Six days in Namche … and still stuck!

We spent six days back down at the valley of Namche Bazaar (3,400m or c3km below base camp) – the largest village in the Khumbu and an important trading centre after we had decided against going back up for the small summit window our guide had suggested. So far we are still waiting for the chopper to get us back to b/c. Fog in the valley and at Lukla keeps us grounded for now. Fingers crossed.

Namche is not cheap and in fact is considered the most expensive village in Nepal (2-3x prices of Kathmandu). We enjoyed oxygen rich air, the food (mainly at Sherpa Barista coffee & Nirvana), beers & pool at the world’s highest Irish pub (some good dancing of Jon & Audrey from Canada) and a 24/7 opened place called Cafe Danphe. Fun times and a welcome change from by now boring base camp life. Other options are limited. I got a hair cut and my first ever beard trim, visited the sherpa museum and the (unimpressing) monastery. 

Much of our time we spent discussing our decision to pass on the small summit window and trying to source info on weather and the next possible window being essentially cut off from the usual expedition newsflow and with essentially no contact to base camp.

Its fair to say that we were all gutted. After HIMEX rope fixing efforts spectacularly imploded, The Ghurkas, I believe Madisson and also our team stepped up. Our concern was that this overstretches our teams ressources and that rope fixing and guide summits had now taking priority over client summits. I guess there remains a lot to discuss, but memories of our time here weren’t helped to say the least. 

First summits: Both our guides and two sherpa’s made the top of Everest early the 16th. Steve sumitted Lhotse. 

Waiting for the chopper: Today we were heading back to b/c with a chopper to get into position for our own summit push – hopefully sometime around the 23-25th May. Time is running out with summits historically happening between 17-23rd May. Maybe we have to hike back up …


Climbing back down …

First up, thanks for all the generous donations since my last post especially from AH. It is really appreciated!

We finally departed for our first summit bid on 8th May early doors (3am). I left with Steve (also Lhotse bound and a machine on the hill). The everest bound guys had already left on the 6th. Our plan was to hike up to camp 2, rest 1 day, then progressively move up the hill to summit on the 11th morning. It was meant to be the early, early window. The team to fix ropes was on the hill and meant to get the job done between 6-8 may. So far the theory …

The climb up to camp 2 was the usual. Decent 5hours through the icefall and a very slow and cruel walk through the western cwm of 6hours. It remains my weak spot. But then there is always the rest day at camp 2 to recover. The mood was good. Other teams including the team in charge of fixing ropes to the summit (himex led by kiwi climbing legend russel brice and star climber kenton cool and david tate) were positioned at camp 3 ready to move to the south col and to the top. We listened to their radio chat and all looked set – we are going up.

Now to practice: The everest guys left 5.20am for camp 3 as planned. We were to follow a day after. By the time steve and I had our breakfast, the bad news broke that ropes in fact hadn’t been fixed. The official version was new snow (waist deep at the balcony on the way to everest summit) and resuming winds that caused unworkable conditions for the fixing team (risk of frostbite etc). However, there was an incident earlier that i think certainly played a part. A sherpa on lhotse apparently slipped on his way down though got saved by the anchors in place (some say he got injured, others not). Sherpa work on the hill stopped for two days. Probably as much responsible for the failure to get the job done. We heard stories of kenton cool and his (rich) private client offering a years salary to the fixing sherpa’s to make things happen. They didn’t. With all major teams on the hill leaving and conditions challenging, we also headed down. Bad luck.

Jon and I didn’t wait long and left for Panboche right after lunch. Idea was to get to Namche the day after. Blake, rory and scott were to follow by chopper the day after. 

We only made it to loboche after a tiring day and stayed there. We had a little pubcrawl on the way enjoying a cold beer in gorak shep and had a fun evening in ‘above the cloud’ lodge where we met two US trekkers and played monopoly deal before retiring to the room. I had downloaded a few movies. Jon introduced me to a skateboarder cult movie (lords of dogtown) and o shoed him Leon (he loved it).

Next day started very late. We had a long way ahead of us if we wanted to get to namche (some 20km). Before we left, we quickly dropped a message to the team asking for the status. The last thing we wanted was a ‘please come back to base camp’ type message while just descending the khumbu valley. 

Right after loboche we passed by the graveyard of himalayan climbers, most famously scott fischer who tragigally died in the 1996 events alongside rob hall and many clients. Readers of ‘into thin air’ (jon krakauer) and ‘the climb’ (anatoly bukreev) will be aware of the story as the everest drama.

We got to panboche via dughla (quick pitstop) and pheriche (same) by 1.30pm. By then, we had confirmation that blake, rory and scott had already made it to namche (having coffee at the everest bakery). All looked clear … 
The hike down was beautiful. Increasingly better air, bushes and trees, nicer villages (rather than saisonal outposts further up), rivers and gorges and sunny weather. Super enjoyable and one of the best days yet. No itinerary, just time by ourselves. 

