Day 9: Gorakshep

We start early from Lobouche, around 7:30 am. Today’s plan is to go straight to the basecamp and return to a lodge in Gorakshep by lunch time. Things don’t go according to the plan; the day turns out to be the most harrowing one of the trek.

As we hit the trail toward the basecamp we start experiencing heavy wind. Right at the start, a sudden gust trips me up, and I fall. I quickly pick myself up and walk; Rahul and Ngima, walking ahead of me, don’t see me falling.

We reach a relatively flat field. The ground is covered by fine sand, gravel and rocks. The wind is picking up speed. It is bitterly cold, a cold that seeps through the thick down jacket and layers of clothing. I sense that Ngima is getting a bit concerned. He has not experienced this type of heavy winds before, he says. The gusts pick up and blow fine sand at us. We see waves of sand at a distance blowing toward us. Every time a wave approaches us, we stop and turn around, to prevent the sand from blowing into our face. We wait until the wave passes us. Then we resume walking.

We are now at a pass between two mountains. Another big gust hits us. We all lose our balance and need to steady ourselves with the help of trekking poles. Another big wave comes. Ngima motions us toward a big boulder nearby. We duck behind the boulder for shelter. The wave rips past us, but we are protected from the sand by the boulder. The American students have caught up and are sheltering behind the boulder with us. I ask a student standing near me where they are from in America. He tells me that they are from two high schools in Portland, Oregon.

The next gust is laden with a blinding amount of sand. I get sand in my mouth. We cannot see anything in front of us. Ngima is now very concerned. The wind is strong enough to pickup and pelt rocks at us. I see a single lemon-sized rock rolling down the mountainside. The wind can cause rock slides on the mountainsides.

We have been walking for 30 minutes after we left Lobouche. It will take another three hours to reach Gorakshep. Ngima stops us and holds a consultation meeting. Should we turn back and return to Lobouche or soldier on to Gorakshep? There is no shelter between here and Gorskshep. I am in favor of taking a safe approach. But, if we turn back, we may not be able to reach basecamp. That will be disappointing after having come this close. Rahul says that we should push on. The American students have over taken us, and they are pushing on at distance ahead of us, their outlines slowly dissolving into a distant wave of the sandstorm. We decide to keep going.

After a little while Rahul becomes sick. He feels very cold and complains that his fingers have become numb inside the gloves. We exchange our gloves. He feels a little better from the warmth in my gloves. But I notice that he has a staggering gait. I walk closely behind, keeping an eye on him.

Bitter cold wind blows unabated. Thankfully, the wind doesn’t pelt stones at us. Ngima points out a landslide triggered by the wind perhaps in the past. Also, it is not on our trail.

I am walking vigilantly behind Rahul. The trail is now going uphill and has become narrow. We see the two Iranian Trekkers, whom we had met in Dingboche, coming toward us. They must be on their way back from the basecamp. I see Rahul trying to give way to them by moving to the right edge of the trail, the edge where the ground drops off sharply. I fear that his right foot has slipped off the edge and jumps to prevent him from falling. He tells me that his foot was just fine and that I almost pushed him off the trail. I tell Rahul to give way, now on, by moving to the left and stopping.

Rahul notices that the face of an Iranian has puffed up. My face has also puffed up. It is a common thing at this high an elevation.

A little while later, another group of Trekkers comes toward us. Rahul tries to move to the right, and I yell “On your left.” He listens.

Now, Ngima tells me to go ahead; he will follow behind Rahul. I soon see why. At places the trail is really narrow. In one place there is barely enough space for one foot and the trail is made of loose gravel. I have to take a long step to avoid that treacherous spot.

gorakshep
Gorakshep (left) and Khumbu Glacier (right)

As I walk I feel a fluttering sensation in my back on the left side, as though my left lung is shivering in the ribcage. In my left cheek and lips, I feel a tingling sensation. These, I have read, are side effects of Diamox. Also, I start to feel a rising pain across the top of my abdomen. Thankfully, it does not seem to increase or decrease with exertion. So, I take the pain to be benign, and continue walking.

We reach a place where the trail is right on the edge of Khumbu glacier. The rest of our way is by the side of or on top of Khumbu glacier.

After three and a half hours we reach Himalaya Lodge and Restaurant in Gorakshep. I have no taste in my mouth, and lunch does not taste good. My face is grimy. I pass my hand over my forehead. It feels like a sandpaper, the skin being coated by a layer of fine sand.

After lunch we go to our room upstairs and help Rahul into his sleeping bag. I rent a hot water bag that he can keep inside the sleeping bag, to warm up the inside quickly. Ngima advises him not to sleep off. I keep vigil. Slowly, he starts to feel better, sheltered and warmed by the sleeping bag.

Ngima tells us that it is dangerous to attempt to go the basecamp today because of the heavy winds. We will try tomorrow if the wind calms down. Ngima will wake us up early in the morning, if it’s safe to trek. We will have to miss our trip to Kala Pathar, however. If it is not possible to go to the basecamp even tomorrow, I ask Ngima whether we can attempt it the day after and delay our departure from Lukla by a day. We will still be able to catch our international flight on time, although we will miss the Kathmandu tour. Ngima tells me that he will ask Madhav.

The wind continues to howl. A layer of sand is collecting over my iPad and other items kept on the window sill, the wind blown sand having seeped through the narrow gaps around the window. I notice that a peanut bag I brought with me has puffed up. This is because the pressure inside the bag is still the pressure at sea level, where as the outside pressure has dropped considerably.

peanutbags
How the peanut bags look at sea level (left) and at the high elevation in Gorakshep (right)

As I go to bed at night the wind is still howling outside. I time the gusts based on the howling noise. They are now about a minute apart. They were about twenty seconds apart, when we were trekking. This gives me hope that the winds are dying down and we may be able to go to the base camp tomorrow.

Elevations
Gorakshep           16,864′ (5,140 m)

Fitbit statistics

No of steps Miles walked Calories burned Floors climbed
12,211 5.51 2,558 98
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