Tibet 5: Shegar to Rongbuk
June 8, 13:00: China-Nepal Friendship Highway, 5085km from Shanghai, 4900m altitude
Today we climbed from our camping altitude of 3960m to the 5220m Lakpa Pass. This was our hardest climb so far: about the same distance up as on day 2 but starting from a higher altitude. I could feel the air getting thinner during the climb: colder and less oxygen. There was also a headwind starting about halfway up the 23km climb. I’ve never been happier to see prayer flags, which Tibetans put up at the top of mountain passes because the higher a flag is flown, the more wind + luck it collects.
At the top, I bought some prayer flags myself and put them up with the help of the 2 Tibetans who were selling the flags. That was fun and I plan on doing it again at the next pass. It would be nicer to carry the flags up the pass myself rather than buying them at the top, but the only town I’ve seen them for sale in is Lhasa.
After the climb, we had a 12km downhill ride to lunch, but on the other side of the pass the headwind was huge so I had to pedal on most of the downhill. Still, it was a lot less effort than climbing and lunch was (as usual) excellent.
Oh, the food! I haven’t talked much about the food, but our crew sure knows how to cook! There are usually 4-5 dishes plus dessert. For example, dinner last night (let’s see if I remember it all): soup to start, then rice with dal, penne with cheese sauce, some sort of pancake-like thing with leeks, and steamed vegetables. Then an apple pie for dessert! And they make lots of it, so there’s almost always seconds.. important when you’re cycling this much!
June 8, 18:45: Qomolangma Hotel, Shegar, 4250m
The remaining 40km we rode today was easy.. there was still a headwind, but it was mostly downhill. I arrived at the hotel several hours ago – lots of time to shower, do laundry in the tub, stock up on snacks…
Shegar is a tiny little town but it’s the gateway to the Everest region when you’re coming from Lhasa. So there are quite a few hotels but not much else.
Oh yeah, I saw Everest for the first time today; it’s visible for a ~10km stretch of the highway. We’ll be getting much closer though in a few days…
June 9, 20:00: Somewhere on Qomolangma (Everest) Road, 4400m
This morning, we rode for about 10km along the Friendship Highway, then turned left onto a small singletrack paralleling Qomolangma Road (Qomolangma is the Tibetan name for Mount Everest.) We had a 3km flat ride, then we hit the road itself and its 42 switchbacks. The road was pretty rough: lots of washboarding and loose gravel, so the riding was hard. I was especially tired for some reason (maybe I didn’t get enough oxygen at night for my muscles to fully recover from the day before).. I was tired even on the asphalt. But I made it up anyway, to Pang Pass at 5150m where we had lunch.
After lunch I climbed a small embankment to take some photos of Everest along with the inevitable prayer flags at the top of the pass, when a huge truck piled high with lumber and a couple of passengers got stuck on one of the prayer flag strings next to me! Along with one of the women on the roof of the truck, I helped free the flags from the lumber and the truck rolled on.
Then came our reward: an epic downhill singletrack on the other side of the pass. It was great riding, much smoother than the gravel roads, with Everest looming in the background. Amazing, and it more than made up for such a hard morning!
Sadly, about halfway down the pass, the singletrack ended and we had to ride on gravel roads again. I got a flat tire here, from a broken beer bottle, but I was still so happy from the singletrack that I didn’t care. Patched it up and was on my way.
There was a huge headwind for the last 3km to camp, and when we got there the staff had only managed to put up the kitchen tent, so we all helped out – it took about 8 people to put up one 2-man tent, some holding it down, some hammering in pegs. The wind also kicked up a lot of dust, although not that much.. I probably only ate half as much as in a similar amount of time at Burning Man.
June 10, 14:00: Rongbuk Monastery, 5150m
The ride today was hard again but hey, if it was easy anyone could do it.
We rode 44km total, most of it over rolling hills heading mostly up. The last few kilometres was straight up some switchbacks. We left camp ½h early at 8:30 to try and beat the headwinds, which generally only happen in the afternoon in this area. It mostly worked – the winds hit at around 13:00, by which time I was only a few kilometres short of the switchbacks (where wind doesn’t matter as much because you change direction so much.)
So it was a hard half day and we’re now taking a much-needed break, camping on the grounds of the highest monastery in the world in full view of Mount Everest. Tomorrow we’re free to head to Everest Base Camp by whatever means we want: cycling, walking, or (apparently) donkey cart.
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