Day 9: Gorak Shep to Kala Pattar (18,300 ft) to Dzonglha (16,000 ft)
 
Woah.  I’m completely, utterly exhausted.  I must have woken up 20 times overnight, gasping for air.  I had to remind myself that I wasn’t choking, instead I was up here at altitude.  After a few deep breaths I felt OK and could drift back to sleep.  Apparently its fairly common up here to go 30 seconds or more without breathing.  This is because breathing is stimulated by build-up of carbon dioxide in the body, but with so little oxygen being used, the unconscious trigger for breathing takes much longer.  Probably explained why I kept waking up gasping for air.
 

This morning the weather was crap, so we scratched our 5am wake-up call and had a leisurely, but disappointed breakfast.  This was supposed to Kala Pattar day, from whose summit the best views of Everest were to be had.  But at 7am, suddenly the mist lifted and brillant sunshine beamed down from blue skies, it was a miracle!  We threw on our gear and were headed to KP a minute later.  After climbing just a bit, Deep shouted "Everest!"  Like magic the famous black triangle had appeared above Nupste’s ridge, 2 miles above.  YES!  But then I looked down the valley and sure enough, the monsoon mist was already barreling up towards us.
 
I couldn’t believe it!  I started to race up KP, not the brightest move as it was a difficult climb straight up over a 1000 feet and I was already out of breath when I woke up!  I got about 1/2 way before the mist closed in, but in the meantime had gotten a few decent pics of the peaks south, massive Pumori (23,500 ft), and of course Everest.  I was so bummed at the mist, it was only 7:45, too early for that shit!
 
I wasn’t sure about continuing up, but then Deep appeared and agreed to come up to the peak with me.  I figured since I was 1/2 way I might as well pound it out.  And who knows, maybe the weather would change again.  I know I would’ve regretted not hitting the peak after all this way.  I owed Deep a big one…we climbed another 45 minutes and eventually, through the fog-turned-snow, ice, and rock jumbles, we made it!  And holy shit, it was not what I expected.  I had assumed it was a nice round cone, like a volcano since that’s what it looks like from below.  No way.  It was more like a cheese-wedge, with the top overhanging a 1000 foot drop into thin air!  My legs were mush by then and Deep had to talk me into clambering up the last sketchy bit.  After a minute I had recovered enough to snap some pics of the perch.  Awesome!  I didn’t stay too long, way too sketchy up there.  But I was really stoked I did it.
 
As I began the jaunt back down, suddenly the mist started to clear in the direction of Everest.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  By then the sun had come around and Nuptse, Lo Lha, and Everest were all brilliantly lit up with the clouds drifting below.  She had saved the best for last.  I sat down for a spell, 1/2 way down, and locked the views into my mind.  Finally I said my silent thanks and goodbyes to the Goddess and continued down.  But she didn’t want to say goodbye, and the best pic of the whole trip was taken 15 minutes from the bottom.  She was kind to us today, maybe a little reward for climbing KP despite the fog and snow.  Like a challenge had been laid down and I’d won.  What an incredible morning.  I’ll never forgot my moment with her.  Deadly, beautiful, powerful Sagarmatha.

 

 
The day wasn’t done by a longshot though.  We grabbed breakfast at GS, babbling at our last 2nd luck with the weather, and set off down the way we’d come.  We parted ways with Ozzie from Ireland after Labouche, he was headed back to Kathmandu.  We, on the other hand, were headed to the Cho Lha pass over to Gokyo before heading back.  Suddenly I felt like a wreck.  The last 2 days had just clobbered me.  My headache was pounding with every step, and I wasn’t sure if I should continue the 3 hour trek up to Dzonglha.  The mist was full-on now, no views.  Somehow we slogged it out, over a sketchy narrow trail with 1000 foot drops on the left, past massive ornery yaks Deep shoo’ed away, boulder-hopping over ragin’ streams, and finally up to Dzonglha at 16k.
 
Looking back on it, it was a beautiful hike despite the mist.  Once we were off the main trail we didn’t see another soul the entire trip.  The incredible diversity of different-colored flowers carpeting the green scrub was amazing.  We couldn’t quite see the bottom of the valley, which disappeared into the fog.  But we could hear a river roaring way below.  Landslide rubble appeared every few 100 meters, reminding us that we had left the tourist-friendly zone well behind.  Huge boulders the size of small houses had tumbled down from unseen heights and littered the trail.
 
So here I am, in a nice warm (for a change!) teahouse in Dzonglha.  I haven’t a hint of a headache for the 1st time in 4 days, and despite my mushy legs I feel fantastic.  I can deal with tired legs, AMS is the thing I fear.  So guess we are over the hump.  Its been some difficult, headache-filled, 7-hour slogs the last 2 days.  And we have 2 more long days ahead, with the Cho Lha pass and then up Gokyo Ri peak.  Yippy-kie-yay, brutha!
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