|To the summit of Kala Patar
||[Nov. 27th, 2009|06:29 pm]
Friday November 27th, Day 12
(Lobuje to Gorak Shep via Kala Patar)
There really weren’t too many moments on our trek to Everest Base Camp where we experienced extreme cold. I’ve written about some moments in tea houses along the trail where the sun had set and the cold set in, but we were able to keep ourselves warm by playing cards, doing yoga, dancing, eating, etc, and it was never long before we went back to our tents with our hot water bottles and slipped into our sleeping bags.
As we awoke in Lobuje, just above 16,000 ft, we experienced our first morning of inclement weather. In addition to chilly temperatures (it got down as low as 11 degrees overnight), a blustery wind was making its way down the valley we would be climbing through to reach the summit of Kala Patar, the high-elevation point of our trip at 18,300ft.
As I mentioned, other than our camp staff and a young guide from Turkey who was interning with Cat, we were an all-women trek at this point. As we ducked our heads against the wind and headed up towards Gorak Shep, our campsite for that evening, altitude and illness began to take its toll on some of our group. One woman simply felt her strength lag, another got hit with the chest cold that had been plaguing her tentmate the entire trip. I was still regaining strength after my stomach flu, as was another woman who’d suffered the same illness as me.
We were blessed with a fantastic team of Sherpas, all of whom offered to carry our packs for us as we fought the wind, illness and the impact of altitude. It was beautiful to see how each of us reacted in this situation. For two of the women, it was imperative for them that they make it to the summit fully under their own power, so rather than relinquish their packs, they took it slow and hiked behind the rest of the group with a Sherpa by their side.
I had a very different reaction. I was just feeling better after a 48 hour struggle with illness, and keenly aware of the need to use my energy wisely as we climbed higher. While my appetite had returned, I still wasn’t at the point where I could eat everything that was put in front of me, which is what you need to be doing when trekking at high altitudes.
Also, as a single woman living by myself, I just don’t get that many offers to lighten my load. When I said this jokingly to the other women, I was astounded at their sympathetic reaction. I don’t like to complain about my life, because really I am very blessed with supportive friends and family, but the truth is that I carry a lot on my own shoulders. From the mundane (lugging 30 lbs of dog food up the stairs) to the complex (I have no one to fall back on if I lose my job, income, health insurance, etc), a lot falls on me and me alone. For many people, their life goals relate to taking on new challenges and proving their competencies; for me, my next level is about learning how let go, do less, and accept help.
So though it felt like a slog up to Gorak Shep, I was in good spirits, feeling better physically while appreciating that I had the kindness of our team of Sherpas to lighten my load.
We arrived in Gorak Shep a little disheveled from all the wind, but excited to see Kala Patar rising above us. Adrenaline was kicking in at this point, and we started our climb up Kala Patar enthusiastic and energized.
In my memory, I felt great the entire way up the mountain. We took fairly regular breaks, and the views of Everest right across the way were ASTOUNDING. However, when I got home and played a video filmed from a spot about 2/3 up the mountain, I realized just how hard I was huffing and puffing as I took a break to shoot the video (I sound like Darth Vader).
The views only got more incredible as we neared the summit. From 18,300 feet, we had a clear view of the entire Khumbu Icefall (the first 2000 ft of an Everest ascent and one of the most deadly zones on the mountain), as well as the route up the Lhotse face towards the South Col, the Hillary Step and the Summit. Apparently, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay plotted out their route from this very spot on Kala Patar as they prepared for the first-ever ascent of Mt Everest way back in 1953.
By the time we reached the summit, the wind had died down and we enjoyed clear sunny skies and warm temps while celebrating the high point of our trip. One of my most memorable photos from the trip is below: the summit of Mt Everest, as seen from the top of Kala Patar, framed by prayer flags. I also have a few fun shots of Cat and myself for some of our BCF sponsors, including Luna and Isis.
Only one of our teammates hadn’t continued with us up to the summit of Kala Patar. The woman with the chest cold, who was courageously carrying her own pack the entire day, had decided to cut her climb short and rest about halfway up the mountain. As we started to make our way down the mountain, we heard that she was making her way up, and we all erupted in cheers. She made it to the summit that day, and it was so poignant to see someone push through that kind of fatigue and discomfort.
We celebrated together about halfway back down the mountain with Pringles, Snickers and hot lemonade. By the time we made it back to camp, we were all pretty exhausted. I spent the rest of the afternoon snoozing in my tent, aware that though we’d reached our highest point of the trek already, we still had a long trek ahead of us tomorrow to Everest Base Camp. Dinner that night was somewhat celebratory, but we were all tired and aware of what lay ahead the next day. Though I was feeling mostly better, we still had two climbers among us who were struggling with fatigue and illness.
On nights like these, when there was a bit of a pall hanging over the tent due to illness or struggles of our fellow climbers, there was one person who would consistently lift our spirits. Her name was Renate and I won’t mention her age because she would kill me, but let’s just say if I look that amazing when I am her age, I will be psyched.
In addition to being incredibly fit, she was also beautifully dressed, even at a stage in the trek when most of our clothes could have gotten up and walked off on their own. She sported a purple fur hat on cold nights, and shared with us that rather than sleeping in long underwear, she preferred a baby doll nightgown. Even more impressive than her level of fitness and sense of style were her enthusiasm and sense of humor, which never once dampened. She would make us all laugh every night by excusing herself from dinner to do some “housekeeping” in her tent.
She never once faltered on the trail, pushing quietly through hard sections of the trek that made others moan and groan. She carried photos and letters from her young grandchildren to share with children we met along the way, and they delighted in learning about their American counterparts. The grand finale of our time with her was our last night on the trail, when she agreed to model the baby doll nightgown. I won’t post photos because, again, she would kill me, but lets just say she looked smoking hot in that spaghetti strap nightgown, with a mug of beer held aloft from a buff arm and her hiking boots poking out below the hemline of the nightgown.