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Nepal 2014

Day 16. Everest Base Camp Trek. Gorek Shep, Kala Patthar, Pheriche

NEPAL | Saturday, 31 May 2014 | Views [1938]

Early Morning Day 16. Trek to Kala Patthar and Everest Views

I dropped out of the Kala Patthar hike so I have no account of that. In the night my throat, which had been raw for a couple of days, flared up to a full blown pharyngitis and a cough had developed. Having just recovered from pneumonia before coming to Nepal, I elected not to risk another episode.[1]

The others left about 4.30am. It was a very cold, clear morning with a setting moon, 2 days past full; perfect conditions for climbing in the dark. I had been restless so got up anyway and sat in the lodge dining room. From about 7.00am early starters returned from the 5,550 m peak in various stages of exhaustion and defeat, excitement and elation. People came in with their water bottles blocks of ice, grey with cold and exertion, clapping frozen hands. With wind-chill the temperature was close to -15oC. The oxygen concentration at 5,550 m (18,200ft) is 10.9% or 50% of sea level concentration and categorised as "extreme". I'd estimate that up to half of those attempting Kala Patthar failed to complete it. I regret I didn't attempt it but I was sickening fast.

Kala Patthar gives the best, unobstructed view of the principal peaks including Everest. At this time of the year, clear mornings quickly deteriorate as the mountain weather pattern sets in. As you're looking directly eastwards into the sunrise the light is adverse, so predawn is the best time, hence the early start.

Geoff, Gerard, Nick and David, who'd come in exhausted and elated related tales of grit and exhilaration. It was intensely cold. Hands were locking on climbing sticks, fingers were too numb to operate cameras, cameras and phones were spontaneously shutting off as battery power vanished, water bottles froze in backpacks. They passed one trekker who was convinced he was getting frostbite and others who could go no further. Gopal, our ever-fresh guide, helped by carrying abandoned sticks, backpacks and cameras and pushing with both hands from behind. He took a gallery of pictures with my camera.


Later Day 16. Gorek Shep to Pheriche, and the Long Way Home

We made an early start on return from Kala Patthar because the return journey to Lukla started immediately; 3 days to retread what had taken 7 days on the outward leg of the trek. "It's all downhill," doesn't fool anyone because we know all those welcome downhills we enjoyed on the way here will become uphills in the reverse direction.

The return journey began with familiar winded feeling starting off at very high altitude, but was replaced by a feeling of optimism as the terrain gradually declined. Notable for today was to branch off the path to Dingboche into the long, deep glaciated valley to Pheriche. The long-gone glacier had left classic roche mouton residue; rounded, white and black rocks looking from a distance like flocks of sheep scattered in the bitter grass and juniper. Shaggy-coated yaks and their calves grazed in the tumble of moraine rocks. It was a scene from the last Ice Age.

It was a long, hard hike. The friendly, helping wind of yesterday had become a hard fist in the face; the chill sucking the heat from our bodies. Hard sleet was falling. Rescue helicopters buzzed overhead several times, landing victims at the Himalayan Rescue Association casualty transit station in Pheriche. We found lodging at the last lodge in the settlement.

Here, settled in the Pumori Hotel at 4,240 m (14,000 ft.) we quickly found our beds and passed out for a couple of hours, untroubled by the thin air which has been such an adversary during the past few days. We all look forward to a complete night's sleep.


A complete night's sleep ended for me around 2am as Cheyne-Stokes respiration kicked in, leaving me twitching, wakeful and gasping for air. A couple of deep breaths repays the oxygen debt but 30 seconds later another instalment is required by the body to maintain a viable blood oxygen level, so sleep is impossible. I'm writing this paragraph at 3am, swaddled in blankets, propped up in bed. It's bitterly cold in the room.

[1] On return to Australia, I had a relapse of pneumonia.

Tags: everest base camp trek, gorek shep, kala patthar, pheriche


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