Trek to Everest Base Camp!
Day 8 of my trek to Everest Base Camp was both an exciting and somber day. We were all stoked because today our trek would take us to Everest Base Camp…finally…but sad because Sarah would be leaving on a helicopter back to Kathmandu (which, to be fair, a helicopter ride over the Himalayas doesn’t sound like such a terrible adventure). Seven days of trudging through the snow, uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill…it had been too much, so Gyanu had arranged for a helicopter to come pick Sarah up around 8:30am. Because of how long the day would be trekking to Gorak Shep, Everest Base Camp, and back to Gorak Shep, Ransom, Steve and I would start our trek with our Porters around 8am while Gyanu waited behind for the helicopter.
We started off before the sun came over the mountains, so it was quite cold – definitely below zero degrees (F). The teahouse in Lobuche literally had frozen toilets – I’m serious. There was a layer of ice around the whole toilet seat. But, after being in freezing temps for 7 days straight, it oddly didn’t bother me to sit on ice anymore. We put our frozen boots on, took a group shot, said our goodbyes to Sarah, and set off. I wouldn’t be able to feel my feet for about an hour, but this was pretty standard so far on this trip.
On its own, the first part of the day wouldn’t be a bad hike – only about 3 miles with about 700 feet of elevation gain. But considering we would be getting up close to 17,000 feet, it certainly wasn’t easy. We were much more acclimated now though, so we made pretty good timing. I could feel how much more conditioned my body was today than the early days of the trek. Our porters guided us along the trail and in about 2.5 hours, we arrived in Gorak Shep. Without snow it normally takes about 2 hours, so we made good time!
We dropped our bags in our room and sat down for lunch and tea. Gorak Shep was largely covered in snow, still, and without our porters it would have taken us a long time to figure out which teahouse was ours! The three of us were in good spirits and stoked to get on with the trek to Everest Base camp. This was what it was all about – the last 7 days of pushing past our limits – all to reach the Khumbu icefall and stand below the amazing Mount Everest.
Lunch took about an hour – I couldn’t bring myself to eat much, but I knew I needed calories, so I tried to eat what I could – and then we bundled up again for the rest of our day. There were some mixed clouds with the sun today, so it was very chilly, but we hoped there wouldn’t be any snow. Just as we started to walk out the door around 10:45, in walked Gyanu! This crazy man had waited to load Sarah on the helicopter, with his Apex partner on board to get her safely to Kathmandu, and then practically ran to Gorak Shep so that he could reach us – and made it in about an hour! After going all this way, it was important to him that he finish the trek with us. What a guy!
But first, he needed to eat a bit, so he sent us on with our porters and said he would follow behind shortly. Of course, he caught up to us pretty quickly…cause he’s that badass.
The trek to Everest Base Camp from Gorak Shep goes up along a ridge that I think is just under 18,000 feet. It’s a bit up and down the whole way (what a surprise…), and very rocky, but luckily there wasn’t too much snow on our part of the trail. It’s about 2-ish miles from Gorak Shep to Base Camp, and we moved slow but steady.
The views….were….incredible. The Khumbu icefall sits down below the ridge and is constantly moving (slowly), so, where Everest Base Camp sits one year is different from the next. I couldn’t even see where we were heading to until we were coming down off the ridge and could start to see the prayer flags that mark where it is. We passed our Irish friends as they left which meant that we got to enjoy Everest Base Camp all by ourselves.
During the climbing season, Base Camp is loaded with tents – a bakery, a pharmacy – 100 tents or so, but we were there pre-season – no climbers, no tents…just us, a few prayer flags, and the mountains.
Boy was it cold – but we were finally there, so it didn’t even matter! We got to Base Camp around 1:00pm making really good time, as we had expected it to take us about 3 hours, but we were all feeling pretty good for ~18,000 feet and 8 days of trekking. The winds were incredibly strong, and it was still intermittently cloudy, so it was very, very cold. Everest hid behind the clouds for most of our time there, but she did peek out every so often…and she was just as glorious as we expected.
You basically stand right below the ridge, with the icefall stretching out in the distance towards the mountains. From Base Camp, you only see the very top of Mount Everest behind the surrounding mountains, but the whole area is simply incredible – I’ve never seen anything like it. And I will never forget that moment.
We only stayed at Everest Base Camp for about 20 minutes or so because it was so cold. We posed for all kinds of photos, of course, and Steve had brought a Frisbee on the trip because he thought it would be a great idea to play Frisbee at Base Camp – and duh, it was! We left the Frisbee setup in a cairn, and we set back to Gorak Shep to settle in for the night.
Gyanu took us on a slightly lower trail going back and there was a bit more snow there – it was really hard to tell what was a trail and what wasn’t because of the snow, but he always led us in a safe direction. Once up on the ridge, we celebrated with a few swigs of scotch we had carried all this way, just for this moment, and Gyanu entertained us with a wonderful dance. It was all absolutely perfect.
We got back to the Gorak Shep teahouse around 3pm and hung around a bit before they were ready to start warming the heater in the main room. We changed out of our wet socks into our down booties and sat around the heater, trying to dry and warm our clothing for the next day heading back towards Lukla. After the trek to Everest Base Camp, we didn’t have much appetite – all the strain on our bodies, at altitude…you just don’t really want to eat. But we did. We all ate some potato thing that was actually pretty tasty, and it wasn’t long before we were ready for bed. It had been an incredible day, an incredible journey, an incredible adventure…but we knew that the trek to Everest Base Camp was only half of it – we still needed to walk all the way back.
Since there were only 3 of us now, and because it was so stinking cold, we decided we would push the 2 beds together and sleep 3 of us in one room for warmth. I had the inner wall, and with my Nalgene full of boiling water and my incredibly warm sleeping bag, I slept pretty comfortably. Ransom and Steve said they both slept a bit cold – yet the two of them were still able to get out of bed at 5am the next day to trek up to Kala Pathar, a nearby “hill” that most people climb to get a great view of Mount Everest before heading off.
I chose to stay in bed as they struggled to put on their iced-over and frozen boots, warm and snuggled up, waiting for the sun to come up over the mountains.
We had 3 days left of the trek, and we would be covering all the ground we did in 8 days, but this time in 3. We would hike first to Pengboche, then on to Namche Bazaar, and finally back to Lukla where we would stay the final night before flying out to Kathmandu on the first morning flight. One of the most important things I’ve learned about trekking is that it’s never just about getting where you’re headed, it’s also about having the strength to make it back to where you started from. To this point, our bodies had held up fairly well, although we were eating mountain skittles (Ibuprofen) daily. But as our trip got closer to the end, we would start to feel the pain of the trek (and our bodies aging). In the end, it would all still be well worth it!!!