Friday, 21 September 2012

Everest trek - Day 12 - Pangboche to Namche

4000m to 3450m (-550m)

The low altitude rains seemed to have come back with occasional views of Ama Dablam as a treat. Last night we slept like babies, we all completely passed out! Oxygen levels are still only 60% but already I can feel the difference. Leaving Pangboche the weather was glorious. We had a sunny stop in Tengboche where the bakery was now open, consuming bad-ass coffee and a tasty cheese roll. Something worth mentioning (and he might kill me for this) is Dave thinking he was going to release some high altitude flatulence (HAF) that turned out to be solid. An emergency pant pit-stop in the mists was undertaken professionally then we were on the way again, with endless ribbing and laughter from me and Helen. In Namche we again stayed in the same lodge and room (Valley view) as we did before! (who says we're habitual??)

Himalaya lodge
Inside Himalaya lodge
Namo and his family (Himalaya lodge)

"old man's beard"
Escaping Yak!!!

Tengboche bakery
Dave's pants
Good ol' Namche Bazar
In the evening we went to the cinema bar and fittingly watched "Everest". It has some amazing visuals but is ruined by an oh-so-common U.S.A. cheese-fest overload - it's painful at times. 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Everest trek - Day 11 - Kala Patthar then Pangboche

Kala Patthar
5170m to 5600m (+430m)

4:30am. Wakey wakey! Today was the going to be the highest point of the whole trip, with some magnificent view of Everest hopefully! I didn't get an inch of sleep - I was excited about today and mild altitude sickness is ever-present. I wake Helen and Dave who aren't feeling so good with slight headaches and also had no sleep. Out into the silent mountains the stars are brilliant. With headtorches we set off to the base of Kala Patthar and begin the slog up. There's a few torches already on the hill and more coming behind us. Helen and Dave decide to wait at the point we reached yesterday which I then thought was about half way - this was not the case. I press onwards and overtake a group of Italians. I have to stop every few minutes to catch my breath, and also the unveiling views. My heart is pounding against my chest every time I start moving again and I feel light-headed. Just when you think you've hit the top there's more! The top section has larger rocks and requires a little more navigating. After an hour of steep trekking I finally reach the prayer flags and weather station, announcing the summit - at 5600m (over 18,000 feet) I imagine this is as high as I'll ever be, using my legs!

Everest is mostly visible. Only a section of the western Cym hides behind Nuptse. The Everest south ridge past camp IV (26,000ft) and up to the Hilary step is crystal clear and the wind-blasted summit (still 2km higher than me) looking formidable. Anti-clockwise from Everest I could see Kumbutse, Lingtren, (the beautiful, and my favourite) Pumo Ri, Chumbu, Lobuche, Awi, Mehra, Nuptse and Lhotse. Being at this height, around all these giants really makes you feel everything, your senses are alive - the hairs on my neck stood up and a warm shiver passed through me! 

30 minutes later and the masses were approaching so I decided to make my decent. Going down is much easier, skipping across the rocks and almost running on some sections. I get back to the bottom with a light head and aching knees, and head for the warm lodge where Helen and Dave are waiting with some breakfast - I'm famished!

Gorak Shep to Pangboche
5170m to 4000m (-1170)

After breakfast we grab a quick photo with the wonderful Himalaya lodge family then it's down down down. There's no set plans on how far we're going to go today, but (as usual) I have an idea that we'll go as far as we can as fast as we can, seeing how far it's possible to get down in one day! Helen and Dave didn't initially share this unnecessary determination but we still made very good time! We hopped it over the glacier bridge that we struggled with before (someone had repaired it) and promptly into Labouche for a cup of sweet black tea. The hill down to Thukla seemed long, even longer than going up for some reason. There were now more and more people heading up, looking punished by the gradient! All of these people had walking poles - I don't understand walking poles - are they for actual support when walking? Most people just seem to tap rocks with them before taking a step, like they're testing if it can support their weight or not. I can only think of Stevie Wonder when I see trekkers in sunglasses with walking poles. Maybe if I'm old and wobbly and still trekking, I'll get some.

We hit Thukla at 12:30 and hide from the water now falling from the sky. Once clear we quickly make our way down to Penriche (via a muddy bog) to see how it's different from Dingboche (stay in Dingboche!). More black tea with a particularly cute companion dog (who's name I forget) and we're walking again. Now about 3pm and we're fooled thinking we'd arrived in Pangboche, but we then realise it's the next village, 30 minutes further down the valley! Legs with no energy, shoulders and back hurting we slouch into the same lodge, and same room we'd occupied on the ascent. I wouldn't recommend going this far (20km) in one day (especially after climbing Kala Patthar with on no sleep) - Dingboche would be a sensible stop! 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Everest trek - Day 10 - Everest base camp

5170m to 5300m (+130m)
5 hours

Up at 5:30am. I was already wearing most of my clothes in bed so I put my boots and jacket on and headed out into the freezing morning with Helen and Dave. The forecasters were correct - the weather had completely cleared and we were surrounded by incredible snow-covered peaks, tinted blue in the early light - quite a sight! We decided to have a walk part way up Kala Patthar for a bigger glimpse of Everest, as you can only see the summit from Gorak Shep (you can't see it at all from Everest base camp). Coming down were Tom and Verena - they'd started at 4am - Verena said she was sick in the night but took a diamox, and this morning felt fine to go even higher - hardcore German lady!

