Yak Steak and Humble Pie

Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Lonely Planet Guide to Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya, which provided the bulk of our information before and during the trek, made a particularly big deal about the difficulty of flying to and from Lukla, the starting point of the Everest Trail. Though the book was last updated in 2001 and much has changed, beyond the surprising ease of clearing security ("Do you promise you have no pocketknives or explosives? Alright, run along then.") it is pretty spot-on a well-worth-it hassle to make the hop. We knew there were bound to be weather delays, the famous quote goes, "We don't fly through clouds in Nepal because here the clouds have rocks in them." Five private airlines fly the route, the one you pick as random and likely to work as any other. I'm not a betting man by trade, and 3 hours after our flight was originally scheduled, and 1.5 hours after the first flight had in fact left for Lukla, and 3 other airlines sending multiple flights later, our Gorkha Air number was finally called ... to board a Sita Air flight in the end anyhow. Once the minibus from the gate reached the plane, we waited a minute as they loaded the seats from the bus onto the plane and then loads of cargo on most of those. My seat was otherwise occupied by several cases of Mango Frooty so I grabbed an aisle bucket seat instead. It was fine, we were only five passengers of a capacity fourteen anyhow.
The flight was short, the engines died, I said hello to the pilots, and we screamed to a stop on Lukla's unique 400-meter long, 60-meter lower at the start from the end, runway. The incline is to account for the mountain on which the runway is built as well as the fact that 400 meters is not enough to stop a plane in ... the incline slows it to not run into the mountain which, but for a last-minute right turn, we nearly did.
We were actually not bombarded as expected once off the plane by offers to guide and porter. In the spirit of going everywhere on our trip at the wrong time, we had chosen the low season to trek, no one else was going up, and the summitting expeditions weren't due to be heading down for another several weeks. Well, as they say, if you want something done right you've got to do it yourself, and in this case right was lugging ourselves the two-day walk to Namche Bazaar, the administrative center of the Khumbu region, where if we still desired help on the way up it would be easy to find at the Saturday Market.
You can't start your trek in a drizzle on an empty stomach, and our first taste of mountain food from a menu we'd come to learn and almost-love very well (it was identical at every shop up save for prices increasing with elevation). Skipping popcorn listed under soup, we each furthered Ryan's pizza quest. Now chemically there is very little difference between tomato sauce and ketchup, or for that matter mozzarella and yak cheese. Chemically.
Finally on the road, coincidentally exactly 10 years to the day after the famous tragedy that claimed many lives on Everest and led to the book Into Thin Air which inspired me to want to pursue this in the first place, we made it as far as our Lonely Planet-prescribed first sleeping point, Phakding (2600m, ft), we scored free lodging as it was low season and the places make their money anyhow from you eating there and with nothing to do after talking with the proprietor carrying around his baby on a basket off his head, I went to sleep the earliest it's ever happened on purpose: 6:30! This would become a common occurrence.
Namche was our destination the next morning, only 1000m ( ft) of up and 350m ( ft) of down to the place. That, by the way was a lot more than it sounded when it was first quoted to me in meters, and they aren't feet at all. We hiked along with a Sherpa brother and sister and a German fashion model, enjoying stops to pump water with my fancy REI device and for tea and lunch midway. Ryan asked for water, they brought it boiling hot. Because the REI fancy water pump is fairly new (most pumps can't filter out viruses in addition to bacteria and cryptosporium, this one has a 0.1 micron matrix though), most trekkers historically ask for boiled water to ensure sterility. Nepalis, who have strong stomachs and don't have to thing about that, assume that Westerners just prefer our water always hot. We then paid a fee, crossed a really really high and shaky bridge and several lower ones, hoofed my 40 pound pack up that last 800m ( ft), passed an old woman on the trail who, when I asked how much further only said "Don't worry, chicken curry," and WHAMMY, Namche.
We got cozy at the Khumbu Lodge as we'd be spending an extra day in Namche Bazaar (3420m, ft) to aid in acclimatization. As you may have personal experience with, oxygen (as we scientists refer to it) plays a fair role in the respiratory process and the darn thing is it goes increasingly missing the higher one goes. People can become accustomed to altitude all the way up to 25,000 feet, but it takes time and time we had.
