Practice Run No.4: Lobuche Summit, 6119m

In Practice Run No.4by Steve

Dragging myself  out of bed at midnight I often wonder what I’m doing, but summit sunrises make it all worthwhile.

I am writing this on Thursday because yesterday I was too knackered to do anything other than drink, eat and sleep.

After a few days trekking up through the Khumbu valley with overnight stops at Namche and Pangboche, we arrived in Lobuche, a small cluster of teahouses at 4940m. Just outside Pangboche I randomly bumped in to Namgal, the Sherpa I climbed Lobuche Peak and Island Peak with last year. It was wonderful to see him again, and his friendly smile. He was leading a group of Norwegians on an Everest base camp trek. We walked together and chatted for a while and then I left them to it and continued on my way.

Lobuche was far too busy for my liking. Hundreds of trekkers converging and using it as a base to then visit Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar. I just tried to isolate myself and prepare for the next morning.

Alarm went off at 01:30. After getting dressed and a quick breakfast we were out the door just after 02:00 into the crisp, cold air. It was a beautiful still night, near perfect conditions for climbing. The moon was so bright, we barely needed our head torches. You could see the moon glistening off the surrounding snow-capped peaks.

We were heading for Lobuche East Peak, 6119m, another acclimatisation run. For Lobuche Peak, most people establish two camps, a Base Camp at the foot of the hill and a High Camp partway up and then head for the summit from there. To avoid the hassle of establishing multiple camps, I decided to do it in a single push from the nearby teahouses. So the first part of the morning was just trekking through the valley around to base camp, and then following the rocky trail up to high camp. When we reached high camp there were about two dozen tents there, half of which were lit up with people inside preparing to go for the summit. There was also half a dozen head torches already snaking their way up the hill in front of us, which we overtook before too long.

From high camp, the route initially requires rock scrambling for a while up to crampon point where the snow/ice starts. At crampon point we stopped to swap our shoes for alpine boots (I hate walking in alpine boots, too restrictive and clumsy, so only put them on when absolutely necessary), and to put crampons and harness on. From there it was just climbing up the snow/ice slopes to the summit. The snow/ice conditions had changed substantially from when I was there last November, I barely recognised it as the same route. It felt much harder going.

Dawn started to break as we were on the final summit slopes, the first rays of the sun casting an orange glow over the Himalayan ranges. We reached the summit at about 06:15. The sun was still hidden behind the Everest massif in the east, but its rays beamed vertically projecting a rainbow coloured arc into the sky directly above Everest. It was a brilliant sight. The air was cold, about -15degC if you believe the forecast, but with no wind it was quite pleasant to stand up there and watch the sunrise. I always complain about “alpine starts”. Why has it become customary in the mountaineering community to always head for the summit in the dead of the night? It would be much more civilised to wait till the sun starts to warm the air, but mornings like this make it all worthwhile.

We descended cautiously back down and were back at the teahouse just before 09:00 drinking hot chocolate and eating pancakes. Just under 7hrs was supposedly pretty good going for the round trip, but I had felt flat all morning, as if I was stuck in 1st gear with nothing to give. I felt well acclimatised with no headaches or dizziness or uncontrolled breathing or anything like that, but just lacked energy. Not sure if it was the chest infection I was still trying get over, or the poor diet I’ve been limited to in the teahouses (what I’d do for fresh meat and vegetables), or the cumulative effect of being on the go for over two weeks, or all of the above, but I just didn’t feel good.

I could have spent the rest of the day lying in the sun at the teahouse, but I had already agreed with my guide to push through to Everest Base Camp (EBC) that day, so quickly packed my gear and we were back on the trail. It was a very slow and painful walk, meandering up along the Khumbu glacier from Lobuche to EBC where we eventually arrived at 13:00, 11hrs after setting out that morning. I had arrived three days ahead of schedule, and our camp was only partially established, but fortunately my high altitude gear, which I’d sent direct from Kathmandu to EBC, had arrived. In that bag I had some emergency rations, including a large pack of Natural Confectionery Co. lollies, which naturally didn’t last long. You can probably see a growing trend here… the real reason why I choose to do these climbs is so I can eat copious amounts of lollies and chocolate, guilt free.

The past two and a half weeks have been anything but a normal acclimatisation program. Medical science would tell you to take it much more gradual and leisurely. But this after all is just a practice run. I wanted to test myself and feel I’ve done that. I now need to recover and replenish my stores in preparation for the next phase.

Just want to say a huge thank you to Matt and the team at Hike Himalaya Adventure who have organised the past two and a half weeks for me, and in particularly to Dipok, my guide for that time. It’s been great fun. I love going on these trips by myself and exploring with a local guide. You get to see and do so much more than group trips and meet many more amazing people along the way. Moving forward, for the main climb on Lhotse, I’ll be joining Tim Mosedale’s expedition.

“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”