Everest Base Camp Trek 2009
It seems customary these days for someone of an enquiring and adventurous disposition to compile a Bucket List in his later years, aspiring to achieve his life long ambitions before shuffling ungraciously off this mortal coil.
My bucket list was put together many years earlier. In my formative years, my parents subscribed to Time Life books for me, and I avidly read of the world's wild places. I dreamed of visiting Sagarmatha (Forehead in the sky), boringly named Mt Everest after the former General Surveyor of India, by the Brits. I was fascinated by the coral reefs and icredible marine life of the world's oceans. I was incredulous at the feats of engineering by ancient humanity in constructing the Great Pyramids and the Great Shpinx of Giza on the outskirts of the Sahara desert. I was also inquisitive about caving, having read a very over the top tabloid report of the Neil Moss tragedy at the tender age of nine.
As a child I didn't want to be a top politician or a business magnate. I wanted to be a mountaineer like Edmund Hillary, a scuba diver a la Jacques Cousteau, a speleologist like Norbert Casteret or a runner like Roger Bannister, the first sub-four minute miler or the legendary marathon runner Ron Hill.
I became a caver after exploring the old Roman mines and levels around Matlock bath by the light of a bicycle lamp, with my childhood friend Paul Herrod. We decided to take up the sport and joined the Pegasus Club Nottingham in the early seventies. The Pegasus was famous not only in it's home town but also worldwide after setting a world depth record in 1967 at the Goufre Berger cave system in the Vercors area of Southern France. At the time everyone in the Pegasus had a nickname, Paul had a penchant for all things Japanese; Datsun car, Nikon camera, Seiko watch etc and hence became known as "Tokyo" Paul. Since there was a Big Al already in the club, I was just Steansy.
In my second year with the Pegasus, the club revisited France for an expedition to the Grotte de la Cigalere, Casteret's Ice Cave and Grotte de Montespan. All caves discovered by Norbert Casteret. The following year the club's diving members visited L'Estartit in North-Eastern Spain where we shared a dive site near the Medas Isles with Cousteau. Later on in life I visited the Pyramids and the sphinx with my wife and went for a camel ride in the Sahara. In 1992 I beat Ron Hill in the Malta half marathon, and was presented with my medal by Dr Roger Bannister. In 2003 I had the oportunity to visit the Goufre Berger as gradually the things on my Bucket List were being ticked off one by one. Only the big one, Everest remained. Being a realist at the age of 59, I'd accepted that the idea of summitting Everest had passed me by, but that same year fellow Pegasus member Malc Scothon made contact with a Nepalese sherpa and together they trekked to Everest base camp. I resolved to do the same thing to celebrate my 60th birthday, and invited my long time friend "Tokyo" Paul, now resident in Australia to join me. Paul takes up the story.
I gave Alan a cardboard box containing the remnants from my drinks bar. It was mid August 1999. This would be the last night I would spend in Nottingham for quite some time. We had just had a few evening drinks together at my mother's house and now it was time to say goodbye. We had been friends for 37 years and I knew he would appreciate all the booze I was giving him. He loaded the box into his car and we hugged, said our goodbyes and wished each other well. The following morning my wife and I would be driving down to Heathrow to catch a British Airways flight for Australia, our new home. Little did I know I wouldn't see Alan again for over 10 years. And the next time we would meet would be in a small hotel in Thamel, the tourist area of sprawling Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.
Of course we had kept in touch during those 10 years via the occasional email. I think it was around June 2008 that I received an email from Alan saying he was thinking of doing something big for his upcoming 60th and would I like to come along. We are both the same age so we could celebrate reaching this milestone together. He said he was thinking of tackling the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek in Nepal. I was immediately interested and said I would look it up on the Internet and let him know what I thought.
From my early teens I'd always enjoyed hiking, especially around the Derbyshire Dales. Since moving to Australia I had taken up Bushwalking and joined a local club in Brisbane. After several years doing day walks I moved onto longer walks of several days duration visiting the more extreme areas around Brisbane. The idea of carrying everything on your back, tent, cooking gear, food, water etc, for extended treks really appealed to me. That is an area of bushwalking I have specialised in now for the last 10 years. So when I checked out the EBC trek it was really a "no brainer". I emailed Alan back and said count me in.
