MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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October 26, 2009

Everest Base Camp Trek - Dispatch #3

These days are not easy, but they are powerful. Over 14,000 ft, our bodies struggle to breathe, struggle to recuperate from any minor infraction (respiratory trouble, stomach ailments). Nonetheless we climb...and we reap the rewards.

At Lobuche and beyond, the mountains become massive. No longer a distant sweep of peaks, they are now individuals confronting us and towering over us. Nuptse, which was once a ridge in the foreground of Everest, is now a shiny face of veined black rock, slick like a mottled mirror. We curve around its side, cross over the Chang-Ri glacier, and contour briefly along the 5-mile Khumbu glacier, its creaking and cracking making clear that the glacier is indeed moving.

Gorak Shep is the final outpost of shelter in this extreme world of rock and ice, and we spend two nights here. The first afternoon, Kala Patar lures us up to its rocky peak. At 18,450 ft, it's the classic viewpoint of Everest, the highest point of the trip, and a tough climb in the thin air (only about 50% of the oxygen at sea level). Strewn with prayer flags, the summit offers 360-degree views of mountains including a close-up of Everest and a long line of mountains as far as the eye can see. Thamserku and Ama Dablam. Lhotse and Nuptse. Lingtren and Khumbutse. Mountains even in Tibet. And of course, the rounded snowy peak of Pumo-Ri right behind us, so close and huge that it seems taller than Everest from where we stand. Wind whipping and sun streaming down, we feel on top of the world! It's hard to believe the summit of Everest is another 10,000 ft above us. Unfathomable.

The following day was a long hike out to Everest Base Camp with Pemba Gyaljen Sherpa. Pemba is a well-known Nepali climber with an impressive record, and it's been exciting to have him co-guiding our group. He has summited Everest six times; has summited K2, Cho-Oyu, Monte Blanc, and Ama Dablam; and has successfully rescued climbers on these mountains after avalanches, exhaustion in the dead zone, and other dangerous situations. Pemba is not only a famous climber however--he's also a friendly guy with an easy laugh and is great to trek with!

While other groups turned back at lower base camp, Pemba took our group on another 45 minutes to the regular base camp and found the "Icefall Doctors." The Icefall Doctors have some 20-years of experience and are specialists at detecting the safest routes through the ever-changing Icefall all the way to Camp 2. They were out on the glacier preparing to set the ladders and fixed ropes for upcoming winter expeditions. Also out at base camp were the remnants of spring expeditions--strands of prayer flags from when lamas come to bless the start of each group's climb and stone structures which serve as kitchens and staff shelters during the long two months of acclimatization. Pemba was full of stories and information ranging from the 1952 Swiss expedition that first reached 8500 meters to his own experiences over the last seven years climbing with international expeditions (Irish, British, South African, and Austrian). After lunch and lots of photos in the perfect weather, our group turned around and headed back down to the warmth of the lodge at Gorak Shep.

Now the hard days are behind us. We drop 3,000 feet to Pheriche, a small village on a wind-swept plain. Everyone has a chance to recuperate--14,000 feet feels low and comfortable now! Tomorrow we take the high trail to visit the oldest monastery in the region before contouring around to Phortse. Built into the side of the mountain, Phortse is a village few groups visit. We're looking forward to the quiet trail, the chance to see wild mountain goats, and a visit to the monastery, recently painted by one of Darjeeling's finest artists.

Watch out for the yaks--here we go!