Saturday 1 April

Not a good night. It is bitterly cold, there are dogs barking, and the constant clatter of yak bells. Despite the noise I sleep deeply for a while, but wake to find that it is not yet midnight. My cold is making me very uncomfortable and I long for the dawn. I toss and turn for a while, but finally do manage to get back to sleep.

(magnify) The Khumbu Glacier, near Gorak Shep (magnify) View towards Everest Base Camp

I feel somewhat better come the morning and manage to eat a hearty breakfast. Our original itinerary was to walk up to Everest Base Camp today returning to Gorak Shep, but it would be a hard nine hour trek across the undulating glacier, and we have accepted Dan’s advice (some reluctantly though not me!) to make today an easy trek just to Gorak Shep, to skip base camp, and tomorrow to rise early to climb Kala Patthar before the long descent back to Dingboche the same day.

Cloud has come into the valley by the time we depart, partially hiding Meru Peak and Nuptse. The first hour of the trail to Gorak Shep is easy along the valley floor, but then we begin to climb steeply onto the edge of the glacier. I’m finding it hard going again, my energy being sapped by my cold. But as we gain height over the glacier and the morning sun begins to burn away the mist, the views begin to improve.

Gorak Shep

We have been walking for some time and I am feeling pretty weary when I ask Dan how far off we are. His reply of one to one and a half hours is not what I had hoped to hear. I am therefore surprised and somewhat relieved when ten minutes later we round a corner and the roofs of Gorak Shep become visible not far below us.

The setting could not be more stunning. The vast bulk of Nuptse is directly to the right, the tip of Everest just visible behind and to the left. Straight ahead is the rutted and rubble-strewn grey and blue of the Khumba Glacier and the distant Everest Base Camp (but no tents visible). The brown mound of Kala Patthar rises ahead to our left, behind which tower Pumori, Lingtren, and Khumbutse, all above 6500 m and, forming a kind of natural amphitheatre, marking the border with Tibet.

I am tired, thought not quite as bad as I was yesterday. The crew are having a little difficulty pitching the tents due to snow and rocky ground. Luki appears with hot lemon and, true to form, lunch follows soon after. We sit in the sun lounge, a small square room with windows on all sides looking out over the roof of the main building of the Snow Land Lodge. Sheltered here from the wind it is quite warm.

(magnify) Yak and Nuptse

Gorak Shep consists of little more than three guest houses and is a much more pleasant settlement than Lobuche. It is the historical Everest Base Camp, before that title moved to its new location some five kilometers further up the glacier.

Later that afternoon, Rachel, David, Dan, and I go over to the other lodge to see if we can find the researcher carrying out the high-altitude end of the blood oxygen survey we began in Phakding. He isn’t there when we arrive, so we order some hot lemon and sit around for a while until he returns. He does the same kind of sound measurements with the chirping device inserted into our ears and re-measures our blood saturation levels. Mine is down to 80 per cent now, rather lower than it was at Machemo, but my pulse has relaxed slightly to 77 beats per minute. I wonder what the accuracy of the measurements is. We are at 5180 m here, about 770 m higher than Machemo and 2540 m higher than Phakding at the start of our trek.

We spend the rest of the afternoon playing cards in the sun room. By nightfall it is snowing persistently. Making my last trip to the loo before bed I am startled and surprised to discover that the snowy mound in my path that I am about to climb is in fact the recumbent body of a yak. The yak looks at me with doleful eyes that tell me that this is neither startling nor surprising to the yak.