Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28° 00.336' E 086° 51.504'
Coming into the teahouse dining room this morning under low, cloudy skies with a trace of new snow on the ground, it was obvious that we were each ready to be finished with trekking. Enough of the team was battling sniffles or tummy troubles that we were all getting borderline paranoid about sharing germs with so many others in these common spaces. We were ready to make it to our own base camp and our own dining tent... we were anxious to meet our Sherpa climbing team and get started on a big climbing project.
But for all of our restlessness, Gorak Shep hadn’t been that bad a place for our team. A number of us hiked up Kalapathar yesterday evening in order to catch the sunset. In contrast to the ample daytime traffic for this sought-after destination, by 5 p.m. there were only a handful of folks left on the hill and these were hurrying down while we strolled up. The afternoon had been cloudy with periodic snow showers, but the higher we got, the more the clouds fell away from Everest and Nuptse and Pumori. We took picture after picture as the light changed and then trotted down in the dark when it had all been expended.
We joined the flow of traffic around 8:30 this morning for what we knew would be a relatively short and easy climb into base camp. The low cloud seemed to muffle sound and it was almost a relief to have our field of vision minimized so that we could concentrate on walking instead of gawking at the great peaks. Our path was, at first, along the rock and dirt of the lateral moraine and then finally we dropped down onto the glacial surface itself for the last half hour into camp. We passed plenty of fully dedicated trekkers, bent over and gasping for breath and I was reminded of how much importance is placed, by so many, in simply getting to Everest Base Camp, with no thought whatsoever of climbing the mountains above. I felt a little sympathy over the diminished views for these folks, but then the clouds began to break and lift as we reached the first tents. By the time we marched into our own camp, we could see plenty, including the rough and intimidating Khumbu Icefall stretching up toward the Western Cwm.
We could also see that our Sherpa team had been hard at work in preparing our camp. We greeted them, as well as Ed Viesturs, Jeff Martin and Linden Mallory who’d come ahead yesterday to help get things in order. We wrestled with duffle bags for a time and moved into neat and new First Ascent tents. I made a quick exploration of a few of the surrounding camps to say hello to old friends but then I hurried back to my own camp for a lunch with my team. We strategized a bit and laid out a few of the normal ground rules that make living so closely for so long, not only possible but enjoyable. Then we gathered outside with the entire team, including base camp personnel and climbing Sherpas and then each person introduced themselves and said a few words. Some of us chuckled to hear the casual delivery the older veteran climbers gave to their extensive resumes. It is funny to realize that we are in a place where someone might just forget to mention that time they climbed K2 or Ama Dablam or Kangchenjunga. Peter Whittaker reminded one and all that our top priority on this trip would be safety—for which he got plenty of agreeing and understanding nods in return.
Then it got cloudy and a bit snowy again as most took the opportunity for a quick nap. I enjoyed scattering my junk in my own tent and plopping down in the middle of it all, drifting off to the thunder of avalanches as the glaciers around BC pushed one railroad-car-sized chunk after another over great drop-offs. We are in the midst of a crazy tapestry of tents and boulders. At any given time, one can hear cooks chopping veggies, shovels scraping gravel, rocks being moved from place to place, a few tinny FM radios playing Nepali music and an occasional live voice breaking into song. As peculiar as it may sound, this already feels like home and I have to make myself remember that I was anywhere else for the past ten months.