Day 11 – Dughla (15,157 ft) to Lobuche (16,109 ft)
Wake up at 6a for a 7a breakfast – for some reason, despite the fact we’ve been up here for over ten days now it still takes a really long time to pack up our backpacks every morning. At the beginning we felt certain we’d eventually come up with a great system, but it seems that over the course of an afternoon and evening we really do end up needing everything we brought, meaning that come early morning it all needs to be packed up again. And we thus must wake up truly early to do it.
We both slept well last night so are feeling confident about the day ahead. I try to power up with a very generously sized fried egg sandwich (for some reason they do eggs incredibly well up here) and an equally rich and delicious hot chocolate, but within about 10 steps of leaving Dughla I’m feeling positively exhausted again.
It’s a long, slow 2.5 hours to Lobuche and my legs seem to feel more leaden the further up the rocky terrain we climb. I wonder if I’m a little dehydrated and down a couple liters of water, which seems to help somewhat, but up here we seem to almost constantly feel like there’s just nothing left. Thankfully there are a lot of rocks around to rest on and we take full advantage, pausing every 20 minutes or so to catch our breath and suck down more water while taking in the stunning scenery and mountains towering up in every direction from our gravelly glacier.
About an hour into today’s trek, we come to a large memorial to many famous climbers that have perished on Everest, including Scott Fischer of the infamous 1996 Everest disaster. It’s a stark and sobering site, but too tired to take too many pictures we take only a short water break before continuing on.
Again, we arrive in Lobuche around 11a in a bit of a daze, but post lunching begin to feel quite a bit better. At Jesse’s prodding I again eat quite a bit more than I’d like, downing a large bowl of noodle soup and two cups of very milky hot chocolate before collapsing in my sleeping bag for the next three hours.
Waking up around 3p, we enjoy a mid-afternoon snack of delicious grilled cheese sandwiches (more fuel!) and then play around 5000 rounds of Rummy while waiting for our 6:45p dinner. I drink several liters of water over the afternoon, which has me feeling quite revived and still thankfully headache-less.
Really can’t believe we’re heading to Base Camp tomorrow – it's been such a long time coming and it continues to feel so amazing to actually be up here and ready for that final push.
Day 12 – Lobuche (16,109 ft) to Kala Pattar (18,200 ft) / Pheriche
(Not interested in hearing sordid details involving many tears and even more vomiting behind innumerable mountain rocks? Best to skip this day and move on.)
Last night was not good. Not good at all.
Wake up at 12a, and 2a, and 2:30a, and 4a – all feeling sick, and definitely not of the altitude variety. Spend about 30x more than I might like to in the fairly nasty shared bathroom in our lodge, and finally wake up when our alarm goes off at 6a with a tear-stained face and my stomach still heaving.
Nonetheless, I’m determined to go on. We pack up the bag (or Jesse packs up the bag, to be more accurate) and I manage to slowly get dressed and work my way down to the dining room. Upon being presented with my pre-ordered pancake, however, I’m quickly up out of my seat and back in the bathroom. No food for me and unless I can stop with the vomiting I’m not going to Base Camp today.
We head outside to sit in the sun and ponder next steps. Jesse and Lal talk over options while I sit mostly whimpering with my head in my hands, staring at the gravel below me, taking deep breaths and trying to keep down the handful of Pepto Bismol I’ve just desperately consumed. Eventually we decide that Jesse should continue on to Kala Pattar today (the viewpoint overlooking Base Camp that we’d planned to go to on Day 14, and a superior destination to Base Camp) while I remain behind and hope to recover. He’ll do the whole return trip in one day (the speedy devil!) and then we’ll hope I’m feeling better tomorrow and can continue on to Base Camp in the morning. And if not, at least one of us has made it up there.
So Jesse heads off, and I retreat back to our room where I spend a very unpleasant six hours curled up in my sleeping bag, staring at the wall, running to the bathroom and at one point virtually crawling down the three flights of the stairs to the dining room to beg a Sprite before hauling myself back up and back up and into bed.
