Himalayas Days 17 and 18, still in Lukla

So having decided not to fill blog posts up with boring days in Kathmandu, I have now skipped through to Sunday 6th November. Since I last wrote, which was Friday, my third day in Lukla, I spent all of Saturday and all of Sunday doing pretty much exactly what I had done on the three days before. Mornings were waiting for helicopters which never came, afternoons in Fakebucks getting a bit of wifi and catching up with the outside world (if very very very slowly, the connection was slower than any old dial-up I ever remember.

The weather however has been exactly the same, and it has rained with low cloud both days, which means that no aeroplanes whatsoever have landed here now for six days now.

The odd break in the clouds offers a bit of a glimpse of the runway.

This plane (the only one here) has been here since last Tuesday and not moved.

Then a few beers in the ‘Irish Pub’, and then back to base for the evening of sitting and listening to everyone else’s tales of how near and yet so far the helicopter that never came really was.

A good thing happened mid afternoon today (Sunday) however, in that the rest of the Island Peak Group made it down the mountain. I had already heard their summit news from Val, the excellent Exodus guide who had made it down to Lukla a day before them. So basically, my huge congratulations to each of Tony, Rob and Dave, who all successfully submitted Island Peak, all 6,189m of her, on 3rd November at about 7am. I am really looking forward to seeing their photographs from the top.

Of the others, Stefan had tried but had to turn back, and each of Bruce and Ben had decided that it would be too much, and did not set out. They all made it to high camp though at 5,600m, and the photos look stunning from there even. As I look back now and reflect, there was no way I would have made it to the top, not feeling the way that I did, and so I did the right thing with hindsight in coming down early. I feel much better for some days rest, despite the tedium of not getting out of Lukla. The mountain will still be there should I decide upon some later occasion to try again, so there is nothing lost for me.

So anyway, each of them, having picked Mo up where I had left her in Tengboche five days ago, made it down the mountain, somewhat wet due to the rain, and settled in to the North Face Resort for the night. They had already heard that Lukla was a.) full, and b.) closed to air traffic, so there were no surprises in store for them really when they got there. They unfortunately had to stay in tents too, which made me feel a little guilty as I still had my room, although my room was by now so damp that I wondered if a tent would actually be a much dryer place.

The view down the mountain from Lukla, the tents in the foreground the sleeping quarters for the Island Peak returnees.

We celebrated everyone’s ‘coming down the moutnain’ in the Irish Pub, and then back at the Lodge in the evening we did the tipping ceremony. It is customary on these trips to pay your porters and guides to thank them for their support whilst out on the mountain. Each of us put in approximately US$100, and so they all seemed pretty happy with their share of the spoils, presented to them with appropriate aplomb by Bruce. We also bought them two bottles of the local rum, Kukira, which they duly despatched between them inside about an hour. Bruce and I had some of this noxious fluid also in a hot chocolate, and that was sufficient to give me rather a thumping head in the morning – I thought it was AMS all over again for an instant!

The forecast is much better for tomorrow, and so there are hopes of getting some of us out of here. There were significant gaps in the clouds at times today for the first time, and tomorrow could apparently even be a sunny day. Here’s hoping………

Himalayas Day 16 – Lukla, bored now

So one good thing and one bad thing already happened to me today, and it is only 7am.

Firstly the good news – wait for it….. I slept through the night! I could not believe it when I woke up at 5.35am, and I hadn’t stirred since about 9 last night. That is literally my best sleep in the Himalayas. I will put it down to the four Everest beers that I had last evening, they obviously did the trick. Maybe today I will have six and sleep for ten hours, who knows.

Then the bad news, or should I say the boring and predictable news – yes it is still raining, yes the cloud is lower than even it was yesterday, and yes the prospect of the weather changing for the foreseeable future is not even close to slim. We are in the clouds, it is as simple as that, and Kathmandu is also cloudy, so no planes will fly here for a fifth consecutive day, and my third day of being marooned here.

The North Face Lodge is looking like some sort of refugee camp now. I am very lucky to have a bed, but have no idea if I will be able to keep it. Everything is so damp though due to the weather, that you wake up damp, your clothes are damp (and unspeakably dirty of course, there is nowhere to wash much less to dry anything), and it makes you even more miserable. There is in fact no running water here at all any more, which makes washing impossible other than (and thank goodness for them) with wet wipes, and the whole toilet situation a bit, well, smelly let’s just say.

