We have now arrived in Pheriche, the place at 4,300m where I stayed for about 5 days in the spring recovering from my altitude sickness. I have to say that it feels great to be properly acclimatised! I usually take two days to get here, however, this time we are doing it by the book and we arrived here on the fifth day of our trek
There is still quite a lot of snow in front of the teahouses in Pheriche, which must be the snow that has fallen off the roofs. We have also been talking to a few trekkers, who told us that the snow at Everest base camp is slowly disappearing and that the path is now cleared.
This morning, we were going to go on a short hike, but for some bizarre reason we ended up ascending a little hill that is 1,000 vertical metres from Pheriche. Of course we went ‘Baci’ speed and it only took us 1 1/2 hours to get to this ‘little’ 5,200m-high peak. “I was lured into a false sense of security,” I said to Russell as I was expecting to amble over to the next village of Dingboche and have a coffee there.
However, we were quite proud when a young 26-year-old, who we were overtaking said: “Why are you guys so fast? I am 26 and exercise a lot.” Well, in a way it was a compliment but on the other hand I felt a bit insulted. Did he really think we were that much older ;-).
Anyway, we will go to Ama Dablam base camp on Thursday and I hope I will get some internet every once in a while to update this page. If not I will try and send the odd tweet. But in the meantime, here is part of the newsletter I wrote for the Himalayan Experience website yesterday. Enjoy!
As our team is strong and fast, it didn’t take us long to arrive in Pheriche, where we settled down in the Snowland lodge featuring WiFi and a flat-screen television. “Well, I remember when I came to Pheriche 34 years ago….” – ah, here goes another ‘Baci’ story and I perked up my ears.
In 1979, when Russell was on his first commercial trip to Island Peak, he stopped in one of the five stonehuts that were teahouses back then. “When Russell came in, I had just put my son Ongchu to sleep,” said Ang Urken, who was running that teahouse at the time. “I can’t quite remember what exactly happened but he pulled something off the shelves and dropped a crampon on my precious vase, which made a loud noise,” said the now 66-year-old jolly woman.
The first thought that came to her mind was her baby; even though Ongchu was her first son, he was not her first-born. “I had lost three babies – two sons and one daughter – to cod death before and when I heard that loud bang I was worried that my son would be harmed,” she remembered with tears in her eyes. Fortunately, the crampon did not harm the baby, but completely destroyed Ang Urken’s precious vase. “I was very angry at this man and demanded money. He gave me 16 Rupees and left,” she said.
However, what goes around, comes around and little did Russell know when he met the staff for his Ama Dablam North Ridge expedition one year later. “I first came across Russell in Kathmandu, when I was hired as his Sirdar for this expedition,” Nawang Karma told me. “We got on very well but when we arrived in Pheriche and I walked towards my modest house, Russell looked a bit worried.
As it turned out, it was the house where Russell had broken the vase one year earlier. “I felt very worried but when I entered the house, Ang Urken was laughing and seemed happy to see me again.” They have been very good friends ever since and did not look back to the vase incident. As a matter of fact, Russell actually became one of the first curtain providers in Pheriche. “I guess, I still felt guilty and when Ang Urken said that she needed curtains for the lodge, I was happy to bring them from Kathmandu.”
Nawang Karma and Ang Urken are now the proud parents of five boys and one daughter and Nawang Karma still works as Russell’s head yak herder and looks after his gear store in Pheriche. While the three were telling me the story in the warm dining room of the Snowland lodge, our Sirdar Phurba Tashi and Gyalzen Sherpa had come down from base camp to pack up some more equipment and get it ready to be transported up the hill by Nawang Karma’s yaks. “The snow is still about knee-deep up there but our base camp is up and running,” said Phurba Tashi, who also seems excited to climb the North Ridge.
We have also been able to establish contact with Naoki and his team, who are now near Makalu base camp and have abandoned their plan to cross the passes. “It is far too dangerous to cross the Amphu Laptsa in these conditions, so they are better off taking a helicopter to Ama Dablam base camp,” Phurba Tashi continued. And this is exactly what they will do, but not before our team has built a helicopter pad at base camp.
In order to be well acclimatised, we will stay in Pheriche (4,280m) for a couple of nights before we head straight to Ama Dablam base camp, which is at about 5,100m. “I think we should concentrate on our climb on Ama Dablam, however, if we get bored there we can always nip up Island Peak in a couple of days,” Russell said.
Apparently it is possible to get to Island Peak’s Camp 1 from our base camp in one day and then continue to the summit the following day, but with the current snow conditions it is probably better to wait for a bit. In our case waiting is actually not such a bad thing as it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of Russell’s summit success of Ama Dablam via the North Ridge; which was on 21st October 1980 – a fact we actually only found out by reading the book ‘Hall & Ball – Kiwi Mountaineers’ in our lodge in Pheriche.