Everest / Alpine Expeditions

Keith Cowing: Utterly Improbable Terrain and Stealth Yaks in the Darkness

By Keith Cowing
Keith Cowing
April 23, 2009
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Keith Cowing: Utterly Improbable Terrain and Stealth Yaks in the Darkness
On the trail to Dengboche. Aba Dablam is on the right.
Keith Cowing

22 April

With my acclimatization stay at Tengboche completed, Tashi and I set out for Dengboche. With my ever increasing acclimatization, things are now much easier to do. The walk out of Tengboche was a gentle slope uphill interrupted with some steep portions. I now find my pace rather quickly and can go quite a while without resting.

After an hour or so we arrived in Pengboche. Entering this small village takes you through some truly ancient and fragrant juniper trees said to have been planted by a lama ages ago. A short hike up a hill and we arrived at Tashi’s home. Like many people here, he and his wife operate a tea lodge and use a portion of it as their home. This lodge is rather new having only been built 10 years ago.

As you walk around the main room it becomes immediately clear that the owner has climbed Everest. Along one wall are all 11 of the certificates issued by either China or Nepal (depending on which side was climbed) for each of Tashi’s ascents. After a short stay we hit the trail again.

Three of Tashi’s Everest summit certificates

Within about 15 seconds I noticed that Tashi had changed his shoes. For the past 6 days I have stared at the backs of his red hiking shoes as part of my pace setting. After a stop at the Pengboche Monastery to have a special item for Scott blessed (more on that later) we were back on the trail again.

Pengboche Monastery with Aba Dablam in the background (right)

Pengboche monastery

We arrived in Dengboche around 2 pm. My home for the next two days will be the Hotel Arizona. What inspired the name escapes me. The nice thing is that Tashi and I have this tea lodge all to ourselves. After a shower (gas heated) and a short nap, I was off to the local Internet cafe to check in. The hourly rate for Internet usage at Tengboche was 1,000 Rupees (around $8). Here it is 1,300 Rupees. I suspect that the rates will continue to rise as the elevation rises toward Everest Base Camp. Oh well. This is what Starbucks charges.

Hotel Arizona viewed from above

I turned in early again. Before I did, I tried to call my wife on my satellite phone. As it happens I got her voice mail. Just as I started to leave a message I heard some munching. It was nearly pitch black outside. I turned to see a yak about a meter away from me eating grass almost at my feet. Stealth yaks in the darkness.

The fog rolled in a few hours later. Then, around midnight, the skies cleared. It has been a while since I have been at high altitude and I forgot what the night sky really looks like. Simply stunning. It was too late to see satellites – I will try and do that tomorrow.

23 April

Today is an acclimatization day. Tashi and I walked up a local hill and gained several hundred meters – about have the gain we’ll make tomorrow when we trek up to Lobuche. From our perch we had a commanding view of Dengboche and the utterly stunning array of mountains that surround it. I was floored yesterday when I stopped to take stock of my surroundings. Today, with this loftier viewpoint, I was doubly shocked.

Keith sitting on a hill above Dengboche. Lhotse is on the left.

I have been to the alps, the rockies and many other mountainous locations. Nothing compares to this place. Indeed, this place strikes me as almost improbable – like many of the idealized landscapes painted in the mid- to late 1800’s by Albert Bierstadt. I am used to looking a planetary and astronomical pictures every day. To be certain there is majesty to be found everywhere you look, but only a planet – a rocky planet – can produce such awesome beauty on such a grand scale. That’s the best I can do with words. Pictures do not do this terrain justice either. You’ll just have to come here to see it for yourself.

A stupa with prayer flags above Dengboche. Lhotse is on the left.

After our little excursion we headed back to the Hotel Arizona. I am now waiting to see if the 24 or so NASA Trek Team members wander into town soon. They will be spending the night and a day here while I move ahead to Lobuche tomorrow. We’ll meet up again next Tuesday at Everest Base Camp.




Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