The day we reached EBC, we woke in the morning to snow and wind in Lobuche.
It was a bit of a shock, as the weather up to that point had been good. Lobuche was pretty snowed in and we were up at 5.30am that morning, to be ready to head off at 7am.
We had about a 3 ½ hour walk ahead of us to Gorakshep and the lodge where we would be staying that night. Our head guide had already warned us, more than once, that the lodge rooms and toilets would not be great (he was definitely right about the toilets!). There are only a few lodges at Gorakshep and given we were getting towards the end of the season, they were very busy as well. The previous week the lodge had been so full that people had to sleep on mattresses on tables in the dining area.
The thought did cross my mind as we were leaving the warm, relative comforts of the lodge at Lobuche that most people on a day like this would be staying inside, close to the fire – but this was the day we had been aiming towards for the last week.
When we first left Lobuche I also wore my heavy down jacket that the expedition supplied us with, but after a little while I took it off and put it in my day pack. It weighed roughly around 1kg or a bit heavier. I had a full thermal layer on, with long pants over my thermal tights, two pairs of thick socks, a woollen jumper, a light down jacket of my own and rain jacket over top plus two beanie hats and of course gloves and walking poles.
The walk to Gorakshep was, we all agreed, gruelling at times. A large part of it was steep and hard going.
On top of that, there was the snow and wind to deal with. We finally made it to Gorakshep around 10.30 am and once there, we rested until 12pm, having had a very early lunch at around 11.30am. At 12pm we left for EBC. The snow by this time had cleared somewhat but visibility was still poor. Before we left for EBC, we had a briefing with our head guide who explained that due to the snow he would put a time limit on us to get there. The terrain going up to EBC is the same on the way back down, so it takes roughly the same time each way, and we needed to be back at Gorakshep before it got dark. Our head guide also made it very clear that if needed he would call time regardless of whether we had made it to EBC or not, and if that happened we would have to turn around and come back down.
We were split into two groups, fast and slow. I was in the fast group but at the last minute one member of our group decided to not go any further as he had come down with an altitude headache (which is described as a combination of a very nasty migraine and hangover) and he had to stay in bed for the rest of the day at Gorakshep.- the right decision to make, especially when medication wasn’t helping either, but really disappointing for him.
On leaving Gorakshep, we then focused on getting to EBC in good time – and that’s what we did. Nothing like giving a group of Kiwis a time limit to meet and determination kicks in!
The lack of visibility at times made it difficult to see anything beyond much more than the path in front of you. The terrain on the way to EBC is quite rocky at times, which surprised me – sometimes it reminded me of walking around the rocks at the beach back home. I heard about three avalanches on the way up. They sounded like a jet plane taking off, finishing with a large cracking sound of ice at the end. I had no idea where they were or how far away they were as I couldn’t see much. Presumably they were a reasonable distance away.
At one point, reasonably soon after leaving Gorakshep, I had this pain in my rib cage or diaphragm area. I’d read about the symptoms of pulmonary edema which I remember wondering about – this probably all sounds paranoid but when you’re in high altitude these fears come out. I then thought to myself that it was probably more likely due to the fact that my day pack had been a good 1-2 kgs heavier that morning with my down jacket, so I’d probably strained a muscle or something and we’d spent a good part of that walk leaning into the snow and wind. Some of that day I spent running through issues like this in my head and telling myself not to worry!
Around half way up, our entire group stopped for a few minutes as one member had to vomit a few times. She kept going (and made it to EBC) which was an impressive effort. Vomiting is a common side effect of high altitude. I had a day two days before getting to EBC of feeling quite unwell with symptoms of intense light headedness, nausea and no energy all day while we had to walk that day for quite a few hours and ascend 600m. All normal symptoms of adjusting to high altitude. It was tough and I worried that day as to whether I’d be able to make it to EBC – luckily though over the next two days I felt progressively better, but that was a tough day, both physically and mentally.
The helicopters were also not flying, obviously due to the snow and lack of visibility. For the previous few days we had grown used to the sound of regular helicopters flying past on their way to and from EBC. If anyone of us got into difficulties at EBC from the altitude, the quickest way we could get down would be via the back of a pony. We had met a fellow trekking group when we arrived at Dingboche who told us that one of their group collapsed at EBC and another member of their group was also suffering quite badly once they arrived at EBC, so both were helicoptered to Kathmandu.
However, everyone in the group made it to EBC that day – and what a great feeling it was to get there and have group photos taken together! It felt a bit surreal and I don’t think it really sunk in for me until a day or so later. After a week of physically preparing for it and spending a lot of mental energy thinking about it – we finally did it. We were all very happy with our achievement that day when we got back to Gorakshep, but also after walking around 8 hours that day in snow and wind, pretty tired too!
There was an amazing sunset that night and the views of Mt Everest lit up by the sun seemed like a fitting end to what had been an incredible day.