To the Khumbu valley and back in civilization

The last day in the basecamp had gone and the last morning at the basecamp was at hand. Most of the morning went packing things up and taking the last individual and group pictures against the huge west face of the Baruntse. During the breakfast we also heard an interesting news from Lukla that there has been a traffic jam because of bad weather and there are around 2000 persons waiting for the skies to clear and the flights to start operate again. Well.. we would have still almost a week till we get there and were sure it would be sorted out before that.

The road from Baruntse basecamp to Amphulapcha pass

The road from Baruntse basecamp to Amphulapcha pass is quite rocky

Crystal clear mountain lake between Baruntse and Amphulapcha

Crystal clear mountain lake between Baruntse and Amphulapcha

The days trek would take us to the high camp on Amphulapcha pass, which is our last obstacle before entering the Khumbu side of the valley. The route was on most parts quite tricky with non-existing paths going through large sections of broken rock. So, it was most likely a good decicion for Alan and Erik to leave one day earlier for the journey. Beside the terrain the trekking was quite pleasent. On the way we could observe the Hunku valley opening to the south and we could enjoy also the crystal clear mountain lakes on the vay. Before we would climb up to the high camp, we entered the side of the valley where lies the Panch Pokhari – Five lakes – which is a sacred place. On the adjacent slopes we walked we could see all down the Hunku valley and back towards Baruntse as well as to the Ama Dablam which was rising at the end of the ridge formation that the Amphulapcha was part of. At the end of the valley, just below the climb up to the pass, there was another group of people camping there. We do not know whether they were coming or going over the pass, but we continued pass them to very edge of the pass. When we reached the high camp spot just under the layered glacier of the pass, the sun was already starting to set in. We were now on the northern slopes which meant the sun would dip behind the mountains quite early. Again Markus had been early on the spot and picked us an amazing tent spot with one of the best views of the whole trip. Eventhough I could not match the Markus’ speed, I had a pretty steady and good flow that day and especially up the last climb. I took that as a good sign that the whatever I had had in my system was already passing.

Panorama of the Panch Pokhari

Panorama of the Panch Pokhari, though you can only see two of them from this vantage point

Our tent spot at Amphulapcha high camp

Our tent spot at Amphulapcha high camp is right there where the bag is. I have seen worse than this.

As I mentioned that the sun was already setting when we got there and it started to get cold quite soon after. That would not been much of a problem otherwise, but the porters where quite late and only couple of the tents had arrived and basically none of the gear duffel bags. The terrain during the day must have been very hard for the porters. This ment that none of us had really not much more clothing to put on as it was getting colder. Luckily the kitchen stuff was partially there and we got some warm drinks and some noodle soup to eat. More so I was in luck too as the first two duffel bags to arrive to the camp were my two bags. At least I did not have to be cold unlike most of the others. It eventually took until 6pm that all the bags had arrived to the camp.  Soon after we got dinner and then it was time to sleep again.

People waiting for their bags

People waiting for their bags and trying to stay warm with the hot tea

The night at the Amphulapcha was surprisingly much more warmer than any of the nights at the basecamp despite the fact that the sun does not shine much here and the 400m higher elevation. The others also said that the camp 1 had been also much more warmer than the basecamp, so it seems the basecamp is quite a cold magnet sucking in all the cold air around it. After nice pancake breakfast we started up to the pass. The day was supposed to be a bit longer one and we got a small lunch package with us. There is no direct way up the Amphulapcha glacier at it is very layered and there could be more than 10-20m of vertical ice to climb from one platform to another platform if going up a direct line. We, however, went up a route that the sherpas had been scouting the last evening. It wounded up zigzagging here and there, but it saved us from doing actually much real climbing at all. We could have most probably gone up by other routes too, but the porters would have had real trouble if would have done so. Even now there were two or three places were you had to use your crampons for real. We made through it nice and clean, but I really have to be amazed by the porters as they navigated through the same route and while wearing nothing but cheap canvas shoes for friction. Not that just getting up with the sneakers they wore would be an effort they did it while carrying up 60kg loads with them. Those guys are real crazy bastards, they are.