When Jesse arrives back at 3p (he made it!) I’m so thrilled I nearly break down (again) in tears. A few minutes later Lal comes up to visit, and disheartened by my utter lack of progress and continued inability to keep down even a few sips of water, he determines that we need to go back down to Pheriche where the Himalaya Rescue Association doctors are located. Despite the fact it’s quite clear I have some sort of food poisoning, any illness at such a high altitude is taken extremely seriously. It’s so much harder for your body to recover from virtually anything up here, and if there’s any possibility of altitude sickness it’s always required that you go down.
Back down?? After all this?? Even in my utterly weakened state, it’s a bitter, bitter pill to swallow, but feeling like such unbelievable hell I’m in absolutely no position to argue. While I know in the back of my mind that my quest for Base Camp is coming to an end, I also feel so ill that it almost doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Now my only goal is getting back down.
By the time our bags our packed and I’m dressed again, it’s after 4p, the weather has turned cold and it’s started to snow. Carrying nothing and supported by Jesse on one side and Lal on the other, we start off down the mountain.
The first half of the journey isn’t actually all that terrible. I manage to stop throwing up for an hour and a half and while I’m definitely walking slowly, gradually tripping my way down steep rocky hill after steep rocky hill, we’re moving. By the time we arrive in Dughla however, my stomach takes a rapid turn for the worse and I race into the lodge where I spend fifteen minutes vomiting up every sustaining oral rehydration salt and Pepto Bismol previously consumed.
I emerge ashen, unable to rehydrate and ready to collapse and call the nearest rock home for the night, but we’ve still got two and a half hours to go. In an unfortunate reprise of the night before, I’m unable to stop vomiting, hobbling from the trail every 20 minutes or so to be sick behind the largest rock I can find. I’d like to say I was incredibly brave and stoic about the whole experience, but it really wasn’t the case. I cried. And cried. And cried some more. And said I couldn’t go any further. Then promised – there was absolutely no way I could go any further. Before vomiting some more and stumbling on.
Somehow, someway, covered and snow and utterly beat we eventually arrive in Pheriche. By the time we walk into the safe haven of the HRA office it’s nearly completely dark and I’m quickly ushered in, laid out on a bed and tended to by a very sweet young British doctor. She gives me a sharp jab in the arm delivering a powerful anti-nausea drug, although still unable to keep anything down 30 minutes later I’m hooked up to an IV and given two liters of fluids in addition to further anti-nausea meds. An hour and a half later, I’m finally feeling much better, and Jesse and Lal (who so kindly waits outside the room the entire time I’m being treated) bring me back to the lodge, where I promptly pass out until 9a the next morning.
Day 13 – Rest Day in Pheriche (14,340 ft)
Food poisoning, gastroenteritis, whatever you want to call it – I hate you.
All the way up to Lobuche and then derailed by some nasty something – it’s almost too much to bear, but I’m trying not to think about it too much. As Lal says, health is far more important than any mountain and as Jesse continues to reassure me, I made it over 16,000 feet and that’s no small feat.
I wake up feeling about 5000x better than yesterday, although I’m still weak and unable to eat much. I manage a slice of toast with butter for breakfast and cups of noodle soup for both lunch and dinner, but thought of anything else (especially grilled cheese, the last thing I ate in Lobuche) continues to make my stomach turn. Thankfully, I’m drinking water again, which is the most important thing up here, and thus gradually building my strength back up.
We read upstairs in the sunroom for much of the morning and afternoon, and I nap and sip on mint tea. Am definitely feeling quite a bit recovered by the evening, but I’m beginning to dread the walk tomorrow all the way back down to Namche Bazaar. It’s going to be an eight to nine hour haul, but after an unplanned rest day it’s where we need to get to in order to stick to our sixteen-day schedule. After yesterday, I feel confident that I can walk in virtually any condition, but here nestled in our warm and comfy lodge in Pheriche all I can think about is how much I just want to just stay put.
