Sam: This is it.
Frodo: This is what?
Sam: If take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been.
Frodo: Come on Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say, "It's a dangerous business Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day 12 part 1: The hardest 100 steps at Kala Pattar

Gorak Shep - Kala Pattar - Gorak Shep
Elevation max: 5545m

As I had predicted, I slept very poorly at Gorak Shep. I woke up literally every hour.  Sometimes I woke up feeling short of breath. Periods of apnea are expected at high altitude and that is probably what I had. I didn't take any Diamox though in hindsight I could have taken one before bed. It didn't help that I was anxious about the coming day. Well I had to get up at 3:30am anyways because today was Kala Pattar day. 

The goal was to see the sun rise behind and up over Everest. Because Lohtse and Nuptse often block the view of Everest, getting a bit higher on Kala Pattar affords a much better vie. 

At 4am trekmate, our porter-guide, and I were among a line of headlamps slowly moving up Kala Pattar in the darkness. The sky was clear. I couldn't recognize any constellations because I saw so many stars. 

We planned to take 2 hours to reach the top of Kala Pattar. It was a slow, slow 2 hours. My legs never felt so heavy. My calves burned like I had been climbing for hours even though I was going up mere feet. It was quiet except for the movement of trekkers: the shuffle of boots and tap-tap of trekking poles. I heard my own heart and my own breath every step up. 

It was also a frigid 2 hours. What little of my face was exposed was freezing. On top I wore my trusty North Face winter coat, a fleece, thermal top, and two hats. On the bottom I had two pairs of hiking socks, two pairs of thermal long underwear, a pair of fleece sweatpants, and soft shell pants. I had insulated gloves and liners. 

My trekmate didn't make it to the top. About 40 minutes into our ascent I saw she was farther and farther behind. I was ahead of trekmate on the climb as I usually am. (For some reason she is always faster on the flats and I am faster ascending.) The porter-guide left my side and slowed down to meet her. They stood and talked for a few minutes as I watched from up high. Trekmate sat down. Eventually I saw that she turned back. The other lesson of EBC is knowing one's limit. She had met    her limit. She went back to the teahouse for a lovely warm breakfast. I am happy for her that she went as far as she could. 

Darkness turned to gray and I was still pretty far from the top. I began to count my steps. I got to 100 and then started over. Those were the hardest 100 steps I had ever taken. Each step I think I moved my foot mere inches. I can't accurately describe what those steps were like. My feet felt like bricks and though my heart was thumping so loud, I still couldn't muster any energy to go any faster.   

The sky grew pink and the stars faded away. I was standing with a lot of other trekkers on a small rocky summit cluttered with backpacks and other gear. We all stood facing the East and Everest. I made it just in time to the top of Kala Pattar in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. I saw the rays of the sun come behind Everest. I felt it illuminate my face. I wasn't so much excited but rather fulfilled. I wanted to feel the sun and reach 5545 meters. I did both.

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