Saturday, February 1, 2014

Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar trek

Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar Trek, Nepal with Jatin Pasrija and Rohit Singla
                            


In March 2013, as soon as it was thought that the course was clear, I went for the trek of my life, to enjoy the pristine, untouched snowclad mountains. It was a trek to the first base camp of the revered Mount Everest.

If I only show you photos from the trek, they would appear as just another set of wallpapers. If I write about my experience it would feel dramatic. If I just give you numbers like -20 degrees centigrade, 5365 meters, 450 Pascal thin air, etc. you may understand that I am talking extremes here, but I may still not be able to tell you what I experienced. So if you are fascinated by anything that I mention below, stop and allow yourself to be.

Lets start the story from Kathmandu as it will be the common starting point for anyone wanting to attempt this trek from any country. I went on this trek with 2 of my old buddies, without a guide or an agency. However, if it is your first trek in the Himalayas, I would suggest not being rash about it and hiring someone.

3rd March
The first leg is a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla and is in itself a unique experience. Flying in a 15-seated Dornier aircraft with amazing views of snow clad mountain peaks on the left serves as an amazing trailer for the things to come. The landing is an adventurous one too. It is a one shot landing, as the runway has a mountain on front and a 2000-meter fall on the back. The runway itself is just 450 meters with visible backward slope.

After landing and quickly heaving a sigh of relief, the trekking journey just starts like that. First target: Phakding. This is to get things started. You actually descend 200 meters on this day to 2600 mts. Altitude.

4th March
Even though it was just the second day, it was one of the toughest day of our trek. Each of us was carrying around 15kgs backpack. We started with relatively simple walk to Monju but the stretch from here to Namache gave us our first headaches, body aches and doubts whether our desk jobs have spoiled us. We trekked for a grueling 8 hours with limited water. I also had a hint of fever. In spite of this on reaching Namache (3440 mfrs.) and watching the Amadablam peak reflect the last sunrays of the day made us believe that the effort was worth it.

5th March
It is advisable that after climbing around 600 meters, you take an acclimatization day before attempting the next 600 meters. On this day if possible you should climb a steep hill nearby for about 400-500 meters and come back down and sleep at a lower altitude. This is to avoid a condition called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). So on this day we climbed to Everest View point near Namache. It was a very steep climb but we reached the top of the hill. We could not see Mt. Everest from here though owing to the cloud cover. We were happy nonetheless because none of us was having any symptoms of AMS at a height close to the 4000mts mark.

Namache Bazaar is an established market, where you would be surprised to see things like Pringles and wine for sale, though at inflated prices. There were snooker tables too.

6th March
Every blog we read mentioned that the trek to Namache was going to be tough and we were prepared for it. None, however, mentioned that the trek from Namache to Tyngboche was going to be another challenge. We had left a considerable redundant stuff we were carrying at Namache to reduce our weights to around 13kgs each. But the climb made us give up and we hired a porter to share 5kgs from each of us, making our bags weigh 8kgs each, still difficult but manageable.

We reached Tyngboche(3870 mts) on time. It has a beautiful Buddhist Monastery, which has scheduled prayers at 3pm. We got our first view of Everest from here. We could see it from inside our lodge’s window. And was it beautiful! That night the temperatures dropped below zero.

7th March
It had snowed the previous night and we knew that the first half of our days trek was going to be steep downhill for about 200 meters. We had a tough time on the descent with snow and settled ice making it worse. Slipping and falling we made it through Deboche, Pengboche, Somary and eventually reaching Dingboche(4530 mts.)

On the way we crossed the 4000mts altitude mark. This altitude is crucial because it aligns with the tree line. Beyond this point vegetation is sparse and so is oxygen. Chilling cold, low oxygen and strong winds were going to be our major problems henceforth.

8th March
We had breached the 600mtrs ‘acclimatization rule’ as we came from 3400 mts to 4500mts in a single stretch. Hence we decided to acclimatize at Dingboche. We attempted a climb to 5100mtrs on a nearby mountain peak named Nagarsan. I have been trekking around but I had never crossed 4300mts before, so with every step I took, that day, I was breaking my own altitude record.

We were able to reach 4800 mts and stayed there for a while to enjoy the panorama. We were surrounded by as many as 7-8 peaks each measuring more than 6000 mts in height. Standing among the giants and defending ourselves from chilling winds, we each had our moment of awe and each admitted that this was one of the best views they had seen of the mountains. And to imagine we still had 3 more days to go! Thinking about what awesomeness may lie ahead we went to sleep.

9thMarch
On the way to Lobuche, we practically walked the whole day on snow. Sometimes we even walked over frozen rivers. Actually we were trekking on the region were glaciers just start melting and where river streams are just starting to take birth. It was beautiful as we saw small amount of water flowing under the thick layer of transparent ice, over which we were walking.

As we reached Lobuche(4940mts), all of us hit our first symptoms of AMS together: A nagging pain in the head and loss of appetite. We were not sure whether it was AMS or intense cold that was causing it so we decided to drink hot garlic soup and take rest. Luckily for us, in 4-5 hours, the headache started fading and we were ready for the next day.

10th March
Lobuche to Gorak Shep was the most beautiful single day journey of my life. We left early and from step one were mesmerized by the beauty around us. The clouds came early on that day. The clouds made the beautiful landscapes surreal, but at the same time they prophesied a tough day ahead with expected snowfall with no ease of temperature, as the sun was not to be seen.

I can try but I don’t have words to describe the sight of The Khumbu Glacier. “Divine Magnificence” comes to my mind. Standing on 5200mtrs, breathing thin air, with snow falling around us and the thermometer reading close to -20 degrees celcius; we could not have enough of the sight ahead.

We reached Gorakshep and it is nothing but 3-4 small plywood lodges completely covered in snow.

11th March
As expected from the cloud cover the previous morning, it snowed crazy. It had snowed for 13 hours straight. We were advised not to go to Everest Base Camp which was just a 3 hours walk from there. We were heartbroken. After all this 3 hours were what was separating us from a spectacular view of Mt. Everest and a personal record of crossing 5300mtrs.

We discussed and decided to attempt the Kala Patthar climb instead. It is a 5545 mts summit. We decided to reach at least a height of 5360mts, which is precisely the height of Everest Base Camp.

We saw the revered Mt. Everest and also saw Mt. Lotse, Mt. Nuptse, the beautiful Mt. Pumari and others. For me personally, The Khumbu glacier was still stealing the show.

12th March onwards
The descent was not much eventful, except that the previous day’s snowfall had changed the landscape beyond recognition. Also with the long-term goal of reaching the top now gone, we noticed the daily lives of the native Sherpas more keenly. We took 4 days to reach Lukla and took the flight back to Kathmandu.

Trek of a lifetime!