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

Day 13: Kala Patthar – The Roof of Our World

Gorak Shep (5150m) → Summit of Kala Patthar (5545m) → Lobuche (4940m)

Morning, deal w/deep bloody heel crack, go down to tea & muesli, freezing and disgusting. Blow bloody phlegm out of nose… but excited – b/c soon we'll be going down! Showers! Beer! Less freezing temps! Air w/oxygen in!

Okay, so you can rather see where the mood was right where we left it last night: in the pits. However, I'm very pleased to reassure you in advance: it all turned around today. Kala Patthar turned out not only to be a major highlight of the trek – but also a turning point.

Me: “Well, looks like it's going to be another fingers-frozen-all-day day.”
Darby: “All right, let's do it.”
Me: “Let's get this froze-ass show on the road.”
Aakash: “Let's kill the hill.”

So we stepped out into, basically, a freezing sandstorm. There had actually been the option of doing this ascent the evening before when we got in. Aakash had talked us out of it (admittedly an easy sell).

Me (in whiny voice): “‘Let's not go up tonight,’ he said. ‘It's too windy tonight,’ he said.”

The reader can easily make out the sandstorm effect, below, in my lens cap being blown all over the damned place. Or, in fact, in the visible f'ing sandstorm. But the shooting light was beyond gorgeous.

Crazy-ass lens cap action Fucking sandstorm

So the thing about Kala Patthar – which towers directly over Gorak Shep just as Gokyo Ri does over Gokyo – is that it is very much a thing. One is supposed to go up either for dawn or for dusk, there to receive the best views of the summit and south face of Everest as to be had anywhere on Earth. Because of this notoriety (not totally unlike, I imagined, Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom), and exacerbated by our experiences of the propinquitous Gorak Shep, EBC, and the late Superhighway, my expectations of Kala Patthar were modest, if not outright sceptical.

And but maybe expectations are everything, because – laying my cards on the table right here – I ultimately found K.P. to not only live up to the hype, but to wildly exceed it. It was an outstandingly enjoyable climb, a mind-blowing setting at the top (not least because it sported a proper – and delightfully dodgy – knife-point peak), and once-in-a-lifetime views. Overall, a very special place, and a huge highlight of the trek for me. Now – we just had to climb the damned thing.

Toronto, Derbyshire, and Glasgow – in the flesh
And just like that, I'm enjoying it again. (Finally got this 50% oxygen thing nailed.)
N.B. Heretofore (and generally) I make a real effort to winnow the photos down to the very best shots of each scene, eschewing duplicativeness. However, I've kind of chucked that today. While I was up on this peak, I just wanted to stay up there and drag out the experience. Now, I kind of want to do the same. (And, better or worse, the same is being done to you… flip faster!)
Summit of Everest comes into view – snow blowing off her That cursed old moraine
Wind tails off, and it practically warms up.
I keep pushing – feel strong, just want to summit.

As you can see from the next photo, I'd gotten pretty damned far ahead of Darby and Aakash. (I can tell it's them in the photo because of Darby's light trousers – and Aakash's inimitable posture.)

Not only Everest – but the icefall, and half the route up the damned south face… Summit comes into view!
Proper summit! 200m sheer drop, two feet off my right elbow. And wind from the left…

And it truly was. I guess I'd been expecting maybe a gentle flat top, like the summit of Gokyo Ri… not a proper knife edge – culminating in a knife point! Sitting up at the top of this really did feel like being at the top of the world. And, with the sheer (and sure to be lethal) drop inches away – and nothing remotely like a guard rail – it was about as far from the Magic Kingdom as you could get. I was won over.

And who did I find at the top, but my friends from the smaller, better teahouse common room! – Derbyshire, Glasgow, and Toronto! (I'd forgotten their names, if I knew them, but sure remembered where they were from.)

Looking off to the right You can see that sheer drop to the right here…

And when Darby finally appeared with Aakash, I was tickled to be able to shout down:

Me: “Hey, Derbyshire, that's Darby!”

I had told each about the other the night before. And this wasn't just a coincidence or homonym – Darby's ancestors were actually from that county, and she named in the light of them. (And her name pronounced, if not spelled, correctly. :)

Here's what I posted to facebook from the scene:


And it was – not just a personal elevation record, but almost certainly a permanent one: the Roof of Our World.

