Everest 2017 is officially underway. If you were on a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla over the past few days, you would have seen lean men and women with a backpack slung over their shoulder boarding the plane. If you could have looked in their minds, you would have seen visions of the summit of Mount Everest.
Late March and early April marks the annual migration to Everest Base Camp on the Nepal side. It will be another week or more for those climbing from Tibet to begin their journey to base camp. By mid April, both base camps will be overflowing with cooks, Sherpas, Tibetans, guides and climbers from all over the globe.
Some of the commercial teams including IMG, AAI, Tim Mosedale and others are on their way. Pictures are being posted on Facebook, Instagram and blogs of their journey. Many are returning after the premature endings of the 2014 and 2015 seasons. They know the drill to this point but are eager to get back to climbing.
A Time for Patience and Anticipation
It seems popular these days to want to rush to base camp and then speed up the mountain. While I understand people have busy lives combined with big goals, I respectfully suggest that they are missing the point.
Long time operators will take 10 days to trek to base camp, some will take longer and others will try to fly in bypassing the trek entirely. Most experienced operators feel that a slow walk to base camp is the safest way to acclimatize to 17,500′.
It is a time to adjust your “work clock” to “Sherpa time”. It is an opportunity to slow down, breathe deeply and open your eyes to what surrounds you in space and time.
And it is a time to let your objective sink in deeply, like it never has. This is not a beach vacation or an adventure trip with zip lines and canopy walks.
You are climbing Mt. Everest. It will take all you have, and then some. The question to ponder is how much of “then some” do you have?
After arriving in Kathmandu, teams will assemble at their hotel in Thamel or nearby. They will begin the process of silently evaluating one another for personality, skills and most importantly, their ability to communicate and sense of humor.
After a couple of days used to recover from jet lag and pick up a few last minute items, they leave the hotel before dawn and hopefully catch a flight to Lukla. For most, this is when their Everest dream begins to be real.
The trek is simple compared to climbing Everest, but it is also a time to work out any kinks. Your body will slowly adjust to the ever increasing altitude. You begin to shift to a different type of diet. And yes, some – actually most – people, will deal with an upset stomach along the way. Better to get that over with now than dealing with it at base camp.
Lost in a Walk
Have you ever been so lost in thought that you don’t hear someone talking to you? This can easily happen in the Khumbu on your way to Everest.
My eyes look down at the dirt path trying to avoid any rocks. A sprained ankle on day one of a 60 day expedition would not be the best way to start. But it is almost impossible not to look up, way up, and see the snow covered peaks of the Himalaya. Back home in Switzerland or Colorado the peaks seems large, but they are dwarfed by these 20,000 foot giants.
The scale is hard to understand. When you get home, a common phrase will be ” The picture doesn’t really capture what is was like.” But you try anyway, quickly filling up the tiny storage card in your camera.
The trail is well worn. After all this is the main highway. It is used by porters carrying supplies to the villages. The local people walk this path each day to make visits or buy basic food items they cannot grow. Each year before and after the summer monsoons, this same trail is filled with people trekking the Khumbu or on their way to Everest Base camp for a life changing experience.
Your mind drifts to a year earlier, when you walked on a dirt path in a nearby forest. Your 40 pound pack felt heavy then, during your training, but now your simple day pack goes unnoticed. You think about your family back home. For a moment you can see their faces, hear their voices, feel their love. You left home leaving nothing unsaid. You know they are walking the path with you today.
The sudden clanging of bells knocks you back to the present. You look up and a huge smile covers your face. Yaks!
You remember what a Sherpa once told you. “Always stand on the the uphill side when yak passes by.”
The huge furry beasts lumber by, oblivious to you and the non stop shutter click coming from your camera. By now you already have several hundred yak pictures, but this shot is different!
The trail becomes quiet again as you walk. Your pace is relaxed. Today is only a few miles, not taking more than a few hours. There is no reason to hurry. You are adjusting to “Sherpa Time.”
The Great Negotiator
As you approach one of the countless villages that all seem to end with the word “boche”, you are greeted by a table of souvenirs. A beautiful woman stands quietly behind the table. Her dark hair is covered with a scarf, her black eyes look at you with a pleasant feeling. She smiles softly as you look at the table of goods.
You focus on a bracelet. This would make a good gift, you think. She feels your interest and picks it up, offering it to you. You hold it carefully, turning it over, inspecting it for, well you have no idea. “How much?” you ask preparing to negotiate like you did for your last car.
“500.” she says with an air of authority. “No, too much.” you say even before you do the calculation to your own currency. She looks at you. This is not her first rodeo.
You place the bracelet back on the table. But then you see a small prayer wheel. You like it. “How much?” “3000 rupees” and a strategy begins to develop.
“You like both? she asks recognizing the strategy. “3,000 for both.” she offers. “1,500” you counter knowing she will come back. “no, no, no” she says with a laugh and a smile. Now you are both in your element. Let the games begin.
“OK, 2,500 for both” you offer with an air of confidence. OK she says quickly.
You pause for a moment but then reach in your pocket pulling out what looks likes Monopoly money to you. You fumble with a blue one and a green one and there are a few reds. Finally, she reaches over and quickly pulls out two 1,000 and a 500 from your pile. You both laugh as she puts your money along with her wad of money that as big as a grapefruit. This was not her first rodeo.
Feeling smug, you walk away once again looking at the dirt trail, the snow capped peaks and the blooming rhododendrons and cherry trees. You hear the laughter of kids playing in the distance.
You begin to review your amazing negotiating skills. She wanted 3,500 rupees, you paid 2,500 rupees. Yes, you just saved $9.60.
Memories are Everything