When walking into Dingboche, just off to your left is a seemingly small hill. Bishnu points it out to us and says that we will be climbing it on our acclimitiazation day in Dingboche. After an uneventful evenening, we get up, and are ready for Day #6. We leave the tea house and approach the aforementioned hill. Bishnu calls our attention to a white post about 150m up the hill. He then points further up the hill to yet another white post that I am barely able to discern against the blue sky. This post, a health 750m above Dingboche is our goal for the day. And so we start making out way up the hill and finally reach the fist post. At this point both a Catherine and I are panting when we ask Bishnu if we’ve reached halfway. His response was a sly smile, a chuckle, and yet another chorus of “go slowly” ……. not exactly the inspiration we were looking for. And so we continue slowly upwards, one baby step at a time, panting the entire way and taking a rest stop every 5 minutes. At one point we looked up and saw Bishnu a clear 50m ahead of us – I could swear he is part mountain goat. Another time, we found Bishnu up ahead, lying against a rock, feet up, and munching on a Snickers…. he had to be mocking us at this point. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we near the top (and at this point my legs are burning and my footing is rivaling that of the town drunk’s) and scramble over the last few rocks to reach the peak at a lofty 5040m (we crossed the 5000m mark!!!) . We are greeted by Flo, our Australian friend, Bishnu (who is now munching on some bonbons), and an absolutely stunning 360 panorama of the surrounding mountains. After soaking in the views for 20 minutes and having some, celebratory chocolate we being the march downwards. On our way down we pass about 4 groups making their way up and they look just as haggard and exhausted as we felt. We offered some words of encourage and then proceeded to scamper down the mountain with increasing ease as the air got thicker. After a much needed lunch and a quiet dinner at our lodge, I got what was perhaps the most sound night’s sleep I’ve gotten in a long time.
As an aside, I think people should know about the lodges we have been staying in. The closest translation from Nepali is “teahosue,” which is convenient because they all serve delicious tea. The lodges are a sort of one stop shopping approach to trekking. You check into one after your day’s hike and then you don’t have any reason to leave until the following morning. The accommodations are spartan, but it is more than enough for the journey. There is typically one large room which serves as the dining/social/warm room which always has an old school iron stove in the middle (fueled by wood lower down and yak dung higher up). Trekkers, porters, and guides alike all gather around the stove during the evenings (as it is the only source of warmth available) and swap stories of their adventures, lives, and stories from the trail. These evening are always interesting as there is always a very mixed crowd of travelers, and it is not uncommon for 5 conversations in 5 different languages to be taking place. Once the fire dies down all the travelers disperse to their rooms which are scarcely more than plywood beds with a piece of foam on top surrounded by walls made of the thinnest plywood I’ve ever seen. The are no outlets, no source of heat, and you are lucky if there is an overhead light to be used. Despite all of this, eyndo a great job protecting you from the wind, and with enough blankets and a warm sleeping bag there is no trouble keeping warm. What surprises me most, is that a room in a teahosue costs about $3 a night. The lodge owners make their money on amenities (pay per hour phone charging, wifi access, etc) and food since there is an expectation that you eat your meals at the teahouse in which you are residing (otherwise the room cost jumps to $10-$15).
And now, for the grand finale – the food along the trail! First, let me say that it has all been surprisingly good. Second, I feel like I’m eating more now that I ever do back home (granted this is probably a wash since each day is pretty strenuous). Third, Dal Bhat – the staple food of anybody trekking in Nepal. This wonderful dish is a giant portion of rice, accompanied by some curried vegetables and Dal, a lentil soup. The guides, porters, and locals eat it almost daily, and it is a favorite amongst trekkers because they offer refills on the rice and dal. There is a saying on the mountains, “Dal-Bhat power, 24 hours!” If, for whatever reason one is not craving Dal Bhat, the teahouses offer a variety of other dishes. Fried rice and fried noodles +/- veggies, eggs, or meat are common offerings as well as many different soups (veggie, mushroom, garlic, ramen, and tomato) and Momo (steamed dumplings). In some of the fancier places they will offer pizza, spaghetti, or macaroni. And for the adventurous, there are yak steaks and buffalo sizzlers available (although I am skeptical of all meat on the mountain as they allegedly do not slaughter animals…. they only eat them after they die of other causes…….). I haven’t had any of the latter offerings and have stuck to rice, noodles, Momo, and Dal Bhat but I can certainly say that I have not been disappointed.