Everest Base Camp Days 5-8

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
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45
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Trip End Jun 01, 2012


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Flag of Nepal  , Eastern Region,
Thursday, May 3, 2012

So it was Day 5 and we were trekking Tengboche 3860m to Dingboche at 4410m. This was going to be a shorter day but we were now going to be heading over the 4000m barrier and it would be getting now in terms of altitude. We headed out of Tengboche on a beautiful trail through forests of dwarf (can you say that – is it politically correct? Or should it be 'vertically challenged' or 'just a bit on the short side', maybe even ‘not quite tall’) conifers, and rhododendrons. The trail headed downwards (joy again) and then across the ‘double decker’ bridge (Lakpa’s name but it only had one deck if you ask me) over the surging white water of the Imja Khola. We then starting ascending again and stopped for a few photos at a stupa with the stunning backdrop of Ama Dablam (not included the photos at the light was in the wrong place at is was morning – much better on the way down – they are in Day 12). We then stopped in the lower part of Pangboche in a lovely lodge with stunning views of Thamserku. The lodge owner was a famous Sherpa climber and had lots of Everest memorabilia including oxygen bottles from different expeditions on Everest and a rock that apparently from the summit (yeah and I’ve got a bit of the Berlin Wall – no really). After the break we had another hour until lunch in Shomare (4010m) – we were now above 4000m and in the words of Celine Dion, ‘this is getting serious’ (it’s from ‘Think Twice’ – the No, No, No, No one – although I don’t think she was actually singing about being above 4000m in altitude). Anyway after some lunch (excellent dal bhat cooked by our guides as the lady running the restaurant was a bit swamped) we headed out of Shomare and began to climb above the treeline, entering an arid landscape of scattered boulders and alpine meadows. This was proper tundra (this is word derived from the Finnish – yes I am fluent – meaning ‘treeless plains’) and from this point we weren’t going to see another tree for several days. And almost at the same time as we hit the tundra, the sun went in, the temperature dropped, wooly hats went on and it all became just a little bit more real. It was at this point that there was one of the most loveliest moments of the trip. A couple of school children appeared, who were walking back home to Dingboche from their school in Pangboche (it’s about 2 hours). Ollie had with him some juggling balls (as you do) and the looks on their faces was just truly magical. After he’d finished I played catch with the younger of the two boys and it was just something else to see the sheer joy this young boy was getting out of someone just playing catch with him. You’d have thought all of his Christmas’ had of come at once. It really brought it home about what little these children have compared to children in the UK with all their computer games and ipods etc. But in away they miss out because they have so much and they will never experience the joy of something so simple as playing with a ball. It completely humbled me.

At Orsho the trail divided into two and we headed down (again!, really!) to Dingboche. Beyond Dingboche is the trail to Island Peak (6189m) which is one of the highest trekking peaks you can do in Nepal. That afternoon we headed out into town in search of the highest internet café (and also the slowest in terms of internet speed) in the Khumbu. I know it was really, really slow and had a tendency to cut out but it is still incredible to think that they have got internet access out here in such a high up (4300m) location.

So onto Day 6 and we had another acclimatisation day, which could only mean one thing – going up and then coming back down. In order to prepare for Base Camp we were going to be climbing the peak that sits behind Dingboche, called Nangjartshang (5090m). I woke up nice and early and it was freezing. So cold there was ice on the inside of the windows. I then did my get up and go for a walk at 6am thing and there were some stunning views over the mountains towards Island Peak. We had an early breakfast (not just because I’d got early) and then we headed on out at 7.45 minus our head guide as he wasn’t well (doesn’t bode well when you head guide can’t make it out on the hike). Also Rob still wasn’t feeling well so he had decided to sit it out as well (I’m sure them two were just planning on going down the pub for the morning). So off we went straight up the steep hill. Then after about an hour we also lost Caroline, Kathryn, Paul and John who were also suffering from the altitude. Were any of us going to make it to the top? It took about 3 ½ hours and a bit of scrambling to make it to the top (lots of stopping for breaks) but miraculously I was the first female to make it up there (there was only 3 girls left anyway). Normally I am right down at the back of the group but it seemed that my 18 days round the Annapurna Circuit had paid off and I was pretty fit and coping extremely well with the altitude. And I had managed it without poles. So we stayed at the top for about 15 minutes and then headed back down (considerably quicker then we’d made it up there). In the end we were down to 10 of us and one guide (Dawa) as Hari and Mingma had taken others down. We were back in time for lunch.

