Gokyo Trek - Day 2 and 3 - Sagarmatha National Park - Nepal
October 23nd, 2011 - Day 2 - Phakding (2630m) to Namche Bazaar (3430m) in 8 hours (9.5km)
Getting up refreshed in Phakding to a clear blue sky and hearty egg breakfast, we were ready to roll by 8am. I was feeling quite a bit better this day than the previous and I was happy my body wasn't suffering from any of the arthritis that can afflict me every now and then. All was good and the energy was high for me, and so for the next 8 hours we made our way from Phakding to Namche Bazaar.
This is an exceptionally beautiful portion of the trail leading to the higher elevations and I must say it was one of my favorite days of the whole trek. About 3/4 of the day was spent following the beautiful Dudh Kosi river (which flows all the way from the Ngozumba Glacier, the longest glacier in the Himalayas). One of the interesting things you notice in this region is how the flow of water is used to power old fashioned grinding mills as well as mini hydro plants. The people of this region have few, if any luxuries, so any extra help they can get, whether from nature or visitors, makes a difference. To be honest, I have no idea how anyone survives up in the higher elevations come winter time.
It is along this route that you officially enter the Sagarmatha National Park (all must stop and pay for the required permits, which our guide dealt with). By 1pm we were approaching the final leg of the trail to Namche that Gopal had been mentally preparing us for in his inconspicuous way ("There is some uphill hiking."). You start on this section by first crossing the highest bridge of the entire trek... call this an initiation of sorts to the trail ahead because from this point on it's non-stop uphill hiking and switchbacks for the next 2.5 hours. The bridge is at about 2900 meters and Namche is over 3400m... may not seem like much, but you are now at an altitude that your body clearly starts to feel it. Just ask my aunt Suzanne what she thought of this section!
Like I said, for some reason I had boundless energy on this day and with the help of some music inspiring me forward, I made my way up this section with determination and a light spirit. Not only was the music propelling me, but it was also along this section that you get your first view of the top of Everest to stoke your fire! During the ascent of this section we were also witnesses to an incredibly display of human strength, endurance and sheer will power... heading down this trail was an averaged sized porter carrying a not so typical load... a refrigerator! Yes, that's right, one porter and a full sized fridge strapped to his back. How he was able to do this, I have no idea. It only reinforced the belief that these Nepalese porters must be some of the strongest and most agile people in the world. Sorry, no photo... I was too awe struck.
By about 3:30pm we had made it to the incredibly beautiful mountain side village of Namche Bazaar. Never in my life have I seen anything like it. I was blown away by the surroundings of this horseshoe shaped community carved in to the side of hills. To reach Namche truly feels like an accomplishment because of the stunning rewards that surround you. It is the point in the trek where the mountain views truly open up, with peaks of unimaginable size and beauty in almost every direction you look.
By the time we reached our lodge, I was pretty much physically spent. However I was at that perfect place of being tired, but not completely exhausted, which allowed for a brief moment of complete relaxation as I stared out across the valley at the incredible sight of the sun setting on Kongde Ri. I experienced one of those rare moments in life where your mind, body and spirit are in harmony, combined with the perfect setting and perfect music playing in my ears. Once again, as has happened on a few other hikes, tears came to my eyes as a well of emotion bubbled up from the divinity of the moment. Those ever-so-brief moments are what it's all about for me. It is that connection that seems to shine forth from the mountains that reaches from the heavens all the way in to my soul that keeps me coming back to them. How grateful I am to have been given the gift to experience it one more time.
Namche Bazaar not only stands out for its beautiful surroundings, but it's also the most "civilized", well equipped, service oriented village you will come across on your entire journey (even beating out Lukla in my opinion) and as its name suggests, it's a great place if you are looking to buy something. It is the perfect place to take a rest to acclimatize, which is what we did the next day.
October 24th, 2011 - Day 3 - Rest in Namche Baazar
After a rough night of sleep (more disturbing dreams, which could be related to the altitude), we spent the day exploring the views and the markets of Namche. First thing that morning we headed up to a lookout point near a military outpost and museum. With views of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam, I was seeing mountains with features and distinctions like no other on earth, making it one of the most awesome views of my life. Considering that Everest is the highest mountain in the world, Lhotse claiming the steepest face of its size in the world, and Ama Dablam simply standing out for its uniquely beautiful shape... I would say that that view qualifies as one of the most incredible of my life.
It was nice to have a day to recharge and take it easy in Namche. With full internet and phone access, it's a great place to reconnect with the loved ones back home before continuing on, because from that point on, the comforts and conveniences are no longer available in the other villages.