Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guide to the Everest Base Camp Trek: Part Five

For previous installments of this Everest Base Camp trekking guide, see: Part One Part TwoPart Three, and Part Four.

Day 8

Itinerary: Lobuche to Gorak Shep; Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp and back to Gorak Shep

We woke up this morning in a very cold room. I know what you're thinking: I'm a wimp. People, I lived in Chicago through two and a half winters. I know cold, and I can deal with cold. But I prefer when the cold stays where it belongs -- outside. It is pretty unpleasant to wake up in a literally freezing room.

We put on more clothing than usual, layering long-sleeved tech shirts, fleece jackets, and windbreakers. This kept out torsos nice and warm, but our gloved hands remained uncomfortably cold. We could not even use our trekking poles for the first part of the morning because the cork handles were so cold. Lesson learned: lightweight fleece gloves just don't cut it for the coldest days on this trek.

After walking in the sun for about 45 minutes, though, we both started to warm up. The initial stretch of the route to Gorak Shep is very flat, and the scenery reminded me of a moonscape.

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View towards Gorak Shep


The end of the flat trail is marked by an ascent up a short hill. After this initial ascent, the trail goes up and down a gravelly path that winds around the terminal moraine of the Changri Shar Glacier.


View towards Lobuche



The trail is somewhat tiring and difficult to negotiate -- not just because of the relentless up and down at high altitude but also because of choke points on narrow portions of the route.

The scenery, though, was excellent.






After about two hours, we finally spied Gorak Shep, which is a tiny collection of spartan lodges.




When we reached Gorak Shep, we found Lhakpa, who had run ahead and secured us the very last room in town. In the photo above, see the little yellow dot to the right of the red roof? That is one of the tents where unluckier people stayed for the night. No sleeping pads. Wind whipping. (Chris and Brenda, we're still not sure how you did it).

We ate a light snack before heading out at 10:15 for the round-trip trek to Everest Base Camp.




Lonely Planet says that the round-trip to Base Camp takes six hours, but Lhakpa assured us that it was much shorter. It was shorter -- maybe four hours total -- but it felt long because the hike is a tiring, tough slog. Like the route to Gorak Shep, the trail to Base Camp goes up and down, up and down, and up and down a very rocky path. The loose rocks are brutal on the feet, and the up-and-down nature of the trail is brutal on the psyche because it means that the return to Gorak Shep is just as difficult as the trip out to Base Camp.

The views along this route were not as impressive in the take-my-breath-away panorama kind of way, but it was amazing to be so close to these massive glaciers.










Here is the bottom of the Khumbu Icefall, which is one of the most dangerous stages of the South Col route to the Everest summit. The icefall moves with frightening speed, creating crevasses and sending huge blocks of ice tumbling (don't worry -- the photos are deceiving, and we didn't actually go near it).






Finally, we made it to Everest Base Camp at 4340 meters. Base Camp is fairly unremarkable, especially because Everest, obscured by other mountains, is not even visible from this point.



We took a break, snapped the obligatory pictures, and spent some time marveling at the mountains that seemed just an arm's distance away -- or, at least, close enough to clearly witness an avalanche on nearby Pumori, a mountain that is a common training climb for mountaineers attempting Everest.

Then we steeled ourselves for the return trip to Gorak Shep, where we promptly fell into our sleeping bags for an afternoon nap. Overall, I found the trek out to Base Camp to be quite tiring, generally unpleasant, and mostly unrewarding. Some people argue that you should skip the trip to Base Camp entirely. I almost agree with these folks, but then there is the part of me that would have surely regretted not ticking that box. Yes, I wanted those bragging rights. If you don't care about such things, then you should not feel like Base Camp is a necessity. Save your energy instead for your Kala Pattar climb.

We ate an early dinner in a very crowded dining room and then headed to bed early to prepare for our 4:45 wake-up call the next morning -- Kala Pattar was calling.

Continue reading: Part Six, Part Seven, and Tips of the Trail.

See also: Everest Base Camp Trek vs. Annapurna Circuit Trek.

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