I exhausted the shops yesterday and am running out of rupees, and so am not sure how much longer I can hold out. If yesterday was a looonnnnnnng day, then today is going to be longer still. More later……………

So it is now 7pm, and I got promised a helicopter at about noon. Apparently an army 24 seater helicopter was going to fly in, Apocalypse Now style (is that the right film I’m thinking of?), and I can pay $600 and be transported off into oblivion, or Kathmandu, whichever I get to first. I agreed to it, more readily than I thought I would, as I really just want to get out of here now. Somewhat predictably, the helicopter never comes. I am only glad that I didn’t pay my $600 first.

Trouble is, the weather is actually getting worse. You can now see about 50 to 100 yards in any direction. The bigger trouble still is, that in Kathmandu where we are trying to get to, some 5,000 feet below us, the weather is actually worse. They even cancelled the international flights there today, and so the chances of a single-engined ironing board with an outboard motor landing at the world’s most dangerous airstrip are laughable at best.

The runway, or all you can see of it, at Lukla.

I gave up even hanging around the lodge in the end. In fact even the shopkeepers here have given up trying. Normally the Nepalese are very good, they don’t actually pester you too much. They do try to help you however when you go to their store. Now however they have seen the same faces walking backwards and forwards all day long. It is like Shaun of the Dead versus Zombie Dawn at altitude.

Horse getting a bite to eat from the Organic Food Store was one of the highlights of my day

So my afternoon was a couple of hours in ‘Starbucks’ (that’ll be fake Starbucks, a bit like the ‘North Fake’ clothing that you see everywhere). I caught up on emails, caught up on what is happening at work (yes I was that bored), and caught up on Facebook etc too, putting up my Kala Pattar Everest picture up there, of which I am really proud.

Everyone else is just hanging around in the rain.

When 4pm came I went to the Irish Pub, which is becoming my local now. I walk in there now and the bartender puts a Tiger Beer in front of me before I ask for it. I am part of the furniture it seems – which is fine with me. I am stuck here for as long as I am stuck here, and that’s just how it is.

Back at the lodge in the evening I got in with a crowd from Canada and Germany playing card tricks. It whiled away at least 45 minutes of my life, which was a good thing at the time.

I am not even making any predictions for tomorrow. When I was in Fakebucks I checked the weather forecast. It is shocking through at least Monday (this is Friday). I therefore have at least three more days of looking at the rain, and then the people round at the airport have a week’s backlog of really really really pissed off people to try to process through an airfield with no controls, no gates, no nothing. It is going to be an unholy free-for-all on an epic scale.

I shall have a few more Everest beers now and sign off. If I could sleep for the next two days it would be a lot better than what I will actually face. Oh well, at least I am still in the Himalayas (well sort of, even if I cannot see them).

Instead of doing daily updates, I’ll return now to this only when I know for certain that I am heading out of here, to save anyone reading this with as much boredom as I am suffering from right now.

Here’s hoping it’s not too long before that happens………..

Himalayas Day 15 – Lukla to Nowhere at all

I woke in my fairly nasty room in the North Face Resort at 2am. It was strange, it was actually warm, the comparatively oxygen rich atmosphere of 2,800m elevation was strange, and after a quick “where the heck am I” (fourteen different locations in fourteen nights will do that to you, believe me), I realised I was in Lukla. Would I fly today? The answer was obvious when I began to listen to the sounds outside.

It was pouring. Not just any old rain mind you. Cloud was effectively below the level of the lodge, and it was monsoon style, torrential, beating rain. I drifted back into a warm slumber but never really slept again until 5.30am came, when the sounds of a German couple humping about 3 feet away from my head, and separated from me by the thinnest sheet of plywood, told me that I may as well just get up and see what the day would bring.

What the day would bring however, was sadly obvious from the moment I looked outside. The air was totally still, the cloud level some long way below us, and it was raining heavily still. This wasn’t going to shift anytime soon, and I knew it.

My slightly less than salubrious, and a bit damp, room in Lukla

By the time The dining room filled with people at about 7.30am, all the talk was of helicopters and of how to get out of here by whatever means. Porters scurried around from time to time and got their clients excited with talk of a trek up or down the valley to a helicopter pad at exorbitant expense, but it was all for nought. Nobody moved, everyone sat and hoped in vain.

Hanging on in quiet desperation, North Face Lodge, Lukla

And so began one of the longest days I have ever experienced. I walked around Lukla for a bit in the morning, and for something to do. It took about ten minutes. There are probably 20 or so shops, but they all sell pretty much the same tat, so once you have seen one you have seen them all. Although my hotel overlooks the airstrip, I also walked down there just to kill time. The ‘terminal’ was closed, so that told me all I needed to know for the day. I did then see a helicopter take off and fly into the clouds, and then turn straight back again, so obviously they thought it too risky too.