Though we'd be staying extra time there, Namche was not just for lounging. Our day trek to the Sherpa village Khumjung to visit our new friends that we met while walking to Namche was scrapped due to rain, and we still had to arrange equipment, supplies, and as the monster pack was pretty ferocious, a porter-guide. I'd read and thought a lot about the ethical, monetary, and macho factors of hiring help and was leaning against, but I was persuaded by other equally thoughtful, poor, and manly trekkers that it was an alright thing to do. Paying someone to show you the way, carry a heavy portion of your stuff, and guide you with helpful tips is strange at first, but apparently mostly from a Western perspective. Manual labor is a very dignified job, especially as viewed by Nepalis, and the wages directly support a man and his family. These guys are hardcore, the best can carry 120 kg (over 250 lbs) on their backs and necks! We found Jangbu Sherpa, a 25-year-old with a young family who is half my size, twice as strong, and was a great companion to Ryan and I.
After we'd negotiated a reasonable rate with the promise of a nice baksheesh (Nepali for "tip") later if all went well, JB (as he became known, mountain-bataar doesn't roll off the tongue as nicely) led us out the next morning, Nadia the German model in tow: she'd gone back to ask permission from the school she'd been teaching at to take off for 10 days, they were almost insulted as in of course, this place did function before you arrived y'know.
After a while trekking and dodging downhill yaks up the trail, Everest loomed into view, and what a spectacular sight to see it clear as day with a faint snow wisp trailing in the wind off the top. The sight kept us motivated to Tengboche (3870m, ft) which was to camp us next. Aside from staring at the beautiful nature surrounding us (trekking in Nepal is by no means a wilderness experience as it is well-trailed and settled but a beautiful natural experience nonetheless) we whiled the walking time away mostly ganging up for fun at the expense of Nadia, who was just short enough English to properly respond. German people like dragons.
It was a long walk that day as we were transversing down and back up the walls of a river canyon and also the still relatively low elevation allowed us to gain more of it per day without ill effect. Paused for lunch at the bottom of the gorge, we were amused by the convenient perpetually karma-generating water-driven gompas (prayer wheels) and an odd German trekker going the other way who perpetually wanted to discuss diarrhea and also how I should gift him my guitar as "every kilo more you carry up is awful." We stumbled at last upon the clearing that Tengboche is built on and had JB lead us to the lodge of choice: they are all pretty much the same price and quality in a given area but some are better to Sherpa guides than others. I did laundry on a rock, felt extremely self-sufficient and domestic.
Tengboche monastery is the spiritual center of the Khumbu region and we made sure to seek an audience with the lama, who is the monk in charge and a reincarnate of the previous lama. The custom is to bring with you a kata, a ceremonial prayer scarf with some money that you tuck inside. Lama takes the cash, kata gets a blessing, neck gets the kata back, it's a good system. It nearly worked without a hitch as well. It was difficult not to laugh when, after my exchange went smoothly, at first the monk spent a minute shaking Ryan's kata like a kid with a birthday card from his aunt looking for the bill that somehow got stuck wrapped inside, and then we both actually had to contain ourselves when Nadia's kata for snagged on the lama's robe and he had to tear it nearly in two to free them apart again. Over the subsequent tea, mindful that Joe and Susie Tourist had no doubt asked already a million times cliches like "what is the meaning of life?" I sought alternative and interesting inquiries. As Ryan and Nadia stewed in embarrassment and JB had a rough time translating, I quizzed the lama, "so, your holiness, how did you become lama?", "do you like your job here?", and in a joke that fell far flat, invited him up to Base Camp with us.
On our way out of the soon-ended audience, we played soccer out up front with a few of the monks and a flattened volleyball and were invited into their quarters to play some rock 'n' roll on their half-full, 12-string guitar. They had recognized me as on the hike up I'd stopped for a moment to sing Resham Firiri, a popular folks song that seriously every Nepali knows, for that group of monks also headed up. We headed back across town (not far, one can run across it in about 35 seconds even at altitude) and had the best yak steak ever for dinner. The funny thing is that, as yaks are a relative of the sacred cow, their slaughter is prohibited yet nearly all the lodges in Khumbu happened to be stocked with yaks, a sure-footed animal in general, who just happened to "fall off the trail." Out to pump some water later, we were amazed by the stars: very bright and clear when visible but obscured in some places by the clouds that always streamed just overhead and in other places simply by the panorama of high mountain peaks all around us.
