But that night in Lobuche the cold didn´t bother us. Nothing could bother us. Because the next day we would get to see what we had been waiting for all these days. The reason why we were walking this trek in the first place. Everest Base Camp – tomorrow we would get there. It was only another five hours walk and 450 metres height away.
Day 8: Lobuche (4910m) to Gorak Shep (5140m) 6.15 am – 3.15 pm
And there it was. The day of the days. We had walked for seven days straight to finally wake up knowing: Today we will reach Everest Base Camp. (Well if we didn´t die of the cold or altitude before.) All we had to do was another five hours hiking as well as surrendering 450 metres in altitude. We were ready! We got up at 5.45 am, got into our freezing (and mind you quite smelly) trekking clothes, put on our boots and walked out into the still dark morning. And hell, it was cold. We started walking away from our teahouse but stopped in our steps only a few metres later. There was one thing we hadn´t thought about when getting up this early – it was too early. No one was walking yet. You might think now, oh well, whatever, just start walking anyways. You see, the thing was – in the beginning of the EBC trek it really was no issue to walk without a guide. There were clear path, signs everywhere and you knew exactly which way to go. But the higher you get up, the less paths you see. And at one point they just don´t exist anymore. Which wasn´t much of an issue because there was always a group in sight that you could just follow. But on Day 8 at 6 am in the morning there was no one out there. Just Mike, me and the Himalayas surrounding us – with no idea where to go. So all we could do was wait. Luckily enough, we didn´t have to wait for too long and after a few more minutes Sherpas and Guides were coming out of the teahouses, ready for the hike up to Gorak Shep. The second the first Sherpa started to walk, we were following him. There was a good reason we had gotten up this early. I told you before: the higher you go, the smaller the villages get. Which means less available rooms. To make sure we would be able to sleep in our own room the next night we were now walking in the freezing cold at 6 am in the morning. Trying to keep up with that one Sherpa in front of us. Which was obviously impossible. Luckily for us there were more and more Sherpas hiking along now so I was able to walk in my speed and still able to follow someone ahead of me. While Mike was speeding ahead. After only a few hundred metres I almost couldn´t see him anymore. But that was fine, I knew we would meet up again – latest in two hours at our base for the next night, Gorak Shep.
So I walked and walked, slowly but steadily, trying to warm up. After half an hour or so I felt quite thirsty so I grabbed my water bottle which was in a side pocket of my backpack. Only to see that the hole in the bottle had frozen. That´s how cold it was. So no water for me then. Instead I kept on hiking – and coming closer and closer to the next mountain behind which lay Gorak Shep. If you could see the hill now that had to be conquered you would probably laugh and say: “Well it´s not thaaat steep.” True. Exactly what I would have thought. If I would have been at 2000 metres. But I had learned at this part of the journey that altitude really is a thing. And at that moment we were at 5000 metres above sea level. Which meant that getting up this hill would be an absolute nightmare. But I had also learned something else: Get your head down and set one foot in front of the other. Breathe slowly and steadily. And then set one foot in front of the other. So that´s what I did. Well at least for the first 50 steps. Until I had to stop, standing with my hands on my hips, trying to catch my breath. It´s a mad feeling – when you are breathing in, but you can´t actually feel any air entering your body. I started to hike again but with every step I felt weaker and weaker. I had to constantly tell myself (with my inner voice as I definitely didn´t have enough breath to actually speak out loud) to keep on walking. To set one foot in front of the other. My breathing became harder and harder and at one point I felt so exhausted that I couldn´t help myself – I started crying. Well, if there is only one tip I can give you for the next time you are in high altitude: Don´t start crying. Really, just don´t do it. You know why? The next time you cry, pay attention to your breathing. Goes pretty quick and unsteady when you cry, doesn´t it. Not exactly what you want when you´re standing half way up a mountain at 5000 metres. The moment I had started to sob I could feel how breathing got three times worse. I gasped for air but because of the sobbing no air seemed to actually enter my lung. So only a few seconds after I had started crying I told myself to freaking stop it right now. Get yourself together and hike up this damn stupid mountain, Alina.
