Day 7 – Dingboche to Lobuche (4910m)
Having had an early night after my first Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms, I felt much better in the morning so we went ahead with our trek to Lobuche. Things started off quite well, with Chris and the Sherpa speeding off ahead with all our kit as usual, while our guide and I followed on an hour or so behind. But as the day progressed the weather became increasingly nasty with heavy snow breaking out just as I started the steep, two hour climb up to Lobuche. And it was then, just after I’d made the climb up to 4,800m (the same height as Mount Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain) that disaster struck. My altitude sickness, which had been growing for some time, suddenly exploded into a splitting headache, severe dizziness, and an almost complete loss of vision, meaning I had to descend immediately.
Luckily our guide was a complete hero and helped carry me down the mountain to safety, while sending up a message via other climbers (the heavy snow blocked all phone services) to Chris explaining what had happened. The descent is all a bit of a blur, but I remember being so cold that the icy wind felt like a hundred daggers piercing through me. By the time we reached the hut my body was shivering so uncontrollably that I needed 3 duvets and 2 hot water bottles, whilst being fed hot tea and soup by my guide, to warm me up again. Finally, by about 1pm, Chris and our Sherpa got word at the top of the mountain that I needed my sleeping bag and warm clothes urgently meaning the two of them raced back down the hill, in freezing conditions and almost zero-visibility, to reunite me with my warm kit.
At this stage I was still determined not to give up and hoped after a night’s rest I could try and get up the mountain to Lobuche again the next day – but luckily Chris, who had seen how dangerous things were higher up, talked me out of this and made me realise that the best thing for me to do was rest for the night and then head down to lower altitude when the weather improved. So that was the end of my Everest Base Camp trek, but after a long conversation where I insisted he should carry on, Chris and our guide headed back up the hill, for the second time that day in ever worsening conditions, for what Chris described as the toughest few hours he has ever spent in the mountains. Not least because by now he had been trekking from 7.30am until late-afternoon on just 2 litres of water and a bowl of porridge for breakfast!
Highlight of the day – being saved by our guide, my mountain hero.
Lowlight – realising that due to a combination of hypothermia and AMS my only option was to retreat to a lower elevation, just a day away from base camp, and leave Chris to press on alone.
Oxygen rate – 54%
Day 8 – Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5140m) and then on to Base Camp (5364m)
Chris, now trekking with just our guide, was able to press on at his military marching pace meaning after a 5.30am breakfast he was at Gorak Shep by 9am in time to wolf down a crazily early lunch. Our trekking schedule allowed time for a day’s acclimatisation at Gorak Shep, but by this stage Chris just wanted to get to base camp and back as quickly as possible so he and our guide cracked on to base camp straight after ‘lunch’. Apparently the trek was pretty rough going – particularly without the planned day’s acclimatisation and the freezing weather – but by early afternoon Chris and his guide had made it, a day early even with the drama of my AMS.
Highlight of the day – Reaching base camp (Chris)
Lowlight – (Chris) watching the lodge dining hall increasingly resemble an Accident and Emergency ward as victims of broken bones, AMS, and hypothermia got carried down the mountain in various states of consciousness. One guy who broke his leg was literally piggy-backed down the mountain by a heroic Nepalese porter about half his size. And a Singaporean group had a very close shave as three of their group went down with severe hypothermia and AMS, meaning they too had to be carried down the mountain and eventually had to be fully evacuated by a combination of horse-back and helicopters which literally saved their lives.
Oxygen rate – 52%
Day 9 – Gorak Shep to Kalar Patar (5550m) and then back to Periche (4240m)
Chris rose just before first light again on day 9 to give himself time to climb to a viewing point up on Kalar Patar – a mountain which overlooks Everest base camp – and then leg it back down to Periche to be reunited with poor me. After taking some nice shots of Everest he somehow caught me up by lunchtime, meaning that from day 7-9 he and his guide covered over 50km crossing glaciers, icy ridges, and steep climbs at altitudes of between 4,250-5,500m, all the time carrying full kit. Not bad for an old man!
Highlight of the day – being reunited with my tired, but happy-looking husband
Lowlight – hating the fact that a combination of AMS and a nasty snow-storm meant I never quite made it to base camp. Guess I’m going to have to book a trip to Machu Picchu to cheer me up……
Oxygen rate (at Kalar Patar) – 50%
The way back to Lukla airport was pretty much just the reverse of the way up, but done at a much faster pace as it was mostly downhill and the ever-thickening air meant with each passing step you felt stronger and stronger. Which meant we made it to Lukla a day early and were able to squeeze onto an early flight – which was delayed due to high winds but eventually took off, even though the winds were still high enough to make the flight back one of the longest 45 minutes of my life! But eventually we got back to Kathmandu, just in time for the Holi festival of colours which was the perfect way to cheer myself up – but more about that next week…