India & Nepal

November 2005

Part 4:

Everest Base Camp Trek (2/2)

<< Part 3: Everest BC Trek (1/2)    -   Back to Index   -    Part 5: A Passage to India

November 6th (day 7): Pheriche (4240m) to Lobuche (4930m)

This morning Danny was mostly recovered. He had definitely not had AMS but rather some nasty bacteria. A few days later it would be my turn.

This day saw us trekking north through the Khumbu Khola valley towards the Khumbu Glacier.
Several times during this trip we saw the rescue helicopter that takes down people who are struck down by AMS. The price for such a rescue: 4000$ - another good reason not to get AMS. Anyway, I got a great picture of the helicopter flying over us through the valley.
On the col at the end of the valley is a memorial site known as Chukpilhara, where there are stone monuments for various climbers who died while scaling the Everest, e.g. the eight who died in the famous Everest disaster of 1996 which was recounted in the best-seller Into Thin Air.

Chukpilhara is a very beautiful spot with a great sight on the Ama Dablam to the south. Many trekkers and porters take a break here, which adds to the special atmosphere; it's a natural gathering place.
The shrine that grabbed our interest most was that of Babu Chiri Sherpa, who (as the plaque on the shrine recounted) holds the records for the fastest ascent of the Everest (16h56m) and the longest stay on the summit (21 hours, without oxygen). He died in April 2001 during his 11th ascent.

From the col we descended into the valley of the Khumbu Glacier, which begins at Everest Base Camp. We'd reached the last stretch of our trek! The pyramid-shaped mountain on the picture below is the Pumori (7145m), one of a chain of mountains that form the border between Tibet and Nepal. At the foot of the Pumori is Kala Pattar, one of the two objectives of our trek.
We soon had to cross the Khumbu Glacier which was a matter of finding the right spot to get across the flow of ice and water in the middle. A good half hour later we reached Lobuche, a summer settlement at 4930m that is the one but last place to sleep before Everest BC.
Now is a good time to show the interior of one of our lodges. They always have one big dining room, at the center of which stands a stove that usually uses yak dung for fuel. In the evening some people always sit around the stove, which I think is a bad idea coz it will just make you feel colder away from it.
You can buy sodas, pringles and some other western products in all the lodges, but their price increases the higher you go because everything has to be carried up from Lukla by porters. Up here a coke cost 300 Nepalese rupees (about 4 euro) whereas in Namche it cost 50 and in Kathmandu 10. We always drank bottled water along the way (which cost 3 euro per liter up here, and 10 eurocent in Kathmandu) and hot drinks and soup in the evening (cheap because they are made with local water).

I'd read in the LP that you get weird dreams when you sleep at this altitude, and sure enough I had a restless night full of freakish dreams.

November 7th (day 8): Lobuche to Gorak Shep (4930m - 5160m) & Ascent of Kala Pattar (5545m)

When I woke up this morning and grabbed my bottle of water, I found it entirely frozen. Well that wasn't too surprising, I'd found ice in my water the previous mornings as well. But when I wanted to put in my lenses and unscrewed the holders, I found my lenses frozen solid in the lens fluid - that was surprising!

I had spare lenses with me and was sure I'd need them, but for fun I first tried to defrost my lenses. I put the lens box in the sun, and 15 minutes later they were defrosted and I carefully tried to put them in. They felt just fine! And I now had X-ray vision! Well no, but they were just fine and in fact I'm still wearing the same pair two months later.
Anyway, this just to illustrate how cold the nights were. This day we first trekked alongside the Khumbu Glacier to our furthest and highest sleeping place: Gorak Shep, the last lodge before Everest Base Camp. Actually Gorak Shep was itself the base camp of one of the earliest Everest expeditions, in 1952, which failed.

It was not such a long trek to Gorak Shep but the last part was very tiresome, going up and down a succession of steep hills. On top of the hills the view on the Khumbu Glacier was fabulous however. This glacier, which leads to Everest Base Camp and there turns right up the Everest, has a lot of 'cavities' which reveal the thick ice under the layer of rocks.
While I was admiring the view on one of the hills a woman asked me if some mountain ahead was the Everest, and when I said it definitely wasn't she started arguing with me that it was because "that is a huuuuge rock". Well don't ask then!

We arrived in Gorak Shep before noon. Rising above it we finally saw the main objective of our whole trek: Kala Pattar ("black rock" in Nepali), a 5545m high rock that is reputed to offer the best view on the Everest. Right behind Kala Pattar rises the Pumori (7145m), the pyramid-shaped mountain I've pointed out before. I'll make climbing that one the objective of my next trek :)
Our plan had been to climb Kala Pattar in the afternoon if the sky was clear, and head to Everest Base Camp (which is another three hours beyond Gorak Shep) the next morning. That way we could see the sunset from the top of Kala Pattar this evening. If the sky was cloudy though, we'd first head to Base Camp, and do Kala Pattar the next morning. Then we'd see the sun rise behind the Everest which is to the East, which would have made it impossible to make good pictures of it.

