Everest Base Camp Trek Day 7: Gorak Shep and climbing Kala Patthar (5643m/18513ft)

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ February 20th, 2012. Updated on February 20th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
The climb up Kala Pattar

One final big climb up Kala Patthar to 5643m/18513ft

Final stop on the Everest Base Camp Trek

There was no rush in leaving Lobuche this morning. It was only a few hours to Gorak Shep, the main lodge used to trek out to Everest Base Camp. It wasn’t snowing yet, and what had fallen last night was very light.

The terrain was somehow easier now too. Winding upwards across a barren rubble like mountain the wind was the hardest thing to deal with. It was blowing harder than it had at any other time in the trek.

Trekking with bad boots

My hiking boots had nearly made it though. I still slipped every few minutes due to the insulation tape fix, but they had not crumbled apart. It was a slow progression, but we were making it.

Over one final steep incline and we caught a glimpse of a long stony looking glacial path. Beside it sat two long tin roofed stone buildings. More appeared, and the furthest was our lodging for the night.

A long walk passed some local fowl, yaks in the distance and we had made it by 2pm to Goak Shep. The last place with roof before Mount Everest.

Lunch time winds at Gorak Shep

The wind outside was howling wildly as we ate our dal bhat. The air was made colder by this somehow. A hot lemon helped a little more.

After a brief conversation Narayan suggested we go should climb Kala Patthar now. Everest’s small cousin that offered the best views of the magnificent Himalayan mountain range. The reason for leaving now was simple. The weather was worsening and we might not be able to do it tomorrow.

Race against the sun and wind to climb Kala Patthar for a view

Kala Patthar is the real destination at the end of an Everest Base Camp trek. The reason is simple. The views are stunning from the top. It was a 590 foot climb from Gorak Shep to a maximum altitude of  5643m/18513ft. Our problem was the strong cold wind, it would be dark soon, and the fact my boots were in bad shape.

The first part of the climb was near on loose brown soil and gravel. My boots couldn’t handle it. They get slipping, badly. I had no grip against loose ground what-so-ever. The struggle was on.

Mount Everest from the side of Kala Patthar

Hello Mount Everest … I am right beside you (click to enlarge photograph) In case you are wondering; Mount Everest is the dark mountain at the rear.

End of one mountain challenge, the start of another

The loose dirt half of Kala Patthar had wiped me of energy as we reached the halfway point. Rounding the winding mountain peak trail blasts of icy wind came howling down upon us. Now standing before me was a soaring high rocky peak. No more lo0se ground. Just a vicious angle set to a ferociously cold and strong wind that was battering our bodies from left to right with uncanny ease.

The wind was against us all the way. I couldn’t hear Narayan as he took the lead and shouted something back at me. All I could hear were blasts of air hammering against my head like some sort of demented boxing ghost. I felt the altitude hit me nearly immediately with rapid breathing and a pounding headache the main symtoms. The only grace in this was the now rocky terrain felt manageable with my ruined boots.

The battering wind and fatigue was another story.

Getting beaten up by the elements around Mount Everest

The air was getting physically thinner. Though the wind blew in strong shoves and pushes I could not breath enough of it in.

I was panting like a sprint runner yet moving at the pace of a dead man walking.

If there was no wind this would have been energy sapping enough. The constant battle against the blustering gales was as if we were fighting against the mountain itself.

To make matters worse I could hear the metallic whipping sound coming from a loose antennae on a weather monitoring station at the top. A thin cable lashing out in the ferocious wind in mockery of the two approaching trekkers in the middle of winter.

Racing against the sun

To make matters even harder again, the sun was dipping low into the sky. If we did not make it in time the sun would soon move behind one of the tallest mountain peaks on earth that surround us now. I would miss my opportunity at a photograph I so desperately wanted.

But it was that elemental thought that forged me ahead. There was no time to rest. My chest was burning red, my head screaming in rancorous pain, my legs kept moving.

The view from Kala Patthar is a lot better than Everest Base Camp

It gives you a look at all seven of the world’s highest peaks. You simply have to put Kala Patthar as a priority over Everest Base Camp if you ever trek in these regions.

Nearing the summit of Kala Patthar

At the very top of Kala Patthar is a small stupa and a weather station. The weather stations antennae continued to whip around viciously in the high winds and I thought of the Italian “live view” Everest project. It looks a lot better from the other side of the camera.