One of the acclimatization strategies for a trek like this are purposeful days to remain at one altitude to further adapt. Better for it not to be a day of rest though, as getting the blood flowing moderately only helps, so we pointed to a high rock bordering town and climbed up 500m ( ft) sans trail until those clouds launched an assault and we figured a descent was in order while the visibility of at least our own feet remained. A mohawk trim by the monks later, I enjoyed a tuna pizza (better than it sounds and 100% Nepali) and had a little walk across town to lie down and write in the rhododendron forest and I didn't even notice how quickly the days were beginning to let themselves by.
Before we could start the next morning it was blister control time. Though my shoes had been near sufficiently worn-in by this point, they were just a touch too bit and despite my valiant and creative efforts involving different combinations of socks, lacing, and gauze, the back of my heels looked like I'd accidentally stumbled backwards on a working deli meat slicer. Each morning thereafter I would try elaborate orchestrations of moleskin, tape, and bandages, but really the only thing to do was to grimace, bear it, and keep those socks washed before they got crusty.
The walk to Pheriche (4240m, ft) was relatively straightforward, a bit longer than the prior day's but with a stop in Pengboche at the bottom of a gorge for a raw potato lunch. I had mentioned before that the menu is the same everywhere, but what actually comes steaming (or not) out of the kitchen is anybody's and one could be satisfied with the variety available in just walking lodge to lodge and ordering "noodle fried". The other difference is that prices certainly increase on the way up as everything is carried there by yak or porter; I kept tabs on how prices were rising by comparing the prices of hot chocolate as we went along.
The guesthouse in Pheriche was made of plywood and squat toilets, a bit windy at night (as was the whole town, we were smack dab on the floor of the valley wind tunnel), and contained no one besides us and the folks who worked there. Still low season, there was roughly one trekking party to each guesthouse ... our Scottish and Estonian trail friends were just down the road and the other American and Kiwi were slightly further, with the Canadians lagging just behind. The population increased come dinner time and Ryan and I had the pleasure of speaking with the absolute dumbest trekkers of all time; a representative sampling from New Zealand, UK, Canada, and USA, these four guys who met on the plane on the way over resolved to do the whole trek in 3 days and were gaining 900m elevation (3 times the proper amount) daily. Of course there are reasons for proper amounts, and they were on their way down having not made it all the way up because, as expected, they were properly wrecked with massive headaches and altitude sickness. Shaking our heads in disbelief, we had only to start a game of War, which though I hadn't played since 6th grade made a comeback in a big way on this trek.
I arose very very early the next morning (4:45AM) to get over to the neighboring town on the east, Dingboche (4360m, ft), where we estimated through emails back in Namche that Elliot would be passing through on his way down. I wanted to go very early as to not miss his party and so told JB and Ryan the night before that I could find my own way and they could come whenever they wanted to wake up later that morning. The best thing about having no guide is that you get to take the hardest way possible. Although it actually ought to be a 10-20 minute light stroll over a valley ridge, I had taken the idea in my head based on my out-scale and thus crudely detailed map that the path actually went down and around the ridge on an even keel, hooking you right back on the other side to Dingboche (4360m, ft). Funny how things work as I spent the next hour and some on the shaky rocky terrain, scrambling over boulders and slipping down still-loose landslides to carve out my own path that would make Hillary and Tenzing proud.
I set down for breakfast just as the sky was lighting up at a prime piece of turf overlooking the trail leading into town and up the valley so I could spend 40 minutes each time squinting at the approaching person-shaped dot trying to decide if it was Mr. Cohen indeed. I ate, read, and wrote in the sunny shadow of the greatest mountains in the world, which in the clear morning look like a painting that's close enough to touch and was inspired to write such magnificent prose as the first half of this sentence :) Looking at how high the peaks were above me there, it was still bizarre to imagine that I was equal to that difference higher than sea level at the most severe elevation that I'd ever been at in my entire life (until the next day, and so on). I sat at my table perch all day, keeping an eye out, only interrupted by meals and Ryan finding me to jovially inform me that it had taken only 15 easy minutes on an actual trail for him and JB to reach town. It was eventually too cold and windy and I went back in to our guesthouse where I had the odd flashback experience of reading a tattered August 2001 Newsweek when our biggest issue was that China spy plane thing. My calm head luck/tolerance also soon finally caught up to me and a small headache turned quickly into a large one. Maybe altitude, maybe cold, maybe a day of constructive boredom (so went my reasoning when in fact it's always a headache, let's be real here) and I started to grow nervous as I lay curled on the bench clutching my temples that my head's slight difficulty in regulating air pressure could possibly prevent my ultimate success in this quest. As JB rocked out to Atmosphere on Ryan's CD player, I mercifully drifted off by 7PM hoping to awake to clear skies and a clear head.
