Made it — Base Camp Everest

Feature image is of a simple stone inscribed with the words; “Everest Base Camp 2019”.  Shockingly, there is not grand sign set up at Base Camp explaining anything.  The reason is because the camp sits on a glacier and each year, the location shifts so a permanent sign would move over time.  Anyway, no matter, the flags surrounding this inscribed stone was just fine and comforting — albeit freezing and super windy.

And so it’s done, made it to Base Camp.  I am writing this a few days after the result and yes, I missed a few days before.  I guess that I needed to reflect.

The day or two before reaching Base Camp, I felt like I really had nothing more to add to my posts.  It was fine during the days, say between 30 and 40 degrees which is just great for hiking.  The effort was moderate and sometimes hard for me but I took baby steps — always within my head saying, “one step at a time”, even if there were a thousand steps, no matter, look down and just do it — and sure the elevation was getting up there each day.  If I think about it now, we hiked up some pretty sketchy trails over a mile into the sky — starting at around 8,500 ft and getting to just passed 17,500 feet which is really almost 2 miles up.  At one point we did go to almost 18,000 feet before the official base camp and that was neat to witness.

But back to the thought that it was getting to be more of the same, decent days, cold, but manageable and nights were just   unbearable.  We had not taken a shower going up for I think about 7 days and then down we did not shower until we got back to Lukla, ground zero starting and ending point — so not sure exactly how many days without a change of clothes and soap.  Hygiene was become unpleasant, but honestly, Paula nor I who are clean freaks did not even talk about it — its just what you need to do and no bitching will help anyway.  Everyone around us is in the same condition. No showers, no shaves and disgusting hair — if I had any.

In exchange for a shower, we used wet wipes in the morning to take off the dirt from underarms, butts, feet or whatever, and I’m telling you when the room your in is probably 0 degrees F, you find it real hard to get the energy to do the hygienic thing. It was just so painful.  Toilets at some early point long ago turned to holes in the ground with no running water anywhere because it was frozen or never existed — not that we had our own source.  Typically there were at least one toilet on a floor and possibly 2 floors of just the most basic or structure we can call a room.  If a toilet and not a hole, it is not a flushing toilet — there is a huge barrel and your supposed to fill the basin with the dirty water to push the garbage down a hole.  Sinks may have been shared somewhere on the floor, but after seeing my first shared dusgusting sink early on, it was not going to play along with that game or I would barf right there.  We brushed our teeth by getting some fresh water in a bottle that I made by plunging with a filter, then we each took turns brushing and spitting into a waste basket in the room — and that was it for a week or more.  No sink, fuck it, we have a basket.  Paula never complained, nor I, which is not typical for me, but in this case nobody would give a shit.  Our sleeping bags were rated for 0 degrees F (-20 C) and it was on the whole, not warm enough at this stage.  Nights got shorter and shorter until we were in bed by 8;30pm the last few days just to sleep away the hardship.  And that was that for the final couple of days and to be honest, I had no energy to write posts — even if they were a remembrance for myself in a few years.  When I do bring out the laptop, its frozen cold and impossible to make it happen.  Last, interesting, the batteries on all our products only last for a short time — the cold weather kills batteries and there is no electricity at these heights — its all about back up batteries I brought with me and charged along the way.

The scenery outside during the hikes got interesting too because we were high above the tree line and all the mountains were really 360 degrees around us.  That was cool and hard to take in daily because I honestly felt blessed to be engulfed by the Himalayan mountains all around us.

I’ve been throughout the Andes extensively and crazy enough, those are baby hills compared to these monoliths of nature.  Like the Czech guy we passed days ago said — nothing on earth compares with these fucking crazy heights.  Its mesmerizing just thinking about it.   No doubt, I will only be disappointed when comparing other mountain ranges which I visit to hike or play.  But then again, its not all about that — its just a blessing as I’ve said many times along my trek.  Leave it at that and move on without judgment… Will be hard, but a must to do.

Getting closer to the top we saw a huge increase in shipments being delivered to base camp by all types of mammals acting as beast of burden; humans, yaks, etc.  Chairs, walls, food, metal products, just about everything that a full on summit team would need to survive for the 2 months at camps with a crew of maybe 20 each.  All carried on the backs of poorly paid animals and humans — up to 150 lbs on each back.

It was the last night that pushed me over the edge and I broke, really.  We had made it to base camp traversing over some seriously giant boulders and tons of them and it seemed as if it would never stop — the risks of crossing this field of giant boulders was real and in the back of my mind.  It took us at least 2 hours going up and down past a field probably left from the ice age where a glacier had pushed these massive stones around — to get to base camp from town and another 2 hours back to town.  If you looked at it without a guide or others, you would think it was impassable, but it was not, we did it.  Got to the camp and I felt some real pride.  Its almost like you have to do the final test before getting the prize of getting to the Camp.  But we could only stay less than a half hour because the winds were howling and the temperature was dropping like a rock — we needed to take a few pictures, say hey, then get back up to our night sleep location — hell.

So cold was it, that I really felt like I had lost my mind.  No heat in the entire tea house and about 10 base camp hikers like ourselves, then there was a team of Sherpas waiting for their groups to coagulate at the camp and until then, they would stay at our tea lodge waiting.  These sherpas stood out as professional summiteers.  There were about 5 or 6 lead guides, like Prickass and a ton of porters carrying the load for many of us hikers.  Thats the scene.  Paula and I just shivered and froze inside and I really was wondering what it was all about.

