Urban Sprawl at Everest Base Camp

Apr 12, 2011
Outside Magazine

Everest Base Camp. What does this phrase evoke in your mind? Adventure, Tenzing & Hillary, mountaineering, “Into Thin Air”? No matter your association, it is one of the most interesting places on Earth for 60 days each spring.


I have been walking around EBC the past two days in between getting ready to climb Lobuche Peak tomorrow. This morning we had a fantastic run-through on the ice with our Sherpas and Greg, the IMG Expedition Leader. It was good to get my crampons on my 8000m boots and clip into a fixed line to climb and then rappel down even if it was only 50′ high!

As I walk around EBC and visit with people I have known or emailed with for years, I am struck by a different feel this year. It is quiet. There seems to be almost a lack of urgency. Now – the weather has not helped with clouds building every day at noon and snow beginning in mid afternoon. Also it has been a bit cold.

Many teams have not had their puja, the ceremony before entering the Icefall yet. And some teams are still in transit to the south side. But what strikes me is the easy tone to the conversations. The leaders seem to be very relaxed. Climbers seem to be equally comfortable. There seems to be a lack of drama this year. All good things.

The central base camp is in the usual location at the base of the Khumbu Icefall. I estimate about 20 individual teams; I could be wrong. Banners mark the companies and a few have built low rock walls around their camps. They are all identical with individual sleeping tents, plus the support tents for eating, etc. And all have a great views! A confusing trail system provides some organization but it is easy to wander into the middle of someone's camp.

Hoping the melt does not come soon!

Teams send Sherpas as early as February to mark their camp site. Because it is on a moving glacier, the camps must be rebuilt each year. Some prefer to be as close to the Icefall as possible to shorten the entry and exit when climbing to the high camps. Other prefer the middle of camp, away from the hustle near the Icefall. And still others prefer to be even further away. With EBC often being a trekker destination, traffic can be high in the main camp and with teams coming and going, yak traffic can be high as well. So there is always something going on.

The farthest away is Himex followed by IMG. Both have taken the same place for several years partly due to their acclimatization rotations on Lobuche, a 5 hour trek from the main EBC. These are large teams requiring a lot of space for tents. These camps are quite a bit quieter than the main EBC, there is no noise from generators, parties or music.  They are not on the glacier directly thus are a bit warmer and more stable as the season moves towards summer.

I must admit however, it s a change of pace being out of the main city from my previous Everest climbs and one that I prefer. But If you want to visit the neighbors, it is a short walk.

I spent some time today with Dr. Luanne Freer of Everest ER. This is her 9th season to provide medical support at EBC. She said they had treated 53 people in the first 7 days with all the usual issues: altitude, GI, infections and had 2 evacuations already. She runs the clinic on donations and IMG paid for every climber so that we have medical support from the three volunteer doctors.

What is nice is that once a team pays for the climbers, all their Sherpas, cooks, porters – anyone with their team receives medical services. Luanne has been trying to get the Nepal Ministry to include a $100 per climber fee to the permit to fund the clinic thus eliminating the need to ask for donations each year. I strongly support this suggestion.


Our IMG Sherpas have already climbed to Camp 2 at the base of the Lhotse Face to begin establishing our Advanced Base Camp. They report the longest ladder this year is only two long. This is great news in that it means people will move faster through the Icefall. No word yet on the number of crossing but it should be in the 25 to 30 range.

Tomorrow, we will trek to Lobuche Base Camp so I will not have full access to my systems for posts but will do some short updates. Then we will climb Lobuche on early Friday night for our acclimatization.

Climb On!
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

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