June 11, 17:00: Rongbuk Monastery, 5150m
Everyone is enjoying a much-needed break from cycling. Today we slept in, then some of us cycled to Everest Base Camp, which was just an 8km ride slightly uphill on gravel roads. There’s not much to see at EBC itself.. it’s not climbing season so nobody is actually camped there, and the Chinese police prevent anyone from going further. We timed the wind right again: not much wind at all on the ride there but a nice tailwind on the way back! Also on the way back: some singletrack, cutting through the switchbacks for a steeper and more interesting descent.
After lunch, an even smaller group toured Rongbuk Monastery itself. It’s shabby and rundown, even by Tibetan monastery standards, but still beautiful and there are great views of Everest from the roof!
So OK.. I’ve now been as close as I actually want to get to Everest. The summit is not a technical climb and these days, anyone in reasonable shape can do it as long as they have $40,000 and 2 months (for acclimation, mostly spent at EBC.) Actually, that wouldn’t be too terrible – bring up a laptop and a solar array and use China Mobile’s 3G Internet to stay entertained during the 2 months.. but I just don’t see the point, so it’s not on my lifetime TODO list.
Oh yeah, there are yak grazing in our camp. We’ve had sheep and dogs before, but this is the first time for yak.
June 12, 16:30: Tingri, 4340m
I’m currently waiting for the rest of the group to arrive at this restaurant so we can head to the campsite together. Today was quite the day!
We started Â½h early again to beat the wind. In these parts, it’s dead calm in the morning then it gets really windy starting around 13:00. Then it gets calm again sometime during the night.. I woke up at 3:30 last night and it was calm. And the stars again looked close enough to touch. You’d think I’d be used to that by now but it gets me every time.
We rode about 15 km back along Qomolangma Road, then turned off onto what our guide had called a singletrack. Sadly it wasn’t, just an unmaintained jeep trail, sometimes a lot rougher than Qomolangma Road. Anyway, we had a hard climb up a gradual hill before lunch, with the headwind starting just before noon. But hey: headwinds, hills, bad roads.. we’re used to those by now.
We headed downhill about 10km before lunch, then after lunch we turned a corner and the headwind turned into a tailwind! The rest of the way down was very fast. A mountain bike on a rough road has a fairly low "this feels really fast" speed, and I rode at that speed for most of the ride. Riding that fast over rough terrain means spending most of my time looking at a point about 5m in front of the bike, so I can figure out what lines to follow to stay on the bike, keep the speed up, and have a smooth ride. But every now and then I was able to look up… and each time was an amazing view! Today actually had some of the best views on the trip!
The downhill led us to the China-Nepal Friendship Highway just before Tingri. Yay, asphalt again!
June 12, 20:30: Campsite near Tingri, 5206km from Shanghai
Lonely Planet on Tingri: "It was all looking rather shabby and unsettled, though the views of the towering Himalayan peaks of Mt. Everest and Cho Oyu across a sweeping plain (sort of) made up for this." Yeah, it’s about that.
We’re now camped 12km from Tingri. The field next to us has about 8 dogs in it, and one is already barking. Good thing I have earplugs.