At panboche bakery we waited out a bit of rain while enjoying a large piece of chocolate cake with a khumbu kölsch. Trekkers lunch!

From there the path takes you to tengboche monastery. However, there was potentially news that might require a quicker than planned return to base camp. What a mess! In order to assess/decide we had to make it to namche tonight. We got there by 7.30pm after a much enjoyably walk into sunset. 

Rory grabbed us as we walked past the sherpa barista restaurant/coffee shop. Discussions in full swing. In the end we decided to stay at Namche to rest for a few days back in civilisation, but that will be anothers days story. 

Life at Everest base camp

I am lying in my tent and the winds are (still) shaking my tent. The sleeping bag is very comfi and I had a cery good rest without any interruptions. In today’s post I wanted to shed a little light on how we spent time here at Everest base camp having been here now for three nights and given it will be my home potentially until late May.

The camp is I reckon some 2km long and situated directly on the Khumbu glacier and very close to the actual icefall with all its crevasses and constantly moving bits and pieces. Each team has claimed their territory and in some cases defend it vigorously (I leave out names here for now). Mingling with other teams seems like a no-no so far. 

Within each camp there is some key infrastructure:

  • Mess tent: Arguably the heart of the camp. Here we spent most of our down time to eat, play (monopoly deal being king), chat and do briefings.

  • Kitchen tent: Good food is key and so far we been catered for well. More importantly even is a constant supply of hot water. 

  • Storage / communication tent: here you can find a lot of snacks, dry food for higher up, commincation and charging gear and stuff you don’t wanna keep in your tent (like climbing and high altitude kit).

  • Toilet tent: Men usually use for no2, women no1&2. The collective output goes into a barrel that is replaced when needed. Fellow hiker Mo had her tent blown away while in action – scared for life (but hilarious) ;o) 

  • Shower tent: operated with heated water from the kitchen and a pump. Looks simple, feels great!
  • Sleeping tents: the only bit of real privacy. Required for such a long trip. Sherpa’s have the same tents than we do, but share.

  • Sherpa mess tent: Common area (when not in kitchen) and eating quarters. Surely a few card games go down here too. 

Beyond the individual camps there are communal places such as the Everest ER tent (emergency & rescue) staffed wit experienced doctors, nurses and rescue pilots, the Sagarmartha pollution and control committee (SPCC) that houses the ice fall doctors (fixing the ropes to the summits), the radio and wifi station (Usd50 per 1GB, ncell also available but patchy) and several heli landing spots for transport, rescue and supplies in & out of the camp. 

Daily rountine

On non-climbing days (and there will be quite a few), we usually start with breakfast at 8am though hot drinks are being provided from 7am. The offering varies from porridge, pancakes, muesli to french toast, fried and boiled eggs and sometimes even bacon (like yesterday).

Afterwards we typically have the first session of games, take a stroll, do some washing or things like reinforcig tents.

Lunch is served around noon. We have often potatoes (fried, boiled, even salad), rice (cooked, fried, with veg etc), cooked veg, tuna, sardines, sausages, traditional dahl bat … plenty of stuff. By the time we had our pudding it will be 1.30pm or thereabout. More games after or a nap ;o)

3-4pm we use for briefings either on general issues or the next day. This goes hand in hand with some munchy stuff like cheese etc and more tea. More games and wifi if you must. We try to limit wifi from 3pm though a poor connection often takes care of that ;o)

Dinner is 6pm and is followed by the hot water bottle supply for the night ahead. We usually hit the sleeping bags between 8-9pm. Depends how long our monopoly deal thirst lasts and what is ahead the day after. 

Then its time to get cosy in your tent, read a book and to report to dream land. Nite, nite …

Loboche to EBC: Hi base camp; bye Jo, Mike, Berny, Sami & Luka

Today was little about the way, but more about the destination – Everest base camp. The trail out of Loboche leads you right up the Khumbu valley. So no choice but joining the army of ants that hikes up to EBC or Kala Patar for good views. Annoying really given many aren’t well acclimatised and slow and some shouldn’t be here at all. 

I reached our lunch point Gorak Shep after 1:50min (5km, 250m ascent). All of us quickly made use of the not so quick 3G network before we moved on to Everest base camp a further 5km (well, we are at the very back of the camp). The trail remained busy. 

Right at the first heliport at EBC entrance a trekker was flown out (I presume altitude sickness) and we got some good footage of heli start/landing. 

Base camp itself is surreal. Many, mostly yellow/orange, tents planted right on the glacier. The icefall with its ice towers right next to the camp. And the icefall is massive! ​​

After a tea, it was time to say goodbye to some of the base camp trekkers – see you in London Jo, Mike, Sami, Berny & Luka (they are by virtue of a chopper already back in Kathmandu).

