Today is the day! The big one! The one we have all been waiting for – BASE CAMP DAY!
It was a little bittersweet to be honest, we’d come so far not just physically but mentally and now the whole reason was that we were here was finally upon us. I kind of wanted it to not to happen so I could keep hanging out with this great bunch of people in this beautiful landscape, but I also kind of wanted a shower and something to eat other than rice and Dal Bat.
We woke up for a 5am brekkie and 5:30am departure. Everyone was quiet this morning, mainly because of the early start. It was a 3 hour hike to Gorak Shep, where we would stop for food and to drop off any belongings we didn’t need to take to Base Camp and then hike on for another two hours to Base Camp. We were leaving so early because we would potentially also be hiking to Kala Patthar to watch the sunset, pending on the weather. If I could knock out these three hikes today, I think I may just be Superwoman.
The hike to Gorak Shep wasn’t too difficult in regards to the trail – it was ‘Nepali Flat’ for the most part – but the early morning chill and the thin air made for a very silent hike. Our lead guide Dawa asked us to stick together for this stretch because landslides in the past have made the path difficult to find. This proved painful and annoying for the majority of the group who walked at around the same pace and had to wait for the few slowest hikers. It was good for the increasing altitude though, giving our bodies time to adjust. We were just eager to get to Gorak Shep so the waiting was kind of driving us mad!
Our surroundings had completely morphed into a moon-like landscape, with absolutely no vegetation and millions of grey and white pebbles at our feet. It was a sparse and lonely area, with the only thing around us being yaks and a few other hikers. I couldn’t imagine doing this alone, the desolate landscape was kind of spooky. If you took a wrong turn, you could disappear into the mountains forever.
The final climb into Gorak Shep was up and down and across small glacial rivers. There seemed to be no specific path, Krishna, who was leading the way, just seemed to know where Gorak Shep was and went in that general vicinity. We had collected a small herd of dogs from Lobuche who followed us to Gorak Shep and become quite loyal to us. I think one of the boys was feeding them beef jerky though!
Finally we reached Gorak Shep and put our stuff away at our lodge. This tiny village did not look appealing in the slightest. Like a bunch of containers had just been dropped from the sky, this little town was the starting point for those climbing the summit. Personally I wouldn’t want to stay here any longer than we were, between the high altitude and the lack of hygienic facilities, Gorak Shep definitely wasn’t one of my favourite villages.
We had a ‘second breakfast’ (fuel for hiking) before setting out for Base Camp. The mood was hard to pick. We were all exhausted from the altitude and the past week of hiking, yet excited to finally get there. Some of the front runners of the entire trip had worn themselves out and were now struggling severely. The Super Six appeared to be in good spirits, we’d been taking it nice and easy the whole way and watchful of each other. I was glad to be apart of our little group. I’d developed a headache not long after arriving at Gorak Shep but after popping a Panadol and guzzling more water, it seemed to have resided for now.
We were at 5,100m above level and had to climb to about 5,300m. The final stretch to Base Camp wasn’t too difficult. I keep saying this but honestly now that I’ve done it, the pain I felt at the time seemed insignificant to how I felt being surrounded by the stunning landscape. I was so blown away by the mountains that it erased all my memory of hard hiking. It was hard, I wont lie, but it wasn’t impossible and definitely a mind over matter situation. We reached the top of the final climb before Base Camp and could see the colourful prayer flags swaying in the wind. Only minutes away from our destination, I had a new wave of energy.
Walking carefully amongst the pebbly floor, I rushed to Base Camp where the faster people in our group already were. Now I’m going to be completely honest here. . . Base Camp was a bit underwhelming. I feel like such a bad person for saying this but honestly, had I known beforehand that we’d walked this entire way – about 70km or so – for a rock covered in prayer flags, I probably wouldn’t have made the effort. I understand the significance of it all and wouldn’t take it back for a second but to be greeted by an icy rock covered in flags was a little, well … disappointing.
In saying this, we were there in low season so the place was quite bare. Apparently in high season Base Camp is buzzing with hikers attempting the summit, with their tents sprouted all over the rocky terrain. Thankfully i wasn’t the only one with the same feeling. Most of the group were a bit dismayed by the actual Base Camp. But to achieve this end point with this group of people was definitely something I don’t regret!
I walked past Base Camp and suddenly wasn’t so disappointed. In front of me stood the infamous Khumbu icefall, the first real challenge of making it to Summit. I was in awe of this glacial creation. It felt like I’d been transported to Antarctica. With two others B and G, we made our way down to the Icefall to have an explore. The ice sculptures glowed white and turquoise and there as a rushing stream with bitterly cold, glacial water. Whatever disappointment I felt about Base Camp evaporated and I was so excited to be amongst this incredible glacier. Not wanting to leave I raced around taking as many photos as I could, touching the ice – terrified it might melt in front of me but eager to explore deeper.
Unfortunately the afternoon had brought with it heavy clouds and our hopes of hiking to Kala Patthar washed away in the glacial stream. It looks like we were waking up early for the sunrise! There was a positive though, we now weren’t in a rush to get back to Gorak Shep because there was nothing to do for the afternoon. Taking this opportunity to spend more time exploring the icefall and enjoy being at the base of the highest mountain in the world, we didnt start the hike back to Gorak Shep for another couple of hours.
Back at Gorak Shep by 4pm-ish, we had a couple of hours until dinner and then those of us braving Kala Patthar were off to bed. It was much warmer in the dining area than our rooms so most of us sat in around the large tables, comparing photos and energy levels. Dinner was a bit quiet, we were all bloody knackered. I downed by tomato soup (straight from a tin – yummo! ) and headed to bed. There were only five of us attempting Kala Patthar tomorrow morning as the rest of the group bowed out – either struck down by altitude sickness or just plain exhausted. However Dawa and Krishna promised us the clearest view of Everest yet and I couldn’t pass that opportunity! I was in bed at 7:30pm with my alarm set for 3:50am. Sunrise here we come!