I'm starting where I left off before.
The first night at the beautiful Panorama Lodge gave me my first (of many) opportunities to sing my little heart out. Vern, one of the guides (and one of my favorite peeps on the trip) had a harmonica, John played the guitar and I sang along to a bunch of my favorite songs: Me & Bobby McGee, Summertime, even some “Hound Dog” by Elvis. I ended the evening with an a cappella rendition of “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin and I had the entire room belting it out along with me. It was a wonderful evening and has since been repeated many times.
It’s Day eight of the trek and we are happily acclimatizing in Pheriche at a lovely little lodge called the Himalayan Hotel. I have finally succumbed to the dust and germs and am madly fighting a cold which had me very clogged up last night (though it didn’t stop me from singing a few song requests!).
The realization that I only have two more nights to hang out with the climbing group is starting to hit me hard. I have developed quite an attachment to several members of the expedition and each time I think about saying goodbye, especially considering the dangers they will be facing in the next six weeks, I get all choked up with emotion.
Vern and I have become quite close as a result of sharing songs together each evening. We’ve also shared our life stories and I find his tenacity, warmth and gut determination (having climbed and guided for the last 31 years) to be incredible. I will miss his warm smile, crazy eyebrows, and crazier outfits (he would often wear bright blue running shorts over tight black spandex shorts). Mostly I will miss his bear hugs and the fact that I get a true sense that he really gets who I am.
Derek has been a blast getting to know, he is a fearless “gangsta” type. Hard as nails, tough to the core, and a little rough around the edges when it comes to expressing his opinions, we hit it off early on. He is crazy enough (and a definite kindred spirit) that he went along with a skit that we put together where he wore my hot pink panties over his black long johns in a dinnertime impersonation of Vern. It had the room in hysterics, and thankfully, Vern took it really well. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Derek also gave me two new nicknames: “Player” and “Sex Kitten”. I didn’t object to either ;-)
A slightly more surprising connection was formed with a climber named Victor, 44, from Dallas, Texas. It was obvious from the start that he was extraordinarily intelligent, handsome, and an extremely successful business man, owning a successful and international private equity firm. At a lunch stop we fell upon the topic of favorite SNL skits, and Victor mentioned how much he also enjoyed one of my personal favorites, “I’m on a Boat” with Andy Sanborne. And so, sharing his headphones we rocked out together, and I saw a very fun-loving side to him. That afternoon we hiked together, and to my delight, discovered that his love of musical theatre didn’t stop with Phantom of the Opera (I had sung “Think of Me” at his request the night before) and we happily spent the next 3 hours or so (breathlessly!!) belting out show tunes. It was so much fun, I wasn’t even aware of the steep inclines that we were tackling except that I couldn’t sustain any of the long notes.
Then climbing became much more difficult when Victor chose to share another of his extraordinary talents: he could quote long passages from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, complete with perfect accent, intonation, and character. I was laughing so hard that at one point I literally collapsed on the trail, unable to continue, clutching helplessly at my sides.
Since that afternoon, I have found Victor’s company to be refreshing and he always has wise and witty insights to share during table conversation. I do hope that we will stay in touch.
It has been very interesting to observe my friend Garrett on this trek in his professional role. He is most definitely in work mode, and displays an almost super human, courteous, politically correct, and non-inflammatory attitude 24/7. Sometimes it’s strange to not see him let loose and relax, but I have the utmost respect for his dedication and laser focus to the task at hand. And that is no easy task- I certainly do not envy the responsibility he shoulders, and I am deeply impressed at the wisdom and experience he is able to share with his climbers. Having said that, I look forward to seeing the more relaxed side to him, getting a drink together in Seattle this summer on his return.
Getting back to the trek, our second day in Namche Bazaar was designated an acclimatization day, but we spent the morning hiking up about a 1000 feet to the Everest View Hotel to get our first official snaps of the mountain, surrounded by his more beautiful partners: Lhotse, Nuptse, and the staggeringly beautiful Ama Dablam. We gathered on the balcony to have tea (again!) and I relished the impressive views taking a ton of pics before we headed back down for a free afternoon.
Derek and I teamed up and headed into town where I bought some prayer flags and earrings, and he purchased a rug for the inside of his future “home” tent at base camp. We had a great time laughing and sharing stories and that evening settled in with wine to eat popcorn and then dinner with our group, which inevitably ended in more guitar playing and singing of songs.
The following morning we headed out early on a de-tour from the trek to base camp - to the little town of Thame where our Sirdar, Lhakpa Rita, was born and raised. It was a stunning four hour walk, which we learned Lhakpa had to walk TWICE, SIX DAYS A WEEK, in order to attend school in Khumjung. Staggering. Descending into Thame, which incidentally is also the home of Passang, we saw our first authentic Yak, which belonged to Passang’s father whom we waved to as we passed. That night we stayed in a lodge that was owned and operated by Lhakpa’s sister.
After freshening up, several of us walked the steep hill above town to visit the Ringboche monastery above Thame. The Lama (Buddhist teacher that is supposed to be a reincarnation of a former enlightened Buddha) had died the previous fall, and so the community was in waiting for another Lama to be “discovered”. The monastery was a very serene location and the interior walls were laboriously patterned and covered with intricate artwork- much of it was extremely erotic in nature. We learned about the Tibetan Buddhist chant “Om Mane Padme Ohm” which is supposed to help cleanse the soul of the six negative emotions. Enjoying a picturesque sunset on the trek down I was again, flabbergasted at the astonishing beauty of this valley. We again enjoyed a thoroughly satisfying meal and headed to our rooms around 9 o’clock.
Day five took us back down towards Namche Bazaar where we took a detour to Khumjung, home of the school established for children of the Khumbu region by Sir Edmund Hillary. This was the day that was entirely highlighted by my time spent with Victor- that evening we celebrated Allison’s (another climber) birthday with a cake, and Victor kindly shared his awesome Monty Python talents for her and the crowd that inevitably gathered when he let it rip. I was happy for the ability to laugh sitting down this time. Victor and I watched “Touching the Void” together after dinner and I enjoyed the context of the movie even more by being surrounded by these incredibly talented mountaineers. After the movie, Victor recounted his story of being partially paralysed by a rock fall on his climb to the summit of Aconcagua in South America. It was an insane story of heroism and bravery which resulted in his life being saved. He honestly admits to being mad to climb these mountains, and he, Allison, and I had a very interesting conversation about their next two months on Everest. For Allison, this is her second attempt as her entire expedition team was turned around at the South Col eight years ago due to bad weather. She recounted a horrifying story of her summit attempt when her oxygen tank failed and she was convinced that she had cerebral edema before one of her guides discovered the malfunction, after almost 45 minutes of breathless, excruciating climbing.
How lucky am I to get to have conversations like this? Seriously?
Day six took us higher still and we all began to feel the lack of oxygen and the increasing need to practice rest steps and pressure breathing. The morning was a leisurely descent down a valley towards lunch where I was absolutely not hungry but ate after the guides insisted that we had quite a climb ahead of us in the afternoon. I met my first Polish trekkers that day about five minutes before arriving at the café where we ate. The Poles are everywhere!
That afternoon’s climb was rather long, but I found it quite easy as we soon formed a long snaking line of people all limited in pace to the leader at the front who was consciously trying to only push the climbers to 40% of their physical capacity. As a result, the climb was slow, steady, and quite manageable. Our destination was Tengboche, which was also home to the region’s largest monastery of the same name. On arrival, we were told that the monks were engaged in quiet prayer, but that there was a lovely bakery just a few minutes walk away which would provide a wonderful respite and diversion.
Okay, gotta go, internet very expensive here. More soon!