Yak-dung smoke is heavy and caustic. Several times over the past few days I have been driven to use my inhaler because the smoke was so thick that I could feel my chest tighten. This morning it was so thick that I awoke coughing and gagging, my eyes watering. Bad stuff. We also noted why the laundry we'd had "washed" last time we were in Pheriche stunk so--- it was line-dried right over, you guessed it, a 4 foot pile of yak dung. Absolutely charming.
I was sad this morning as the group split up. Sasha (our "Jacket Queen" because she has one for every moment!), Laura, Jane and Renee waved goodbye as they walked out of Pheriche with Naga. For the three of us who remain, our thoughts and concerns shift to our next objective- the summit of Island Peak ~ 20,000 ft- a similar altitude to Mt. McKinley. We will miss everyone who has headed home just as we miss the rest of Team Waki- we wish they could have joined us on this wonderful trip.
On our way to Chukkung, our destination for the night, we climbed up the same hill which we'd climbed several days ago on our Pheriche acclimatization hike. This time, however, the going was much easier, such is the benefit of coming down from higher altitudes! We continued our "ridgeline dance" up the Imja Khola valley, underneath the watchful gaze of Island Peak. The relatively fertile valley soon gave way to a boulder- strewn scree-scape, and dust was the norm.
We stopped for a few breaks and the challenge has been to find interesting snacks. The teahouses up here sell: Pringles, McVities, Mars, Snickers, Bounty (a European Mounds bar), and Twix. In addition, most lodges sell 12 kinds of "digestive biscuits"- must be a European thing, although given the "digestive" issues in our team alone, perhaps there is a point... Sasha donated her residual Wheat Thins, and they sure hit the spot for Lucy and me. At this point, I am sick of chocolate. And most of my remaining snacks are...chocolate. Seems I tossed out most of the other snacks when I had to pare down my bags. And, my Nutella packets exploded all over my snacks- leading to an afternoon spent cleaning up the "diaper blowout". So now, I am kinda stuck with what I have- although Lucy and Corell have been most generous with their stash.
As far as dream foods? After two weeks on the trail in a foreign land, I crave...a medium rare prime steak and roasted vegetables- especially cauliflower. I was excited to eat the fried cauliflower Kumar served us up in Base Camp, but I hungered for so much more. In due time, because we have a mountain to climb! I am currently subsisting on Werther's, Ricola lozenges, and rice. My stomach keeps on fighting back against my current diet and I am constantly on the alert for increased "BR"s (bowel rumbles). It makes it difficult to pack up each day and hit the trail.
That brings me to another topic, though not an elegant one. Asian toilets. Whether simple holes in the floor to a pit below or a porcelain variety with bilateral ridges for foot placement, these things boggle my mind. Which way do you squat? Some have large barrels of water nearby to facilitate flushing but which block access, others have more room. Its awkward, at best- though often cleaner than many commodes with "seats." Guess that's why we haven't seen any reading material in the rest rooms... You are not welcome to stay, no matter your distress. Wonder what our guide acquaintance Brent would have to say about these facilities since he encourages "sitting on the throne" before every climb.
If it seems I am focused in bowel habits, I am. A bad turn can sideline a trek, but can end a climb. Even though I feel I have been extremely vigilant in the hand sanitizer department, just one mistake can be dreadful. And tonight is our last night in a tea house before our climb. As teahouses go, this one seems very clean. Most of them have had blankets, of some sort, and basic pillows. The worst teahouse, in Gorak Shep, had cracked concrete floors, rickety beds, and barely-there pillows. That was one dismal place. Our Chukkung teahouse has slate floors in the halls, three toilets (squatters all) and wood overlay in the bed rooms. For a little while, we were warm while the sun filled the room, but soon we found ourselves heading to the sunroom for heat.
I am still trying to accept the fact that I am trekking and climbing without carrying my own pack. Each morning, as I watch Phura load up with my pack in addition to his own, I feel horrible. I wonder what I am doing climbing if I can't carry the load. As it is, without my pack, I am still in a different "heart rate zone" than Lucy and Corell. Dropping the pack allows me to keep up, but still doesn't allow me to engage much, as talking consumes too much energy. So, I try to listen in on the conversations ahead of me- but with the wind and noise of walking, I can't hear much at all, and that can make for a solitary time. I do feel pretty foolish, however, walking in to teahouses and camps backpack-less. I keep telling myself that "pride goeth before a fall," and perhaps this sacrifice in pride will prevent a fall down that headwall on Island Peak!
We had a great dinner, but Lucy wasn't feeling well. We tried to coax her into eating something, but she just couldn't stomach anything. And then we watched one of the cooks pick up, bare-handed, a pile of yak dung from a large rice sack and dump it into the heater. That pretty much did Lucy in.
We are biding our time for the 8:30 PM mark so that we can head to bed, knowing it is going to be a cold night, and praying that Lucy feels better in the AM.
Ramro sanga sutnos!
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