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We made it!
Altitude is an intriguing leveller: it’s better to be more Chris Moyles than Olympic machine. So I’d imagined that I’d be fine. Yet, the next morning, minutes after leaving the lodge my head felt like it was in a vice, my legs had turned to lead and my stomach was doing flip flops. As the team looked back in mild sympathy, Doctor Deaglan trotted up alongside me with unfair ease, sparked up a Malboro Light and murmured in my ear: “Aspirin, anti-emetic, Diamox?” Near the top of the world, things clearly get back to front: not smoking bad, drugs good.
With chemical assistance, some encouraging “Jam Jams” from Raj and Tony repeatedly pulling me to my feet, the game looked back on. This was the toughest day of our trek – from Loboche we’d walk up the Khumbu Glacier to Everest Base Camp at 5,364m, before returning to Gorak Shep (5,147m). On paper it’d didn’t look far (Base Camp is only six kilometres from Lobuche) but at ground level things were rather different and, as the sun rose higher in the sky, everyone’s expressions became more fixed.
Then, suddenly, we were there. The actual location of Everest Base Camp varies each year, so our end point was a cairn overlooking the glacier proper – which means you get a better view – and what a view. Here, the icy ridge of Pumori sweeps around to meet the West Ridge of Everest; beyond this impenetrable wall lies the Tibetan Plateau, in front, the jumbled chaos that is the Khumbu Ice Fall and the mysterious opening of the Western Cwm. It’s one of the world’s finest views, all the sweeter because you have to earn it. We celebrated the only way that Brits know (with back-slapping and beer opening) as a group of seven-summiteers trudged past. They didn’t share our elation – only trepidation showed in their eyes; our adventure was nearly over, theirs had barely begun.
There was only one thing standing in-between us and a hot shower in Namche, and that was Kala Patthar, the rocky peak two kilometres back from Everest Base Camp, just above the lodge at Gorak Shep. A steep three-hour climb, it’s a prized tick since it offers the one thing that Everest Base Camp cannot: a classic view of the actual summit of Everest. But, at two hundred metres higher than Base Camp itself, would we make it?
Early light saw a line of sleepy-eyed zombies silently file out of the hut, cross the dusty plateau (soon to see a cricket match) and, heads bowed, start the plod up. The line quickly spread out – this was something you had to tackle at your own pace. Much steeper than the approach to Base Camp, the ascent boiled down to two choices: you could either slow to a crawl, trying to control your laboured breathing or let the ragged gasping build up until you had to sag onto your poles, pretending to admire the view. I choose a mixture of both, throwing in plenty of camera stops for good measure. Deaglan, meanwhile, appeared to be jogging.
Whoever designed Kala Patthar had a mean streak – at this altitude the last thing you want is an endless succession of false horizons - but eventually the final summit eased into view, with Deaglan, just visible, relaxing in the early-morning sun. Another half hour of Diamox-assisted heavy breathing saw me to the summit prayer flags, the long-awaited classic view of Everest summit, and the unexpected smell of a Malboro Light sending my stomach into flips again. Thanks doc. Over the next half an hour, the rest of the team staggered in, cheered on by those who’d already made it. It was a far cry from just over a week ago: our disparate gang of fresh-faced individuals had turned into a wild-eyed and sun-frazzled seasoned trekking team. We’d just reached one of the highpoints of our lives - and before breakfast.
It was all downhill from there. Seven days later I was deposited at home, bearded and be-laden with handfuls of Kathmandu’s best tat, the flags of Kala Patthar summit already a fading dream. But I’ll be back. Everest captures the imagination like no other mountain on earth, and the Everest Base Camp trek is like no other walk you’ll ever experience. It’s a privilege to be up there – just don’t forget the Diamox. And, well, maybe take up smoking too.
Other blogs for this trip
- Everest Base Camp
- Everest Base Camp Trek - March 2010
- En route
- Everest Base Camp 11th March 2011
- Everest Base Camp Trek - 4th November 2011
- Everest 2011
- India: Exploring the great north/south divide
- Everest Base Camp: Experiencing the real Nepal
- Everest Base Camp 2nd April : Anyone going ???
- All the hard work is worthwhile on the Everest Base Camp tour
- everest base camp 'base camp buddies'
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