Before we left for Base Camp, our lead guide Dawa had said that reaching Base Camp would change your life. He hadn’t elaborated much on it, but his words lingered on my mind as we hiked back to Gorak Shep from Base Camp. Had it changed my life? Not yet I didn’t think. I was half expecting Ghandi or Buddha or even the Dalai Lama – some sort of spiritual presence to appear to tell me how to live this new existence I had hiked toward. For me, Base Camp was a bit of a bore after the incredible hike we had completed over the 8 days, that I think the only thing that had changed about me was my tolerance level towards body odour. However I was unaware from tomorrow was bringing me and that, my friends, definitely changed me..
After my dinner of tomato soup it wasn’t long before the five of us hiking to Kala Patthar headed for bed. I’d had a strange feeling in my tummy pretty much straight after dinner but put it down as altitude and tried to ignore it. I fell asleep at 7:30pm while it was still light outside, ready to be woken at 3:50am. However about two hours later I woke up to searing pains in my stomach. Either I was having a very late case of altitude sickness or something I ate didn’t agree with me. I won’t go into vast detail here, no-one wants to hear about trying to negotiate stomach issues with a hole-in-the-ground toilet BUT it wasn’t my finest moment, I’ll tell you that much. I had about an hours sleep that night and went back on forth about my decision to hike Kala Patthar or not.
3:50am rolled around and my alarm started going off. I’d popped an Imodium a few hours earlier and felt the tiniest bit better albeit very empty! I lay there for a moment, thinking I could just stay in bed and sleep but I didn’t want to miss out on this last chance to see Everest. Base Camp had been such an anti-climax, I needed something else to feel like this hike was definitely worth it. My stubbornness got the best of me and I slowly got out of bed and tied up my hiking boots for the last time in this altitude.
I met the rest of the group in the hallway and by 4:05am we were outside, ready to tackle this last viewpoint. The five of us plus two of our guides Krishna & Dipak (Lead guide Dawa had the privilege of sleeping in!) all looked worn out and un-enthusiastic. I said to C & B, the two other Aussie girls that I’d had a dreadful night sleep and C said she’d gone through the same drama. We must of been playing tag with the bathroom and she looked like how I felt. Pale, drained and not wanting to be there.
Nonetheless, we set off behind Dipak with our feet dragging and bodies wrapped in many layers of clothes. It was the coldest it had been on the trek, but the chilly morning air was a nice change from the stuffy lodge. Being up this high, we were breathing in probably the cleanest air in the world so even though my stomach hated me, my lungs should be happy at least. The hike to Kala Patthar was about 400m higher in altitude and pretty much uphill the whole way. It was still dark so led by our head torches, we slowly made our way up step by step.
I was moving at glacial pace (pun intended) Between gasping for air every two steps and unsure whether I was going projectile my insides everywhere, I was not in good shape. Dropping behind the group I shuffled forward slowly. Poor Krishna who had to remain at the back of the group just stood still for awhile to let me get ahead a bit. The upside to this whole experience was the view. Dawn was starting to wash away the night sky and expose us to our surroundings. We couldn’t have picked a clearer day and as the mountains came into the light, Krishna pointed out which one was which. Including Mt Everest, who finally, FINALLY showed her face! This was the best view of Everest we’d get in Nepal. I’d have to bounce over to Tibet for a more grand view.
I sat down and set up my cameras as the sunrise brought on an epic light show. I felt so crook that I didn’t even care about going to the top of Kala Patthar. I’d gone about halfway, seen Everest in clear view and I was done. My stomach wanted to punish me for eating white rice and white potatoes for a week and I was willing to accept what it was going to throw at me. I told the group to keep going and that i wanted to shoot a time-lapse of the sunrise, when actually I just wanted to curl up in the dirt and nurse my aching stomach. Krishna was hesitant to leave one of the group behind but I said I’d sit there and wait until they came back done. This little black duck was staying put.
The sunrise was fabulous, the sky shone colours I didnt think it could and again I was swept away with mountain madness. These snowy peaks could stare down at me alllllllllll day. As daylight seeped in past the mountain and the sky faded to blue, the sunrise was over and I was suddenly sitting alone as everyone else had hiked on. I had a sudden urge to keep walking. The little voice inside my head who tells me to harden up whenever I get tired or out of breath was back and she was in a right proper mood. Before I could protest, she was pulling out all stops – I’d come so far, I’d paid all this money, there was a 50 year man who was ahead of me – this little voice was downright pushy! She finally talked me into going to the top so I pulled my backpack on and started the slow trek to the top of Kala Patthar.
