Word came that 32-year-old David, the bobby, had fallen afoul of the local disease, known farther south as Delhi Belly, or the Katmandu Leap to the Loo. Tony called it "gutrot." "We'll all get it sooner or later," he said. An hour's stop at Phewa Lake for food and rest was refreshing or would have been had I arrived there in time to enjoy it. As I accepted a tin plate from Dana, the cook, on which reposed our morning "rumble tumble" (eggs), a cold pancake and what looked like a slab of Spam, the others, long finished, were leaving. "Press on!" cried Rosemary, galloping past.
I pressed on, up the scree (loose, sliding stones), hot and winded. My pace was that of a snail with malnutrition. By the time I reached our first mountain stream the others had crossed. Tony waited on the opposite side with a handful of Sherpas. It was a small stream but undoubtedly as wet as a big one. The idea was to cross by placing one foot at a time on the dry tops of rocks submerged in the water. Some of the rocks, unevenly distributed and barely above the surface, came to a point. All were slippery. A miss is as good as a mile. I floundered in, just short of the bank. The Sherpas rocked with laughter.
"You've made their day," said Tony. "Sherpas adore minor catastrophes. A leg full of leeches will have them rolling down the slopes." One of the Sherpas, no doubt taken with my performance, trailed after me the rest of the afternoon. His name, as far as I could make out, was Patooti.
"Oh, dear, dreadf'ly sorry," said Dr. Jack, when I arrived at the campsite an hour behind the others and showed him two blisters the size of walnuts. As he was applying Band-Aids, Jean stuck her head in the tent.
"Want to take a walk?"
"No thanks," I said. "I've just taken one." Chef Dana went by with two live chickens, one under each arm. A few minutes later an indignant squawk was followed by silence. The fowl deed, converted into shoe leather, was served for supper over rice. "Sherpas," said Shipton amiably, "are probably the worst cooks in the world."
There was even better news to come. From now on we would arise at five a.m. and after morning tea start off so as to get the better part of the walking done in the cool of the morning. Our next day's march would take us to Khare at 5,600 feet, a climb of 2,000 feet or roughly, I calculated forlornly, twice the height of the Empire State Building. We sat around the fire. Dumphreys McKettle, who owned a hotel in Weymouth, had bought a piece of muslin in the village of Henja and was stitching it into a butterfly net, an activity that most of us deplored, primarily because the Nepalese believe strongly in reincarnation and might adopt the view that McKettle was netting someone's grandfather. When the fire burned down we all went to bed. Red John, the nocturnal musician, had been assigned a single tent. I had trouble getting into my sleeping bag. "You're getting in backward," said Jean, laughing like a hyena. "The zipper faces the other side."
Under the bag was a mattress of sorts, filled with a material that, as I settled myself, I identified as bedrock. I was half asleep when two distinct sounds awoke me. One was the sound of Dr. Frank cursing softly. The other came from Dumphreys McKettle, who was snoring.
It was still pitch black when a Sherpa's whistle cut the stillness. By the time I emerged from my sleeping bag Jean was almost dressed. I rummaged dismally in my kit bag for a pair of clean socks, which turned up at the bottom, wedged between two chocolate bars that had melted the day before and had hardened to my socks during the night. As I contemplated this new calamity, a shattering lament from Red John arose in the tent behind us, appeals to the Almighty that would have wrung the heart of a yak.
"He's gone bonkers," said Jean placidly.