The plan was to set off early for Gorak Shep, dump our bags when we got there and head for base camp the same day. We spoke to Deepak (the Balaji's guide) and he arranged for their porters to book us a room at the lodge they would be staying at in Gorak Shep. There were only a couple of lodges there and we were concerned that we might not get a room so this was a great help. We joked with them that we could beat the porters there (ha-ha!) and set off at 8.15am. Later in the morning, when we were around half an hour away from Gorak Shep, the porters came back up the path having dropped their bags off at the lodge and gave us the key to our room! They were on their way back to help the family with their remaining bags. These guys are unbelievable - their strength and stamina is incredible.
It was a sunny morning but still quite cold. The trail wasn't too difficult for about an hour and a half but then it climbed steeply for 100 metres or so. It was a major struggle to get up. Once there we could see the Khumbu Glacier in all its glory - we had never seen anything quite like it. Its size is hard to comprehend. There's nothing else in the area to give anything any scale and the vastness of it is immense. It's constantly in motion and we could hear it groaning and cracking as the ice moved.
At this point we also caught a glimpse of some tents at the top of the glacier; our first view of base camp. It still looked miles away!
The trail became difficult to follow from now on. There wasn't really a trail at all, just a jumble of rocks and stones that we had to scramble over. It was exhausting work and a lot harder than we had imagined. Every little effort takes a lot out of you at this altitude. The views of the glacier and the mountains were brilliant though.
We arrived in Gorak Shep a couple of hours later at noon. We still had enough time to get to base camp and make it back to the lodge and the weather seemed to be okay. We had a cup of tea and dropped our bags off in our room. The lodge owner reckoned we could do it in five hours so we were encouraged by this, however, we still weren't sure. I was apprehensive as we had already had a tough walk during the morning and we wouldn't have any kit with us if anything went wrong. I had visions of us being stranded at base camp!
After much deliberation we decided to go. All we took with us were down-jackets, gloves, water and camera. The sun was still beating down and, with our jackets on, it was incredibly hot. We walked for around an hour when the weather began to change and we noticed clouds building up at the bottom of the valley. This put more doubts into our minds and we were seriously thinking about turning around but we knew that would mean spending another night at over 5000m. Just then, two young British girls came past us and, as they looked like they knew what they were doing, we asked their opinion. One of them (Mollie) told us that she was returning to base camp from Pangboche for an attempt on Everest (when we got back to Kathmandu, I googled Mollie and found her blog - she made it to the top and for a short while was the youngest British woman to have summited Everest). We mentioned our concerns about the weather and our reluctance to carry on and they said "you'll be fine, the weather does this every afternoon!". This was the encouragement we needed so we pressed on with renewed confidence but how wrong those girls were!
Within 20 minutes, all hell broke loose. The storm quickly developed and before too long we were in the midst of a full-scale blizzard. We were at the point of no return and it wouldn't have made any sense to turn back now anyway. It was probably safer to head to base camp where there would be some refuge. We were quite concerned by now and then the strangest thing happened. Teresa was walking in front of me and suddenly jumped after getting an electric shock. A few seconds later, the same thing happened to me. It was pretty scary - the shocks had come through the tops of our heads and we hadn't got a clue what had caused it so we swiftly moved on. It didn't happen again, thank goodness.
We were now very close to base camp and the route down to the glacier. A large group of people were coming back up the path so we spoke to a guide and asked whether it was safe to cross. His reply was "if it's windy, it's dangerous". Well, it was fairly windy but we figured other people had made it over so we went for it.
The glacier was fairly safe except for one part. Next to one of the freezing lakes, the path narrowed to around a foot wide and was on a slight incline. There was nothing solid to hold onto and it was extremely slippery so we had to be very careful. You can see it on the right in the photo below.
We managed to negotiate the glacier and arrived at the entrance to base camp in 15 minutes. It was quite an emotional moment for us after all the mental and physical effort we had put in to get there - we had used reserves of determination we didn't know we had! We had a celebratory hug and quickly took some pictures before heading back to the safety of solid earth. In hindsight, it was a real shame that the weather had intervened. We would have liked to have had a better look around and speak to some of the expeditions. There was a sign next to the boulder which the Indian army had put up inviting anyone into their tent for free tea but we just wanted to get out of there!
As soon as we got off the glacier, the storm began to blow itself out and conditions improved. We weren't able to see much on the way up due to the weather (and you can't see Everest from base camp anyway), but, as we walked back down, Everest appeared.
The walk back to the lodge was horrendous as we were both shattered. We staggered like zombies back into Gorak Shep at around 6.30pm feeling very ropey. Here are some more pictures that we took on the way back once the weather had cleared.