Everest Base Camp Trek day 5: the very worst day

– Since this post, I’ve been to EBC and other treks in Nepal several times. In fact, I’ve written many guidebooks about all Nepal between then and now! This post is in its original format from my first trek to Everest – I hope you enjoy it.

If, however, you are looking for up to date information on the trek then do head over to my practical travel guide on the Everest Base Camp Trek where everything from costs to getting a guide is covered. Also, do visit my about trekking in Nepal page and use the menu there to read more about this and many more treks. Meanwhile, enjoy these posts about what it’s really like to trek to Everest Base Camp –

Open space on the Everest Base Camp trek
An invisible mental & physical wall blocks the way …

Every trek has a wall

I wrote previously about the start of the mental difficulties on a difficult trek. I thought it was over. Instead I have run smack into its main wall and there is no pushing it away.

My boots are a tattered mess. I feel stones moving inside them. I slip on the rolls of insulating tape binding them together every three minutes as we step on loose gravel. My head is pounding and I question my every step as we make it to 4,400 meters / 14,435 feet on the Everest Base Camp Trek to Dingboche in the middle of winter.

Making sense of it all

I’ve done harder treks in worse conditions. Why am I failing so badly here. Am I really that sick. Have I not recovered. Is my liver not functioning well enough to produce what I need to move faster. Did the scans not pick up on something. Am I getting too old. Am I unfit or am I simply having a bad day?

Everything seems to be ricocheting through my freezing mind.

What of those people who do the trek in the summer season?

They would be laughing at the ease of it all.

Why is this guy complaining about the Everest Base Camp Trek when we did it in sandals, t-shirts and a few beers every night !

I do not care.

It’s winter.

The wind is against us.

I wouldn’t join you even if you paid me.  

I am suffering right now one way or another. And the most annoy fact is that I don’t think I’d want it any other way.

The quest for failure over low brow ridicule only fuels me on.

But as I gingerly trudge forward my boots give way again. Every other step is a cursed slip back.

Again the thoughts of non-existent people laughing at me rage on with relentlessness mockery in my head.

A head that’s already aching from the battering cold winds and continuing symptoms of altitude sickness.

Stumble and you shall not fall … only slip

My broken boots on ice
My broken boots on ice …

I try to think of the amazing scenery around me. The wind batters my head back down for trying to attempt a little distraction. And again my bandaged boots slip on yet more loose stones that clatter loudly as they fall away. Narayan turns and asks if I am alright. I wish he would not. As well-meaning as he is, the questions are worse.

I want to be left alone in my mind to take on these hellish slow steps. Each two feeling as though I am slipping back one.

Foot blisters would be better … No … I know better, they would not.

I am questioning everything I do. And I wish that I would not.

Final hour of the approach

The wind is freezing, and strong. My face hurts with each gust and I feel the cold air pierce through my clothing like it wasn’t even tied up.

My eyes want to close and I want to walk like that. Eyes wide shut. It would be easier.

Such strange thoughts and feelings. This is not what I wanted nor expected. No, the Annapurna at -23 was harder. So why am I suffering on this trail so much?

Each step is a leaden weight. An agonizing signal of my failure. My head is throbbing like a blinding drum. My feet slip to remind me of my failures. The glare of the surrounding mountains white peaks is too much for me to look up at any longer.

I stop as we arrive

That wall is now a mountain of lead. It blocks my path as we arrive in the tiny desolate and empty town. The wind is against me. The ground is frozen. There is ice everywhere.

I look up with a groan. Narayan has already made it to the lodge perched higher than all the others on the side of hill. Why there, why so far back?

Yes, I remember. The further back the lodge, the cheaper it is. My own choosing.

There is no one around. It is a solitary cold twisted version of what hell must be like.

My face aches and hurts more as I scrunch it up in an effort to push forward. My legs feel like rusty steel poles. I shout at myself mentally.

“You have been through worse. Get on with it!”

I move.

Inside the lodge

Narayan see’s my pain. He’s seen it in others too. But he questions me as if unsure. My accommodation is new. The smell of plywood is strangely refreshing. There is no running water. And, there is a lone Korean girl in the room next door.

This is my curse on Nepal treks. There is always a solo female traveler out in the middle of nowhere when I feel like no one else could be around. Always.

Retreating to my room I remove my clothes and slip naked into my sleeping bag. It’s warmer this way. I drink as much as possible and close my eyes to the flicker of my beating headache.

Icy stream in Nepal
Battling that cold dark place is not easy …

I am trembling and know not what I am doing. I am running on instinct alone.

