Six Peaks of Life III

Mount Everest Base Camp, 3 Passes and Beyond


Final Passing


April 25th:
Boom! Boom! Boom!! Boom! A headache pounding from the back of my head to the front was non-stop at 0530 am. Like watching a million yaks barrel down on me going over a pass; I just wanted to pull the blanket over and close my eyes. I felt like I was dying but I had barely drank a litre and a half of water the day before hiking what seemed like a million kilometres. Despite having no adverse effects from the altitude the beers did not agree with me. It was unlike a headache I can recollect having in the past.

I was confident it was an issue with needing more sleep and rehydration rather than an altitude issue as I have been over and under 5000 meters numerous times in the past few days. After a few bites of apple porridge I had to go back to bed. I was going to meet my friends in Gorakshep later and they would arrange the rooms when they arrived.
I awoke at 1000 am feeling much better than before, the yaks had seemed to stop running in my head. After I munched through the bag of peanut butter M&Ms I brought from Canada, I was inspired to get out of bed.

I hoped onto the trail to Gorakshep that continues on to Everest Base Camp (EBC). From Lobuche I went from an altitude of 4910 meters to 5140 meters in Gorakshep. It is the hiking highway for tour groups, guided groups, older aged adventurers, porters carrying supplies to base camp and beyond. I didn’t need to look at my map or ask for directions, there were many people and the route is essentially straight. I made the walk in an hour and a half and got into town around noon.

No sign of the guys from Lobuche but I wandered and found Tom, Lucy, Becca and their guide Sunil. All of my friends I had dinner with in Phakding. Lucy has been unwell for a few days, but has continued to climb in hopes to reach her goal. Lucy and Becca raised money for MS were determined to make it to base camp for the cause. Tom is a doctor and has been working in Emergency in Australia so his advice and care was very helpful.

The five of us took off for Mount Everest Base Camp and within a few hours we arrived (from 5140 meters to 5364 meters). The path was more stable and better marked than the trails that I trekked on in the past few days. The traffic of people, porters, guides, horses and yaks determined the speed we could hike.

On the way to EBC we ran into the whole Namche gang who had left earlier in the day. We had a few good minutes taking photos and chatting. Something special about continuing to meet up and hike together has created a great friendship between everyone.

It was amazing to finally make it to base camp, I enjoyed looking around at the tents surrounded by glaciers and mountains. Tents representing countries from all areas of the world attempting to summit Mount Everest. The summit hasn’t been reached in over two years because of natural disasters and weather. The past few days have been beautiful for my trekking, I found myself hoping for the best weather for the mountaineers attempting the summit.

The weather has been amazing, clear skies through many nights have made for mesmerizing stars. So so many nights of countless stars it has been mystical. The only time I can compare the stars was at the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Waco my friend from Argentina pulled out his gear out and took some photos that were phenomenal.
We all got together again to play cards and exchange stories as it is likely the last time we are all together. Sleeping at 5140 meters is as unpleasant as it sounds. Trying to warm up I got extra blankets but my small sleeping bag certainly wasn’t cutting it. It’s never nice to see your own breath when trying to sleep. Despite all, it was not too long until exhaustion overtook me and I feel asleep.

Joaquin taking in the night sky. (Gorakshep, 2016). Photo by Joaquin Cespedes.
Joaquin taking in the night sky. (Gorakshep, 2016). Photo by Joaquin Cespedes.

April 26:
Today I slept in until 0700 am, and waited around for breakfast for 45 minutes. Typically we have ordered our breakfast the night before and it would be ready within a few minutes of arriving in the dining hall. It was freezing cold sleeping in the tea house. Just about everyone in Gorakshep had a cough, cold or runny nose. This is known as the khumbu cough.

This was another sort of ‘rest day’. We hiked up Kala Patthar, just a short walk from the tea house in Gorakshep. It took about an hour and a bit to climb up from 5140 meters to 5550 meters. The view was phenomenal, crystal clear blue skies, Mount Everest standing tall with base camp tents set up row after row.

I was a bit nervous sitting on the edge of the mountain top, looking down onto some lakes. We took some pictures and made our way back down. After a couple hours of hiking and chatting with Adrian and Tom we made it to Lobuche. Tom left and Beca ended up arriving shortly after. It is funny the people who you meet travelling in these places; a man walked over with a photo of Beca on the plane from Kathmandu to Lukla, she was holding onto a man’s and had tears falling from her eyes. We had a bit of a laugh and he introduced himself to us as a mountaineer who is touring with some famous Polish world champion arm wrestlers. He reached the summit of Mount Everest

I was dead tired and took a nap, Adrian and I have been crushing the mountain passes faster than anyone we have met. The locals referred to us as ‘very strong men’ when they heard the speed we were completing the passes. Playing cards is the way to pass the time here, the wifi is expensive and patchy at best. As we spent the afternoon in Lobuche we watched helicopter after helicopter evacuated ill climbers from the area.

