After three weeks of trekking, we’ve finally arrived at Everest Base Camp (5,300m), our home for the next couple of months. The trek in has been great and we are excited to be entering the climbing phase.
We’ve just met our Sirdar, cook staff, and will be soon meeting our climbing Sherpa. Our Sirdar, Kami, is the man who runs our Base Camp and, under Tim Mosedale, implements all logistics on the hill: ensuring that all our food, oxygen and tents are available and in good order and that our climbing gear is in the right places at the right time.
We have two cook teams: our Base Camp cook Bhim supported by three kitchen staff, Kylah, Pemba, and Jetta, and our Camp II cook Ganesh supported by Chirring. These guys are the key to our eating well in the two camps where we will be spending most of our time.
To cook at Camp I, Camp III, and our night at the South Col, we’ll be getting ice together, boiling water, and cooking up basic meals. Mosedale has also shipped over 350 kilos of food and snacks for the expedition team, much of it direct from the UK, to supplement the traditional cuisine. At some point on this trip each of us will suffer a loss of appetite, which is how bodies react to higher altitudes. To have a good cook and a wide variety of food, including home comforts, will help coax reluctant eaters back to a healthy appetite.
Everest Base Camp, just below the Khumbu Icefall, is far from flat and stretches out over more than a kilometre: it took us 30 minutes just to make our way from the entrance of the camp to our tents. The camp spurred into action almost a month ago with advance teams marking out their territories and starting to ship in all the gear required for a two-month stay on the mountain. There are no permanent structures and soon there will be nearly 1,000 people living here. Underfoot, Base Camp is a mix of ice and moraine (glacial debris , such as soil and rock) and each tent base is separately levelled out as much as possible.
The general etiquette is that climbing teams will keep their previous year’s boundaries and, as the number of climbers grow, new teams on the mountain will have to find new adjacent camp sites.
Teams from all over the world are in the process of setting up. The Himalayan Times out of Kathmandu is reporting that this will be a record year on the mountain, with 250 new permits from 27 expedition teams having already been issued on the south side, and with 70 permits due to be reused from 2015, the year that the Nepal earthquake hit (2017 is the last year such permits will be valid). It's still too early to have a reliable estimate of the number of climbers for the full season ahead, but the general feeling is that it will be busy.
How long we spend here will depend on how our bodies react to the altitude and how incident-free our rotations through the Khumbu Icefall up to Camp I (6,000m), Camp II (6,400m), and Camp III (7,200m) over the next few weeks prove to be. Assuming that all goes well, the timing for the actual summit attempt will depend on the arrival of a suitable weather window. Statistically mid-May is the most common period for summiting. This is the time of year when the jet stream, which normally hits the top of Everest with winds of up to 175mph, is counterbalanced by the conditions of the incoming monsoon.
During this period, the lowest winds (and the most favourable climbing conditions) are experienced in the Everest region. To assist their preparations, teams pore over the latest satellite data and meteorological models to predict when the best weather windows are most likely to occur. Everyone will be hoping for a number of long, stable weather windows. Occasionally, a lack of suitable weather windows have led to all teams targeting the same day. The queues that build up in such situations are potentially hazardous. Climbers forced to wait in freezing conditions are susceptible to frostbite.
While higher up the mountain we’ll be sharing tents to stay warm and avoid carrying excessive loads, at Base Camp each of us has a tent of their own. I see this as more of a necessity than a luxury. Base Camp is where we’re going to be recovering from our rotations higher up the mountain and is the closest we have to a home for a couple of months. I’ve even bought a carpet in Kathmandu to line my tent. We’ll be looking to establish a nice place to relax, read, listen to music and, most importantly, sleep.
Chocolate and frisbees
We’ve also ferried some personal loads straight to Base Camp which weren’t needed for the trek in. This includes the high-altitude gear such as my downsuit, 8,000m boots, crampons, ice axe, jumar (clamp to climb ropes), down booties, Cat 4 goggles, and luxury extras including nuts, chocolate, sweets, a variety of chilli sauces, books, games and frisbees.
