There’s no hand-wavy nonsense with the dawn or fog or mystical haze or succulent breakfast today; it’s up, out the door and on to business. 90 minutes in, I’ve made the descent from Namche to the Jorsalle gate of Sagarmatha National Park, striding it out with the unloaded porters over the shaky suspension bridges in the early dawn.
There are three TIMS checks en route. If you’re going to pirate something in Nepal, don’t make it this one. Each time, the police don’t ask where I’ve been; I wouldn’t know how to answer.
By midmorning, halfway though the descent though the Phakding valley, the tide of guided tourists turns on full. Fighting against this current, the difference in perspective strikes me all the more – there’s no equity in a trip leashed to a guide. The agenda is simple: get up when the guide says so, walk until the guide says stop, rest until the guide nods at you, walk until the guide says it’s time for lunch, each what the guide orders for you, walk until the guide decides you’re tired, button up in your down-filled cocoon and wait until the guide brings the tea and fried potatoes. You don’t have to worry about where you are, you don’t have to worry about where you’re going, you don’t have to worry about carrying. Put one foot in front of the other, pay up, and you’ll get your chance to brag about your gig in Nepal when you get back.
I beg of you, should you choose a guided tour in Nepal (or anywhere else), engage with the environment. Take a stake in the experience you’re paying for. Be glad today’s $10 are going to a guide doing something they love, but don’t be afraid to feel what you’re doing, to let it flow though you as the miles pass, and to know where you are.
Vile thoughts aside, I break for lunch a little past Phakding. It’s hot, and my feet, sweating mercilessly in the insulated boots, are killing me. While drying them off and eating a plate of potatoes, I see a familiar face in the crowd flowing past. It’s the sensual, intellectual redhead from last time I was at the Ama Dablam in Namche: Nicole.
We walk together for part of the afternoon. She’s done the run up to Kala Patthar, alone; every time we step off the trail to let pass a caravan of overhydrated morons in clean shirts with trekking poles, we exchange glances and laugh together in silence.
The afternoon’s climb, moving past Lukla, is slow and long and quiet after we separate from the herd. The solitude is again refreshing. Near four, I stop to dry off at Surke; between the encroaching thunderstorm and my fucked feet, I call it for the night.
Half an hour later, Nicole rolls by; she smiles and stops at the same lodge. We have dinner and watch the sun back away beneath the clouds and hills. The torrential rains start at dusk, and last through the night; thunder cracks and lightning blows though the clouds.