We then started looking around at the various companies that organised the treks. The date for the trek was going to be late 2009 so we had almost 18 months to plan and organise things. We both decided to do some training in the gym to get ready for the trek. After some searching I found a Canadian company called GAP Adventures which seemed good value and I emailed Alan the details. He liked the look of GAP too so we decided to go with them. Alan already had a couple of his running mates, Paul and Simon from the Nott's Athletic Club who were interested in going along with his Son-in-law Graham. That meant 5 of us in a trekking group of around 12 - 15 people.
Things moved along quickly and we pencilled in late November for the start of the trek. This was the end of the trekking season and usually had the best daytime weather conditions, but very cold nights. For my part I needed to find a flight from Brisbane to Kathmandu and return. I decided to add a few days extra in Kathmandu before the start of the Trek. After confirming dates and availability with Alan, I booked the 15 day trek with GAP.
I stepped off the plane at Kathmandu airport on the 18th November 2009. After retrieving my baggage and passing through customs I was met by someone holding a GAP sign. I introduced myself and was whisked away by car into the chaotic traffic of Kathmandu. The man who picked me up identified himself and said his name was Dendi. Later in the hotel he said he would be one of two sherpas on our trek. I had 4 days until Alan arrived so I spent the next 2 days exploring Kathmandu alone. On the 3rd day two lads, Andy and Rob from Sheffield, arrived at the hotel and said they were on the same trek. Later that day Emily, a southerner from the UK, arrived for the trek. Was this going to be an all English affair? But later 4 French Canadians, Gaetan, Manon, Rejean & Alexandre joined our trek followed by Bede and his girlfriend Jean, a couple from New Zealand. At this stage Alan and the Nottingham lads had not yet arrived.
After a drinking session at a local bar with Rob, Andy and Emily I arrived back in the early evening at the hotel and there was Alan, sitting in the foyer. He sprang up with a big smile on his face and we hugged each other. It was quite a moment. He quickly introduced me to Paul, Simon, and Graham. Later that evening we had a visit from Gopal, our trek leader, and our two sherpas, Dendi and Galjen. We were briefed on what to pack into our 10kg max weight expedition bags that our team of porters would be carrying for us. We would be only carrying a light backpack with essentials for each day. The next morning we would be making a very early departure by bus to Kathmandu airport for the 45 minute flight to Lukla, the start of the trek.
Kathmandu to Lukla
The next morning we were up very early for the drive to Kathmandu airport for our flight to Lukla. We gathered in the hotel foyer with our bags. Gopal our tour leader along with Dendi and Geljen our two sherpas were there to help organise things. After a short wait our transfer bus arrived to take us to Kathmandu airport. It was still dark outside as we made our way to the street and onto the bus. It was only a 20 minute ride and we arrived at the airport just as the dawn was breaking. The skies were fairly clear and it looked like we were going to have good weather for our flight.
After clearing airport security we were led into a large waiting area. There were several more trekking groups waiting for flights to Lukla or other regional airports. Everest Base Camp trek is only one of several popular treks available in the Himalayas. The wait was quite a long one, a couple of hours I think. But eventually our flight was called and we boarded the small bus that took us out to our plane.
Lukla airstrip at an elevation of 9380 feet is just a short 45 minute flight north of Kathmandu. In 2008, the Nepal government renamed the airstrip after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first two men ever to set foot on top of Mount Everest and who had initiated the construction of the airport in 1964. So the official name of the airstrip now is the Tenzing-Hillary Airport. Perched high on the side of a mountain it is one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Only 1600ft long and with an elevated slope of almost 12 degrees, uphill when landing. One end of the runway ends with a huge brick wall and at the other end is a 2000ft drop into the valley below. Only small propeller planes and helicopters can land there. The runway is also used by pedestrians to go from one part of the town to the other. To warn the passersby a loud siren would be activated when a plane is about to land. Only flights from Kathmandu land here and pilots have to be specially trained before being allowed to land at Lukla. Once a pilot is committed to landing there is no room for error or a fly around. Bad weather is always a risk. A couple of months into planning our trip there was a tragedy when a plane trying to land at Lukla in bad weather crashed just short of the runway. 18 trekkers and 2 crew died with only the captain surviving.