Wandering around aimlessly, Lukla style

There is also, horror of horrors, a Starbucks here! I am entirely sure that it is not a proper Starbucks having been inside and tasted their coffee, but it is a bloody long way for them to come and sue whoever it is using their name, and they had free wi-fi (albeit ridiculously slow), so it worked for me :). This enabled me to get online and catch up with work, and that will tell you how bored I already am.

In the afternoon I killed time by walking back and forward up and down the shops again. I bought incense sticks from practically every store just to mull away the time. I bartered every time too. It is amazing how much time you can waste just by simply arguing over 50 rupees, I also bought a wooly hat. The in thing round here it seems is to have is an “Everest B C 5364m” hat, but I had to be different and got a “Kala Pattar 5545m” one, principally because a.) 5545m is higher than 5364m, and also because I was there after all. It was my summit, and I’m bloody pleased about it, so for my bartered 250 Rupees I will jolly well wear my hat!

When 4pm came around and I literally could not carry any more incense sticks about my person, I dumped them all back at the lodge, and headed back out for the Irish Bar. It seemed a good way to pass a couple of hours before dinner, and also it was Happy Hour from 4pm to 7pm, which means here “buy two get one free”. That is a good enough reason for me any day of the week to wile away a couple of hours. Oh and as an added bonus there was Beach Volleyball being shown on the big screen – I seem to have forgotten the score and who was playing, but that doesn’t bother me too much :).

Whilst in the pub, the group next to me were debating (as every single person in Lukla is who has someone to talk to, except for me as I am on my jack) whether to sit out the weather or to walk to Kathmandu. They opted to walk, on the basis that a.) the weather is set now until Sunday or Monday apparently, and b.) they’d just rather keep moving than hang around. The walk is six days, plus a 12 hour bus jouney. I think that’s a lot, but I am seriously considering it. If I am still here in six days time I will have gone completely mad, I know that for sure.

Roll on tomorrow – except I somehow know very well where I will be both spending and finishing my day…………

Himalayas Day 14 – Kyangjuma to Lukla

So this morning I woke up to beautiful clear skies, and the news that the two day backlog at Lukla airstrip had cleared, and that I would be able to fly today. Then I woke up properly from my dream. It was actually 2am, and it was snowing. My heart then sank at the prospect of even getting down the Khumbu valley today, let alone the airstrip reopening.

I tossed and turned for the remaining four hours of the night, and hoped that the clouds would lift by the time Saroz knocked on my door at 6am.  They sadly hadn’t, but a boy has to keep hoping, that’s all. The snow that fell in the night was thankfully just a dusting at this level, although my thoughts turned to the rest of the troupe up in tents at Island Peak, and I hoped that they weren’t snowed in altogether.

Saroz and I set off for our long trek at about 6.45am, accompanied by a porter to carry my kit bag and climbing stuff, which had come down from Island Peak the previous evening. We were in clouds for much of the way. The path round to Namche Bazaar was a quick one though, Saroz setting off at his breakneck speed, the porter in pursuit, probably not used to such a light load as 30kg on his head (some of them can carry over 100kg this way), and we got there inside an hour.

Following Saroz down the path from Kyangjuma - the clouds now below us...

After Namche (which I hardly noticed, so dense were the clouds) we set off down the steep hill and made the 500 or so metre descent to the Khumbu river in no time at all. Soraz was on the phone most of the way, either getting updates from Lukla or Kathmandu on the weather conditions. It was bleak bleak bleak basically. No planes were coming in or out due to the low cloud.

The problem is that the planes, being 8, 12 or 16 seaters, have to be flown entirely manually, and therefore rely entirely on being able to see the airstrip before attempting the hair-raising landing. If there is low cloud, they don’t fly, simple as that.

Saroz kept trying though, and told me that he had said a prayer for me. An ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, or something like that. I think this is the Buddhist mantra but can’t rememeber what it means for now, but hope it works whatever it is. He also kept turning the prayer wheels on the way down, and never missed a prayer flag or mani stone, so he must have meant it.

We reached Monjo in about two and a half hours, and then Phakding, where we stopped for lunch, in about 4 and a half. Lunch was again my usual spaghetti with Tomato sauce, in case Ben is reading this once more – are you there Ben?

Setting off after lunch at about 12.45, the clouds appeared to lift, and Saroz got his hopes up when he thought he heard a plane. This thought vanished though when it turned out to be a rescue helicopter. They must be nuts, or it must have been a total emergency, for them to be even attempting to fly in these conditions.

The walk back to Lukla from Phakding is largely uphill, and gains in fact about 300m, making this at the end of a 20+ mile haul a real slog. I was therefore very happy to arrive at about 2.45pm.

The North Face Lodge, my home for the next 'x' nights....

