As we left the village of Lobuche, the trail was a mixture of rocks, dirt, and a few mud puddles. We gained altitude steadily except for several stretches on steep uphill that reminded us of where we were and the task ahead. The clouds were low, obscuring the view. But the sounds made up for it all.
What seemed like endless yak trains; each one made their way ever so slowly up the trial towards Everest Base Camp. Their primitive wooden frame saddles held white rice sacks filled with expedition supplies. Several heavy blankets protected their backs. The yaks moved at their own pace until the yak herder yelled out a one syllable sound, the name of a yak, to encourage the beast to pick up the pace. When this did not work, a well aimed rock did the trick.
One train heading down from EBC consisted of seven yaks; each a unique color and personality. Their caretaker sang a song to them softly as they slowly meandered down the trail with the rusted metal bells providing the music for the lyrics.
The clouds produced a light snow that made even the blond yaks look white. It covered our packs and caps as we neared Lobuche. We were supposed to spend a night at this last village but with everyone eager to reach EBC and feeling well, we only stopped for tea. It seems that many teams had a similar idea this we met many of the same commercial and independent teams we had been leapfrogging since Kathmandu.
The trail was filled with trekkers returning from a visit to base camp or a climb of Kala Patar. There were a few on the trail being steadied by a teammate or Sherpa. Holding them by their elbow or with an arm around their shoulder; they were descending to address the impact of this high altitude. In Periche we saw two people evacuated via helicopter with more serious symptoms. While this is still a trek and not a climb, the dangers are just as real whether climber or trekker.
Leaving Gorak Shep, the trail was irregular as it strained to get its guests to the 17,300′ Everest Base Camp. We followed the end of the Khumbu Glacier, straining to see the first yellow or orange tents of base camp; or perhaps a glimpse of the Icefall or Everest itself. But the clouds ruled the view and we were content to walk slowly behind the clanging bells, knowing our destination was not far away.
We took a steep downhill path onto the Khumbu Glacier. This moving river of ice was covered in dirt but moved gradually carrying rocks from high in the Western Cwm, debris from expeditions decades ago and secrets of climbs gone horribly wrong.
The trail soon crested revealing a clear view of Everest Base Camp. A huge rock structure covered in the 5 bright colors of prayer flags, held a simple sign: “Everest Base Camp”. The Himex team’s huge deployment was off to the right and farthest away form the Icefall. IMG’s was next spread across several levels; the green communications tent holding the highest point with antennas standing high ready to stay in constant connect with their members. I found this comforting.
As I walked into our new home base, Sherpas stood almost in line, similar to a military review. Each offered their hand and said their name. “Welcome to Base Camp, I am Nima.” A simple smile said all that was necessary.
I passed one tent filled with these unsung heroes of Everest. They crowded around the door curious as to the first impression of their charges. I took a picture.
As I found our dining tent, Ang Jangbu; the IMG Base Camp Manger and informal leader of many things at EBC for all teams, called out my name. With surprise at being recognized and warmly greeted, I shook his hand. I was overwhelmed. He did the same to many of our team as we arrived one by one.
I found myself standing in front of the large yellow tent. This would be place we would eat our meals: breakfast at 8, lunch at noon and dinner at 6. It was also our town hall, our meeting place, our hangout. But our retreat was our personal tent. As I tried to take everything in, Ang Jangbu called my name again. “Alan, this is Kami. He will be your personal Sherpa.”
I was not sure what to expect but the man who stood in front of me had a broad smile, his white teeth a contrast to his brown clear skin. His clear eyes looked me directly in my eyes. There was a confidence I immediately recognized; no, I immediately felt. He took my hand in a firm handshake and repeated “I am Kami, I will be your personal Sherpa.”
Ang Jangbu continued the introduction. “Kami has summited Everest 11 times, he has been on over 50 expeditions all around the world, not just Everest. He was on K2 in 2008. He is one of the most overall experienced Sherpa on Everest.” Kami just stood tall and smiled.
He asked me if this was my first time to Everest. “My 4th, I said with a sly grin. No summits” I quickly gave him my resume. He asked who I had climbed with and we discovered I had climbed with his young brother, Ang Dorge Sherpa in 2002 and 2003. Small world or something else at work?
He showed me to my tent where one of my duffels had already been stowed. My trekking duffle arrived as we continued to talk. I asked about his family: He lives in Pangboche, near Lami Geshi, with his wife. He has 5 children, one is an also Sherpa guide for IMG. His 2nd son is a monk at the Tangboche Monastery. His third son and two daughters are in school in Kathmandu.
As Kami left me to get settled into my tent, my mind raced. My emotions ran the gamut. My memories flooded my consciousness. My purpose took control.
A thick sleeping pad was already in the tent but I inflated my down filled one anyway and spread another on the cold floor of the tent. While it was cold with the thick clouds blocking the sun, I knew it would be extremely hot when the sun returned. I checked the flaps for proper venting. I filled the mesh wall pockets with my usual things I often need. I took my -20F bag out of the compression sack to let the down regain its purpose.
I sat on my bag looking around my 2 man yellow tent.
The sounds outside were alive, I could hear the unmistakable sounds from the cooking tents; a loud pot banging, A cook barking out orders, the ever-present radio playing lively Nepalese or Indian music. I could hear my teammates settling into their tents; asking questions or commenting on the view. A loud low rumble told of a nearby avalanche, probably the Cho La Pass or Pumori.
We had lunch as a team with new faces now bringing us plates filled with a mixture of carbs and protein. Hot water for tea was in endless supply. Greg, the overall expedition leader who also is our team’s leader and had been with us since Kathmandu, gave us the rundown on Base Camp. Actually only a few items to consider; location of toilet tents, some protocol in dealing with hygiene – common sense stuff delivered with professionalism.
My first night at EBC was long. I had a slight headache and trouble sleeping; probably a mixture of many things, none serious, all expected for the first night above 17K and my return to Everest.
Today, the sun rose at 5:15 against a clear sky, a welcome change from yesterday. It was cold last night reaching +15F degrees in my tent. It is now 60 as I type this dispatch just before lunch time.
The Icefall is in clear view from my tent. I can see the summit of Lhotse as well. Pumori looks like the ice cream cone I remember; conical rock formation covered with white snow -and dangerous avalanches.
I walked into the main Base Camp area after lunch. I visited with Ang Dorge; renewing old friendships and memories.
The main Base Camp area is still quiet as many teams are still heading north through the Khumbu. There are no prayer flags providing that comforting sound when the wind blows. They will come as each team has their Puja.
Base Camp. Yes, Everest Base Camp. A home, the launching pad for the cause; memories of the past and ones in the making.
I will post more on Base Camp plus the condition of the Icefall tomorrow.
Tomorrow, we will do a gear run-through low in the Icefall and then trek to Lobuche Base Camp on Wednesday for our acclimatization climb later in the week.
Memories are Everything
Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. He is climbing the 7 Summits throughout 2011. He has summited Vinson and Aconcagua already and leaves for Everest in late March. All to raise $1 million for Alzheimer's research. You can read more on his site.
Photos Courtesy AlanArnette.com