Day 8: Base Camp

After a quick stop for tea at Gorak Shep a few of us hurried on in the late afternoon. And here we are at our first goal, 17,600 feet, the site of the Base Camp for Mt. Everest expeditions! (And yet this was not the most exciting day, stay tuned for tomorrow.)

I’d forgotten that the weather window to summit Everest comes in the spring so was surprised to find the area deserted. A pile of stones strung with prayer flags marked the unofficial entrance, overlooking the Khumbu glacier and icefall, and the rocky valley floor where camp is built. After brief disappointment, the isolation and history of the area turned the moment magical.

Base Camp is set up in the flat area circled in black in the center of this photo. The Khumbu Icefall, which is the first step up to Everest, follows the red line, and the Khumbu glacier follows the green line on the right.

Kat (in the white hat in the first photo above) has climbed Everest and was present for the 2015 earthquake and avalanche. She described how things look when camp is all laid out, and what happened on that day when the earthquake triggered a massive slide from a peak named Pumori. This video of the avalanche shot by a German climber shows the mayhem and fear of that moment.

Image: BBC

The route from Gorak Shep to Base Camp is less a trail and more just following along the Khumbu glacier. The past three days we’ve spent above treeline have been my favorite. Similarly to the way I love the desert I’ve felt energized in the starkness of the landscape, the sheer size of the land and the dichotomy of how things are always-yet-never, changing. For some reason the Khumbu glacier strikes me as particularly lovely, perhaps because it’s one of the few “living” things here; a frozen river that moves too slowly to see with our eyes. A time lapse camera caught this great video of its flow.

The final stretch of our walk into the area had some good rock scrambling and I asked Kat (seen on part of that trail below) about the porters that carry all the equipment, tents, supplies, electronics and more up to Base Camp. She confirmed that they are remarkable, and that part of their work is to arrive early and create enough flat space to put down tents. Many teams arrive for the short wind0w of time when climbing is best, and each set up their own campsite with tents for supplies, cooking, sleeping and communications (though I believe there is also a central comm center,) The floor of the valley changes with storms, snow slides, rockfalls, and avalanches, so the campsites may or may not remain year after year.

Throughout the trek we observed a few small avalanches, which are preceded by a sharp cracking sound. This one happened nearby during our visit to Base Camp. Like everything else, this small event was a reminder of the forces of nature that rule the area.

After 45 minutes or so, after we’d taken all our photos and soaked in the moment, we turned back. The sun was setting and sharp cold finally called for the cold weather Gortex jacket I’d carried all the way.

Before I left I made sure to get a photo hugging something, which is what I like to do when I’m in a once-in-a-lifetime moment. There were no trees or animals so…

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