As we arrived at the North Face Resort, my lodge in Lukla for the night, it was chaos. There were bags and people everywhere, as most folk had been sat here for two days waiting for a plane. The airstrip is the only way out of the Himalayas, other than on foot, which would take a week or more, so there is simply no choice but to sit and wait. The problem will get worse day by day as more people arrive hoping to fly out of here too. I was told shortly after arriving that the forecast was for rain for the next four days. Oh heck, and words like that.

Lukla - not really much happening under the clouds at all.

I had a quick look into Lukla, which is a pretty nasty place, but it does have a pub or two, for people to “enjoy the last time in the Himalaya”. I ventured into an ‘Irish’ bar, to kill the time, and had my first beer in a fortnight. It would have tasted good if I knew that I would be able to leave anytime soon, but instead I sort of stood there frustrated. There was a muted atmosphere everywhere in fact, people walking around a bit zombie-like.

This place at least offered me something to while away the odd hour or three.

Dinner back at The North Face Resort was a fairly somber affair. I did meet a Canadian guy, a dentist from Toronto, who had just arrived from Kathmandu however. He had managed to charter a private helicopter to get him to a village about two hours walk down the mountain. It was apparently the only helicopter to leave Kathmandu the whole day, so I am guessing he paid a rather large fortune for the privilege. He told me he is acclimatising in the Himalayas for a running event in the Annapurna circuit next week which is 250km over six days. He had to be totally nuts, as he does these things about 10 times a year apparently.

After dinner I caught up with Pasang, another Exodus trek leader, who we have seen several times up and down the mountain. He is in charge of around 16 sixth-formers from Wells School, and he told me that he has a place reserved for me on a flight at 11am in the morning. The chance of it flying of course was written all over his face.

I went to bed in the same state as the day before, hoping, praying for sunny skies the following day. Om Mani Padme Hum…….

Himalayas Day 13 – Dingboche to Kyangjuma

So today was a very up and down day, both literally and emotionally. I would wake up at 4,400m, and end up at 3,740m, but covered a heck of a lot of ground inbetween in every way. Let me explain:

There was firstly only Mo, who was suffering badly from a sinus infection and AMS, and myself, with just mild AMS, staying in the Friendship Lodge in Dingboche last night. It was a very weird feeling having stayed in full lodges all the way so far, so walking into the dining room here it was so strange to be the only person there.

Inside the Dining Room at the Friendship Lodge at Dingboche

I awoke at about 6, and got ready for our departure to Tengboche at 7. The idea of Tengboche was that it would be the stopping place of the rest of the group, including Mo’s husband Dave, who remained with the rest of the climbing group at Island Peak. I was to accompany her, and we were accompanied by two guides, Pasang would look after Mo until Thursday when the rest arrived, and Saroz would come with me all the way to Lukla. Today though we would just go to Tengboche, at 3,940m, a journey of about five hours.

The weather turned today, and we walked in cloud practically the entire way. The mountain tops were largely obscured, although there were occasional glimpses of Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Pumori, and even Everest herself along the way. All were fleeting though, and as we were walking away from them all, and also predominantly downhill, it really was not a sightseeing sort of day.

Already out of the snow and ice, our descent down the valley was well and truly underway now.

It was actually a great walk though, although I was helped by feeling better as I descended into more oxygen rich air. Mo was still feeling terrible, and it was sadly just a chore for her. We walked along the Khumbu river, which flowed like the torrential white water that it is, about 200 feet below us.

I could have done with one of those horses on the way up!

After an hour or so, the path split to the high path on the one side, where we had come from Phortse last week sometime, and to the left for us, down and across the river towards Tengboche. The bridge over the Khumbu way below us was breathtaking, if thankfully just a short walk of faith:

About to cross the Khumbu before heading to Tengboche

Saroz seemed to be pushing along the pace, and secretly hoping that this was a challenge of some sort (I certainly did not want to just stop at Tengboche if I could get away with it, I wanted to go lower) I went with him. We left Mo and Pasang some way behind, and although I felt sorry to be not walking with Mo, she was in safer hands than mine alongside Pasang.

Not long after we crossed the river, I noticed that we were down to about 3,600m or so, and knowing that Tengboche was at 3,940m, and wasn’t too far away, it would mean a steep climb. It was indeed a bugger of a climb. We stopped at the start of it, and realising also that we were going to get to Tengboche before noon, I chanced my arm with Sarod. I said “it’s a real shame that we can’t go further down the valley today”, hoping that he would sense what I wanted from the statement. He clearly did, and just said in reply “let’s see when we get to Tengboche”.

