Day 8: Labouche to Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp (17,600 ft)

Wow.  Everest Base Camp kicked my ass.  Got the ol’ headache and blurry vision in right eye syndrome!  Hopefully it goes away in a couple days like yesterday.  That was one hell of a hike.  Its not that far on the map, but its loose scree, boulder-hopping, and glacier rocks up and down and up and down the whole way.  It seemed f-ing far on the way back.  I was zonked by the time we finally got there.  Getting back was an exercise in Zombie-animation.  "C’mon zombie, this way.  Lift your right foot.  Good boy!"  By far the toughest hike so far.  4 hours roundtrip + 2 hours this morning to get to GS.  Long long day.

Finally got some decent weather this morning, got loads of pics of the glacier.  Unfortunately Everest stayed hidden, hopefully tomorrow on Kala Pattar will be the $$ day.  C’mon weather!

So how was EBC?  The glacier was awesome, I love glaciers.  Now, we weren’t on the icy top bit, which melts away soon after it leaves Everest and heads south down the valley.  What’s left for the remainder of the glacier is a loose jumble of boulders, rocks, and scree blanketing the unfrozen ice beneath.  Occasionally enough ice will melt to collapse a section of the glacier, resulting in an eerie grey or icy blue pool in the middle of the moonscape.  The glacier moves very slow, way too slow to notice, but its moving enough that occasionally you’ll hear a low rumble, followed by splashing.  Another part of the glacier just collapsed into a lake!  Super spooky, and when it happens close by its more freaky than spooky.
I was kinda hoping we’d eventually get to the unfrozen top layer closer to Everest instead of staying on the melted scree.  However, once we got there it was obvious you’d need crampons to avoid killing yourself, and I was way too tired to care.  By then the low clouds (daily monsoon mist) had come in and the views were gone anyway so it didnt’ even matter.  At base camp there are the remains of a massive soviet military helicopter that obviously crashed trying to bring supplies or conduct an emergency evacuation.  The crash is fairly recent, something like 2001.  Already the glacier is starting to swallow the smaller bits, but the main wreck is still perfectly preserved up here on the frozen moon.

I was really excited to see the infamous Khumbu Icefall, where the glacier lurches down a cliff and fragments into giant blocks of ice as tall as 10-story buildings (called seracs).  Many of the those enshrined in Pheriche have met their end here.  In the morning the icefall is relatively frozen, but by afternoon, any unfortunate souls dawdling here might get crushed or swallowed as the glacier wakes up.
As we stood taking in the view, a huge roar began somewhere above.  Where it was we couldn’t see because the clouds had come in, but the rumbling continued for about 5 minutes!  I kept expecting to see a massive avalanche come down somewhere, but we were disappointed.  Deep said that it was one of the biggest he’d heard in 50 trips up here.  Woah.  Now, you have to understand that to get back to Gorak Shep, you walk under a avalanche zone for over an hour.  As I looked around the group, it was clear that thought had occurred.
So what’s the oxygen like up here?  Well in Namche (11k) the O2 is down to about 66%, and up here its all the way down to 50% of sea level.  No wonder we were struggling like flies in soup.  Heh heh.  Hey what doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger, right?