Fortunately the sky was almost clear, so we went with plan A. We had lunch in one of the two lodges in Gorak Shep, left our backpacks there and then started the 400m ascent. As we started climbing I noticed that clouds were starting to drift in from the south, so I decided to rush to the top as fast as I could to stay ahead of them.
During the last part of the climb I lost the path and found myself scrambling over large black boulders on hand and feet. I went left and right but didn't find the path again so I just continued upwards in this most elegant fashion.
I reached the top after 1h20, arriving completely worn out while the clouds were still just as far away as when I started - this had been a bit of an impulsive waste of effort but hey it was fun. While the climb had been very exhausting I never felt nearly as faint as I had while climbing Chukung Ri just two days earlier - acclimatisation did its work.

There were a few other people arriving on top around the same time so it was a bit crowded up there as only one person can stand on the highest point at the same time. I kicked a few Germans into the void and sat myself on my frozen throne.
Alright, we're on top so... what's to see here? Well, the panorama was, as you might expect, stunning. On Kala Pattar we got to see the Everest again for the first time since the day we left Namche Bazaar, and oh boy it was really close now.
Whoa not that close really, that was with 3x zoom. Aight no more tricks, this is what I saw without zoom...
Still nice huh? The white 'mountain' on the left that's in front of the Everest is actually just the tip of its western saddle. Below it you see the famous Khumbu Icefall, which flows from the Western Cwm (the glacier that descends from the Everest itself) into the Khumbu Glacier and is the first major obstacle for Everest expeditions. Everest Base Camp is set up in the glacier's bend here, so that's where we were heading next morning.

The gorgeous mountain on the right is the Nuptse (7879m). The very same mountain that from far away in Namche Bazaar was just a plain straight ridge blocking the view on the Everest. Right here while I was standing before the pair of them it was actually stealing the Everest's thunder. So let's pan right a little and focus on the Nuptse...
The picture above was made by stitching two pictures together. Now that I've pointed out the highlights, let's see the whole panorama, made by stitching five pictures together. The following picture is 2124x600 pixels so unless you have a 30" flatscreen you'll have to scroll left and right (in Firefox, use the arrow keys).
The mountain on the left here is the Changtse (7550m) which is firmly in Tibet, so now you've seen a bit of that country too. So then we have the Everest saddle and the Everest itself, and below them the Khumbu icefall throwing ice into the Khumbu glacier which flows all along the bottom of this picture. The Nuptse is taking half the view, while among the distant mountains on the right you can easily make out the Ama Dablam (6856m).

I also recorded a 360 degree movie of the panorama.

Of course we also had to take some pictures of ourselves before the Everest.
After some time at the top of Kala Pattar we descended a bit to where the view was just as good but people weren't competing for the top spot, and started waiting for the sunset. It was damn cold up there especially when sitting still, but with such a glorious view who would care? You'll see that the sunset alone was well worth the wait anyway.

To pass the time we drank the jenever (Belgian gin) which Danny had brought from Belgium and carried along in a thermos all this trek, and managed to light the sigarettes we'd brought with special matches we'd picked up along the way. As you see, this trek had required meticulous technical preparations to allow us to indulge in our favourite sins at 5500m high. We'd planned to play poker as well to kill time but the view just never got boring.
That picture was made by ourselves with arms outstretched and it took more than 10 attempts to get the damn Everest on it btw :)

Alright, so the sun sank below the horizon but the mountains in front of us were still catching sunlight. Slowly, as the sun sank further, the shadows krept up and up the mountain walls... you see where this is going? After quite some time all of the landscape was in the shadows, except for the highest mountains.

In the end, only one mountain was still catching any sunlight, thus proving what could not have been guessed during daylight - that it is indeed the highest of them all, by far. What a glorious sight it was! While the other mountains were all in the dark already, the whole upper part of the Everest was still bathing in the sunlight. The low angle of the light gave it an extra-ordinary orange red colour, and as a result it seemed like the Everest was burning. The little cloud that had been stuck to its top all afternoon was just adding to the illusion; it now appeared to be smoke coming from the burning mountain.
Finally, the last bit of sunlight was gone. While we'd waited for the sunset, clouds had drifted in from the south and were now covering the whole valley below us, which was an amazing sight by itself.
Gorak Shep was somewhere below those clouds, and we set out to find it. Darkness fell quickly and we soon had to use our flashlight to find our way down, so it actually took longer to get down than it had to get up. Thus ended this fantastic day, the climax of our trek. Of course, I'll remind Danny into eternity that he's never been quite as high as I have, as Kala Pattar is exactly one meter less high than Chukung Ri :)

