Onwards to Everest Base Camp

It was around 3pm on the 23 Nov 2011 when my group of six (including me), my guide and his two assistants reached Everest Base Camp. We had the glacier all to ourselves and we had glorious sunshine.

I had thought about this moment for the past five years. It was while I was traveling in Australia I decided that I wanted to spend my 30th trekking to EBC. And I had done it and I felt nothing.

We left Thukla at 5.30am, just before dawn was about to break over the Himalayas. The stars were still out and it was quiet apart from all of us breathing as we climbed a hill – small in Nepalese terms. There was a little wave of anticipation – today was the day we reach EBC – but that was overrun by my tiredness and my breathlessness. .

I had become a trekking machine. The goal – the only goal – was to get to EBC and the only way was to walk. We all got altitude sickness to some degree, although I am now not sure if I was also suffering the effects from the Diamox I was taking to help prevent altitude sickness. I was feeling really tired, and my legs felt fatigued. I found it hard going – I lagged behind the rest of my group, but I didn’t care. The sheer exertion needed was more than my body wanted to give me. My mantra was slow and steady. I would get to EBC eventually.

We got to Gorak Shep where we stopped for lunch. At 5180m, Gorak Shep is the last village before getting to EBC. Meaning ‘dead raven’ in Sherpa language, there is a distinct lack of vegetation here, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t any wildlife. On the way to the teahouse, we saw a flock of Tibetan partridges pecking around for food among the rocks.

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After lunch of garlic soup and Tibetan bread – a fried flat bread – and hot lemon tea, was the relatively gentle ascent towards EBC. The ground behind the teahouse is sandy and flat, a welcome relief to the steps and hills. However, it doesn’t last for long, and soon we were clambering over big rock falls. I prayed that I wouldn’t fall down a hole or twist my ankle. I had made it this far! Soon enough, we were greeted to the sight of the flags – EBC was in our reach. The moraine gave way to the glacier, and we trudged over the ice to the pile of rocks that was Everest Base Camp.

Above EBC and to the west is the Khumbu ice fall – one of the most dangerous stages on the summit to Everest. This is the point where the Khumbu Glacier starts to melt, resulting in the area being unstable and large crevasses opening up without any warning. Thankfully, we didn’t have to climb the icefall. We were stopping at EBC, then heading back to Gorak Shep for the night.

The high altitude, and low oxygen, made for a sleeplessness night. It didn’t help that our toilet on our floor at the teahouse was frozen. The only other available toilet was downstairs, in the dark and in the cold. For the past few nights, I daren’t go to the toilet during the night.

Like the rest of the teahouses that we stayed in, my room was basic. It had two single beds and a blanket. There was no heating and no hot water. You just put up with the cold. The next day – my 30th birthday – was the day where I was going to see the sunrise over the Himalayas.

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The meeting of Mr T

I met Mr T the day before we reached Everest Base Camp (EBC) at his teahouse in Thukla, some 4620m high. We were in Sherpa country and he gave me some advice.

“If you’re going to climb Kala Patthar, you get to see the roof of the world. You’re very lucky. The summit of Everest is only 6km away. Many people  see it on the Internet or hear about it. You get to see it. Keep it in your memory and you’ll have it [the view] until you die.”

Admittedly, everyone that we met on the trek was going to EBC and/or Kala Patthar – the viewpoint for Everest, so I didn’t feel lucky. But you can’t argue with Mr T, especially when he offers you apple pie.

Tshering Sherpa – or Mr T – summitted Everest three times, with the last in 1996. That year was a year of the worst disasters on Mount Everest where 15 people died in that season. The May tragedy was documented in the book ‘Into Thin Air’ by journalist Jon Krakauer, then into a film. Eight climbers died and several others were stranded by a storm. It also ended Mr T’s climbing career.

“It was a bad dream,” he said. “I told my five children not to become a Sherpa. They now study in Kathmandu.”

The stove, which heated the room, was turning cold, so I hurried to my unheated box room. The sky was clear and full of stars. I didn’t have time to gaze, it was much to cold. With my numb fingers, I fumbled at the lock of my door, quickly put on my pj’s over my thermals and dived under my down sleeping bag and blanket. I was freezing, but my cheeks were burning.

It had taken us nearly seven hours to get to Thukla. We passed a group of memorials dedicated to lost climbers and Sherpas, including those who died in the 1996 disaster. It was a sobering thought that these people gave their lives trying to reach the highest point on earth.

On a happier note, we celebrated Phil’s 30th birthday with a chocolate cake, baked by our guides.

It was a dusty, but a gradual climb and we saw the treeline stop at 4000m. From  now on, it was a moraine with bushy scrub. It was hard for me to get proper lungfuls of air and the steps became more difficult for me to climb. I was thankful for my trekking poles, which is supposed to save you 20% of your energy. I wasn’t sure if the altitude was zapping my energy, or the Diamox. All I knew was I was exhausted and I was loosing my appetite. I just needed to keep drinking.