Day 9: Gorak Shep (5164 m) – Kala Patthar (5643 m) – Pheriche (4371 m).

We woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and looked at the clock. It was 4.35. We were supposed to get a wake up call at 4.30, if the weather conditions were good. Otherwise we would not attempt to go to Kala Pattar. When we realized it was past that time we thought we were not going. I felt relieved for a second. Starting at night and without breakfast is not my strength at all. But we weren’t that lucky, as soon as I had told myself how nice it was to be able to sleep longer that day, someone knocked at the door. Damn!

I slept really good considering that we had spent the night at 5100m but it was dark, cold and snowing. It was so warm and cosy in bed that I really hesitated. What can be up there that we haven’t seen yet? But then I thought as usual, suffer for a few hours and be proud for the rest of your life.

Looking back this was the hardest day and one of my proudest moments. I am happy I went.

I ate some bread that tasted like gum and one Bounty bar and got dressed. We left at torchlight, magical, cold. It was really snowing and it was charming to see James being excited about it. There is really something special about snow and I can imagine how it is for someone who doesn’t see it that often. We started steeply uphill and I felt exhausted, out of breath. Superpowers, I thought. And they came, for a while.

It got light at some point less than halfway up, it was breathtaking and all felt worth it right there. The sky was in a million different shades of purple and orange and there were snow capped mountains everywhere. We stopped there for a while and most people decided to turn around right there. I really hesitated again. But I thought we were almost there so I told myself again: suffer for five more minutes and be proud the rest of your life. If it only had been five more minutes…

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Without proper food I am useless so I fell quite behind, I could see the others in front of me but it felt like miles away. I went up mostly on my own for the rest of the time. Something that was equally as scary as it was liberating. I just couldn´t think much at that point. The trail up to Kala Pattar seemed like something designed to piss you off, a lot of fake summits and once you thought you were there and almost began celebrating, you were not even close. The summit just kept getting further and further and it really made me angry.

The top was a big pile of rocks, frozen, icy and covered in snow. I imagine that on good weather that must be a relatively easy scrambling section but on that day it was a little bit on the edge of what is reachable without equipment. It was extremely slippery. I was holding onto each rock for dear life. I felt cold everywhere. Someone who was going down asked me if I needed a pair of gloves. I told him that I was wearing my gloves already, since I was so certain that I had them on. But he pointed out that I had no gloves at all. I hadn’t even noticed. I looked at my fingers and they were blue, but I couldn’t stop. I thanked him and continued. I was almost there, crawling and as unglamourously as possible I made it to what for me was the summit of this trip. It was extremely foggy so the views were nothing extraordinary at this point and the only reward we got was having made it to the top.

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That is the only ugly picture I managed to take.

I couldn’t even gather the strength to take pictures and I don’t remember much at all of that moment. I know that James was there and we talked for a bit, he said that he was proud of me and hearing that made me immensely happy. I was proud of him too and extremely thankful that he was there. I don’t think I told him that right there since I was facing other challenges but if you read this someday: I am proud of you too.

I was happy  to see Andrea and Ben also making it, I thought they had just turned around at some point but apparently they had passed me without me even noticing. Going down that rocky part was a bit hard, I was tired and had no focus at all, it would have been easier to just let go and roll all the way down but I wanted to make it in one piece. To my amusement Billy was walking behind me and he was talking out loud to himself, something that took my focus out of the struggle and made me laugh. He was wondering if it wouldn’t have been better to stay in bed and if this was supposed to be something fun. I agreed. Though it wasn’t fun at that moment I am sure he doesn’t regret having done it.

Descending was pretty fast, we were back having breakfast at around 8 am so all this ordeal didn’t last more than around 4 hours. This was funny since I thought we were just going for a short morning walk. I think everyone felt the same, no one really realized how hard it would turn out to be. During breakfast I was still a bit shocked about the effort spent on this. I have had this feeling before, almost like being paralyzed in awe about what has just happened. All I could do was eat and say “That was really hard, like on a whole new other level kind of hard”. Everyone agreed.

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It felt good to get something to eat but I got a bit overwhelmed by thinking that we had a whole day of normal walking ahead of us. At some point I must have gotten a cold so I really felt ill and weaker than normal. I have this cough from hell which makes it really hard to breathe when walking and today might for sure have made everything worse.

We set out right after breakfast and the first part of the day was very hard. I was exhausted and sick and everything seemed just rushed. I really wished I was on my own here, being able to sit inside for a while, rest and drink some tea.

Before arriving at the place where we would eat lunch and right before a steep downhill section starts, there is a memorial for fallen climbers. The place is full of stupas and small stone constructions with lots of prayer flags, each dedicated to one, or several, climbers and sherpas who lost their lives in the mountains. We had been here on the way up and both times it was covered in fog. It almost looked like a cemetery scene from a horror movie, it was eerie, but captivating.

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I walked around them in silence for a bit and really admired what all these people had set out to do and, by the standards of society, had failed. All of them would have been called crazy at some point, maybe they really were, but all I saw was people who dared to fight for their dreams. Having something to die for just gives life meaning, even if it sounds like the complete opposite. But in some way it sets you free. The biggest fear we have is of dying too early and once that is removed, nothing feels impossible and a life lived without fears and full of passion is the best that can happen.

At the end of this philosophical and deep moment, there was lunch. A well deserved break. We had to wait for our food for a while but it didn’t really matter. I could sit down and drink my ginger tea in peace and quiet. From here to Pheriche we had 3 hours which turned out to be one of the best parts of probably the whole trek. I had eaten, the trail was easy and downhill and the views were gorgeous. Time went by really fast and all of a sudden we had arrived. The lower altitude was noticeable here since there was more action on the streets. People playing games outside, loud music from a bar nearby…and within the group we had started to talk again.

The tea houses are getting more and more luxurious as well; we even had a toilet in the room in this one. Since we didn’t have the need to acclimatize anymore I took a short nap which felt exactly like what I needed after such a long and exhausting day.

We didn’t do much for the rest of the day, we had an early dinner where I really had a great time with Linh, Stefany and Andrea. We finally got some laughs and I think everyone was starting to become normal again. Including me. We were informed that tomorrow we would be able to sleep a bit longer in the morning. The day couldn’t have ended better!

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