The next 30/45 minutes were brutal, and if he wasn’t testing me out before, he clearly was now. He just walked up that steep hill “Sherpa style”, and if you have ever been to the Himalayas before then you will know just what that means. I knew I had to try to keep up. I couldn’t of course, but neither was he at full tilt, and I felt really strong now, and just gave it all I had. We got to the top without stopping, and I was breathing as hard as I ever have, but we were in Tengboche inside four hours, for a journey at we were told would take five, and so I just hoped that that would win me a further walk this afternoon.

By the time Pasang and Mo arrived at our lunch stop in Tengboche, Sarod had already come to me with the news I hoped for. He said we could go on today to Kyangjuma, some three hours further down the valley. I was delighted, although again sad to have to leave Mo on her own. I knew that Mo was in good hands with Pasang though, and also she desperately needs rest, so a couple of days with little to do (although Tengboche does have the most attractive Gompa in the whole of the Khumbu region to while away a little time) will no doubt be good for her.

After a delicious lunch (my usual of Spaghetti with Tomato sauce in case you are reading this Ben :)), I wished Mo a speedy recovery, a Happy Birthday for Thursday, and a fond farewell. I hope to be able to keep in touch with her and Dave, and in fact with everyone on the trek. It really was a great group, with no issues between anyone at any time. I also wished Pasang goodbye, and thanked him for everything and asked him to say the same to Ngima for me. Everyone at Exodus really has been faultless, but more of them in a later post.

And so we were off, now just Saroz and me. I was on my way home, sort of. After Tengboche there is a huge descent, going quickly down to about 3,500m, from 3,940m at lunch. We raced down it, and that was good as far as I was concerned – it was all progress to get nearer to Lukla, and the plan now was to try to get there inside a further two days, which would be tough.

As we mowed down the hill, past mainly knackered trekkers on their way up, Saroz was almost continually on the phone, making arrangements for me to change my flights out of the Himalayas, my accommodation in Kathmandu, and also my international flight back to the UK. At one point we had it sorted that with a heap of good fortune (and also my legs and lungs holding out on me), I could be on a flight out of Nepal as early as Friday (this is now Tuesday). I was overjoyed, the thought of a shower, a bed, a shave, another shower, followed by a bath etc, were just so exciting to me. The hotel in Kathmandu might get the surface layers of dirt off, but I really needed a lot more than that.

Then came the bad news. As we almost ran our way through the clouds, Saroz got a call to say any plans would have to be shelved. Apparently Lukla airport has been closed all day, and there are no flights out of the mountains scheduled tomorrow either. Worse, the bad weather is expected to last four days, and so there a no point in planning for anything. If this happens, there will also be a backlog like no tomorrow at Lukla itself of people trying to get out. Saroz explained further that accommodation may be a problem, and that I might be lucky to get a place on a floor in a lodge somewhere, and that he would try for me. Bummer. It was so disappointing, but what can you do? I would get a flight when I could, and the weather might change for the better, although of course it could also get worse!

For now I concentrated on my second big uphill stretch of the day. At 3,500m we had to get up to about 3,780m to the lodge in Kyangjuma. It was again a horrible hill, but it was helped by the fact that the weather was so overcast. We reached the lodge before 3, just one and a quarter hours from Tengboche. It is supposed to be a three hour journey. Saroz is a great guide, very patient and very friendly, and very quick!. My bags would take another two hours to arrive by porter, and so I sat in the lodge room drinking hot lemon by the fire until dinner time came.

I would need to sleep tonight. The journey to Lukla from here is normally a two day trek, and we are now aiming to do it in one. Sarod could do it walking on his hands of course, but he tells me that it will be for me “around nine hours”. That is him judging me on today when I busted everything I had to get me a chance at tomorrow. I will need to do it all over again to hopefully get myself a place on someone’s dining room floor for maybe one, two three or four days depending on how long this weather lasts. Apparently these things are not that uncommon at Lukla, but I feel a bit narked that I am going to be caught up in it nonetheless.

Oh well, just another day in the Himalayas I suppose. Overall I am still so enormously happy and privileged to be here at all, so I will take whatever I get, and just continue to enjoy my time in the greatest mountain range on planet earth. It is all just part of my greatest adventure ever, and every day is so different still.

We leave at six in the morning……

Himalayas Day 12 – Up or Down? (Or Lobuche to Dingboche)

Yesterday was such a remarkable and fantastic day, seeing Everest in absolutely perfect and breathtaking conditions (see yesterday’s blog post), but of course the trip is only half way through right now. Today, day 12, should be the day that we start ascending again, towards Island Peak. But for me, it wouldn’t be a day of ascent at all.

I thought that today would be tinged with some sadness and regret when I woke up, due to the fact that I had already decided (in my head at least) that I was definitely going down today and not up. I thought that perhaps part of me would wonder about whether I should have continued upwards. As it turned out, I needed have even bothered wondering, due to waking up with the mother of all headaches, and dizziness to boot.

