It was still dark outside as my alarm rang. Shivering, I climbed from my sleeping bag and turned on the light. What I saw stunned me.
My camera was encrusted with ice. A thick layer covered the top, running down the front and over the lens. A centimetre thick, the ice had frozen the device to the bedside table.
I chipped away at the ice and wondered how had this happened — probably from my breath’s condensation as I slept. What I did know was that Gokyo was bloody cold. I couldn’t wait to leave.
With my camera freed from its white shackles, I went outside into the dawn. The snow was thick on the ground as I climbed Gokyo Ri, a hill behind Gokyo Lake. The ascent took over an hour as a cruel wind whipped my back.
From the summit I had a bird’s eye view of Gokyo. Smoke rose from the rooftops as hot coffee was brewed. Beside it was the massive Gokyo Lake, its turquoise water banished beneath the thick ice. It was hard to believe that pilgrims come to bathe here in the summer months.
And there in the distance, like an old friend, was Mount Everest. This would be my last sighting of this mystical peak, the driving force behind the entire trek. It too was waiting for warmer weather, when climbers would come and pray on its slopes, some for perpetuity.
I tried taking photographs but the temperature was unbearable. Despite wearing two pairs of gloves, I couldn’t feel my hands. I shoved them under my armpits to get some blood flowing. Pretending that I’d seen enough, when actually I just couldn’t hack it, I headed down to Gokyo and collected my backpack. It was time to go home.
Even in the biting conditions, the walk through the valley after Gokyo was the most enjoyable of the trek. I crossed a snowy tundra that was littered with stone cairns, to the backdrop of half-frozen lakes.
The afternoon brought grey cloud and more snow, but at least I was descending. The air grew thicker while each step felt easier. I was surprised to see trees again, the landscape shifting from alpine desert to pastoral villages full of life. The frozen oblivion was gone.
I spent the night in Namche Bazaar, then blasted my way back to the Shivalaya trail, which I’d started the trek on. My goal was Salleri, from where I could take a bus to Kathmandu. I was so motivated to return to civilisation that I walked 65 kilometres in two days — it’d taken me five days on the way up.
Salleri was a one-street village that felt like a bustling metropolis after the isolated settlements of the Khumbu Valley. But it was unusual seeing street-lights and hearing motors again. I got up at 4 am the next morning and boarded the bus, which arrived 12 hours later in Kathmandu.
Walking through Kathmandu’s streets, it felt like I’d woken from a dream. The silence, clean air and emptiness of the Himalayas was distorted in every possible way. I struggled to navigate the seething mass of bodies that survived in this hive of smoke and chaos.
With relief I checked into a guesthouse and collapsed on the bed. My aching muscles begged me not to get back up. But there was something I needed to do. After three weeks without one, it was finally time for a shower.
That’s the end of this series about the Everest Base Camp Trek. If you missed the other parts, you can find them at the links below: