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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
Apr 142014

Everest Base Camp Sherpa TeaThe communication problems for teams now at Everest Base Camp is improving, slightly. The Ncell mobile network is still down but the Mercantile Communications systems seems to be up as well as the satellite access. A good omen for New Year’s day in Nepal, year 2071!

It has been snowing and cloudy at base camp for several days taking a toll on solar charging capability. It is often all about power, there are no power lines in the upper Khumbu or Everest Base Camp.

In spite of the comms issues, teams are settling into base camp after their week or more trek. Many had their Puja ceremony over the weekend, worked on the obstacle course to hone fixed rope skills and are resting up. The next big event is the climb to Camp 1 through the Khumbu Icefall. The RMI team did their first sorte’ into the icefall, about halfway up just to get a feel for the ladders.

The Sherpas from almost every team are already in the Icefall taking tents, stoves, fuel, and oxygen bottles higher. At this point, every morning around 4:00 am there is a long line of headlamps snaking their way up the Icefall. Usually the Sherpa will climb to Camp 1 and even Camp 2 and return before some westerners crawl out of their tent to start the day!

Happy to Be at EBC

Jeff Smith with Himex said all is well, albeit with the normal adjustment period, with his team just before they leave EBC to acclimatize on Lobuche:

Got some wifi at last, so here’s a quick update, tomorrow 15th, we leave to climb a local peak called Lobuche, which is 6400m and will allow us to acclimatise safer than going over the Khumbu Icefall too many times as it is one of the most dangerous parts of the climb. We climb and sleep for about a week, and then back to BC to recover.

I have been acclimatising ok apart from the one terrible night where I lost my appetite, started hallucinating, and had a stonking headache, oh the joys of altitude, I’m much better now, but it was the worst I’ve ever had, so hopefully I’m in the groove now. I think this is day 18 of being away from home, which is very tough, but I knew what I signed up for, so I just need to keep on being strong. We had our Puja religious ceremony yesterday, which was great being blessed, and a super colourful ritual. So tomorrow crampons and climbing gear on, and the next step on this great journey begins.

Similarly David Bradley with Jagged Globe discussed how pleased he was to be at base camp:

At last – a new blog update. Communications and charging facilities have been non-existent for a week. We are now at base camp. We stayed at Dingboche and Chukkung in the Imja Valley and did a couple of high climbs before making our way to base camp via Gorak Shep where we climbed Kala Pattar.

I have had real difficulty eating the lodge food. Maybe I am too picky but the constant supply of fried pasta, noodles and potatoes all tainted with the smell of burning Yak dung and eaten in the half light, meant that I arrived in base camp in pretty poor shape. On Jagged Globe advice I visited the doctor who said that I had no symptoms of AMS (acute mountain sickness) but I that my reserves were seriously depleted. Fortunately we have a few days rest and the food at base camp is really good. I am feeling better – particularly as normal bodily functions have also returned.

Jagged Globe, who pride themselves on over the top food, welcomed their team with a feast:

We’re all settled in at base camp nicely after a cool, snowy walk up yesterday. We were greeted with a sausages and mash dinner complete with onion gravy then a chocolate marble sponge pudding with chocolate sauce – all a very welcome change from the standard tea house fare of recent days.

Meanwhile, teams traveling over road to the Chinese Base Camp for Everest or Cho Oyu are making good progress. They are passing through some of the most desolate, poverty stricken towns on earth in central Tibet. Historically the hotels have been about as basic as one can find but Jim Walkley, with the Triple 8 team, posted this insight on improvements:

Last town before basecamp, Tingri is a simple town at 14,000? with a strip of simple buildings on either side of the highway, which itself is actually very well constructed. You can see the Chinese influence from an infrastructure standpoint – great road in particular.

Apparently these teahouses were much worse in the past but are quite decent today. Imagine a Motel 6 with no heat and only sporadic hot water, but we have our own rooms with two beds each that we share and a private toilet, which is big step-up even from most teahouses in the Khumbu Valley in Nepal where shared toilets at the end of the hall are the norm. We are having a rest day today to acclimate to 14,000? and then we head to Cho Oyu base camp tomorrow.

Wingsuit Jump Airing

The Discovery Channel has announced the date for Joby Ogwyn’s wingsuit flight from the summit of Everest as May 11. This lines up with my previous thought that he will most likely climb as close as possible with the Sherpa fixing the ropes to the summit to avoid any delays from other climbers.

Of course, the weather has the last say for any schedule. The normal weather pattern for Everest is a good April, followed by poor early May then the traditional weather window starting around May 15th. The sweet spot for Everest summits is between May 13th and May 22nd with 70% of the summits historically occurring during this period.

