Everest Base Camp Trek Day 8 part III: Retreating from the snow and ice

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ February 27th, 2012. Updated on February 20th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Trekking through snow and ice on Everest Base Camp

It’s a lot harder than it looks … trekking on snow and ice with bad boots

Through snow & ice a rush to Lobuche

It’s a very different feeling coming back from a goal than reaching it. The Everest Base Camp Trek is different to the Annapurna circuit in that you have to retrace your steps back down the trail rather than head back along a different path. To me there’s very much a difference mentally and physically in retreading steps versus taking a different path back.

Narayan’s worry about the dark snow clouds moving back kept things moving along though. But I was worried about my boots on the downward trails. With the added downward pressure would they finally tear apart in the snow and rock?

However he was  right, the more pressing matter was that if it snowed again we’d be trapped up here.

Snow and ice make trekking on Everest a real problem

In other parts of the world a winter snow storm only brings things to a halt when a near blizzard hits a town.

I thought the idea of snow and ice stopping us from leaving Everest, of all places, would be even worse in terms of heavy snow drifts or a genuine blizzard. In truth, only the smallest amounts of ice can bring things to a standstill up in the Himalayan mountains.

Ice stream crossing near Everest

A minefield of slippery ice & snow over a frozen stream

Ice over rocky paths

My boots had no more grips, and I soon discovered they were a lot more efficient at going up in this state rather than going down. The toe section was split from underneath on the right, and the left was well on the way. I could only place my heel down with authority. Water was already making its way in from the cracks, and although not cold, it added to the lack of grip.

Broken boots on Everest

Broken boots on Everest update – insulation tape and snow don’t mix well. (click for close up)

It meant walking on all the surrounding ice was a dangerous affair. Not only was there ice but much of the ground was frozen too. Meaning loose rock and gravel were quite treacherous to walk on.

The thick sounds and sights of me suddenly slipping on icy gravel like a badly coordinated ballet dancer on was now becoming common place. My knees also felt a lot older due this weird goat like downward heel stride I had to undertake. One bad slip on this terrain in these conditions would mean a broken bone, or worse. Made all the more likely as the sun gets low in the sky and the my four legged friends start to get cold again.

The Yaks strike back …

It’s amazing to witness the vast swings of weather conditions in extreme environments like this. Once the sun dips below the last Himalayan peak the winds pick up once again.

The snow turns a shade of blue, and the rock black.

It was the end of a very long day and we were still on the move. Tired, hungry and once again weather-beaten.

A struggle made worse as Lobuche finally came into view around a corner. Darkness was here and the Yaks were on the move to their night time shelter. I found myself having to climb up and around some hillside to avoid their lumbering stalking.

Yaks seem nice. However they don’t like to move out-of-the-way when I am around. What’s more, they seem quite territorial at night! Maybe the fact I’ve not had a shower in quite a number of days has something to do with it!

What if, what if, what if?

With clarity of mind returning a lot started to go through my mind on those last few steps to the lodge.

When we first saw Everest on the trek, we also learned of the incoming snow. We had to choose between Gokyo or Everest Base camp. We wanted to do both, but the chances were that with snow coming in we’d only make one. We chose Everest.

As you know, we made it. Barely. It snowed on the day we were going to Everest Base Camp, and if we’d been a day late it we’d never have made it. I think back to the very worst day on Everest Base Camp Trek and how we nearly stayed an extra day like the Canadian couple. If we had, again, we would not have made it to base camp due to snow.

What if we’d not climbed Kala Patthar straight away when we arrived at Gorak Shep? Then we would never had seen these magnificent views of Everest.

And what if we’d left Gorak Shep straight away on the morning it snowed. We’d never have made to base camp.

Why then, after all that “nearly” made it and “what if’s”, did I wonder about Gokyo? Could we or should we have pushed our limits further and gone there. Would it have ended up in disaster or delight?

I push the limits too often. And on this chance I said no. Now I’m left with the feeling of … should we have.

Is it a quest of failure, or common sense and reasoning that made this choice? And why does one seem so much more tempting than the other?

Darkness at Everest Base Camp

Darkness moves in fast on the Everest Base Camp trail, and with it comes high winds

Party at Lobuche

The last to arrive, the Alpine lodge had a bevy of guests that had already settled around the wood stove. Italians, Canadians and a solitary American. All stuck for the day due to the snow. Apparently it had been snowing a lot heavier further down from Lobuche. Should be fun.

But it made for a good night of entertainment and talk. And for the next day some company with retreating trekkers watching me stagger down the steep valley on broken boots. Our destination would be the monastery at Tengbouche, the highest in the world. But first we’d run into something quite rare … not quite a Yeti, but perhaps just as hairy.

Coming Soon:

Everest Trek Day 9 part 1 (A rare wildlife sighting on the Everest Trail)

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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14 Great responses to Everest Base Camp Trek Day 8 part III: Retreating from the snow and ice

  1. Anna's World says:

    A looong walk back for the Longest Way Home! It’s true though, sometimes I drive a different route back from work in the evening. Just to break up the monotony.

  2. Eric L says:

    Half of Europe stops whenever it snows these days. But I get your point. You’d think up there in the mountains you could just put on a big coat and move through with the locals. But they’ve more sense than us. They probably stay inside with a nice big fire!

  3. Sandra says:

    “What if … you couldn’t make base camp”?

    How would you have felt?

  4. Malcom says:

    Well done. I’ve been reading along with a lot of interest. One thing I don’t get, I know it’s winter but why was base camp empty?

    Aren’t there people who climb Everest? Or is it too cold as this time of year?

  5. Michael says:

    Our easiest and most recently visited trail in Montserrat had several icy patches along the downhill routes. Not fun. I can just imagine how it was up there with snow added to it all.

    • Well I’m glad you came along Michael. I was beginning to wonder if all treks are doable in the ice and snow. Glad to hear they are not.

      Do you get many ‘over equipped’ hikers in Europe? I’ve come across a lot over here. Crampons, body suits, the works. All prepared for near arctic conditions, yet still have to turn back when ice appears.

      • Michael says:

        No, I don’t see many of these “over equipped” ones because the hikes we do are easy ones. We do try to avoid hiking in winter. Hikes to the Himalayas like yours would remain something I can only “experience” by reading about it.

  6. Hope you’re taking a helicopter back down. I dunno how those boots will last the return journey.

    I suspect you made your choice out of instinct. You felt like pushing through because the journey, despite all it’s obstacles, still felt doable. .. And your guide didn’t say it “wasn’t”. Although, he’s Nepali; you’re not.. but human you both are. I tend to think, unless the guide says “absolutely not’, it’s doable.

  7. Audrey says:

    Your photos are amazing Dave.

    What an incredible journey! Never look back on hindsight.