View of the Amphulapcha glacier from right underneath it

View of the Amphulapcha glacier from right underneath it. You can try to search for the best path up yourself too.

Porters climbing up the steps on the Amphulapcha glacier

Porters climbing up the steps on the Amphulapcha glacier. The loads with these guys in the picture must be over 50kg.

From the top of the pass we had quite a nice view both to the Hunku valley and to the Khumbu side and right across valley there rose the huge face of Lhotse and Everest was lurking to us just behind it. The enjoyment was soon rendered into dispair as we were able to descend from the pass just mere 10m and had to stop there. What had here was a true traffic jam. Apparently there were some people coming up the pass from the other side, which is not very common. This jammed the whole thing as a bit further down there is a section which you need to ascend or descend via fixed ropes. And you can’t do that in both ways at the same time. On top of that all the porters and other non-climbing sherpas had to be rappelled down, because they did not have neither the skills or the equipment to go down by themselves. What they did was, that they tied up a loop around a porter – or sometimes two at the sametime – and then they would lower the poor porter down with that rope. They porters did not have much control of the things with their canvas shoes and thumbled all over the place when they were lowered. Apparently no-one was hurt, though. Eventually we had to wait perched on a rocky edge for more than four hours than any of us got through the bottleneck. When it finally was our time to go, the whole affair took something like a minute in total. Such a wait for such a small thing.

The traffic jam on top of the pass

Noora Sotaniemi The traffic jam on top of the pass

After the abseil there were still fixed ropes going for about 200m more. I witnessed a close call situation, though, just at the top of the fixed ropes. A porter just before me, carrying the solar panels to charge anything among other things, fell and his cargo was sent thumbling and rolling down the quite a steep slope. It looked like the panels were a goner, but they luckily stopped just before they would have fallen off another edge down below. Fortunately for the porter he did not hurt himself and only needed my assistance to lift him back on hes feet. I did that and after confirming he was ok continued my descend. Somewhat further down there was another incident when a very you – could not really be even 15 I would say – had fallen with load and it was beginning to slip from his grasp. At that point I was accompanied with Mia and David and we helped him to keep hold of the load and I also chopped a small platform for him to stand and work with the cargo. A momoent later though apparently his big brother (or cousin or something like that) came back up and helped him from there on. We had then only the final steep snow slope to descend and we would be back in the valley floor. We were told that we were quite lucky that the slope was no under the snow as other times it has been quite a rolling rock run to the bottom. Much more nicer to walk on the snow than on the wobbly rocks. Later on we by the way heard that only a day or two after us passing the Amphulapcha, there had died four people – a sherpa guide, two clients and a porter. Apparently they had been roped together and somebody had slipped. If this truly happened, mysterious is that why the rope was not attached to anything? The answer to this we might never know.

Looking up to the Amphulapcha pass from the north side

Looking up to the Amphulapcha pass from the north side

From there it would be relatively gentle walk to the campsite. Or thats what we thought. The leg to the “big rock” – as the place is called – was surprisingly long and winding. It was quite frustrating that you did not have any clue how far the place is. The fact that it started snow a little on the way and paths were very slippery in parts did not help either. Neither did the vanishing little light we had left under the thick cloud coverage. The clouds had creeped in while we had descended from the pass and the visibility was quite low. On the way we could have enjoyed the views to the Lhotse or even to the more closer Island Peak, but none of that could be seen now. Eventually just after the dark I arrived to the campsite where there was oddly quiet. Most of the people were in the tents resting apparently and in the darkness you could not see anyway much. We were served some dinner soon after, but I was wondering where was Markus who I thought would be sharing the tents. I wondered if he has gone for a little hike somewhere, but even later on there was no sign of him. Later I learned that he was actually sleeping in the tent next to mine and we both apparently had individual tents for the night. Little extra did not hurt me.


Chukkung. The first real village after left Lukla.