In addition to a live broadcast of his jump, there will be a week of nightly, behind the scenes, shows. This will most likely blow away the ratings from the extremely popular Everest Beyond the Limits, series a few years ago. Reports say they are spending $10 million on this event.

Everest Base Camp

Arriving at base camp is a milestone for any Everest climber. It ends your life as a trekker, or perhaps some would say a tourist, and now you become focused as a climber.

Looking at Everest from the summit of Kala Patar, you felt small, The walk up from the last village of Gorak Shep gave you one more doubt as you began to breath heavily walking the winding dirt trail amongst the large boulders.

Nearing the summit of Kala Patar, you heard the prayer flags blowing in the strong wind. But sound was not the sense that occupied your brain, it was sight. Everest. You now saw Everest like you never had during the trek. It is big, no huge, no larger than huge …

The plume was large, no huge – soon you run out of words. The winds on the summit are probably over 150 mph creating a long horizontal white cloud -a plume – that appeared solid but you knew it was a maelstrom of destructive motion. Today was not a summit day.

The final walk to base camp took only a few hours. You felt good, walking at a brisk pace. The slow 10 day schedule had paid off, your body was adjusting. The Khumbu Glacier was now at your right side as your walked a tightrope of narrow trails high up on the dirt and rock glacial walls.

You tried to keep your eyes on the trail but kept glancing ahead looking for home, looking for Everest. All of a sudden you are brought out of your trance by the sounds of bells. Yak train coming! You step off the trail on the uphill side. You knew of the story, or legend, of a climber killed when an unaware yak brushed him off the steep side, falling hundreds of feet to the river below.

The trail goes down, now that was different, you say to yourself and then back up as you cross the running waters of the melting snow; snow that may have fallen on the summit itself, you wonder.

Activity picks up as you get closer. Porters with huge loads pass you going in. Porters with no loads seem to be running by you as they leave. Yaks, Zo’s, more yaks some black, others blond, huge horns that threaten. Yak or Nak, you can’t tell but all you know is they are huge.

You pass a rock with “Wel-come to Everest Base Camp” painted in large letters. Soon you see one yellow tent, then another followed by a large green one. Within minutes an entire tent city emerges revealing a frenzied environment.

A series of trails create a maze of roads throughout the city. There is little dirt, you are now on ice, the Khumbu Glacier. Huge boulders sit atop an ice pillar, a tent pitched underneath. You wonder …

You pass by teams sitting outside enjoying the rare noon sunshine this early in the season. But it doesn’t last long as the afternoon clouds move in, driving everyone back into their tents looking for their down jackets.

You hear your name being called. You stop and look around, it is your Sidar, the lead Sherpa for your team. He recognized you. You feel good, welcomed. They have been here for over a week, some over a month, preparing the tent platforms, building walls, pitching tents, making a home out of nothing.

The head cook comes out with the ubiquitous red flower thermos bottle. He pours you a cup of hot lemon. It goes down easily. Everyone smiles as you take off your day pack and have a seat on one of the chairs. You are warm with the sun now back out.

Soon you go to your tent, a three man yellow tent only for you. It is number three in a row of seven. You memorize the location knowing you will be making midnight runs to the toilet.

Your two duffel bags sit outside your tent. They made it from home. As you crawl into your tent, you sit cross-legged on the soft foam mattress already inside. It is nice but you are glad you brought your own thicker air mattress for base camp.

Sitting quietly, you hear the sounds of base camp, the low hiss of gas stoves, the fast conversation of the Sherpa in Nepali or Sherpa, you can’t tell. A few words of English, a teammate just arriving. The gentle breeze making the tent door flap against itself. These are the sounds of base camp, the sounds that will keep you company the next six weeks.

Reaching in your duffel, you begin to make this your home; your pad, your sleeping bag, your headlamp, your collection of midnight  snacks, and your pictures.

You line them up in the mesh side pockets on the side of the tent. You put the large one in the pocket strung from the tent ceiling so you can see it easily while lying on your back.

Taking off your boots, you lie down in your nest. It is comfortable, soft, warm. It feels good, comforting. You close your eyes and let out a long breath. Opening your eyes you look up, at the picture. The reaction is involuntary. The lump in your throat actually hurts, the water in your eyes, real.

A paradox of emotions consume you.

