The next morning we woke up, had our usual mediocre breakfasts and then headed to a place called Gorak Shep, which sits at 5,100m and is the last lodging on the trail towards the base camp. We found a luxurious room with plywood walls to throw most of our stuff and headed onwards towards base camp. After about 2 hours of relatively flat hiking, we came upon the mass of tents sitting at the base of the Khumbu Icefall, which makes up the Everest base camp. To be honest, it’s not that exciting. It’s just a bunch of tents sitting on rocks. You can’t even see Everest. I mean I guess it’s sort of cool to see with the icefall as the backdrop, but don’t expect too much. It was an especially bad trip for me because I slipped on some loose rocks and fell on my face (to protect my camera) and lost our bet on who would fall first. Down one Snickers bar!
The real highlight of the area is the viewpoint at Kala Pattar, at 5500 meters, which has sweeping panoramic views of the entire mountain range. Due to the afternoon cloudiness our plan was to get up nice and early in the darkness, and hike to the top for the sunrise. I had my alarm set for 4:30 am. It was not a fun wake up call. But once we were outside it was gorgeous. The sky was clear and the moon was full, illuminating the snowcapped peaks. We didn’t even need to use our headlamps; it was that bright out. But god damn, it was cold.
At over 5,000 meters there is about 50% of the oxygen in the air compared to sea level, so of course the going was quite tough. I was feeling good, so I ditched Jesper’s slow ass, and worked my way past the groups ahead of me. This was a sunrise I did not plan on missing! Although getting to the top earlier than planned wasn’t the best idea because it’s extra windy near the top, and as soon as you start standing still you really start to freeze. But the view of the mountaintops slowly being lit up by the early morning sun was really spectacular. You just wanted that sun to finally hit you! Jesper made it to the top just before the sun popped it head over the mountains, but he was so cold that he didn’t stay, and headed back down. It might sound strange to hike uphill for 2 hours and then not stick around 15 minutes for the sunrise, but your face is frozen and you can hardly feel your fingers and toes. It really was miserable up there.
I jumped around and wiggled my toes and blew warm air into my hands long enough to keep me unfrozen until the sun finally rose over the mountains, just to the left of Everest (the one that looks like a black pyramid). You’ll notice from this viewpoint, and almost every vantage point in Nepal, Everest never looks like the tallest mountain. Nuptse is the one to right of Everest, a much more aesthetically pleasing mountain in my opinion. After snapping a few photos I was more than ready to get back down to the lodge.
After warming up with some hot chocolates we were ready to start descending. Originally we were going to do a side trip over a high pass to get to Gokyo Lake, but Jesper wasn’t feeling very well and wanted to start heading back down to Namche and Lukla. I was a bit ambivalent about the situation. Obviously I could have done the trip on my own, but I too was getting tired of freezing my ass off all the time, so I decided to head down as well. Spending a lot of time at these altitudes really does take quite a toll on your body.
As we were walking down we noticed that a lot of helicopters were flying in the area, but we didn’t really think much of it. A couple hours later we had learned that this morning on Everest there had been a large avalanche, killing 10 to 25 people, depending on whom you talked to. It would be the single most deadly day in the history of the mountain. After the dust settled it was determined that 15 Sherpas were dead. The Sherpas are the group people that live in the region permanently and are extremely well adjusted to the altitude. So much so that many are recruited for positions on the Everest expeditions, working as climbing guides, high mountain porters, cooks, etc. They are absolutely invaluable to the success of the expeditions. They are the ones that set the ropes, do the load carrying, and set up the camps. They are paid very little in USD terms, but in Nepalese terms, they are quite wealthy. So that morning they were out carrying loads from camp 1 to camp 2 when the avalanche hit. Really tragic stuff.
We decided to call it quits in the town of Pheriche. Outside the town we watched as helicopters came down with the dead bodies of many of the Sherpas; the guys who do all the work but get almost none of the credit. What did they die for? So that a bunch of rich guys, who can afford to pay $40,000 to $70000 for an expedition can say they’ve climbed the tallest mountain in the world. It seems like such an ego stroking thing. While it is the tallest mountain, it’s far from the most difficult to climb in mountaineering terms. Other 8,000m peaks like K2 and Annapurna are considered to be much more challenging. On Everest there’s no technical climbing involved! It’s what you’d call a walk up. You just ascend the ropes that are fixed for you by the climbing Sherpas and sleep in the camps that are also assembled by the Sherpas. If you get in trouble, who's there to bail your ass out? The Sherpas! So you have all these climbers (way too many) who have inadequate experience with high altitude mountaineering but decide to take on the mountain anyway and the only reason they are able to do so is because they have the Sherpas to do all the work! So it was especially sad knowing so many had died. They are the real rockstars of the climbing world.
Anyway, after our night in Pheriche we made it back down to Namche Bazaar the following day. We had a fun night out at the bar to celebrate and then made our way down to Lukla. We hit the bar again and then flew out of Lukla the next morning. It was especially easy to get a flight out of Lukla this time as we had befriended the guide of the British couple we had been hiking with, so he arranged everything for us. No more dealing with the airline mafia and 11:00 flights! And boy was it nice to be back in Kathmandu! Nice weather, warm beds, pizza and lots of beer! An excellent way to cap off our hiking trip! The next morning Jesper and I split ways as he was off to the beautiful town of Pokhara, whereas I had made an impromptu decision that the beaches in the Philippines were calling my name. So that’s where I’ll begin next time. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this Nepal segment! Here's the rest of the photos from the walk down.