People from all over the world fly into Nepal to do some world class trekking. The mountains and views rival that of any of the best in the world. Whilst Adrian, Beca and I were hanging out in the dining hall a Polish man walked over and asked Beca if he remembered her from the plane ride. She was embarrassed but had recalled gripping onto another Polish man’s arm. He showed us a photo of Beca in the plane tearing up gripping tightly on the strangers arm. This gentleman introduced himself to us as Ryszard Pawloswski, he has summitted Mt. Everest five times and was touring with some friends who are Polish arm wrestling champions. He didn’t really mention it but after a little but of looking into him; turns out he is a famous Polish mountaineer.


April 27th:
Chocolate pancakes and milk coffee for breakfast. We stayed at the same place in Lobuche. Adrian and I were out trekking by 0700 am, this day was as massive as any of the other big ones we had. Starting at Lobuche (4910 meters altitude) we passed through a fairly well marked glacier field. Areas of glacier ice and glacier water, hiking over rock covered glaciers. The moon still lingered over the mountain tops, it was destined to be a good day.

Adrian and I were back hiking on our own. We made it over the glacier field to the start of the Kongma La pass, our last of the 3 passes. We had caught up to an older man who must have been in his sixties, the guide with him was having trouble keeping up. We made it over the first section of the pass with relative ease. Wondering how much more ground we have to cover, the worst was yet to come.

The second portion became exceptionally difficult. I was sweating heavily through my clothes, the wind would feel freezing cold in moments when we would take a break. Just about everywhere the rocks were unstable, the half-marked sandy path was slippery, we were going straight upwards and the fear of falling was creeping into the back of my mind. The pass was 5528 meters in altitude. With every step above 5000 meters my 12 kilogram pack seemed heavier and heavier, it was tough to get enough oxygen from the air to keep our bodies moving forward.

But I lead on, this is the sixth consecutive day we have surpassed 5300 meters. Shortness of breath creeping into Adrian’s breathing as we reached the summit, we finally made it after another push uphill. I have said it all week but the views are phenomenal. All of the peaks provide different landscapes and perspectives of the mountain range.

If we weren’t short of breath from the altitude, the view would have easily taken our breath away.

The route down the pass was straightforward and we got down with no issues. We continued to hike through the early afternoon and reached a point where the trail only went left so we followed. With no trail markings it was unknown that we had taken a wrong way until we asked a local; and added 45 minutes with an extra hill climb onto our day. Eventually we made it to Dingboce and stopped in for some Sherpa stew. We continued on to Pengboce where Beca had hiked a direct route from Lobuche so we met up at a tea house. We were exhausted, it was around 1600 pm and we had been hiking since 0700 am.

We had some celebratory beer and played cards for a few hours. I had a yak steak for dinner which tasted great. No more vegetarian for me, I needed to eat some meat.


April 28:
I woke up at 0600 am to the sounds of helicopters flying over us every 5-10 minutes. It was alarming and I had wanted to sleep in until 0800 am. We had been going the three passes route we had not seen this massive number of helicopters, the owner told us this was pretty typical for this number of people to be evacuated by helicopter for medical reasons.

After a tasty french toast for breakfast I said bye to Adrian and Beca and made my way towards Namche alone. The hike took me about 4 hours and went from 3910 meters to 3440 meters. That is very deceiving as the trail had significant up and down portions. I  went down as far as 3110 meters and up greater than 4000 meters. I was exhausted when I got to Namche and spoke with an older lady at length regarding the trip and passes. I ended up giving her my gloves I had used many times throughout the trek. Thought I may as well pay it forward since we were able to make it through the trek safely with no altitude sickness or significant injuries.

I looked up and saw Adrian in Namche walking down the road, he had left Pengboche shortly after me. We had a cheeseburger and fries which tasted great. I decided I’d spend the night in Namche instead of continuing to Lukla. We went out to the Irish Pub at night and met people from all over the world, it was fun to be able to talk about the passes we completed as we had heard so many people discussing their adventures when we stopped at the pub on the way up the mountain. We had a few drinks to celebrate completing the 3 passes, EBC, Gokyo Ri and Kala Patthar. Played a bit of pool (hard to believe there is a pool table at this elevation).

