EBC 2014. Day 9. Lobuche to Everest Base Camp.
Quote of the day: Khudam Bir: "Tomorrow, we leave at 4:30 AM. Please get your head torches."
Khudam Bir wanted us to leave at 4:30, but it's finally 5:00 AM by the time we set off. It's going to be one long hard day. We're headed to Gorakshep first. At an altitude of 16,867 feet (5,111 meters) we are not only going to gain 817 feet today (almost 250 meters) but the plan is to have lunch at Gorakhshep and power on to base camp and come back. That's an 18 KM day! (Thank goodness I only learnt the distance we'd walked after it was all over - would have totally psyched me out otherwise!)
The walk from Lobuche to Gorakshep is....murderous. I can't think of any other word to describe it. It is cold - Dilpreet's watch says it's -2.3 deg Celsius. With the wind chill factor it's more like -8 or even less. I have my down jacket on and several layers of thermals and fleece, but nothing to cover my long Parsi nose. I dig it deep into my down jacket and plod on. "I'm going to die here", I'm thinking to myself, "I'm going to die in this freakin desolate place with no roses on my grave!" What a stupid thought. I'm not even a roses kind of person. Must be the altitude. I suddenly realise I haven't made my will. I turn around to tell Pavane: "You're my little one's godmother, take care of her when I'm gone. Make her strong and tough like you." (Funny in retrospect I guess, but right now that's how I feel). It's bone chillingly cold and the altitude makes it so much more difficult. Everyone in the group seems to be struggling, even the Supertrekkers. The last haul to Gorakshep is an uphill task - literally. Climbing that hill is a mammoth ask and I simply refuse to look up. "One step at a time Dilshad", I tell myself, "one freakin step at a time!"
There's hot wai wai noodle soup waiting for us at the Gorakshep lodge. Arpita is jumping up and down with joy. Wai Wai noodles and her share a very special relationship. All of us who've reached, gorge on it, palpable silence amongst us all - strange for a group that normally takes over the entire dining room of the lodge once we get there and Pavane has to constantly shush us down!
This altitude we're at - it's a killer. This is where the famed AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) begins to make an appearance. Some of us are plain exhausted. Some of us are not feeling too good - slight nausea, a headache. I'm just bushed. But I know that the altitude can hit me at any time and quietly slip in some painkillers into my pockets for easy access. Khudam Bir urges us all to finish quickly so we can move on to base camp and tells us to shed all our extra baggage and give our down jackets to Neema, Bir or him to carry. There's only water in my back pack, my down jacket is safely tied around Neema's waist. I don't want any extra baggage - literally. The sun is out, we're thawing a bit now.
The trek from Gorakshep to Everest Base Camp starts from the Khumbu glacial moraine. I remember reading about this now - Gorakshep was the earlier "Everest Base Camp" in the early 1950s until it was moved some way up. It's one long, wide, endless expanse of land with no greenery and nothing to protect us from the cold winds. We reach the famous board that says "Way to MT. Everest". It's a nondescript looking board, slightly bent at the edges. Looks far more flashy in the photos, I think to myself. We whip out our cameras and all of us pose around the board. It's Facebook photo time. Come on! If we've made it all the way here, is anyone going to grudge us some narcissism? At the end of the moraine are a series of murderous boulders that we have to cross over. And then comes the uphill march, on a slippery, rubbled track, and I sing to myself "you know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away!" (Not quite sure Simon Garfunkel were talking about this when they wrote the song though!).
At the end of the uphill task lies this narrow ridge, steep cliffs on both sides. Khudam Bir stops and points out, "there!" he says, "that's Everest Base Camp!" I stare down at the end of this long slippery slope full of loose rocks, stone and rubble. He seems to be pointing at this really small, dark with dirty ice piece of land, surrounded by prayer flags with a pile of prayer stones in the center. THAT'S Everest Base Camp?? I get this feeling of being let down. I am expecting this wide expanse of empty virgin white, with mountains in the backdrop. I've heard that base camp can get quite crowded because we are there in the summit window week, but with the disastrous avalanche a few weeks back, where 16 Sherpas died, almost all summit teams have returned. So I did expect emptiness, but not this insignificant piece of land with no character. This is the "ceremonial EBC." The real one is still 90 minute inwards, I'm told.