Cursing the little voice in my head as I hiked uphill, I knew she would be right, she always bloody was! It was here I discovered an awful habit that I have. I hate going slow. I should have realised this earlier in life but as Dawa said, Base Camp will change your life – even if this means discovering things about yourself. I’m one of those people that watch what level the person next to me on the treadmill is on so I can run faster. When I swim laps I race the person in the lane beside me. Slow walkers are a pet hate and I’ve never stuck with yoga because everything about it is so slow! This habit had subsided for most of the trek, I’d bounce ahead at times but wanting to stay with my group, I would steady my pace by falling in behind someone. It’s not to say that sometimes I physically cannot go any pace but slow, I’m not super fit. But being beaten by someone is what drives me to go faster and I do it without even realising. Here I was standing about 5,300m above sea level, with minimal air and I was still trying to race. Without someone in front of me steadying my pace, I would take 10 steps really quickly before having to stop, hunch over panting like an unfit racehorse for a minute before starting the vicious cycle again. With my group well ahead of me, I was on a time restraint to get to the top. A time restraint that only I had inflicted upon myself.
It wasn’t long before I’d caught up to Krishna (I think he’d just sat down for awhile) and about forty minutes later I could see the tip of Kala Patthar and my group staggering towards the top. Two of the group had already made it but there were still two not far from me now. With my pattern of taking five quick steps and then stopping for air for a minute, I was only fifty or so metres from the top of Kala Patthar but I seemed to be getting nowhere. To get to the top wouldn’t just require walking though. It was pretty much a precariously stacked pile of rocks, covered in prayer flags and early morning frost. If I thought the view was good before, I was shook by the landscape now.
As I climbed higher on the rocks (yes actually climb, this was far more intense than I had bargained for) I was welcome by 360 degrees of spectacular views. From the Everest mountain range, to glacial pools glowing below, to an extremely sharp drop down a glacier on one side – I now understood why Kala Patthar was such a highlight. The view was ridiculous! I negotiated myself to the very top that stood at 5612m above sea level and felt like I was on top of the world! This was the highest I’d ever been (probably the highest I’ll ever be!) and the sick feeling I was feeling early was like a distant memory. I carefully took my photos – we’ve all been warned about people dying trying to take selfies on mountain edges – and breathed in the cleanest air I ever have. The adrenaline was running through my veins and this endorphin rush had blown away my sickness and replaced it with absolute euphoria. Life was good!
As I had taken a billion years to reach the top, I was only at the top of Kala Patthar for 15 minutes for so before it was time to head back to Gorak Shep. This was the only downfall of going with an organised tour – deadlines are everything. I slowly made my way off the lookout point by gracefully (not!) sliding down the icy rocks until I was in a safer place. The clouds had rolled in and created a layer between us and Gorak Shep – yep, we were so high that we were above the clouds!. The hike back down took about an hour and we were in Gorak Shep before 8am.We were in dining room before the others and they couldn’t believe we’d already been and gone to Kala Patthar. We showed them pictures and I felt slightly superior that I’d been tough enough to be one of the few to make it all the way. Plus all three of us Aussie girls made it, proving that girl power is really a thing!
After breakfast – which I gingerly ate, I felt better but still worried about what my stomach might do – we began the hike home. It was going to take four days to reach Lukla and now that we’d done what we’d come to do, I had no motivation left. I was in good company too, everyone struggled to find the will to hike. We tried to justify lashing out on a helicopter ride back but in the end put our headphones in and hiked silently back down. There’s a lot to be said about willpower on this trek. It’s absolutely essential to be strong on the way to Base Camp but I think it’s more important on the way back down. With nothing to hike towards except a hot shower and a good meal, every step hurt just a little bit more.
The four days dragged on a bit but we finally made it back to Lukla for one last scary ride to Kathmandu. Base Camp had been an amazing experience and I’m so happy I got to share it with these fantastic group of people. When the random thought of hiking to Base Camp crossed my mind at the start of the year, I thought it would be pushed back into the ‘too hard’ pile in my head. However every other plan I made or trip I researched just didnt sound as appealing so I stuck with visiting Nepal and here I am, having just climbed to the base of the highest mountain in the world. That little voice in my head was right again and even though I’m smelly with greasy hair and sore feet, I couldnt be happier!
Now for a couple of weeks to explore the rest of Nepal!