We woke up very early in the morning around 4:30am, it was time to head up Kala Pattar and hopefully reach the summit just as the sun rises above Mt. Everest. But that was a bit far from our minds as we struggled to warm ourselves up for the long trek up. Unfortunately for us we have no breakfast as the kitchen was still closed. So in the dark of the early morning we proceeded up Kala Patthar, armed with only our headlamps, trekking poles, some water and snacks and our cameras.
It was mightly cold. So cold, in fact, that the water in the drinking tube of hydration pack froze solid. even my snot that fell on my shoes was frozen solid. And upon returning to our room, our spare water bottle was frozen solid and did not melt completely until after lunch. But I am getting ahead of myself. Going up Kala Patthar was definitely a tough one. For a good hour or two we struggled with the cold particularly on our fingers, the local gloves were close to useless and we were wasting the little energy we had trying to warm them up. Our core body temperature was ok with all the layers we had, but our fingers and to some respect our toes were getting the grunt of the cold. At one point I wanted to throw or leave my trekking poles so I can stuff my hands in between my armpits to keep them from freezing solid. (Socs: Actually, he DID drop them so he could warm his hands…Ang Dawa and I had to pick them up so they wouldn’t roll down the hill.)
Eventually the sun was up somewhere behind Everest and Lhotse and while we made good progress from Gorak Shep, we could see that it was still a long way from the summit of Kala Patthar. At least though Socs and I could take pictures of great views of the Himalayan mountains surrounding us. But even with the little warmth from the hidden sun was not enough to bring our spirits up. On more than one occasion I contemplated on going down, but I wanted to push on. But when Socs came up to me looking defeated and on the brink of crying we decided to stop and head down. She had been taking pictures all the while and that caused her fingers to get really cold, and fearing frostbite (our gloves were definitely inadequate) it was an easy decision. We topped out at 5402masl.
So we brought out our prayer flags, smiled and posed for a photo. The smiles where genuine despite our physical state. As we headed down I started questioning myself. Was I disappointed? Was it ok not reaching Everest Base Camp and the summit of Kala Patthar? I started to feel depressed and felt that I left myself and Socs down, and our friends and family who supported us all this time. All the time, effort and money, wasted. I started to get really emotional and almost broke down to tears. But all I had to do was look up and see Mt. Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse and that answered it all.
We were there. In the Himalayan mountains. We’ve seen the great mountains. We did it. Only a few people can relate to that feeling. I couldn’t help myself shed a couple of tears on that realization.
(Socs: I had slightly different thoughts running through my head at the time…on the way up I was already telling myself “This is it, this is literally the highest point in our trip.” The fact that we had to endure freezing fingers and toes was, in my head, our “Everest”. We wanted to go this far, we had to grin and bear it. And then a few meters from the top. I wasn’t grinning anymore. It was too cold. While I knew it was a once in a lifetime experience to get a panoramic view of the mountains, I wanted to keep all 10 of my fingers intact. My decision to stop and give up was a surrender to Mt. Everest and nature. You win. I am only human, I can only do so much. I had to humbly bow down to the mountains….we have been blessed enough to have gone so far and seen so much. It was time to say “Thank you” and respectfully retreat.)
We tried to warm up and had breakfast back in Gorak Shep at around 9:45am. Socs’ fingers were still frozen at this point, so our decision to head down was not uncalled for. (Socs: On the way down from Kala Pattar I actually removed my gloves so I can try and shove them inside my layers for warmth — they were purple. And they hurt. Four hours after we’ve descended, my fingertips were still tingling.)
We headed straight down to Periche soon after. We were going to do what took us 3 days going up, in a little less than a day. Luckily for us heading down was easier than going up and we were in Lobuche again by lunch time. The trek after that was a little chilly as there was cloud cover most of the way. We were initially hoping to leave a set of prayer flags (we brought two sets, one to keep as our reminder and the other to be left) on either Everest Base Camp or Kala Patthar summit but as we never got to reach both we decided that the Everest Memorial seemed to be an appropriate place. So we found our own piece of the mountain and left our prayer flags to flutter in the mountain breeze. After that we met a Filipina on the trail and chatted a bit before we parted ways. We arrived in Periche a few hours later and celebrated with a jug of hot chocolate with Dil and Ang Dawa.