We had a lot of time to kill in the afternoon and as Dingboche isn’t the most exciting of towns we sat around the fire (trying to keep warm) in the lodge. Lakpa told us this was the last time we would be allowed to have a shower for 5 days as when we got higher it would be too cold to get undressed and shower and we were at risk from hypothermia. So we all had our final shower (no hair washing allowed) and I think I set the record for the fastest time of getting dry and getting the clothes back on (it was freezing in there once the water was off again). In order to keep us (me, Caroline, Peter, Emily, Lindsey and Mark) entertained we had Jackanory with Lindsey reading the hilarious ‘Stuff White People Like’. The book by Christian Lander basically completely rips it out of middle-class, educated, socially and environmentally aware white people. Although it is about Americans, much of it is very accurate in terms of the Brits as well. It outlines how white-middle urbane, educated, left-leaning class people (particularly of my generation) like to think we are unique but actually we all like the same things. Examples included; expensive fruit juice (yes Tropicana is so much better), public transport (as long as it’s not the bus), Apple products (you have to at least have an iPhone), free-trade coffee, indie music (none of this new dance, r&b stuff), foreign cinema, dinner parties, The Wire and Mad Men Box Sets, multi-lingual children, authentic sushi and having at least one friend who is black (because that proves we aren’t racist and they can also be the resident expert on African-American issues when there are no black people around). It kept us entertained for an afternoon at least.

So Day 8 and we were going to be heading up to Lobuche at 4930m. Once again the temperature had really dropped over night (it was never that high during the day!) and we woke to find ice on the inside of the windows again and when you went to the toilet (hole in the ground obviously) it was like being on an ice rink. By the time I’d got out of there I’d gone through most of Orville and Bean’s (sorry Jayne and Chris but that’s what you were always called when I was a kid – another one of Bill’s) routine to Bolero (thank goodness I didn’t do the finale) whilst I was flailing around on a rather too much of a shade of yellow for my liking, icy floor.

So we headed out of a very cold Dingboche, went back over the ridge and along the ridge above Periche. To our left were outstanding views of Taboche and Cholatse above a desolate rounded landscape sculpted by now vanished glaciers. Just before Thukla we reached a glacial stream, which in sections was completely frozen. Half of the village was washed away in floods in 2007. After a break in Thukla (The words means Ram’s Corral, which is an uncastrated male sheep) we started the hard ascent up the terminal moraine of the Khumbu glacier. We were now over 4700m and it was getting really tough. At the top of the ridge is a very humbling place as this is an area of memorials to lost climbers and Sherpa’s, who have died on Everest and other peaks.

One of the largest memorials commemorates Babu Chiri Sherpa (June 22, 1965 – 29 April 2001). Chiri was a Sherpa mountaineer from Nepal. He was a legendary guide who reached the summit of Mount Everest ten times. He held 2 world records on Everest. He spent 21 hours on the summit of Everest without auxiliary oxygen, and he made the fastest ascent of Everest in 16 hours and 56 minutes. In 2001, Chiri signed on for his eleventh Everest expedition. He was planning another bid for the summit. On April 29 while near Camp II (6,500 m) and apparently taking photographs, Chiri miscalculated his steps, fell into a crevasse, and died. He left behind a wife and their six daughters. Babu Chiri Sherpa, had a dream, not to Summit Everest in 16 hours, or to sleep the night on the Summit. He had done both. His dream was to build a school for his six daughters in his small village in Nepal. Babu never saw the door of a school. He learned to read, but from his own studies. He wanted a better life for his daughters than frankly having them carry someone else's gear up Everest. The school was built in 2002.

The second prominent memorial is to Scott Fischer, who perished in the 1996 Everest Disaster. Scott was guiding a team of Mountain Madness (the company he set up in 1984) clients, assisted by Neal Beidleman and Anatoli Boukreev, two of the most elite climbers in the world. Fischer timed this ascent with consideration for the weather records on Everest — the week of May 5-12 has historically offered the best conditions for climbing. After weeks at base camp and days of slow climbing with time to acclimate to the extreme altitude, they took advantage of clear weather on Thursday, May 9 to make a summit bid. Climbing through the night, the first members of the team summited in the early afternoon of Friday, May 10 and watched the weather patterns from above. There appeared to be a storm lower on the mountain, but they didn't know if it was snowing or just cloud cover. Beidleman, a guide on Fischer's team, said that they couldn't really tell what the weather was doing to do but that he was filled with "incredible nervous energy to get the hell down." They took in the view, turned around and began the descent. It was Fischer's habit to trail after the team and help those that need special attention. As Beidleman passed him on the descent though, Fischer was struggling and told Beidleman that he was having a hard time. They were still near the peak, but knowing Fischer's strength and skill, Beidleman was not concerned. By late afternoon, winds were at 75mph, the snow was coming down so hard they couldn't see more than a couple of steps ahead, and they had to scream to be heard by someone standing at their side. Temperatures had plummeted, they were disoriented and as panic began to set in, Beidleman fought to keep the team calm and together. They huddled for hours hoping that this was not the "killer storm" and that it would let up enough for them to get their bearings. Around midnight, the weather cleared enough for them to see the Big Dipper and recognize the peaks of Everest and Lhotse.