So there was excitement, tinged with a little apprehension, as our bus parked alongside the tiny waiting plane. It was a Tara Air twin engine Otter. We piled our gear into the baggage hold and boarded the plane. As soon as we were inside, the plane started to taxi to the end of the runway ready for take-off. This plane had seen better days, as soon as the engines were started cockroaches emerged from the pilot's control panel and scurried across the windscreen. You could just about talk above the drone of the engines as we lifted off for our quick flight to Lukla. Shortly after take-off the stewardess brought around refreshments - a boiled sweet! As we climbed into the mountains the views were spectacular, we were so lucky with the weather and enjoyed clear blue skies.
I heard someone say we were about to land. I looked out of the window and saw nothing but mountains, certainly nothing that looked like a landing area. The plane started to throttle back a little and slow down, I craned my head and looked down the aisle to the cockpit window but all I could see was the side of a mountain looming up. Suddenly the nose of the plane dipped and there was the tiny runway. There was a slight bump as we landed and the front of the plane rose up as we started to roll up the slope of the runway. As we all clapped and cheered the plane slowed very quickly and then did a sharp right turn into the aircraft parking area. We had arrived safely in Lukla. Now the adventure really began.
We were led a short distance to a restaurant which was located just above the airport. Here we had a late breakfast before starting out on our first day of trekking. As I took my first steps I couldn't help thinking, "This is all we will be doing for the next 8 days until we reach Everest Base Camp".
Day 1: Lukla 2840 metres to Phakding 2610 metres.
Lukla is at a height of 2840 metres and our destination for our overnight stay was at Phakding which is slightly lower at 2610 metres. So our first day's trek was fairly flat and had some downhill sections. Under a bright blue sky we followed the Dudh Kosi river valley, crossed several bridges as we meandered from one side of the valley to the other. We passed through the villages of Cheplung and Ghat before finally arrived at Phakding around mid-afternoon.
Our overnight stay was at the Shangri-La Guest House. After settling into our room (Alan and I shared a room on the trek) it was time for something to eat so we went down to the kitchen with its outside seating area. I was pretty hungry and thought I'd try a Yak steak. Big mistake! It was like leather and I couldn't eat it. I'm sure it was tougher than my boot sole. It was the first and last time I would order a steak on the trek. I should quickly mention that apart from that episode, the quality of food on the trek was really good. But from then on I stuck to the superb dal-baht, pizza, curries, eggs, garlic soup, along with bread and jam.
A group of us explored the village, taking photos of the stunning mountain views. Later we had a few beers together at our guest house, soaking up the sunshine. But as the sun went down around 5pm the temperature began to fall rapidly. Soon the temperature dropped below zero and things started to freeze over. Later that evening we had dinner, followed by more beer drinking and chatting. Soon it was time for bed, the bedrooms were freezing with no heating at all, a common occurrence we would get used to on the trek. But we were expecting freezing nights and were well prepared with our thick down sleeping bags.
Day 2: Phakding 2610 metres to Namche Bazaar 3440 metres
The next morning our bags were collected by the porters who had already left before we started breakfast. After we had eaten we gathered outside for a quick briefing from Gopal on what to expect on our 2nd day of trekking. Today is a big day, about 830 metres of climbing to reach the market village of Namche Bazaar. The first half of our trek today was a steady climb further along the river valley. We passed through several villages including Monjo and Jorsale. I think it was in one of these villages that Alan tried carrying a large porter pack, much to the delight of our leader Gopal.