Then it was time to move into my tent. It will be my home for the coming 4-6weeks. Nice and cosy. Every so often the surrounding mountains remind of the danger – I counted 3 avalanches before nightfall. And then heavy snow kicked in covering the the whole camp in white. Beautiful!

The evening I spent mostly in my new home. Lying in my new RAB 1400 expedition sleeping bag (-40 degrees) and reading book number 4 – ‘In den Wäldern Sibieriens’. I was outright happy. This is the real deal now!

Dingboche to Loboche: Camping above 5,000m 

After the dull rest day I was indeed looking forward to something new, something different. Once we left Dingboche behind I was immediately in better mood and enjoyed my audiobook amidst great views. On this first day, we’d hike up from 4,350m to just above 5,000m. 

We left late that day (for there was no rush and porters needed to setup camp) and enjoyed a last coffee and cakes at the Himlayan cafe & bakery (thanks go to Billy for the treat). By 10:45am we departed leaving Billy behind who was on doctor’s orders to rest more and catch up with us in Lobuche. Half way through the climb a last mobile reception, which most of us used to check  out for the coming three days. 

At our first restpoint, Tim shared a story of a chopper rescue on Ama Dablam. A German guide and Japanese climber couldn’t move higher nor lower and required help. The German got down, but the chopper went down when trying to get the second leaving both pilots dead. Still, a second heli was sent to fetch the climber. It was a big spectacle at the time.

After 3hours we reached the campground and moved into basecamp-like round tents for two people. Plenty of space for gear too. I shared with Jon again. We all had snacks and lunch and then I wondered off to check out the area. Some good views of camp, where Steve was busy taking pictures of people with his pro gear and the great backdrop of Ama.

Dinner was a short affair and some night photography followed. Everyone was keen to slip into his or her sleeping bag given the freezing temperatures. Getting up at night for toilet routines was nice (given the full moon), but painful. Many people (well, men) used their pee bottles (the 2l inflateable wide mouth Nalgene comes with highest regards), which is fine once one gets used to it (that is both peeing and tolerating someone in the same tent doing so). 

The next day started similarly relaxed and we wouldn’t leave before 10:15 for our next campsite at 5,450m (thats 600m higher than Mt Blanc summit!). The hike added some 400m in altitude, but took a mere 1:45h. We arrived in a magnificent valley guarded by Lhotse, Ama Dablam and other ridges. Lunch was excellent with sausages on the menu! Everyone happy, as teahouse menu’s can be monotonous. 

I spent all day reading a Beglian/French detective novel based in Paris. It has been recommended to me by a book shop keeper in London and is the first case of Inspector Maigret. I think there are more than 75 from the same author. So much lies ahead. Fun read and by now the third book I got through (well, my philosophy book only half until I gave up).

I was in bed early preffering the entertainment of audiobooks (now, ‘the unlikely pilgrimage of harold fry’). Next day we were to stay here and attempt the nearby 5,800m peak Pokalde.

My innovation of having a huge, green garbage bag over my sleeping bag and mat didn’t really work out. I rather ended up with a wet sleeping bag from all the moisture I lost overnight. 

Our hike up Pokalde next morning turned out brief. Tim was concerned about snow build up on top of already lose rocks and so we went to a smaller peak nearby with great views. Steve did a pro photo shoot with large flash lights that help you balance the bright background. Good shots (hope I can share some later on).

I wasn’t happy to retire at camp at 11am and so I wandered off to a nearby icefall. Pretty stuff. The tall ice walls reminded me of the gates to mordor in lord of the rings. Nice 2,5h hike up and down. Then it was time to relax listening to the adventures of harold fry. 

The night was the best one yet. I slept straight to 2:45am. Then a toilet round was required. Overall, still quite relaxing and this time without the plastic bag. I bet Jon was glad about that. 

In the morning it was time to pack. We were moving! Right up was Kongma La  pass some 100m higher up. While hiking up there one could hear the frozen lake making all sort of noises in the valley. Mo struggled a bit with a cough and found it hard to catch her breath. But this is only Mo uphill. As soon as we started down, she faced past everyone! All good then.

After the pass, the trail took us into the Khumbu valley with its glacier reaching far down though covered in debris. We hiked up and down the morraine. The glacier is just huge and maneuvering through the rocks takes some skill and patience. On the other end, Loboche waited for us.

There is nothing spectacular to be said about this village. No mobile, but Wifi (USD6/200mb). A handful of tea houses that are busy with climbers and base camp hikers alike. Jon and I had a bit of downtime over priced can of San Miguel (U$7-8). 

Highlight of the day was the reunion with a fully recovered Billy. Sadly, now Blake is down with fever. Fingers crossed it turns into a one day only affair. Otherwise all folks are healthy though every move makes you breath hard (including getting up the staircase to our rooms).

Off to Kniffel and Monopoly. Tomorrow we hit base camp. How time flies!

Climb on!