Everest Base Camp 09: The mental and physical challenges of EBC

Up here, some days are a physical challenge, while others are purely a mental fight.

14 days gone, 9 remaining. We had been blocked from EBC and Kala Pattar by snow. Cho La pass was out. The snow meant risks of avalanches, hidden crevices and icy surfaces. More snow was forecast so the rest of our trek was looking to be quite different from our original plans.

Baby yak!
Pangboche – where we stopped for lunch
Monastery at Pangboche
Prayer wheels around the monastery

We headed down the hill towards Phortse instead. Phortse sits at the bottom of the Gokyo valley. We were hoping to make it to the top of the Gokyo valley and see the high alpine lakes.

Some parts of the track reminded me of the (old!) movie ‘Labyrinth’

I was feeling pretty gutted about not having reached base camp. I was weary from constant days of trekking. I wanted clean clothes and a hot shower (it had been about 4 days since my last one). I missed fresh fruit and steak. And I was heading into that dangerous ‘feeling sorry for myself’ state. All I wanted to do was go home. And at this time, ‘home’ meant anywhere off the mountain!

Tears started to fall. I was bordering on hyperventilating. My throat constricted and I couldn’t catch a decent breath. Stupid altitude! I couldn’t even cry in peace! Today was the day the mind games really began for me.

I told myself, “Focus on the incredible mountain views, look out for avalanches, avoid yak trains trudging towards me, keep putting one foot in front of the other”. I was doing all I could to keep my mind distracted and to keep going.

My favourite mountain (Ama Dablam). So peaceful
Maybe a little silly to sit here (feeling fatalistic)
Looking up the avalanche

A welcome distraction came along in the form of a bunch of guys rock climbing. They were part of a rock climbing training school and had come out into the hills to practice their skills in a real setting. It was cool to watch them find tiny, unseen finger or foot holds in the rock and eventually reach the top.

Clinging on

I carried on feeling buoyed by the short distraction and started to focus on the new valley ahead of me – Gokyo. How would this differ from the Khumbu valley? Would there be more or less snow? Would we make it to Gokyo? And who would I meet along the way?

We arrived in Phortse and checked into a cozy little tea house with fluffy, young yaks with earrings running around outside (forgot to get a pic sorry!). I spent most of the evening chatting with John and Simon from London. They were so relaxed and funny. We swapped travel stories all night and I felt like I had known them forever – they were just the right antidote to brighten me up.

Phortse (looks like most other villages!)

Our trek from Phortse to Machhermo the next day was a complete physical challenge for me. My mind had recharged thanks to a lot of relaxed laughter with the boys and good food the night before. My body had not recovered to the same extent.

Loads of stairs in the morning

Every step was a mission. No sooner had we climbed one ridge than another one appeared. I started singing ‘the bear went over the mountain’ as the scenes kept repeating in front of me again and again (**one of those endless songs – words below).

Despite my very slow day, I still enjoyed the walk. The valley and mountain views were probably some of the most stunning yet. At the lower levels, the forest was made up of rhododendrons, conifers, birch-type trees, low spiky plants with bright red berries and an assortment of hardy low-growing shrubs stuck to rocks.

Trees with moss dripping from them
Completely different scenery from the last few days

As we climbed out of the forest, the real beauty of the mountains hit me. Gokyo valley is much narrower and steeper than the Khumbu valley. The rock races more sheer. The river felt further away. And the mountains felt even higher.

Looking back down the valley


Plenty of waterfalls falling the height of the mountains

After walking for about an hour, I realised that the only thing I could hear was the song playing on repeat in my head. No birds, no cicadas, no crickets, no yak bells. Only the occasional roar of the fast-flowing river hundreds of metres below us and the occasional cough or sneeze from one of us could be heard. It was a little eerie and made the view in front if me appear even more extreme.

Dole – every village was a welcome sight as it meant another rest stop!

We began trudging through muddy sludge. As we gained altitude, it turned to slushy snow and eventually to packed snow! The storm had brought plenty of snow to this valley too.

Resting again!
Trekkers across the other side of the valley negotiating avalanches
Tiny sign in a guest house – brilliant!

Straight ahead of us, our first proper glimpse of Cho Oyu looked unremarkable amongst the other peaks. Realising it reached 8188 metres, about 1000 metres higher than anything else around it made me stop and stare again.

Snowline at about 4000m with Cho Oyu just to the right of me

Machhermo suddenly appeared in a low valley in front of us. The tiny village, covered in snow was such a welcome sight. I had to laugh. It gave my spirits such a lift knowing we had reached our destination that I happily mucked around for another 10 minutes snapping photos and taking time to fully admire the views around me.

Clouds and snow
Heading down to Machhermo

(**The endless song… The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. And what do you think he saw, what do you think he saw? He saw another mountain, he saw another mountain, he saw another mountain so what do you think he did? He climbed that other mountain, he climbed that other mountain, he climbed that other mountain and what do you think he saw? He saw another mountain…got the idea???!!!)

Some of my favourite views
Sun makes everything better!

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