Shortly after leaving Jorsale we could see that further up the valley things were going to get much steeper. A long high bridge came into view and we were told the other side of the bridge is the start of the steep climb which leads into Namche village. When we reached the start of the bridge we had a rest while waiting for a Yak train to cross from the opposite side. Once across we started up the climb which zigzagged steeply up the mountain side. So far I had not felt any problems with the altitude but a short way into the climb I could feel myself getting short of breath. After a short rest I felt good again and started off but after 20 steps or so the breathless feeling came back. This breathless problem lasted the whole climb. Alan was a little way behind me and I could see he was sweating and panting too, no doubt the result of the altitude. So we both took our time starting and stopping our way up the track. At one point we stopped to catch our breath and had a sit down on some rocks. As we sat there sweating, around the corner came a porter, wearing old trainers and carrying a full size brand new fridge on his back. As the porter briskly jogged passed us, we both looked at each other and smiled. I said "Al, we'll never live this one down". I quickly took a couple of photos as the porter rapidly disappeared up and around a bend in the track. About half an hour later, further up the climb, we turned a corner and who should be sitting there having a rest but the fridge porter. We stopped and had a chat and shook his hand which made him very happy I think.
We finally made it to the top of the climb and the track levelled out a little. After another half hour or so Namche came into view in the distance. A magnificent village, terraced around the head of the valley. We made our way up through the winding steep streets to our teahouse and accommodation. This would be our home for the next 2 nights as this village is used as an acclimatisation stop, necessary to let our bodies get used to the thin oxygen levels at this height.
Day 3: Namche Bazaar & Rest Day
Namche is often called the Gateway To Everest and it is the starting point for most of the trekking and climbing expeditions to Everest and other mountains in the Himalayas. It is also known as Namche Bazaar due to its huge market selling everything from trekking and climbing equipment to Tibetan artefacts and traditional clothing.
This is where we were to spend the next two days acclimatising to the altitude. Altitude sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen at high altitudes and is a real threat to trekkers who try to climb up more than 600 metres a day and have no rest days. During our trek up to EBC we saw a few helicopters carrying sick trekkers and climbers back to Kathmandu, many of them suffering from altitude sickness.
Late afternoon we checked into the Camp De Base teahouse for our two night stay. On our rest day in Namche (not really a rest day) trek leader Gopal said we would climb up to Syangboche, a hill some 300 metres above Namche. He said the idea is to trek high and sleep low on our rest days. He explained this helps to acclimatise the body to the high altitude.
But before the climb to Syangboche we first payed a visited to the Namche Visitor Center. From there we had a spectacular view up into the Khumbu Valley. Then we walked to the top end of Namche and turned off onto a steep track signposted to Khunde. After zig-zagging up the hill for about 90 minutes we came to a plateau that amazingly had a small airstrip. Here we sat down and rested for an hour under the bright midday sun. The views were spectacular with snowcapped peaks surrounding us. Then it was time to go back down to Namche via a different route. As we walked to the end of the plateau Namche came into view, precariously nestled on three sides at the head of the valley below. The vista was beautiful and in the distance we could also see the valley we had spent 2 days trekking up, now blanketed in a cloudy mist far below.
Later we spent the afternoon having a few beers at the local bars and having a walk around Namche to have a look at its noted market.
Day 4; Namche 3340 metres to Tengboche 3860 metres.
Early morning we gathered outside our teahouse ready for the trek to Tengboche with its famous monastery. We followed a winding track northeast out of Namche. The track gradually climbed and hugged the side of the valley with the Dudh Koshi river far below.
The track is maintained by the locals and we soon came to a donation point. The man there, called Pasang Lama Sherpa, had been building and maintaining this part of the track since 1984 and we all gave a small monetary gift to him and said hello. This was the only place along the track where we were asked for a donation.
After a couple of hours we stopped for a break at Kenjoma. We sat outside a teahouse on the terrace perched high up on the side of the valley. The views were stunning with high peaks surrounding us on all sides. The impressive Ama Dablam, a prominent mountain, would be visible for the next 5 days as we made our way towards Everest Base Camp. The weather was sunny and warm and a couple of the Nottingham lads stripped off to the waist to sunbath, something that would happen often on this trek.
