Mount Everest Base Camp Trek, Day 13: Gorak Shep – Pangboche

Shivering from the cold, we have breakfast at the lodge of Gorak Shep. While we are preparing for the great descent, we notice that one of the employees of the lodge slept on one of the wooden benches last night. He didn’t have anything more than a thin blanket to keep warm. As much luxury as a separate bedroom or even a simple bed doesn’t seem to be available for everyone up here. When you know that Wim dropped his drinking bottle onto our bedroom floor yesterday and the spilled water turned our room into a skating rink in no time, you can imagine how cold this man must have been last night.

I smile kindly to the owner of the lodge. He smiles back at me and looks kind of reassured when he sees that I’m feeling well. After all, that definitely wasn’t the case yesterday. When we started the descent after reaching Everest Base Camp, it went quite wrong. Not only did my terrible headache re-emerge, I also wasn’t able to walk in a straight line anymore. When I sat down on a rock to store my down jacket in my backpack, I just couldn’t get my jacket in there. My motor skills completely failed and my eyes turned slightly away. Altitude sickness phase two, so much was clear. Wim immediately got me off the rock. We had to descend as quickly as possible to reduce the threatening symptoms. “I’m fine, I’m fine”, I said to Wim. But the words came out rather muttering. I felt that I was drifting away, but encouraged by Wim an hour and a half later I reached Gorak Shep‘s lodge. The owner of the lodge must have noticed that I was in an awful state. On his own he had arranged two seats in a helicopter for us, so that I could be evacuated to the valley. When he offered them to us, I was brief in my reply. Instead of thanking him kindly, I rejected his offer. I suspect that it was my pride that got the upper hand. My pride that has brought me to this place. And my pride that will get me back down as well…

Yesterday we noticed that Everest Base Camp was quite crowded. Apparently, that is due to the bad weather on the Everest. The expedition members have been stuck at Base Camp for more than ten days now, because the strong wind prevents them from trying to reach the top. Hopefully there will be a change in the weather soon, because on May 29, the entire Everest Base Camp has to be broken up again. After that date, no tent may remain and Everest Base Camp will be reduced to the lifeless glacier where the camp is rebuilt every year. Well, not completely lifeless of course, because just like all other glaciers, the Khumbu glacier, on which Everest Base Camp is located, is constantly moving. An expedition member could witness with his own two eyes how his nice flat “front yard” he had five weeks agoin front of his tent, has completely disappeared. Today his “front yard” is only ten centimeters long and his “doorstep” he didn’t even have before, is about half a meter high. That’s the reason why so called “glacier doctors” are present at Everest Base Camp during the entire season. On a daily basis, they inspect the status of the Khumbu Icefall. They measure the gaps and the ice strength and they have the route remapped where necessary. Also today, additional ladders have to be brought to Base Camp, because extra gaps have formed in the ice. Even the route that we followed yesterday to reach Everest Base Camp itself can be completely different in two weeks’ time, because the glacier is always moving.

Glaciers, they always have and will be special … Tom thinks so too. Tom is a man well over his sixties, who has lived in Nepal together with his wife for years, to carry out research on glaciers. We met him a few days ago and we see him again during the descent past Gorak Shep. We stop for a moment to talk. He walks in the opposite direction. Together with his companion he is on his way to Everest Base Camp. But I bet they will look at it with completely different eyes than we did yesterday. While we were staring at the high peaks in full admiration, their looks will probably be fixed to the ground … searching for the undeniable proof that we are losing the battle against global warming. It’s a sad thought that without even blushing, we are destroying all the natural beauty Mother Earth has been working on for so many millions of years…

Besides Tom we also meet a brown and a black stray dog. They follow us all the way to Lobouche. The two clearly have a lot more energy left than we do, since they are running tirelessly up and down the hills. As if the route isn’t difficult enough as it is… In Lobouche they join the rest of their pack, who are enjoying the awakening landscape on a rock. A little further on, four puppies are rolling around. They look like a happy family.

