Day 14: Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar

We woke up this morning in mixed moods. I felt great, having gone to bed early and slept well all through the night. Anne on the other hand, didn’t get a good night’s sleep and didn’t feel well. This mattered because our intent was to leave early for base camp, get back for an early lunch, and then head up Kala Patthar for sunset. Regardless, Anne still wanted to give both base camp and Kala Patthar a go.

We got up for breakfast, which was a cold endeavor. At 5170m, Gorek Shep gets really cold at night. Virtually any water left out overnight freezes. The room was freezing and it took a lot of motivation to do anything even slightly resembling leaving the warmth of the sleeping bag. We suited up quickly in full down attire and went to the dining room, which was no warmer than the room. During breakfast Anne started feeling ill again and we backed the plan down to just doing Kala Patthar later that day, giving us more time to rest. We talked a little about doing Everest Base Camp the next morning, though after some further consideration it seemed increasingly unlikely that we’d ’e able to make that happen. Since I was feeling good, I suggested I do base camp and if we felt like it, we could go again the next morning. That way at least one of us would see it if something didn’t go to plan the next day. Shortly thereafter, I was headed out with Dorje to base camp, leaving Anne to rest and recover back at the lodge.

The trip to base camp was certainly a little harder than I’d thought, moving up and down the moraine with little regard for either a straight or level path. I’d lightened my pack down to the bare essentials so Dorje and I were able to travel fast (well, I was able to travel fast. Dorje was always able to travel fast). We traveled along the top of the moraine for a while, finally taking a steep path down to the glacier’s surface.

Everest Base Camp is literally out in the middle of the Khumbu glacier, so the final short section of the trail snaked around large rocks and debris on the glacier’s surface as well as huge rifts in the ice that lead to melt pools at the bottom. It’s a little hard to imagine how in the height of climbing season they are able to turn what appears to be a rocky wasteland into something that looks like a camp. The camp area itself was devoid of anything other than prayer flags that would mark the spot. What used to be a semi-permanent trash heap is now virtually spotless. The highlight by far was being so close to the Khumbu icefall. There are strict fines for venturing out into the ice field, but even from afar the cascading wall of ice was impressive. While I was looking, a large plume of snow from a collapsed serac emerged, indication of just how changing and dangerous the icefall is. Crossing the icefall is by far the most dangerous part of the Everest climb, with more climbers and Sherpas losing their life here than on any other part of the mountain.

Standing at base camp, it’s easy to see why it took so long for the first explorers to find the route to the mountain. The Khumbu valley, on first inspection, appears to end in a ring of cliffs. It’s only when you get right to the end of the valley that you can see the icefall cascading over a small breach in the ring of mountains surrounding the valley. This small opening, virtually invisible from even as close as Gorek Shep, leads to the Western Cwm and the route up the mountain. Dorje busied himself making a cairn and I took the opportunity to change out of my long johns. Yes, it was getting warm out and I was starting to overheat, so I found a somewhat private spot and proceeded to actually get partially naked at base camp (there’s a memory for the scrapbook!). I spent a while taking pictures and focused a little on grabbing a set of pictures for a panorama before finally heading back for Gorek Shep.

Dorje and I got back around 11:30am and Anne and I made plans to start for Kala Patthar at around 1:30pm. We ate some rama noodles and some maple nut Clif bars we brought from home. Around 1:30pm, as planned, we set out for Kala Patthar. Dorje immediately took Anne’s pack (as he’d done on Gokyo Ri) and we made slow progress up the hill towards the summit, which was hidden behind the ridge. The wind was starting to kick up making the ascent really quite cold and it wasn’t long before we were bundled up in everything we had. The cold was made worse by the fact that the sun was now hiding behind the adjacent hill, casting a long shadow over the trail. Several others passed us as we made our way to the top, including John who we’d met in Dingboche. John was from Scotland and his endearing feature was the fact that he wore really short shorts while hiking. Today, despite the cold, was no different. I really couldn’t imagine bearing the cold in shorts, but the Scottish are a hearty breed and John certainly was no different. John blazed on by us and proceeded to linger about the summit without pants for some time before changing into something warmer.

For us it took a while longer, finally emerging from behind the shadow of the hill to gain some necessary warmth from the sun and bolster us in our final push. The summit itself afforded incredible views of the surrounding peaks, some close enough to almost reach out and touch. The timing was awesome, with sunset light now casting an amber hue on everything. The summit itself was small and sporty, with about 1000ft of exposure on one side that made you question every step. I was on hands and knees as I crawled up to the top. It was festooned with prayer flags, making it that much more treacherous lest you hook a foot and trip. But the flags added a great touch and made for an excellent subject along with the expansive vistas.

After 15 minutes or so on the summit, we headed down. The path was steep and we often found ourselves waiting for sections that we less steep so we could rest our knees. We were the last group down, just having to turn on our headlights as we hiked down the last short section of the trail. We were the last group to make it back to the lodge, walking in under starlight to the warmth of the dining room. We quickly ordered up some hot tea and kicked back to relax. In the dining room we did get a special treat. Another guide, Pasang Tenang Sherpa showed us a slideshow on his camera of his October ascent of Everest. He had pictures starting at base camp and working their way all the way up to the summit. Since it was October, and there were no already fixed lines. Pasang’s team of Sherpas had to set rope up the entire mountain, carrying 60 pound loads! And all this for a single client!!! On the trek, it’s really not uncommon to meet people who have summited Everest, but it was a special treat to be able to be shown pictures on the camera that made it to the top with the man who took them. It was an awesome close to the day. Tomorrow we’ll see if we make another run to Everest Base Camp with Anne. The effort today was a big one, and Anne’s lungs suffered from the altitude and cold. Anne’s not sure she’ll be up to it right now, so we’ll just have to see.

Stats for the day:
Ascent: 665m
Descent: 665m
Total Time: 4:07