I’m now back in Lukla after an eventful 1 week of acclimatisation in the Khumbu. The reason we had planned for this type of program instead of the traditional trek from Tumlingtar airport to Makalu base camp was due to the lack of high elevations during the trek and the fact that base camp would be situated at 5700m. I wasn’t too confident of getting myself directly to that altitude even though i had just been on K2 for the last 2 months. So the plan was to acclimatise in the Khumbu valley for a short time before taking a helicopter to Makalu BC.
I arrived in Lukla on the 7th. We were luckly to have flew as i was told that there had been no flights into Lukla for the past 12 days due to bad weather and the 1st flight had just flown in the day before. Even though i had flown this route numerous times, this flight into Lukla was probably the most memorable of them all. It was extremely cloudy and there was so much turbulence that i thought the wings of the plane would break off at any point. No one (probably including the pilot) knew where the airport was as the runway was all shrouded with clouds. Suddenly, through a break in the clouds, we saw the runway appear immediately below us. I really thought it was too late and that the pilot would steer the plane around and attempt another landing but he didn’t. He descended fast as if it was a free fall but managed to land smoothly. All the passengers had no words to describe the relief they felt and only could be amazed at the skills of the crew. We were the last flight in that day, as after we landed, the weather turned bad. There were no more flights for the next few days as well. How lucky we were.
The monsoon wasn’t over yet. It was cloudy and raining for most of the time and there were very few tourists around. Our initial plan was to climb Kongde peak (6187m) for acclimatisation. There were a couple of reasons for that. We had to return to Lukla by the 13th to catch the heli to BC on the 14th. So we had to stay around the Lukla area and couldn’t venture too deep into the Khumbu. There were only a few peaks that were in the region that were above 5500m. However, there was also a problem of a too rapid ascent. Lukla (2860m) to 6000m+ in 4-5 days just wasn’t going to be safe even for someone like me who just came back from K2. So we had to change our plans.
After staying in Phakding for the first night, we went to Namche (3440m). It felt like a ghost town compared to the busy streets I always remembered it to be. The next day, we were at Thame (3800m). Our plan was to cross the Bhote Koshi river towards the Kongde slope and climb one of the ridges up to a height of 5500m + and sleep there. However as we were travelling towards Thame the grass and shrubs on the other side of the river (where we intended to climb) was noted to be overgrown. The cloud line was also too low for us to make a proper assessment of what lay above the tree line. The walk to Thame was beautiful and Thame village was even more beautiful. I highly recommend anyone to visit this path less traveled away from the over trampled EBC trek.
When we reached Thame, we abandoned our idea after speaking with our lodge owner. He suggested that we climb Sunder peak (5300m) instead. Plans got modified there and then once again. We decided to climb Sunder peak and sleep in Thame the same night (climb high sleep low principal) and climb and sleep atop of Tashi Lapsa pass (5700m) over the next few days. So we took on the challenge of climbing Sunder peak right after we arrived in Thame from Namche. That was going to be almost a 2km increase in vertical elevation within the same day. We left at 2pm after lunch. It took us 4h15min to reach the false/commerical summit (just below 5000m). It was a wonderfully pleasent climb with great views. The clouds parted from time to time allowing us to view the majestic Thamserku and Kongde ranges. The path was well maintained and it was a slight scramble on big boulders close to the summit. It was getting dark and the true summit seemed really steep and the path wasn’t clearly defined any longer. We decide to stop where we were and descend before it got more unsafe, having our main objective in mind – to acclimatise only. It took us another 1h45min to get back down in the dark. It was a tiring 9h day but the climb instilled alot of confidence in me. I was feeling fitter and faster than when i was trekking in K2. I knew i was more physically prepared for the upcoming climb.
We got some rations, packed light and headed westwards towards Rolwaling village. The valley got more remote and we didn’t see another trekker all along the way. Finally we reached high camp (4800m). We were prepared to sleep in our tents but were pleasantly surprised to see that there was a shelter built. It was going to be our private getaway for the night. We brewed hot tea and watched a movie from Jamling’s iPhone as we warmed up in our sleeping bags. Perhaps it was because we were so hungry or perhaps it was because we all chipped in to cook but dinner was awesome with the simple yet extremely tastly instant noodles. Another movie followed before we slept.
As i lay in my sleeping bag with a zinc sheet over my head with the sound of raindrops hitting the roof, i closed my eyes with a smile on my face. I had never been this happy in many months. Although i had nothing much with me at that time, I felt that i had everything i needed. I left all my cares and worries back at home and without a mobile phone to remind me of reality, it was wonderful to have my mind blank. I forgot how beautiful the mountains were. I forgot how beautiful Nepal and its people were. The place i was at now, was a stark contrast to where i was a month ago – in the Baltoro glacier in Pakistan. I knew i was in familiar settings with familiar faces. I was in the company of a trusted friend and climber – Jamling. The moments were much more enjoyable with his cheerful, lively and simple character. It was warm inside my sleeping bag and cold outside. I fell asleep that night happy.
The next day was a relatively challenging climb that had no flat ground to rest. We soon hit the Tashi Lapsa glacier and it reminded me of the endless days i spent on the Baltoro glacier. The last part up was scrambling on loose rocks and scree. There were numerous occasions of rock fall that we experienced. Jamling finally made a decision to stop ascending just about 100-200m from the top of the pass due to the increasing danger of rock fall. We made camp at 5500m under a sheer vertical cliff which was relatively free from rock fall. Surprisingly the climb was smooth and the night went by well without any signs of AMS. With more confidence instilled in me, it was a walk back to Namche the next day and back to Lukla the day after.
I had gone from 1300m in Kathmandu to 5500m on the Tashi Lapsa pass in 5 days. I highly don’t recommend anyone who’s not acclimatised to follow this crazy acclimatisation schedule of mine. Luckly for me, I still had some bits of altitude memory in me and i hope that this week of acclimatisation as well as my previous stint on K2 and all the training that I’ve put in between comes to good use on Makalu.
I fly off on the 14th and i’m quite certain that internet connection will be close to negligible in BC. So i hope to update this blog when possible. I really hope that the weather clears up so that the heli ride in will be filled with incredible once in a lifetime views.