From Sea Level to Base Camp
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A Visit From Sir Edmund Hillary
When the weather is bad, the hum of a helicopter in the distance is generally a
rare event in the Khumbu valley. But as we eat breakfast in Deboche we hear
two helicopters circling overhead, trying to find a break in the mists
surrounding Thyangboche. We hear that it's Ed Hillary, and Breashears
instantly throws on his coat to hike up the hill and say hello. "It was Ed's
photo of Tenzing Norgay on the summit of Everest in 1953 that inspired me to
start climbing. It's a privilege to know Hillary today because of the lifetime
he has devoted to improving the lives of the Sherpas of the Khumbu region with
schools, bridges, airstrips and rebuilding monasteries." When we arrive at
Thyangboche we find `Sir Ed' surrounded by a video camera crew conducting an
interview with him. We wonder how often he has answered the same questions
since he and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay
made their historic first ascent
of Everest in 1953.
Continuing Up To Base Camp
Loading a yak takes three people, a lot of patience, and either a coat of armor
or good evasive movements. One yak will carry two loads, each weighing about 50
pounds. The two loads are hoisted simultaneously on either side of a yak by two
people as a third person holds the yak still—by the horns. If one load is
heavier than the other, it makes the tying down process even harder.
The last day of trekking to Base Camp is always the longest, but easily the
most beautiful, with fleeting glimpses of the summit of Everest behind Nuptse
and Everest's West Shoulder. Most of the day is spent traversing the Khumbu
Glacier, a sea of churning ice and rock with massive blue ice pinnacles poised
like a pod of frozen blue whales in the Khumbu's brown and white glacial waves.
We're all anxious to get to Base Camp and stop the daily moving. Porters and
yaks will be unburdened and sent back down the valley, and we can begin
settling in to what will be our home for the next 40 days.
By the time we reach Base Camp, most of us have mild headaches. Heavy work—like digging tent platforms out of the rock and ice of the Khumbu Glacier—makes us breathless and tired. This year, Base Camp is filled with some 400
prospective climbers, including Sherpas, clients, guides, and support staff.
The climbers are from Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Scotland, USA, Canada, UK,
Russia, Sweden, Finland, Mexico, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, and Nepal. "It's a
remarkable transition from 1983 when we were the only team on this side," says
Breashears, "and it's astonishing to me to meet dozens of people on the route
whose names you don't know."
Two black Himalayan choughs (raven-like birds) balance precariously on top of
the prayer flag pole, vying for top position above a twig of juniper. In the
distance, the Khumbu Icefall spills down toward Base Camp, like giant ice cubes
dumped from an Everest-sized ice bucket. The 26-year old lama continues his
chants as Breashears, Jangbu, and the expedition Sherpas throw tsampa (a
roasted barley flour) toward a stone altar covered with offerings of cookies,
rice, popcorn, and beer. The puja ceremony, in which the Sherpas pay homage to
the mountain deity, is the starting point for all Everest expeditions.
Tomorrow, the climb officially begins and Breashears, Athans, Viesturs, Jangbu,
and Carter will begin carrying loads up to Camp I at 19,000 feet.
See Part II, the detailed story of our
team's ascent to Camp II, or log on to our newsflashes for more regular
updates from the field.
Photos: (1-4) WGBH Educational Foundation; (5-10) Liesl Clark.
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