So that´s what I did. It felt like an eternity but at one point (it was probably only like an hour) I had made it – I was standing on top of the hill and 20 metres below I could see the town Gorak Shep. I have to let you know, the word town is used very loosely here. Really, all it was were four teahouses. Surrounded by mountains and streams. It was beautiful. And freezing. I made my way down and suddenly I saw a figure that looked quite like Mike. He was coming out of one of the four guesthouses. Did that mean he had been able to secure us a bed? Or was it already full? We had been lucky! When I finally caught up to him I could see the smile on his face – we had a room. We couldn´t go in because people hadn´t left yet but Mike had been able to put our names down. Which was a blessing – as he had already asked for rooms in the other three remaining guesthouses. They had already been full. At 8 am in the morning. Most of their rooms are constantly reserved for the big travel groups – which was exactly the reason why we had been right in leaving so early. So now that we knew we had a bed to sleep in that night, we could focus on the next most important thing – food. Getting up at 6 am in the morning and hiking for two hours surely gets you pretty hungry. Not to mention the four hour round trip that still lay in front of us that day. We needed a solid breakfast. And we didn´t care how much it would cost. So we got ourselves two pieces of cheese on toast as well as extra beans and extra eggs – only coming to a total of 10 US $ each… (And with “only” I mean the exact opposite. Compared to normal Nepalese prices it was really expensive. But when you considered the fact that someone brought all those ingredients up on the exact 8 days hike we had just done – well, sounds pretty fair then, doesn´t it?) To be honest, it could have been any price. When you hike, you need to eat and a clear, thin garlic soup was just not going to do it for me that morning. We had our breakfast, brought our bags into our room and then it was time. The last hike was lying in front of us. Two more hours and 300 metres difference in altitude and we would be where we wanted to get to all along – Everest Base Camp. Would we make it?
Hike to Everest Base Camp (5364m)
We stepped out of our teahouse, turned left and right in front of us was the sign “To Everest Base Camp”. Oh, how I couldn´t wait to get there. We made our way along a beautifully clear stream that wound through the valley. After half an hour anything you could have called a path was completely gone. All that was left where big rocks – in front of us, next to and behind us. Once more we were following others as we had zero idea which way to walk. And believe me – you needed to know where to go. As one wrong step might as well meant a fall of a couple of metres. We hiked up and down, over the rocks, between them and at times even kind of crawled. And then we saw it. It was still too far away to really see it but a good few hundred metres away from us there seemed to be a congregation of people. So we made our way down the rocks, climbing along the glaciers that now completely surrounded us. Then it was a last hill up. And finally, we were suddenly there. We had made it. In front it lay it – the Base Camp for the highest mountain on this planet.
Now, you probably think there were lots of tents and people who were getting ready to climb up Everest. This was not the case. As we came in the end of October the season was not right for Everest mountaineers. If you want to see them you have to come in April. But as we knew this before it was nothing that disappointed. In fact, before deciding to do the trek we had heard of many other backpackers that Everest Base Camp itself isn´t actually that exciting as there is literally nothing there at this time of the year. But let me tell you – it couldn`t have been more perfect. For me it was about the journey. The fact that this little spot on earth was the place where people got ready to conquer the mountain of all mountains. It was the goal of this hike – and I had just reached it. We had made it. And by realizing this I couldn´t help but getting a little bit emotional. I sat down in the snow and let a few tears roll down my eyes. I was standing at Everest Base Camp, let that sink in. It was one of those moments you just know that you have achieved something big. One of those moments you won`t forget for the rest of your life.
We felt like this was a worthy moment for the second and last Snickers. Probably the best tasting Snickers I have ever had. And then it was picture time. Even though the more travelling I do the less pictures I take – this was definitely a place they had to be taken. We stayed for a little while longer, a few of the highest mountains in the world surrounding us, realizing how small we were compared to the unbelievable size and power of nature. Then it was time to head back. When we reached Gorak Shep we could feel we had done six hours of high altitude walking – I couldn´t wait to sit in the warm teahouse with the biggest pot of tea available. It was all pretty unreal. There we were sitting, sipping a hot brew, and just two hours before we had really been at Base Camp – I couldn´t believe it all. And the journey wasn´t done yet. The next morning we had to conquer one last big hill. Kala Patthar – the viewpoint on 5550 metres from where you were supposed to have the most amazing view over the Himalayas. So we went to bed early (well, as early as always really) and even though we were now sleeping at the highest altitude we had ever spent the night at – I slept better than I had any night before.
Day 9: Gorak Shep (5140m) to Pheriche (4240m) 6.45 am – 4.30 pm
The alarm woke us at 6.30 am the next morning. It was freezing. Even under the blanket. We quickly changed in our trekking clothes and made our way downstairs to the common area. We had decided the night before that we wouldn´t hike up for the sunrise. Though the idea of watching the sun come up over the Himalayas sounded amazing in theory, we had heard that the reality looked a little different. Because of the sun not being up, the temperature at 4.30 am (that´s the time people who went for the sunrise had to start their hike) was incredibly low. And as we really didn´t have the warmest clothes (my gloves had holes in them…) we had decided to “only” start at 6.30 am. So when we came downstairs there where actually people who had already come back. I remember thinking: “These guys look shattered…” I should shortly learn why.
