*** The spectacular photos used in this post are courtesy of Tim Martin. You can see more of his Everest pictures and follow his instagram here at http://instagram.com/timtreks. Thank you so much Tim!***
****If you are not wowed by a photo then it is one of mine, as well as the videos and obviously, the selfies. ****
I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh lord… Phil Collins voice popped into my head the moment we had base camp in sight (after belting out the lyrics I couldn’t help but follow it by an air drum solo). The moment I’d been waiting for, ever since I decided I could no longer ignore the call of the Himalayas and my mind has been on base camp ever since. The holy grail for amateur trekkers. We arrived in the midst of snowfall, surrounded by the silent ice and rock. Oftentimes, words are not sufficient to describe experiences and feelings. So there are going to be a lot of pictures and few words, to show rather than try to explain the indescribable.
It started in the airport, waiting for a flight to Lukla (The most dangerous airport in the world). Myself, two new Australian friends and our guides. We had the first flight on the morning of the 13th to Lukla, however due to weather we were delayed for two days. At one point we were even on the shuttle bus on the tarmac ready to board the plane, when it was canceled and we turned around to the terminal. After waiting in the airport for two days, we finally left on the 15th.
The first part of the trek I was pretty sick and concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other from Lukla to Phakding, then Phakding to Namche.
By the time I reached Namche, I was feeling much better and was able to press on to Tengboche. Namche Bazaar is the closest thing to a city in the mountains and oftentimes the last chance to get decent supplies (for still outrageous prices) and a real cup of coffee before actually getting into the mountains.
At 3,400 meters, most people take an acclimatization day, but since half of our group already had theirs I skipped mine so we could move along together. Our group consisted of myself, two Australian trekkers and two guides. It was foggy and dreary as we made our way to Tengboche but after a long ascent we made it.
That evening in Tengboche is when our little group merged together. Two Dutch guys and their guide, who were with the Australians in the first few days were already there and settled when we arrived, and we recognized a German girl who was on our bus on the tarmac the first day we tried to get a flight, and her guide. All of us had been on the bus on the tarmac ready to board the plane together days earlier and now we were here together again, it must have been Sargarmatha’s fate. We bonded over hot tea and dhumble, and from then on we were a group.
Tengboche is famous for the Tibetan Monastery on the hill that was across from our teahouse. In the morning before we left the Monks held a prayer session at 7 am. We sat in the beautifully painted prayer room and soaked up good blessings before setting out for the day.
It started as a rainy foggy day, but cleared enough that the threat of rain vanished and the sun even peaked out from time to time. On the four hour walk along the ridge to Dingboche, I went on another wildflower picture spree. It was still to cloudy to notice that there were massive Himalayan glaciers behind us. They did not show themselves until the next morning in Dingboche.
At 4260 meters, most people take another acclimatization day in Dingboche. A few members of our group were not feeling 100%, so instead of splitting up we decided to all take a rest day for good measure.
That morning we saw the Himalayas for the first time.
Including, Nupste and Island peak and the iconic Ama-Dablum.
But Sargamatha still alluded us.
The next leg to Loubouche was through a long open valley filled with grazing mountain yaks and their keepers small stone houses.
The trail then lead to Dughla from where it was a steady incline, first on a steep stone staircase then through another short valley. After the stone staircase were the eerie stupa memorials for all those who’d lost their lives to the mountains.
When we’d reached Loubouche at 4,930 meters it was dark and cold and starting to rain. We spent that night like the rest, keeping warm with soup and tea and cards, and the anticipation of arriving at base camp the next day.
The final stop on our journey was Gorakshep, the last teahouse at 5,140 meters before reaching base camp. The plan was to hike from Loubouche to Gorakshep in the morning, put our things down, have lunch and a short rest, then make our way to base camp in the afternoon, and the view point at Kalapathar the next morning.
I was woken up to the exclamation that next morning “Oh my god there’s snow!” by our south Australian mate who’d never seen snow before. That morning as we layered up, we blamed her for the snowfall. I was wearing; 3 pairs of thick socks, two pairs of gloves (cotton liners under my ski gloves), leggings, two pairs of trekking pants, two thermal shirts, a long sleeve, a down jacket, a gortex jacket, a knit wool hat and a scarf (admittedly it was a bit overkill but better too warm than too cold in that situation). It’s pretty to look at, we warned, but after a few hours of walking in it you will hate it. Truthfully it was my first time trekking in the snow, and as cold and foggy as it was, it made me feel like a real explorer.
We couldn’t see much aside for a few meters of the trail in front of us, by the time we got to Gorakshep it started to snow even more, I was half tempted to stay inside the warm hut and sleep for the day. We took a break for lunch and I changed a few layers that had gotten wet and we set out again. From Gorakshep, it took another hour and a half to get to base camp. In the front of the pack, Tim (responsible for all the fantastic photos you see in this post) and I enjoyed the stunning silence, nothing but the sound of the creek of the snow under our boots and the occasional rock slide on the surrounding glaciers. It gave the feeling of pristine unexplored nature, to a trail that had been trodden by hundreds of thousands before.
Since last years earthquake, base camp was moved forward 50 meters closer to Gorakshep than it had been traditionally. We could spot it from the prayer flags and the crowd of people as we drew near.
It was inspiring to literally be able to look back on what I accomplished, and made me want to climb higher, literally. Now, it seems summitting wouldn’t be out of the question someday, (it would just be a matter of time and money) I will start with some smaller peaks first and work my way up. But it gave me the courage to set my sights higher than they ever had been before.
We’d made it back down in a matter of three days and I was reluctant to leave the mountains. The only consolation I had leaving was the feeling in my heart that I know I will be back again someday. We never did get a view of Everest, and I never did make it to Gokyo as originally planned, the Sagarmatha and I have unfinished business.
Life is just a series of mountains we climb up and down again and again. Staying at a peak for too long is dangerous, you always have to go back down and start over on a new mountain no matter how glorious the last was. And we think it is for those few precious moments at the top we climb, but it is so much more than that.
Objectively walking for days to reach a pile of rubble in the snow sounds insane. It wasn’t about what it looked like, we knew we would have no view from the weather the previous days, it was about the journey, pushing yourself to do something that there is no certainty you were capable of, relying on the you meet along the way that become your lifeline, giving yourself completely to the mercy of the mountains, and discovering the person you became in the process.