- Starting elevation: 16,142 ft / 4,920 m
- Ending elevation: 16,863 ft / 5,140 m
- Elevation change: +721 ft / 220 m
- Starting oxygen: 56% of sea level
- Ending oxygen: 54% of sea level
- Distance covered: 2.67 mi / 4.3 km
- Time hiked: 3 h 00 m
What time is it?
It's still dark outside. Why am I awake? What's that noise?
Oh, it's someone throwing up. Fantastic. Are they literally in front of my door? Are the walls just really thin? Why am I sleeping indoors again? I really hope this person doesn't plan on continuing up the mountain if this violent vomiting has come about because of the altitude.
It's 5:00 and as much as I would like to head back into a comatose, hallucinogenic state, the thought of becoming stricken down by altitude sickness has gotten my adrenaline pumping. Time to get up.
I filter and drink my morning liter of water before packing my things and heading out (I'm skipping breakfast because of how the lodge treated me and my fellow solo travelers last night).
My first destination today is Gorak Shep (गोराशप) – the last stop before Everest Base Camp (and where most hikers spend the night before summiting Kala Patthar at sunrise; however, I may do this at sunset instead).
Maybe it's because today's my earliest start of the trek, or maybe it's just the elevation, but the cold is extreme enough to warrant hiking in my base layers (which literally haven't come off once since Dingboche), my lightweight gloves, and my heavy down jacket for the first half of the morning.
The hike out of Lobuche climbs steadily along the Khumbu Glacier and past the trail for the Italian Pyramid.
What the hell is the Italian Pyramid?
Unfortunately it is not an ambiguously named pizza shop, nor the latest Cirque du Soleil act doing some high altitude training. It is a three-story glass, aluminum, and steel scientific research center with the mission of studying environment, climate, human physiology, and geology in a remote mountain area – more formally known as The Pyramid International Laboratory/Observatory (and who says being a scientist is boring?).
I decide to save the side trip for the way down since today I am hoping to make it not only to Gorak Shep, but all the way to Everest Base Camp.
The climbing isn't long, steep, or intense, but the elevation (and subsequent lack of oxygen) has seriously started to affect me.
Despite the hiking being relatively easy with a gentle incline, each time I climb the equivalent of four flights of stairs (is this not the standard unit of measurement for climbing?), I am exhausted and gasping for air. At the end of each bit of uphill my muscles feel as if they have been turned off, and I need to wait (and usually also have to sit down) for them to recharge before moving forward (but maybe I'm just fat, lazy, and out of shape).
After two hours of hiking I run into Franklin (whom I met in Tengboche and who accompanied me all the way to Dughla) returning from his successful trip to Base Camp this morning. He tells me that there isn't much further to go, and that I should be able to make it there and back to Gorak Shep before dark.
The next bit of trail dips down between two hills before climbing back up to the same elevation I'm currently standing at. Lamesauce. However, there is a ridge just west of the trail that looks easily traversable (which means not having to lose any elevation).
So what do I get for my gamble? It turns out the ridge and hillside are covered with ice and incredibly loose scree. About halfway into the endeavour I admit defeat and head down into the ravine to meet back up with the trail (now far more exhausted then I would have been otherwise).
Atop the last hill before Gorak Shep, I run into Bain and Sara's trekking group (who I first met on my first day out of Lukla). They are also returning from a successful trip to Base Camp (you guys think you're better than me!?).
Their guide, the kindest and most genuine I've met thus far, talks to me about my Kala Patthar options (I still don't know if I want to sunset or sunrise climb) before they continue down the mountains towards Dingboche.
Gorak Shep is actually a frozen lakebed, and this becomes very obvious as soon as I arrive.
Looking across the long, flat, sandy area that stretches to the west and north of the outpost, I would think that I was in the desert (if it wasn't for the frigid temperatures, 20,000 ft / 6,100 m peaks, and threat of yeti attacks). Gorak Shep has plenty of space for pitching tents for those of you who've become fed up with the lodges.
Walking towards the half-dozen buildings that collectively make up the tiny outpost, I again run into some familiar faces – three girls I met on the plane from Kathmandu to Lukla.
I guess I really did take an extra day coming up here because of my rough Chukhung-Ri acclimatization day and then my decision to stay the night in both Dughla and Lobuche. Regardless, I have enjoyed these mini-reunions and I am happy for my decisions to play it safe with the altitude (especially after seeing strong hikers forced to turn around because of altitude sickness scares).
I make the decision to hit Everest Base Camp today and then do Kala Patthar tomorrow for sunrise since I don't want to risk some freak weather or accident keeping me from making it to Base Camp.
I head into a lodge where I find Patrick (from yesterday) yelling at the employees about a pair of gloves they apparently stole from him. He's obviously not going to stay here, but since I am told the room will be free (and since I take my pack with me everywhere), I grab a key and head upstairs (where I then switch rooms because my original room's window is frozen shut – I like a frigid breeze whilst sleeping).
To celebrate my final waypoint and prepare me for the afternoon push to Everest Base Camp I get myself a small cheese pizza (for 550 rupees) and a small pot of hot water (for 320 rupees).
Time to go take a look at the tallest mountain on Earth.