Finally! Today was the day we had been waiting for. To come all this way and finally be able to check the box next to “Everest base camp” off my bucket list.
We began with an early start to the day around 7am since we had a solid 2 hour hike to reach Gorak Shep, the last small town before reaching base camp. The plan was to hike to Gorak Shep, drop off our belongings, and then head out to base camp which is a 4 hour round trip journey. The path to Gorak Shep was not particularly difficult or steep and yet it was surprisingly difficult. When we were about one hour out from Gorak Shep we got a really good view of the Khumbu glacier and of the legendary ice falls that lie just beyond base camp – seeing the deadly ice falls was enough motivation to “keep on, keeping on” as they say.
Up until this point, Catherine and I had been separated from our companions, Kyle and Brett, who were stuck in Kathmandu for 2 days due to weather. With patchy cell signal on the upper part of the trail, we had no idea where they were or if we would get to see them at all during the trek. The good news was that Gorak Shep had really good cell signal, the bad news was that we still couldn’t get ahold of them.
After arriving in Gorak Shep, and having a quick lunch of Sherpa stew and tea, Catherine, Bishnu, and I set out for base camp. The trail took us through a dusty sand pit just beyomd the town before leading us into a long cluster of rocks that we would spend the next 2 hours traversing. For whatever reason, the hike to base camp was incredibly draining and each step got harder and harder. The strong winds and rocky terrain certainly didn’t help anything and there were numerous times when Catherine and I stopped to look at each other and ask “Is the getting harder, or is it just me?” As we neared the edge of the rock wall we ran into our friend from Australia, Flo, who had just finished his visit to base camp and was heading back to town. Naturally, he told us keep on trekking and that it was totally worth it!
Finally, we reach the edge of the rocks, crossed over onto the Khumbu glacier, carefully avoided an icy chasm (which I deemed to be about 30m deep after tossing a rock down it), and rounded the bend to reach base camp. Just as we are rounding the last bend, we cross paths with 2 figures we didn’t recognize and who we assumed were just some other random trekkers heading back. Only after a double take and a very confused couple of seconds did we realize that the two random people were actually Brett and Kyle! After a week of playing cat and mouse, we finally found them, at base camp of all possible places – talk about good timing! (Turns out they got there and were waiting for 2-3 hours just in case we happened to come to base camp that day.) Fueled by the excitement of our reunion and the fact that we had made it to base camp we excitedly took our celebration photos.
Since we were there in the non-climbing season, there wasn’t much to base camp. No tents or shacks full of eager climbers. Just a big sign and lots of prayer flags marking the location and a tremendous view of Nuptse and the ice falls. Even without all the commotion of a busy base camp, it was still amazing to stand there, at the foot of the tallest mountain in the world. To be where hundreds of intrepid climbers would launch their expeditions. To stand where some of the most famous adventurers ever once stood. Now, that might sound a bit dramatic, but hopefully you get the point that it was really cool to have reached base camp.
After taking way too many pictures, we turned around and began the trip back to Gorak Shep. When we got back we had some celebratory chocolates and bid farewell to Brett and Kyle. Because of their rapid ascent, they were feeling some of the effects of mountain sickness and decided it would be best to descend some before sleeping for the night. We’d plan to rendezvous in the morning so we could finish the descent together.
Because Catherine and I were gluttons for punishment, we decided to take on Kala Pathar in the same day as base camp. Kala Pathar is a small trekking peak just past Gorak Shep that offers a spectacular view of Everest. Usually trekkers tackle the peak in the early morning with the intend of witnessing the sunrise behind Everest. We, however, wanted to catch the sunset on the mountain rather than the sunrise as well as get an early start the next day with our descent. And so after a quick rest, we began the climb up Kala Pathar. I feel like I’ve said multiple times that the climbs kept getting harder and harder but this one was the king of them all. After already hiking for 6 hours that day, another 500m climb was not on the top of my list of things to do…. but we did it anyways!
After a long hour and a half, questioning myself about 50 times, almost turning back twice, and about 15 rest breaks Bishnu and I made it to the summit. All I can say is that it was totally worth it. From the top of Kala Pathar I had a crystal clear view of the top 1/3 of Everest off in the distance with a lone cloud floating by its peak. Really, the only word to describe the panorama from the top is stunning. Stretched out in front of me was Everest, Nuptse, the ice falls, Khumbu glacier, base camp, Gorak Shep, and countless other peaks. After another obligatory photo session, Bishnu and I made our way back to town just as things were getting dark. As I settled in for the evening, I went to bed with a huge feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction to serve as my blanket against the freezing air and alititude for the night.