The stupas prayer flags raged on in hard slapping motions against the wind. It was not a beacon of hope, more of a beacon of what would await.

The final climb was made on giant boulders. I fought to catch my breath. The never relenting wind pierced through my clothes and tore cold fever into my joints. Each pull onto another boulder had me subconsciously thinking I wanted to lie down on it.

Narayan had made it to the top. But had disappeared from view.

This cold wind was so different to mere snow or ice. It felt more like the deadly gasps of death itself breathing down on you.

Summit of Kala Patthar

I was shaking as if in a near convulsion when I pulled myself up over the last boulder. Narayan was sheltering from the raging wind under the stupa hunched up beside a boulder. He smiled painfully at me.

“This is a little different!”

I shouted back in laughter over the wind as it nearly knocked me over with an eerie ease.

And with that I gasped for air that was nearly not there. I fought to regain my breath as Narayan tried to talk with me. But the pain in my chest transformed into panic as I remembered the feeling of not being able to breath at altitude and the reality of this came hit me again.

(RSS & Email Members please visit the live website to view this video of gasping for air at 18,513 feet on Kala Patthar)

Breathless and numb

I turned to face the visual spectical of Mount Everest, the glacier and all seven of the worlds highest peaks opened up. We’d made it in time. Fumbling for my camera I had to unzip my jacket. The cold wind tore into me with icy daggers. Pulling my camera out my numb fingers, covered in gloves, were not able to feel the buttons.

The only choice was to remove my gloves.

It was as if I’d turned off the circulation to my fingers. They immediately starting tingling as I fumbled to focus and click buttons. My fingertips going numb in mere seconds.

So numb I could not feel a thing.

Going into shock

And, so it was that with freezing hands my body began to shake uncontrolably in the cold. I felt like vomiting as I huddled behind the stupa from the raging wind.

Shouting loudly I laughed in pain, shock and realization that such exposure could bring everything to an end very soon.

Death was on hold, waiting. I know its call.

Not today.

Descending Kala Patthar

Rubber legs on worn out boots, a blinding headache and body blasting winds made the initial trek down difficult. The wind was behind us which was good. But it mocked at us by blasting loose topside soil down on us all the way.

The sun was setting and with it the last beckon of warmth. However as we made it further down, the pain subsided. The icy wind took on less ferocity. And, a calming feeling took over from the panic of the summit.

Then as if it was all some demonic creatures test: the wind died down completely as the sky darkened into night.

The Thorong La Pass at -23 was harder with a -40 wind chill. It was snowing. But Kala Patthar’s icy winds and higher altitude made this an altogether different beast to beat.

And beat it we did.

Here is a photograph of the view from Kala Patthar

(If you are reading this from email I suggest you come to the travel blog and click on the view from Kala Patthar photograph for a super sized version).

Panorama photograph of Mount Everest Base Camp from Kala Patthar

The photograph I wanted. A Panorama photograph of Mount Everest Base Camp from Kala Patthar (click photograph for huge size, recommended!)

Coming Soon

Everest Base Camp Trek Day 8 (Heavy snow starts to fall around us meaning no Everest …)

Note this trek took place in late December/early January during the off peak winter season

The Everest Base Camp Guide:

Planning a trip to Nepal and trekking to Everest Base Camp? For all the details on what to do, when to go, permits need, costs, maps and much more check out my dedicated Guide to Everest Base Camp.

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27 Great responses to Everest Base Camp Trek Day 7: Gorak Shep and climbing Kala Patthar (5643m/18513ft)

  1. hayadeen says:

    oh dave..I know how happy you are right now.
    Feels like i was there, climbing, feeling your pain..
    A rough climb to the top, but the view is great.. (:

  2. Oh man you sound like you’re going to collapse in that video! Congratulations, Dave, truly inspirational stuff!

  3. Victoria says:

    Camping in a tent in -11 deg. C is nothing compared to this. Well done!! I’m also majorly impressed that your camera equipment still worked in the cold. LOVE the panorama pic ;-)

  4. Malcom says:

    Stunning views, just stunning. Makes me want to go there this summer.

    How cold does it get during the summer compared to winter?

  5. My gosh this is one grand adventure — the pics are AMAZING!!!

  6. Anna's World says:

    You are on the roof of the world! If this were a TV series you’d be up for a Golden Globe. So enjoyed it. Thanks for making it so real to read.

