It’s day ten of our trek to Everest Base Camp and the sounds of yak bells were clanging along the trails and reverberating through the thin walls of the teahouse. The sun wasn’t even up but it was clear that the Everest super highway was open for business. Every trekker and expeditioner that sets their eyes on Everest Base Camp or the summit crosses the next stretch on the trails – Lobuche (4,910m) to Gorakshep (5,160m).
While the stretch from Lobuche to Gorakshep tends to take two to three hours you will gain almost 300 meters in altitude. It’s points like this in the trek that every step feels like a lot of work. If you have done any high altitude trekking before, then you won’t be surprised how much the lower oxygen levels impacts your ability to get where you are going. Although we paced ourselves, we still smashed the standard times that it takes to get there and made it in an hour and a half.
The trail from Lobuche to Gorakshep follows the left side of the Khumbu Valley and makes it’s way across multiple steep moraines. As is always the case, the surrounding mountains continued to hide behind each other as others begin to reveal themselves. If you are a mountain and Mother Nature lover – you will never tire of these views.
Before finally making it to Gorakshep, we crossed over the Changri Nup and Changri Shar Glacier that originates from the surrounding peaks of Pumori (7,161m) Changri (6,027m) and Chumbu (6,859m).
Arrival in Gorakshep was like any other stop so far. We were in a single file line of tourists, yaks and Sherpas whom were all making the same journey. The experience was night and day compared to how we experienced the majority of our off the beaten path trek thus far. After a bit of a shuffle of teahouses, we checked into the basic Himalayan Guest House, had lunch and watched as the flurry of people buzzed up and down the trails.
Gorakshep is like the Himalayan version of Grand Central Station. People are either using it as a brief resting spot before trekking straight to Everest Base Camp or overnighting here either because they will set off of Everest Base Camp the following the day. Some have just returned from Base Camp and are doing the reverse. Yaks are coming and going with tons of gear and supplies for expedition preparations. Helicopters are zipping in and out – some carrying scenic flight passengers who prefer to see the region by air, while others are being emergency airlifted out of the areas and back down to lower altitude.
Over one cup of tea we saw three different people being airlifted by helicopter back to Kathmandu. It goes without saying that the effects of altitude can be fatal. The only way to handle the serious side effects before anything bad happens is to get down to lower altitudes. While most travel companies will require this before setting off on an Everest adventure with them, I heavily advise taking out travel insurance that covers emergency air evacuations. While I think some may be using it as an easy ticket to not have to trek multiple days to get back down, it can be the difference between life and death if you are ill.
We took the Three Pass Trail from the start that had us experiencing much higher altitudes much sooner in our trek than the standard tourist EBC trek. While tough, this allowed us to properly acclimatize so we weren’t experiencing any of the common side effects of altitude sickness.
One of the common side trips from Lobuche to Gorakshep is trekking to the top of Kala Patthar (5,643m). Nestled on the side of Pumori, Kala Patthar’s tough trail offers those that attempt it great views of Everest and the surrounding mountain range. Reaching the summit tends be the highest point that someone can get to on a standard trek to Everest Base Camp. If combined with another peak or Everest herself, then this is just a bit of an acclimatization work out. Kala Patthar is that unassuming hill pictured below.
A lot of trekkers leave Lobuche well before sunrise and climb Kala Patthar to catch the early rays over Everest. Since the weather was meant to be clear, we agreed that we would head up after lunch. We crossed the dried up lake and headed towards the famous trailhead.
There are a couple different options trekkers have to get to the top – a direct, but steep route that requires a bit of scrambling. The other makes its way to the lower ridge between Kala Patthar and the Pumori. If you choose the latter, there is an additional path that will take you to the true Kala Patthar summit if you find the extra energy. We chose the direct, more difficult route.
The path didn’t waste anytime getting steep and was quite relentless. From the trailhead Everest is nowhere to be seen. As you continue to make your way up Kala Patthar, the peak begins to reveal itself.
It really is quite an amazing experience – you are rewarded with better views as you continue to oush yourself up the trail towards the summit – the trail that gets even tougher when you have to start scrambling over the large boulders.
Unfortunately for us, the weather gods were not on our side this day. As we were half way up the clouds decided to roll in and take our views of Everest away. The sun was gone, the winds were coming in and the snow began to flurry. Temperatures were dropping substantially, but we were committed to reaching the top – view or not. We powered through and made it to the top.
From the top you are able to see the South West Face of Everest, the Western Cwm, which is the valley above the dangerous Khumbu Ice Fall and also one of the hottest places on earth due to lack of wind and the reflection of the sun on the ice, South Col (7,906m) which is usually the last camp before summiting Everest and the start of the “death-zone” and Lhotse the fourth highest mountain in the world at 8,516m.
Kala Patthar also gives you great views of the Khumbu Ice Fall and Khumbu Glacier that heads down the valley in the direction that we came. In the distance you can also see the peaks near Namche Bazaar that were visible in our first couple of days of the trek, including Kang Taiga (6,782m) and Thamserku (6,623m).
Looking out into the distance, I couldn’t help but think that the surrounding area looked out of this world. Moody hues of grey and white all around as clouds continued to roll in over ominous peaks and down into the debris covered Khumbu Glacier. It’s what I imagine the moon would look like.
Having enjoyed the views for some time and starting to feel the cold deep in our bones, we decided to make our descent back to Gorakshep. As we navigated over the boulders and back down the path, I looked onward to the base of the Khumbu Icefall. The widely dispersed orange and yellow tents were getting closer in view, which only meant one thing – Everest Base Camp was literally just around the corner. The journey from Lobuche to Gorakshep took us one step closer to making another dream a reality.