We know the jeep should arrive at 5:00 in the morning; by 4:00, we’re up, sore, smelly and stumbling around with that “alarm-went-off-mid-REM” soft focus to the senses. At six, the sun crawls out from behind the cloud cover; there’s no jeep. By eight, we’re napping half-dead in the common room. By nine, we’ve had a second breakfast.
The jeep arrives at 10:30. The early monsoons have dissolved the roads into a marathon slip-and-slide; we brace for excitement. Nepal: she’ll let you check out anytime, the leaving remains up to you.
Eleven of us pack into the jeep; bags and backpacks line the roof. We roll out with Everest Sherpas – the adamantine cogs that drive the Everest machine, the countless cooks and thankless altitude porters that silently harness the world’s tallest mountain. They say that there’s 14 dead in this climbing season – eight Sherpa and six clients. Each individual is a tragedy, but collectively, it’s a good number: about as many as in 1996, but far less when normalized against the stratospheric numbers on the mountain.
By noon, we’re cruising through Salleri, stopping for no reason every hundred meters. Seeing buildings so close is a shock once again; it’s a real, actual town. By one, we’ve passed though, and are on the road proper.
The monsoon mud is immediately up to the hubs, and won’t let us leave easy. Every hour sees 40 minutes of the dozen of us outside; shoveling and pushing in the fog and downpour. One unlucky guy – we rotate each time – stuffs stones under the wheels while the mud flies up around us. We come across a jackknifed semi – it takes two jeeps and a dozen of us on ropes sliding in the mud to get the road clear.
Well after dark, we stop for fuel. It’s silent and pitch-dark. Everybody’s a little wonky – like three beers at midnight. We start falling asleep on each other’s shoulders; feet disappear into pools of mud in the cabin.
At half past ten, we pile out of the truck into a tin village, and flop down into plastic chairs. We pass Tuborgs all around; I pull down a liter of the lukewarm lager before unlacing my boots. One guy, an assistant cook on Island Peak, has two before he starts bitching about the clients he’s dealt with for the past three months.
I flick dried mud off my shirt. Everest’s Camp II cook for the season looks at me through furrowed brows and a sunburnt smile. “You are strong man.” No, dude; I just want to get home, as much as you do.
The guys stretch out on cots in the common room; Nicole and I pass out in the truck, on separate seats. No matter, we’ll be on the move soon.