May 14th, 2009. Now that was a long day. To give you an idea: The previous episode, this episode, and the one that follows it will all cover this one, single day. Three episodes of The Rest Of Everest just to fit it all in! But it was both our longest day and, though I can’t speak for the rest of the group, easily my best day as well. The high point of the trek, both literally and figuratively.
If the morning update from the previous episode didn’t make it obvious, this episode should. We were really starting to feel the effects of the altitude at this point. We had really only had enough time to acclimate to around 12,000 feet, and we were pushing to 17,000 feet (and above for those of us that went on to base camp) this day. Breathing was laborious, we felt like were always on the verge of dehydration, and our brains were just running very slowly. We were perhaps mildly hypoxic at this point, to be honest. Probably suffering from at least mild altitude sickness, more so for some of us.
For me, this is where the constant cold began to get to me. Even the “heated” tea houses we got to stay in were still very far from warm. The only bit of warmth we ever got was those few hours cocooned in our sleeping bags each night. Other than that, there was a pretty much constant chill over me. But that was really the only thing bothering me all that much that day. Other than that, I was actually feeling my strongest. Perhaps it was a bit of summit fever from being so close to our “summit” that day, but I was feeling my strongest this day. My most energetic and driven. Look at where I was! And where I was going! How could I not be feeling good?
We awoke earlier than normal that day, and got out on the trail much faster as well. All to get us to Gorek Shep by lunch, which really should have been nearly a full day’s trek. If memory serves me correctly, and it’s entirely possible it isn’t, we did nearly six hours of hiking that morning to get to Gorek Shep. From there it was a quick lunch, then make or break time. Who would go on to Base Camp, and who would rest there in Gorek Shep?
The decision wasn’t as simple as “Do I have enough energy to make it to Base Camp?” however. The reality was that going to Base Camp also meant the very real possibility that you wouldn’t be able to make the Kala Pattar climb the next day, therefore missing the million dollar view of Everest. You would definitely miss the early morning sunrise view of Everest, when it’s most likely to be clear and at it’s most beautiful. It would also mean having to descend from Base Camp first thing in the morning, and then almost immediately head out to do the Kala Pattar ascent in order to make it there and back before sunset.
Much of the group was just plain exhausted at this point, so the choice was really pretty simple. They just didn’t have the leg left in them to get up to Base Camp, nor the desire, so better to rest at Gorek Shep and maximize their chances to summit Kala Pattar the next day. The rest of us, however, had to make that million dollar decision.
Kyle chose to stay behind, he wanted that morning view of Everest. Jon chose to continue on, if only to see his old friend Dawa. (Kala Pattar wasn’t important to him, nor was Base Camp itself.) Jeff and Steve Beatty also chose to continue on, both hoping they’d have the energy the next day to return and do an afternoon ascent of Kala Pattar. And if anyone in the group would be able to do so, it would have been those two guys.
Myself? I chose to go on. Why? First, I had the energy left to do so. Second, visiting Base Camp was my second major goal of the trek, behind seeing the Tengboche Monastery. I was so close at that point, I just couldn’t even consider stopping. To give up a huge life’s goal a few hours hike from achieving it? No way, not an option. As for Kala Pattar, I thought I might have the energy for both, and wasn’t all that concerned about missing the early morning photo op.
Okay, time for a dirty little secret here… Unlike everyone else in the group, I wasn’t there for the photo workshop. No disrespect intended towards Chris, I’m a huge fan of Tips From The Top Floor and learning from him was amazing, but I’m a very casual photographer. I wasn’t really even there for the videography lessons from Jon. That was all very secondary for me. I was there for the trek itself, a trek I had been planning to take even before Chris & Jon announced their Everest Trek. This was an experience I would have had (to one degree or another) with or without Chris & Jon’s trek, a Base Camp trek was happening for me last May one way or another. Just getting to be part of two of my favorite podcasts and getting to know Chris & Jon would have been enough to justify the extra expense of their trek, the photography/videography instruction was just a bonus.
So if I missed the million dollar photo op in the morning, I was okay with that. If I even missed the million dollar view of Everest itself, I was okay with that. I was having the experience of a lifetime, with or without those specific moments. Being at base camp, and meeting the people there, was more important. Besides, I was feeling pretty self-confident at that moment and thought I would be able to do both. Silly me.
Once that decision was made, it was off to base camp. This was an additional four or five hours of hiking over some pretty dicey terrain. Lots of boulder hopping, bordering on scrambling at times, at a pretty aggressive pace. Time was a factor as sunset was inching ever closer, it was nearly dusk when we arrived at base camp and dark shortly thereafter. And I was exhausted when we arrived. A very long morning of trekking, followed by a very long afternoon of trekking. I may groan at my awful “I’m in it to win it.” line in this episode, but I’ll own it. I earned the right to speak out of character and babble on a bit that day. The four of us should do nothing but hold our chins high, and be proud of what we accomplished.
And, oh man, was it worth it. That night at Base Camp? Well… you’ll learn all about that in the next episode.
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