After an hour of refreshments our leader Gopal said "Jam Jam" which meant it was time to go on. As we carried on towards Tengboche the track became quite narrow. We carefully made our way along the side of the valley, with a steep drop on our right continuing to the river far below. Soon we came to a split in the trail. Left was the track to the Gokyo Lakes, another trekking area, and right was our way on towards Tengboche and Everest Base Camp. Shortly after, we came to the Stone Steps, a steep downhill section to the river below. Passing the Lawishasa teahouse we descended to the bridge to cross the valley and then up towards Tengboche. As we crossed the bridge we could see remnants of the old bridge which had been destroyed in a flood. This happened to many of the old wooden bridges whenever the river was in flood. Now most of the bridges are of steel and wire construction and placed higher up the side of the valley to avoid any further floods in the future.
Now we had to climb up the other side of the valley. The climb was steep and hard work due to the reduced oxygen in the air. As we reached the top of the climb we came into a small village called Phunki Tenga where we again stopped for lunch at one of the tea houses. The views once more were spectacular as we sat outside and had a well-earned lunch with a few beers.
After lunch we made the final push onto Tengboche arriving mid afternoon. The accommodation for tonight was at the Tashi Deleck teahouse. Our teahouse was located opposite the famous Monastery and we all made our way over there for a look inside.
Day 5: Tengboche to Dingboche at 4410 metres
After a hearty breakfast (for me I had omelette followed by Tibetan bread and jam with mugs of hot tea) we made our way outside for the usual briefing from our leader Gopal. Today we would be following the Imja Khola valley into Dingboche which would be our home for two nights as this would be our last acclimatisation point.
As we left Tengboche the track descended steeply through an area known as the Rhododendron Forest. In the spring months this area is a spectacular show of flowers but for us in late November it was less impressive. Emerging from the forest we descended further via more stone steps through the small villages of Deboche and Milinggo. We finally came to the riverbed and another bridge crossing. On the other side of the valley we followed the river bed for a while heading towards the village of Pangboche. The track finally started to climb again and the impressive Ama Dablam mountain came into view. We met several Yak Trains that were coming down in the opposite direction. We passed a pile of prayer stones (know as Mani Stones) at the side of the track. These stones are quite common in this region of Nepal and carry a Tibetan mantra to the spirits for protection.
After another hour of trekking we descended to a wide plateau with Pangboche nestled in the valley below us. As we descended we trekked past wide open paddocks, each defined by a low stone wall. It was late in the morning now and the temperature was rising under a hot sun.
We reached Pangboche and here we stopped for a well earned break at a teahouse. The weather was really good and we sat on an outside terrace under a clear blue sky. We relaxed there sipping our drinks with a wonderful view of the magnificent Ama Dablam mountain towering above us in the distance. As was now customary, the Nottingham lads stripped off to the waist to do a bit of sunbathing.
After our refreshing break we set off toward Dingboche. The track as usual followed high above the valley. Soon the valley sides began to close in and the track got a little narrower as we traversed along the side of the valley. We noticed a change in the landscape, the terrain becoming more rugged and rocky with less vegetation. We were now trekking at just over 4000 metres and above the level at which trees could survive in the thin air.
About an hour further on along the track, and up a long steep climb, we came to the village of Shomare and this was our lunch stop. Stacking our rucksacks up against a wall, we all sat outside on a long table. The views once more were stunning.
After an hour, satisfied and refreshed, we continued on to Dingboche. A steep decent to the valley floor led us to yet another bridge crossing. Here the river was narrow and flowing quite fast. Later we reached a branch in the track, the left going to Pereche, so we took the right-hand track to Dingboche. After crossing another bridge the valley opened out and we could see, in the far distance, Dingboche in the valley below.
Finally we arrived around mid afternoon at our Dingboche teahouse, our home for the next two days.
