Day 16: from Dingboche (4350m) to Lobuche (4940m)
I left early and shortly after saw below me the village of Periche, sitting next to a teeth-shaped ridge; walking quickly along the oddly beautiful and sharp ridge I reached Thukla (4620m) in ninety minutes.
The landscape was completely barren, neither trees nor animals could be seen. Thukla was across two bridges that spanned a wild stream; the second one was just an old, shaky, half-rotten trunk. The village included only three houses generously spread out on a desolated slope; two of them were guesthouses.
By now, the sun radiation was very bothering and I used my sunglasses constantly; despite that, it was cold even under the sun direct rays. Yaks were eating the brown low grass on the slope above the place; I accompanied them with a big plate of Dal Baht.
While enjoying the sun, a helicopter passed over me, meaning it was flying well above 4620m, a significant accomplishment for such an aircraft. Later I found that it came to rescue a triathlon professional, suffering from serious altitude sickness in Gorak Shep.
In order to avoid altitude sickness, the daily gain in altitude must be moderated according to certain tables; therefore, the walking days in high altitudes are short. Getting bored, ignoring the beauty of the area and concentrating on the ritual picture at their final target, many trekkers overdue their efforts and are forced afterwards to descend prematurely, sometimes packed within pressurized oxygen bags.
The self-monitoring for altitude sickness symptoms is a complex and delicate task, since part of the symptoms are of dizziness, disorientation and a decrease of the same judgment capabilities that we need to perform the tests themselves. A failure to diagnose the symptoms’ beginning leads to an inability of diagnosing further deterioration.
After the meal I continued to Lobuche, though the daily altitude gain would be slightly more than the recommended. However, I was counting on a rest day at around five thousand meters to compensate for the loss and I wanted to take advantage of the good weather.
Following a though climbing, I arrived at the Memorials (4840m), where small piles of stones commemorate each one of the persons who died attempting to climb the Everest. From there it was an easy walk to Lobuche; the place was extremely small with only four lodges. The one placed over the river was much more expensive than the others, apparently because they have placed a sign "Eco" and nice carpets. Neither one of the guesthouses allowed charging my camera’s battery. There was a small lodge catering only for porters.
I chose the highest guesthouse, called the Sagarmatha Lobuje Lodge, where a poster in Spanish claimed: "A man is the size of his dreams". The floor in the dining room was made there of rectangular dry patches of grass cut from the backyard.
During the afternoon began snowing lightly, but despite that, I decided to visit the Pyramid, just twenty minutes away, to search for a better room and electric sockets for my camera. They were full but promised to reserve a bed for tomorrow. Between the locations there were wild dogs walking.
Day 17: from Lobuche (4940m) to Pyramid (5050m)
At the morning, I moved my things to the "Pyramid Hotel 8000 Inn." On the edge of the small currents along the way, there was ice that cracked when I hit it with my stick. A white thick layer of ice covered the surrounding grass and an unconcerned skinny dog slept on it.
The Pyramid turned out to be a silvery and pyramidal building, hosting an Italian climate research facility, the local rescue center and a guesthouse. In front of it there was an impressive glacier’s vertical wall, half hidden behind a low cloud.
The place offered a cosy dinning room, pleasant beds in well-isolated rooms with electric sockets and running hot water (that did not work at the time of my visit). At five hundred Nepali rupees per night, this was by far the most expensive guesthouse in the trek, fifty times more expensive than most of the others, but it was worth any rupee.
The weather station gave important information for the last part of the trek; they informed that a snowstorm was quickly approaching. That meant that any attempt for a longer acclimatization would put in danger the final goal. The wild Himalayan winter was arriving.
Thus, the next day would be my unique opportunity for reaching Kalla Pattar; without making a night stop at Gorak Shep. A climb of five hundred meters in one day was almost twice the recommended for these altitudes, but I was counting on the last two nights at around 5000m to be enough.
How to make a fire at 5000 meters:
Put a few chips of wood in the stove.
Cover generously with dried yak-dung.
Add some papers.
Wash everything with gasoline and throw a match.
Day 18: from Pyramid (5050m) to Kalla Pattar (5545m)
I left the Pyramid a few minutes before six given that I wanted to reach the summit before the snowstorm would get worse. It had snowed for a few minutes after my departure and the path had a soft and pleasant cover over it.
Unable to see the path, I walked up and down, guessed right or left, crossed the slippery Solukhumbu Glacier and after one hundred minutes arrived at Gorak Shep (5200m), a temporary settlement of two guesthouses just below Kalla Pattar and downstream the glacier from the Everest Base Camp. Gorak Shep is open only during the two climbing seasons; the highest year-round populated villages are one thousand meters lower where there is enough vegetation to support animal life.
On the way, I got great views of the Pumari Mountain and saw a glorious sunrise over the Nuptse. The low brown vegetation arranged itself in compact patches among the rocky terrain, supplying tasty snacks to the yaks. I stopped there for a milk coffee, the sweetest ever, at Snowland Inn.
There, a three years old boy was frightening an impressive grown up yak. At this altitude only real yaks, big, hunchbacked and thick furred, could survive; the crossbreeds had disappeared above the 4000m.
At ten, I got to the top of Kalla Pattar, the Black Rock, after crossing two discouraging false peaks. The last 50m were just a pile of big rocks, which together with the lack of air make the climbing a hard experience.
The last stretch from Gorak Shep upwards, took me almost two hours of painful walk, stopping every few steps for air. The air pressure at 5500m is less than half the normal one at sea level and my acclimatization wasn’t complete. My fingers were completely swollen, the base of my nails was blue and I could hardly scribble my notes in a corrupted handwriting, but the Everest was gloriously clear.
After walking for so many days, its summit was still more than three kilometers above my head; only then I realized its gigantic size. The Pumari behind me, reaching more than 7000m, looked as a small hill when compared to it. Below Kalla Pattar, the Everest Base Camp was hidden behind a glacier’s curve.
While there, it began snowing and I decided to begin the descent. Later, during my lunch at the Pyramid, the Italian manager came to greet some Italian trekkers and exclaimed: "Some day the sea will come here."
The Way Back
I returned to Lukla through the same way I climbed back; however, this time running away as fast as I could from the snowstorm raging behind me.
There, I bought an air ticket to Kathmandu. This flight was interesting since the runway was only seventy meters long and placed on a steep slope. On one side, it ended on a vertical stone wall and on the other it dropped into a deep valley. Arriving planes must stop before the vertical rock wall and departing ones almost drop from the cliff before they can gain any significant lifting force. Either case provides an unforgettable experience.
Kathmandu awaited me, as attractive as ever. Having seen the Colossus created a new dream for me; climbing the Everest became a new goal.