We didn't spend long up there today - tomorrow we were going for the summit. Once the sun was up we went back for some food, and to say goodbye to Tom, Verena and Martin (who was still sick). After a quick breakfast and some take-away cheese chapathi's we set out for the camp. Just out of Gorak Shep is a memorial for Rob Hall, the legendary climber who died trying to rescue members of his group in the ill-fated 1996 expedition.  

After these memorials Dave said he was feeling a little odd and had to sit for a while. Soon he had a splitting headache and nausea - the morning Kala Patthar trip to 5270m had tipped him over the edge. We sent him back to the lodge and told him to take diamox and paracetamol. Altitude sickness is closing in - and me and Helen look at each other, wondering when it's our turn! We continue without Dave just have a look at the path to base camp, It tidily follows the ridge on the edge of the glacier. We come across another altitude casualty sitting on the ridge looking pale - he was with his friends and they'd just decided to turn back. The route's easy until you step onto the glacier, where it suddenly becomes hard to make out - you snake between huge green lakes of melt water and ice cliffs, in parts there's shale on ice shale and you find yourself slipping about! Rocks balanced on top of each other (cairns?) and yak dung are the best clues as to the path. In the spring the hundreds of tents extend almost to where you set foot on the glacier but now, with minimal climbers, the camp is far away at the base of the ice fall. While crossing you can hear creaks and groans, invisible underground rivers and (by far the most nerve-wrecking!) huge rumbles from avalanches high above. The landscape looks like the moon - only grey rocks and ice as far as the eye can see. It took about an hour to cross the glacier to the camp then the clouds moved in and it started to snow - no views of any mountains! There was a Korean team, a large Japanese team (who didn't want visitors so they wouldn't get sick) and a friendly Polish team who were climbing Lhotse. Some of the tents are perched so precariously above crevasses they look completely unsafe! We gather some souvenir stones, speak to the Polish team, get some pictures and start the clamber back, ecstatic that we'd actually made it! The snow is heavy now and we shelter behind a rock on the ridge and eat the cheese chapathi's.

Helen at the end of the ice fall - note the crevasse! 
Tents perched 

Polish team - and MonstaB
Melt water lake
The edge of the Khumbu, and the ridge back to Gorak Shep
Back at the lodge Dave's still feeling rough, but a little brighter. Me and Helen slump into the restaurant completely spaced out and exhausted, still expecting the altitude sickness to claim us any second! My appetite is enormous (a good sign that altitude sickness won't come) and I eat pasta (also finishing Helens pasta), 11 potato and cheese momos then another 10 buff momos that the Monks gave us! 

That evening is an incredible sunset. The colours are unlike any I've ever seen before. Reds, oranges, purples, blues. The blue is so blue that it looks unreal! Soon the sky is blacker than black and we head back in to get some sleep, ready for a 4am start.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Everest trek - Day 9 - Labouche to Gorak Shep

4940m to 5170m (+230m)
4.0km - 5 hours

Despite the gradient being gentle out of Gorak Shep the lack of oxygen and the cold morning make the first half an hour feel heavy. The weather cleared a lot though and we're surrounded by mountains, with only the summits hidden. Today's dog is George, who likes to eat yak dung. He's quite well known on the route has many names and has been seen as low as Thukla and high as Everest base camp! We take the left fork past a Sherpa carrying a ridiculously long pipe and onto the Italian research pyramid. The scientists are only here in the spring, at the moment it's only Nepali caretakers, but they show us around. Inside it's tiny, with little rooms full of interesting boffin gadgets you want to touch!

Back to the main path it runs up a little valley parallel to the Khumbu glacier. Ton, Verena and Martin carried on ahead as they were going to attempt EBC that afternoon. All around were little (I think they're called) Picas, curious little furry mammals the size of chinchillas skipping around the rocks making funny noises. At the end of this little valley is a short but killer climb - my lungs were heaving and heart thumping when I got to the top, my blood crying out for oxygen, my head feeling light. After a little rest to let a yak train past there's a small walk to a ridge - when you reach the top you're treated to an indescribable first view of the mighty Khumbu. This is the worlds highest glacier, its source is at 7,600m! It must be over 1km wide in places, tearing its way through mountains on its way down the valley. It's picked up millions of tons of debris at this point and looks like a river of rocks, but looking closer you can see bottomless crevasses, ice caves and emerald green lakes dotted about the surface - truly an awe-inspiring, natural wonder - impossible to depict in photographs, but here's some anyway!

