Sunday 26 March

Early morning at Dole

A cold night and I wake several times, so the bed coffee that arrives in the morning is most welcome and helps me out of my sleeping bag. Eating breakfast after my first night above four thousand metres comes as a bit of an effort. My bowels seem to be fermenting slightly too.

But we are away by eight as usual. We start with a good climb. There is much more snow around today and fewer trees. The path is very muddy and wet for much of the way. Ahead, the white peaks are ever-gaining in grandeur. It is very quiet on the trail, especially so now that we are well off the main Everest route; the only people we pass are a German party on their way down.

(magnify) The trail continues

We take a stop for hot lemon at the Paradise Lodge, Luza, which claims to be at the lofty altitude of 4390 m. That surpasses my previous best of 4200 m on the Inca Trail in Peru.

Our route continues along a narrow path, sometimes muddy, sometimes with snow on either side. Despite bright clear sunshine, it feels cold when the wind blows. I find that I can avoid some of the mud by walking on the snow, but in places it is uncomfortably deep. There are no trees now, and the grass is brown, still waiting for spring to arrive at this height.

Destination Machemo

We reach at Machemo around noon and enter the Trekkers’ Lodge (4410 m). The crew are just starting to put up the tents. Their loads are still leaning up against a wall, and I ask if I can try picking one up. I sit on the ground in front of one and put the strap, made from a strip of sacking, over my forehead. I can’t even straighten my neck, let alone stand up with it.

We are in a gorgeous setting surrounded by white mountains. The lodge’s dining room is bright and airy, on the first floor above the crew’s kitchen area. We eat another fine lunch from the team and then spend a quiet afternoon reading and washing. When sheltered from the wind at least, the sun is very hot.

We are now five days from the Shanker Hotel (it seems far longer) and I feel it is high time for a shower. For 200 Rs, I procure a large bucket of hot water and a plastic jug. I take these into the shower room, a stone cubicle on the outside of the lodge with a translucent plastic roof that traps the sunlight. It is warm inside an I enjoy pure bliss as I tip bucketfuls of warm water over myself.

The campsite at Machemo

Later, I take a short walk up the side valley, following the river. The snow is crunchy under foot. I catch up with Terry, and then we meet both Davids, who are returning to the lodge.

After dinner, we play silly games in the dining room. We attempt to create a story about a great yeti hunter called (inexplicably) Mr But, each in turn speaking a single word. It is not entirely successful, causing amusement and bewilderment in approximately equal measure. Then David introduces us to “I can go to the moon because…” I follow this up with “The moon is round”. As usual it takes some fairly unsubtle clues before the everyone has worked out the secret. We then progress to “I can fly from … to …”, which is much the same sort of idea. Rachel quite likes this one, once she has finally twigged.

As we move into the wee small hours of post 7 pm, the party survivors, Rachel, Terry, David, and I round off the evening with a game of “Who am I?”