Day nine, after a rest day we headed up to Lobuche (16,142 ft) from Dingboche (14,468 ft.). After five days of at most 3 1/2 hours of hiking I was psyched to get a full day of movement in. I had plenty of energy stored up and there is only so much reading and writing you can do. At this point yoga and any breathing exercises were a challenge because of the difficulty in deep breathing at this altitude. Similarly, despite my capable legs, my lungs were slow to the pick up and the altitude was kicking in. Typically within five minutes of starting to hike we would need to stop and catch our breath, then our lungs would acclimate to the altitude and movement and we would be good to go. My PTSD of having panic attacks and breathing difficulty in my childhood would kick in from time to time as I was reminded of what it felt like to be short of breath.
It was here that it began to get very cold. For those of you who know me, I get cold very easily- from October to April my fingers and toes are typically numb despite my greatest efforts. It was my goal on coming here to do my best to always stay warm, no matter how many layers that took.
The weather is comparable to the late fall in Northern New England, cold but when the sun is out it is comfortable. At night it would drop down into the 30s at lower altitudes then by the time you hit 4,500-5,300 m. range it was in the teens at night. You are then staying in huts that have no heat and minimal insulation. Changing clothing was avoided and when necessary you did it quickly or inside your sleeping bag. Your free time in the higher villages was spent either in the common area with tea and hopefully a fire going, or in your sleeping bag. If you went outside at all you looked something like the Michelin Man, hiding under layers of down and Techwick.
On this hike to Lobuche we converged with many groups of people heading up to Everest Base Camp, there was only one trail option to get there now and you became increasingly aware of how many people were up here hiking... it is a lot more than most would imagine. In this day and age people are capable of doing so much more, thanks to technology, advancements in travel, money, etc. It is somewhat sobering to realize that this "special" trip is special for about a thousand other visitors on any given day. There are very few secret, sacred places left in this world, I haven't decided yet if that is a good or bad thing.
Lobuche and Gorak Shep were more outposts for trekkers than villages, thus there were only a handful of Teahouses in each place. This combined with the masses of people heading up to Everest Base Camp meant that the Teahouses were continuously packed with large groups of trekkers. Eight to ten days in, combined with the altitude meant that many of these trekkers were coughing, sniffling and sneezing quite continuously. Add to the fact that people stayed in one common area for warmth created a breeding ground for colds and flu. Having spent the last many days with only 3 other people, in Teahouses that typically had no more than 20 other people, this was an unwelcome change.
It wasn't all bad though, in Lobuche we had something to look forward to: chicken. Because there are no roads where we are the main form of transporting goods is on the backs of the porters. That means that it takes a few days to get products from Lukla up to the higher villages. For this reason we hadn't had access to meat, or decent protein, since Namche. There are also very few vegetables that grow at this altitude outside of cabbage, onion, potatoes and carrots. Our diet had almost entirely consisted of these vegetables combined with rice or noodles either in a broth or fried in some capacity. Ovens aren't something most people have, so the options of cooking are all stovetop which basically means boiling or frying.
Lobuche, though, receives some things on the helicopters while they are passing in and out of the town on missions which meant that they were able to get their hands on luxuries like meat. Another wonderful thing was that the electricity was more reliable here than at the last tea house we stayed at, which meant I was able to charge my phone. I can live without many things, but music isn't one of them. That night as I sat in the hut eating my chicken, clean because I had the amazing opportunity of showering the night before and jamming out to my music, I was one of the happiest people in the world.
While on the subject of "little things that count," I cannot forget to mention the toilets. After Namche all of the toilets either became squat toilets or they were a regular toilet that didn't have the ability to flush. The former is just annoying. As a woman I am squatting a lot and beginning to attribute my knee pain to toilets more than trekking. The upside of these toilets is there isn't any stagnant water holding onto ungodly spells. The sitting toilet option just sucks. You desperately want to sit on it, but you know better so end up squatting anyway. There is water in this toilet just like our traditional ones, but they don't flush so you take a jug of water and pour it into the hole... if you have ever had a toilet that isn't working you know it takes about a gallon (not a jug) to flush the toilet entirely clean of its contents. Hence, these toilets were very rarely clean and free of odor.
As for bathing... Hot water was neither easy to come across nor free. After Namche power, just as with most other commodities, became limited. This mean little access to heat that would warm water (much less entire buildings!). The other problem with no heat and little insulation was that pipes froze every night. The outcome was that a shower was only possible midday, once the pipes had thawed and the heating system could couple with the sun to warm the water. Even then you may get 5-7 minutes of warm water, at best. Then you have to manage to dry up (my long, thick hair included) before it got dark. This left you with a very small window of opportunities to get in a shower. Finally, it didn't matter how clean you got because you were still putting on dirty clothes.
To most westerners all of these situations would be considered massive inconveniences, but in much of the world these things are a part of lives that are just as happy and healthy as our. Again, another pleasant reality check of what defines a "good" life. I'm sure many of these people who love hot showers, flushing toilets, ovens and fresh veggies, but they certainly aren't lesser people because of the things they don't have. Besides, despite the magnitude that these "inconveniences" may pose in your mind, they were minimal when compared to the opportunity I received every day. Of course there were times where I desperately wished for "American" standards, but for the most part I focused not on what I wanted, but what I did have and felt gratitude in that. Somehow life becomes more magical when instead of dreaming of new cars and houses you are dreaming of flushing toilets, salads with steak and hot water.
Something that I love about traveling, especially in lower income countries, is that in the simplicity of other people's living styles you become aware of how luxurious western lives are and how jaded we have become because of them. I have come to prefer this kind of travel to high-end European traveling or all-inclusive resorts. I feel peace when things are simpler and fewer choices need to be made. When you aren't worried about all the fluff you are able to get to the heart of life and all that truly matters: love, joy, peace. Luxury is a matter of opinion and although it may change an experience it certainly doesn't define the magnificence of it.
Chelsea M Latham
When I was a kid my mom would occasionally refer to me as a Reverend, because I had the need to speak so passionately about just about everything. Little did she know that some day I would build a business upon sharing the wisdom that I am so passionate about. So here you go, here are some bits and bobs of thoughts strung together for your enjoyment.