The Highest We Ever Got

An hour or two after leaving Dzongla for Lobuche, we rejoined the main Everest Base Camp (“EBC”) trail and it felt like coming back to civilization, seeing so many more people. We even bumped into the other half of the Himalayan Glacier trekkers, on their way down after summiting Kala Patthar. We bonded in our Lobuche tea house over altitude sickness, cold, and general lack of creature comforts. They continued on to more oxygen-rich environments and we spent the afternoon playing many rounds of dhumbal and chatting with our new friends Mike and Sandra from the Bay Area. It was here that we began seeing lots of Everest climbers, and I have to admit, this environment is really inspiring. Andrew recognized an IMG guide from a documentary he’d seen as the guy who helped break up the infamous 2013 EBC brawl between sherpas and foreign climbers.

The next morning we trekked to Gorak Shep (our “final” destination) where we ate lunch at our tea house before setting out for EBC.

This was perhaps one of my favorite moments of the whole trek. This big group of yaks came through, and they were all wearing bells and decorated with yak earrings and colorful sweaters. It just felt magical. Like a herd of Christmas yaks were coming back from the North Pole. Sigh. I love yaks. Andrew smartly pointed out that I’m probably a bigger fan of the animals than I am of the mountains. I can’t deny it.

Eventually we began seeing EBC and the Khumbu Glacier and Khumbu Icefall. (Just a few days after we left there was an avalanche there resulting in the deadliest day ever on the mountain. Terribly sad and even more personally impactful knowing we likely passed some of the stricken sherpas on our walk. Our hearts go out to them and their families.)

The walk to EBC took less than two hours, and while it was a bit of up and down, we didn’t find it too challenging (fortunately we all avoided some rock falls). I think by this point we were much better acclimatized and everything felt easier, even though we were above 17,000 feet. We enjoyed huge views of Nuptse on our right, Lingtren (conjuring extreme skiing images for Alan) and Pumo Ri. By the way, this area is very close to Tibet. We asked Rishi about a mountain we saw barely beyond the others, and he said “oh, that’s not ours.”

A lot of people say EBC is not terribly exciting; “it’s just tents.” But they are the tents of people gearing up to climb the tallest mountain in the world! Unless you know climbers or guides in the actual EBC tents, you will only view base camp from a short distance rather than really getting in the midst of it. So while we didn’t cover the entire area, based on what we saw we’d say the rumors of lots of trash are false. In fact, we saw several porters carrying down jugs of human waste and bags full of garbage, and thought this area was relatively free of litter (sadly, this was not the case for other parts of the trail, especially a small area near the village of Gokyo). We found it very exciting to be at EBC. Or perhaps it’s just that it was the first “big” destination we hit where I didn’t feel like dying from the altitude. Either way, it was a special moment.

We even got to witness Tibetan monks singing and dancing in prayer for a safe journey for the climbers.

After getting a few pictures in, the weather turned drastically, and I could barely get enough layers on to keep from getting snowy and cold. True story, Alan had to pull up my rain pants. We did manage to get in this picture for Alan’s mom, whose birthday it happened to be when we made it EBC!

For the final big push of the trek we woke early to summit Kala Patthar. I was on the fence about even attempting it given how I’d fared on Cho La Pass, but having felt so strong at EBC I gave it a go. We all felt surprisingly good going up. We lucked out with great weather again, and a slow steady climb with multiple stops for water (since the Camel-Bak kept freezing), brought us to the summit around 7:15. The last stretch is a bit of a beast because you traverse some large rocks that were covered with a fresh coating of snow. At times I could swear the summit was getting farther away. It’s a little bit shorter distance than the hike up Gokyo Ri, which also helped it feel easier for us. But the altitude was our highest of the trip at 18,200 feet!

We watched the the sun rising behind Everest, and from the summit we savored phenomenal views of the other big ones like Lhotse, Nupste, Lingtren and Pumo Ri towering directly above us.

Back at the tea house we secured our place in history by decorating a shirt and hanging it on the ceiling. It’s possible this brought me more pleasure than actually climbing those peaks ;). Go team Cali! We wound up using the t-shirt Himalayan Glacier gave us, but those coming from home who wish to do something like this might consider bringing a flag and/or photographs to affix. (P.S. I was impressed how well represented Turkey was in these tea houses! I think we saw at least one Turkish flag on every wall!)

Practical Info

We began our Kala Patthar hike at 5:30 am and summited at 7:15 am. Some start at 4 am to really see the sunrise from the top. I would consider starting more like 7 am. You want an early start to ensure the weather doesn’t turn bad, but if you start later than we did then I think you would enjoy better lighting for pictures. While we were at the top, Everest was so back-lit that it was hard to get good photos.

Accommodation: We stayed at Lobuche Eco Resort. It costs 350/hour to charge batteries and WiFi was an exorbitant 1000/hour. The common area was loaded with real mountaineers and we enjoyed the energy and excitement in the (thin) air. In Gorak Shep we stayed at Yeti Resort. We do not know if the alternatives are better, but we did not particularly like this place. It smelled bad, the toilet was on an incline which was treacherous when icy, and the construction was unusually shoddy leading to a door-lock-opening injury and walls that didn’t fully connect so you could sort of see your neighbor vs. the usual simply hearing her.

April 12-14, 2014 (Saturday-Monday)

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