I rose at 6AM to stretch my arms, rub the sleep boogers out of my eyes, and shake my head vigorously to yelp that my headache was (mostly) gone! I sipped hot cocoa in the sun room of the Sonam Friendship Lodge (I only put the name to help me remember the place, but if you have your own trek you'll likely be unable to find it ... lodges in Nepal change their names nearly yearly to exploit some sort of tax-avoidance loophole) under the "Diane Feinstein for Governor" sign and hummed blissfully along as everyone was woken up to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I applied sunscreen like paint-by-numbers to tend to the oddly burned areas of skin that walking one direction all day will leave you with and we set out to Duglha (4620m, ft), meaning to stop there only for lunch.
Most people, though Lonely Planet recommends a night here as it is 300m higher than Pheriche and Dingboche, blow right through and bum another 300m on up to the next town as Dughla consists of even less than the usual few shanty shacks and is a rather uninspiring place to rest your head for the night. But, like my mother and countless frustrated teachers have told me before, I am not most people, and as soon as we got 100m above the acclimatization line that Dughla marks as we pressed on, I hit a fat wall of headache goodness and a short retreat to the 2-building no-horse-only-yak town was our only recourse. It was frustrating as a) I'd taken a Diamox tablet earlier that's meant to aid with this sort of thing, b) I'd started the garlic in everything regiment that seems to help, and c) I'd never met a physical challenge where my body was fit, trained, and strong (or even not at peak condition) but I could not muscle through with sheer piss-and-vinegar will power. So I settled into what would become typical of the next several days: get up, eat, walk, eat, walk, head hurts, sleep. At 5PM every day we'd order dinner so they could light up the yak chip stove only once for everyone and I stuck to my pattern of potato momos and tuna something-or-other alternating for lunch and dinner (the meat is no good above 4000m ( ft). I also began to throw myself in earnest into the garlic regiment, adding the wonder veg to everything and downing a healthy portion of garlic tomato egg-drop soup at every meal. Papa used to make me, as a kid, eat a clove of garlic and piece of black bread when I was sick because "that's what we did in Russia", I guess my parents do have it right every now and again. It was my turn to be entertainment monkey for the Sherpa crew that night and, despite, or perhaps aided by, the rhythm pounding in my skull, I grabbed hold of the lodge's Sherpa guitar (3 strings, large bowl-shaped head, don't know the real name) and after I'd figured out the harmonic tuning we were all in stitches to the impromptu "Dughla Blues"
We took out time getting up as the next town was only 2-3 hours walking away and I thought I was gettin' a touch of the altitude crazy when I looked outside to see a winter wonderland! It had snowed out of nowhere the previous night and I got a snowball in the back of the head to go with my garlic soup, garlic omelette, and non-vampire-proof hot chocolate (hey I'm a believer, not a fanatic!). Serving up a few choice snow missiles of my own against the Sherpas, we plowed out way up the initial 300m ascent to a flat rest of the walk. We were going slow but still too fast as we passed both Canadian parties who had left before us along the way. We did pause at a clearing littered with memorials to climbers who had tragically perished on the mountain, a sobering reminder that even though we were not in near as much danger as an actual summitting expedition, one false move anywhere could mean trouble at the least. The good news that we got along the way though from Sherpas passing the other way down the mountain was that, though up to that point in the climbing season there had been four deaths and no summits, the previous day 45 people had reached the top! The record for one day is 65 and though that does seem a little revolving-door cheap at first blush, it cannot minimize the sheer physical difficulty no matter how much one can pay for the experience. If I can get this altitude thing under control you better believe I'll be up there by the time this pirate hits 40!
