EBC & Kala Patthar

An early morning from Lobuche and we were on our way up the Khumbu Valley towards Everest Base Camp. Perhaps the best morning weather we’d had in our two weeks in Nepal, we began trekking in the shadow of 25,790’ Nuptse. Sleeping at 16,100’ left us feeling a bit tired and dehydrated, despite our efforts to rest, eat and drink plenty of tea and water. As we crested our first small climb, we were touched by the warm Himalayan sun and saw the grandest view yet. Pumori, a 23,419’ peak boarding Nepal and Tibet, seemed to dominate the skyline with its steep slopes and intimidating couloirs. As we continued up the valley, the quality of the trail degraded from smooth sandy soil to granite boulders and scree as we traversed the dry glacier. We were now approached

 17,000’ and the air was thin. Slow, methodical steps were key, for one misstep or slip, resulted in at least 10 rapid breathes trying to recover. As we rounded a bend on the trail, we got our first clear glimpse of Mount Everest, 29,032’. Capped with whispy clouds, the summit pyramid seemed to scrape the heavens and defy all logic of what is possible. Despite only seeing the top 1,000’ or so, it was impossible not to stare at the sheer magnitude of the worlds’ tallest mountain. 

After 3 hours of walking we pulled into Gorak Shep. At 17,000’, this is the tallest village in the Khumbu region and the highest elevation we would sleep on this expedition. After eating some food and drinking some tea at the Everest Inn Teahouse, we loaded our packs once more and made our way to Everest Base Camp. Perfect blue skies gave way to thick clouds boiling up the valley. It wasn’t long before we were completely engulfed and light snow began to fall. The “trail” to EBC is not well defined and requires much boulder hoping and a focused mind. Though we couldn’t see much, it was very apparent we had stepped onto the mighty Khumbu Glacier. The blue ice was slick, and only covered by a few inches of loose granite rock. A massive glacial pond, the same color as chocolate milk, was frequently hit with large rocks tumbling in from the melting ice slopes above. Finally, it was in view, Everest Base Camp. Admittedly, there wasn’t much to see but a rock painted with red letters and a mob of tourists taking their million dollar photo in front. Because this time of year no one is climbing the great mountain, there isn’t much else going on at 17,300’ on this desolate glacier. We followed suit and took our own photos with our team, but were quick to make moves with the increasingly heavy snowfall and dropping temps. After another 2 hour walk back to Gorak Shep, we retreated into the now bustling Teahouse to dry our clothes and shoes from the wet snow. That afternoon we followed our regular program of lounging around the Teahouse, drinking tea, eating Sherpa food, and playing dice. 

4:30am the alarm buzzes on my Suunto watch. Even after 5 days of sleeping and trekking above 15,000’, trying to rest at 17,000’ poses its unique challenges. Waking up gasping for air is common, along with feeling dehydrated and generally fatigued. Moving around the room quietly with my red light on, trying not to wake dad I was getting ready to trek up Kala Patthar, the classic 18,500’ view point of Mount Everest and the surrounding Himalayas. Dad decided to take advantage of resting as high altitude was giving him some breathing issues and loss of appetite. A wise decision as we still had a 9-mile hike ahead of us later that day. 

I met Sonam downstairs and we took our first steps outside into the cold, brisk alpine hours. To my surprise, I looked up to see bright stars peppering the crystal clear sky.  Certainly the best weather we had in 14 days of being on the trail. No breakfast and a few sips of water, we began the climb up Kalapatthar. We started cruising up the trail, passing group after group. My hands were cold, but I knew they would warm up at the pace we were moving. We continued to catch group after group, as breathing grew increasingly more difficult. As my body warmed, my breathing regulated and the early morning sun began to illuminate the tallest mountains on the planet. At the end of the first hour, I glance at my watch: 1,300’ of elevation gain at 18,200’. Not bad for being at such high altitude. At home, I have had plenty of days crushing 3,000 vertical feet in an hour, but those numbers don’t mean anything when operating in a low oxygen environment. By 6:30am, we reach 18,500’, the top of Kala Patthar. The 23,400’ Pumori towered over us to the south as rays of golden sun pierce the pure white snow at the summit. Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Tabuche, and Cholatse dominate the sky line to the south and west. It was pure bliss watching the sunrise over these massive peaks and hearing the subtle sounds of prayer flags flapping in the wind. As it grew colder and our cups of tea expired, we began our descent back to Gorak Shep. Feeling strong and fueled with the energy of incredible views, we began running down at 18,000’. Using gravity in our favor, the descent was effortless and enjoyable. Round trip we made it back to our Teahouse in just over 2 hours. 

By this point I’m starving, and enjoyed 2 fried eggs over a savory hunk of Tibetan bread. We needed to refuel before a 9 mile walk back down the Khumbu valley, descending over 3,000’ down to Dingboche at 14,200’. It was a beautiful hike, with more views of the classic peaks, and made it to the Sherpa Land Teahouse in Dingboche within 3 hours of our departure. I never though I would utter these words, but the air felt rich and thick at 14,000’, and would provide a much needed reprieve to replenish our bodies and get a long nights rest before moving back up the Imja Valley. 

Exploring Dingboche, we stumbled across a gem – Cafe 4410. Named after its impressive height of 4410m above sea level, one could walk inside and think they are in any cafe on the West Coast. Slammed with dozens of trekkers and climbers from all over the world, we enjoyed our first real cup of coffee and some decadent pastries; a real treat after so many days at high elevation. 

The next morning, we enjoyed our first casual start ahead of our short 2 hour walk up to Chukkung, our final Teahouse before attempting to climb 20,350’ Island Peak. We would rest one night at 15,550’ and make our way to base camp the following day. Weather is changing constantly, chance of snow, chance of sun, just seems to be the way of the mighty Himalayas. Regardless of what happens up there, we’re going to give it our best shot, while playing it safe and making it back home. In the words of Ed Viesturs, going up is optional, coming down in mandatory. Stay tuned!

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