The Million Dollar View from Kala Pattar
And the Trainer’s Last Words
Day Eleven – Lobuche to Gorak Shep and climbing Kala Pattar (5545m)
People who have trekked to Everest Base Camp, or have friends that have, or are busy planning and researching the trek themselves will know the highlight of the trek is not Everest Base Camp but in fact, is climbing to Kala Pattar above Gorak Shep to view Mount Everest from the closest and highest viewpoint on the main EBC Trail. Many climb the hill in the darkness of early morning to see the sun rise on Everest or in the evening to see the sun set. Climbing in the afternoon after first arriving in Gorak Shep and after an early lunch is also an option. But more about the options in another post.
Unlike our first trek in 2013, when we had no porter a notebook would have been considered excess weight.
During our prolonged packing planning phase, every gram was weighed and assessed and rationalised. More on that later too. On our recent trek I did take a small notebook and I kept a very short diary. My last entry to this diary was in fact the previous day (Day Ten Dughla to Lobuche). Why? Because day eleven and the following two days are big days and you are very tired, as a result. I came back down from Kala Pattar, exhausted and was fast asleep at 5:30.
Most treks go from Lobuche to Kala Pattar. You start off early from your lodge and the walk out is quite flat initially, over turf sometimes with very small streams and little puddles of water which reminded me of rock pools. Not far out of Lobuche is the turn off to the Italian Weather Pyramid. Sam had been there the afternoon before to explore and take photos. I had taken the soft option of resting up for the next day.
Part of his research back home in Melbourne had often looked at the weather on the webcam on the pyramid. The closest thing to the Bureau of Meteorology at Base Camp. The building looks spectacular from the photos. And more amazing when you realise what a building like that means in terms of getting the materials there to build it.
There is a very short steep climb not long after setting out but after that, most of the walk is flattish. The trail crosses the moraine of the Changri Glacier. There are mountains on both sides of the long valley and the landscape is stark, stunning and like a moonscape.
You move ever closer to the conical peak of Pumori another mountain fairly easy to identify. That’s it, peeking out from the left of the hill in the photo above.
The flattish path is strewn with rocks and often becomes rutted turf. It was relatively easy for us because we were managing the altitude well with half a Diamox tablet taken twice daily. I had started taking them in Dingboche. This was part of the advice we took from Lhakpa from Khumbu Adventures in Kathmandu the day before we flew to Lukla. We had different advice from different sources, different doctors, including some very good advice from a GP in our group of doctors who had been there on several occasions. Firsthand experience is always good but at the end of the day Lhakpa has led many treks to Base Camp and many other mountainous regions so we decided to take his advice which was to take the Diamox at 4,000 metres, regardless of how we were feeling.
The bridge above takes the prize for being the smallest of the many bridges you cross on the trek to Everest Base Camp.
I felt a huge sense of achievement arriving at Gorak Shep and a great sense of anticipation. Pumori towers over Gorak Shep with it’s dry lake bed and seven or eight lodges. We decided on which lodge we would stay in, even though we did this quickly, retrospectively precious time was wasted doing it. I will write a separate post about lodges.
After lunch we walked across the dry lake bed to the brown hill behind me in the photo above. Looks innocent enough compared to the huge ice-covered mountains surrounding it but at this altitude Gorak Shep is 5170 metres, the climb to Kala Pattar and 5545 metres requires effort and pre-training to make that effort achievable.
The sky was almost cloud free and we had decided after talking to two people on the trail that we would climb there in the afternoon and leave the walk to Everest Base for the next morning when the morning light gives life to what is often viewed as a dull area. Most people generally decide to trek to Base Camp after lunch on the day they arrive.
The mountains of Lingtren, Khumbutse and Changste are in clear view and Everest begins to appear.
Kala Pattar means Black Rock named after the black rocks at the top of the hill. Some hill. The climb to the top or more precisely to the flag pole, took two hours. At one stage I was ahead which made a change, but then was overtaken by The Trainer. I waved him ahead because there were clouds behind us and we wanted the view and the photos without them. Basanta our wonderful porter guide stayed with me.
