I woke up to the sound of pouring rain – and if that sounds like a good song lyric, it’s because it is. Lying warm and cozy in my bed in Tengboche at 4:30 a.m., I could hear the rain pounding the roof outside. I flipped on the light switch under the window to confirm that no rain was leaking into my tiny room and then lay back down to try to get another couple hours of sleep. I tried to tell myself that, with hours to go before we were scheduled to depart for Namche, the rain might stop. The weather could clear up. And if it didn’t, maybe, just maybe, Peter and Kami would decide it wasn’t safe for us to make the hike. Maybe we would just wait it out in Tengboche.
Unable to fall back asleep, my mind wandered to thoughts of going home. In Namche, I would have email access again for the first time in ten days, but I almost didn’t want to check it, afraid of what might be waiting in my work email account. I would back in Chicago in just a few days and I was already dreading it.
I finally rose about 6:30 and tried to waterproof my pack as much as possible, stuffing my electronics, sleep sheet, towel and a change of clothes into a Sea to Summit dry bag and my packing cubes with the rest of clothing into plastic bags. Everything else went into the bottom of my pack, ready to get soaked since it wouldn’t be covered as well by the tarps on the dzoykos (yak-like animals that carried our gear).
My mood was somber at breakfast; the rain was still coming down in sheets and I was growing increasingly anxious about our hike to Namche, especially the prospect of walking along ridges with slippery rocks and mud. It didn’t help that a fellow member of our group told me bluntly that the more I worried, the worse it would be. It also didn’t help that no one else in the group seemed to share my concerns. I felt alone as our group of seven set off in a chilly downpour.
I wanted to turn back almost as soon as we started. I wore mittens to keep my hands warm and those were quickly soaked. I walked so cautiously that even the slowest members of our group whizzed by me. Every step I took terrified me as I could not get my footing on the wet, round rocks and making things worse, water was flowing down through the rocks like a small stream, making it impossible to keep my feet dry (despite my waterproof Gore-Tex shoes!). I had visions of slipping and falling and twisting a knee or an ankle and having to hobble the rest of the way back to Lukla. Pretty much every worst case scenario found a home in my head.
Eventually, the others stopped for a break and I was able to catch up. Peter asked me if I was okay and I couldn’t hide my frustrations any longer, tears slowing forming in my eyes as I replied with an emphatic “no.” I was so cold and wet and scared – and annoyed that no one else stepped forward to comfort me or validate my concerns. No one said a word.
After what seemed like hours, we finally finished the downhill trek to the river, where we had to cross a suspension bridge. These bridges scare the heck out of me in dry weather – crossing one in pouring rain was pretty much my worst nightmare. Peter took my walking poles so I could hold on to the side and I carefully made my way across, doing okay until some porters started crossing in the other direction, shaking the whole bridge as they walked. I started to panic as they passed me, pushing me to one side of the bridge. Tears welled up in my eyes again and my breathing quickened as if I was hyperventilating. I had barely caught my breath again when we reached our next obstacle – a small stream that had turned into a raging river due to all the rain.
Rabin, Kami and Peter worked for several minutes to move stones around in the river to create a path for us to walk across. I thought out loud that maybe I’d be better off just wading across – I was sopping wet as it was and I had visions of myself slipping off a rock and into a calm river when I was hiking in Uzbekistan. In this case, the rocky path they created was right along a several foot drop-off, so one wrong step and I could be swept away. The tears came back and my heavy breathing resumed even as Peter and Kami held my hands to help walk me across the rocks through the river.
From there, it was uphill and then flat until we stopped for lunch. I didn’t want to stop; as miserable as I was, I wanted to just keep going to get it over with. I hated the idea of sitting around in a teahouse for an hour in our wet clothes, growing colder and colder every minute. While we tried to dry some of our clothes by the stove, nothing came close to drying before we moved on.
We finally arrived back in Namche about an hour after lunch, this time staying in a hotel at the top of the ridge so we didn’t have to walk all the way down into town. We had private rooms with our own toilets and showers, so my first goal was to take a long, hot shower. Unfortunately, that required unpacking and as I opened up my big backpack that had been sitting on the back of a dzokyo under a small tarp for the last six hours, I completely lost it.
Everything was completely soaked. Even with the rain cover on the pack and the tarp over the dzokyo, there was actually standing water inside of my pack. Anything that was outside of the Sea to Summit bag or the plastic bags was 100% sopping wet. And with the chilly temperature in my room (none of the places we stayed had heat in the rooms), there was no way anything would dry before it was time to leave the next morning. As I hopped into the shower, I started to cry.
The tears were still flowing as I eventually got out of the shower and tried to dress quickly to avoid the chill of the room. But even my clothes that had been in the dry sack were mildly damp from the air and nothing I put on warmed me up. I crawled into bed, under three thick blankets, shivering and crying as I tried to start writing in my journal, eventually giving up because my hands were just too cold. As I gave up and snuggled further under the covers, I just cried and cried and cried. So much physical and emotional pain had built up over the previous few days and I had so much anxiety over going home again and so much frustration at feeling so alone. I didn’t want to see anyone and I didn’t want to do anything. I just wanted to cry until I couldn’t cry anymore.