Michael Restivo has documented his journey on Everest in three parts. Be sure to check out the first and second parts of his story!

The cold was the first thing to hit me.

I woke up in my ramshackle room in Lobuche trying to find the strength to pull myself from the warm confines of my sleeping bag. Peering out the small window just above the window in the dark room, I took notice of the frost that now made itself present in the borders of the glass. Looking beyond the pane I could only see white across the landscape. Just twelve hours before, this had been a dry and arid alpine desert. Now, at six o’clock in the morning, the entire village was covered in a deep white powder.

Trekking out of Lobuche towards Gorak Shep

There was a hustle around the lodge as the trekking groups began to make their way to Gorak Shep, the final village before base camp. The last three days we had made an elevation gain of nearly five thousand feet. Today we would have to dig our hiking boots in the snow, drop off our gear at the lodge and then trudge our final way to the camp. I took down three cups of mint tea and a bowl of tsampa porridge before I met with Ram, checked our bags, and began making our way out of town.

There was a consistent light snowfall. The visibility was made difficult by a thick haze that covered the high peaks, and it was cold. Bitterly cold. I made sure that I was constantly wiggling my toes and shoveling snow out of my boots so that my socks didn’t get wet. The trail to Gorak Shep traverses several ridges and hills, much like the glacial moraine we had climbed the day before, now covered in ice. We came across one of the hills several miles in after having trekked through the passes cut out in the ridges. The snow made it difficult to walk and every step we took felt like we slipped two back. The wind picked up at this altitude and our group pushed forward despite the ice feeling like daggers on our cheeks.

One of the many hills and ridges we climbed

I could faintly make out some of the other groups ahead as we walked through the glacial passes, which were always seemingly uphill. As we cleared the last hill, the snow still falling, and we finally saw the two small ramshackle wooden buildings that marked the tiny village of Gorak Shep. As the original base camp for the British expeditions in the 1920’s, Gorak Shep sits on a wide snowfield surrounded by peaks. I entered the lodge to find it populated by a host of languages, nationalities, and cultures taking shelter from the snow. The scene was initially chaotic but there was a camaraderie between trekkers over cups of tea and decks of playing cards. While waiting for the weather to clear, I immersed myself in several games of blackjack with a Pole and a Czechoslovakian while sharing our individual experiences.

Arriving at Gorak Shep

After making myself comfortable in my dreary, lightless room, my guide asked if I was ready to for the last hike out. Leaving the pack behind would make this trip much easier and I excitedly followed him out of the lodge. The wind and snow had now died down and my guide and I trudged though the slushy ankle deep snow of the snowfield. Just before entering the trail that led through the glacier I noticed several more chortens on a small ridge just above the patch. These were the other memorial stones dedicated to the victims of the 1996 expeditions including the famed New Zealander Rob Hall. The snowfall had started once again and every few steps we heard the rockslides and avalanches coming off the nearby hills.

There was an otherworldly silence on the trail. While my guide and I rested on the trail we only heard the pitter-patter of snow on our jackets, the rumbling of the slides, and the occasional call of a small bird, a comforting sign of life at these altitudes. About two hours into our walk, I could see a faint plateau obscured by the snowy haze. Clearing the ice out of my glasses, I made out faint yellow specks along the hill. These were unmistakably the expedition tents and the plateau marked the camp. After seven days of the intense trail, we had finally come within sight of Base
Camp! There is an unwritten rule that the climbers and the trekkers remain separate. Many are trying to avoid foreign sicknesses from entering the camp; others prefer to keep the climber community tight, yet some teams are more welcoming than others to the trekkers. As a sign of respect I decided we would make it to the base camp entrance marker but wouldn’t go into the actual camp.

Base Camp expedition tents

The marker sits on a small hill just in sight of the camp. A boulder covered in colorful prayer flags and the markings of hundreds of trekkers sat just in the line of sight of dozens of yellow and blue tents, as well as the hulking domed communications and headquarter tent. From here it’s easy to see that base camp is an organized city with its own avenues, organization, and even its own small economy. My guide and I were fortunate to arrive on our own and we relished the moment before any other groups arrived, joined only by other Sherpas ferrying supplies back and forth, incredibly wearing sparse clothing and sometimes knee deep in the snow wearing only sandals. I was extremely impressed with their tenacity and endurance.

Seven days of trekking and finally arrived!
The base camp arrival sign

We spent time around Base Camp for nearly an hour reminiscing about the last few days, and once it started to get cold we made the long slog back down to Gorak Shep. After having left from Lobuche only that morning, onward to base camp, and then back to the lodges, we were mentally and physically drained, and I spent the afternoon reading before drifting into a blissful twelve hour nap.

Looking over the Khumbu glacier
Nepalese Army Search and Rescue helicopters

The return leg would take half as long as going upwards, especially because we were already acclimatized. Leaving the Khumbu glacier, there was the constant drone of Search and Rescue army helicopters overhead, and I felt uneasy about the thought that something had happened. My guide led me out of the snow and into the green pastures of the lower hills. Flanked now only by Ama Dablam, we settled in the tiny town of Pangboche and the ironically named “Everest View Lodge” (of which we were 15 miles south with no view of Everest whatsoever). This lodge was much more rustic than what we had been in the last few days. Not only was I the only foreigner there, but also I felt like I was constantly being watched and examined. The old Sherpa woman invited me to eat in her kitchen and I happily obliged, settling down in the room lit by a single bulb. The old woman laughed as she served me a specialty: potato pancakes, yak butter, and chili sauce. Not to appear ungrateful, I slathered the yak butter and the chili peppers together, and as the woman waited for my approval, I nodded my head trying to hold back the tears and the wanting to cough everything out. As I forced down my last two pieces the old woman, constantly beaming–whether with me or at me was yet to be decided–mercifully offered me a cup of tea to round off my meal, which she had seasoned with salted yak butter. Far from western tastes, it had an herbal flavor with the consistency of thick cream and salt. After the less than pleasant traditional dinner, I retreated to my room, comforting myself with water and Snickers bars.

Moon over Pangboche

After the last major climb of the trip, we arrived back in Namche and I reconnected with my American and Aussie friends who I had met in Dingboche. We toasted our experience with hot apple pies and hot chocolate at the Everest Bakery before settling on several games of pool and beers since the Diamox altitude medicine had now worn off. After several matches of Americans vs Aussies where the Americans thoroughly dominated, we said our goodbyes and my guide and I set off for our final hike to Lukla.

Fog over Lukla

I settled back into my room in Lukla, adjacent to the runway. It was hazy, extremely cloudy and the airport was closed. I envied the fresh faced trekkers, just now starting their adventure to base camp, and reflected on how much I had changed over the last ten days. Sitting under the haze in the coffee shop, I already longed for those days being surrounded by the Himalayan giants. This was the moment where I realized what my body was truly capable of, and the moment I fell in love with climbing. I made amazing friends from all over the world and experienced the unmistakable hospitality of the Sherpa people. Although this trip is about Everest and its base camp, each peak should be appreciated individually, like a fine work of art. Each has its own unique characteristics and charm, and I found that many were far more interesting than Everest. The ceremony at Tengboche, entering into a world of spirituality and tradition was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that touches anyone, transcending individual beliefs or faith.

The small Twin Otter roared down the downhill runway, and in an instant, we were 11,000 ft in the air. I sat on the right side of the plane, and in the clear daylight, I could make out the snowcapped peaks in the distance. Before the wing obscured them, I faintly made out Everest and Ama Dablam together. If I was strong enough to complete this trek, I would be strong enough to stand atop one of them. Would I come back to climb one? Never say never.

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