Hike to Kala Patthar (5550m)
Right behind the teahouse was the hill that we had to walk up to get to the viewpoint. We had seen it the day before so we knew what to expect. It was steep. What we didn´t know: This hill wasn´t the only one that had to be conquered. Slowly but surely we were walking up the hill – only to come to the top and seeing another hill in front of us. But that didn´t even bother me that much at that point. What really got to me was the cold. It was absolutely freezing. You know the kind of cold where you can´t feel your feet or hands anymore? It was that times ten. I was slowly hiking, my head down, Mike somewhere quite ahead of me. And I was just so cold. The sun hadn´t come out behind the mountains yet and even though I was walking I couldn´t seem to get warmer. And the rising altitude didn´t make it better. I was so cold, I could barely breath and I just couldn´t help myself – I stopped in my steps, tried to catch my breath and exhaustion took over. All I wanted to do was sit down and cry. A sob came up my throat but like the day before it made breathing even harder. So I pulled myself together and started walking again. If I didn´t already know it before that trip I surely knew it now – I am a highly stubborn person. If I see that other people can do something, well of course I can do it too then. And I tell you what: There was no way – absolutely NO WAY – that I had just hiked up eight days these mountains to give up a few hundred metres before the end. I was going to get up this stupid mountain and if I crawled up – I was going to do it. So I walked on – and finally, oh finally, the sun came out. I can´t describe to you what this sun meant to me at that moment. How incredible the warmth of the sun can be. I actually started to have some feelings again in my hands and feet. It was such a relief. With renewed energy I made it up the second hill. And there it was – the viewpoint. In between it and me – 100 metres in height and a last rocky steep climb. So I got my head down and walked. One foot in front of the other, trying to get as much air as possible in my lungs. You have to know, at an altitude of 5000 metres the oxygen level is only 50% of what we get at sea level. So trying to get air into your lungs is actually a thing. Halfway up a couple of Australian women passed me by coming down. They could see me struggling and one of them said to me: “You are doing great girl. Only a few more metres and you have made it!” I could have hugged her. Really, in moments like those, the kindness of people can be all that´s needed. I fastened my pace and with every step I got closer I felt more and more energy.
At this point I should mention that the “viewpoint” wasn´t really what you probably have in mind now. There was no flat area with a flag of Nepal hanging and stalls selling hot tea. No map of the mountains you are looking at. No, this was the Everest region. And therefore the viewpoint was the peak of Kala Patthar. A peak that is made out of big rocks that are scrambled on top of each other with a few of Nepal´s famous peace flags, that someone stuck to the rocks. I climbed and scrambled and then finally I was there. I couldn´t go any further. I had made it up to the peak of Kala Patthar. I was standing at 5550 metres and I was surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world. It was insane!
Still Day 9: Gorak Shep (5140m) to Pheriche (4240m) 6.45 am – 4.30 pm
And then it was time to head back down. We had a long day ahead of us. We slid back down to Gorak Shep, had another mighty breakfast made out of cheesy toast, eggs and beans, put on our backpacks and started the long way back down. Over the next three days we would have to walk back down the exact way we came up. The difference: We would walk down in altitude which meant we could do a lot more hours in a day as we didn´t have to worry about the altitude anymore. So that’s what we did. We hiked up, and hiked down. Over mountains and bridges. Through valleys and streams. After another 8 hours we had made it back to Pheriche – exhausted, but eager to make it back to Namche Bazaar the next day.
Day 10: Pheriche (4240m) to Namche Bazar (3440m) 8.15 am – 5 pm
Which we did. After a long day, nine hours of hiking with only a few breaks, we were back in Namche Bazaar. And how we were ready for the end of this hike. As exciting it had been walking up to Base Camp – coming back down was a little bit of a grind. Falling into bed that night exhausted at only 7 pm, we were both looking forward to getting back to Lukla the next day.
Day 11: Namche Bazar (3440m) to Lukla (2840m) 7.45 am -3.15 pm
What we were even more looking forward to – the Irish Pub we had seen on the day we arrived there. We were so ready for a more than well-deserved cold beer. But before we could do that, we knew there was one more hurdle in our way. Remember our first day of the trek? When we walked down for 2 1/2 hours? Well, now we had to walk that path up. After 11 days of hiking the last three hours of the trek would be going up. It was as if good old Everest just wanted to have its last word.
So that day, when we got to it we knew what to expect. At that point Mike and I were barely speaking to each other anymore. The only words exchanged were water, ready, yes and no. Not because we were fighting. No, it was pure exhaustion and readiness to finally finish this trek. We said “See you up there” and then we got our heads down and walked. And walked. And walked. And suddenly, when I turned around what felt like the 235th corner of the mountain I saw it. The archway that stands as a symbol for the beginning and the end of the Everest Base Camp Trek. Behind which lies Lukla.
We had done it. We had walked ten days straight, conquered mountain after mountain, won the fight against the altitude, endured the freezing cold and had made it to the Base Camp of the highest mountain in the world. We had successfully done something that for me will always be one of the biggest achievements in my life. It had been sheer incredible and I am so grateful that Mike´s stubbornness had dragged me into overcoming my fears and doing something that I will never forget. And let me tell you, I don´t think I have ever had such a good tasting beer than the one I had that night in Lukla´s Irish Pub. Or the beers that followed the first one.
Mount Everest, it has been an honour!
… a few more impressions from the EBC Trek…