As it was a shorter hike to Lobuche (4930m, ft), we wanted to do some more physical activity (better to acclimatize) so we set out to make a snowman with the large patches still remaining. At nearly 5,000m that is no easy task and we were panting pretty well by the time we were done rolling and stacking the 3 increasingly-sized mounds. Jangbgu Junior, as he was named, was outfitted with my jacket, hat, and sunglasses, Ryan's gloves and towel-as-scarf, sticks for arms, peanuts for a mouth and eyebrows, a corncob pipe, and wouldn't-ya-know, and honest-to-God fat, fresh, peeled carrot for a nose that the lodge owner had somehow dug up. We were mighty proud of our boy and took loads of photos to send to the Guinness Book of World Records, as it may or may not actually be the highest-altitude snowman ever built, but I'm willing to bet that no one yet had been such a fool as to take time enough to make such an inane entry. As I am indeed such a fool or worse, here is the entry we've submitted for "Highest-Altitude Snowman":

Two friends (Ryan Hallahan and Jangbu Sherpa) and I (Misha Leybovich) built what we believe to be the highest-altitude snowman ever constructed on May 19, 2006 in Lobuche, Nepal. We were at 4930m and it had just snowed while we nearly to our destination of Mt. Everest Base Camp. We took photos and video to prove where we were and that, most importantly, it was a kick-ass snowman (he even had a corncob pipe!). We believe it was the highest-altitude snowman ever constructed as the geotopology of the region, local meteorological trends, and cultural and socioeconomic considerations rendered this the optimal and perhaps only possible place to accomplish this feat. I personally am very proud of my associates and I and believe that Guinness has no choice but to recognize this feat for what it was: an unparalleled testament to the human spirit.
Thank you.

I thought I could hold out but with about a week left on the trail and with my aromatic meter approaching record levels of gnarly, I ponied up for a shower. Relative term, as it all is up there, of course, it consisted of a small bucket of hot water slowly dribbled through a faucet at chest-level. I did have to be careful not to run out, but got mostly clean and even had a little left for two pieces of laundry, which rocked my world as even the magic REI boxers and socks only hold so much power. Of course nothing can dry in the cold, humid air so I fell back on my only reliable heat course: me. I was quite the pretty pretty princess going to bed with my wet boxers over my spare, broken khaki sleeping pants with the split side safety-pinned up over long johns over my other boxers and wet, heavy wool socks over bottoms of long johns and pants over still-dirty medium wool socks over mittens-turned-socks. Not all dressed up for nothing, I got to be on display a lot trundling through the hall as well, as Diamox, in addition to aiding in altitude respiration, is a diuretic and while trekking you drink at least 6L of water per day. So nightlife is especially interesting between less-than-deep slumber at increasing altitude, 3-4 pee breaks per night 50 years to soon, and my broken flashlight leaving me to rely on only my camera pilot light for illumination.
I do loves me the hot chocolate, but the higher I got the yakkier the drink tastes. Not yucky, but definitely yakky. That, with my ny-now usual garlic tomato egg-drop soup and the best chocolate pancake of my life set me up well for what would be a long day ahead. Ryan says that, with my odd cravings of food combinations at strange times, not only in Nepal but throughout the trip, that I have the metabolism of a pregnant woman but I usually ignore him as I chow on my pickled egg dipped in caramel. I also am noticing again that I am talking a lot about food in this post, as I've done in a few prior. In Japan it was because it was all very interesting. In Mongolia it was because it was all very odd. In Nepal, it is simply because it was all there was to do. As my main activity for the day with the most variety from day-to-day (not that that's saying much), that and my assorted bodily functions occupied most of my thoughts and I wasn't having as many conversations about God and love and the meaning of life as I was with Canadian John about his "big wet dumps" (which, as an eco-friendly Canadian he would aim towards rocks so they would be less cold and biodegrade more disgustingly fast).
I again conquered my blisters before we left and my head felt better as we set out, partly because of the placebic two socks I had tied in knots around it pressing on my temples. I became convinced that the pressure would supplement the ambient air pressure to make me feel equalized, and my head was feeling better through delusion and my iPod and bubble gum were keeping me juiced and the Sherpas chuckling as the mohawked American with big smile and little guitar dancing/limping/poorly singing while sporting fake Dolces and rolled-up sleeve muscle orange REI windbreaker up the trail. OK, just kidding about conquering those blisters, they just then came back with a vengeance, I believe they separated sometime around me hopping op "Funky Drummer" by James Brown.
