“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.”
Climbing Lobuche East in April 2015.
Part I: Acclimatisation
I’m back in Khumbu – Sherpa country. My climb of Lobuche East (6119m) is looming on the horizon but first I need to take my time to acclimatise. I’m staying two nights in Namche Bazaar, the largest town in Khumbu and main hub for the many climbers and trekkers.
The weather has been poor the last few days with a lot of snow, but this morning, as I wake up, I’m greeted by Thamserku, shining bright. I spend the day acclimatising in and around Namche. With all the snow, the landscape looks quite different compared to two years ago, when I visited Khumbu for the first time. I hike up the hill above Namche to Syangboche and the twin Sherpa villages of Khunde and Khumjung. From Syangboche I catch my first glimpse of Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse. Not much later Ama Dablam appears in all her glory and beauty in the distance.
I’m staying two nights in Dingboche (4300m). It’s a beautiful, crisp morning, I’m scaling Nangkar Tshang (5075m), a popular vantage point just north of Dingboche. During the ascend I get my first proper view of Lobuche East which I’m going to try to climb in a few days:
The longer I look at that mountain the more nervous I get: how the hell am I supposed to get up there?
From the top of Nangkar Tshang, there are amazing views on the valleys and mountains around me. Ama Dablam, just opposite the valley, looks completely different from this point.
From Dingboche I hike up the valley along the Imja Khola River to the little settlement of Chukhung (4730m). I book into one of the lodges in Chukhung, then I continue up the valley to the base camp of Island Peak and the glacial lake of Imja Tsho. The path is well trodden and easy to find. It’s a short scramble up the moraine, then I get a great view on Imja Tsho and the surrounding mountains.
Next morning I’m climbing Chukhung Ri (5546m). The views from the top are outstanding. Highlight is the adjacent Lhotse/Nuptse south face, one of the highest and most impressive mountain faces in the Himalaya. It rises almost vertically 3000m into the sky and measures a total of 7 km in length from Nuptse West to Lhotse Shar. For quite some time I gaze at this giant wall of rock and ice right before my eyes, feeling very small.
Everest Base Camp
The weather is great today, clear, hardly any clouds. I can’t get my eyes off Nuptse. This mountain is a chameleon, it changes its form with every step I take, always looking impressive. I think it’s my favourite mountain.
The trail is congested with yak trains carrying supplies to Everest Base Camp. At EBC Sherpas are levelling the rocky ground and pitching tents for the expeditions which will arrive soon. I walk to the end of Base Camp to see the Khumbu Icefall. The icefall is the most dangerous part of the Everest South Col route. Last year a collapsing serac triggered an avalanche here, killing 16 Sherpas who were fixing ropes in the icefall.
From EBC I walk back to Gorak Shep for lunch. The weather stays good even in the afternoon, so I decide to hike up Kala Patthar. Kala Patthar (5620m) is a popular and often visited peak near Gorak Shep with good views on Everest from the top. It’s usually climbed in the early morning to see the sunrise from the top. I climbed it for sunrise last time, this time I want to try sunset. And it’s one of the highlights of this trip! In the morning this place is crowded with people, now I’m the only one on the mountain. Some clouds come up the valleys, the top of Everest gets the last rays of sunlight. I spend a long time on the summit, watching the mountains and the clouds and the sky.
Then I need to get down quickly, the descent is a race against the night. I reach the lodge in Gorak Shep just before nightfall, tired and happy.
Part II: The Climb
In Lobuche I meet my climbing guide Chabi. He is very experienced, having summitted Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Manaslu and many other peaks. Above all he is a warm and kind person. I like him from the start. We sit together, plan our climb, go through the equipment.
Next day we are going from Lobuche to Lobuche East high camp. High camp is located on a snowy plateau on the south side of Lobuche East at approximately 5200m. And what a location it is! White mountains and blue sky all around us.
From here the route of ascent is well visible. Over snow covered slabs the route leads from high camp to the South East Ridge, which it follows steeply over ice for the final 500m to the summit. It is the “false” summit (6119m) of Lobuche East just south of the “true” summit (6145m) which is usually scaled by climbing groups and which we will aim for tomorrow as well.
At 6 Chabi and I retreat to our tent to get some rest before the climb.
April 10: Summit day starts at 1 am. Melting ice and getting ready for the climb takes a long time. I’m glad that the action finally begins. We have some tea with cookies in the tent, at 2 am we set out from high camp. The first part of the climb leads over hard snow, not too steep, not too difficult. I struggle with the cold.
“I need the sun!”, I shout out to Chabi, to the mountain, into the cold dark night.
“Sun is coming, sun is coming.”, Chabi reassures me.
After a while it gets steeper and we put on our crampons. Then the fixed ropes start, from now on we can jumar up the ropes to the summit. And finally it begins to dawn! This fills me with new life. The summit is close, it’s going to be a beautiful, clear day and it’ll be warm soon! But the thin air slows us down as we approach the 6000m mark. I’m panting, unable to climb more than a few steps at once before I have to rest and catch my breath again.
At 5:30 am we reach the summit at 6119m. Here we stand in the heart of Khumbu, surrounded by white peaks, glaciers cut across the landscape deep below us, the sky is glowing. Four of the world’s six highest mountains are only a stone’s throw away. Everest (highest) and Lhotse (4th) are looming just behind the wall of Nuptse across the Khumbu Glacier, mighty Makalu (5th) to the East, Cho Oyu (6th) in the North. In addition countless other peaks, most prominent are Baruntse, Ama Dablam, Chamlang, Kangtega, Thamserku, Taboche, Cholatse, Pumori and Changtse.
The air is crystal clear, the sun has not yet risen over the mountains, in the cold early light the mountains look hostile and not from this world. I take a million photos, then Chabi and I start the descent. We are finally thawed by the sun as we quickly lose altitude again. Soon we leave the fixed ropes behind us and take off our crampons. At 8 am we’re back at high camp.
Back in the tent we celebrate our climb with a cup of tea and noodle soup. I’m tired, exhausted, extremely happy. After some rest I say goodbye to Chabi and get ready for the descent from high camp.
For a moment I stop; I look back to the summit of Lobuche East and enjoy the warmth of the sun.