Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley – my first Himalayan climb

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb

This week’s adventure is a flashback to 2010 when I tackled Pokalde in the Khumbu (Everest) valley, my first Himalayan mountain climb. Our goal was this relatively small mountain just off the Everest trail, compared with the monsters that surrounded us, it was nothing more than a pimple. Pokalde is commonly used as an acclimatisation peak for Everest climbers and trekkers alike:

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climbI feel terribly alive after my recent cold bucket shower outside on the snow. With my increasingly hirsute face tingling, we set off and leave the porters to load the yaks. As we walk the visibility is virtually nil and the British members of our group are busily filling the air with disgruntled comments. I am content to just follow the fresh footprints ahead of me. Trudging along with my hood pulled tight and my eyes on the ground I pick up my revere from yesterday afternoon, ‘Great idea to contact the BBC when I return, they will need a Sir David Attenborough replacement for sure. Sir Benny Rabbit-Burrow, sounds great.

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb
I am no biologist but I have the voice, ‘Here we see a group of common idiots walking through the snow to sleep in draughty canvas structures, they eat dried fruits and berries and share a communal toilet hole.’ Easy.

Half an hour after setting off we turn left up a valley where the yaks and porters pass us. Watching them disappear I feel relief as always to see my pack securely on the side of a beast. By the time us low altitude dwellers trudge into base camp our sherpas have set up all the tents and greet us smiling with hot tea with biscuits. This is a very civilised way to trek, I start to wonder how I ever managed without porters and sherpas alone in the wilds of Tasmania.

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climbThat night is our first proper cold one. In the morning Kevin the tall Irish man with the quiet smile says that he recorded around minus fifteen overnight. I wear my thermal long johns, fleece pants, polypropylene gloves, merino top and thermal sleeping bag liner inside my very warm sleeping bag and still shiver throughout, at one stage I considered spooning Andy for warmth but that would be like cuddling a fridge.

We are roused when the young cook shoves tea through the tent’s entrance and we set about getting fed and ready to tackle our first Himalayan mountain. Getting ready at altitude, even the relatively low altitude here, is hard work. We are at a place where rolling over in your sleeping bag sends you gasping for air for ten minutes. High altitude doubles the time it takes to pull on plastic boots, affix crampons and don climbing harnesses. We hit the mountain at about 5:15am and climb. We climb a lovely sharp little snow slope which is good fun, but then climbing becomes a sustained haul across an uninspiring scree up to a final section of exposed rock. A few members of the team turn back early which does not bode well for the upcoming challenge of Island Peak, or Imje Tse as it is known locally. I am unsure if it is happiness, fear or cold, but my eyes well up as I dig my unwieldy plastic boots into a slight crack in the rock, pull myself onto that tiny summit and look around.

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climbgrey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climbAs I am busy clambering over rocks the sun has been unveiling an amazing view for our little intrepid group. What I see painted in front of me in shades of grey with some pink steals away all words. I am clipped into a safety sling with my jaw agape and just stare down the Khumbu Valley. The six of us perch on a precarious little summit ledge and celebrate while soaking up this expansive view with careful back slapping all round.

On the descent I do my first ever single rope abseil with about five hundred meters of exposure below my bum. Due to my inexperience and clumsy gloves I end up slipping and falling into a fellow climber’s lap where she greets me with a giggling, warm hug. Our leader Andy spots my poor form, ‘Hey Ben, have you abseiled alone before?’

‘No mate, never without a second person belaying me from above anyway. She’ll be right.’

 

Not for the last time, I get into trouble for not telling him something like this.On the way down the long snow slope towards base camp I really lose energy and start getting a terrible headache, fighting off a desperate desire to just sit down and sleep I make it back to camp and into my sleeping bag for a quick rest. I fully understand now what ‘proper’ climbers mean when they say that the top is only half way. The adrenaline of a summit wears off leaving behind a breathtaking fatigue and nausea. Having completed our first ascent before lunch we enjoy a lazy afternoon squinting at small camera screens and comparing photos…I could get hooked on this climbing business.

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb

 

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb

 

 

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