Location: Everest Base Camp
Local Time: 8pm, Monday 3rd April
Weather: Fine 15C, but down to -10C in the morning
Hi everyone out there. It’s Fiona here.
I’m very glad to report that we’ve finally arrived at base camp. And what’s more, we seem to be in pretty good shape – so we have met our first goal for this venture.
Getting to Base Camp
We set out today around 8am and followed a relatively gentle slope for the first half of the hike – slowly easing up the side of the glacier wall. As we got closer to base camp, and moved further and further onto the glacier, the path grew more and more rocky with lots of up and down along the moraine. Even though we only gained around 200m in altitude, I think we climbed up 1000m and down 800m!
There were lots of yaks on the trail today – most on their way down from depositing other expeditions’ gear (as we are one of the first groups to reach base camp, ours had arrived around a week earlier).
The final stages of the hike had us walking alongside the Khumbu Icefall – the one we will later be climbing through. It sure is a sight to behold and it was hard to keep my eyes on the trail as I thought about how we were going to get through this tricky section of the climb. We won’t be attempting this for a while though as the “Icefall Doctors” have only just begun work today on setting the route. In fact as we approached our camp we passed a pile of ladders that will no doubt be destined for the icefall.
First Impressions of Everest Base Camp
The site for Everest Base Camp is at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall where the glacier flattens out. That is to say it’s consistently up and down with hills and holes all over the place. It’s very rocky but closer inspection reveals that everything is sitting on solid layers of ice – well hopefully solid. Several big groups have staked out their positions and are in various stages of developing their campsites.
Our own campsite has been well set up with a permanent dining tent, communications tent, storage tent, toilet tents, and then tents for all the climbers, trekkers and sherpas. For each tent, a rock platform has been put together by our sherpa team (some of whom have been working here for a couple of weeks already). They’ve also made an effort to build pathways between the tents to reduce the risk of people slipping and twisting ankles or knees around here. We’ll be spending lots of time here so will explain more as we go.
The Puja Ceremony
After lunch today, we witnessed and participated in the traditional Puja Ceremony. Each team of Sherpas holds a Puja Ceremony before heading any further up the mountain. The Lama from Pangboche presided over the ceremony which went for around 3 hours.
The Sherpas had set up an altar made of stones and covered in a gold fabric. On this altar they had placed all kinds of delicacies – I believe some were presented as an offering, but most were consumed in the latter part of the ritual. These included a special cake, chocolate bars, biscuits, Pringles, pastries, Coke, Sprite, Beer, red wine, and chang (rice wine).
The Lama and several Sherpas sat on a mat in front of the altar and chanted a series of chants – seeming to be reading from a set of pages that they turned as the ceremony progressed. The rest of the Sherpas sat or stood around the group – joining in with the chanting and throwing rice into the air at certain points. All the climbers and trekkers mingled in with them – sometimes trying to join in where we could.
The climbers (including the climbing Sherpas) put our climbing equipment (ice axes, crampons and helmets) around the altar, so that they would be covered with the smoke from the burning incense and so blessed for the climb ahead.
At a certain point, one of the Sherpas called for prayer flags and tied these to a pole which was lying by the altar. With much excitement and commotion, this pole was then lifted on top of the altar, and secured with several ropes. Colourful lines of Prayer Flags hung from the top of the pole and were extended so that they embraced almost all of our camp. More Prayer Flags were strung between these lines as well.
Drinks and food were handed around to everyone – many of the Sherpas enjoying the chance to relax with their favourite alcoholic beverage before the hard work ahead. Then a bowl of tsampa (a type of corn flour) was passed around for everyone to take a handful. With more vigorous chanting, these were then thrown into the air and onto each other. The Sherpas went to everyone and smeared more sampa on their faces – for good luck they said.
Then we were each given a small seed to swallow and a dab of some type of spice to put on our tongues. I was told by one Sherpa that this was to keep any evil away. Finally, we were each presented with a red nylon string to tie around our necks – this is for protection and is supposed to be left on until it falls off.
Although there was much that we didn’t understand, the Puja was a fascinating experience. One that means a lot to the Sherpas and was fun to be a participate in.
You may have noticed that we didn’t send any photos in the last couple of updates. This was because of a technical problem caused by our ISP changing a policy, the outcome of which prevented us from sending pictures via our Satellite Phone. Paul’s brother Tim has worked tirelessly over the past couple of days to move the site over to a new ISP. Thanks Tim, its very much appreciated.
Happy Birthday Jacqueline & Meals
By the way, Paul and I wanted to wish our sisters Happy Birthdays – Meals for today, and Jacqueline a for tomorrow. Sorry we can’t be there with you guys but our thoughts are with you.
To Dennis’ father, we have passed your message on to him.
Looking forward to a sleep-in and a relaxing day tomorrow.