I had gone to bed last night after a reasonable dinner with a lot of thoughts in my head. The briefing given by Ngima had contained a choice for the next day (i.e today), which was to involve the high pass route over the Komgma La pass (5,435m) to Chukhung. It would be a difficult walk, and so Ngima had offered the choice of instead walking down to Dingboche (4,400m) and then back up to Chukhung at 4,700m. Everyone bar myself and Maureen opted for the high pass, and if I had felt better under different circumstances, I would very definitely have done that too.

I was surprised in fact that Maureen was going to be able to walk at all. As well as her sinus infection she was now suffering from AMS like me. After discussing with Ngima and also Val, an Exodus leader of over 25 years who was to join the group for the rest of the trip, they said that if I needed to go down then that was all fine, and that my health was the most important thing. It’s a very comforting thing to hear, when you so want to push yourself to do what you set out to do in the first place.

Having gone to bed last night at around 8pm (sad really, but most people do in lodges) and read for a little while, I was actually delighted when I woke up at 3am. It was the longest stretch of sleep I have had in about 5 nights. It was also freezing cold however, and my bottle of water had frozen on the bedside table. My head though, despite wearing a hat in bed, was throbbing with a headache and I felt simply sick. This despite having gone to bed with Paracetamol and Diamox, was at best really annoying.

I surfaced from bed at around 5.45, ready for the walk, and could hardly walk in a straight line. Breakfast was just a blur, and packing my bag an ordeal, but I got there. Seeing Valerie at the breakfast table I told her that I just needed to get out of altitude, and she agreed. The others duly trekked over the glacier for their trip to Chukhung, and I and Maureen got ready to descend. I didn’t say goodbyes to the others at this time, there didn’t seem any point in anyone trying to persuade me against my decision, or for it to be a distraction to their day ahead. I did feel like I was letting the team down a bit, but my body told me that it was time to go.

Leaving a very cold Lobuche for the last time - the clouds just creeping up ahead in the valley.

We walked through cloud, accompanied by assistant guide Pasang, for most of the journey to Dingboche, ironically the first time we had not had a clear and sunny morning. Maureen was clearly weak, but managed the walk of about three hours without incident. I was so happy to be entering more oxygen rich air – we would go down about 1,600 feet or so.

Maureen shared en route that she was most concerned on the way that her not continuing onwards would mean that her husband Dave would not continue with the climb. She knew that he was so determined to do a 6,000m peak, but she would now not see him again to be able to tell him this. She was also concerned that not seeing him would mean that she would spend her 60th birthday (this coming Thursday) alone. Both of these it seems had been taken care of by Pasang. In respect of the former, he (Pasang) would go up to Chukhung after dropping us off in Dingboche and tell Dave that Maureen was in good hands, and that he should continue his climb. In respect of the latter he had arranged for Maureen to go to Tengboche on her way down and to wait for the others at the lodge there. Dave would arrive on the 4th November, her birthday, in four days time, so that made her happy, and me too for her, as I felt guilty for leaving.

Our walk took about three hours to get to Dingboche, probably half or less than the time it took us to get up the same stretch some three or four days earlier. We walked again through the memorials at Thukla, which was again a very moving experience. It was still mid morning when we arrived at Dingboche, but Pasang advised us both to just rest and take it easy. It is amazing just how descending only around 600m can so rejuvenate you though. From feeling so dizzy up and above 5,000m, I now felt almost as if I could run a marathon – well maybe not quite, but you get my drift!

Arriving back in Dingboche, and my last view of Island Peak.

Once we were wettled in, Pasang trooped off back up the next valley to Chukkung, in order to make arrangements for both Maureen and I, and we stayed at the Friendship Lodge, the same tea house we had been to about three days previously on the way up. Pasang would all being well return later that evening with my climbing gear (which at this point in time was up at Island Peak having travelled thee by Yak). He would also talk to Ngima and Val about getting a porter to take my bags down the mountain, and make arrangements for me to stay in various lodges on the way. The remaining journey down should take about three days to get to Lukla. All being well they would be able to sort out an earlier departure for me on a plane, otherwise I would have a lot of hanging around to do, about four or five days worth in fact. I then had to think about how or if I might be able to change my flight back to the UK, but that could wait until the weekend – I had to get out of the Himalayas first.

My mind was now just on getting down to breathable air, and then to getting home. I spent the rest of the day just sitting around in a cold lodge and hoping that I would get a smooth and speedy trip back. Coming down would always be an anticlimax compared its the going up, but I felt a renewed sense of purpose, a new lease of life, a reason to be coming down. That kept me going.

