Thursday, April 9, 2015

I'm on Top of the World

You've been waiting for this for awhile now.* The tale of harrowing adventure, bravery in the face of terrifying odds, courage against the most dire of nature's foes...or at least, a story of Alanna being miserably cold, sick, and tired. 

This is Everest Base Camp day.

I began the day, as one does, by crying. Then I stopped because my tears froze my eyelashes together. Why did I weep? Because as soon as I stepped out of the door in Lobuche, I failed to find solid purchase with the ground, which was iced over from the snowstorm the night before. We had 3 hours to go (well, it was supposed to be 2, but it became 3) up and down icy hills, and I was miserable. My boots were made for walking on dirt and stone, not Elsa's playground. By the time we made it to Gorakshep (the last "village" before EBC), I was ready for a long nap, but instead I got an hour-long lunch break and a metaphorical slap on the rear end to keep going. 

When we left the lodge on our way to Base Camp, the trouble began. Some of you have heard of AMS, or Acute Mountain Sickness, which is better known as altitude sickness. It is a rather mysterious illness that can start affecting the human body once it crosses 8,000 feet. Gorakshep's elevation is about 16,950 feet, and EBC is a little under 17,600--both are over twice the threshold for altitude sickness. The first sign of AMS is almost always a headache.

And boy, did I have a headache. While the ice had melted with the noonday sun, the roughly two and a half hours it took to get to Base Camp were pretty tough. The trail wasn't easy: there was more rock-scrambling and bouldering than we had done before, and the last few parts took us over glacial ice covered in a light camouflage of gravel, and through areas of active rock slides. (By the way, avalanches? Terrifying to hear, even from far away.)

We made it. I'd like to say that it was a relief, but I knew we had three more days of trekking back down ahead of us. This isn't to say that I wasn't super freaking excited. I mean, we reached our goal without dying or breaking legs or stuff. Now, Everest Base Camp is located on the Khumbu Glacier, right at the edge of the Khumbu Ice Fall (the deadly first part of the ascent for folks climbing Everest itself). The valley is filled with boulders, great chunks of blue ice, and alien green glacial pools. It is a desolate place of otherworldly beauty. I stopped at the outer edges of the camp where hundreds of other trekkers have strung up prayer flags in thanks for safe journeys. I added my own strand to the collection. A little further on, I could see the orange and yellow tents of the teams preparing for their two-month stay in the shadow of the world's tallest mountain. After some awesome photos, we turned back.

A porter carrying plastic chairs to the camp (the yellow blotches on the left).
The official sign, I think.
Jeff and Alanna, fearless explorers. You can see the terrifying Khumbu Icefall, where 16 Sherpas died in an avalanche last April.
It took literally all of my energy to lift my arms that high.
Nothing but rock and snow and sky.
The Yeti!
Good thing we did. The return journey was littered with stops as I tried to keep myself from vomiting over the cliff side. There were plenty of other hikers who were not so lucky in their gastric control. Jeff and our guide Rishi were uber-close to sending me back down to Kathmandu in a helicopter, which I resisted. Over the course of the next three days, there were times that I would wish that I had listened, but as I sit here comfortably and healthily in America, I'm glad I finished the trek with my own two feet.

*Anyone get the song reference? Anyone?

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