November 8th (day 9): Everest Base Camp (5350m) & Gorak Shep to Pheriche (5160m-4240m)

After another night of weird dreams, during which I kept my lenses in my sleeping bag, we woke up very early and set out for Everest Base Camp before the sun had even appeared. We wanted to have enough time left after the base camp visit to do a good part of the descent back to Lukla on this same day. Despite two unforeseen and time-consuming adventures, we'd manage to stick to the plan.

Everest Base Camp is at the northern end of the Khumbu Glacier, so we first walked alongside it for about two hours.
Then near the end of the glacier it was time to descend into it.
The glacier was a bizarre world of rocks and ice. It is a bit different every year, but a twisting path was marked by piles of rocks and we followed that for about half an hour.
Suddenly we came across the wreck of a helicopter. I remembered reading that when Indians first climbed the Everest, the Indian ambassador to Nepal came to base camp to congratulate them on their way back but died when his helicopter crashed.
A bit further we found another helicopter wreck. Hmmm maybe this place is like a helicopter graveyard where old helicopters come to die?
The picture above also shows the wall of mountains that form the end of the Khumbu Glacier valley. On the left is the Lintren (6713m) and on the right the Khumbatse (6639m). Their tops and that of the ridge between them is the border between Nepal and Tibet; so we were practically on the border now but it wouldn't be easy to cross here :) To the left (west) the border continues over the top of the Pumori and other mountains, to the right it continues over the top of the Everest.

We were now in the middle of the area that is called Everest Base Camp, but there was no Everest expedition going on and we didn't see any of the notorious garbage that is supposed to litter the place either - unless you count helicopter wrecks as garbage.
From Base Camp, expeditions turn east and start climbing up the Khumbu Icefall with ladders and ropes. Beyond the icefall they have to push on through the Western Cwm valley (who invented that name?!), setting up camps along the way until they reach the col between the Everest and the Lhotse, where the last camp is set up. From there they make summit attempts, basically climbing on the ridge of the Everest all the way to the top. Many expeditions try to climb both the Everest and the Lhotse.

I have a nice souvenir of base camp because I got a cut across my hand while scrambling up a bit of sharp Everest ice to make the following picture...
On the way back to Gorak Shep we had the brilliant idea of following a different path that led over a ridge inside the glacier and seemed to be a shortcut. That path must once have been an alternate route to Gorak Shep, however this year it was leading nowhere, as we discovered when it suddenly ended after half an hour.

Not being the turning-back types, we decided to just push on and soon found ourselves scrambling over big boulders on hand and feet. It would have been fun if not for the facts that 1) we were in a hurry and 2) we had been so stupid to start this day trip without any water - we hadn't felt like carrying backpacks you see.

So we got very tired and very, very thirsty, and progress was terribly slow. We lost over an hour with our little shortcut, and were never sure if we could even get out of the glacier. Fortunately near Gorak Shep there was a place where the side of the glacier was less steep, and we could climb up against it on hand and feet.
Well that was adventure #1 of this day. Back in the lodge we treated ourselves to two expensive coca colas and I then bought a bowl of water - the only sanitary feature up here - to take care of my bleeding hand.

Turning back

Our trek was now over really, all we had left to do was get back to Lukla, our starting point. We had planned three whole days for this, but wanted to take a day off that by doing a sizable part of the descent on this day already. So after lunch we geared up and left Gorak Shep at 14:30.

Danny seemed to finally feel fully fit (how's that for alliteration) and set a furious pace. We were running more than walking, rushing past one pair of fellow trekkers after another. Ah, how glorious it felt to make them all eat our dust :) I really enjoyed it a lot. After exactly 1 hour we were already back in Lobuche, and we marched straight on to Dugla.

There we'd had a fantastic tuna pizza at the Thukla Guest House by the river on the way up, and one of our reasons for rushing down so hard was that we wanted to have time to eat another. The place was actually closed when we got there, but they let us in anyway, found the cook and we saw him prepare two pizzas from scratch with fresh dough and vegetables. They were absolutely delicious.

Of course all that took some time, and that led to adventure #2 of the day because we now had to walk through the 5km long Khumbu Khola valley, which is full of little streams, in the dark. We used our flashlight to stay on solid ground but still got our feet wet several times, which is not so great in this cold. In the distance we could make out a light that indicated Pheriche, our goal for the night, but it just didn't seem to get closer.

