Day 11: The EBC Superhighway
Thank Fuk (4835m) → Gorak Shep (5150m)
Speaking of the cold that was going to get a lot worse before it got better at the beginning of yesterday's climb up to Cho La, I said it was the coldest I'd ever been; but I'd never yet been to Gorak Shep I found I could see an awful lot of my breath in the common room this morning. Then again, I got apple porridge (!), so it wasn't all so bad.
Perhaps not least since ‘Zongla’ was an implausibly silly place name, on our way out of town out I officially decided to rename the village ‘Thank Fuk’ what I'd said aloud when it first appeared (after the soul-crushing descent from Cho La).
Evidently that ‘little hill’ ahead (according to Aakash) was over 6km.
Though the photos here don't reflect it I think I'm just good at shooting around people, though they're in the video below (and above) this is as good a point as any to explain the term. Basically, I use it to refer to the stretches of trail directly between Namchee Bazaar and Everest Base Camp. The trouble is a whole lot of people particularly Americans with their two weeks of holiday fly into Lukla, then dash directly up through Namchee to EBC… for their trophy photo. Two weeks is just enough to get to EBC and back. So, as you will imagine, these are the most overrun stretches of trail.
Our trek had basically been designed to be as much and as far off those areas as humanly possible. In fact, I'd never been keen on going to EBC at all (because, amongst other reasons, you can't even see Everest from it, and it strikes me as one of those places mainly famous for being famous), but Darby did and being as she was nice enough to take the trek with me and all, who was I to say no? The price we were to pay was a couple of days of trekking on the EBC Superhighway… beginning now.
Okay, maybe the Dark Night of the Soul part of the trek was still incoming. My notes sure seem to indicate it might be. Our lunch stop in Lobuche evidently didn't help.
I sat and watched the others eat, while Aakash warned us we were in from some serious crowds around Gorak Shep, EBC, and Kala Patthar (the nearby peak said to have the best views, anywhere, of the summit of Everest). We'd soon realise how good we had it, for how long, having had the trails utterly to ourselves.
Darby noted that the people we passed today looked like EBC trekkers who had been on the trail two days, and were basically shell-shocked by the instant-immersion Nepal Himalaya experience.
Aakash further noted that there was going to be another Mountain Monarch group, of eleven for a wedding party atop Kala Patthar. I thought that sounded like fun.
Me: “Thank you for validating my decision to stay offline.”
I suppose the measure of my plummeting mood as well as the turn for the worse the trail had taken may be gleaned from the single note I wrote down during the entire rest of the walk to Gorak Shep… as well as the notes after that (which reveal the downturn in accommodation).
Any rubbish, on any trail, anywhere, is of course totally unacceptable. And any decent hiker picks up any he does see. (Just when do you think a street sweeper is going to come by?) But here, it was total sacrilege. And that there was more than I could even face picking up was just shocking. This part of the Khumbu was broken by EBC trekkers.
Gorak Shep, not quite incidentally, used to be Everest Base Camp before, I suppose, progress allowed climbing teams to assemble their own high-tech tent city right at the foot of the mountain. Now it had become base camp for base camp home to all the trekkers who wanted their trophy photo at EBC. While it was not to be my very favourite destination, it was to be my very coldest.
On the upside, I was getting completely lean my body fat just being frozen right off of me. Also on the downside, people just kept pouring into the main room of the lodge. We'd clearly entered the Magic Kingdom zone of the Khumbu.
Sitting around shivering, waiting for them to light the damned stove, I chanced to meet another Mountain Monarch guide, called Sunil who seemed both very nice, and very sharp. I think I expressed that to Aakash, about how great all the MM guides seemed.
I don't think I quite realised it then; but, in retrospect, I've realised Gorak Shep was as cold as I've ever been or am ever going to be.