We arrived at Gorak Shep (16,942ft) early afternoon. To get here we had ploughed through the shin-deep snow up hill through the narrow valleys past Lebouche contouring all the way for 5 hours. We were now as deep into the Himalayas as you could be. The angry rolling clouds spitting a constant stream of snow at us had given way to periodic blue skies. The previous few days had been a nightmare. The group had fallen ill with severe diarrhea due to poor quality food and this had perpetuated over days, halting us until we were physically strong enough to continue. We weren’t all 100% but as time was of the essence we had to push on and higher up to make Everest.
Easing the rucksacks off our shoulders and placing the wet gloves on the lobby floor, we slumped into our seats for a morale boosting hot chocolate insides Gorak Shep’s dining hall. Taking off our hats, we scratched away at our matted thick hair, while our lungs adjusted to the diluted air. Outside, the snow and low cloud clung to anything above ground level, obscuring the faces of Everest and Lhotse that stood guard around us.
We’ d made it this far and during lunch we made a group decision to try and reach the base of Everest that day returning to Gorak Shep that night to sleep; it was ambitious and doable. Leaving the warmth of the teahouse I reluctantly stood shattered, depleted of all energy staring down the valley at our direction of travel. We were low on time. Winds were swirling turbulently and visibility was reducing – the weather was becoming unstable by the minute.
For the next 2 hours, we weaved through small snowy trails below the shadow of Everest. The horizontal wind and snow stung our faces until they were a burning red. The hoods of our jackets were closed tight around our faces, the steam of the goggles only screening a few feet of visibility as stepped into the footprints in front. We were in the midst of a vicious blizzard and we had found ourselves on a ridge that we thought would lead us all the way down across the emerald glacier to the base of Everest. It was touching distance when everything came to a halt. We were suddenly standing at end of the ridge.
At this point dusk was falling and the weather had deteriorated to such a degree that with no shelter we were at high risk of being stranded or worse. Staring at the point we’d aimed to get to, we made a tough group decision that it was too dangerous to go any further. As the violent winds and snow battered our jackets, we looked on, worn out and disappointed that this now may all be at an end, the furthest point we’d walk to. We’d endeavored to go every step only to stand 500m away from the mysterious pile of rocks we’d walked 10 days to find. For that moment, looking down, In my mind I shut out the wind, the blinding snow and opened up to a feeling of respect and admiration. Not only for the 5 men I’d walked, climbed and laughed with but for the astonishing, brutal and diverse weather that was playing out before me. At the last possible minute she had showed us her teeth and kept us from standing on her foundation. This WAS the nature of the beast up here. We all stood, shivering in contemplation at how far we’d come only to turn our backs to the wind and head for home on safety grounds. As my numb hand adjusted my hood and I began to follow the snowy trail back to the warmth of Gorak Shep all I could think of was the quote etched with biro onto the back of my battered notepad:
“Adventure is the struggle itself. We may not have blazed much of a trail through an unknown wilderness, but through our trials, however big or small, we are making discoveries about ourselves and the world around us.”
And in our own way, we did.