Sunday, 27 May 2012

Getting to Everest Base Camp

Given it's now May and I'm not even halfway through the account of our trek, I think it's safe to say I might as well give up on the day-by-day commentary, and at least make some sort of belated attempt at a wrap-up of our trip so we can all move on!

One of the most rewarding days of our trek, which we hadn't even anticipated, was our side trip up Nangkartshang from our 'rest day' in Dingboche. The day - and view - was stunning, and these photos don't even really do it justice. I would highly, highly recommend it for anyone doing this trek, no matter how tired and lazy you're feeling by the time you get this far.
The view from Nangkartshang -  Taboche & Cholatse  

The amazing view - see the original sized panorama here
The next highlight (and climax of the trip) was probably getting to the top of Kala Pattar, approximately 5,600m above sea level.
Signs were surprisingly rare on the trek, so we had to take advantage where we could

Given the clear weather we decided to tackle this on the same day as our arrival into Gorek Shep, after dropping off our luggage and having a quick bowl of garlic 'rara' noodle soup at our guest house. I soon began to have deep food regret though, as the nausea of the altitude sickness had the most unsavoury effect on the contents of my stomach throughout the climb.
A happy yak in front of Pumori, on the path up Kala Pattar
We had a fantastic view of Pumori (7,161m) for much of the walk, but the track seemed endless. Each step was a struggle, I got out of breath probably about every 5m, and I wasn't even carrying our daypack. After a few hours, we finally got to the top and were rewarded with the view of a lifetime - Everest, Nuptse and the rest of the Himalayas in all their glory.

We made it!


Nuptse, looking more dramatic than Everest (as usual)
After we grabbed enough photos it was a relief to start heading back down, as the altitude was definitely becoming impossible to handle. It was a long trudge back to Gorek Shep, and when we got back inside the guest house we more or less lay comatose on the bench for a good half hour to an hour before having dinner and turning in for the night.

That's one way to make ice-water...
At 5,164m, Gorek Shep was the highest place we'd stayed on the trip (in fact, ever) and it was also the coldest. So cold that the water in our drink bottles froze overnight!

The next day, we decided to plough on and go to Everest Base Camp itself - our guide had already warned us that there was pretty much no view to be had, but we had time, and we'd come all this way already, so, why not?
This shot is deceptively sunny because we took it on our way back
We set out before the sun was fully up, and I can't remember what the exact temperature was but I have certainly never walked in such freezing conditions before. You know how walking/doing exercise usually warms you up? Well, turns out it doesn't always work like that - it was pretty much cold the entire way.

The fact that the track just slowly meandered around the rocks was very discouraging too. Unlike going uphill, you couldn't look down and see how much progress you'd made, and just when you think you're getting close, you turn a corner and there's just as far again to go. Overall, a very discouraging walk, and it wasn't long before we were wondering why we bothered at all, having already got our awesome view from the top of Kala Pattar the day before.

Perhaps our impatience at getting it all over and done with helped spur us on, because when we arrived at the 'camp' we were the first group that day, and the sun had yet to fill the valley. In fact, we ended up completing the round trip in just under 4 hours, as opposed to the usual time of 6 hours.

The Khumbu icefall as seen from EBC
Being the wrong time of the year there were no climbers camping in preparation for an ascent on Everest, but looking around at the rock and ice, I have to say I can't think of a more unpleasant place to spend three months (or however long it takes to acclimatise for the summit climb). The mountains still look impressive but it's quite claustrophobic, as opposed to the sorts of panoramic vistas you get from being on an actual peak.

The only reason we did the walk - to get this photo
Of course we had to grab a photo in front of the only evidence that we were actually at EBC - some rock where a thoughtful visitor had scrawled 'Everest Base Camp' with a black marker pen. I would have thought the Nepali government would invest in some sort of plaque, monument or official sign, but nope, just a rock with Vivid on it.

And that was pretty much it! We went back exactly the way we came, with the added bonus of going downhill most of the way and not having to worry about acclimatisation. It took 8 days to walk from Lukla to Gorek Shep, but only 3 days to return. After we got back to Kathmandu we ended up doing a side trip to Pokhara for a couple of days, which was pretty nice - apart from the 8 hour bus trip each way.

Pumori at sunset
Overall, it was a fantastic experience that I would recommend to anyone at some time in their lives. You simply can't beat seeing that sort of scenery with your own eyes, and as spectacular as the photos are, they truly don't do it justice.

Of course we took an insane number of photos, and even edited down there are 641 in our main Flickr album. For a cut-down version, we've selected the 45 best shots in one set. Finally, there's also a couple of panoramas James stitched together which have been added to our panorama set, starting with this shot taken in Kathmandu's Durbar Square.

Our favourite panorama from the trip (and maybe of all time) has got to be this one:
Taken from Kala Pattar - you can view the original 9700 x 3742 image here
And I'll save all my advice for another post - because I sure have plenty of it!

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