Everest Base Camp is still about 45 minutes away at my speed, and I have his strong urge to simply turn back. I am so tired, I don't think I can make that 45 minute walk across the ridge and the downhill trudge - the altitude isn't making it any easier. "Eleven years, Dilshad" I tell myself, "I've waited for this for 11 years!" EBC was always my dream, ever since I came up with this crazy docu-reality show for National Geographic Channel which sent five ordinary Indians to EBC with the Indian Army. "Come on!" I yell aloud to the winds. "I've survived cancer, radiotherapy and three major surgeries in the last two years, I can bloody do this!" Khudam Bir suspects my desperation, turns around to look at me, and says: "Just 15 minutes, come on!" "15 Nepali minutes," I mumble under my breath. It take us mere mortals three times as much!
We finally reach the downward trail - the last haul before reaching base camp. Clambering across dirty icy patches of land and rubble, we're finally there. Everest Base Camp. I start to cry. Maybe I'm crying because my 11-year dream has been fulfilled. Or maybe I'm crying because I don't have to climb anymore boulders, rocks and slippery slopes. I suspect it's a mix of both. I look around. It's a place about 15x15 wide approximately. There's about 10 to 12 other people there. Not an exciting bunch, I think to myself. They all look sort of morose, like as if someone called light outs at their party. Strange. I don't hear any joyous chatter, no laughs, no excitement. The only noise there is coming from our group - like always. We pick up a few stones and add it to the prayer wall in the center. Suhani fishes out her gro pro - it's been stuck to her hand ever since we started the trip and she hasn't let go:-). We takes lots of photos. Everyone hugs everyone else. Khudam Bir, the man who's got us here, gets the biggest, warmest hugs of all. He's got this big beaming smile on his face. I guess he's just relieved that he's managed to get this crazy bunch of mostly non-trekking Indians all the way to Everest Base Camp:-). We're at 17,229 feet and we can't stay there much longer. It's a three hour journey back to Gorakshep. We snack on our powers bars, (Okay, confession time, I fill up on the left over gathias that Gitu has thoughtfully left in the food bag - yummy!), fill up on our bladders and start to head back the way we came.
It's just 2.5 KM back, I tell myself. How hard can it be? Very. Bloody. Hard. After a long tiring nine hour day at high altitude, this return journey is a bummer. The cold winds are picking up now. I dig my hands deep into my wind breaker, keep my eyes glued to my boots and start to walk...climb, trudge, scramble, slip. I really can't remember how I make it back. All I know is, I stumble into the lodge and collapse into Gitu's lap and start to howl.
I cry because I am just so exhausted. I cry because I am so disappointed. Almost an anti climax. I wonder...if I had known how disappointed I would be on seeing that small 15x15 track of land, I probably would have simply stayed back at Gorakshep. Because honestly, the real challenge of getting there has already been accomplished. That extra 110 meters (362 feet) of altitude really isn't worth it.
The Everest Base Camp trek is one of the most beautiful, breathtaking treks ever. The entire expanse of the mountains with Ama Dablam the presiding beauty, the first sighting of the Everest summit, the wide green meadows, the gurgling streams surrounded by little blue forget-me-nots, the baby Yaks sticking closely to their mommy for warmth and comfort, the big burly bhutia dogs that follow you from point to point, the enchanted forests of bright pink white, lilac and yellow Rhododendrons, the miles and miles of multiple ranges that stretch out limitlessly ...it's just an incredible trek! Take it only for that reason - that's what I will tell my little one when she grows up. And for the fact that you know how much your mind is capable of doing, when the body packs up. To me, they are the only two good reasons to set off on this incredible journey. Reaching base camp is a non-essential. It has taken us eight days to get here. There's another four days left to reach Lukla again.
Tips for first time trekkers to the Khumbu region:
What to pack? How many trekking pants to take? How many T shirts? Just remember one thing...you're probably not going to have a bath for the last 10 days of the trip. Unless you're totally OCD or love taking ice cold waters baths, here's my suggested packing list for the 16 day trip:
I don't follow the tourists. I like to dive into experiences without a plan and simply follow my heart - and my stomach. My memories of every place I've been to is often enmeshed with the food I've eaten there. I love to travel and the sheer exasperation of not being able to find those special places led me to quit the television industry I'd worked in for 22 odd years and enter this unknown world.
WANT TO READ MORE OF DILSHAD'S #MHE2EBC? CHECK OUT HER DAILY BLOGS OF THE TRIP HERE:
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