I’m up on time, but the rains at night have made everything damp and the fog occludes the hills. At seven, I’m still drying socks, crammed around the small stove in the kitchen and lustfully thinking of getting out of the clouds and humidity.
I roll out with the porters again. Three days in, I’m starting to get tired. It’s prime time to watch them; they do this day in and day out. They climb slowly, steadily – using their legendary rest sticks, the tokma, every few minutes. They talk on ascent – I imagine systematically making fun of idiots like me – to keep the pace low: “Slowly, slowly.” On descent, however, they fly – hopping from stone to stone, the bag or basket spending more time in the air then on their back, a dicey ballet on slick rocks. They walk either barefoot or sockless in torn, knock-off Chuck Taylors; the proper shoes come on above Namche. I can understand why; in the 30 degree heat, my feet sweat and macerate in my crampon-compatible tombstones. Finally, they know the trails they walk cold – know when to push and when to fall back, to the minute.
Apparently, they are quantifiably the best.
We climb 900 meters before they leave me for lunch: the best daal bhaat so far. I sit near the smoky stove while Justin Beiber’s “Baby” is on the radio, the dance remix. I talk about Everest climbs and how they have changed with the old Sherpa, while his wife cooks. He uses a sling tied to the ceiling to get out of his chair, shuffles over and shows me his three remaining toes. I step out into the thick fog, my stomach full to the brim.
Porters roll past, and we push out together. Fueled, on descent, I keep up with them for half an hour. The clouds finally crack open, and thick drops pelt us. We stop and silently help each other with packcovers and plastic bags. There’s no glory or drama, slogging though the mud above Surke; it’s a dozen legs holding up half a dozen souls, a dozen entwined hands steadying each other’s loads.
Steam pours off my back and bag as I stop for a rest around five. It’s humid, but I feel stronger. I push out through the dusk to Chheplung; after two hours in the inky blackness, and after 12 hours on the trail, I call it short. It’s a homestay at Musey – the best 500 NR I’ve spent so far. Soccer on TV, with an adorable young couple, and all the tsampa I can stomach. The entry is though a barn, but screw it – the cows keep us all warm at night.
The day wraps with 22.7 kilometers in 8 hours of movement, with four hours off. It’s 1538 meters up – oh, hell: call it another mile – and 970 meters down.