The climb was hard. In some ways it was easy in that there are not many rocks to watch for tripping etc and no stone steps. I could stop easily and find lots of perching spots and I didn’t have to worry about dodging yaks or porters with loads. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath and my legs were burning which I hadn’t experienced.
The hard bit was the large boulders we had to scramble over to get to the flag pole with the prayer flags. Quite close to the point where the flag pole was I thought I couldn’t go any further. Puffing, legs burning and exhausted I was ready to give up on the final bit and be happy with the view from there. Who said I had to climb to the top anyway? I yelled out to Sam who was at the top. “Do I have to come to the top?” And what were the Trainer’s last words? “Come on Louise this is what you trained for!” he yelled back. And it was. So, with one last effort and with the help of Basanta pulling and pushing me up the last enormous boulders I made it to the flag pole. A very short video captures the moment I reached it, almost too exhausted to even wave for the camera and to the trainer who had his photographer hat on.
It took me a while to get my breath and then of course we stood and did the obligatory photo shoot being careful not to step backwards off the boulders. The afternoon clouds started to roll our way.
And yes, then the wig appeared. The yellow wig. It had been purchased back home in Melbourne with the statement that the trainer intended to wear it at Base Camp. I told him what I thought of that idea and then forgot all about. It had been hidden in the luggage and then his bag and then in the day pack and the next thing, there it was. Two young Japanese boys up there with us thought it was hysterical. They loved it and borrowed it for some of their shots and it had a popular showing and sharing the next day at Base Camp. Basanta also liked it and he can be seen in some of those photos wearing it.
So, a series of triumphant photos and videos where shot in different ways on different cameras with different photographers. Of course, the Open Door Singers sign appeared for the big moment.
We had made it. Safely and without any blisters even. The training had been spot on to getting us there without drama and worth it in many ways. Trekking in Nepal and trekking to Base Camp hadn’t been on my grand plan. Hadn’t been on any of my lists originally but I wasn’t going to be left behind and after the failed attempt to reach Base Camp in December 2013 it had felt like unfinished business. If you don’t succeed the first time, try again. I haven’t forgotten that if it hadn’t been for Sam the Trainer pushing me on, encouraging and teasing me and having the travel wanderlust I would have never have had the wonderful experience. Of course, I had an inkling on my honeymoon that I was in for a ride, when he dragged me across the Sahara.
And of course, the view was magnificent. Magic. Stunning. Many people cry at this point after the anticipation, the huge trek, the training, the preparation, the effort, for some maybe the pain, certainly the beauty and the grandeur. You are standing in the most enormous, magnificent landscape. You realise how insignificant you are in the scheme of things and how enduring and ancient the place you are privileged to be in, is. Astronauts experience this looking at earth from outer space. For those of us not aspiring to space travel this will be our astronaut moment.
Of course, I cried. I allowed myself that. I cried many times on this wonderful life changing trek. I can honestly say that except for a few tears on the way up to the top of Kala Pattar which I quickly stopped, telling myself it wasn’t that bad, none of the tears shed were in anger, pain, frustration or desperation. They were tears of happiness, tears of triumph, tears of disbelief and the very happy tears of relief of arriving in Lukla, fresh off the plane and being grateful that we had rethought our decision to cancel the trip due to the fear of a landslide or tremors after the earthquake.
We stayed up the top for quite a while after the photos just taking in the view. We were lucky there were only five people up there. One, because most people choose to climb to Kala Pattar early in the morning, two because it was very early in the second season after the monsoon and three due to the earthquakes, there were hardly any trekkers.
Retrospectively writing this post, it is worthwhile remembering the privilege to be able to do this trek with relative ease is thanks to the Sherpa people and all the other Nepalese people who work hard to bring food and gear up the trail every year so people can have this wonderful experience. It is particularly important to remember the back- breaking work of the men who carry building materials up the trail even all the way to Gorak Shep so that lodges can be built for people to stay in. Without them such an experience would not be possible.
I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did, climbing Kala Pattar would be on it. But I wouldn’t consider it ticked off because I had done it. Trekking in Nepal is addictive and I would like to think that I would do this trek again, at least one more time.
Other posts to read