The Daily Moraine - 2nd edition21 October 2013
"A dumb blonde?"
Sunday may have been a rest day for us but certainly not for our Sherpas. "I have just spoken to Phurba Tashi and they had a hard time getting the yaks to base camp in the deep snow," said Russell. We had heard a lot about the huge amounts of snow further up the valley with people having trouble getting to Everest base camp or having to abandon their feat even befhorehand. "The snow in Chukung is waist-deep," Nawang, Russell's long-time friend and head yak herder, told us when we met him in Namche.
But despite the deep snow, the Sherpas have already set up our little home at BC and got everything ready for us, when we arrive there, which might be sooner rather than later. "We have to have an open mind regarding Island Peak as it may not be worth wasting our energy on trying to get to its summit; but we will see once we get there," Russell said to us while we were basking in the sun in Khumjung. Our eighth climbing member Naoki is currently on the Great Himalayan Trail filming and trekking from Tumlingtar to the Kangchenjunga area and is currently traversing to Makalu base camp. They are intending to cross three passes: West Col, Sherpani Col and the Amphu Laptsa. However, they have had continous days of rain. "We are still uncertain whether the snow conditions will allow them to cross the passes. This decision will be made once they get there," Russell explained.
After having spent a night in the Sherpa capital Namche Bazaar, we went on the "long" hike to Khumjung, which once again we did in 'Baci Speed' only taking 1 1/2 hours. "When we go with the trekking group, this trek usually takes us about 3 hours," Lacchu, our cook, said. In Khumjung we stayed at Phurba Tashi's lodge, where we were welcomed by one of his daughters and some of her friends. Phurba's wife and the other three children are currently in Phortse looking after their new guesthouse, where we will be staying tomorrow.
It's always nice to go to Khumjung, as it is away from all the hustle and bustle of Namche Bazaar, and it features the first ever school built by Sir Edmund Hillary, which was established as early as 1961. "Hillary was a very fine man and I am glad I had the chance to get to know him," Russell said. Recently, Himalayan Experience built a "Cultural Centre" in the compound of the Hillary school, where young Sherpas are being taught traditional Sherpa culture . "With all the western influence, a lot of the young people are forgetting their traditions," Russell said. Though for Ama Dablam aspirants, one of the best things about Khumjung is that it offers amazing views of this magnificent mountain and we were able to get a good look at "The Mother of the Jewels", which is the direct translation of Ama Dablam.
"I'm a Dumb Blonde'
However, there is also a lot of scope for this beautiful name to be misinterpreted as we found out on Sunday afternoon. "The journalist I have just been doing an interview with was a bit surprised that I was going to climb a mountain called 'I'm a dumb blonde'", said Greg, explaining that the reporter understood exactly that when he told him he was going to climb 'Ama Dablam'. Well, if you imagine a bad phone line and say it often and quick enough, you can actually understand where the reporter was coming from.
After breakfast, we walked up a little hill to visit the Everest View Hotel, which was built by a Japanese business man in 1972. The 70ies-style hotel used to serve mainly Japanese tourists, who would fly to the airstrip above Namche Bazaar just to set their eyes on Mount Everest. Allegedly, they were often so altitude sick that they were immediately put on oxygen upon their arrival, carried by a yak to the hotel, where they would lie in their beds, breathe supplemental oxygen and, if they were lucky enough to have a clear view, look at Everest. The hotel was never a big success but to this very day it is a popular lunch destination for trekkers and climbers, who stay in Namche Bazaar for a couple of nights and want to go on a day outing.
Afterward we walked back down to Khumjung and visited Loppsang's house, where we found out some interesting stories about Russell's staff. Both Loppsang and Lacchu have worked for Russell for 19 years and their first expedition to Mount Everest was also Russell's first commercial expedition to the highest mountain in the world. "We were still with Asian Trekking and I remember that they did not think I would be strong enough to go to Everest base camp as I was a young and thin boy," said Lacchu. "But of course I had been on many trips, including expeditions with the famous Polish climbers Jerzy Kukuczka and Krzysztof Wielicki," he said modestly.
However, the very first expedition Lacchu went on was an Island Peak trip with "In-trek" in 1979, when he was a 15-year-old boy. "I remember when Lacchu was asked to fill up the stoves, but nobody told him that he would have to put kerosine in it. So, he filled them with water. Of course, he didn't know any better but he got a good hiding from his boss for this mistake. I guess this was the last time, he did that," Russell remembered.
It was nice to sit in Loppsang's modest kitchen listening to the tales of their past, and it was actually quite moving to feel the strong bond between these three men.
First Sherpani on Manaslu
Time flew and we forgot that we had yet one more appointment in Khumjung as we were also invited to Yangjee's house, which was another very special visit. This autumn, the 28-year-old became the first Nepali, and so the first Sherpani, to scale Manaslu and she did so with Himalayan Experience. "I am so happy that I achieved this and I am very grateful to Russell that he gave me the opportunity to reach the top of the 8th highest mountain in the world," she told me. She ushered us into her tidy sitting room and served us 'Red Label' whiskey. Every once in a while she would pop out to see how her 92-year-old blind grandmother was doing. "My father died on Mount Everest 11 or 12 years ago and my mother married again and moved out. Now my younger sister and I are looking after the house, the land and my grandmother, which is not easy sometimes."
The room we were sitting in was very organised and tidy with about a dozen huge rice bags leaning against the wall on one side. "You must be a very hungry family," I commented, however, Yangjee told me that all this rice - and more - was what she needed when her grandmother died. "Our Sherpa culture can be very expensive and for someone like me it's difficult to find enough rice and money to give my grandma the 'Puja' (Buddhist blessing) she deserves when she dies."
But Yangjee seems to be a strong and determined young woman, who may struggle with the fact that she is not yet married, but certainly has big plans. "Next year, I want to climb Mount Everest. I want to do it for my father and fulfill his dream," she said.
Once again, time was flying while we were talking to Yangjee and when we finally left the house to go back to our lodge, it was already dark. Even though Katharina, our Austrian member, never ever leaves the house without her headtorch (she even wore it around her neck at the Hyatt Hotel) we seemed to have ended up without any sort of lighting for our way back. But Yangjee gave her light to Russell who guided us - with holding hands - safely back to Phurba Tashi's house, where we had a quick dinner and fell into a deep sleep after having had such an interesting day, which was filled with rich experiences.
On Monday, we are heading up the hill to Phortse, so watch the space for the third edition of the Daily Moraine.