We arrived at out final town of Gorak Shep (5160m, ft) at 11:30AM after a 3-hour walk, we played War and ate lunch until 12:30PM, and thought we'd be chillin' the rest of the day. JB comes in, says let's get moving to Everest Base Camp (5360m, ft)! We says JB yo crazy what are you talking about mate it's on the books for tomorrow and we won't even be able to get on the trail till 1PM at least and it's 3 hours each way and it gets dark at 6PM. And we have no flashlight. JB knows best though, and we manned up to get out and press on. Not going to lie, I was pretty beat and was moving more sluggishly than I'd like until the iPod and Tom Petty appeared like angels in the dark of my cochlea with "Life is a Highway". Re-energized, I bounded ahead on my own into geology heaven/hell (so many different kinds of rocks, but how in the world did they end up strewn about like this?!) and made JB nervous when he saw me working my way back onto the trail through glacier sluices and 15m-high ice seraks. And sooner than we had thought, we were trolling by the downed helicopter at the perimeter, and triumphantly strutted into the tent city of Mt. Everest Base Camp! Of course not all went to plan as there was no Elliot (he had left four days prior) and no internet cafe (there is one some years and a bunch of you were going to get "Subject: WooHoo!" and "Body: I'm on Mt. Everest, Rock on! Love, -Misha"). But we did find out friend Dan from Namche at the Adventure Consultants tent and hung out about an hour and a half before realizing that we'd be huddled in the dark and cold that night on the trail if we didn't fly back right now. Not wanting to cuddle Ryan can be a great motivator and we made it back in 1:15, much better than the already lightning 2:00 it took us to make it out. I could've happily, without pay, been a spokesman for Snickers at the time as it totally saved me and gave me that last boost home, but instead of panning cute for the camera in a photo shoot I spent five seconds wolfing it down and ten minutes scrounging about for bit I'd clumsily left behind in my beard, and let me tell you there's nothing like being an hour further down the trail and finding that last bit of nougat tucked away beside your soul patch. Back and exhausted just before dark, I finally had lost my appetite (Ryan's had gone several days before) and we only for a short while hung out with the Canadians, recently-robbed-by-Maoists Israelis, and Sherpas with the guitar before spending the night cursing the well outdoors toilets.
We woke up bright at early the next morning for our last bit of tough elevation gain: a climb up to the peak of Kala Pataar (5545m, ft), which means "Black Rock" in Hindi and is meant to host the best views of Everest in the world (you can't see it fully from Base Camp, it's just too close). It was slow going, though as you plod on one front before the other time really does cease to have meaning, to the highest I'd ever been in my life. As karma tends to work out, one of those puppy-dog-kicking sessions must've finally caught up to me as the entire panorama was screened by a wall of thick cloud. We spent a cold and windy two hours up top waiting for a clearing but, though disappointed that we'd not capture our own shot of it, had a great time playing cards and guitar and lighting up our victory cigars (which was an epic feat considering the wind). Plus I'll probably just Photoshop us into a really good shot at which point all references to clouds in this travelogue entry will be omitted and those who read it prior will be silenced with healthy non-traceable government bonds. And I'll put in a picture of Ryan and I looking good, like maybe wearing suits. Yeah, sweet.
Eating a dense PowerBar just sitting at sea level is usually good cause to get a bit winded, and it was especially CPR-requiring while running down a mountain at 18,000 feet. JB and I thought we saw a Yeti and, in hot pursuit, my need for a snack almost sent me choking and tumbling down the face of it. Reaching Gorak Shep again safely and Yeti-less (I told JB if we caught one we'd double his tip) we set a plan to book it as fast as possible down the trail: no need for acclimatization, and downhill, while rough on the knees, is still loads faster. We set off into a blizzard, at one point with no visibility to speak of at all I had gotten ahead and not sure if I was lost or not so I sat down and played guitar loudly until JB and Ryan came walking by as well. The other way to tell if my aim was true was to simply follow the yak scat trail, as you can rarely go 10 feet without running across, but hopefully not into, either a pile of fertilizer or possibly one of John's big wet dumps. After a total of 9 hours hiking for that day, we had made it down to Pheriche, covering in one day what had taken us four days up.
