We are now at Gorak Shep and will arrive at Everest Base Camp tomorrow, Monday April 13. While the route has been fixed through the Icefall to Camp 1, there have been no reports of teams starting their climbs. Most are either still trekking in or doing acclimatization exercises on Lobuche Peak, or to Pumori Camp 1 near Everest Base Camp.
As I have previously mentioned the route through the Khumbu Icefall takes a more right hand variation near Nuptse to avoid the potential serac danger off Everest’s West Shoulder that killed 16 last year. The route is reported to perhaps take a bit longer and have some long vertical ladders near the top, but lets wait until we actually go through it to make an assessment of the difficultly, and safety.
I will post pictures and videos based on my own experiences as I do my own rotations for Lhotse in a week or so.
2015 Everest Numbers Update
As for numbers, it appears last year’s tragedy has had little impact on Everest’s popularity from the south, the Nepal side. The Ministry of Tourism reported 319 individuals with Everest permits and 96 for Lhotse. 109 climbers from 2014 used their permits to return this year.
There were a few more teams yet to report so this may go up a bit. But the bottom line is that the number are almost the same as last year, certainly not a surge as reported in some circles or a dearth as some who went to the North wanted to see to justify their move.
Almost all the precautions announced by the Ministry of Tourism to “make Everest safer” from weather reports, to GPS systems to liaison officers and safety officials have yet to materialize. Once again, it is up to each climber to careful select their operator and to be self sufficient when climbing in Nepal.
Most teams are at their traditional levels of 8 to 12 members but there are a few Nepali operators with as many as 60 members thus changing the landscape and business model of Everest.
As always, lets hope for a safe season for all on both sides – full stop.
The Khumbu Personality
I have spent the last eight days trekking from Lukla to now at Gorak Shep. I can report that there is a change in the mood in the Khumbu. Sadly, the tea house operators seem not to be as accommodating as in the past.
The prices have gone up dramatically for everything from water to recharging batteries to alleged Wifi access. And it is crowded. I have seen many trekking teams of 30 to 40 members snaking along the trails. These crowds are making the teahouse dining rooms very crowded and nosey. Of course, I am part for the problem as I am trekking right along with them!
I am a bit dismayed by all the hype around wifi and the specifically the vendor EverestLink. Their website, emails and promotions marketed “high speed” Internet access from Lukla to Basecamp and you can cards at “100+ locations”. Thus far I’ve not been able to find one location selling the cards.
The problem seems to be that the teahouse operators sell their own access, through EverestLink, at an enormous profit thus will not sell individual access. The issue is that when you have 100 people trying to access a single link, it brings access to a complete stop. The teahouse operators are happy to sell you access for US15 a day and then shrug when you complain about the speed.
Similar, getting access to recharge batteries has come to a complete stop with teahouses overloaded with cell phones, laptops, cameras and the like.
So, let’s keep all of this in perspective. This is all in an extremely remote area where all this are luxuries. However, the problem is when expectations are set and money is taken with little recourse for misrepresentation.
So, as always, it is er beware. If batteries are important, bring your own solar panel. If communication back home is important, bring a satellite phone. And on and on.
I guess I’m just a bit disappointed and miss the smiles and helpful attitudes of a few years. Mind you they are there, just not for everything we all want in this modern era.
With all this said, I still find magic in the Khumbu. From the heavily forested lower Khumbu with rhodredrums to cherry and magnolias trees to the barren terrain above tree line where your eyes focus on 20,000 foot snow covered mountain tops.
Each step is like turning a page in a book. The children still laugh and play with glee as we walk by. They shout out a glorious Namaste and laugh in delight when you smile back at them. The Sherpa women are doing back breaking work in the small dirt plots growing potatoes for themselves and the thousand of visitors each year.
The Sherpas who are trekking along with us, remind me of why I love coming here. They are full of life, brimming with competency and confidence. They gladly answer the same question repeatedly, and their smiles are contagious.
On our way we stopped at the home of Lama Geshi, who has been owing blessings on climbers for decades. I first saw him in 1997. In 2010 he suffered a stroke. Many of you made a donation to help cover his hospital costs. On Friday, April 10th, I was so happy to see his smiling face, and large grin.
As he prayed for our safety, he beat a small drum on the table holding his prayer book, not that he needed it! He rang a bell and sprinkled holy water on us as he had us say O? ma?i padme h?? after him. He asked us to tell our friends back home to one another with loving kindness and that would bring peace to the world.
He gave each of us a white silk scarf and a golden string tied around our neck. Then he gently bumped his forehead against ours to seal the deal.
I can say that for me that I left his home with his blessing and a feeling of peace.
He is a special man.
As we trekked high and higher, we watched the huge plumes coming off Everest and Lhotse reminding us that what we are were about to do is deadly.
Today as we arrived at Gorak Shep several helicopter evacuated people with vacuous latitude related problems.
Yesterday, we passed the Sherpa and Everest climber memorial where too many rock chortens are built to honor those who died on the mountain. Our climbing Sidar, Purba, brother died last year. It was a poignant moment for me as I asked him about his brother and why Purba was coming back this year.
In a phrase, he simply said “Climbing is what Sherpas do.” He talked about the lack of other opportunities available to the Sherpa people if they want to stay here. He said his parents and wife wanted him to find different work, but that leading treks was not as lucrative as guiding on Everest.
I spoke with Dave Morton and Melissa Arnot a few days ago, both are here in the Khumbu, Melissa to climb Everest for the 6th time (this time with no O’s) and Dave working on the Juniper Fund. They said thousands of dollars have been distributed to the families of the fallen Sherpas from last year and they hoped to continue for a few more years. Many of the children have had their education paid for through college.
The Ministry of Tourism has increased medical and life insurance and imposed base pay levels so there has been some progress to come out of the tragedy.
For all the risks, the Sherpas are fully aware of what they are doing. No one is forcing them to guide. As I spoke with Phurba and climbing, there was a glee in his eyes. I will be honored to be on the same mountain with him this year.
I also met up with Kami a few days ago and he is well; excited to be climbing Lhotse with me. It was such a honor to summit Everest and K2 with him. I’m beyond excited to be climbing with him again!
EBC Next Stop
OK, this is a long post with a short video I took a few days ago. I will make a couple more videos from the trek in and post them in a few days. I will also update everyone on what is happening at Everest Base Camp.
Garrett Madison and his guides of Madison Mountaineering are doing a great job thus far on the trek and it sounds like we will have a nice base camp setup. The trekkers who are with us will leave after a day at EBC and we will begin to focus on our climbs.
Let me end with this. Today, I made the turn around a rocky mountain side to see the Khumbu Icefall in the distance. With a squint of my eyes, I could see the blue and yellow tents at Everest Base Camp. My heart jumped like the first time in 1997.
Yes, time have changed. I have changed. But my love of the Khumbu, the people and the mountains have not.
Memories are Everything
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