Ray had a fantastic day, setting out solo from Base Camp and trekking down alongside the Khumbu Glacier, past Gorak Shep, down to a couple of rivers which he crossed on rickety bridges, and then on into the village of Pheriche for the night.
He said during the morning it was really nice trekking, sunny and warm, almost too hot. He carried his pack with some "survival gear" and he had two Sherpas help carry the rest of his gear. Even though he has hiked this trail several times before, he said it was still pretty strenuous. In the morning, up high, he passed many trekkers and Ray said he could tell that the altitude was affecting them. Then as he descended closer to Pheriche he didn't see many other trekkers at all. As usual there were Sherpas and porters carrying loads up the trail, and in fact he recognized some of them. He had seen them before, either on the trek in or in Base Camp.
The afternoon turned really cold and windy with a heavy snowfall. So he had to keep up his pace to stay warm. Altogether he hiked for 5.5 hours without stopping for lunch. He said it was nice to arrive at his lodge in Pheriche and have a quiet room and a nice dinner.
Ray commented on how beautiful the surroundings are. The nearly full moon was glowing in the twilight, and the peaks are just beautiful in the evening light. He said he was standing at the moment in the middle of the small village, in front of a large pile of very old carved prayer stones. He said the carvings are fascinating, no two are alike, each has been carved by a different person. There are some stones that are surely over a thousand years old, and the weathered carvings on those old stones have been meticulously re-chipped.
He spent some time with his Sherpa friend Kancha in the lodge, and Ray said he learned a lot about Sherpa life. Kancha lives down in the lowlands, and he comes up to the high regions to work. His current job is "cook boy" meaning that he assists the cook, serves meals, ferries gear, and generally helps out around Base Camp. Ray said he looks quite young, almost like a teenager, but it turns out Kancha is 29 years old, with two children, the oldest is 12. So Kancha needs the work in order to send his children to school. Ray said that Kancha is not interested in climbing peaks, but is happy to work in Base Camp and ferry gear from the lower villages. They will be trekking together for a couple more days.
---Ray: Today was a good day of hiking, with blue skies in the morning but snow and cold in the afternoon. I left basecamp at 9:00 behind our two Sherpa cookboys/porters Kancha and Lakpa. Once they had led me through basecamp, about a 30-minute labyrinth, they hurried ahead - never mind that they were carrying packs of their own and my two large duffel bags of equipment. Picture a backpack lashed to a duffel with a tump line attached.
The trail beyond Gorak Shep was busy with pallid-face trekkers and their guides. In theory the trail leads down but because it follows the rocky glacial moraine, there was a surprising amount of steep up that had me huffing despite living here for almost a month.
What a month it has been! I've enjoyed every minute of it. My favorite part was climbing and descending the Khumbu icefall, dangerous as it was. And traversing the Western Cwm. The entire episode has been so much fun!
I never make a big deal of my trips, publicly, especially before the fact. That way, should they not turn out the way I expect, as my climb of Aconcagua did, and certainly as this trip did, I will not have to crawl into the woodwork, nor even explain myself. I'm not trying to add to my reputation, but my experience, skill and knowledge. These, I figure, will surely make me more capable on my Next Fun Trip.
Early afternoon I started seeing small vegetation in an otherwise barren landscape of rocks and glacier ice. Within two hours of descending this had become six inches tall, and I recognized it as stunted brush or trees - juniper. I came to a small stream flowing clear, with a bit of moss growing on it's banks. I hadn't expected that such an ordinary sight could be so profoundly beautiful; and the melodic sound certainly added to the effect. I paused long, savoring the moment and thinking of the trip's recent turn of events.
My team meant a great deal to me; we had grown close over the past four weeks, and it was hard parting company, for both me and, I think, them - as evidenced by the long, tearful hugs of farewell.
Dave: my mentor on the mountain; Todd: with whom I had shared many late-night conversations; Ellie: base-camp manager who had taught me much about procedures; Vern: another guide - these were particularly meaningful people. Jeanne and Amy had cried and hugged me - both together - for several minutes, and wanted me to wait for them a few days hence when the team would descend all the way to Debouche for a few day's rest.
At last Firat looked at me and said in his Turkish accent: "It doesn't matter." I'm not sure what he meant, exactly, but I had to agree with him in general terms. To me, what does matter is the moment, and right now I'm a enjoying a great trek down into the low regions. Moreover, the prospects of a few days more of good hiking look good.
As I continued down, a light snow began to coat the sleeves of my shell jacket. The afternoon was growing colder, as typical of Khumbu afternoons; I was lightly dressed, and despite the exercise I was feeling chilly. I could see down the long valley, to the distant village of Pheriche, my destination for the day, and before long I began to make out the yaks grazing in the surrounding fields and steep hills. Regardless how steep the hills, the yaks love to rove and climb.
I was a bit tired and hungry, so I was glad to reach the village. I had passed Kancha and Lakpa early on in the day, and hadn't seen them since. Maybe my pace was too fast for them, or they had lost their way. Not a chance! They appeared 30-minutes later looking no worse for the wear, and I learned later that they had been talking to their many friends all along the way. Seemed like they knew half the people in the Khumbu.
As much as I enjoyed the camaraderie of the team, I enjoyed hiking solo through this marvelous land as well. I am looking forward to another couple of days of fine trekking.