In Tengboche, Trevor said, with his trademarked twinkle in his eye, that there would “likely be some dark and exciting times ahead in the next few days”. I assumed that he was just throwing in a bit of hyperbole and that most people’s maladies would consist of traveller’s diarrheoa and the odd foot blister. However, his comment would prove to be a little more prophetic. We’d have to wait for Gorek Shep (next to Everest base camp) for the meaty stuff but things would begin to unravel for me in Pheriche.
The trip to Pheriche… this was a hard trek. It was long, we were getting up high and I was running back and forward trying to get shots of everyone as we ascended. I overdid it. The next day I was a bit of a mess. I felt awful – tired and lethargic. Quite good then that I was with a bunch of physiologists whose job it was to keep a careful eye over everyone’s vitals. My blood oxygen saturation was down. My hemoglobin was also not increasing with our altitude gains as expected. Handy too that in Pheriche is home to the Himalayan Rescue Association (the doctors who treat all the people with mountain sickness). Off we went to get their opinion and get some iron pills. After a conveniently scheduled rest day I managed to get a good night’s sleep and the next day had enough energy to attack the next leg. Fortunately it would be the last time I would feel so rotten on the trip.
The next day’s hike was going to be a big one with a large increase in elevation (almost 700 vertical metres). Our destination (Lobuche) was also quite high, so Ken, the principle investigator of the Irish contingent, told us in no uncertain terms that we were to take it slow. As I had been crook, all eyes were on me to take it easy and many other bods offered to take some of my gear. So like those two guys in Goodbye Pork Pie throwing the seats out of their Mini to save weight in order to reach Invercargill, I left behind my laptop, disassembled the camera and spread the bits across three of the other trekkers.
After a long slow walk up the valley (something akin to the upper McKenzie country for any South Islanders reading) we took a right turn and made the steep climb up the Thokla pass to the entrails of the long-receded Khumbu glacier. At the top was an outcrop peppered with monuments to many of the foreigners who had died on Everest. We continued up the edge of the moraine until we struck Lobuche. As we have edged higher, the lodges have become increasingly more basic; Lobuche was a timewarp, vaguely reminiscent of some South Island club ski field from the 1980s (obscure reference, I know). It also served up the dodgiest food on the trip. It was getting much colder now and we were greeted by a hardy frost the next morning. Moral was still high however, as base camp was but one stop away.
The next leg would push us over the 5,000 metre mark. What little vegetation that existed (essentially just dead grass) disappeared and we found ourselves navigating through an expanse of boulders and shingle. Gorek Shep, where we would stay, was desolate – a few buildings set amongst rock and dust. The day was a stunner though and we were introduced to the magnificent peaks surrounding Everest, Nupste and Pumori being standouts. After unpacking at the lodge, we set off for base camp.
This walk was deceptively long and, in all honesty, I found the destination a little underwhelming (of course the big payoff would be Kala Pattar the next morning). Maybe it was just that I was tired, or the fact that it was overcast by the time we arrived, and I guess I had some weird romanticized notion of what the camp at the bottom of the world’s tallest bit of rock would be like, but the reality is that base camp is a spartan service depot; it is a bunch of tents and outhouses scattered atop a glacier. It is big though and the tents go on and on for about a kilometre.
Our guide Nema once again exhibited his Khumbu rockstar status and introduced us to his first cousin Phurba Tashi Sherpa who has climbed Everest an incredible 21 times, and is the focus of the recent (and brilliant) documentary “Sherpa”. He was facilitating an expedition run by NZ outfit Adventure Consultants and his team had summited the day before (after two years of nobody summiting) so there was a bit of a buzz in the air. Then there was the American tourist who stripped to his stars and striped underwear and chanted “U S A! U S A!” incessantly
I was extremely tired after that walk. It wasn’t a particularly challenging climb but at that altitude, this little low-lander found it hard work. The heart and lungs were working at quite a rate even just walking on the flat bits. By the time I made it home I was pooped. After dinner I had time to play guinea pig one more time for the EEG squad before it was time for bed.