The gods intervened in our plans as it snowed through the night. We woke to a black and white landscape and low cloud, so no hope of climbing to Kala Patthar. While a little sad not to rise at 4am to see the dawn break over Pumori, Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest, the day was richly rewarding in its own way.
Before breakfast, we watched a helicopter land on the stone platform, scattering snow in all directions just above Buddha Lodge where we stayed overnight in Gorak Shep. It brought supplies of rice and potatoes, but chiefly came to rescue a trekker with symptoms of severe altitude sickness.
More whirring, more flurries of snow and it was gone; a reminder to us all of how fortunate we were to all reach and return from Base Camp without incident.
After a cheerful relaxed breakfast, we departed, tramping through 2-3 inches of slushy snow. The snow made the first part of our descent interesting but not too dangerous, just requiring caution in negotiating rocky sections of the track.
At one point we had a great view back over base camp on the massive bulk of the glacier, ice peaks gleaming white in bright sunshine in front of the rising dark mass of the mountains and the dark grey shoulders of the lateral moraines.
On down, down, down, through the sheltered ‘bird’ valley where we’d seen a mountain pheasant family on the way up, and spotted several ‘musaa’, small rock-hopping mammals without tails that I think are ‘pika’, the Himalayan equivalent to European marmots and our Australian pygmy possums.
Another rest beside the memorial chortens in their quiet dell, with a ridgeline of stone cairns providing a respectful boundary.
Descending across a small pass, we veered right down another long boulder-strewn grassy valley towards the large centre of Pheriche. Snow peaks appeared and disappeared in the mist and cloud, behind a dramatic foreground of dark slopes slashed with scars where landslides gouged away rock and shrub and soil.
Soon we were back in yak pastures. Several naks (female yaks) and their calves wandered down the same paths we were on, shepherded by a large yak with splendid horns. Tinkling bells high above my head drew my attention to another dozen feeding peacefully while picking their way over precipitous terrain.
Pheriche is a large collection of substantial tea-houses and productive fields. There is an impressive hospital, bearing solar panels, solar hot water and a micro-wind turbine. Open only during the trekking season, staffed by up to three international doctors, the hospital provides first port of call for both Everest climbers and locals struck down by illness or injury.
We stayed in the Panorama Lodge, next to the tall silver conical memorial to all those who have died on Everest. I left the kindly owner with a bundle of babies’ hat and jumpers to give to doctors when they arrive.
Since we’d arrived early, and the other AYCC group was only across ‘the hill’ at Dingboche, Tirthe led 6 of us in a heart-wrenching 20 minute climb up and over a steep ridge and down to the Peaceful Lodge. There were many hugs of delight and exchanges of stories.
I left the others and peacefully criss-crossed the hill, collecting stones for my mother’s memorial. The others later came to join me and we built a small cairn of rocks at the foot of a large boulder midway between the two stupas.
I felt a burden lift from my shoulders – a joyful place to rest a mountain spirit.
(Editor’s note: If you’ve missed the background to the Climb It for Climate campaign, there’s a great story of its remarkable genesis on the Australian Youth Climate Coalition website. Part of the purpose is to raise funds for AYCC and Nepalese activism on climate justice. You can support Philippa’s fundraising here.)