View from Periche.
Although it had taken us eight days to get up to Everest base camp, we were walking all the way back to Lukla in just two and a half days. This meant that today was going to be an extra long day of hiking. We left Periche at around 8am and walked all the way back to Namche Bazaar- the high village where we first stayed back on day three of the journey. We hiked out of the high plateau, along the river and past the Everest memorial site. It was surprising to see just how steep and long the inclines were that we had original hiked up. Teams of red faced, out of shape tourists struggled uphill as we effortlessly slipped by them on the way down. As we descended lower, I could feel the air getting thicker as my breathing became less labored. It wasn't all downhill, though. Soon enough we were hiking up again, towards the monastery in Tengboche. The last time we reached this monastery it was in a snowstorm and none of us wanted to stick around for very long. This time we came to the monastery on a beautiful sunny day and we were able to take our time and explore the grounds. Gopal pulled some strings with the monks and was able to get us inside the walls of the famed monastery- one of the oldest monasteries in Nepal. You could feel a palpable sense of peace inside the main meditation hall where the monks would sit for hours a day, just as they had done for hundreds of years, contemplating the nature of emptiness and cultivating compassion. As we were leaving the grounds and heading down to the river valley below, I had a notion that nothing could ruin my easy, peaceful state of mind.
Then, news of the tragedy hit. Just as we began hiking again, Gopal overheard the shocking news of an avalanche that had erupted above base camp earlier that day. At first the number he heard was that 60 people had died. I was absolutely devastated by the news and by the tragic loss of human life. After placing some phone calls, Gopal downgraded the number to 12 confirmed dead and four still missing. Although this initially came as a relief- at least it was not 60 dead- it still cast a dark shadow on the day. It was the deadliest single day in the history of Everest. All those who were killed were local Nepali Sherpas- the rope fixers who selflessly risk their lives laying the ropes all the way up to the top so that westerners can later use the same ropes to achieve their dreams of summiting Everest. The fact that all the victims were Nepali did not make the news any easier to swallow. I was well aware that this was a tight knit community and that, no doubt, many of the deceased were friends and/or relatives of the local people in the area. I asked Gopal, who dreams of summiting Everest himself one day, if this news made him reconsider his goal of getting to the top. He told me that you cannot have any fear of death when attempting the summit- as if just a shadow of a doubt could be enough to get you killed. He said that all Sherpas think this way- living in total acceptance that they could die at any moment. Such brave, strong, kind people. You could sense the shock and sadness in everyone's eyes as we walked back through the local villages lining the trail.
We continued all the way back to Namche that day, hiking for almost nine hours. My legs were tired and my feet were sore but I was in better shape than most. I chose to forgo wearing hiking boots on this trip in favor of my low top trail runners. It became apparent that this was one of the best decisions I'd made, especially if you could see the blisters and red, swollen toes on some of our group members. Sure I was tired, but my feet were fine. We celebrated our accomplishment that evening with our first beers since day 2 of the trek and ordered delicious pepper steaks on top of that. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the day was taking my first hot shower in over a week. I went to bed happy, my heart going out to the families of the victims of this morning's deadly avalanche.
Our trail buddy on the walk back.