Our day began bright and very early, at 4:30 during the night. As the alarm clock rang in the dead of night, only one thought was doing through our minds “how’s the weather?” Much to our relief, as we stuck our heads out the window, to find a limitless expanse of perfectly clear and starry skies. Without wasting any time, we were soon making tracks across the sandy lakebed adjacent to Gorak Shep. Other trekkers were even more industrious than us, their head lamps casting light beams higher up the mountain shoulder. However for others the black night was proving an orienteering challenge, some of them deciding to queue behind us and follow our lead, as it looked that we knew where we were going 🙂
first sights of Everest, before sunrise
The trail was a steep climb of about 400m in relief, its main challenge being that it took place above 5000m, where breathing the thin air while climbing becomes a strenuous effort in itself. At first, the climb felt quite easy, however soon enough we realized that the peak was not on the first ridge, but rather on the next-next one hiding behind it, further away, and advancing in below freezing temperatures became slow and taxing. As the first sun rays began to come up from behind the high ridges enclosing the valley, much welcomed warmth started to melt the light snow covering the rocks, and to warm both us and the thin air, making it more pleasant to breathe.
sunrise over Everest
Looking up towards the peak, the trail seemed endlessly long. Keeping to our, by now usual, slow, steady and ceaseless pace, we climbed and climbed, occasionally stopping to take in the stupendous Himalayan mountain views unfolding on all sides. Upon reaching the prayer flag clothed peak of Kala Patthar we met an even richer visual delight: as far as our eyes could see hundreds of miles of lofty Himalayan peaks were glowing in the rising sun, with Mount Everest just across the valley, soaring above all. We did it! We made it to the highest point on this expedition, and our reward was one of the most breath-taking 😉 views in the world: a white-grey sea of mountains, glaciers and moraines.
panorama from Kala Patthar over Everest
we did it! Kala Patthar 5545m
mountain panorama “behind” Kala Patthar
Stop, look, breath, feel, be… spontaneously these were the only things we left to do while standing on top of Kala Patthar, next to the skyscraping summit of Everest sporting its whopping snow plume. Feeling at peace and happy with our accomplishment, we turned around and headed back down to Gorak Shep. Everest accompanied us half the descent, slowly disappearing behind Nuptse. Approaching the sandy lakebed at the base of our climb, we were greeted by free running mules, resting after they had carried heavy loads to Everest base camp.
great mountain views while descending off Kala Patthar
romance above 5000m – notice the heart shape 🙂
Back in the lodge, brunch with warm porridge and hot ginger tea come as a welcomed reward after this morning’s achievement, and replenished our batteries, as we preparing to begin our retreat off the mountain. Leaving Gorak Shep behind, we retraced our steps across the ground-up rocks of Shangri Shar Glacier’s terminal moraine. Occasionally we would make way for heavy loaded yaks, carrying huge bags and barrows inscribed with names of different Everest expedition operators. Signs that expedition season was drawing nearer. Approaching Lobuche settlement, we empathetically felt the eagerness of enthusiastic trekkers coming up the mountains, thrilled they will soon be reaching Everest base camp.
yaks loaded with Everest expedition equipment
Further down from Lobuche the trail became more solitary. By now most trekkers on their way up having already arrived at their day’s destination, and only the occasional heavy loaded porters would break the mountains’ silence with their friendly greeting “Namaste”. Having the trail all to ourselves, trekking on Khumbu Glacier’s terminal moraine between snow frosted mountain walls was heart filling and serenity bringing. Heavy rhododendron bush scent began to fill the air, reminding us of Buddhist monasteries, and foretelling the memorial “Chortens” field was just “around the corner”. For one last time we crossed between the stone reminders of many lives lost on Everest, taking a moment to meditate and delight in the spectacular views of Ama Dablam’s perfect pyramid emerging in the background between stone “Chortens” and the prayer flag gate-like portal, which marked the starting point of the descend off Khumbu Glacier’s gravelly moraine. The 350m high steep slope that challenged us while going up was now effortless to descend.
how about those loads?
As midday turned into afternoon, the usual high mountain weather pattern began to manifest its presence, as misty low clouds began to engulf us in thick fog, obscuring the surrounding high mountain sceneries and creating an eerie atmosphere. Having reached the small settlement of Dughla (Thukla), nestle at 4620m at the base of Khumbu Glacier’s terminal moraine, we had by now descended roughly two days’ worth trekking and about 1000m in relief, our stomachs calling for a well earned late lunch break.
Across the glacial stream draining from Khumbu Glacier, the trail split in two. One ascending to Dingboche, and another gently descending to Pheriche village. Unlike when climbing up, when aiming to acclimatize, this time our target was to descend, so we left the trail to Dingboche behind, taking the downward path to Pheriche. Trekking shrouded in thick fog and mist created a feeling of mystery and fantasy, in which unexpectedly solitary people or stone dwellings would emerge out of nowhere, taking shape from the milky fog. Pheriche village, engulfed by white clouds, seemed lifeless as we were making our way between its stone lodges.
Further down from Pherice, the trail crossed Khumbu Khola’s white waters and climbed on a minor ridge topped by “Stupas” and memorials to lost climbers. Although trekking at the very base of Ama Dablam, thick fog clouds were shrouding us, obscuring the magnificent peak from our view. Descending the ridge, we met the trail coming from Dingboche and proceeded pasted the lonely settlement of Orsho, lying solitary in a vast, windswept alpine meadow. Nightfall drawing nearer increased the feeling of mysteriousness flowing in the foggy air, as grazing, bell-less, ghost-like yaks would silently and unexpectedly step out from the mist, bringing to life local superstitions about ghosts.
Dropping below 4000m, we descended under the threshold of low clouds usually lurching at that altitude. However, by now the sun had already set and now darkness was the one obscuring the surrounding soaring mountains from sight. Following the almost flat trail snaking on the mountain shoulder we made our way to Pangboche village, terraced on a mountainside at 3985m.
After a long trekking day, we had finally reached our home for the night. Once inside the lodge, we treated ourselves resting in the welcoming, warm dining room, enjoying a healthy, replenishing, local dinner, reading by the hot stove, and eventually a long, well-deserved sleep. Today we had trekked for about 25km, climbing 400m to the top of Kala Patthar (5545m) and descending about 1600m in a sum of 37359 steps. The most trekking we were going to do in one day during this expedition…
dinner is served!
Tomorrow we would retrace our steps further down the mountain, passing by the beautiful, inner peace inspiring Buddhist “Gompa” of Tangboche, and catching our last views of Ama Dablam for this expedition…
For more pictures, check our EBC day 9 photo album 🙂