Me on the knife point Darby inching up
D, T, G leave – and we've got the summit entirely to ourselves, for like 20 minutes.

And down. But this time in happiness, contentment – and gratitude, for having been in such an enchanted place, and having had such an exalted experience.

Our brief return to Gorak Shep was for the dual purposes of lunch and retrieving all our crap. I have two words of notes from this:

Pizza & packup.
Darby: “Let's blow this one-yak town.”

Truly it was; and truly we did. Back to Lobuche…

That huge brown thing is Kala Patthar

…But this time, descending! We had one more high pass yet to get over. But, that one little hump aside, as of today we had reached both our highest elevation, and the most northerly point of our trek. From here, we were (basically) cruising back down, in both senses. I think you can easily see the change in mood this engendered.

We were covering the exact same terrain (Gorak Shep ↔ Lobuche, just in the opposite direction) as two days earlier. But you've never seen it because I'd been in a funk and couldn't be arsed to shoot it on the way out. As always, it's all about having the right eyes to see.

“Nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
- Ole Bill, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

Along this stretch, happy and carefree and reasonably warm in the sun, Darby and I had the most amazing talk. We rapped Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom and The West Wing, Breaking Bad and GoT… but, even better, while I'd vaguely known she was an ARISEN reader, now it transpired she was not only up-to-date – but had some really fantastic ideas for the conclusion of the series! I took assiduous notes, and assured her that – while I might not have been above pretending to like her ideas if I didn't – I actually really did like them, to the point of totally intending to use them.

Me: “You've actually got me excited about this series again!”

So, if you happen to have read Books Thirteen and Fourteen, and you liked what happened to the Ainsleys, with the mother getting ■■■■■■ and the boys getting cut off and lost in the prison… well, you have Darby (and this walk segment) to thank. I think she called this storyline something like: “Rebecca Dies to Save the Boys – For Fifteen Minutes”. And I totally, totally used it.

As we approached Lobuche:

Darby: “Look at these new arrivals, out taking their acclimatisation hike…”
Me: “FNGs!”
Darby: “I'm so glad to be going down.”

And back into town – our “shithole” lunch spot from two days ago, now seen in a new light.

Feeling as disgusting as, well, a guy who's been climbing peaks and passes, living in his thermals, huddling around yak dung stoves, and not getting to shower for days, I inquired of Aakash about the shower situation here. When he told me he didn't think a shower would be possible, I replied that I intended to comprehensively verify there was no shower in this town – going door-to-door if necessary. With this, Aakash finally admitted there was one – but it was “not recommended.”

A. has personally seen two trekkers "collapse" in it. Whether this means slip, or succumb to gas fumes, isn't clear, and I don't drill down. Just got to get through tomorrow, and it's all gravy.
Me: “I'm so excited about my shower. One more pass, and it's all golden. Downhill… clean…”
Aakash: “Everything gets better tomorrow. Though today was pretty good, too.”

Darby belatedly reported being tickled to hear me refer to my Gorak Shep upstairs friends as Derbyshire, Glasgow, and Toronto. Turns out she's a huge Zombieland fan; it's her third most rewatched movie. And, amusingly, she recalled better than I did that I put a couple of references in Book Seven:


After dinner, we took a turn around the ville –

– stopping in the local bakery. (Only one this time.) I got coffee, while Darby got carrot cake for après le dîner. Checking my altimeter, I saw, “We're still at bloody 4930.” So we were by no means out of the woods yet – nor quite done with hard trekking and privation. As we were back in the room, gearing up for the evening, the cold, and tomorrow:

Me: “You do realise that at least 97% of people in the world would not recognise this as a holiday or vacation in any way, shape, or form?”
5470 Kongma La. 3-5 hours up. 3.5-4 hours down. Cross Khumbu Glacier (45-1hr). 2hrs continuous climb after glacier. Walkable. Very beautiful pass. Leave 0700. B'fast 0630. Up at 0600. All in shade until summit. Windy. Carry snacks & water. Arrive at 3pm. Back to civilisation.

On the other hand… I wasn't yet to have any idea how wildly Aakash understated the matter when he described the pass at Kongma La as “very beautiful” – though he also understated, or failed to mention, the difficulty and danger of the climb up there – and the beauty of the valley beyond was to begger both description and belief…

Tomorrow, Day Fourteen: The Last Pass

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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