The night began cold, but the dormitory warmed up quickly and I am soon unzipping my sleeping bag. After that I sleep very well and don’t even notice people getting up for the loo. In the morning, John is stable, but not well enough to continue on the trek. So Dan makes the decision to call for an air ambulance.
Breakfast is a more leisurely affair than usual. We say goodbye to John and Marg and hope to see them again in Kathmandu. Purba us on while Dan remains with John and Marg waiting for the ambulance.
Purba seems to be setting a cracking pace this morning, and I am struggling to keep up. It is a mixture of up and down hill and the trail is made difficult again by deep snow.
But it is a beautiful clear morning. The peaks of Arakamtse, Cholatse, and Tawoche to our right tower above us, so close that it seems we could almost touch them. Ahead we can see the flat valley floor of the Khumba around Pheriche and Dingboche.
We begin contouring around to the left, staying above the main Everest Base Camp trail, which is just coming into view at the valley bottom. We’re all surprised to see so many groups on it after the relative isolation of Gokyo and the Cho La.
Presently we descend a steep bank of mud and snow and cross over a sloping frozen lake (or more likely, a smooth bit of glacier?) to join the main trail. By this stage I am feeling utterly exhausted and each step is a real effort. All I want is to reach Lobuche, our destination for the day.
The trail is becoming much easier – less snow, wider, and smoother, and it is with great relief that I hear Purba tell us that we are just five minutes away. I begin counting off seconds and reach three hundred just as the first buildings come into view.
Lobuche is a small and untidy outpost on the edge of the Khumba Glacier, with a shallow litter-strewn river flowing down one side. I collapse gratefully into a plastic garden chair. It is only about half past eleven, but I feel as if I could not go another step. I think I’ve developed a cold, exacerbated by the altitude.
Hot lemon arrives and not long after, lunch, and I gradually begin to revive. Our tents are pitched on a stony area next to the lodge and after unpacking my mat and sleeping bag I crash for an hour or so. The trail sounds busy. I can hear several yak trains passing outside the tent, bells tinkling.
Dinner is at six as usual. We eat in the lean-to conservatory on the front of the lodge, and it is freezing cold. The stove appears to be lit but no heat is coming off at all. Some of the crew start fiddling with it, but succeed only in so filling the room with smoke that I am forced to run outside for clear air. This happens a couple of times before they give up and leave it alone. Later, when someone lights an incense stick it is the final straw for me. I reach over and stub it out against the stove top, screw up my face, and wave my hand in front of my nose to make clear my discomfort. I think I may have offended them.