Unlike other groups, which have taken a quicker trek up the valley to Base Camp, we should sleep well here this week. We’ve had a relaxed acclimatisation schedule so far, which included sleeping at 5,400m for two nights and crossing various high mountain passes, including Kongma La at 5,535m and Renjo La at 5,350m.
Over the coming days we’ll be preparing for the technical challenge of moving quickly and efficiently through the icefall: crossing the ladders, negotiating crevasses and seracs (a block of glacial ice). We’re due to observe a Puja set on April 19th. The Puja is a Buddhist blessing for the trip ahead. Only after that will we be ready to get on the mountain proper and head through the icefall for our first rotation to Camp I and Camp II. The current plan involves staying one to two nights at Camp I and then sleeping at Camp II before heading back to Base Camp.
I’ve also been keeping an eye on news for Everest for this season. There’s always going to be a mix of the ridiculous, the slightly random records and, of course, there will be real athletic achievements of note.
We just missed Paul Oakenfold’s Base Camp gig earlier this week. He reportedly played in front of 100 Sherpa and poorly acclimatised climbers. If he had played in early May he might have had 500 otherwise bored and well acclimatised individuals up for a laugh. At this stage of the season, most climbing teams are still trekking towards Base Camp and if they had just arrived, would hardly be in the best mood for a heavy repetitive bass beat to accompany their low throbbing headaches. Still fair play to the effort, fitting an Everest Base Camp trek and gig into a global tour schedule and, I have to admit, I still wish I had made it!
This year we also have the next instalment of an odd battle between two 80-year-olds for the age record. Former Gurkha soldier, Min Bahadar Sherchan, and legendary Japanese mountaineer, Yuichiro Miuri, have each held the age record previously (first Min at 76, then Yuichiro at 80) and Min is going to try again this year at 85. Yuichiro has already declared he’ll climb again at 90!
And professional mountaineers are setting new routes and records. Basque mountaineer, Alex Txikon, was attempting the first winter summit in over two decades without oxygen before having to abort in high winds in early March. Swiss mountaineer, Ueli Steck, will be at Base Camp when we arrive and will be attempting the first ever Everest-Lhotse traverse without oxygen and through the more difficult Hornbein Couloir. There is also a rumour he has a permit for the mountain of Nuptse and will be attempting a triple summit bid.
And so to the ridiculous. Jonathan Guidry and I, having played a full 18 hole frisbee golf championship final on Denali, Alaska last year, are planning an attempt to register the highest ever frisbee golf game somewhere high up on the mountain, for the craic clearly! If anyone would like to formally sponsor this extremely important event (all monies to charity – building schools in Makwanpur) please contact us through twitter @realrorymchugh.
In Dingboche village a few days ago we ran into the British Army Gurkha expedition. Their aim is to put a Gurkha on top of Everest. With their expedition team being 21 strong, it seems that they hope to mark that milestone in emphatic style. Members of the Gurkha Regiment had been on the mountain in 2015 when the earthquake hit, so this is their second attempt.
Dingboche was to be our final village for a few days and we took advantage of a rest day to wash clothes, play frisbee golf, send a few emails, and visit the various bakeries for cake and coffee. My clothes washing experience turned out to be less than perfect as the clothes were blown off the line, trampled and peed on by a couple of yaks, and then rehung by someone trying to be helpful before they froze just after sunset. Some washing in the next day or two at Base Camp is now a priority.
Now that we’re at Base Camp, it’s also time for goodbyes. It’s been great to have been joined this far on the adventure by my girlfriend Jo, my brother Michael, and good friends Bernie, Sami and Luca. The trek is over, the climbing begins.
Rory McHugh is climbing Everest in aid of Rory’s Nepal School Project with Child Rescue Nepal, to build schools in off-the-beaten track villages not yet recovered from the 2015 earthquake. He would also greatly appreciate your support on virginmoneygiving.com/letsbuildschools and blog on rorymchugh.com
You can follow his daily progress to the summit through the Garmin mapping site: share.garmin.com/roryeverest