Lobuche – Gorak Shep [5170 m/16,961 ft] – Everest Base Camp [5364 m/17,594 ft] – Gorak Shep:
Today was going to be one of the longest days of our trek; we were about to achieve our ultimate goal, and we could not control our feelings of anticipation. We got up early, had a quick breakfast, and left Lobuche by about 7 a.m.
The trail to Gorak Shep passed next to the Khumbu Glacier, from where we had a 360-degree panorama of snowy peaks. Then the trail climbed steeply, and, when we caught our first glimpse of Kala Patthar (the name means “black stone”) beneath Mt. Pumori, we took a short break, before we resumed. After three hours, we reached Gorak Shep, the old Base Camp of the Hillary-Norgay expedition. The town now had a handful of lodges, most now with satellite phones and Internet access, catering to trekkers and summiteers.
The lodge we were to stay at was very basic: tiny rooms for sleeping and a small dining area. Delle and I shared one room, and Dharmesh and Anil, another. We were hungry from our morning trek, and so we deposited our luggage in our rooms and came down for an early lunch.
I had started to feel the altitude, having a throbbing headache now and beginning to gasp for breath after walking even a few steps, but I was very excited to be getting to the Base Camp. I popped some Motrin and got ready. We would make our final ascent.
As we began to walk, we had to cede right of way, as necessary, to yaks and porters transporting great loads of expedition luggage to the Base Camp. To our right was the massive Khumbu Glacier. It was mostly covered with gray sand, but glints of blue ice shone through at many points. After some time, Mindu stopped, pointing. In the distance, we could just make out the tracings of the Base Camp far, far away. We could see something else too: Ahead of the Base Camp, we could see the ice that was part of the Khumbu Icefall.
Now we saw the trinity of peaks: Lhotse on the left, a tiny Everest peak in the middle, and Nuptse on the right. (In the pictures we took, it appears that Nuptse was the tallest, but that was only because it was closest to us.)
Finally we climbed over the glacier to reach a lookout point, and from there we could see the Everest Base Camp, crowded with many bright-colored tents pitched atop of the glacier, just below the dangerous Khumbu Icefall.
Since it was still early spring, there were no summitters occupying the tents yet, but the area was full of the expedition-supply traffic of yaks and porters. Although I had read about the Base Camp, the sight of it was far beyond my imagination. We joined the many other trekkers who were euphoric about having reached this point, all posing, as we did, against the stone engraved with the sign “Everest Base Camp 5364m.”
Anil had brought an image of “Shreeji Maharaj” from the Delhi BAPS temple, and it was a most emotional moment for us. We placed the photo on the stone and repeated the arti and dhoon chants, and prayed for world peace. Words cannot now describe our feelings at that moment.
We were now quite exhausted. Everest was not visible from here, but, despite our exhaustion, we continued taking photos of the Nuptse, Khubutse and Pumori. It was beginning to get cold now, and so we knew it was time to head back.
On the way back to Gorak Shep, it began to snow. Trudging back through the snow, which was becoming increasingly heavy, was depleting our energy completely, and so we were relieved and grateful when we finally reached our lodge, and we rushed to the fireplace, where we had some hot tea.
My headache had intensified by now, and my pain meds were not working. I had also taken a dose of Diamox, an altitude pill, but, at this altitude, that wasn’t working either. I was very cold and continued to shiver, even though I was close to the fireplace. These were classic symptoms of lack of oxygen and altitude sickness. Tears came to my eyes; I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to climb farther up, and, for the first time, I felt like giving up. Mindu assured me that I would be okay in the morning and promised that he would walk with me slowly, allowing me to take breaks every five steps.
After consoling me, Mindu then briefed the group about the next day’s even-higher and –longer trek, to the Kala Patthar. We would have to start at 3 a.m., to make it to Kala Patthar by sunrise. We could see from the window that it was still snowing heavily outside, and we didn’t know if it would stop by morning. If it did not, Mindu said, we would not attempt Kala Patthar.
I don’t remember what, if anything, I ate for dinner that night. All I remember was that I got into my sleeping bag very early. I decided that I would wake up at 2:30 in the morning along with everyone else, but would only join them for the trek to Kala Patthar if I felt better. I prayed silently and fell asleep.