Monday, October 30, 2017

Everest Base Camp

Everest Base Camp! Today was the day. I have read quite a few books about Mt. Everest climbs. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev, Left for Dead by Beck Weathers and Dark Summit by Nick Heil to name a few. Add countless hours on YouTube and a few Hollywood movies and needless to say Everest has my undivided attention. No, I have no ambition to gain experience and technical knowledge to attempt an Everest Summit. Although there are worse places to die than attempting to climb Mt. Everest. Eaten by a shark in South Africa, yup that would be worse.

The drive from Shingatse to EBC was about 3 hours. We drove through hidden valleys passing small villages and towns that hid any trace of the Himalayas.  At the entry town of Shegar we had to obtain our Aliens Travel Permit at another military checkpoint. This one very heavily patrolled with smiling and polite armed to the teeth soldiers which gave everyone an odd and uneasy feeling. Through the checkpoint  we went through a small pass and as if on cue there stood Everest, bold and dominate as she should be. The first thing that came to my mind and I don't know why was "there are almost 300 dead bodies on that mountain dating a back to 1922. A detailed list can be found here on Wikipedia.  Don't get me wrong I was not in a dark or gloomy mood, I was ecstatic, but knowing the history of such a place is critically important for me.

There is the actual EBC which is a series of large tents holding 10 to 20 people. We chose to stay 3 km away at an old hillside hotel with hotel being a very loosely used term. We shared 5 people in a cold and drafty room but with huge warm quilts and sleeping bags to keep the cold out and yes, it was cold. There was also a warm restaurant with good food and cold beer for a post hiking gathering and spectacular views.

Once settled we had two choices. We could take the van the 3 km to the base camp then hike or hike the winding road, the choice was easy and obvious. With Everest straight ahead welcoming us we chose to walk which as this altitude we would be a bit slow so it took 45 minutes. It was arguably the best short walk I have ever taken.

Arriving at base camp we were given instructions that as foreigners we could hike only as far as the Rongbuk Monastery which turns out is the highest in the world and contains both Monks and Nuns. It was not elaborate by any means but the location gave it an incredible spiritual vibe even for non-believers. The Monastery also gave me great views of Everest and the surrounding mountains. There is not much to say really. I wandered from my posse, found a huge rock and sat quietly for about an hour taking it all in. There was Everest so close as if I could reach out and touch it. Looking around I noticed others had the same idea. Alone, paired up or in small groups just sitting and taking it all in. A monumental sight to know that so many others had looked up from their cameras and cellphones having realized the enormity of the situation.

I do not know how long I was in the park because it did not matter. The sun was starting to set and being in a hidden valley surrounded by the highest mountains in the world the peaks stayed bright while around me the areas were becoming long with shadows. Walking around the Monastery or the scree filled ground I had to pose at the landmark showing 5200 metres. I was standing at 17,060 feet knowing that it was almost 11,000 feet below the peak of Everest. Perspective is absolutely everything.

My team decided to head back to the hotel but there was no way I was going to leave. They jumped in the van and the driver asked me when he should come pick me up. Don't, I will walk back. The poor guy looked a bit confused. Again, there was no way I was going to jump in a van at the foot of Everest.  So as the crowds started to return to base camp and the buses and vans headed back to the series of small hotels I picked up some water and cookies from the base camp shop which were priced exactly what you would think they were priced given the location. I walked out of base camp and heading the 3 km down the now car free road towards my hotel. The walk took me well over an hour as I made points of stopping, looking around and listening to the small stream beside me taking the melted snows of Everest down stream. It was not a spiritual moment but it was a special moment to be alone with my thoughts surrounded by the highest mountains in the world.

Then a car drove by, honked his horn and pulled over which could have killed the mood. The driver asked if I wanted a ride. When I explained why I was walking and how I was enjoying myself he smiled broadly, said something in Tibetan, waved and drove off.

I returned to a warm welcome by my guide, who I suspect was a bit concerned for my welfare. He gave me a bit bowl of noodles, a cold beer and pointed me towards my crew. The Johnny Walker Black had made an appearance and we excitedly talking about the experience with each other and the others in the room. Sunrise was at 6:00 and there was no way anyone of us were going to miss an Everest sunrise. It was a bit anti-climatic considering all that had happened however feeling the cold morning air while sipping hot coffee and still groggy from a lack of sleep, low oxygen level I had a calm warm feeling knowing everything was alright in the universe.

There was only one reason for that and it towered 8848 metres (29,029 feet) in front of me.

Rongbuk Monastery

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