Gorak Shep, Nepal—17,033 feet (5,192 meters)
N 27º58.825' E 086º 49.707'
No sooner had I proclaimed a “season of no snow” than it got busy snowing. About three or four inches [eight to ten centimeters] our first night at Lobuche and then another two inches [five centimeters] yesterday afternoon. Both days were sunny to start and then gave way to big dark cumulus clouds with thunder and lightning to finish. The snow hasn’t made the walking any more difficult for those of us with ski poles, boots, and gaiters. The ultrabright new snow surface, combined with intense high-altitude sunshine, can be hard on uncovered skin or eyeballs, but all of us are taking great care in those departments.
New snow down in these parts doesn’t necessarily mean that the upper reaches of the big peaks are getting it, but one can hope. There isn’t much question in my mind that the normal Nepalese route to the top of Mount Everest is easier and safer with ample snow cover. Particularly if it will be a busy and “crowded” season as this one shows every sign of being, then it will be best to have the loose rock covered with snow and frozen firmly in place. We can worry about such things more in a month or so. For now though, I won’t mind if it snows each afternoon.
These last days on the trail have been extremely busy and congested, not quite like Interstate 5 through Seattle, but busy as heck with foot traffic nonetheless. Much of the Khumbu Valley is focused—in these weeks—on the Everest business, and as we come within a day or two of the mountain, all of that “traffic” becomes concentrated on a single segment of trail. Our expedition is one of perhaps 30 trying to move tons of gear by porter and yak-train to the head of the valley right now. Additionally, numerous and large trekking groups along with Everest climbing teams are all on the same trail and in the same few teahouses now.
That isn’t all a bad thing. Last night, the dining room of our Lobuche teahouse felt something like a school reunion for me, what with Scottish David Hamilton—the leader of the Adventure Consultants team—showing up. I’d last seen him in December in Antarctica. Ang Dorje, who has been living with his family in Eastern Washington and building wind turbine towers since I last saw him on Everest, was in the room. So was Austrian Walter Laserer, who was skiing around the upper reaches of Alaska’s Kahiltna Glacier when I bumped into him in July. There was Lobsang, who’d led a trek I was on in the year 2000. Passang, who’d led the Hillary Step and been key to my tagging the top in October of 2006, was over standing by the stove.
Yesterday, I accompanied Ed Dohring on a round-trip hike from Lobuche to Base Camp. His GPS calculated that we moved over 11 miles [18 kilometers] in the process, and we did it in pretty good time, considering that we stopped nearly every 200 feet [60 meters] for me to say hi to another friend or acquaintance from the mountains. It can be a lot of fun, but at times it can be overwhelming to meet casually and between yak horns and tails for a moment with a climber or Sherpa that I’ve shared life-shaping expeditions with. Ed Dohring is now on his way home, as was planned all along. We finished his trip with that exploration of Base Camp, which is already quite impressive with tents popping up in every direction. While there, we sat outside eating plates of rice (our Sherpa team already has things up and running and ready for the team’s arrival tomorrow) and gazing up at the jumble of the Khumbu Icefall. We could see the Icefall Doctors pushing the route of ladders and rope in the upper “popcorn” section, perhaps a third of the way through the Icefall. We dropped back down to Lobuche in the swirling snows and rejoined the team for a last night together. Ed and Erica said goodbye to each other this morning, as he left for Namche and we left for Gorak Shep.
A gorak is a big black bird that lives up high, a lot like a raven. Gorak Shep then translates to “dead raven,” which doesn’t truly do the place justice. Or maybe it does. Not much of a “town” up here in this large, sandy, dusty flat spot on the lateral moraines of the Khumbu. The place is important to trekkers, as it is the jumping-off point for the short hike up Kalapathar. KP, at around 18,500 feet [5,639 meters], is the lowest part of a ridge that merges into steep and sharp Pumori, and when one finishes hiking all of that ridge that can be hiked without specialized tools, one can get a big and famous view of Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse. Or... one can go to an Internet café... at 17,000 feet [5,182 meters] and 25 rupees per minute. The Web is in the Shep.
Our team is spending a final night on the trek. Tomorrow we’ll go into Everest Base Camp and begin focusing more on the climb.