  7. Kristina says:

    Wow, I’m not sure I would have made it up to the top there. I felt pretty crappy when we were at 15,000 feet. Good for you for accomplishing your goal!

    • Thanks Kristina. I think a lot of it has to do with the time of year. I’m sure you could do this in peak season with ease! You might even bring up a little stove and be the first chef to cook something more creative than Dal Bhat up there!!

  8. mandy says:

    Not sure how to describe how I feel while reading your post. All the words I knew (very limited) can’t even come close to it :)

    I have goosebumps and tears almost welling up. I pictured you & Narayan, the only two living souls out there in the brutal of harsh wind. But I’m very happy for you both, can’t believe you managed with the broken boots :). I’m impressed with your determination!!

    Watching the video & hearing your grasping sound bring everything live for me.

    Of course you want to share your journey with us but thank you for sharing the best!! :)

    • Such a touching comment, thank you Mandy :)

      Yes, we were the only two up there. The broken boots have really made this difficult. Better choices next time!

      I still can’t believe I managed to even get that short video as my fingers were so cold. Snow on the way tomorrow!

  9. Well your photos of your Everest climb have been pretty stunning. But I really wouldn’t want to be in your falling-apart shoes right now. It seems like one of those “freezes” where you not only FEEL like you WANT to die, but one where a part of you already HAS but all that pain has numbed you so that you don’t realize it.

    When I read this, I felt a bit guilty for my last comment and for coming across so glib and confident that you’d survive this climb. I retract.

    • No need for guilt. I’m a fan of people expressing themselves.

      I watched vertical limit last night. Not a movie I’d recommend at all. But there was one of those “Macho” scenes where one guy turns to the other and says “Up there, you’re already dead.”

      Bit extreme, but yea.

      Being up there in that cold wind and not having enough air sets in a little panic. There’s a strange sense about that feeling of being so close.

      Here’s death. You walked up to it. Why?

      To say, “not today”. Or simply to push the boundaries.

      Or maybe just to get a taste of life again.

  10. Jason says:

    It’s always a great sense of achievement when you can actually get to site down in front of a wall of rock and ice. Site there a little and just ponder over the immense beauty that is the ‘Himalayas’.

    Still one of the greatest sights I have ever seen in my life. Your panoramic photo at the end of the post is fantastic Dave, but I say to all those who view it.

    ‘If you think the photo looks great, then you must see it with your own eyes. Sometimes words and even images just cant describe the feeling you get when sitting in a place like this’

    You’ve stirred up a bit inside me with this one Dave. I’ve seen Everest and the surrounding 8000m peaks from a few vantage points. Gokoyo Ri being the best view to date, but I never ventured to Kala Patthar. I must get back to Nepal….

    • Yea there’s a huge difference between a photo and being there. The remoteness. The snow, the ice. Something ever different. Something that separates climbers from divers – both in different worlds.

      We couldn’t make Gokyo due to snow. In a post a few days back we had to make a choice. Turns out be probably made the right one, as we’d never have made base camp if we gone to Gokyo. There’s also that thing of … leave something to come back to.

      One thing for sure, there’s no way I’d go to EBC during peak season. As you’re well experienced in trekking and travel Jason, I’d recommend the off-peak season. Though snow is always the problem, as is time.

  11. Loeffle says:

    I’m so impressed…
    Especially after “hearing” that video.

    Is the glacier right of centre the “famous” Khumbu glacier?

  12. Kaan says:

    After watching Man Vs. Wild with Jake Gyllenhaal. I just knew I wanted to go on a trek! Your blog entries just inspired me more! Hoping I could do what you did! GOOD JOB!

  13. Luke says:

    Hi Dave, read your entire journal and was gripped from start to finish. How you managed to venture on in spite of a broken boot, freezing temps and howling winds, boggles the imagination.

    And your photos are absolutely stunning, particularly the photo of Everest Base Camp from Kala Patthar.

    I have been thinking about making the trek from Jiri to Kala Patthar and EBC for some time now, and after reading our journal, I am even more inspired.

    Thank you!

  14. Joyce says:

    Wow, I just spent the greater part of my Sunday afternoon reading your blog, trying to soak up as much information about Nepal as possible. Nepal sounds like an amazing destination, and has convinced me to take a trip there this December! Thanks for the informative blog!