Still on a high from reaching Everest Base Camp on Christmas Eve, when we were given the option at our briefing that night if we wanted to wake up at 4am on Christmas morning to climb Kala Patthar (~5643m) and watch the sunrise over mount everest, our whole group didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
So with alarms set for 3:30am we all went to bed excited for what would be one of our most memorable christmas’ ever. Memorable for a good reason, or so we thought..
After waking up to an unwanted alarm, i don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much to get out of bed, as it was -20 INDOORS.
We grouped in the lobby of our accomodation and one of our group members, Brian, had brought with him little instant hand warmers and handed them out like Santa Clause out of a santa sack. It was such a small thing, but when it was so cold that morning we were all so very appreciative of his smart packing skills and resourcefulness.
As we all stood around shivering, our group team leader, read the thermometer that hung on the wall. -25 C inside. -30 C outside. That was without the wind chill. He warned us that it was going to very cold and that because of this, we weren’t to stop and wait for others to catch up, as we normally did. It was literally every man and woman for themselves.
The hike was some 500m straight up. The basic aim was to try and follow the person in front of you and make it to the top. As it was still dark, our visibility was poor so it was important to try and stay close to the person in front of you, while also trying not to walk too fast, so as not to over exert yourself, or be stopping all the time, waiting for people to catch up.
So after our quick briefing we set off into the darkness. It was freezing. I had every single layer of clothing that I had brought with me on and I was still cold. It was my extremities that were the worst. My fingers and my toes were painfully cold, right from the get go. They’d warm up once I got going, I told myself. They didn’t.
It was extremely windy and this added to the chill factor, finding out later that at the top it was -35C with wind chill. Our group quickly spread out and it wasn’t long into the straight incline hike that I was on my own. I literally was chanting to myself “one foot in front of the other.” “Wiggle your toes” “You can do this”.
Every step I purposely had to wiggle my toes, as i was genuinely concerned I was going to loose them. I simply couldn’t feel them.
I was about half way into the hike, maybe 2 hours in, maybe 1, its all a blur, when i decided that i couldn’t do it. That i was simply too exhausted, too cold and that I’d rather have all 10 toes than get to the top of this stupid thing. I didn’t want to turn around but it had defeated me.
That was until Matt, one of my group members, caught up to me. He really motivated me to keep going, so after come persuasion I relented and continued on. Climbing on together, it was really a mental battle to put one foot in front of the other and as he started to have doubts about his own ability to continue, we alternated turns between being the motivator for one another.
We were going quite well, despite the numb toes and the burning lungs, until André came running down past us.
“I can’t feel my toes, I’m going to loose my toes. I can’t feel them” He yelled at us as he bolted past us. At this moment I broke. That was it. If he was turing around, having gotten much further than me, how the hell was i going to get to the top of this stupid mountain!?
Once again Matt convinced me that we could do it, and that I couldn’t leave him otherwise he would turn around too and both of us would miss the epic sunrise. So we pushed on.
After what felt like hours later, we could finally see our team leader standing at the top with a thermos full of hot water. We were so close. Yet a good 20 minutes after that moment, we finally staggered up to the top. Victorious.
The feeling was probably the most amazing feeling I’ve ever experienced to date. It was easily the hardest physical and mental challenge i had ever had to over come and I had done it. I was ecstatic, elated and cold.
I carried my heavy SLR camera all the way up, only to take a photo of Greg, before the cold temperature killed my camera. So the only photo i got on it wasn’t even of me….
Never the less the trusty iPhone still worked for 2 minutes, before also dying, so i managed to get a few snaps of the incredible sunrise at the top.
All 14 of us, set off on the hike and only 6 of us made it to the top.
It was a incredible achievement, but some of us defiantly pushed ourselves beyond what was probably safe and unfortunately Tegan, was a little bit too determined.
As i was literally running back down, she was still staggering up.
I arrived back to our accomodation in no time and not long after she was carried in by two of our porters. She was totally out of it, her toes were frozen and she had passed out and vomited at the top.
She wasn’t in a good way, and just as had happened to be a few days prior, her feet needed to be warmed and rubbed to get her non-existent circulation back. She was in absolute agony and it reminded us all of just how dangerous and risky high altitude, freezing temperatures and plain stubbornness can be.
After all had settled, we sat around the Yack dung fire sharing stories and jokes about what we had just experienced. The pain. The cold. The desperation to make it to the top.
It was one of the best Christmas’ I’ve ever had.
We bonded so much over cheating injury and death and it encompassed for me what travel is all about. Getting out of your comfort zone, being uncomfortable, pushing yourself and then forming connections and friendships with the people you’ve experienced those emotions and feelings with. It was such an unforgettable morning.
And then, as if we weren’t exhausted enough, we had to hike for another 7 hours…. Check out Day 9.