Day 5: Tengboche to Dingboche
That night it dropped to around -15 degrees C and I had my sleeping bag zipped over my face, with only my mouth exposed to breathe. I felt chilled throughout the night and blamed it on the ice bucket, which had dropped my body temperature. I decided to take it easy from then on but Dan wanted to push it further.
We began the trek from Tengboche to Dingboche, which sat at 4410m/14465ft, with helicopters flying overhead at what seemed like every hour. Apparently, trekking guides get a 30% cut if they send people on a $5,000 joyride back home, which is just what Irene’s mate was doing.
Along the way, we stopped for lunch at Pangboche where Irene helped me hash out my intro video and what I was trying the achieve with my blog. I enjoyed her company and clarity of thought but we would lose her after this encounter, until the last day when we all reconvened at the airport.
When we arrived at Dingboche, Dan and I trekked another 100 meters in elevation to acclimatize for the following day’s hike and did some Wim Hof breathing. When we arrived at the overlook, Irene and Sophie joined us (together with a local dog) for what erupted into one of the best dance parties I’ve ever experienced.
Scott joined us later for another ice bucket challenge but it sent him into a spiral. I think it was all too much for his body to handle and he even considered staying behind the following day until some garlic soup perked him up.
Our ice bucket antics were being sent around the world on WeChat by a Chinese couple who seemed to be more interested in us than the actual hike. We spent that evening sitting around a cast iron stove with them until the door of the lodge blew open with a howling wind and someone entered wearing a long, black overcoat, a wool hat and a red scarf covering her face.
It turned out to be a petite girl from Kunming, with puffy cheeks and a big smile that could light up a room. It was like she was a walking goddess. I told her my name was Kurt or “Kelong” in Chinese. She said her name was “Dream” and that she’d walked three days to Lukla as she couldn’t buy a flight and hadn’t stopped since. She was a professional singer in China who’d turned into a spiritual master and was on a pilgrimage of sorts. I was concerned that she wasn’t well prepared, so I gave her my thick jacket and some clothes to warm up. She accepted and from that point on, we were a group of six.
Day 6: Dingboche to Lobuche and Everest Base Camp
In Dingboche, it was extremely cold at night, so much so that it would wake you up and you’d have to pee. But it was so cold that you didn’t want to get out of your sleeping bag. So the dilemma began – pee or freeze? Ultimately, pee would win and I would go outside to relieve myself.
We readied ourselves to make the final trek to Lobuche and the Everest Base Camp, with the trekking becoming increasingly tough. Dan was down, so we stayed with him a bit while he had a couple of bowls of garlic soup. He had to admit that the extra ice water bucket probably didn’t help.
We had a big elevation gain to start the day, ascending around 400 meters to the Everest Cemetery where hikers who had died trekking or during the recent avalanches were buried. Like most cemeteries, it was a peaceful place that made me reflect and have a renewed respect for all of those who had braved this terrain. They’d given their lives to experience it and created a better world for Nepal at the same time.
We stopped for lunch in Gorapshek and were completely knackered but knew that we wanted to get to the base camp that day. So after a plate of fried rice, we pushed on along what’s become known as the “final steps to heaven”. This 3.5 kilometers was mostly on rocky terrain, with a gradual 200-meter ascent.
We arrived at the base camp around 4 pm, with the Himalayas soaring all around us, although Everest itself was tough to see. Gazing up another 3 kilometers left me in a state of disbelief – people actually climbed 3 kilometers higher to get there?
We were elated as a group, with everyone hugging one another to celebrate our successful achievement, despite all being incredibly tired. Dan, Scott and I grabbed a shot with our shirts off in honor of Wim Hof and I recorded a short video message with Everest behind before beginning the descent.
On our way back, we witnessed an avalanche in the distance. Jellen was the only one with enough energy to hike up Kala Patthar for sunset and took some majestic photos of the mountains transforming a deep purple color.
Day 8-12: The descent
We stayed the night in Gorakshep and I had a really rough night’s sleep. It was soooo cold at around -30 degrees C. I dreamt that I had a snake around my neck and felt my heart racing all night. I couldn’t quite figure it out but it was probably a sign that it was time to get off this mountain.
We awoke at 5 am to hike Kala Patthar for sunrise, although we could barely function. To withstand the cold, we tried having another dance party to warm up but to no avail – we could barely move. Even our camera batteries were all dying from the cold.
Despite this, the sunrise was beautiful, with a nice orange glow cast over the mountains that was visible from our lodge. We all agreed that the sunset experience would have been better and ran back down for breakfast.
I was trying to gear everyone up for a fast descent, with the aim being to hit Namche Bazaar (30 kilometers away) in one shot. We fought hard but the uphill climb to Tengboche slowed us down and we decided to rest after eight hours on the trail.
In Tengboche, we took some time to film the local area and its great monastery, then celebrated Chinese New Year with some Chinese trekkers who were still ascending…and might have struggled the following day after the multiple toasts we initiated.
The next morning, we initially thought we could make it to Lukla but decided instead to enjoy the walk and explore the village of Periche, which we had missed on the way up. We spent the night in Namche Bazaar, with Suzan’s mom hosting a party at their tea house where we got to meet his wife and daughter.
That night, a big storm rolled in and our flights were canceled. Other hikers who were still making their way towards Everest Base Camp were forced to descend. We felt lucky that we’d been able to complete our journey and resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d have to stay put reading, socializing and watching the incredibly fit locals play soccer until the storm cleared.
As we boarded our flight in Lukla, we were all happy to be on our way back to Kathmandu and watched the villages become tinier and tinier below. It wasn’t an easy life to survive in such extreme conditions but the Nepalese had done an amazing job of building infrastructure and houses out here. The villages of the Himalayas gradually turned into towns and then the urban sprawl of the big city came into view as we descended back to the reality of Kathmandu.
Trekking to Everest Base Camp had been an incredible accomplishment that I’d shared with some great people. Although Dan and I had set out together, we’d been open about welcoming others and creating an inclusive experience. We’d eaten well (albeit too many carbs), supported each other (and not left anyone behind) while also offering each other enough space. We’d danced when things got tough and joked with one another to lighten the situation, all while challenging ourselves to reach our limits.