Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Day 11: The EBC Superhighway

Thank Fuk (4835m) → Gorak Shep (5150m)

Mountain stops me in my tracks on way to breakfast, w/first bright sunlight on it.

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.

Darby: “Happy Thanksgiving. Happy halfway point of trek.”
Gangsta! So gangsta!
Me: “All that rock and ice to our right doesn't look real. And it was all shoved up by the plates of the Earth, across oceans of time which we are not capable of imagining.”
Definitely into EBC Superhighway now.

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.

Me: “I like these little breaks. Normally it's all going by so fast, and I'm struggling to get shots, makes notes, breathe… these stops are the only thing that allow me to get out of my own head.”
I feel like I'm reverse acclimatised – I'm winded all the time, including walking on flat terrain, including pulling socks on…

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.

Lobuche is a shithole. I'm starting to feel as if this is just another series of hateful tasks I've got to check off before… before what?

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.

Me: “Amateur hour.”

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.

Darby (peering into her tablet): “Well, half of my mails are Black Friday spam, half are invitations to holiday parties, and two to three are important.”
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).

Rubbish-strewn trail – more than I have the energy or breath to pick up.

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.

Pissed all over self. Into G.S.

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.

Ass-cold, and they won't turn on stove. Put on thermals – figure I'll keep them on day and night until next shower, to absorb all the awfulness – plus second pair of socks, fleece-lined trousers, buff, and hat. Still cold.

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.

Aakash: “When things go right, everyone's a good guide.”
You kind of just get used to being cold all the time.

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.

They finally light stove – and the great chair migration begins.
Me: “I'm actually going to get in on that.”

Tomorrow, Day Twelve: EBC – “To Come Here Is Folly”

close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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