Continued from Part I: we made it to Lobuche!
The next two days were shorter: I had been getting sick for the past week or so (I had a bad cold and cough which went to my lungs on the day we crossed Cho-la pass, and was having trouble breathing while hiking in the cold air), so I decided to take a rest day. This worked perfectly, because the plan from here was to hike to Gorakshep, and from there go to Everest Base Camp one day and to the peak of Kala Patthar the next day before coming back to Lobuche. So I stayed in the lodge and Danny and Melissa went up to Gorakshep. They decided not to go to Everest Base Camp (Because there’s really nothing there, especially now since all the Everest expeditions this year were canceled), but went up Kala Patthar the next morning before coming back to Lobuche to meet up with me again! After 1.5 days of resting and taking tons of cold and cough medicine I was much better than before, and ready to keep hiking!
Day 11! It was extremely cloudy and overcast, and we decided to, instead of going over the Kongma la pass and not getting any views, we would just go around and take it a bit easier on ourselves. We already got one amazing pass experience, so we were content with that. This brought us to Chhukhung, at 4,730m/15,500ft. Here we rented equipment for ice climbing and got ready to go to Island Peak!
Day 12 we had a short hike to the Island Peak Base Camp, at 4,970m/16,300ft. Here we were going to be camping, so we set up tents and settled in. We were supposed to take day 13 as an acclimatization day at Base Camp, but we decided that, since we had been at high altitude for a week already, we didn’t need it. That meant that we would be waking up at midnight that night to do the climb to Island Peak!
At Base Camp we also met our climbing Sherpa who taught us how to clip into fixed ropes and use the ascending and descending clips to go up and down the slope on the rope line. At the top of Island Peak there is a period of time where there are fixed ropes on the ice, and you use those plus heavy-duty plastic boots with crampons to ascend to the peak. So we spent some time that afternoon getting used to climbing up a steep slope on lines, harnessed in and everything!
That night we went to sleep early and woke up at midnight. We had some oatmeal, as much as we could eat at that hour and then set off: day 13 was officially under way.
The first few hours were brutal. They were switchbacks covered in a thin layer of snow, and above all we could see were the headlamps of hikers who had started earlier than us constantly rising higher and higher. If you have never done this (gone up to a peak in the middle of the night), it basically sucks. Every time you look up you think that the end of the lights must be the top, and that that is where you are going! But in reality that is just the end of the line of hikers, and it keeps rising higher and higher. You cant tell how high you are, how high you have gone, and all you have is the monotony of switchbacks up a steep hill on little to no sleep, in the dark, in the cold.
Finally, after a few hours of the switchbacks we got to something new: icy rocks! Again, not ideal in the dark, in the freezing cold. Because it had snowed the previous afternoon (like it does pretty much every afternoon up there) there was an inch layer of snow and ice on all the rocks, and so for the next hour we climbed up boulders and across rocks, balancing on the snow.
Finally, at around 4:30 or 5 in the morning it started to get light out.
We spent another two hours climbing up the rocks over the snow, finally with a bit of light, and by 7am we had finally reached the top of this part! We could see the top from here, and we could also see all of the amazing views that the top had to offer. It was really a perfect spot. We could have kept going, another four hours across the glacier, to the top, but at that point we had been climbing for around six hours, were completely exhausted, and overwhelmed by the climbing that we had been doing. So we decided to end the climb on a high note, sat around eating some snickers bars that we had brought with us, before starting the long climb down.
By the time we finally got down from the mountain it was nearly 10:30 in the morning. We sat around, ate some instant noodles as a sort of breakfast, and basked in the brief period of warm sun before packing up our things and hiking back down to Chukkung. By the time we got to Chukkung it was almost 3pm: we had been hiking nearly 12 hours that day on very little sleep, and all we wanted was to go to bed. We made ourselves stay up till 5pm, and then ate a light dinner before going directly to sleep.
Day 14! By this time it was mostly downhill, but we had a long day in store. The plan was to hike all the way to Namche Bazaar in one day, a hike that is close to 8 hours long, and includes both a good amount of downhill and a few intense uphills. So, we set off early, stopping only once or twice the whole time (including a lunch break in Tengboche consisting of slices of cake at a great bakery there), and made it to Namche Bazaar by around 3pm. We put down our bags and immediately went to a pub for beers and buff momos to celebrate the (near) end of our hike! It really was pretty great going down so far in altitude: we had much more energy, and the hiking felt easier because of all of the extra oxygen in the air! After being at high altitude for so long we were sure we could do anything with all of the air going to our lungs.
The next and last day we hiked from Namche Bazaar to Lukla: our hike was done, all that was left was to get off of the mountains!
Unfortunately, this was easier said than done.
For the past few days no flights had been getting in or out of Lukla. There were too many clouds between Lukla and Kathmandu and so it wasn’t safe to fly in. The way it works is that there are a fixed number of flights going in and out, and if your flight gets cancelled then you get placed at the bottom of a waiting list for flights the next day. But there were already nearly four days worth of people on the waiting list trying to get flights because theirs had been cancelled, so the chances of getting a flight out soon was getting pretty grim.
In addition to this, instead of having a flight time the flights just have an order for takeoff. They fly four flights an hour (one from each of the four airlines), and so the flights in hour one are flights 1-4, the second hour they are flights 5-8, etc. So if you have an early flight number (like 1 or 2), the theory is that you only need one or two flights to actually land in Lukla from Kathmandu, and you’ll be able to fly out.
We were flight number 15.
Of course, none of this matters if no flights at all land in Lukla that day. Which is what was happening the morning that we were supposed to be flying out. Danny and Melissa had a flight back to the states in a few days, and on top of that we really didn’t want to be stuck in Lukla, since it was a pretty miserable town. So when the flights weren’t going out we had to look at our other option: a helicopter! This meant having our trekking guide follow some leads, find a helicopter with spaces on us for a reasonable price, going to the western union to take cash out to pay for it all, and then wait on the tarmac until the helicopter landed, sprint to it, board, and we were on our way. All in the course of approximately an hour. It was a hectic way to leave, but at least we got out! And with that we ended our trip: fifteen days of hiking later!