Dispatch—Day 17: April 12, 2009
Climbers Receive Puja Blessing
Photo: Puja Ceremony
By Dave Hahn
Photograph by Jake Norton

Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'

The clouds blew in the right direction today. In fact, everything lined up just right in most ways today. It was an auspicious day... so judged by our Sherpa team after a careful reading of the Tibetan calendar. Auspicious enough that our Puja ceremony was held today. Doubly auspicious because it was Easter Sunday. Thrice auspicious because it was the nicest day we’ve had in a week.

Peter Whittaker revealed that he’d stayed up last night with a few of the Sherpa team in the kitchen to decorate Easter eggs. Not so surprisingly, the Sherpas had not gone through that particular ritual before and Peter said they fully got into the task, coloring boiled eggs and attaching bright stickers. They were excited at the convergence of Easter, the planned Puja and a Sunday to boot.

Peter kept all of this to himself and arose at 5 a.m. to hop down the bunny trail to his partners’ tents and quietly salt the area with Easter eggs. He said he was surprised to run into another rabbit out there secretly doing the same thing. Linden Mallory had his own egg planting plans for the morning and was busily hiding colored plastic eggs with prizes within.

After breakfast and before the Puja began, the team (those who had not been bunnies) chased around searching for eggs. Jeff Martin and Linden made things interesting by mentioning that two of the eggs held special prizes. Ed Viesturs quickly tracked down the one that granted its discoverer the free drink of his choice from Gorak Shep. It took Seth Waterfall a bit longer to hone in on the bright blue egg that held the $20 cash prize.

And then it was Puja time. The Puja is a ceremony quite important to our Sherpa team, and thus to us as well. In it, we ask the blessing of the mountain gods before setting foot on this sacred—and dangerous—mountain. A lama came up from Pangboche in order to read the correct prayers and chants. Our Sherpa team had worked throughout the morning to prepare a stone chorten as a sort of alter for the ceremony. Incense and juniper were lit as a way of sending fragrant smoke upward in offering. Partway through the three-hour observance, a prayer mast was erected and flags unfurled in all directions.

Our First Ascent team sat drinking tea and taking pictures of the colorful scene... but also contemplating the seriousness of an undertaking that requires so much blessing. The latter stages of the Puja involve a good deal of celebrating and toasting and tossing of rice. Finally, everybody grabs a big handful of tsampa (barley flour) and tosses half of it in the air while saving half to smear on the faces of ones climbing partners. As you’d expect, this gets out of hand... and into hair, cameras, eyes, ears, and everything as one and all laugh, shake hands, and fist bump.

Our Sherpa team then invited us to join them in linking arms for a last half hour of carefree dancing and singing. We sang along and nobody seemed to mind that we didn’t know either the words or the dance steps.

The word is that the last 200 meters [656 feet] or so of the route to Camp I are giving the Icefall Doctors a special challenge. We are hoping each day now to hear that they’ve forged some sort of passage. Tomorrow we resume our training at the foot of the Icefall. We’ll be rested, blessed, and ready.

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