Sunday 22 December
Having arrived around 4 hours late into Lukla, this meant that our first day’s walk would now be conducted at least partly in darkness. Just the thing I had thought I would avoid on this trip! As we ate a hurried lunch in Lukla, I was getting more and more nervous at the thought of walking the last couple of hours by torchlight, especially with a group of people I’d never met before the previous night, and who didn’t really understand about my sight. We set off from Lukla in slushy mud and melting ice, with a damp chill in the air, and my thoughts were gloomy. After 2 hours’ walking, the light began to fade and I had to navigate over slippery rocks and mud. While the group and the guides knew I had a sight problem, they had no idea of the extent of my night vision issues. However, I soon found they were instantly solicitous. John noticed that my headtorch was quite dim, and offered to swap his much brighter one for mine, while Chong, the head guide, walked beside me, and at times, took my arm to help me across the rocks. He didn’t say anything, but his presence was most reassuring. Nevertheless, I felt the familiar fears and anxieties rising from the pit of my stomach, and I had to give myself a stern talking to in order to get myself through the ordeal. I felt such a failure, and this was only the first afternoon of the trek.
On arrival at the teahouse in Phakding (2652m) around 7pm, the emotions I had been restraining for the last 2 hours finally gave way. The rest of the group seemed to be very understanding, although I don’t think they really knew what the problem was, and after checking I was OK, they left me undisturbed to gather myself. I have no idea what they really thought at this point. But this is the beauty of such trips – if everyone dislikes me by the end of the trip, at least I never have to speak to any of them again. Of course, I hope it won’t come to that! I hope that instead, they’ll learn something about me and about people with visual disabilities. So far they seemed to be in the latter camp.
Monday 23 December
Passed a tolerable night – warm enough in my toasty 5-season sleeping bag, although the room was chilly. I had a single room, since we are 3 single girls in the group, so we alternate the room partners each night. Woken up at 7am with bed tea – now this is something I didn’t really expect in a teahouse, though normal on camping treks. The only snag is you have to get out of bed to open the door to the guides. But it’s one of the best parts of the day, being able to wake up slowly with a hot tea. I wish I got this at home! I shall be posting separately about the joys (!) of teahouse trekking.
As we left Phakding, we retraced our steps for the first small section from the previous night, and I became aware how treacherous it had actually been. Even the rope suspension bridge I’d merrily sped over, being the only stretch I had actually felt safe on in the dark, now revealed huge holes in the flooring that I’d had no idea about, thankfully!
Today there were clear blue skies and it was excellent trekking weather, warm in the sun but cool in the shade. My watch read 23 degrees C at lunchtime in the sun, and I needed only a tshirt and fleece jacket most of the day, though I also mostly kept my gloves on. Obviously, I was wearing trousers too. But it was a far cry from yesterday’s damp chill.
Today was also the day of the suspension bridge! These were fairly impressive structures, made mainly of rope and which certainly swayed around, but were actually pretty solid. Although I’m not great with heights, I found them fun and not in the slightest bit scary, since they had good mesh flooring and enclosed mesh sides, but many people, to my surprise, found them incredibly frightening and inched their way across, gripping the sides for dear life. I’d have liked to bounce up and down in the middle, but that definitely wouldn’t have gone down well with the others, so I dutifully restrained myself. Luckily we didn’t encounter any yaks coming the other way, but apparently in peak trekking season there are sometimes traffic jams of up to an hour, because there’s definitely not room for trekkers and yaks to pass each other.
There were many photo opportunities as we meandered up and down through the forest, with tantalising glimpses of snow-capped peaks round almost every corner. The others got their first glimpse of Everest in the afternoon, just below Namche, but I would have to wait for mine. I dutifully took a photo of what they were looking at, but could see nothing.
We ascended around 900m today, and I certainly felt the effects, arriving in Namche (3400m) with a splitting headache, although not too out of breath (unlike some) as we had climbed at a very sedate pace. I’d have liked to have had a little look around the town, since we had arrived still quite early, but I was too scared about getting lost in the warren of buildings and narrow streets to venture out. I still hadn’t really acclimatised to Nepal in terms of the claustrophobia of the towns, and found the hustle and bustle a bit overwhelming. Another time, I think a day in Kathmandu to adjust and get my bearings would be a good move.