The gigantic Khumbu glacier - gobsmacked!
Looking north to Everest base camp, Lhotse up to the right in the clouds
After we closed our mouths and gathered our thoughts we started back on the path to Gorak Shep. There's a second, smaller glacier joining the Khumbu from the left which you have to cross. The path now is just some lightly trodden stones between boulders as you head down onto this glacier. There's a loud waterfall noise coming from a big gorge ahead. The path leads you to the top of this gorge, just under the end of the glacial ice wall, where you cross the melt-water river. To the right, looking down the gorge, the water disappears off into a Khumbu abyss; to the left a huge dirty wall of ice drips and occasionally dumps its rocky cargo into a pool next to the crossing. The crossing itself is just big rocks and looks sketchy; we wonder if we'd strayed from the main route. We hadn't seen anyone else for ages. We hang about for a while trying to decide what to do when three Sherpas come, and skip across the rocks. They can see we're unsure and come back to offer a hand across - we gladly accept and I give them Rupees for the help!

Exhausted we keep on going but it feels like a never ending sea of rocks. Just when you think you might see Gorak Shep there's another ridge of rocks! Finally we pop out on top and there it is. We follow the ridge and head into the Buddha lodge for some black tea and a rest to gather energy. The owners ask if we want a room too; we tell them we're going to look about and they say that if we don't accept the room now they will charge us more when we come back! Of course, we now have no intentions of staying here and head up to the Himalayan lodge - which turns out to be the highest sleeping establishment in the world! The rooms are basic but clean, with blankets. The restaurant is big, warm and friendly. The family are lovely - I would highly recommend this lodge, it was my favourite of the whole trek (and I thought the lodges would get worse the higher you were!)

Gorak Shep - perched on the side of the Khumbu
The monks from Tengboche were there, and had set up a Puja in the restaurant, playing drums, cymbals, gongs and pipes, and chanting for hours and hours. On a table they had offerings of food and drink and occasionally took things out and brought things in. They were very kind and brought us offerings of biscuits, chocolate cakes, nuts and fruit to our table. Apart from the monks (and our three friends on their way to Everest base camp) we had the lodge to ourselves. We had word that after our plane arrived the weather was bad at Lukla and no more planes could land for 5 days, and after that there was a 2 day pilots strike - which would explain why nobody else seemed to be up here in the mountains! Spaced-out and feeling an odd pressure on the forehead we tried to relax with digestives and milky coffee. Looking out of the window with the Monks playing their medieval sounding instruments as the soundtrack a man in a large puffa jacket appeared on a horse - the whole scene was reminiscent of Monty Pythons Holy Grail.

At 4pm the three returned from Everest base camp. Martin wasn't good, he had developed a pounding headache and nausea on the way back. He said he'd "never had a headache like this before" - he looked extremely ill. It was now getting dark and there was no chance of descending now. We gave him some diamox and paracetamol and told him to drink as much water as humanly possible. We also got him some garlic soup but he couldn't eat, so he went to lie down on the opposite seats. With pure comic timing the Monks suddenly piped up again - he then went to bed. Exhausted, we went to bed soon after. I got into bed in my trousers, t-shirts, fleece, beanie hat and had three thick blankets - it was extremely cold!!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Everest trek - Day 8 - Thukla to Labouche

4600m to 4940m (+340m)
3.0km - 3 hours

It rained all night, and is still raining this morning but the clouds seemed thinner and were moving faster, giving us more and more faces to drool over. I had a very good nights sleep last night so was ready for action, which is good as the path out of Thukla is immediately up, for a long time. In fact most of today's 340m vertical is in the first hour or so. At the top of the first section are many memorials to dead Sherpas and climbers, including Scott Fischer who died in the 1996 Everest tragedy.

After the memorials the path goes past the end of the Khumbu glacier, which just looks like a huge pile of rocks. From there it turns right and the rest of the walk following the river to Labouche is easy. I nearly ended up in the river slipping on a stone while trying to fill my water bottle!

End of the Khumbu
We strolled into Labouche, excited to reach 5000m! There's not much lodge choice - high season must be a free-for-all - but now there's no-one else here apart from us and the South Africans who are staying in the lodge next door. We choose the Sherpa lodge, the furthest away as you enter the village, next to the expensive eco-lodge. The weather was spitting something half way between rain and snow and the staff quickly crank up the stove with some yak pancakes and we set up camp in the toasty restaurant. The owner confirms what we'd heard about the weather clearing tomorrow, he says the snow is a good sign, meaning the weather is turning winter and the monsoon finishing - we may have timed this trip perfectly! Me, Helen, Dave and Tom have a hot bucket shower (not together) in an outside corrugated hut. I had one just so I could say I'd had a shower at 5000m! It wasn't as much of shock as initially thought, the worst bit trying to dry yourself and get some clothes on as quick as possible. I had been wearing the same T-shirt now since we'd left Kathmandu, not wanting to change because of the cold! Needless to say I put the same T-shirt back on after the shower!

I get food envy when Martin the Swede orders a giant plate of tuna noodles, so order one too. Later we have snickers rolled in pastry and deep-fried - very tasty, expensive and bad! We play some cards and drink lemon tea. I take a depleted camera battery to the lodge next door for charging for 300 Rupees an hour.

Snickers roll