There has been quite a storm last night. When we look outside the window in the morning we see that the thunderstorm was accompanied by a considerable layer of fresh snow. Later today we will find out that around 3 o’clock at night a group had started the climb towards the Island Peak. When they left, they were walking underneath a clear and starry sky. But one and a half hours later dark clouds came in, which shook the entire Himalayas to its foundations with their thunder and lightning. Given the technically quite difficult route to the top, the hikers weren’t able to move forward or backwards. Finding shelter was also impossible. They must have been mortified. When hours later the sky cleared, they fortunately succeeded to turn around. Everyone was able to descend the mountain safe and sound. Of course they didn’t make it to the top. But that probably was the least of their concerns.
We soon notice that the fresh snow causes the necessary stress for other hikers. They are busy to find all kinds of ingenious systems to make gaiters. You know, those waterproof half trouser legs to pull over the lower legs to keep your shoes and pants dry. We hear them talking about sail, ropes and tape. We think it’s rather funny. We ignore the gaiter-madness, we dress warmly and prepare ourselves to go explore this beautiful snowy landscape.
Slowly but surely the sun finds its way up. When she finally manages to rise above the sharply pointed mountain peaks, her bright morning rays make the snow crystals shine like millions of tiny little diamonds. We almost feel guilty to leave traces in this wonderful white blanket that dresses the landscape in white.
Two sherpas with wicker baskets walk a bit ahead of us. We see that they carry large metal dishes, a few pots and also heavy pans. Just like us, they are already on the road early. They want to arrive at their destination well ahead of their group, so that they have enough time to put a delicious meal on the table for them. I have to admit, sometimes we are a little bit jealous of that five-star formula that the other walkers have around here.
The path starts relatively level, but after a few hundreds of meters we have to climb again. Fortunately not without reward in the disguise of fantastic views. And those fantastic views stay with us all day long. After every turn I want to take another picture.
It’s kind of a struggle to climb over the glacial debris of the Changri glacier. Its moraines soar above the landscape in the form of sturdy ice and stone ridges. Behind the glacier we see a robust wall of lesser-known peaks, which together form an impressive natural amphitheater. The difficult route, combined with the increasingly thinner air, results in the fact that we need two hours to cover the meager five kilometers between Lobouche and Gorak Shep.
But time is not important. Whether you take one, two or three hours, arriving in Gorak Shep is special anyway. The tiny town is located on a frozen bedding of a lake. But that is not even the most special thing about this place. Gorak Shep is the place where the former Mount Everest Base Camp was located. The first attempts to climb Mount Everest in the early fifties started here. So historically seen, Gorak Shep is perhaps even more valuable than the goal we are heading for today. We decide to leave our big backpacks in Gorak Shep. Instead we take two smaller ones, which are mainly filled with warm clothing, water and energy bars. Tonight we will come back here to stay overnight. In the lodge of Gorak Shep Wim arranges a room for us, although this is actually not recommended in our topoguide. More specifically due to the fact that Gorak Shep can be “notoriously cold”, according to Kev Reynolds, author of the book. We are confident, however, that our new expedition sleeping bags will not disappoint and ignore the advice of Reynolds. It is now 9:30 am. A good time to enjoy some spaghetti with tomato sauce and grated cheese. We both order some pasta, which should help us reach Everest Base Camp this afternoon.
The lighter weight on our backs feels wonderfully comfortable. Not long after Gorak Shep, the familiar yellow-red sign with the print “Way to Everest Base Camp” catches my eye. I get instant goosebumps. My body was set on autopilot the whole day. It feels as if I have switched off a button this morning, which has put all my thoughts and feelings on inactive. But here …, at this glorious sign, the button is suddenly switched on again. All of a sudden my heart and mind are full of emotions, that I have tried to ignore all day. I don’t know what to do with them. And I freeze. With eyes full of disbelief, I look into the lens, while Wim takes the obligatory selfie.
Again our topoguide draws attention to an important warning. In recent snowfall, finding the route to Everest Base Camp would be particularly difficult. Kev Reynolds even writes shortly: “forget it”. But just before panic strikes my heart, we see that a number of people have preceded us. We manage to orient ourselves by their footprints in the snow.
We walk past the Kala Patthar. Kala Patthar is Nepali for “black rock”. It’s the name of a remarkable mountain top on the southern flank of the Pumori. When on April 25th 2015 Nepal was hit by a huge earthquake, this caused an enormous avalanche on the Pumori. A massive snow mass was looking for a way down and wiped Everest Base Camp off the map. There were no less than nineteen deaths to be regretted. During our many conversations with locals on our route, we noticed that the earthquake is still fresh in their memories. Even today, people are still licking the wounds of what was perhaps the biggest natural disaster ever in Nepal.
As we slowly continue our way up, we let ourselves be overwhelmed by the high ice peaks on the Khumbu glacier, which stretches out on our right. Climbing at this altitude is tough. That the ground is constantly in motion here, we can notice by the strange turns the path makes over and over again. And after the last turn it’s suddenly there …
We have been on the road for twelve days. Every single step we took was with only one goal in mind. And now – so many days later – it is suddenly right in front of us. In the distance I see how the typical yellow tents of Everest Base Camp stick like small dots on the glacier. Never before has a yellow dot been so beautiful …
You would think that you get wings at moments like these, and walk on clouds for the last half an hour. But the Everest would not be the Everest, if he wouldn’t make the last few meters extremely hard. The story of a lady who had to be evacuated right here, just before the finishing line, is haunting my head. Overloaded with emotions I need to gasp for air …
When half an hour later the yellow dots finally become life-sized tents, only a few meters separate me from Everest Base Camp. It slowly creeps in … This was one of the toughest mountain trips in my life. Mainly because of my pneumonia and that continuous pounding headache. Not to mention the reduced appetite, the nausea, the extreme cold, the diarrhea and the sore throat with which I had to contend. My stamina has probably never been as high as now. Therefore the hike itself I could physically “digest” quite well. But due to my medical condition it suddenly became a huge ordeal. Not just for me. But also for Wim. Because more than once he has seen me in a state in which giving up was probably the best option. But he never stopped supporting me. It’s without doubt thanks to Wim and his good care that I am here today. Here – indeed – at Everest Base Camp …
When I take my last step, something inside me breaks. Tears roll down my cheeks. I look at the ground. Then at the sky. I can’t believe it…
I put my arms up in the air. Not as a victory cry. But to embrace the landscape.
I want to embrace the wild nature, which has driven me to extremes.
I want to embrace the snow, which has taught me what real cold is.
And I want to embrace Mount Everest.
My best friend…
And greatest enemy.
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