Finally around 6pm, the tea house keeper lit a fire in the old yak shit burning stove in the center of the room.  All 10 of us hikers circled around the furnace to get warm and it worked.  We all introduced ourselves and it was a great group of people from all walks of life.  It’s pretty clear to me now that I along with Paula were probably twice the age of the next closest neighbor in the circle — I think that nobody was older than 30.  I guess that’s good for us to share in the same interests as much younger buddies, but all the same — any chance of turning back the clock?

We had a cyclist from Austria who is taking off the year to bicycle around the globe as far as he could get inside of a year — and he will return to his job which position is held open for him.  He left his bicycle in Kathmandu and will return to it upon the conclusion of his Base Camp hike here.  There were another couple from Austria and Germany who had been traveling constantly for the past 6 or 9 months, can’t remember.  After this hike, they are also going back home and they have been all over from South America, Patagonia to the USA, Grand Canyon to Asia and India and now Nepal.  Another chap from Australia was alone and a character — he actually remembered everyones name around the circle and this was not his first time doing that trick, I’m sure.  He was a lawyer in Australia and I’m not sure about much more — just an upbeat dude, and very nice temperament without being obnoxious.  Of course we had our buddy from Singapore.  He worked from Fidelity investments as an advisor and quit to look for greener pastures — thinking about going professional as a poker player.  I liked him — he reminded me of a guy I know, Larry Schecter — just doing his thing and decided to come to base camp just two weeks prior and jumped on a plane without too much preparation — although the cold weather did bite him bad.   There was a girl wearing Gucci slippers and some kind of designer pants while chilling inside the tea house — who came alone and I would guess she was 25 years old or so.  Her father owns the world famous lodges at the Sanctuary Trail in Peru.  Nice girl, but not sure about her situation.  She was freezing and odd to some extent, but on another level, she was just out for a good experience and she did not bitch.  Another Aussie lady who had been on 7 different treks over the years — always with the same guide.  She took in more information than she gave — still nice enough.  Last was a brother and sister act who traveled together — originally from Columbus, Ohio.  Sister, is in her early 20’s and has taken a semester from Ohio State to school in Thailand.  Brother, mid-20’s, a mechanical engineer grad from Ohio State who just wants to bum around and stay away from work at all costs.  Odd brother-sister act, but they have the travel bug and because he decided not to go to work yet, he wants to meet sister during her breaks and travel around Asia or wherever.  His plan was to travel by tent at $1 per day, but because the Base Camp Trek is so cold, he had to stay away from the tent and stay in the freezing non-heated tea house — sister was cute, naive, thoughtful and freezing, brother was a nutty guy and he did not care at all and had an opinion on everything in a scientific way.  They were planning — or he was planning their next trip to Mt Fuji in Japan.  All I know is that I was wearing 3 layers of clothes on top plus my Canada Goose jacket, below was flannel pants and then hiking pants on top of that, and was still shaking cold when walking away from the fireplace.

Paula had asked me what is the hike all about?  Like what is the deal and why do people do it?  They are not the summiteers, we are merely people hiking and leaving the real work to the hard athletes.  I really have no answer myself other than we all do what we can do — and if that is going to base camp, good enough.  If it is to be solid hardened and summit Everest, good for you.  Everyone can trek to their ability and thats just fine.

With that backdrop, I asked everyone around the circle, what are you doing here?  Unsurprisingly, no one answer fits all, but I think if I were to look at this group, I see mostly athletic people who do lots of outdoor adventures which include some kind of exercise I suppose and not tied to a 9-5 job for some reason.  The theme really was they came because Everest is there and its a fun place to visit and maybe because its not mainstream.  Nothing much deeper and not surprisingly.

The last night, my head was pounding and I was gasping for air while sleeping — and a bit scared to be honest.  It’s not a great feeling looking for air and doing a lot of double breathing to take in more oxygen.  Its the super thin air that I feared but I was on a high that I had made it so we would be going down hill from tomorrow on.

A final note about acclimatization; we learned that a large amount of people who start the trek, drop out along the way prior to reaching the objective goal at 17,500 feet.  I really did not think it was going to be that bad, but apparently it is and some said that almost half dropped out along the way — to be verified, but not the point, lots of people leave early.  In fact, a few days prior, we met a lady architect from Brazil who was traveling with her girlfriend and her girlfriends husband — unfortunately, her friend took ill  with heart and breathing issues and had to be medivaced back down to Kathmandu.  Looking outside the window of the base camp tea house, another person got taken down by helicopter, out and of course there were the those crazy people who felt sick, but instead of bailing, they hauled up to a rented horse for a ride to base camp — they passed us while we were going back to the camp — seemed super dangerous — those treks to base camp were so dicy at the best of times, forget on the back of a horse.  I suppose that Paula and I were lucky even though we came prepared with the right drugs and right attitude — and probably more likely, we were super lucky to make it through.

I feel that after this conclusion, I along with Paula successfully did something which makes my not-so-new and unique lifestyle a bit deeper in perspective.  I may have given up a few bucks by giving up work, but my life experiences justify in my mind why I have made this decision.  Going to Everest is not a decision because I am an athlete, its because I’m looking for more in life I suppose then pressing the metal to the pedal and doing whatever others may do — which I respect too, just not for me right now.  It was nice because although we were both pushed to our limits in different ways — Paula it was the cold,  zero creature comforts which did not bother but I think the altitude mostly got to her, for me it was the actual hike which did take effort for most people along with the other shit — we did not fight or get upset with one another — we just carried on and I love that.  It was shit hard from one perspective — super rewarding from another.

Until our next adventure…

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