The girls enjoying the refreshing cola in Dingboche

Markus Stählin The girls enjoying the refreshing cola in Dingboche

The night had more clearer skies than the day before and I could see during my pee break that we had actually slept almost right under the north face of Ama Dablam. Could not have guessed that yesterday. The morning, though, was quite chilly and again covered in the fog. After the breakfast people started to head off towards the warmth of the Khumbu valley. It took about an hour to get to the first real village, Chukkung, where the most thirstiest of our group made a stop for a very pricey beer. Up here it costs around 500 rupees, approx 5€, per can. I did not stop there an continued on. At Dingboche, at 4530m, I met Markus, Mia and Noora who had stopped instead of beer for a cans of coke. We had a brief chat and headed again further on. At noon I stopped at Shomare, 4000m, for lunch. I had some noodles and cheese momos. After some akward communications I also got a mug of hot chhang in front of me. It tasted great. Well… I if you like a warm moonshine, you could say it tasted great. While I was there I saw first Alan to pass by and then Rich and Steve too. I lured them inside to have some company. After the surprisingly effective mugs of chhang we headed the final half and hour walk to Pengboche where we would sleep for the night. We arrived there just in time for the lunch, or the second one for me. Most of the people were already there and majority of them had a can of beer in hand. It was quite obvious that everybody started to let go of the expedition stress. Here we actually slept indoors for a change and everybody a got a bed in on of the double rooms they had.

The common room of our Pengboche lodge and our team having an afternoon drinks

The common room of our Pengboche lodge and our team having an afternoon drinks

Before the dinner I left with Rich and Steve to look for some more chhang. As a skimpy person I did not want to pay 500 rupees for a can of beer when I could get a whole jug of chhang with less than that. After some search we finally found a place that served chhang, but I think it was even there fetch from another place. We did not then locate the real source of chhang in Pengboche. Getting a bit light headed we headed of for some dinner. Dinner was quite uneventful, but after that the party really got loose. It did not take long for somebody to turn on the nepali pop and after that the room was full of dancing sherpas before you could blink an eye. It also did not take long when we were also asked and half dragged to the dancing floor which was basically formed as an circle around the heater in the center of the room. The dancing lasted the whole night and if any of us it was Noora who got the lions share of the dancing as for some reason the sherpas where very fond of dancing with her. Maybe it was her height that made her quite the same sized as the sherpas that fonded them. We could never know, but I did went to bed in good time as it seemed the dancing might last through the whole night.

The party at Pengboche

The party at Pengboche

The classic Khumbu view from just outside Penboche

The classic Khumbu view from just outside Penboche

The next morning we finally had some good weather and good first time in Khumbu really enjoy the surroundings. The last evenings partying did not show much on the breakfast table which had remaned the same as the last few days with toast, pancakes and omelets. It would be just a few hours walk to Namche Bazaar if one does not stop for too long. Most of us could not pass the well advertized bakery at Tengboche, right next to the almost as famous monastery. At the bakery you have around ten different chocolate cakes to choose form and then you have also the cupcakes and bisquits and all too. For me the one piece of

Chocolate cake at the Tengboche bakery

Stef Wolput Chocolate cake at the Tengboche bakery

that “Wacky Crazy” was enough. With the overdoze of chocolate inside us we took a brief tour at the monastery before returning to the path down the valley. From the monastery you can by the way look one of the most famous sceneries of the Ama Dablam. The monastery is on top of a hill and either way you go you have to ascend a steeply to get there. At the bottom of the hill towards Namche and our way we crossed the Dudh Kosi river that has been flowing at the bottom of the valley. I met there some others of our group and stopped for a drink of chhang. This time they did not have to go fetch it from anywhere and in no time I had a full jug of it at the table. When finished I headed off again, though, now with bit more faltering steps. The final few kilometers to Namche Bazaar on the way down are very unmotivating walking. After every corner you pass and think that now you will see the houses of Namche there comes in to view instead just another bend in the path. If something positive there is at that path, it is in very, very good condition and it is in long parts wide enough to drive with a car. If you can somehow get a car up there that is. Finally after the many bends on the way I reached the Namche and our quite thugged away teahouse.