Luckily after about an hour of slow progress we found that the eastern side of the valley was dry and could make decent progress from there. In Pheriche we headed for the White Yak, the excellent lodge we'd stayed in before, and they were kind enough to make us dinner though it was very late already. What an eventful day this had been!

November 9th (day 10): Pheriche (4240m) to Namche (3440m)

This day was entirely uneventful, fortunately. It was fun seeing all the places we'd passed before again; they already seemed a distant memory. In Tengboche we passed by the lodge where we'd stayed six days before. Danny had lost one of my books (Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card) along the way and we thought he might have lost it there, and fortunately it turned out to be there so that was happy news.

We arrived in Namche Bazaar around 3pm and headed straight for a place with a telephone. We'd saved a day on our schedule now, and we also hadn't used the extra day we'd foreseen, so we wanted to call our airliner and ask if we could move our ticket to Kathmandu two days forward. Unfortunately, this day turned out to be Constitution Day in Nepal and their office was closed.

The guy who operated the telephone said his father-in-law who owned a lodge in Lukla could arrange it the next day if we'd stay at his lodge though. That was obviously a ploy to get us to stay there, but the prospect of having two extra days in India was too good so we decided to risk it, and it would all work out.

We returned our rented jackets and took a room in the same lodge as before, where we got back all the luggage we'd left behind. From now on it would be 18 kilo backpacks again :( That evening we took our first shower in 7 days, and despite the literally freezing bathroom that felt really good :)

November 10th (day 11): Namche Bazaar (3440m) to Lukla (2840m)

Ah, November 10th 2006, the worst day of my life. I woke up around 4am feeling miserable, and spent the rest of the night running between my bed and the toilet where I threw up violently four times and emptied my body in all other possible ways many more times. I was sick as hell and felt terribly cold, shivering non-stop even in my sleeping bag with all my clothes on.

When my body was completely empty I tried to drink a little, but every time I did I had to throw up again within 15 minutes; first coke, then milk, then even water. In the end I just stopped trying to drink and at least the throwing up stopped then. I didn't want to move one inch, but on the other hand I didn't want to make us both lose a day, so I masochistically decided to attempt the last march to Lukla anyway and we set out at 9:30.

Now the LP says "It's a long walk from Namche to Lukla, but you are probably in good shape by now. If not, break the trip into two days". Well, I wasn't in good shape; besides feeling sick and dehydrated I was having a pain in the middle of my chest beneath the plexus, my face and my hands were tingling like they were getting no blood, and resting didn't make me any less exhausted but on the contrary made it harder to continue. I recognised all these symptoms, they were exactly what Danny had described a few days earlier. I was having the same thing now with some extra bonus features.

I didn't even dare to drink for the first few hours, and rested more than I walked. When I realised that just made me more exhausted I tried to walk a continuous slow pace, but the damn path was going up and down all the time and my body was just screaming STOP! Danny carried my small backpack for half the way, which meant I was only carrying 12 kilo but he 24 kilo, thanx buddy.

We had a late lunch in Phakding; I just had some soup but had to throw it up almost immediately. By the late afternoon I bought some fresh apple juice from a local woman and that made me feel better and cheered me up. For the last part I didn't feel so sick anymore, just exhausted.

Anyway, we had to walk a long time in the dark but we did make it to Lukla, yay. The lodge had indeed arranged our flights for the next morning, so it had all been worth it. I wanted to go out again to find some canned fruit in a shop, but it turned out Lukla had a curfew imposed by the military, probably because the Maoist rebels occupy the territory west of it.

So next morning we flew out, after another very chaotic episode at the airport and a long delay. I'd feel weak for two more days, but didn't get sick again.

If you're reading this in chronologic order, you should now head back to the Kathmandu page of this report - click here. After one night in Kathmandu we headed for India, which will be the subject of the next part.

<< Part 3: Everest BC Trek (1/2)    -   Back to Index   -    Part 5: A Passage to India

Godsmurf Sun 04 Nov 2007 @ 14:52
Assuming you're talking about Everest BC trek: I didn't see any snakes and can't imagine there being any that high.

Carole Davt Fri 02 Nov 2007 @ 13:59
Wonderful pictures and story-----a real girly question--are there any snakes up there??? and how tough is it to complete??

Della Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 23:55
Nice pictures and writing! Your photos really bring back to my mind the days i spent in Nepal!
Go ahead and share with us more your travel notes and experience in the future!

Godsmurf Tue 21 Mar 2006 @ 13:41
Hehe. Should be up within a few days!

eleni Tue 21 Mar 2006 @ 01:56
Great! i was anxious and still am for no. 7 :)
It's like you are reading a book and when it starts to get really interesting you realise that some pages are missing...


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