Due to our elevation gain from Tengboche, we needed to take another acclimatization day in Dingers. This involved hiking partway up another hill to the northwest of the village called Nangkartshang (first peak – 5,083m). Following the classic climbing strategy of ‘climb high, sleep low,’ we always tried to get a good elevation gain in on our acclimatization days to help with adjusting as we went further up. Apparently gaining significant elevation during the day and returning to lower elevation for sleeping aids in the acclimatization process.
The next day was spent traversing across a plateau from Dingboche to Dughla (4,620m), and was one of my favourite days of hiking due to the outstanding views of the surrounding mountains the plateau afforded. Typical routes to EBC would involve heading from Dingboche past Dughla to the next community of Lobuche (4,910m), then moving on to Gorak Shep (5,140m) the next day, the final stop and spot from which to make the day trip out to Everest Base Camp. However, Gorak Shep was pretty much unanimously referred to as a less than ideal place to be, as its significant elevation meant there was no running water due to temperatures consistently around freezing (bottled water must be purchased for drinking or any other necessary activities), as well as the fact that anyone heading to EBC had to first go through this community, resulting in masses of tour groups, very full lodges, and often people left to sleep in the dining hall or even outside! These factors, coupled with the fact that most people, including even some locals, have difficulty getting quality sleep above 5000m, had us dreading our upcoming time there.
However, back in our lodge in Dingboche we had met an American doctor who was on his way down after completing the EBC trek. He mentioned staying in a place a little off the trail between Lobuche and Gorak Shep that had warm rooms, flush toilets, and hot showers … basically paradise as far as we were concerned. This place was called the Pyramid, and was a former Italian research centre, with a large glass pyramid and hundreds of solar panels, hence all the heat! Our doctor friend insisted that we stay here and avoid Gorak Shep all together. We were a bit worried that this Pyramid might turn out to be too good to be true, but figured it was likely still better than the alternative. After looking at our map and trying to estimate our hiking speed above 5000m, we decided that it would make for a very long day to do a run to EBC from the Pyramid, but figured it was worth a shot. This would also mean we could avoid trying to find a room in the busier communities of Lobuche and Gorak Shep. After settling into one of the two lodges in Dughla and enjoying our dinner, we asked the lodge owner to call ahead for us to secure a room at the Pyramid, which she happily obliged.
The next morning we set out after breakfast, making our way up another steep section of trail to the Memorial for Alpinists & Mountaineers, a huge area with dozens and dozens of stone monuments to the climbers who lost their lives scaling the peaks of the region. This spot really brought home the dangers involved in scaling these mountains, and made us reflect on what drives people to risk their lives climbing.
A couple more hours of hiking, with a short stop for tea and lunch in Lobuche, and we had made it to the Pyramid. Unfortunately for us, we quickly found out that calling ahead to ‘secure’ a room, hadn’t really meant much, as we weren’t the only ones who had heard about the luxuries of this place. Unfortunately, we arrived just after a few tour groups, one large and two small. This was the one time when we found ourselves at a significant disadvantage by not having a guide. Given the trails of this region are clear, and there are so many trekkers, navigating had not been terribly difficult, and we’d made out fine on our own. As we got higher up, lodges became fewer while the number of trekkers seemed to simultaneously increase – and this is where guides truly come in handy. Their relationships with lodge owners ensured that their clients were afforded a room, while the independent trekkers (us!) were left with whatever sleeping arrangements remained. Ultimately, we were offered a ‘room’ in the porter’s quarters, which was outside the heated main lodge and barely had a proper door. Now, let me say that we don’t feel as though we are above the porters in any way, but we were caught off guard by the illusion of calling ahead to secure a room. What we were offered was similar to the basic rooms we had slept in up until this point – unheated, plywood walls, etc. It did not reflect the stories we had been told but still the owner wanted to charge us full price. Ultimately, we were exhausted and did not want to back track to Lobuche at the end of the day to try and find a room there, so we decided to take what was on offer but for a reduced price. The owner ensured us that he would be able to move us into one of the actual guest rooms the following day, and would give us a discount on their flat rate room & board charge. We decided that we would just get up early, make the run to EBC the next day, and start on our way back down the following day. We readied both of our day packs, filled our water bottles and had everything set for – Mission: Base Camp – the following day.
The next morning we emerged from the Porters’ quarters to about a foot of fresh snow and blizzard like conditions. Off we went.