Though pretty wiped, we did have enough in reserve to have a turn on the highest snooker table on earth (how did they get that thing up there!) and walk about town again. I saw a Sherpa fight, though 20 seconds later they were all in a circle talking and smoking again, including the guy with the budding black eye, and Ryan saw a few of the women so involved quarreling amongst themselves that neither noticed the yak mosey into the house. I had time to muse the clever advertising on a lodge of "candlelight dinner" (read: no electricity) as I struggled to work down a spoonful of custard and piece of Tibetan bread, and a few finger chips for Ryan and we passed out early and hard. We were up again early morn, ready for another long day down. I had mentioned blisters earlier as a symptom of going uphill with hiking boots just a touch too big, but in going downhill the whole new problem of hiker's toe presents itself, where the first few toes running once and again into the front of the shoe cause the toe and nail to start slightly but surely separating. While considering how to deal with this chapter of my foot saga, I caught a look in the mirror for the first time in a while and whoo boy, between my peeling brown nose, black and cracked lips, mangy beard, and mohawk run amok, I was all kinds of ready to be prom queen. But the thing was: I'd rarely felt this absolutely great and happy.
We hiked to Tengboche at a good pace, making sure to steer clockwise around any gompas or chortens should our luck run out, and I got to have a few minutes on the satellite internet and phone to tell my family that I'd made it. We pressed on to Namche, where JB would hop off the party train and we could rest before our last hiking day. At times while walking myself through some of the forested areas, feeling the altitude not at all anymore, I felt almost like back at the Lair on my way to Sword Lake and even kept an eye out for sugar pines :) As I finished the last Snickers bar that I'd brought (which must have put me over the top in doubling my lifetime Snickers intake on this trek alone) we made it back to Namche, a it more than marathon distance from Base Camp, which took us two days of booking it but apparently a fast Sherpa sans pack can do all that it in four hours. We dropped of our stuff at the Khumbu Lodge in the Jimmy Carter Slept Here suite and went to JB's Tea Shoppe to pay our friend and meet his family over a pot of chai. He was only home for a day before heading back up in two days what took us nine to run the Everest Marathon back the morning after. Bad. Ass. Power out in the city for a few days running at that point, I headed out that night to play more guitar with the guys who run the corner shop and we'd made friends with earlier, spicing my Jack Johnson repertoire (of which they knew more than I did!) with Resham Firiri (which they definitely all knew).
Again up early, it was time to man my whole pack for the LONG walk (about 15km horizontal, not including up- and down-hill) to Lukla, and needing to make it soon enough to buy our plane tickets back to Kathmandu for the next day. I walked with some Brittish guys for a while who had summitted and along the way decided that if the grad students thing doesn't work out I'll just have to become a rock star a la James Blunt. Finally, a long long walk finally finished (100 miles, 50 of them in the past 3 days over almost never-flat terrain), I got us tickets, a place in Lukla, and found Ryan sitting on the curb outside like Oliver Twist, watching the monks go door to door singing blessings but only wishing well upon the dog out front who was curled up sleeping for 20 minutes of it and towards the end got up to lick himself as a thank you. Stoked that night: spaghetti without ketchup.
Our flight was delayed again the next morning, but not unexpectedly so, and I had time to reflect on this whole experience. While none of the hikes- the last day possibly excepted- were the hardest individual things I've ever done (Half Dome at night without a proper flashlight, winter track conditioning days in high school, and quantum mechanics finals come to mind as harder moments), taken all together it was a helluva two weeks of getting my butt kicked constantly. I'm glad we did it. Reflection was a proper activity for the moment as I hadn't even thought about it earlier, but the other reason for a slanted runway was to give the plane enough speed headed down to lift off before falling off the cliff a la Back to the Future III. We really did either push the envelope or the pilot's got a sick sense of humor as I saw the ground disappear and felt the plane drop not-so-slightly before we lifted up and away to Kathmandu, leaving Everest to tango with another time.

Moral of the Story:
"I heard it's possible to do the Anapurna Circuit in 14 days."
"It's possible to do it in 40 days, my friend."
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