels through a lot of thick forest and undergrowth, it became very challenging to follow. Again, though, all part of the experience.
As far as I can tell, this area was significantly damaged in the earthquake. The road, and subsequently the trail, seems to have been re-routed. And I can see signs of the earthquake: uneven terrain with significant splits and jumps as well as cracked building facades and infrastructure.
November 14, 2018
Trekking Day: 22 of 22
Start: Bhandar (Elev: 7,220')
End: Shivalaya (Elev: 5,810')
Distance: 5 miles
Accommodation: Kala Patthar Lodge
Today I managed to lose the route among the badly braided path as I climbed from Bhandar up toward the unnamed saddle at Deurali. I ended up cutting cross-country for a bit to regain the well-worn path. Frustrating, but not especially surprising given my experience on the approach route.
Met a cool older Aussie couple who has been to Nepal three times and has finally given in to trekking the EBC. The woman mentioned that she has always struggled when they get up high, so I gave her the Diamox that I never needed. I prefer to have it in my kit just in case, but it's cheap and I can get more when I get back to Kathmandu. They strongly encouraged me to hop the bus at Shivalaya, which should allow me to get a front seat, which will be a much less miserable experience for the 12+ hour trip. They also assured me that it's not dicey, just wicked-uncomfortable. I'm tempted to finish in Jiri, but I think I've embraced the classic approach even without the last 6 miles.
Tonight's accommodations are the nicest I've had this whole trip. Very kind hosts, nice room, hot shower, big portions, reasonable prices. Just a wonderful value and environment. The polar opposite of that rip-off lodge I first stayed at in Gokyo. It's as if Karma has delivered her trademarked balance to my trip.
Today I enjoyed my first shower in 31 days, and it was a hot one! Pure bliss. Had some lunch right after, then did a little laundry by the river. All in all, feeling ready for the ride back to Kathmandu. And soooooo ready to get to SLC and start adventuring with Mallory. Got some really rad stuff in the works down in the Southwest region of the States.
I'm going to sleep tonight giddy at the realization that I'm done. I've walked the Three Passes and the classic Everest Approach. I've done what I set out to do and get to start making my way home now, another once in a lifetime adventure in the books. So much gratitude and humility for this life I'm living. And finding my soulmate? I guess one person really can have it all. What have I done to deserve this life and this love?