We wake early in below freezing temperatures to begin our day’s trekking through the heart of the Himalayas to Gorakshep 5,170m en route to EBC. It takes longer than anticipated as I’m breathless most of the time as a result of the ever decreasing oxygen levels. We reach Gorakshep, have soup and put on another layer of clothing. I’m fatigued but Gopi, my guide, is urging me that we have to go as there is no time.
We haven’t gone far when we meet a Chinese guy who is looking blue, he’s had to turn back. He has a guide with him who does not speak Chinese or English so we give words of advice. Further along we meet a guy who I’d spoken with the day before, he tells me “you’ve got this”. The New Zealand couple that I’d run into a couple of times also gave words of encouragement but said it was tight to get back before dark. They checked that I had water which I had in my Camelbak but I hadn’t realised that it was difficult to drink because it had started to freeze. Twenty minutes from Base Camp we met my two new friends Ali from Scotland and Victoria from Portsmouth, a lovely couple who I had shared the helicopter ride with from Kathmandu to Lukla. They had brought tea for us to celebrate but on the advice of their guide couldn’t wait longer. They gave me a bottle of water which was a lifesaver. We pressed on but I could sense Gopi was concerned. Trekking over huge boulders and strenuous terrain in the Khumbu Glacier was unbelievable. Finally, over a last mound of rocks, I was in Base Camp at 5,364m, temperatures were -15 and Gopi was shivering. I suddenly found a rush of energy, taking my gloves off as I frantically put my pipes together with the flag from the RNRMC.
It was the ultimate moment, the goal, the challenge, the enormous effort, the achievement, I’d made it to the top of the world and it had all come together so neatly.
Seconds later we started back, knowing that it was a race against time. My mouth was so dry but the water in the bottle was now frozen, Gopi smashed it against the rocks to loosen the ice. We moved quickly but I focused on my footing as an accident now would not have been survivable. As we pressed on Everest came into view glowing at sunset, I took the photo with my mind’s eye. We both knew that darkness was inevitable and my survival instinct had fully kicked in. As darkness took hold, Gopi put his torchlight on and I noted that the battery life was 55%. We were going as fast as we could but suddenly Gopi stopped as he had lost his direction. He rushed back upwards and thankfully finding his bearings, he shone the way for me to follow. Several times he managed to smash the water bottle for me to drink as I was desperately thirsty with the dry freezing air. Finally, we could see a beacon of light from the tea house in the distance and the terrain flattened but we didn’t slow down. Arriving at 1900 hours, breathless, possibly hypothermic, exhausted but truly grateful.
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