Day 6: Dingboche Rest day
For our acclimatization day we trekked up to a small village called Chukung at 4730 metres. Chukung lies in a valley at the foot of the Lhotse Glacier. From Dingboche we turned right and followed the Imja Khola river which was a small stream at this time of year. After trekking for about an hour we stopped for a rest break and photos. On our right was the ever impressive Ama Dablam and on our left was Mount Chukung and the Nuptse glacier. After taking a few photos we continued on under a hot sun and bright blue sky. About 2 hours further on we arrived at Chukung for a well earned lunch break.
The food as usual was superb with the usual pizzas, burgers, eggs, and Dahl. But we did have a bit of a laugh when Alan ordered something not on the menu. He ordered a cheese burger. When it arrived Alan was surprised to find a burger bun with only a large slice of cheese in it. Obviously the locals not familiar with what a cheese burger should be. Our trek leader had a good laugh with us and then explained to the kitchen staff that a burger should also be included.
After lunch we had a few drinks and sat around for an hour soaking up the views and sunshine. As was the custom now, the Nottingham lads stripped off to the waist to do some sunbathing. Then we made our way back down to Dingboche, arriving mid afternoon and in time to sit around the teahouse stove for a nice cup of hot tea. Later we had time for a quick look around the village before the sun disappeared and the temperature quickly fell below zero. As happened on most nights, as soon as it got dark the temperature plummeted and things started freezing up. By bedtime the temperature was usually nearing -20 degrees C. Even down in Lukla nights in December are usually at zero or below. Now we were trekking almost 2000 metres higher, with another 900 metres to climb before reaching Everest Base Camp.
Day 7: Dingboche to Lobuche at 4910 metres
Setting off from Dingboche it started with a gradual walk up through a wide valley. By mid morning the weather was again warm and sunny. All around us were snow capped peaks set against the clear blue sky. We came across a small shepherd hut and Alan and myself stopped for yet another quick photo opportunity before moving on again. A long steady climb along the side of the valley brought us to the small village of Dughla and the Dughla Yak Lodge, which would be our lunch stop.
We sat outside the lodge in the open, sitting at trestle tables and had our meals and refilled our drinking bottles. During the stop Gopal pointed out our route northwards to Lobuche. It was a very steep rocky track leading up a ridge to the Khumbu valley and its famous glacier. At the far end of this glacier is Everest Base Camp, a mere 740 metres higher. But first we would spend a night at Lobuche, about a 3 hour trek away. And here would be my first and only experience with altitude sickness.
As we left our lunch stop at Dughla we crossed a boulder strewn valley to our right. A small but fast flowing stream, originating from the Khumbu Glacier above, made its way down through the boulders and we were happy to see a small wooden bridge had been provided to get us across. Then we made our way slowly up the steep rocky track that Gopal had pointed out to us. The air was really thin now and my breathing was laboured. The lack of oxygen made every step seem a lot harder than it should have been.
Finally after much puffing and panting we reached the top of the ridge. We could now look back, southwards, down the valley to Dughla some 300 metres below us. To our north we could see the incredible Khumba Glacier snaking its way up the valley floor. For me this was the first real feeling that we were getting close to our goal. I could almost see it. Everest Base Camp was now about 6 miles away up the valley and only another 460 metres higher. We now had a 1 mile rocky but flat walk along the side of the Khumbu Valley to our overnight stop at Lobuche.
But first we needed to visit the Stone Memorials, which lay off to our left 100 metres away. The Stone Memorials are where trekkers can pay their respects to fallen climbers and sherpas who never made it back after attempting to summit Everest. The area is bordered by small stone walls and several large glacial rock monuments. Brightly coloured prayer flags, flapping in the breeze and tattered by the extreme weather conditions, are draped around the monuments. It is a pretty desolate, barren, cold and windy place. As I stood and read the plaques, several of the names were very familiar to me. A few months before I had read Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air" depicting his chilling role and experience in the 1996 Everest climbing disaster which killed 8 of his fellow climbers caught by a storm as they tried to descend from the summit. I must admit it was really an emotional experience for me and I'm sure everyone else felt the same too.
We reached Lobuche by early afternoon and settled into our Lodge. The weather was still sunny so we sat outside on the terrace having a few beers and snacks. The views were amazing despite the landscape looking rather barren. Herds of Yaks were roaming around and across from our lodge were several tents pitched on a flat area of ground. Some trekkers opt for the camping trek rather than stay in teahouses and lodges.
