Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 5
 Climbing higher and higher up the Khumbu valley surrounds us with more and more sky scraping, snow frosted peaks, creating surreal, spellbinding landscapes. However, no other Himalayan peak shapes its surrounding scenery as the iconic, freestanding tower of Ama Dablam does... As dawn broke over the valley, the morning skyline began to be revealed, with Ama Dablam dominating the horizon, keeping a watchful eye over the still dormant valley, like a protective goddess. Warm morning sunrays were bathing Tengboche’s wide, grassy saddle, inviting us to start moving. Spinning the “Gompa” ‘s prayer wheels, requesting spiritual guidance and protection for all beings, we commenced our trek for the day.

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Morning view from our lodge room window

 Winding on descending stone steps, the trail took us through dripping Spanish moss festooned forests of scrub pines trees and dwarf rhododendrons, passing “Mani” stones, “Chortens” and the Deboche nunnery. Pleasant sunlight was immersing the surroundings, caressing trees and stones, gently waking Nature from its silent slumber. Soon our solitary trek began to be accompanied by vibrant bird trills, yak bells, heavy loaded porters sighing to relief their burden, and joyfully smiling trekkers, among which even a family with their young children. Descending to Imja Khola river, the trail narrows into a strong winded ravine, where the surging white-waters continuously carve meanders in the stone river bed. A metal bridge stands in ruin, reminding us of the Nature‘s overwhelming power. Further up the river, safe passage across the tempestuous waters is done on a solid steel bridge, with prayer flag festooned handrails.

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Imja Khola river seen from across the bridge

 Abrupt stone steps welcomed us on the other side of the river, summoning us to muster our energies for the short, but arduous climb on the eroded hill side to a “Chorten” adorned with blue Buddha eyes. Further up the trail, a “Stupa” with a footprint of Lama Sangwa Dorje (Khumbu's patron saint) preserved in stone, and a “Mandala” coated “Kani” gate lying tucked away between rock cliffs, mark a symbolic portal into the Upper Khumbu valley – a heaven reigned by spectacular white, sky scrapping peaks. From here onward we left the treeline behind us, climbing only through arid, moraine scarred landscapes, with glacial boulders and alpine meadows.

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"Kani" gate - a portal to upper Khumbu valley

 On a “Nepali flat” trail (gently climbing and descending, then climbing and descending again, and again, and again…), we past the Sherpa villages of Pangboche, home to the oldest “Gompa “ in the Khumbu region, and Shomare. By now the path became more solitary, seldomly meeting other trekkers, local Sherpas or lonely, scattered yaks hungrily grazing on the low alpine vegetation. Once above 4000m, we began feeling the decrease in air oxygen saturation, which, combined with the chilling winds sweeping the alpine pastures, made advancing more energy draining. Lunch break, at a solitary lodge in the Orsho arid plains at 4040m, directly underneath the soaring tower of Ama Dablam, came as a welcomed relief, replenishing our depleted batteries.

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Lunch with fried rice and "Dhaal bhat"

 Imperceptibly the sky began to close in a low blanket of clouds, obscuring Ama Dablam, which had until then been a constant companion on our trek, watching over us from above. Beyond Orsho, the trail splits: one leads to Pheriche village, through where we will return from base camp, and another heads to Dingboche, our destination for the day, and a better location for further exploring the moraine shaped area.
 By now our “Pole Pole” (slowly-slowly in Kiswahili) trekking approach had started to come in handy, as advancing at this altitude was more strenuous than at lower elevations. So, slowly and steadily we advanced past scattered “Mani” stones and yak herding settlements, descending to a metal bridge crossing over Khumbu Khola’s white waters, draining from Khumbu glacier at the foot of Everest. As the trail began to climb back up the moraine slanting slopes, light snow started dropping from the misty clouds hovering silently above us.

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The trail from Orsho plain to Dingboche village

 Soon the scattered houses of Dingboche village began to take welcoming shape on the horizon. A long “Mani” wall covered with minute carvings of religious figures, and black and white yaks grazing unmoved by the falling snow, were foretelling the village entrance was near. No sooner did we reach the inviting stone lodge that was going to accommodate us for the next nights, that the snow clouds began to break, offering us splendid views of the surrounding snow wrapped peaks with dancing white clouds contrasting against the deep blue sky.

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"Mani" wall with carved figures

 At 4360m, Dingboche stands on the bank of Imja Khola river, directly under the towering north face of Ama Dablam, with the twin snow frosted peaks of Taboche (6495m) and Cholatse (6440m) rising behind its houses. From our lodge room window we had a superb, unobstructed view of Ama Dablam, though the peak was unrecognizable from that side angle.
 Taking advantage of the temporary clearing in the weather, we went out for a short acclimatization climb above the village. Walking past stone wall bordered yards, we run into the New Zealander team filming a time laps of delicate white clouds veiling and unveiling Taboche peak, creating a beautiful dance in the sky. A “Stupa” crowning the hill in the foreground of Taboche was our first target, until we spotted a group of prayer-flag chained “Chortens” perched higher up the hillside. We climbed to the highest of the chain, and even a bit higher, 100m above Dingboche. The solitary “Chortens”, with their payer flags fluttering peacefully in the wind were inviting us to take a moment and meditate, contemplating the village below.

Clouds dancing around Taboche and Cholatse peaks

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Dingboche seen from the prayer flag chained "Chortens"

 Once the sun fell behind the ridge line, temperatures began to drop in the shaded valley, the cold driving us to head back down to the warmth of our lodge. On our way down, by the lowest “Chorten” we run into the two Buddhist monks we had met a few days before in Namche Bazaar, they were also doing a short acclimatization climb. Unfortunately further up the trek we didn’t run into them again, and didn’t learned if they managed to reach Everest base camp and Kala Pattar, or not.
 Back in the shelter of the lodge, we took front row seats by the fire warmed stove in the dining room, sharing stories with a mixed German-Spanish-Australian group. Meanwhile, big snowflakes started to drop over the valley, quickly covering everything with a thick white blanket. Hot-sour soup, vegetable “Momos” (a sort of dumplings) and fried rice were among the delicious, organic, vegan dishes we pampered our taste buds with. After dinner we retreated in our sleeping bags, for another well deserved long night sleep. Checking our measurement gadgets, we summed up 21229 steps over 14,5km, descending 70m and climbing 580m in relief.

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Healthy dinner treat with "Momos" and fried rice :)

 It was going to be our first night on this trek above 4000m. To aid our acclimatization, we were going to spend the following day trekking in the area, and sleeping another night at the same altitude.

 On tomorrow’s plan was trekking to the foothills of Lhotse’s spectacular, exposed south face… and climbing above the imaginary line of 5000m…

 For more pictures, check our EBC day 5 photo album :)

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