Another bitterly cold night – I have finally reached the point of fastening all of the press-studs on my sleeping bag and pulling the drawstring tight around my head.
I wake to the sound of hot coffee being proffered at 3.30 am. The tent is covered in snow, which makes a rather satisfying minor avalanche sound as Terry and I take turns to thump the inside of the canvas.
I pack up my sleeping bag and I’m in the dining room by 4 am. I am the only one there. I look around and begin to wonder if this is some kind of late April Fools prank. Then Terry turns up, and eventually we are all assembled and trying to force down whatever breakfast we can.
We get underway at about 4.50 am. Purba leads us past a lodge and across the fields to the start of the climb of Kala Patthar. Although at first we are in complete darkness, it is not very long before the first light of dawn begins to assert itself. Under foot there is fresh snow – a couple of inches. The going seems much less steep than Gokyo Ri and we are making steady progress – though I have no idea how Purba is managing to find the path under the uniform coating of snow.
As the light builds, first the distant mountains behind us begin to take shape. Then to our right, the silhouettes of Nuptse and Everest are unmistakable, and just above Venus is rising.
As the dawn continues, wisps of orange and yellow cloud appear in the eastern sky, some framing Everest with light. It is now quite light all around. Purba is picking his way over snow-covered boulders. It is getting harder and harder to take each step but the summit is within sight.
It is just as I reach the top that the sun breaks out from the side of Everest. Purba congratulates us each as we arrive. It is a very cramped summit and standing there is quite an uncomfortable experience with the feeling that one false move on the snow-covered rocks could see me over the precipitous edge. Graham is feeling braver and climbs onto a steep rock just above us, the true summit. He then realises that coming back down may be a little harder.
We walk down on a high, passing several other groups still on their way to the summit.
Back at the lodge, we have an hour to recuperate and drink hot squash before leaving for Dingboche. The first section back down the glacier is fairly strenuous and the expressions on faces coming the other way also tell a story of exertion. A particularly exhausted American asks us how far it is to Gorak Shep and we are pleased to tell him that he is on the last steep climb and he will see it around the next corner.
Once off the glacier we can speed up a bit. We pass several yak trains coming the other way.
Lobuche seems reluctant to come into view, but eventually we round a corner and there is the muddy ford and shambles of lodges. We have lunch in the same sun lounge as before. This time it is suffocatingly hot. I am absolutely famished and as soon as I have eaten I am overwhelmed by tiredness. I go outside with a drink to cool off.
We continue down the valley. Ahead I can see the end of the Cho La, the side valley we walked down two days ago and the towering mountains behind it. But the scale is deceptive and it takes some time to reach the frozen lake where we came in. A cold wind has sprung up, blowing up the valley and it is clouding over.
We continue and reach the place where many stone memorials have been constructed to climbers lost on Everest. The cold whiteness of the sky and snow-covered hills gives the place a stark sense of beauty and desolation.
From here the path descends more steeply into a smaller sub-valley, the main Khumba valley hidden from sight. The wind is blowing a light but persistent snowfall into our faces. As we walk across a moor-like area the snow becomes stronger – it is all very reminiscent of winter walking in England, in full waterproofs, head down.
We see the town of Pheriche first in the valley down to our right before cutting left across the moor. Here and there are small stunted bushes dusted with snow. At last Purba points and I look up to see the orange of the tents down in a valley ahead of us.
We descend off the moor, past the stupa and through a couple of fields into the town of Dingboche and enter the Amadablam View Lodge. The dining room is lovely and warm and it is not long until dinner time. I am not as hungry as I expected, but it is a good nosh anyway – the usual carb loading and some pizza. We round off the evening playing cards.