- Starting elevation: 16,863 ft / 5,140 m
- Ending elevation: 12,687 ft / 3,867 m
- Elevation change: -4,176 ft / -1,273 m
- Starting oxygen: 54% of sea level
- Ending oxygen: 64% of sea level
- Distance covered: 13 mi / 21 km
- Time hiked: 9h 00m
Without a single cloud in the sky and with Everest rising up in front of me like some mythical creature emerging from the depths of the ocean, I find the long walk down Kala Patthar far more enjoyable than my sludge up through darkness.
Despite my boosted morale and preference for downhill travel, when I finally get back to Gorak Shep after almost an hour of descending Kala Patthar, I am exhausted. Time for a hearty breakfast of mac and cheese with tomato sauce to prepare my body for what I expect will be some serious altitude loss.
While forcing myself to drink two liters of water, a couple from New Zealand decides I’m interesting enough to engage them in friendly conversation. They tell me the other group of people in the lodge, from Singapore, have a hiker who needs to be helicoptered back to Kathmandu because of altitude sickness.
Where is this hiker of theirs, I wonder. Turns out it’s one of the girls happily chatting and interacting with her friends.
Now I am not a doctor (I occasionally need to check WebMD to confirm I have cancer), and I don’t know this particular person’s circumstances, but she looks to be doing pretty well for someone who apparently needs an airlift out of the mountains. If I was in need of rescue, I would expect to be in a lot worse shape than this girl.
Calling a chopper to bring you back down from Base Camp is a running joke on the road to Everest Base Camp, and it seems that this person is doing just that (but again, I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable medical explanation why valuable resources need be used to deliver this person back to civilization – surely she isn’t just taking advantage of the insurance she took out before heading into the mountains).
Seeing a helicopter land in Gorak Shep’s playa would be an exciting thing to see, but I’ve got a long day ahead of me, and with my destination still unknown, I decide it’s time to get moving.
The trail down to Lobuche puts up very little resistance, and I soon find myself 2,000 ft / 610 m below where I was standing just a few hours ago.
I run into Mike, a Dane living in Australia who I have met a few times already, who has just arrived in Lobuche from Dughla on his was to Pheriche. Turns out that our meeting is favorable for Mr. Mike because I inform him that he is heading in the wrong direction (north instead of south). He was suspicious of this after having to cross Dughla Pass on what he believed to be his way down, but apparently someone had told him that this was where he needed go. Lies.
Together we head south from Lobuche back over >Thokla Pass, through Dughla, and then down the valley and into Periche.
Having arrived at his day’s destination (13,910 ft / 4,240 m), Mike treats me to a delicious lunch of pizza and milk tea (thanks, Mike!). He tells me stories about his days of traveling around Australia (via some magic bus that apparently just does circles around the country) and hiking the Outback. Note to self: go to Australia.
The prospect of staying the night in Periche tempts me, but for somewhat irrational reasons (because there’s still daylight) I decide that I must continue my push down the mountains and into the sunset.
The trail up to Everest Base Camp does not have too much in the way of alternates, but my detour to Periche (instead of passing again through Dingboche) provides me with the opportunity to explore a new route on the way down.
Coming up I took a trail through the valley between Pangboche and Dingboche, now I opt to follow a parallel trail along the crest of the mountains that descends and meets back with my original path in Pangboche. What I don’t realize is that this trail requires a fair bit of climbing from Periche to the crest. Fortunately I’ve lost a lot of elevation the lack of oxygen is no longer a barrier to breathing.
Arriving in Pangboche (12,893 ft / 3,930 m),I pass a group of hikers and ask their guide how far it is to the next town, Tengboche (12,664 ft / 3,860 m). He tells me about an hour, and since the hiking is all downhill, I decide I’ll chance it in the dark.
What I forget to consider is that the trail just north of Tengboche (aka the trail I’m walking down) had (and still has) the most snow and ice that I’ve encountered on the trail. This translates into an incredibly frustrating hike; with every step, I risk slipping and tumbling into the dark abyss in front of me (I manage to only hit the deck once). Slowly slipping through the dark I eventually make my way to the familiar village of Tengboche – and do so in longer than the promised one hour.
I hate night hiking.
My friend from night four on the trail is still hard at work preparing dinner for the lodge’s many guests, and he happily agrees to allow me to sleep on the lodge’s second story deck once more (although he’s still shocked that I’m excited about doing this).
Aimlessly circling the dining hall and wafting my undeniable stench about at innocent dinner-eaters and those still fresh on the trail, I notice that a group of Japanese trekkers is eating what appears gourmet (at least in terms of everything I’ve seen until this point).
I ask them the source of this marvelous looking calorie refill and it turns out that they have porters carrying all their own food for them. It also turns out that they aren’t excited about sharing with me (but 日本語を話します!). That’s alright because I am happy to end my day the same way it began: with mac and cheese with tomato sauce.
Outside on the deck I find two more Japanese visitors taking long-exposure shots of the surrounding mountains. They look horrified as I set up my sleeping bag on the ground, and it isn’t long before they retreat inside to escape the howling wind (in their defense, and in praise of my sleeping bag, it is freezing).
Tonight I fall asleep in the same place I was almost a week ago. 5,545 vertical ft / 1,690 m below my high point today.
Turns out the way down is a lot quicker than the way up.