Day 14 – Pheriche (14,340 ft) to Namche Bazaar (11,286 ft)
We’re up early again for the long walk down and by 8a are on the trail, slowly retracing our steps back to Namche Bazaar – a journey that took us over four days coming up, but will take less than a day going down. I’m feeling about as good as yesterday and am no longer nauseous, but still unable to eat more than the occasional vegetable noodle soup.
The walk to Tengboche (where we stop for lunch) takes far longer than we remembered, including one very long and steep hill that brings us into town. I still haven’t really gotten over the fact that we’re walking down and not up and that I won’t be seeing Base Camp. But I’m also still feeling ill enough that I’m under no false illusions that I could have made it up there.
The afternoon hike to Namche Bazaar is incredibly tough, taking over five hours, which is (shockingly) longer than we’d hiked in one go at any other point on the trek. I’m longing for our first week when I felt strong and healthy, powering up hills and gasping over views rather than wishing every bend was our last, but I’m also thankful that I’m able to make the trip down on my own power at all. Throughout the trek we’ve seen a constant parade of helicopters delivering sick trekkers from the upper reaches of the mountain, in addition to countless yaks and horses slowly shepherding the injured and ailing down the hill. I may not be feeling good, but I’m walking, and that’s something I’m endlessly grateful for.
Arriving back in Namche, we’re feeling battered but not beaten. I still can hardly eat and my knees are aching, while Jesse’s feet are covered in blisters from the endless descent. After not being enormous fans of our previous Namche lodge, we manage to find much nicer accommodation and settle in for a quiet evening of cards and yet more vegetable soup. It’s another long day tomorrow – all the way back to Lukla. But it’s our very last day walking, and that thought alone I know will sustain me through another eight hours on the trail.
Day 15 – Namche Bazaar (11,286 ft) to Lukla (9,383 ft)
Again, we’re up early and trekking downhill by 8a, and again, the return trip feels about a million times longer than we remember it going up. It’s a long, very steep descent from Namche back down to Jorsalle and then an achingly slow up and down back to Phakding and finally Lukla.
My mind today is such a complete whirl of emotions. I’m utterly exhausted and have been stretched and challenged more by the past days than nearly any other experience in my life. I’m so ready to be done trekking, but I’m also a little bit sad to be saying goodbye to the trail we’ve called home for over two weeks.
Before I got sick, we both really felt there was nothing better than this. Waking up early to amazing views, gorgeous days walking, slow and relaxed afternoons and long evenings by the fire. Just being up here is such an incredible experience, and in the end, despite the fact there were some miserable moments and I did not in fact make it to Base Camp, I feel so empowered and thankful for all that we’ve managed to accomplish.
If you’d asked me several years ago if I’d ever end up trekking in the Himalayas let alone to Base Camp, I’d have given you a resounding no. It’s just not something I would ever have aimed for or thought myself capable of. And while I never saw the colorful tents of Base Camp or the snowy peak of Everest from the high reaches of Kala Pattar, these past fifteen days have been so completely unique and irreplaceable that suddenly the fact I can’t show anybody a picture of myself giddily posed in front of the Base Camp sign no longer seems to matter.
We finally hobble into Lukla after 5p (I’m pretty sure my knees are about to implode) and settle into our very last lodge. The only other guests end up being a raucous camping group, who also finishing up their trek proceed to take over the dining room with a hilarious American / Nepali singing and dance party around the fire. We stay up late (yes, 9:30p feels extremely late now!) chatting and laughing before retiring back to our room and a final evening shivering the night away in our sleeping bags.
Tomorrow it’s up early, back to Kathmandu and onwards in our travels. It’s been quite the journey, and while I feel very ready to be done, I’d honestly do it all over again in an instant – perhaps excluding day 12. It’s been (mostly) incredible and undoubtedly not an experience we’ll be soon to forget.
THE END – and now back to shorter posts. I promise.