Day 9: Namche Bazaar to Pangboche
Pikey Peak, Nepal
Ascent: 1116 m
descent: 571 m
Distance: 14 km
Elevation at Destination: 3985 m
This morning I was sad to say goodbye to Danny, who was heading down to Lukla to fly out to Kathmandu. He already had his own adventures booked in Vietnam and Cambodia before agreeing to accompany me for the first part of this trip. I was very grateful to have him by my side for the last ten days. The next part of my journey, the Three Passes trek, I would be doing solo.
Today was a hike of three parts, each with superb scenery. The first two hours to Phunki Thanga was the longest but easiest section. After climbing the stairs out of Namche, the path was mostly flat and thankfully composed of dirt rather than rocks. Around every corner I was presented with views of Everest and Lhotse, shining brightly in the morning sun. I think I took a photo from the same angle roughly 100 times, each one a few metres closer than the last. The only difficult part was the descent into Phunki Thanga, where I slipped over for the first time on this trip (I was surprised it had taken this long).
Part two started with a suspension bridge crossing, a permit check, then nothing but uphill for the next hour and a half. It was one of the hardest climbs yet, but according to my watch I was going faster than when I hiked up Pikey Peak. It definitely didn’t feel that way - I don't know how I could have walked any slower. At least I had the scenery as a distraction. This time, instead of Everest, I was staring up at Thamserku and Kantega, two peaks over 6,600 metres, but the sun was in the wrong place to get a decent shot. By the time I had walked far enough around the mountain and the sun had moved into a more favourable position, clouds had obscured the summits.
At the top of the hill was the village of Tengboche, which was dominated by a large, brightly-coloured monastery. A line of guesthouses circled around the monastery then continued on down a large open field. Many tour groups going to EBC stop here for the night, meaning the village can get very busy at times. I was keen to skip the crowds and move on to the next town.
The final stage today was somewhere in between the first two in terms of effort, and the scenery had changed yet again. Clouds covered the sky in every direction except the one I was walking, where Ama Dablam now dominated the background. It stood out proud against the vibrant blue backdrop, providing me with a welcome distraction as I ascended the final hill. By this stage my lungs were burning, forcing me to slow down more and more until I was sure I wasn’t going much faster than a sloth.
Pangboche was a long, quiet village built on an upward slope. I kept going and going, hoping the views would improve the higher I climbed. In the end I gave up on the view, and checked into a guesthouse that offered a warm dining room (it’s interesting how my priorities have changed over the last week). I grabbed lunch before wandering around the village while the sun was still out. As soon as it disappeared, I jumped into bed in an attempt to retain some of the warmth I had built up.
The guesthouse wasn't lying about the warm dining room. By 5 p.m. the heater was on and I happily perched myself in front of it. All around me hikers on their way down from EBC were swapping stories, mostly about how cold they were or having to descend earlier than expected. Several had developed the ‘Khumbu Cough’, a dry, hacking cough common in high-altitude trekkers. I noticed myself coughing several times across the night and silently prayed that it was just a minor affliction that would soon disappear. I had only just commenced the Three Passes trek and wasn’t ready for it to come to an end just yet.