Today was our one and only acclimatization day. Oddly enough, that meant an earlier start than our trekking days. Not that it was an issue – we all seem to rise with the sun around 5:15. I am rewarded with a simultaneous sunrise and moonset on towering Kongde. Gorgeous. I can’t stop taking pictures, even though leaning out the window at 5 am is quite brisk.
We set off for the Japanese co-owned Everest View Hotel. If you want to own anything in Nepal, a Nepalese citizen has to own at least 50%. This spot is popular with the Japanese tourists who take a helicopter flight to the Syangboche Airport (3720m), which Karma described as the World’s Highest Airport. It was certainly remote and empty!
Fifteen minutes before reaching the hotel we are rewarded with our first views of Everest. Everest looks tiny and far, hidden between Nuptse and Lhotse. Ama Dablam, the smiling mother reaching out her arms dominated the view, and Shar Tse hid in the back. Definitely time for my first trip mandated #EverestSelfie.
Our views only get better as we arrive at the Everest View Hotel. I note that volleyball seems popular in Nepal – there is a court out front. We head out to the back patio for a leisurely (and expensive!) tea break, soaking in the views. I can’t put my camera down or stop staring. The clouds are starting to come in, and it’s fascinating to watch as the jet stream passes over Everest leaving a stream of snow in its wake.
Our next stop is the town of Khumjung. Khumjung is dominated by views of Khumbili (short for Khumbi Yul Lha) – a sacred mountain for the Nepalese and off limits to climbers. We visit the local gompa and pay 50 rupees to see their famed yeti scalp, suspiciously similar to that of a wild boar.
What we couldn’t know is that as were leaving on our walk for the day, an avalanche was racing down just below Camp 1 on Everest. As we leave the monastery, we pass an older woman wailing and crying and covering her ears. A woman we assume is her daughter trails behind, also crying. We now assume that she had received news of the avalanche, and that one of her family members had been a victim. There were several sherpas from the surrounding area. Karma stopped to ask someone what was wrong, but everyone was watching in confusion, unaware of the tragedy that was unfolding on Everest.
Still unaware of the day’s events, we enjoy the equally beautiful trek back to Namche, with the town laid out before us in a great crescent bowl and snow-capped mountains rising all around it. It’s not until later that night that we find out what happens. I receive several emails asking if I am ok or safe, and ask for the day’s news. The Midnight Lodge owner tells us the story, and we are just left shocked, scouring the internet for information. The number of missing sherpas who move to the deceased list climbs from 9 to 12. Helicopters land nearby with bodies. It’s a bit hard to process. Such a tragedy for the Nepalese who work so far to keep the foreign climbers safe. The single deadliest day on Everest. If you are interested in helping the families of the sherpas who died, the Discovery Channel is endorsing the Sherpa Family Fund through global giving.