I planned on getting up early to try and catch a flight out of Lukla. I cut myself off the rum and coke drinks and turned into bed around 1100 pm.


April 29:
Today I woke up at 0445 am (slightly after that because I hit the snooze button a few times) and packed my things quickly. I was feeling alright despite the drinks I had the previous night. I got onto the trail to Lukla around 0515 am. Typically this takes people about 7 hours at a decent pace. After getting stuck behind a few groups of donkeys and yaks I was able to get a good hiking pace going. It was around 0530 am when a Sherpa named Migma Sherpa pass me. He looked in my direction and asked “are you heading to Lukla to fly out?” I responded ‘yes’, and he said “well come along then.”

I told him of the trek I have just completed and he was happy to have me along. I kept pace with him, the oxygen in the air seemed rich, the fatigue in my legs was very real though. We turned a corner and he looked to me and asked if I had eaten breakfast? I hadn’t, he asked what I would like? I said a few boiled eggs. He called a person whom I later found out was his sister and we were at her place in about 30 minutes. They chatted away and we ate some breakfast. After about 20 minutes we were back onto the hiking trail, 2 more hours of mostly uphill and we were at the airport.

The sweat was pouring off me for most of the trek, no time for photos, no stopping. As we passed Phukding he called a friend at the airport and reserved me a plane ticket. We exchanged a enthusiastic high-five. It was going to be worth it, I’ll have made it on time to fly back to Kathmandu.

I only had 300 rupees on me, which is about $4 Canadian, the bank in Lukla was not operating, there was no where to withdraw money. The plane ticket is $161 USD. Thankfully Mingma was still with me, he had a few ideas. We went to a local hotel where I paid for my ticket through there debit machine. The guy ended up being one of the owners of the airline company so things seemed to be working out perfectly.

Migma had offered to pay for my ticket if I was unable to withdraw money and I would pay him back in Kathmandu. We went to Mingma’s friends house for a tea to kill a bit of time. Mingma has been over 8000 meters nine times and been to the Mount Everest summit twice. He works as a local guide and Sherpa, if you are in the area and need a local guide or assistance his email is Mingmakhumjung@yahoo.com. Please don’t hesitate to contact him he is an awesome guy and from the Khumbu region.

The wind had picked up at the airport and after our bags were checked they had put an hour delay on the flights out of Lukla. We all waited for a few hours, the airport runway is very small and with the tailwind, it was too dangerous for planes to land. We were told the planes are on standby in Kathmandu. Waited for a few more hours and around 0230 pm we were notified that planes would not be flying today. This was so disappointing after the journey I had in the morning to get to the airport on time.

I had to pick my ticket up at 0400 pm for the flight the next day, sita airlines had tried to put me on the fourth flight out at 0900 am. I had asked for my money back to book with another company. I spoke with the owner of the airline company again and he told me he would get me on an early plane but to show up at 0700 am at the airport.

I found a tea house and spent the night. During the afternoon I wandering around Lukla for the a while and chatting with some familiar faces from the trek. It is a quiet town so before too late I turned in for the night. The bed was more comfortable than any I had been in the past 2 weeks. The room was warmer which was also pretty nice.


April 30:
I woke up, barely had enough money to pay for my accommodations. Made it to the airport for 0700 am. It was packed with people and buzzing because of delays from the previous two days. Everything went smoothly for me, I got my boarding pass and checked my baggage. The airport is a skeleton of a typical airport, the security measures seem to be very vulnerable.

I departed at 0830 am for Kathmandu. In a rush to leave the runway we did not go over any safety precautions for the flight. It is the first flight I have been on that hasn’t gone over these, seems strange considering it is one of the most dangerous flight routes in the world. By far this was the worst flight I have experienced in my life. We hit major turbulence four to five times. My seatbelt held me in my seat as the plane dropped multiple times. There were people with their eyes closed, praying and crying. The plane was drifting left to right, I was unsure if we were going to make it until the plane landed in one piece in Kathmandu.

This was the trek of a lifetime. Completing this route was an accomplishment I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I do strongly suggest that everyone is different and people require different amounts of time to adjust to altitude. Some people’s bodies simply won’t allow them to go over 4000 or 5000 meters. I did not take the diamox pills for altitude because of the many different opinions I have heard regarding them. In the time I was on the mountain hiking I had seen many numerous people who were very ill; in that time five people died hiking to base camp. the dangers are real and should always be taken seriously.