Shaking from hypothermia, Beidleman and two of the stronger climbers found their way to camp and collapsed. Boukreev, who had been Fischer's climbing partner and the first to return to high camp from the summit (Fischer reportedly agreed that he should go down ahead of the group) went after the huddled climbers. He found them 400 meters from camp and 15 meters from the Kangshung face (a 3,000m drop the east side of Everest.) Making numerous trips, he led and in some cases, dragged team members back to camp. By 4:30am on Saturday, the whole team had made it to camp except Fischer. Boukreev made several attempts to climb after Fischer, but the weather was too severe, and he had to turn back. According to reports from sirdar Lopsang Sherpa, who had climbed with Fischer, he was having a very difficult time and at one point asked for a helicopter. Fischer knew that helicopter assistance at this altitude was not possible, and it is believed he was becoming ill, possibly suffering from pulmonary or cerebral edema (fluid seeping out of vessels or membranes, such as capillaries in the lungs or brain from severe hypertension that is sometimes a form of altitude sickness.) When Fischer collapsed an hour above camp, Lopsang stayed with him as long as he could, and later said he was prepared to die with his friend. Fischer threatened to jump if Lopsang, who had been climbing without oxygen, did not descend. Hoping to send back help, Lopsang finally agreed and left Fischer on a protected ledge. When other Sherpas finally reached Fischer, he was in a coma and roped to Makalu Gao (a member of a Taiwanese expedition), who had been left their by Sherpas trying to help him down. Only capable of taking one climber, the Sherpas chose Gao because he could be revived and would be more likely to live. They bundled-up Fischer and left him with extra oxygen. Boukreev made a subsequent rescue attempt, but found Fischer's frozen body at around 7 pm. In total 8 people died that day.

Scott Fischer’s body, and the bodies of may other climbers who perished in the death zone (above 8000m) are still on the mountain. It used to be that all Everest climbers using the southern route have to pass a group of five bodies, amongst them Fischer. In May 2010, the bodies of Swiss climber Gianni Goltz and Russian Sergej Duganow were removed. The body of Fischer remains in situ, as Fischer's family wishes that the body remains where it is.

It was really quite an emotional experience to see these memorials. In total over 200 people have died on Everest (of them nearly one third are Sherpa’s. Seventeen British climbers have died on the mountain) and many of their bodies are still on the mountain. For the first time I think I realised quite how dangerous Everest is. The reason I was coming to see the mountain was because I had been caught up in the romance of it all. Maybe even some part of me had a desire to one day make an attempt to climb it. To realize the ultimate dream.

For these people whose names were on the memorials, the desire to climb Everest had been just all-consuming. But to get to the summit and to make it back down it almost like playing Russian Roulette. It’s the ultimate challenge to pit yourself against the mountain with it’s treacherous weather, it's knife-edged ridges, the risk of avalanches, the insane Khumbu Ice Fall and it’s ridiculous high altitude. But it’s all part of that it’s all part of human’s strong desire to live on the edge, to defy death, to beat the mountain. For each of the climbers on that mountain, that sense of adventure is inherent, and each of them thinks that they will not be the one to fall. But Everest is all-powerful and if she decides that you will not return then no amount of desire, or fitness or sheer bloody-mindedness will over come that power.

On one of the memorials is engraved the words, ‘May he have accomplished his dreams’.  And I really do hope they did, because if not all that’s left is a body left lying in the snow 8000m up on the mountain, a pile of stones on a bleak hillside, and a grieving family. Is it really worth it all? Afterwards I watch a documentary and it ended with these words;

‘For as long as people are drawn to Everest, this line of memorials will continue to grow. The mountain doesn’t care whether we are here or not, it doesn’t compete with us, it isn’t burdened by our hopes and dreams, everything it means to us is only what we bring to it.  It’s what the mountain reveals about us that has any lasting value’.


