Looking out across the desolate wasteland from Gorak Shep; the last village before Mount Everest base camp, my heart sank. My rapidly shrinking companions were already beginning the ascent of Kala Patthar (5,545m). Needing to answer the call of nature, I’d been delayed leaving and didn’t relish the prospect of playing catch-up at this altitude.
It was 5.30am, there was a thick layer of cloud dawdling across the grey sky and more were chasing up the valley. The prospects of a good view of the Himalayan giants which surrounded us weren’t great. Returning to bed seemed preferable, especially as sleep at this height wasn’t easy to come by. I felt tired, and our objective didn’t greatly appeal to me at the time.
However, the two Sherpa guides that had waited for me and I set out in the footsteps of our comrades. The walk across to the foot of the slope wasn’t especially difficult and within a few minutes we were beginning the long slog to the top of Kala Patthar.
A slow steady pace was the sensible way to progress, but I’ve never been that sensible and wanted to catch up with the rest as quickly as possible. My breath was laboured, each step seemed exhausting and although not requiring every ounce of effort or determination, it was testing my resolve. I was catching my comrades, but while they continued to move the distance between us seemed to be reducing at an inexorably slow pace.
My guides suggested, slowing down and even taking a rest but I was determined to join my companions. It was with some relief they eventually stopped to rest, giving me the opportunity to reach them. I was to pay for my stubbornness however, taking several minutes to begin regaining my breath, by which time we had already resumed ascending.
Although the pace was slower, I was suffering for my earlier exertion, and lack of sleep. My fatigue was palpable, the light daypack I was carrying felt as if it was filled with rocks. The narrow, steadily climbing, loose gravel path was my personal battle of the day. We struggled upwards, the altitude increasing and the air became continually thinner, only marginally but thinner all the same. A lungful of air was a difficult luxury to come by.
The elements seemed to be conspiring against us, impossibly huge, candy-floss like clouds continued to drift in our direction, bunching up, confined by the world’s youngest mountains. The same mountains where we hoped to witness sunrise, were being obscured by nature’s bringers of rain. My resolve to reach the summit was being tested, especially as the objective of the trek Everest Base Camp (EBC) had been achieved the previous day.
I needed to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, but my mind wandered, escaping rasping breath, burning lungs and the dryness of my throat. Reliving my memories of trekking to Mount Everest base camp; already looking forward to passing shrines, seeing smiling children and revisiting villages on the return trek.
There was time to question my reasons for being there, and even my own sanity. Why was I doing this? This wasn’t EBC, the weather wasn’t being kind, I was tired, couldn’t breathe, the pack was so heavy, the views would be rubbish. So many reasons to turn back.
As we neared the peak, the path began to disintegrate, becoming increasingly more difficult to find, until we were required to clamber over a rock field. My spirits instantly lifted, I’ve always enjoyed rock hopping, and we were close to the top. At last it was becoming fun!
Several minutes later, we were stood on the top of Kala Patthar, not exactly Everest but it still had me sucking in air from Kathmandu. We hoped our supreme effort would be rewarded with stunning views, however the clouds stubbornly refused to heed our wishes.
The landscape wasn’t too shabby however, stark rather than stunning, desolate rather than majestic. It remains a captivating place and the mountains still manage to take any remaining breath away. My determination to reach the summit may not have really been in doubt, but I was both pleased and relieved to be sharing a few minutes there with my comrades.
We had arrived in Nepal two weeks earlier as strangers; our aim, to reach Mount Everest base camp. However, we had struggled together, suffered together, laughed together, encouraged and helped each other every step of the way. We had bonded, and now here we stood, nearly at the top of the world as friends. Even as the satisfaction of reaching our viewpoint sunk in, I wondered if one of my new found friends would consider giving me a piggy back down to the teahouse.
*All images were taken with a Samsung WB250F WiFi compact camera