Day 12 - Mt. Everest Base Camp, Nepal
Day 12, May 10, 2018. 9.5 miles, Lobuche to EBC and back to Gorakshep, elevation 17,598.
I wake up tired and cold. It’s hard to get deep sleep at this high of an elevation and I’m starting to notice. My body is working hard in the night not only to keep me warm, but also to build more red blood cells to help circulate oxygen faster. It’s truly amazing how the body can adapt like this, but the lack of adequate rest is catching up. Like everyone else, I’ve started coughing and sniffling. Not sure if it’s just a symptom of dry air and breathing in dusty trail dirt, or if I’m actually coming down with something.
But I push all those thoughts aside because today is the day we’ve been waiting for! Today we’re gonna reach Base Camp, wahoo!! Mind over matter, baby!! Or for me anyway...Out in the dining room we learn that Heather’s turning back. Even though she has a successful Kilimanjaro summit under her belt, on this trip, the elevation is not agreeing with her body. She had a rough go at it yesterday and unfortunately, she’s not feeling any better today. The safest option for her is to descend. Thankfully we have an over abundance of guides and porters, so Alok and one of the boys will be heading back to Namche Bazaar with her. If her conditions don’t improve with descent, there’s always the option to chopper out to a hospital in Kathmandu. We wish her good health and Godspeed.
Soon enough, we’re back on the trail, heading up to our last “town” of the trip, Gorakshep. Gorakshep is really just a collection of a few buildings — more like an outpost than a true town — but a popular one at that! It’s the last stop before reaching Everest, Kala Patthar and a smattering of the other tallest mountains in the world. From here on out, there are no more permanent structures or amenities. And because so many folks are coming in and going out from here, we’re allowed reservations for one night only.
We warm up with an early lunch in the same teahouse we’ll be sleeping at later. It’s the most stripped down of accommodations that we’ve stayed at, but completely understandable considering our elevation and the sheer remoteness of the joint. Since it’s only one of a handful of options here, there’s no need for them to fluff it up for tourists. The fact that it’s even here is enough.
We haven’t been inside quite long enough for me to shake my chill before it’s time to rearrange gear and get going again. We have only a few hours to get up to and back from Base Camp for any hope of seeing it without cloud cover. As we ready our water supply for the afternoon, we find out that the nearby river / water source for this teahouse is running so low this late in the season that we’ll have to buy liters of bottled water to drink instead of filtering from the tap. I’m not even sure there is a tap to be honest, and considering the sewage system (or lack there of) in these parts, I’m all good with shelling out $5/bottle if it means not getting sick.
We head out of Gorakshep, round a bend and get our first close up views of the Khumbu icefall. This collection of centuries-old frozen water fills the valley between Everest and the Lhotse-Nuptse Ridge and it’s absolutely beautiful with its shades of turquoise and undulating texture. Though the size of the glacier and the icefall shift a bit from season to season, from what we’ve heard, it has receded noticeably over the last number of years. Nobody here questions whether or not climate change is real — global warming is affecting their daily lives.
We begin to see pops of yellow amongst all of the gray and the white that make up the snow and the rocks around us. These colorful domed tents are home for the season for those who are planning their summit attempts and for all of the porters, doctors, guides and sherpas who assist in facilitating those summit dreams. This is literally the seasonal camp at the base of Mt. Everest where climbers like Roman Romancini live for 4-6 weeks, getting themselves acclimated to the lack of oxygen in the air and training daily for the long push to the top. From what we learned the other night, it will still take 7 days of climbing to reach the summit, an unbelievable 11,431 feet higher, than Base Camp.
Two hours after leaving Gorkashep we reach the center of “tourist” base camp to find a big rock draped in loads of prayer flags and fellow trekking groups smiling and celebrating. The summit camps are stationed a bit further ahead and day hikers are asked politely to stick to the middle. Everyone is lining up to take their group photos and to take in the sights. The sky which was swirling with gray clouds about an hour ago has cleared a bit, allowing for some slices of blue to peak through and for us to take in some lovely warmth from the sun. Already, unbelievably, after 8 days of hiking, we’re here.
I get out my mini-tripod and set my camera to self-timer in order to capture our entire rag-tag group of New Yorkers, Nepalis and one Alabaman. William and Danny bust out a Puerto-Rican flag for their photo and joke that they’re the only Nuyoricans on Everest, or maybe even in all of Nepal. But really, it’s just amazing to see all of the people from different nations proudly sporting some home-town pride on this site.
After a brief 30 minutes of taking photos and craning our necks for a glimpse of what lies above, it’s already time to head back. Our guides are aware of what the clouds look like before the winds pick up and this height of 17,598 feet above sea level is taking its toll on our breathing. We leave, feeling happy, feeling accomplished, but somewhat reluctantly and well before we can begin to contemplate all of this significance.