Everest Base Camp 08: Stuck in a snow storm!

Snow was falling in the mountains and blocking out the blue sky the day we started to head towards Gorak Shep and Everest Base Camp. We had no cell reception or internet access so we hadn’t been getting any weather reports. We didn’t think much of the snow and clouds. We were at 5000 metres and expected a bit of bad weather at some point.
A train of people heading up towards the snow

About an hour into our day, we met an American woman and her teenage daughter heading down the mountain in a big hurry. She asked us, “Have you seen the weather reports and heard about the storm coming this way?”

“Um, no.”

She started throwing words around like ‘cyclone, hurricane, 3 metres of snow at base camp, torrential rain and hitting this afternoon.’ “Speak to the team behind us. They are mountaineers who got the weather reports and they are coming down. Get below Pheriche to avoid getting trapped!”

What do we do? EBC is so close – only about half a days walk away. Could we get trapped up there? Most of us are not prepared for being out in a major snow storm. Pheriche is ages down the mountain! EBC is so close!

We decided to keep going for a while longer. Everyone we came across had the same story. A major storm is about to hit EBC area this afternoon. Get down the mountain while you can.

The skies were getting darker. The mountain peaks disappearing. The temperature was dropping and I was getting a bit worried.

About 30 minutes outside of Gorak Shep, we could see Kala Pattar, the Khumbu glacier and the route that leads up to EBC. However, we made the heart-wrenching decision to turn around and go back to Lobuche.

The Khumbu glacier is huge!
Khumbu glacier
Kala Pattar is the black (5535m) hill on the left, the Khumbu glacier and path to EBC on the right

Despite the warnings, we passed plenty of people still heading up the mountain determined to reach the top.

On the way down, about 10 minutes before Lobuche, we decided we had time to make a quick side trip to see the Italian Pyramid, a high altitude weather research station. We were greeted abruptly by the very gruff head researcher Pieter. He looked a bit like Doc, the mad scientist from the movie Back to the Future but without the friendly demeanour. Despite his rough personality, he was good enough to let us drop our bags in the pyramid and have a look around the outside of the facility and surrounding hill areas.

It felt like the set of a sci-fi movie
The Italian Pyramid

There wasn’t a lot more to see – hills, rocks, a glacier, scientific weather equipment – the usual stuff! So when the snow started to fall about 40 minutes later, we headed back to the warmth and safety of our guest house in Lobuche.

Mountains disappearing
Sarah just chilling

Did we make the right decision? Overnight, about 1.5 metres of snow fell in Lobuche, blocking doorways and paths and turning the village into a winter wonderland.

Lobuche nearly buried after the first night of snow
Snow, snow, snow!

From about 11 am, people started arriving back from Gorak Shep. They were wet, cold and some quite miserable after trudging through knee to waist deep snow for hours (a couple had stepped through the snow into the river and had soaking feet too!!!). Some had made it to EBC. No one had summited Kala Pattar. All were continuing down the mountain to get away from the snow.

On the way down…
Warm, dry and happy inside
Happy enough outside too playing in the snow!

 

Pretending we reached EBC 🙂
How the locals coped with the snow
Not the best day to get washing dry…

We decided to stay put and wait out the storm in the hope that we could have another crack at the top in a couple of days.

No chance of landing a helicopter any time soon

The snow continued to fall all day…and all night. Now there was 2+ metres of snow outside our door. We, along with about 30 other tourists and locals were snowed in, at nearly 5000 metres above sea level, with no break in the storm in sight. We passed the day playing cards, reading, telling stories, stomping around in the snow and deciding what our next meal would look like.

Shovelling snow off the roof
Not sure how effective the chimneys were
Tom threw snowballs at the roof until car-sized hunks of snow crashed down

Donna, the owner of the guest house, had never seen snow like this in the 3 years she had been here. Her friend had not seen a storm like this in her 15 years. Days later, we heard that this was the worst storm and most snowfall in the region since May 1996, 17 years earlier! It was disappointing to have our trekking plans so disrupted, and yet exhilarating to be here in such extreme conditions.

Snow up to the second floor windows on the left building.
Snow outside my bedroom window (I was on the bottom floor!)