The day was very odd compared to the days before. The lodge was empty apart from Mo and I, and instead of the challenge and excitement of Everest and all around her, it was all of a sudden just a quiet and almost eery experience. It was nice though, after expending so much energy, just to simply be able to take it easy. My thoughts though naturally turned to the others – they would be by now in Chukkung, and preparing to go to Island Peak Base Camp the next day.

In the evening, Pasang arrived back with Saroz, an Exodus assistant guide who we would be assigned to me alone to get me down the mountain. We would get up at 7am the next morning and (also armed with a porter to carry the bags) begin the trek to Tengboche, and that was great as far as I was concerned – it would get me another few thousand feet closer to the base of the Himalayas, and to air that I could breathe more readily. I would head to bed early and hopefully sleep really well………

Himalayas Day 11 – Gorak Shep to Lobuche, via Kala Pattar

Today I would arise at the highest altitude yet on the trek – in the highest permanent settlement in the world in fact, at over 17,000 feet in Gorak Shep, and we were in the ‘Buddha Lodge’. It would therefore be the highest lodge we would stay at – the forchcoming tromp to Island Peak would be in tents, and then only one night higher than this, at about 18,500 feet in two days time. Today though, was all about getting to see Everest, and ‘properly’ this time.

If I thought that my previous night in Lobuche was my worst night’s sleep ever, then the night at Gorak Shep was sadly to surpass it. The only saving grace about the rooms in the Buddha Lodge were that they were relatively warm. The downside was that this was because they were directly above the kitchen, and the fumes and smells coming out of there turned the tiny room that we had into a noxious unbearable sweatbox, and you really really don’t need that when you are trying to sleep at 5,180m with mild altitude sickness. The smell was a combination of old cooking oil and yak shit (they burn this to fuel the stove), and it almost had me wanting to run out into the ice in the middle of the night.

I had actually gone to bed last night at the ridiculous time of 7.30pm, because a.) I was wiped out, b.) we had to climb Kala Pattar at 6am the following morning, and c.) it was so hot in the lodge room that you could have melted chocolate just by sitting it on the table in front of you. I was sat there in just a T shirt and I thought my contact lenses were going to melt in my eyes it was so warm.

Our rather too warm room in the Buddha Lodge, Gorak Shep

So after retiring and reading for a little while (finishing Bear Gryll’s excellent ‘Facing Up’ about his Everest climb) I turned my light out at about 9pm. By 11.17 precisely I was awake, and I was to never get back to sleep. I was too hot, had a raging thirst, a brutal headache, and was short of breath. If someone had said there’s a helicopter waiting for me outside I would have got into it, without even caring which direction it was heading in.

When 5.30 am came, although all I wanted to do was sleep, I realised that I couldn’t, and so I climbed into my walking boots, long johns and suitable mountain attire for the haul up to Kala Pattar. Kala Pattar, at 5,650m (18,530ft) would be the highest point of the trek so far if I made it, and I was determined to, despite feeling like a zombie.

The only saving grace about this morning at all in fact, was that for the first time on the trek, we did not have to pack all of our expedition bags up first thing before breakfast. We were being allowed to do it after we got back from Kala Pattar later in the morning.

After eating no breakfast whatsoever (I just couldn’t stomach it), I set off on the steep climb out of Gorak Shep with six of the other seven team members. Stefan had had a similar night to me it seems, and decided that he couldn’t face it, and so decided to descend to Lobuche, which at 4,940m would be the stop for the rest of later in the day.

Setting off up the frozen lower slopes of Kala Pattar, Gorak Shep in the background.

The start of the walk was incredibly cold. In fact it made yesterday’s -9 C start to Everest Base camp seem warm. I had my thick Goretex ski gloves on, which I nearly didn’t even bring on the trek with me, plus fleece inners, and my hands were so cold I was actually concerned about frostbite for a while. I kept just wigggling them around, and banging them against my legs in the hope of getting them some warmth from somewhere, and wished that I had brought hand warmers with me. By the time the sun came up some 45 minutes later all was fine, and I thankfully had no problems after that.

Problems were being had sadly by another one of our team however. Maureen has been fighting a sinus infection for the last couple of days, and I can tell you that this is no place to either have one, or to try to fight it. She is brave however, and attempted the walk, but was to give up after about 20 minutes and be helped down the valley to Lobuche by Pasang, one of our guides.

The climb to the summit took one and a half hours for Tony and Rob, who were out of our sight not long after the start, and just over two hours for the rest of us. The weather was again absolutely cloudless, and so the views (the whole point of this particular walk after all) were simply beyond compare. Pumori (7,165m) rose majestically in front of us, and the massive swathe cut by the Khumbu glacier below the west face of Nuptse (7,861m) was to our right. There were also more outstanding views of Changtse in Tibet, as well as countless other soaring 7,000m + peaks.