Here finally the luxury needs of many came inlight and most of the members did sleep in other guest houses or hotels. Eventually there was only six of us that slept at the designated guest house. This time we did not have the warmth of the rooms, but it was back to the tents again. After the super-carb dinner of mashed potatoes, rice and pasta, we planned to go a local bar as did most of the others too. There would be also members from the Ama Dablam expedition who had been stuck here at Namche for about a week already. They had been hit the worst by the traffic jam at the Lukla and some of them had even decided to walk out from Lukla to Jiri, which would take additional four days time. We – I, Rich, Arnold and Jangbo – war aiming for the bar, but just at the corner of it Jangbo told that we could visit one of his friends. We were like “why not” and soon we where at a darkened guest house banging on the doors. It was a bit akward , but Jangbo said it would be ok. We did have to infact wait for long and we found ourselves in the common room of the guest house with jugs of chhang in front of us. It did not look too bad. The guest house owner was somekind of a legendary sherpa who had been on expedition on basically with all the legendary western mounaineers. It was very stunning how he told all the stories and just casually mentioned that “and then there was also this guy Messner with us” without even stopping. We had great fun listening these stories. After quite a few jugs of chhang it was time for as to finally head to the bar. Our host did, however, invite us for a pancake breakfast the next morning which we delightfully accepted. At the bar there was full party going on and we joined in. The party lasted until the bar closed and everybody started to head back to their places. Personally I was quite wasted, but luckily had some supportive people with me to get to the guest house. For some reason – hard to imagine why 🙂 – I had trouble finding my own tent and I had to basically go through all the tents until I was not anymore steered nicely to the next tent. It was a damn good party I have to say.

Party at a bar in Namche Bazaar

Steven Etchen Party at a bar in Namche Bazaar

My morning at Namche Bazaar was not perhaps the high points of the trip. I was woken by the sherpas pulling down my tent and almost dragging my stuff out of it and me with them. I had a bit vague memories of the last night, but by the feeling I now had it must have been a good one. I jumped out of the tent and pulled my gear out. Not a moment too soon as soon I was out of the tent it was collapsed and packed by the very effective sherpa staff. I had a bit of trouble orienteering myself and got some help from Jangbo to stuff by gear into the duffel bags. With Jangbos very resolute packing it was quickly done. I then hauled myself to the breakfast that was still served inside the guest house. Almost all had already eaten, though. After I got something to my stomach we headed for the second breakfast to the place we were yesterday invited. At mid-morning there we were, Jangbo, Arnold, Rich and me, eating potato pancakes and some sauce to go with it and of course it was washed down with a glass of chhang. What other would be more better than a good morning brew? Eventually we had to say farewell to our kind host, but we were able to leave we were given one kata each. Those are white scarfs embroided throughout with symbols of good luck. I was still feeling a bit unsteady from the last night, but luckily the most of the way was downhill and on a good path so not too great exertion was needed. Our plan was not to go all the way to Lukla today, but stop at the halfway at Phakding. This was because they had only been able to book the flights for the day after tomorrow.

At halfway we stopped for a lunch. Now the hangover had really kicked in. I took some relief in cheese sandwich and french fries. From there it weren’t much more than an hours walk to Phakding, although it felt much longer. The path was very fortunately good and too hilly. I arrived to Phakding at midafternoon. I took notice of the reggae bar they had there, but today I did not have any interest of going there. Maybe on the next trip 😉 At Phakding we did not have much to do other than just wait as most of the bags had not arrived. Even by the dinner there were only few of the bags that had arrived. We heard that there had been some hassle with some porter who had been a bit drunk the night before and at halfway to Phakding many of the porters had returned back to Namche Bazaar to check on the guy. For us it stayed unclear what eventually had happened to the poor guy and had the other porters found him after all. It was well past the normal bed time when the bags finally arrived. It would not had matterd much, though, as we had already gotten some blankets were quite well off with those.

