The skies are sunny this morning so I know they are gone. My dear friends Eveline and Armand are probably flying to Lukla as I write. Last night at dinner Eveline was exhausted. She had arrived two weeks earlier to prepare for an Everest expedition and she and Armand had been running daily. Either, each were on their computers making lists, dealing with news briefs, movie companies, insurances, ordering equipment, or running around buying groceries, necessary supplies, arranging for satellite phones, solar panels (which hadn’t as yet arrived from the US), obtaining a Trekking Information Systems Card for each trekker, etc., etc., their list seemed endless.
Whenever I see pictures of Everest expeditions there is always an heroic individual bundled up in warm clothes standing somewhere on the fabled mountain holding a flag, waving at the camera, or nobly looking into the distance surrounded by unbelievably beautiful scenery. Yet the effort that goes into these expeditions is never the focus, only the end result. After two grueling weeks of planning, yesterday Eveline, Armand, and others packed eight four-foot high barrows of supplies and three enormously over-sized duffels. Yet this is only a part of what they will take to the base camp to sustain their small group for the two-month trek.
Also, because it was their last day in Kathmandu , before beginning any part of the actual trek Eveline and Armand attended a Puja with a Lama near Boda to protect their safety. This half hour prayer session ended with each receiving a mantra on a small colorful piece of paper folded into a one-inch square and encased in plastic to protect them on their way. This is very important for every trekker as Everest is considered a living entity and as such doesn’t always know its own mind let alone those of its visitors. It’s shifts and changes, snowmelts, and avalanches happen often causing disaster and even death. Trekkers need all the protections they can get.
The flight to Lukla is not necessarily a piece of cake either. There are as many as 50 flights to Lukla daily during the high trekking season (March through May) weather permitting. The first at first light around six AM, with the subsequent flights after depending on the weather. Each morning reports come in from three different flight towers along the route about visibility. One, Kathmandu, the second, a small mountain village about mid-way and the third is of course Lukla. If any of these towers report even the slightest cloud cover, all flights are stopped until the skies are pristine clear. If one’s flight is canceled than back to their hotel they go with their flight ticket moved to the next day. Generally trekkers ‘get out’ within three days, but I do know of and instance during the summer rainy season in which all flights stopped for seven days. The passengers in Kathmandu were beyond frustration and those who had finished their trek and were waiting for flights out of Lukla were after seven days wasted on beer, whiskey, and card games. In fact, stir-crazy trekkers were hopping from guesthouse to guesthouse card games and beer, just for the minutest change of scenery. Although I was on my own trek at the time, I was told that a few trekkers over that seven-day period went from silly to ‘wasted’ and it was not a pretty sight. But better bored then dead.
After their arrival in Lukla (about 230m or about 8000 ft) Armand and Eveline will head out immediately for Phakding (I always thought it was called Fhakding but found out differently at dinner last night which gave everyone a good laugh – maybe reading the guide book might be a useful gesture on my part!) with porters carrying all the supplies. The next day they and the porters will head for Namche Bazaar, crossing rivers over suspension bridges and passing as many as 19 waterfalls during just that day’s trek and ascending 3429 m or 11286 ft. Because of the extreme height to be covered from Phakding to Mamche Bazaar, a trekker might be affected by altitude sickness or AMS. Therefore all trekkers rest for few days in Namche to adjust before proceeding to the Everest Base Camp, another six to eight-day trek.
Actually Armand and Eveline will probably have to wait for about nine days for their head Sherpa, and friend, Nemgyal Sherpa (all the sherpa I have met [I have met about 25] have the same last name: Sherpa) to arrive with the rest of supplies. Nemgyal is a small, sturdy, unassuming, obviously hardy person is well known in the international trekking community as he has conquered Mt. Everest eight times. He has saved lives by going back and rescuing trekkers others felt were impossible to help and left for dead. And he and other Sherpa have gone back up the mountain to clean away the trash left on the mountainside by irresponsible trekking companies. He is the man to head your team.
Eventually Nemgyal and the cook will arrive at Lukla with the other supplies he has brought (this is all the fresh foodstuffs) and the porters who are hired to carry all these stores up the mountain. Then he and the other sherpas leading other expeditions will literally ‘RUN’ up the mountain arriving at the Everest base camp in three days. They need no time to adjust to altitude, or to acclimatize. Their bodies are attune to the mountain altitudes and so they are physically ready and able to deal with the heights with no adjustment period at all. When Nemgyal and his crew arrive Armand and Eveline will have already pitched their 4ft by 10ft tent and be prepared to store the additional food and supplies he has brought.
If your concept of the Everest base camp is a bunch of little pup tents scattered across a small flat snowy area, think again. This is a vast upper mountain plateau at a little over 5000m or 17,700 ft., which at peak season can be covered with over 200 tents many much bigger that Armand’s and Eveline’s, with cooks, porters, portable restrooms, solar panel water heating, GPS devices, satellite phones; all the luxuries of home. Almost! And a lot of snow.
Before any sherpa will begin an actual climb from the base camp, they must first have the lama decide that the all aspects of the environment and universe are in tune to allow an ascent. There are too many variables involved to make a misstep. When the Lama feels all universal aspects are favorable, he will hold a puja for the group and bless their ascent. No sherpa will go up the mountain without this puja. Eveline said that last year it was six days before the Lama determined it was safe for their group to leave. She of course hopes the mountain will accept them sooner, as the wait seems interminable. Although she understands it is for their own safety.
Beyond the base camp, on the south side of Everest there are four more camps on the way to the summit. These camps range from around 19,900 Ft to about 26,000 ft. before the last one and final ascent. Climbers generally begin this around 10 in the evening and climb all night. The summit is about 28870 ft but because the Himalayas are the world’s youngest mountains they are growing taller all the time.
This year they will be making a movie of their trek going up the south face of Everest. But I don’t think they plan to go to the top. In the past, Armand has made it to camp III and Eveline to Camp IV – you go girl – for all of us. They and Nemgyal have a trekking company, www.MMountainConsult.com, which promotes safe trash free trekking and their foundation, www.ClimbingforWater.org, which promotes clean fresh water (more about this later). Although there are disasters and people do die on Everest Treks, it is one of the easier mountains to climb in the Himalayas. Anapurna is considered the killer mountain and more trekkers die trying to reach its summit than any other in the Himalayan group