So we carried on we continued along the lateral moraine at the side of the Khumbu glacier to Lobuche. Lobuche (4930m) was originally a summer village for herders but now it exists solely to service the trekking industry. It really isn’t the most appealing rest stop, it’s bitterly cold as the wind sweeps across it. After some lunch we headed out for a little more acclimatisation and climbed a ridge to the east of the village, where we had our first views of Everest Base Camp. Ahead of us we could see the glacier and to the side the yellow dots that were the tents at Base Camp.  In the evening we witnessed a stunning sunset over Lhotse (means South Peak in Tibetan, so is the South Peak of Everest). Lhotse’s long east-west crest is located immediately south of Mount Everest, and the summits of the two mountains are connected by the South Col, a vertical ridge that never drops below 8,000m. Lhotse has three summits: Lhotse Main 8516m, Lhotse Shar 8383m and Lhotse Middle or East 8413m. Also that night we celebrated Emily’s birthday and incredibly our guides has managed to bring with them the ingredients for birthday cakes (it was Kathryn’s the following day). That night I slept at the highest I had ever slept before. When I did Kilimanjaro the highest I slept was 4700m, and on Cotapaxi it was 4800m. I was now at 4900m !

So Day 8 and this was to be one of the highlights of the trip as we would hopefully be climbing Kala Pattar. We woke to a freezing cold Lobuche. Apparently inside it had got down to -4°C. Even the dzopka’s outside were looking a bit on the cold side. So we headed out at 6.30am for the 2 ½ hour walk up to Gorak Shep. The trail (obviously undulating) followed the narrow gap between the Khumbu Glacier moraine and the mountain wall.  It was a cold but stunning morning and as we walked up by the glacier we could once again catch a glimpse of Everest. Even though she is just poking over the top of other peaks she has this angelic (always had a halo of cloud) magnetism that you cannot take your eyes off. We then had to negotiate the terminal moraine from the Changri Shar glacier before we came down into Gorak Shep (5164m).

Gorak Shep or Gorakshep (it means ‘dead raven’ as there are many flocks of raven in the area – bit like the Tower of London of Nepal) is a frozen lakebed covered with sand. It has a few lodges and was the base camp for the 1953 Everest Expedition. It was also the location for the highest cricket match in the world. On the 21st April 2009 a group of 50 British workers trekked to Gorak Shep and then played a Twenty20 (obviously you wouldn’t play a whole test or even a one day at that altitude). Team Hillary beat Team Tenzing in the match, broadcast live to an audience at Lords cricket ground in London. They celebrated their world record bid with champagne followed by cups of tea (only the British could do this).  The event raised more than £250,000 for charities Lord's Taverners and the Himalayan Trust UK. It got into the Guinness World Record Book for a field sport played at the highest altitude.

We had an early lunch (10am is a tad on the early side). Most of the group were really suffering from the altitude at this point but amazingly I still felt completely fine. This was really unusual for me as on other treks at altitude I have always suffered from about 3500m. Here I was at over 5000m and still had an appetite and was feeling really well.

After lunch we headed off to climb Kala Pattar (meaning ‘black rock’ in Nepali and Hindi). This is big brown bump below the impressive south face of Pumori (7161m). Pumori is a peak on the Nepal-Tibet border and means "Unmarried Daughter" in the Sherpa language. It was named by George Mallory. Climbers sometimes refer to Pumori as "Everest's Daughter". It also has the world’s highest webcam.It took about an hour and a half to get to the summit and incredibly I was second to the top. Obviously most of the rest of the group were really suffering but I couldn’t quite believe it. I was only beaten by Ollie, who is a 22 year old, former Captain of the University of Leicester Rowing Club (virtually James Crackness then). Kala Pattar is the place where you can get one of the greatest views on the world. Well you can if the cloud hasn’t come in and unfortunately by the time we got to the summit the cloud had come in. It was also really cold up there (down jacket came out). The highlight though was the Mars bar. Dawa and Lakpa had carried up a Mars or a Snickers for each of us to celebrate being at the highest point we were going to be at on the trek. Never has a Mars Bar tasted so good (it was verging on being frozen). I was last to leave the summit (having a few extra photos taken) and then as I was just about to head down the clouds lifted slightly and I could see Everest. It wasn’t quite the view on the postcards or the posters but I could see quite a lot of the South Face. On the left of the peak is Lho La and to the right is Nuptse (meaning West Peak). On the way back down we were just coming into back down to the Gorak Shep when we saw our first helicopter rescue. Apparently it was an American girl suffering from altitude sickness. It was quite sobering to realize how high up we were and that the effects of altitude could be pretty serious at this height. That afternoon we relaxed in the lodge, I attempted to do some weight lifting (was hopeless) and I even managed (a little more proficient) to use the internet. Then as night fell the snow started to fall outside.
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