There is an effervescence in my stomach, bubbling excitement that threatens to erupt. It’s a distinct physical feeling. Better that than the persistent gastro that’s plaguing me. After fourteen and a half days walking I am just two hours from Everest Base Camp. We’re leaving to go from Gorakshep to Everest Base Camp soon.
Despite the altitude – we’re at 5164 metres – I’m walking on air. I feel as though I could run the rest of the way.
Gorakshep to Everest Base Camp Map
There should be no doubt in my mind that I’ll get there now. But there’s a niggle. There’a a little doubting Thomas sitting on my shoulder. He’s saying that I shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch. Two hours is still two hours.
It helps that its slightly downhill from the lodge at Gorakshep. Then flat. But oh so muddy. This is an open field. Or open water. Caution automatically slows me to ensure that I don’t just trudge straight on and get my boots and trousers wetter.
Then, of course, routine takes over. The pace slows and the incline rises.
I’ve left behind glorious azure skies and jagged, snow covered peaks of the eastern Himalaya. It’s monochromatically desolate here. Stark. Empty. Featureless. Boulders the size of small cars litter an alien landscape, where there’s hardly a sign of life. Disappointment cuts my excitement like the acid roiling in my stomach. It sours the excitement, it’s not what I envisaged.
I’m shivering. I have five layers on. Two hats. I’m clutching my trekking pole like a lifeline. I hold on tight to the fact that I’m so close. I didn’t check my watch before we set off. I wonder absent mindedly how many times I can count to four in two hours. And how many plods of my leaden feet that will take.
Trekking at altitude carries risks. We insured ourselves through World Nomads – buying specific altitude coverage in case of altitude sickness. We were also able to renew our policy while out of our home country. Get a price for your travel and health insurance now.
We walk along a ridge, listening to rockfalls off to our left. We watch the sun play on the ice falls to our right.
Huff up a slight rise and comedically screech to a halt. There’s a jam. When we try to get past, there’s an indignant solo trekker with his guide. He is “JUST TRYING TO TAKE A PHOTO” . We share smirks and chastise Marty who so clearly and deliberately got IN HIS WAY.
Then, we’re walking on a track designed for goats, not humans, on the side of a face of shale and rocks. There’s a constant ominous rattle and yells of “rock fall”, the anxiety is intense. More oxygen disappears with the collective holding of breath – but what am I going to do? I can’t run to get out of the way and there is a yak train to negotiate. And believe me, they win. My negotiation involves stepping up onto the shale. I hope I won’t slither down. Brandishing my trekking pole like a ninja yak fighter, I’m met with baleful stares and the train passes.
Magically the cloud dissolves, the sun brightens the moonscape and right there is the Khumbu glacier. It stretches as far as I can see. It’s grey and dirty in one moment. Sparkling pristine white another. Translucent, alien blue the next. And seemingly endless. I’m breathless for a different reason. Mesmerized.
Then, when the wind drops, I still, and, there’s the heart-stopping sound of a resounding crack as she continues her sorrowful inexorably slow journey.
We’re here. This is Base Camp. Here now are the prayer flags. The Buddhist chotan. The hundreds of enigmatic beetle like bright yellow tents clinging desperately to the ice of the Khumbu, here near the top of the world.
There is no one here who isn’t grinning. Guide or trekker. As I look at the sheer joy on the faces of Ramesh, Lapka, Meg and Moni, it’s hard to imagine having a better view from the office than this.
My effervescence is replaced with complete and utter elation. There have been times when I really thought I wouldn’t make it. Stumbling to the toilet at 1, 2, 3am wondering what the hell I was doing. Climbing those bloody steps as we hiked the final stretch from Monjo to Namche. Blindly following Lapka back down Gokyo Ri.
6 weeks ago we weren’t even contemplating coming here. And as I stand here, my back to Base Camp, a wide grin on my face, I am thankful for many things. That I had the strength of body and mind to get here. That I got to share this triumph with Nigel right by my side. That the group I came with was such fun and easy going.
I am thankful too, that Jim Petty was – for a short time, part of my life. I am so very sad that it is only his memory that will make us all smile. I am sorrowful that it took Jim’s death to push me to this adventure. To remind me that life is too short not to grab all it offers with both hands.
This place that we’ve been stood at is known as Trekkers Base Camp. Its a hundred or so meters away from THE Base Camp. A few of us take a wander further down, under the supervision of Lapka, to the entrance proper. We’re close now to some of the communications tents. To the Chotan that’s built by the Sherpa each year and where offerings are made.
It’s s short walk, then Ramesh reminds us that we have to retrace our steps to Gorakshep for this night. And I fairly skip up the hill. It’s chilly, so we set a fast pace. We pauce only briefly to perform a mountain rescue for Darryl’s glove, which took a slide down the slope.
If we needed a further reminder of what is possible, as we’re heading down, we pass a blind climber, en route to Everest Base Camp for this season’s attempt on the summit.
That downhill slope I enjoyed as we left Gorakshep has turned into an uphill. It feels as if I have no energy as we trudge up it, the final hurdle and we’re done. This is the top of my world and it is incredible.