Life at Base Camp
Photo: Alex Treadway (click to enlarge)
I have been at base camp for two days now, and it already feels like weeks! Life here is great, and as a matter of fact it is extremely comfortable. I guess every once in a while we have to remind ourselves where we actually are as it is easy to forget that you are camped at about 5,400m at the foot of Mount Everest when you are watching a DVD on a flatscreen television in very comfortable surroundings.
So far most clients have been resting and acclimatising, including myself, however, the Sherpas have been working hard. The so-called ‘Icefall Doctors’ – the Sherpas, who have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world by fixing the Khumbu Icefall with ladders and fixed ropes every year – finished preparing the rugged looking icefall on Sunday. This amazing achievement was followed by a Puja, which is a Buddhist ceremony and is very important for the Sherpas, who are working on the mountain as they would not climb Chomolungma without this traditional blessing. The ceremony took about two hours and the climbers and Sherpas had their climbing equipment blessed by a lama.
Unfortunately, Alex and I had missed the ceremony as we had only arrived on Sunday afternoon but we had our own little blessing as a lovely Sherpa lady from the Sherpaland lodge in Dingboche gave us each a string that had been blessed by the Dalai Lama himself. And I was given some other blessed strings by my friends in Kathmandu….so, luck should be with us!
And luck has been with us so far, at least concerning the weather. The days at base camp are hot and sunny and you can just enjoy sitting in the sun reading a book, which I have not had time to do yet. Alex and I have been quite busy getting our book project going and it is amazing how many people are interested in taking part in our “Everest Changes People” book. It is fun and interesting to find out about people’s ambitions to climb Everest. Everybody has a reason and they are all different. I am just about to go and interview some of our Sherpas as I wonder whether Mount Everest is only a job for them or whether this mountain means more to them.
Our Sherpas have been amazing as two days ago they made their way through the treacherous looking icefall and established Camp 1 and Camp 2. I heard them leave the camp at about 4am and they were chanting like monks on their way up. It took them no time to put up the two camps and they were back at lunchtime. The performance of the Sherpas is amazing and it puts me to shame as I am currently still struggling to move from tent to tent due to the high altitude. Those who know me are probably quite aware of the fact that I find it very difficult to sit still, however, the lethargy that hits you at altitude is amazing. I am starting to feel more like my normal self again but it has taken me a couple of days to get rid of that rather lethargic feeling of not wanting to do anything.
Yesterday Alex and I walked up to the ‘real’ base camp, which is about 20 minutes up the moraine. I was quite stunned at how many tents there were and I have to say that our little setup further down the hill is well worth it. We had a bit of a look around, however, even though most teams seemed to have arrived at the place they will call home for the next six weeks, it was pretty quiet. It often happens that most people just stay in their tents trying to cope with the altitude and don’t really socialise with other teams.
Today, some of our people have gone to conquer Kala Pattar, which is a 5,500m hill just outside Gorak Shep for acclimatisation. Kala Pattar is the main destination for most trekkers and even though it is frequently visited, our guides seemed to have problems to find the right peak a couple of days ago. They managed to summit the wrong peak with some of the Everest climbers and trekkers but as it turned out it probably was not such a bad thing as their little peak was almost as high as Kala Pattar and certainly not that crowded.
The next couple of days will probably see a bit more activity as we are all going to climb Lobuje Peak, which lies a little bit further down the valley. Our team has decided that acclimatising on another peak is certainly better as it spares us crossing the icefall, which is probably the most treacherous part of our climb, too often. I have just spoken to Phurba Tashi Sherpa, an amazing guy who has worked for Russell Brice for 11 years and has summitted Mount Everest 14 times during his career. This is the first time Phurba Tashi is climbing from the south side in Nepal and he told me that he was actually terrified by the icefall. However, he also assured me that the Icefall Doctors have done an amazing job and made that section of the mountain as safe as possible.
Anyway, I will be at Everest base camp for another two days before I move down to our Lobuje Camp to scale Lobuje Peak. We have been split into three groups and the first group is leaving tomorrow morning. The whole exercise should take four days before we will be reunited again to do some more DVD watching, eating, reading, diary writing and simply acclimatising. And once we are finished doing that we will start moving towards our real goal towards Chomolungma.