Self portrait walking through the Western Cwm just before reaching Camp 2.
Recently, the glaring negative environmental and social impacts of the Everest region have been broadcasted on the Internet, ranted about in forums, and beaten into our heads until the image of this place is that of one giant garbage dump with too many people who don’t belong or deserve to be here.
After having spent nearly two months here, I don’t agree; but I am also not going to go into it. I’ve heard it too many times before to regurgitate the facts. This place exists, in all its ugliness and beauty. And I want to share my experience with you.
What I will tell you about is the mind-blowing strength of the Sherpa people, who carry exponentially heavier loads than I can even lift in record speed to the high camps for us, and then return before we’ve had coffee in the morning.
Or how frightening it is to ascend through the icefall at 3 a.m., and even just try to comprehend how the Icefall Doctors manage to develop and maintain a safe route through this obstacle course of death throughout the season.
The moon at sunrise in the Icefall.
Or how the intense heat of the Western Cwm can make your blood boil like you’re walking through the Sahara, parched and beaten into utter exhaustion.
How, from Camp 2, you can hear the wind barreling down off of the summit of Everest, like a freight train with no breaks. It reaches your tent moments later and you’re suddenly in the middle of a hurricane, the nylon ripping and floor trying to lift your helpless body off the ground.
Basecamp is slightly more friendly to us humans, because we made it that way. It’s a strange place, an international community of people convening at the base of the tallest place on earth for one common goal: to get themselves or others to the top.
Hilaree O’Neil doing laundry in Basecamp.
But in many ways, it’s just like any small town, only it’s situated on a glacier and everyone lives in tents. There are kitchens, bathrooms, showers, and basic amenities. We have solar power (and generators, an admittedly unfortunate reality), wifi, and spotty cell coverage to keep in touch with friends and family.
There’s also a social aspect to Basecamp. I went to a rather raucous party in a white dome pod decorated with tiger rugs a few weeks ago, and a horseshoe tournament yesterday.
The community is friendly and tight-knit, with its fair share of gossip and drama, just like any other place. The only anomaly I’ve noticed is the small ratio of females vs males; but hey, that’s pretty much expected.
As for our team, we’ve been progressing steadily up the mountain. Now, we’ve slept at Camp 3 (7100m), on a wonderful and unusually calm night, the sunset being one of the most perfect moments I’ve ever experienced. After a sleepless night induced by a lack of oxygen, we tried to move a bit higher before being turned around by the nuking frigid winds, which welcomed us that morning.
Kris and Sam at Camp 3, Mt. Everest in the background.
That’s been the crux of this year – the wind. We’ll have to wait until it decides to abate before heading for the summit, hopefully in the next 10 days or so.
I have to keep reminding myself that the reality of playing in the big mountains is that nothing is certain and erring on the side of caution is always the best path to follow.
So now we’re back at basecamp, waiting and waiting in this bizarre little city that has become our home for the past six weeks now.
I am not sure yet if I like climbing big mountains as much as I do sport climbing in glorious temperate places, but I am starting to understand the allure of being in a place so much more vast and powerful than we can comprehend. It’s overwhelming and humbling and puts us in our respective places as human beings.
Perhaps that draw is why so many people come to experience this place; or maybe they just want to stand on top of the world. Either way, this is a small glimpse of my time here.
As long as I live, I will never forget the glorious sunsets I witnessed, the fierceness of the wind and sun, or the suffering I endured at the merciless hands of altitude. I am grateful for all of these things.
Sunset on the Lhotse Face. A perfectly calm evening at 7100m. Rare and unforgettable.