“This is altitude sickness”

I rest remembering to wake should I stop breathing. There is no easy sleep up here.

Dinner time recovery

As darkness falls over the village Narayan knocks on the door. Telling him all is fine I get up shakily.

It’s as if I’m recovering from a high fever. Dressed, I move to the dinner area where there is a yak dung fire about to start-up.

Sitting in the corner is my arch nemeses. The solo Korean girl.

Arriving soon after, a Canadian couple. She with her hands around her head. He with a comforting smile.

The girl was suffering from a severe altitude headache. They’d been here  since the day before trying to acclimatize. She was getting better but it was still worrying them both.

Making things better

The warm fire had us all huddled around it. I ordered a treat of pizza (no, not the kind of pizza we all know and love) as my appetite returned with a vengeance. Yes, it seemed I too was suffering from altitude sickness.

Sipping over a hot chocolate I remembered the last two days and my strange thoughts again. They seemed so surreal now.

The Korean girl had been trekking in Nepal for the past 15 years. Her father before her. She was with a guide and far from my nemesis. A strange little woman who wasn’t quite sure where she was going next and quite annoyed about such a prospect.

The Canadians made light of the evening and we joked a lot about the pain we were all in. We all got to the point where we decided if any of us felt bad the next day we would stay put together and do a day trek instead.

Bring on the dawn

An early night and I was feeling better. Stronger. Like a bad virus and fever that had been ailing me which now seemed broken. Though my head hurt, it was manageable.

I’d found people in similar pain, and I’ve overcome my own. Tomorrow morning would tell its own tale. But for tonight I sleep the sleep of the restlessness at altitude.

Coming Soon:

Everest Base Camp Trek Day 6 Memorial of the fallen (video)

Note this trek took place in late December/early January 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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16 Replies to “Everest Base Camp Trek day 5: the very worst day”

  1. First hoping it would be a printed book, now the thought of making it a movie came into mind, hahaha… Well, at least I was halfway there, next episode you going to show us a video!

    Look out dude, I might be the next solo female traveler you cross path with. ;)

  2. This is simply gripping! Best read I’ve come across online. You’re like a walking book Dave. And I agree with the above comment. Bring on the movie. Keep going, I can’t wait to turn the virtual page to the next chapter!

  3. I just got back from a hectic week of traveling cum easy hiking through 3 european countries and already I’m down with a very bad cold. Compared to what you’re going through, my sore throat is but a pin prick. Keep safe to live and tell us the gripping tale.

    1. Well, hiking through 3 countries sounds pretty epic Michael! I’m a big believer in things like the situation, the people and the events. A tale from Europe can easily out do a tale from Everest, Peru or even that big lunar mountain!

      But thank you for the compliments, and I hope that sore throat clears up soon!

  4. Glad you made it through the mental battle, Dave!
    We’ve just got back from tent camping in -11 degrees C. Survival for us – we’ve never been so cold. Others had teepee tents with heaters, and “complained” it was too hot. Unreal the difference. It’s probably the most insane thing we’ve done, but I wouldn’t swap experiences :-)

  5. Yup, you’re hitting that wall hard, but you’ll get through it!! Hang in there! I was nowhere near as high as you are but I experienced some of altitude sickness in Leh. Just walking up a paved and sloped road felt like I had weights on my legs and at night I’d try to sleep but my heart was racing like I’d ran a marathon. That went on for a week! The fact you’re trekking on top of it all, is major. I can’t imagine how that’d feel!

    1. This was the worse day mentally, and physically. Well, there’s one more big physical but I’m not telling yet!

      I just wondering if your Hawaii-five-o episode will involve climbing any volcanoes or mountains!!

      P.S. If they do, I’ll gladly come on board as your personal executive climbing consultant. And maybe a sneaky cameo! Looking forward to your update!

  6. Well congrats you made it. As you said its a pretty challenging trek but it’s worth it, another addition to your travel experience that you will treasure in your life.

  7. You take me right there with this post, Dave. I love the immediacy of it. I will never do anything like this, although I think it’s very interesting that you always meet solo female travelers in situations like this! I really hope I meet you one day. Does anyone in the travel blogger community ever actually meet you?

    1. Thanks Sabina. There are great solo female travelers all over the world! They seem to pop up in all the unusual places. Yes I’ve met a few from the “Travel blogger community”. I’ll be writing about the people I like to meet when traveling next week.

      If I’m in the Mid East I’ll be sure to give you a shout! ;)

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