Then without warning, someone bangs a frying pan so loudly you actually jump into a sitting position. It is time for lunch. Welcome to Everest Base Camp.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything



  22 Responses to “Everest 2014: Base Camp Life”

  1. WOW , What a beautiful writing .You like a painter and pait so nicely that I am in EBC and I know that from now your writing also help me to climb with you and feel as if I am there .
    Thank you very much Alan

  2. Great description Alan, makes me wanna go back!

  3. Hi Alan,

    There is such an overwhelming majority of positive feedback on your ‘creative writing’, Alan, that I almost feel bad submitting a dissenting opinion. But, in the spirit of ‘constructive feedback’, and on the off-chance that it passes the censor, here goes…

    The best writing paints an outline, allowing and encouraging the reader to use their imagination and other sources of knowledge to flesh out the details and even place themselves in the picture, ideally prompting contemplation of turning that into personal action. It leaves the reader wanting more, to see more and learn more and experience the subject. Your writing, on the other hand, is more like someone has stuck a Go-Pro on their head and is narrating their every thought and feeling while going somewhere – and the audience is strapped to a chair with their eyes forced open while watching this first-person perspective film in wide-screen, high-definition, with the volume right up load. It tells you what to think and feel and likely leaves the reader feeling like they’ve been where you have without moving from their computer screen. Based on the feedback, it really sounds like that is what your readers want, and that’s a shame.

    I’d recommend reading everything written by Greg Child, Geoff Childs, Mark Jenkins [especially his latest piece in Ascent ;)], and Chris Bonnington for an example of what I’m talking about, but given the length of time you’ve been doing this website, I’m assuming you have.

    Otherwise, I know your updates serve a valuable purpose for the friends and families of the crowds on Everest, so keep it up.



    • Thanks Will, based on your feedback, you are going to hate my next post! 🙂 Assuming you remain a reader …

      • Chuckle! If I do, I’ll keep it to myself – it’d be churlish to criticise after such a fair advance warning!

    • I’m not sure if this is going to be read as the originals were a couple of days ago, but as one of Alan’s regular readers I can share my perspective on his writing versus the others you’ve mentioned. I am a voracious reader of mountain literature; books, articles, blogs, other websites, autobiographies, etc. I don’t read much fiction about mountains, but I read as much and as varied as I can about climbing and, for that matter, polar exploration past and present. You are right, Will, that having that kind of writing is valuable and lets the reader experience more on their own. But not having ever climbed anything, I find a great deal of value in also reading what the experience is specifically like for Alan or anyone else who actually is there. I think there is room for all kinds of writing and they all have value, at least to me. I find that the kind of writing the Alan does informs my thoughts on other types of non-fiction, but does not force me into some kind of niche. And, as I’m sure you know, all of Alan’s writing during the Everest climbing season is not of this type. It is often more reporting of what is going on, sometimes with his opinions and sometimes just reporting. I like a variety and read Alan’s posts year-round, as well as support Alzheimer’s research in various ways just because he supports it. I love what Greg Child and Chris Bonnington have written as well as other climbers and non climbers. Even the so-so stuff usually has some redeeming quality (usually). I rarely put something down because of the writing, although it has happened.

      Anyway, just my perspective as a regular reader.


      • Thanks Beth. Writing is like music, thankfully there are many styles that appeal to many different people and not everyone agrees, such is the basis for diversity. I’m glad we’re not all the same – how boring 🙂

  4. Ellen, a lot of money that will bring a lot of advertising ….

  5. Thanks Margaret, Sue.

  6. Alan – I enjoy all your posts, but this one in particular literally transported me back to last year. You captured the essence of the first hours in base camp so remarkably well. Bravo!!

  7. Wow…it is captivating.

  8. WOW, Alan!!!!!!!!!! Awesomely descriptive!!!

  9. As an artist’s brush strokes across canvas, your words paint a detailed, colorful portrait for the mind’s eye. It is a very special gift for those of us who have not been there.

    And, sending positive thoughts and prayers for all to remain healthy, collect memories, climb carefully, and return home.

    Thanks for your dedication to this blog!

  10. Beautifully written…so vivid

  11. Fascinating!!! I am so obsessed with Everst. Love reading what you write, thank you Alan!!

  12. To any other californian who is filing late (like me), it’s easy to donate to Alzheimer’s research while filing. Another great way to support Alan’s cause and thank him for what he does for us.

    Thank you Alan!


  13. Brilliantly written, I can literally picture the scene and feel the emotions.

  14. Saw a promo last night for the wingsuit jump…great description of base camp, for those of us who will never get to see it. Thanks!

  15. Thanks Alan, such a vivid description of Base Camp.

  16. Excellent reading Alan, I too thought I was there!


    Mount Everest The British Story

  17. For a minute there I thought I was back in EBC.

  18. For a minute there I thought I was back in EBC.