Panorama looking down the Khumbu Valley from Kala Pattar - breathtaking

From probably half way to the summit, the main attraction came into view. People climb Kala Pattar because it affords the best view of Everest from anywhere, including being on Everest herself. That was why I was there too, and I wasn’t going to let my dull headache get in the way of the greatest day in the mountains of my life.

Gradually the summit of Everest appears, complete with (thank you) trademark snow plume, and then you get to see the Khumbu Icefall in all of her glory, surpassing even the views from Base Camp yesterday by some considerable margin, and then Lhotse (8,501m) comes into view, with her own plume not to be outdone by her big sister.

Incidentally the plume on Everest is caused by the jet stream, which circles the earth at approximately 200mph, and at about 30,000 feet. Everest’s summit at over 29,000 feet means that the top is effectively buffeted by this the year round, and is is why she is unclimbable for all but a few days each year, when the jet stream briefly abates and rises post the winter monsoon. This weather window is what meteorologists are looking for to help climbers who anxiously sit waiting at the various camps on the mountain at the end of April each year. Anyone who tried to climb at any other time of the year would literally be blown off the face of the mountain.

So eventually we made it to the summit of Kala Pattar, a scramble at the very top, and the panorama from 18,550 feet was utterly majestic. The word majestic in fact is hopelessly inadequate here – just look instead at this panorama shot:

Lingtren, Khumbutse, Changtse, Everest (background), Lhotse, Nuptse, to name but a few

There laid out before us was the classic triangle of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. Everest at last revealing all of her gobsmacking 8,848m, or 29,028 feet. The picture I have (and I’ll have to choose which, I have lots) will be blown up, framed, and will take pride of place above whichever mantelpiece I ever have.

Dave, myself, Bruce and Ram our assistant guide also had a shot perched on the very precarious Kala Pattar peak with Pumori towering above us in the background:

The summit of Kala Pattar - I am very glad that Ram was holding onto me!

The reason people climb up to here is to admire the view.............

........of this.

Bruce, Ben, Dave, yours truly, and Ram our guide.

Oh and one more for luck, as it were, just me and Everest this time 🙂

We probably stayed on the summit for about 30 minutes. It was just utterly spectacular in every direction. Just looking down alone to Everest Base Camp, more than 1,000 feet below us, and the Khumbu Icefall alone was enough to hold your stare for what seemed like forever. In every direction though, words would only fail you to describe the sheer exultation of what is (as far as I am concerned) simply the best vantage point on this planet.

Eventually we made our way down again, looking back south towards the path of the Khumbu glacier. Amongst the so many different perspectives that I took away from this point in the mountains was just how almost, dare I say it, insignificant, Ama Dablam looked further down the valley. At a ‘mere’ 6,686m, she was beginning to get lost amongst these 7,000 and 8,000m behemoths.

But here was I, in the midst of all of them. The fact that I nearly didn’t get out of bed this morning as I felt so bad, is now so ridiculous to think about that it almost makes me shudder.

This is the crowning moment of my time in the mountains, in the great outdoors, and in fact of all the greatest things I have ever seen it is so far and away number one that I will never again stop to even think about the answer when anyone asks me.

The walk back down I can scarcely even remember. My brain was I think just numb from all that I had seen, and it is so emotional to take all of this in. I was drained in fact, emotionally and physically. But again words fail me as to be able to describe how incredibly happy I was to be here.

Upon getting back to Gorak Shep there was a brief time to pack, and to begin our descent back to Lobuche from where we had come yesterday.

Looking back down the valley as we begin our descent towards Lobuche.

Upon getting to Lobuche I think I just slept for about two or three hours. I practically collapsed into my sleeping bag mid afternoon.

I won’t go any higher on this trip, my body is too beaten up. I think I know that now. Tomorrow the path takes us to Chukkung, over the Kongma La pass at 5,600m, just below where we have been today on Kala Pattar, but if we choose we can circumnavigate this via Dingboche at 4,400m, where we were three days ago. At dinner we were able to choose which option we wished for, and six people are heading up, whilst Mo (still suffering from her sinus infection and now also AMS as well) and I will head down.

I am therefore not going to ascend Island Peak, and I will dwell upon whether that is a disappointing thing another time. Now I just need to descend, my body craves it. I have seen and done ‘my’ Everest. It will always, always, be etched upon my retinas, and upon my mind and my heart. No-one can take it away from me. My journey, whilst not complete, is now headed only in one direction, and that is to the safety and comfort of more oxygen rich air.

Tomorrow I will begin the rest of that journey – and what a journey it has all been.