After a hearty meal and then a few drinks, sitting around the stove, most of us went off for an early night. Tomorrow would be the big day and I wanted to be well rested for the final push to Everest Base Camp. Unfortunately, I was to have little sleep due to some nightmarish dreams which kept me awake for most of the night. I could only sleep for a couple of minutes before waking, gasping for air. Each time I woke there would be some kind of horrible dream in my head. This went on for most of the night and about 3am I was so desperate for sleep I had the crazy idea of getting out of bed and walking down the mountain to a lower level. Most of us suffered slight aches and pains and headaches due to the altitude but this was far worse. During the trek I roomed every night with Alan, who slept through unaware. I was so happy to see the dawn breaking through the iced up window of our room. Although still very tired, the worst of the altitude sickness had passed. I couldn't wait to get on my way to Everest Base Camp.
Day 8: Lobuche to Everest base Camp and Gorek Shep at 5125 metres
It was a freezing and icy morning as we started out from Lobuche for Everest base camp. The sun was still hidden behind Mehra Peak, a mountain on the east side of the Khumbu Glacier. We all donned our warmest walking gear. This was the big day we had been looking forward to. The trail would be rough but only a gentle slope upwards towards the head of the glacier.
Shortly after leaving Lobuche we came to a track on our left leading to the famous pyramid shaped 'Italian Research Centre', a high altitude scientific research centre built in 1990. The centre was the brainchild of the famous Italian explorer and geologist, Prof. Ardito Desio.
After about an hour we reached our next destination Gorak Shep, the highest and last village located just over 2 miles from Everest base camp. Gorak Shep would be our morning break stop and later our overnight accommodation. After hot tea and coffee with some snacks we headed off north on the final leg of our trek. By now we had sun and clear blue skies again.
All around us were huge snow-capped peaks as we made our way up the glacier. To the north, at the head of the glacier, we could see the peaks of Khumbutse and Lingtren blocking any way forward into Tibet. To the east towered the impressive Nuptse and Lhotse peaks, and behind them glimpses of the Everest summit. To our left and to the west we looked up to the peak of Pumo Ri, used by many climbers at base camp for training and acclimatising to the altitude before taking on the Everest climb.
The trail now was very rough and narrow and in places indistinguishable to all but our guides. In the distance we could see the end of the glacier now and Gopal pointed out the location of our destination. By early afternoon we reached Everest Base Camp at 5364 metres or 17,598 feet, situated at the head of the glacier and the foot of the Khumbu Icefall. A small pile of boulders and rocks, draped in prayer flags, and a small plaque, marked the spot. After eight days of trekking we had finally arrived at the base of Mount Everest.
Despite the sun and blue skies it was cold and windy. Now it was time to record our visit to Everest Base Camp. We all gathered in front of the mound of stones while our leader Gopal took photos of the group. Then individual groups took their photos. Alan and his two mates, Simon and Paul from the Notts Athletic Club, strung out a club jersey for a memorable photo. Then Alan and myself, the two 60 year olds, had a great photo taken of us proudly standing by the simple pile of stones and the plaque. The group stayed there for about 30 minutes taking photos and looking at the awesome views. Then Gopal said it was time to make our way back to Gorak Shep.
I couldn't help thinking that in just a few months time where we were now standing would be a hive of activity, with dozens of tents pitched in the boulder strewn landscape, and hundreds of climbers would be preparing to attempt to summit Everest.
We arrived back at Gorak Shep late afternoon. It had been an epic day. In our tea house we sat and drank hot tea while we waited for our evening meal to be served. Someone from our group had brought a small Union Jack flag. We all wrote our names on it then pinned it to the wall for posterity. Then we drank a toast to our tour leader Gopal and our two Sherpas, Dendi and Geljen. A fitting end to what had been an fantastic trip. Now all we had to do was trek back down......But that's another story.
Paul "Tokyo" Herrod & Alan "Steansy" Steans