When I told the lodge owner in Lukla that I was thinking of walking to Nunthala, he nodded very seriously and considered it. “Yes, if you go Nepali speed and leave at 6 am, you might be there by 6 pm.” Which is when it gets dark, and so it sort of the cut off point for any trekking.
A 12 hour day over two passes. Sounded nigh impossible, but became moot once I went out and got utterly fitzshaced with the Germans. Except.
For some reason, one that I’ll never be able to explain, I was up and packed and out the door by 6:45 am. Said goodbye to Mads and Ashraf and asked for directions after I paid. “Just go down,” they told me. And so I did. The moon loomed large in the sky, the trees were pink and white and rich red rhododendrons were everywhere. I walked past the “world’s most dangerous airport” and marveled both at planes leaving and ones arriving too. No one was out this early, not even porters. And so I started off singing, at first “Rocking in the Free world,” and then “Menonoma” and then some sort of unholy mashup of both. Kept thinking how happy I was not to be climbing up.
I basically just walked straight down the mountain, often with no trail at all. I don’t have the faintest idea when I reached the actual trail, but at some point I met an Australian. Upon my warning of the steep climb up to Lukla, he told me he was just going skip it (same as we had down 3 weeks ago.)
Within an hour or two, I reached a spot 600 meters below Lukla. From here, the joke was on me, as I climbed over Chutuk La, which is actually higher than Lukla. Had been enjoying Achtung Baby and I made this climb quite quickly, but it took a lot out of me. At 9 am, the sun still hadn’t climbed over the mountains so it is still quite chilly but I am sweating (to the max) from the exertion of climbing 2000 feet in 45 minutes. And from the top of this pass, I climb back down, lower than my previous low point, and then back over an even higher pass!
Egads. When I wrote the above, I was feeling strong and still aiming for Jiri over the next 4 or 5 days. Now I am broken and headed out via Salleri (where we came in) which I can reach tomorrow.
In addition to the two passes, today saw 3 rainstorms, miles of poo mud, more than 2000 meters up AND 2000 meters down. By the time I stopped, I was shaking with exhaustion.
After last night, I was quite dehydrated today. Drank 3 liters before noon, and was still making decent time despite having to wait for numerous donkey trains. The climb up to Kari La took forever, but it wasn’t as steep as some of the other climbs. I reached Khari Kola, a very cute town, by 1 or 2 and it began to rain quite hard. Rather than stop here, like a smart person, I pressed on. My shoes at this point were a joke and only counted as footwear by the merest of technicalities. In addition to splitting, the grip on the souls is gone and I slid through the mud more times than I want to count. On the other hand, after that first rainstorm, the sun came out, birds chirped and I had the trail all to myself.
I passed the village where Mads played with the little girl. She screamed in happiness, jumped up and down, and ran to say hello. I greeted her and her mom but pressed on for another hour or two. The sound of someone spitting made me look behind. A smiling woman “Namasted” me and asked if I was going to Nunthala. How did she know? I told her yes, and she indicated she was going to. “3 hours,” she said. I had been hiking for 8 hours now, so this sounded about right. However, I had a secret plan. I remembered the first town we had slept in, and thought I’d stop there instead of going all the way to Nunthala.
The woman walked very close behind me, like half-a-step, for the first hour. I kept offering to let her go past me, but she would smile and shake her head no. I slowly realized I hadn’t slipped at all since she’d found me. Was she some kind of wizard?
After a little while it began raining again, and she indicated I should take refuge in a tea shop with her. The roof was leaky and so we went inside and met the family. She bought me a hot lemon (again: how did she know?). The family were great, and one young guy told me he was a guide for Everest and going up for the 7th time with some Coloradans and the British army.
I was wet though and getting cold and so I left as the rain eased. The lady followed me, as we climbed up the 3rd pass of the day. (I wasn’t trying to cross this one today, but getting a bit up it would help tomorrow.) I had to take little 30 second breaks every couple of minutes as the steepness just continued to defeat me. The rain and donkeys and my poor shoes had combined into a marinade of poop mud that bathed my feet for hours.
It was quite dark now, and the lady was tired of my many breaks. She pressed on ahead but would stop and wait for me to get into sight. It was only now, 2 hours after I’d met her, that I realized the town I wanted to stop in and Nunthala were one and the same. It began raining again, quite hard, but it was dark now too and the only choice was to keep climbing. With every twist of the trail I was hoping to see Nunthala but it just kept climbing. I didn’t know that, from the tea shop, Nunthala was a further 700 feet in elevation. I had to get out my headlamp and slipped in the mud a few times.
And the we were there! My room is 150, so perhaps I’m paying for the lady too, but who cares? She’s rad. The lodge owner was suitably impressed when I told her where I had come from, but a pyrrhic victory it was. I talked to some british trekkers and ate some mushroom fried rice (with the spiciest chili sauce I’ve ever had in Nepal) and was deeply asleep by 8 pm. Because I skipped breakfast and lunch, it was mercifully a pretty cheap day, even though I had to buy two bottles of water at 1.50 each.
From/To: Lukla to Nunthala
Elevation: 2330 meters
Lodge: Hotel Everest
Budget: 860 rupees