Past the lodge where we slept yesterday, our route splits off the original trail and we can walk through undiscovered natural beauty. The track leads us uphill again, to arrive at a beautiful viewpoint that is covered with small stupas.

We rest for a while and realize that this is a moment of goodbye. From this point on our route slowly but surely will look for a way out of the mountains. Gradually we will exchange the barren and rocky high mountains for green forests and wild flowers. And although saying goodbye is never really fun, it feels good anyway. It is time to go … During two unforgettable weeks we have lived by the side of the highest mountains in the world. We have had admiration and respect for them. They forced us to cross borders that we thought we would never cross. And above all, they taught us lessons … Lessons about how small and insignificant we are. Two weeks in this overwhelming and majestic landscape make you realize that – yes – we might be at the top of the food pyramid, but in the end we will always be defeated by the power of nature. It sets you both literally and figuratively with two feet on the ground. The megalomania of our race inevitably gets a stone-hard reality check. A reality check that all of us might need to get. Because the only thing that our planet earth really needs to survive is a little more human modesty …

And with that regained human modesty we descend further and further, to finally arrive in the vast valley of Periche. An icy cold wind has free play through the valley. Although we are already several hundreds of meters lower, the temperature does not gain any degree. On the contrary, it seems rather that Jack Frost has made an advance towards the lower-lying landscape. A local guide dissuades us of spending the night here and advises us to continue for two more hours to Pangboche, where the infamous Jack Frost apparently has a lot less to say. We follow his advice, after we have strengthened our inner man with a portion of “mo-mo” in a very cozy eatery. “Mo-mo” are delicious Nepalese dumplings. I lay myself down on a bench, because my headache is worse than it’s ever been. It’s so bad that my whole body starts to shake. The guide is worried and gives Wim some extra information about the route that we have to follow. When he, too, continues his way through the ice-cold valley, he concludes with the words that Wim must help and support me. Wim nods and caresses my arm. No need to worry. I know I’m in good hands …

Two paracetamols and a portion of “mo-mo” later, I can kind of  sit up straight and open my eyes again. When I feel strong enough, I put on my backpack and we prepare for a last short climb. The path goes up over a river where some local women are doing their laundry. It is a short but firm climb that goes surprisingly well. At the top we meet other walkers. For them the adventure has yet to begin. I notice that they wear shorts, while I wear three layers of clothing and gloves. They have no idea what kind of inhospitable landscape they will end up in. The shorts will quickly be exchanged for long trousers. But I am happy that we left Jack Frost behind and I can permanently store my gloves in my backpack.

In the distance we see Pangboche. Or at least we think we do. Because at an intersection an arrow points in the other direction and it appears to be an additional half an hour of climbing. However, I don’t let myself be discouraged and I start the climb with positive energy. In no time we reach the highest point and as a reward we end up in a forest for the first time in two weeks. It feels like coming home. In the past few days we never really felt that we had missed a forest or vegetation. But the natural shadow, the feeling of green life and the smell of pine forest give me completely unannounced watery eyes. It catches me. It’s a feeling that I didn’t expect in the slightest. But it’s yet another proof that a person can not do without green. 

At the very top of Pangboche a beautiful lodge attracts our attention. It stands tall behind a colorful temple. A large sign with the wrongly spelled “Holliday Inn” promises us a Nepalese version of a western hotel chain. We see the humor in it and decide to book a room. Which is, as always, very primitive. But we have our own toilet in the room, which according to Nepalese standards can therefore be taken for a real “penthouse”. There is no shower, nor electricity. I see blood stains on the sheets and with bare feet I wouldn’t venture on the floor. But we are really happy with our room. Through the window we see vast green pine forests. They give the snow-capped mountain tops which soar above the landscape a friendly and gentle character. I pull the curtain aside and I smile. A “penthouse” couldn’t even come close to this…

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