We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing of the world.
We give little thought of the machinery that generates the sunlight and makes life possible.
To the gravity that glues us to the earth that would otherwise send us spinning off into space.
Or to the atoms that which we are made and on who’s stability we fundamentally depend.
Few of us spend much time wondering why nature is the way it is.
Where the cosmos came from.
Whether it was always there.
If time will one day flow backward.
Or whether there are ultimate limits to what humans can know.
What is the smallest piece of matter.
Why we remember the past and not the future.
And why there is a universe.
– Carl Sagan
She is the Earth’s highest mountain located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas. Her impressive peak is 29,029 ft (8,848 m) above sea level. The official Tibetan name for Mount Everest is Qomolangma often spelled Chomolungma, and literally means “Holy Mother”. I had the opportunity to see her Tibetan side in April 2014 after traveling across China & the Tibetan Plateau.
If you’re looking for comfort during your quest to the North Base Camp of Everest then this trip is likely not for you. Yet you can’t help but feel the anticipation build despite 3+ hour of dirt track-gravel bone-shaking roads. When find yourself staring at her mesmerizing beauty you will know then why you came and it will have all been oh so worth it. Right down to attempting to pee behind a rock that barely covers your arse or the sight of several men lined up along the road peeing, what appeared to be, in unison. There were clear blue skies upon arrival to Rongbuk Guest House, situated across from the monastery, so it was decided that after layering up, we would head straight out to hike to Base Camp.
The hike, whilst not that far, is by no means easy. It’s about 2.5 miles (4km) each way but feels more like 10. Remember, you’re above 16,000 ft (5000 m) so any form of exercise you perform will make you feel like that pseudo vice you’ve had around your ribcage since Lhasa is being tightened.
However, the reward is incredible; from the top of a small hill at 17,060 ft (5200 m) you can see the tent city at the base camp and right in front you, Everest. The weather changes very quickly however, and her top was soon covered with cloud. Can you imagine being at the top during that?! She is one of the ultimate adrenaline rushes and attracts many highly experienced mountaineers as well as capable climbers willing to hire professional guides for a very costly sum. Everest is so high that the jet stream can hit it. Climbers can be faced with winds beyond 200 mph when the weather shifts. The international border between China and Nepal runs across the precise summit point hence why Everest has two main climbing routes, the southeast ridge from Nepal (known as the standard route) and the north ridge from Tibet. Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary made the first official ascent of Everest in 1953 using the southeast ridge route.
You stand awe-struck as you look at what is likely one of the most majestic places on the planet that I will ever see. I think perhaps everyone needs a dose of this view when they’ve forgotten what true peace and serenity is.
I likely made the mistake of reading the “reviews” for Rongbuk Guest House prior to my arrival. The result was hearing the word “Rongbuk” spoken in more of a creepy/sinister voice complete with Vincent Price type maniacal laughter. So much so that we had all started to verbally do this whenever we spoke of it in the days preceding it. Upon reflection, I suspect many of the reviews were written by people whose idea of “roughing it” would equal a 3.5 star hotel.
The room for 4 of us to sleep in was basic, the toilets, or lack thereof, were even more so but they were surprisingly relatively clean and not at all stinky although may be it had frozen in the subzero temperatures?! I did have to avoid the yaks when visiting the toilet in the middle of the night and their eyes glow all weird from your headlamp, but c’mon, this is the stuff of lifelong memories! Looking out of the window of the room at Everest looking down on you and watching her face change by moments from sun to cloud and back to sun more than makes up for even the slightest bit of discomfort.
Granted, I didn’t have my best night’s sleep here, due to the altitude and my bony hips on a hard mattress, and I believe at least 3 of us got headaches due to the altitude. I would wake every few hours, lie there for what seemed like an eternity, fall asleep before doing it all over again at a new time. The bedding was basically copious quilts and blankets providing the ultimate nesting experience. I also slept fully clothed complete with toque, two pairs of gloves, 6 upper body layers, two lower body layers & hiking socks all whilst inside of my sleeping bag liner. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly I awoke during the night absolutely roasting and although I knew the room itself was absolutely bloody freezing it wasn’t an issue for me, at least whilst I was snug as a bug. The lock on your door from the inside was a twig that looked like chopstick that if you turned just the right amount, kind of like cracking a safe, you could somehow get it to make sure the door didn’t rattle from the wind.
The common room area was always warm and welcoming even if it was heated with dried yak dung. You’ll probably have at least one headache from the effects of yak dung heaters if not due to the altitude. That said the pancakes were to die for although don’t start thinking about the hands touching yak dung potentially then making your pancake. The electricity is used sparingly so take a headlamp/torch although they appear to turn them on in the toilets at night only. It all added to the experience. I wouldn’t have missed any of this for the world. It certainly knocks the ego back a peg or two.
I was outside with my camera waiting for the sunrise to fall upon Everest. Dawn. Subzero temperatures. Numb fingers. The crystal clear shots I got? Priceless. Of course as soon as I ran inside for a “quick warm up” the sun started putting in an appearance again so back outside I went. Click. Click. Click. I was literally wincing in pain. Oh but she was worth it. She glistened in the sun like millions of diamonds. It was breathtaking.
Pancakes and ginger lemon honey tea whilst sat beside the yak dung fire was ample reward although the real reward was obviously out in the cold. Alas it was soon time to leave, 3hrs back along the very same road that had brought us here. I felt a little bit sad to leave her behind. She has this pull on you, draws you in. I can see why people end up chasing the dream of wanting to summit Everest.
Over 250 people have died trying to climb Everest. Most deaths have been attributed to avalanche, injury from fall or ice collapse, exposure or health problems related to conditions on the mountain. Due to the difficulties and dangers in bringing bodies down, most of those who perish on the mountain remain where they fall, although some are moved by winds and ice. The most infamous tragedy on the mountain was the 1996 Mount Everest disaster on May 11, 1996, during which eight people died while making summit attempts.
The upper reaches of the mountain are in the death zone. The death zone is a mountaineering term for altitudes above a certain point – around 26,000 ft (8000 m), or less than 5.16 psi of atmospheric pressure – where the oxygen level is not sufficient to sustain human life. Many deaths in high-altitude mountaineering have been caused by the effects of the death zone, directly or indirectly.
Well if lack of oxygen was ever a concern of mine, it didn’t last long. Soon the bottled oxygen was cracked open in the van. Oxygen partaaaaaay! Of course someone had to do the whole “I am your father, Luke”. And whatdoyaknow, my headache disappeared! In fact we all became quite the happy campers what with oxygen and candy being passed around. The ultimate sugar-oxygen rush!
Oh and the Rongbuk monastery across the way from the guest house is the highest in the world. It is apparently open to visitors but of course for me the major attraction was the stunning scenery all around, and the view of the world’s highest mountain’s north face. In 2011, it was ranked on the top of CNN’s ‘Great Places to be a Recluse’ if anyone is interested.