The last morning really on the road broke out with clear skies and with the almost constant roar of the planes arriving and leaving Lukla. It was a very good sign that we would be able leave as planned. After the usual porrige-pancake-omelette breakfast we started the last trek of the trip. It was only two hours walk to Lukla and well before noon we were already there. Thus, the trek ended. It was for real quite good to know that there was no more trekking or anything like that left. Everybody looked quite happy. There was, though, one incident about 20 minutes before Lukla, but not for any of our team. There was, apparently an Americans, two ladies who passed me and Mia on one tight corner on the briddle path that was laid out there. The moment thei had passed us we heard a bushes rustle and a scream and ended with a thud and roll. I turned over and went to look what happened. Before me there were already few others and some was already climbing down the 5m drop she had apparently fallen. She was moaning down there which ment she weren’t too badly hurt I guess. Few moments later there came a man with a large medic kit running down the path who had I guess heard the screaming. It was quite a shame that the women, who most likely were on their way to the Everest basecamp, had end their trek only after 20 minutes away from Lukla. We saw that there were already quite few people attending the situation we continued our way to the Lukla.

We are waiting for our flight at the Namaste Lodge

Erich Bonfert We are waiting for our flight at the Namaste Lodge

Expedition team group photo just before we leave Lukla

Erich Bonfert Expedition team group photo just before we leave Lukla. From left to right: Robert, Steven, Daniel, Mikko (me), Stef, Rich (at the back), Jangbo, Noora, Mia, Markus (just behind Mia), Arnold, Vivian, Jan, David, Alan, Andrew and kneeling down are Erich and Takeshi.

When we arrived at Lukla we headed to the Namaste Lodge to get our rooms and then it was time for the well deserved beer. The afternoon went pretty much with enjoying the warm sun and the cold beer. We had some lunch at the bar and more lunch at the lodge. Before dinner we had some more beer in the various bars that had happy hours of three beers for the price of two. After dinner it continued pretty much with the same formula. We stayed quite late at the bar playing pool and drinking more beer. Again in the morning we could notice the evenings fun and we seeked amending at the local Illy café and their cakes and milkshakes. At this point we did not know when our flight would be, but we were supposed to be at our lodge waiting for the notification. As it was with the fly in, the flight times are not exact science here. We did not have to wait for long as just after noon we were summoned to the airport. At the airport we had to wait for a while for our flight in the surprisingly cold waiting hall. Still, it weren much more than hour from that and we were back again in hot Kathmandu. From the airport we had a minibus to our hotels, I would be staying at the same Kohinoor as before the expedition. Quite a few others, though, chose a more extravagant accommodation from the top of the line hotels in Kathmandu. The hot and polluted air as well as the flight did some tricks to us too, with most visible being the Viv’s puking in the minivan on the way from the airport. I, as well as some others, had too some symptoms of cold and feverish feeling after we got back to Kathmandu, but that did subside in a day or two of rest.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu

Durbar Square in Kathmandu

I had still four nights until I was planned to leave Kathmandu, I had plenty of time to do some sightseeing around and do some souvenir shopping. I also had good time to organize the shipping of my excess gear back to Finland as I would be continuing my trip elsewhere. Many of the days and evening followed though quite a regular theme with dinners together with others and the breakfasts and the days we spent on separate ways. I tried to visit some of the sights we had missed with me and my wifes visit 5 years before, such as the Boudhanath stupa and the famous monkey temple, where we did not go because of our skimpynes. It did afterall cost 200 rupees or 2€ for foreigners. On of the highlights of our second Kathmandu stay was, most certainly, the party that Murari, the nepali organizer of SummitClimb, held at his house. We were told that it had been quite a while since the last one and it might get a bit out of hands at there. Our party, though, was quite pleasant chilling and we had a very good time there. Day by day people started to leave and every evening there were fever and fever attending. Somehow it was worst like that than everybody would leave at once. Some of us got really well together and it was a shame that it had to end.

The four days I had went actually surprisingly fast and it was time for me too to continue onward. I did not leave for home yet, but I would travel to Kolkata in India where my wife would be waiting for me. She did fly there the same day as I and we would meet there after the more than a months absense. The expedition then become to its end and for those who like to read about the two weeks we travelled in India (it was our sixth time there), can read about it from our travelling blog. It is in Finnish though.

And for those who interested about sending your gear from Kathmandu to home. I sent about 30kg of luggage back to Finland and the total cost for me was about 160€. I do not think it is very expensive, at least it is cheaper than have that as excess baggage on most airlines. The shipping took almost exactly four weeks to arrive at the airport where I had to pick it up and clear the customs. I did not have to pay any customs duties as they were my won used gear that I had.

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