Day 8 – April 5, 2013 – Lobuche to Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp

“Hotel” is a generous word to describe Sagarmatha National Park Hotel, a ramshackle collection of plywood boards resembling a child’s self-constructed tree house. The ceiling of our room sagged like the cloth ceiling of a decades-old minivan taxi, and the walls failed to join with the window casing. The hallway sloped to the extent that I had to steady myself against the walls when I ventured to the shared bathroom in the night, but the trip proved unfruitful as the toilet was overflowing with frozen excrement.

Surprisingly, however, the food was pretty good.

We left Lobuche in the morning, crossing the stream locals use for washing laundry and the dirt field with a circle of colorfully painted rocks serving as the local helicopter “landing pad.” Continuing northeast atop the Khumbu Glacier, with Mehra Peak looming on our right, we trudged through a rocky valley past frozen streams and ponds and patches of ground where the snow seemed whipped up to create inverted icicles.

After rounding a giant boulder (with a memorial plaque to a group of Korean climbers) that seemed to have fallen from the sky, we left the valley and began climbing through a maze of rocks. Gradually, we made our way through Lobuche Pass alongside the glacier, a turbulent sea of frozen turquoise waves beneath dusty, rocky debris. The glacier, cerulean sky and blue-tinged ice crystals clinging to rocky outcroppings provided the only color in an otherwise gray landscape. We could be crossing a deserted quarry or exploring a lunar landscape.

We rounded a bend and spied the rooftops of Gorak Shep below us. Guide Lakpa directed us to the packed Snowland Inn and then to our closet-sized room, located at the beginning of a long, concrete-floored hall. Strangely, the bubblegum-colored roses featured in the room’s wallpaper – the kind often associated with haunted hotels – resembled those from the frightful wallpaper of my childhood. As in my former home, the print succeeded in making the quarters seem even tighter than they actually were. The room’s single light fixture, a bare bulb suspended from the ceiling, did not work.

We left our possessions among the pink roses and followed Lakpa across Gorak Shep’s dry, sandy lakebed toward the long-awaited sight of Everest Base Camp (EBC).

The path between Gorak Shep and EBC travels along a narrow ridge between the Khumbu Glacier on one side and rocky hills on the other. Several times during the 2-hour hike we stepped aside to allow teams of yaks carrying heavy NorthFace body bags pass. They too were headed for Base Camp and were laden with clothing, food and supplies for participants of the 2013 Everest climbing season.

From the path, we shuffled down a hill and onto the glacier to join the crowd surrounding a prayer flag-strewn “Everest Base Camp 2013” banner affixed to a small boulder. I was disappointed to learn the actual base camp, a collection of bright yellow tents clustered together on the glacier about half a kilometer away, was verboten territory for us day trippers. Sadly, Paper Sis would not be meeting any rugged mountain climbers.

You can’t actually see the top of Everest from the official Base Camp boulder – that view would come the following day when we scaled Kala Patthar, at 5550 meters, the highest point of our hike – but standing in the vicinity of those yellow tents felt like standing on hallowed ground. The colorfully dressed specks milling about them would soon attempt to climb the world’s tallest mountain via the notoriously dangerous Khumbu Icefall just to our right. Later in the season, some would be involved in the highly publicized fight between climbers and sherpas. Nine others would die from falls, altitude sickness and cardiac arrest on the mountain.

As we awaited our turn for a victory picture behind the boulder, I suddenly noticed one of the hikers currently behind it, a 20-something guy, was in the process of stripping down. Aside from a baseball hat, he stood butt naked in the snow. His friends were in the midst of immortalizing his achievement (“First Butt-Naked Guy at the Base Camp Boulder?”) when a middle-aged Nepalese man stormed over.

“What are you doing?!” the man shouted as the naked guy hurriedly stepped back into his clothes. “Who is your guide?!”

From a distance, we caught snippets of the “dressing down,” including threats of arrest and/or fines. Finally, the Nepalese man threw up his hands, sneered “stupid man!” and stomped off.

The Nepalese, you see, consider Mount Everest sacred. She is Sagarmatha, the “Goddess of the Sky,” and the giver of wealth and power. It is a sacrilege to engage in crude acts like stripping down in her presence. Plus, considering the weather, doing so is pretty dumb.

Suddenly, a hiker beside me gasped.

Clearly enraged by the naked guy’s display, Sagarmatha had released a mighty roar culminating in an avalanche onto the icefall. For two whole minutes, snow poured down a mountain ledge like a plunging waterfall. We watched the spectacle in awe.

It seemed wrong to turn our backs on Base Camp after so many hours spent struggling to arrive at that very spot, but once the avalanche ceased, there was nothing more to see. Besides, it was getting late and we had two hours of hiking ahead of us before we could sleep. Observing the sunrise over Mt. Everest from the top of Kala Patthar would require a very early morning.

Daily hiking time: 4:20 / Total hiking time: 31:49