In our guest house, our fellow trapped comrades included Tom, a German engineer; Nick, an Indian salesman currently living in Amsterdam; 4 Czech trekkers/ climbers and our 3 Nepali porters and guide (sounds like the start of a joke…)

Nick had the gift of the gab and kept us entertained with stories of his 900km Camino pilgrimage walk through Italy, Spain and France (where he and Tom first met), his silly jokes and an impromptu interview with Donna. Donna had trekked up to Camp II on Mt Everest a few years ago. She made it sound like a Sunday afternoon stroll. We all sat there in awe of her. Amazing lady!

Nick interviewing Donna

Tom was a keen scuba diver and he and I swapped stories of our favourite dive sites. He showed me a bunch of his diving photos which made me slightly homesick for the ocean! As much as I was looking forward to my future diving adventures, I dragged my mind back to the present, knowing that I was currently in the middle of a pretty unique experience and I should make the most of it now. In the time when Nick’s banter got too much, Tom and I imagined all the ways we could turn Nick into a human snowball and hurl him down the mountain…signs that cabin fever was setting in…

Nick (left) and Tom (right)

The 4 Czechs – Peter, Ilona, Ludos and another lady were planning on climbing Island Peak in the Chukkung valley. They were headed up Cho La Pass to help with acclimatising when the storm hit and so returned to Lobuche. They were a relaxed, easy-going bunch. Peter kept conversation flowing, I taught Ilona a card game while Ludos sat in the background snapping candid photos of us all.

Peter and Ilona

By evening, a few people (in our guest house and in others) were suffering from advanced cabin fever and started planning an escape. The plans were set in motion the next morning (even though snow was still falling). A couple of guides and experienced mountaineers cleared a path through the snow while we followed behind a little later.

The line up of escapees

Despite my initial apprehension, it actually turned into a fun day! It was a real novelty for me to be trekking in waist deep snow, in white-out conditions, with snow still falling and listening to the crack of avalanches falling beyond our view (ok, so that bit was a bit scary!)

 

When we stopped for breaks, we fell backwards into the snow, made snow angels, threw snowballs and laughed at the ingenuity of the porters sliding their heavy loads down the snowy hills instead of carrying them on their heads.

Sarah’s snow angel
Sinking
Stuck!
Geylo always on hand to help me out!!!
Porters sliding their loads down the hill

I started off with 5 thermal layers plus my raincoat on my upper body, but quickly stripped off the layers until I had only 2 thin base layers and my coat on. On my legs, I had my sports leggings and light, nylon trekking pants. On my feet, plastic bags covered my socks and came nearly to my knees keeping my feet and legs warm, dry and toasty. I was completely happy with my gear again.

Crossing the bridge at Thukla

We started to meet people heading up the mountain at Thukla who were all keen on hearing about the track and weather conditions further up. It was a time of indecision and uncertainty for everyone. Many decided to keep going up, others decided to wait a day or so at Thukla, while some made the call to turn back. Fine if people had extra days but tough decisions for those on a tight schedule.

We returned to Dingboche and started re-planning our next 10 days. Options abounded! However, there were so many unknowns about what lay ahead, that we simply decided to walk as long and far as we could and see where or if the snow would block our path again!

Some before and after pics…

Guesthouse in Lobuche with the river in foreground
Same guesthouse 2 days later!
Guesthouse in Lobuche
Slightly different angle but looking at the same buildings on the left
Old stone house in the hills
Snowed in 4 days later
Thukla
Different angle, same village
Thukla outdoor seating area
“And here is our new outdoor seating area”
Monuments at the top of Lobuche Pass, prayer flags in the background
Top of the pass, closer to the prayer flags in this pic
Just the tops of some of the monuments were visible 3 days later

 

Just above Dingboche (village on the lower right)
Same prayer flags (village not visible)

 

On the streets of Dingboche the first time we stayed there

Kent walking the streets of Dingboche (in jandles no less!!!)
The stupa from a distance
Close up of the stupa above Dingboche
Looking down to the river near Pheriche
Village of Pheriche with the river on the right
Looking down the valley from Dingboche towards Tengboche
Still snowing and cloudy
Crystal clear views the next day!!!
Ama Dablam always had snow on the top…
Afterwards, there was snow all around
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