Missing out on the opportunity to trek to Everest Base Camp last year was one of the biggest disappointments of our Best Life in the World adventure. As the devastating earthquake tore through the heart of Nepal it left a trail of destruction, death and damage that crippled the mountain nation.
The global media coverage naturally influenced the world’s perception, but the impact on the tourism industry in the months after, was as destructive to the nation’s income as the disaster itself.
Almost a year on, a country that relies on tourism, is still reeling from the disaster with visitor numbers for this year’s trekking season at only 40% of the annual norm. It’ll take another few seasons before numbers are back to normal but the mental scars will last a lifetime.
When the opportunity arose to head back to the Himalayan nation it was too good to refuse. Not only would I have the chance to complete the trek, I’d also be part of a team filming a television series based around the first ever Sherpa rescue team located at Everest Base Camp, and help tell a positive story about Nepal’s recovery as a tourism destination.
For the duration of April and May, my home is a tent perched at the base of the ever-shifting Khumbu Icefall. It offers epic panoramic views of some of the world’s highest mountains, is deceivingly hot when the sun beats down around lunchtime, and is frigidly cold for the other 20 hours of the day.
Life in the lower reaches of earth’s atmosphere will challenge every single thread of my sanity, grit and filmmaking ability. Throughout the day the rumble of avalanches and tumbling rocks shatter this Himalayan massif, whilst at night my tent shudders and shakes as the ice and rock floor below me, slides down the valley at a glacial pace.
Over the last decade my office has changed from desert island hammock, to the front seat of a Land Rover, to the deck of a catamaran to this…a high altitude frozen ice-fest.
After spending the last few weeks living up in the clouds at 5,300m here are a few facts to keep you amused…
A few things you need to know about life at Base Camp
- Everest Base Camp covers a vast area, stretching 2km along the Khumbu Glacier to the base of the infamous Khumbu Icefall. It sits at 5300 metres above sea level making it one of the highest tented camps in the world. Around 20 different expedition companies from around the world take residence here each spring for three months.
- There are actually three base camps, one in Tibet for summit attempts from the northern side, and two in the Nepal. At the lower end of the Khumbu Glacier there’s a camp offering limited accommodation for trekkers, but continue up past that, and the real tent-city starts. At the height of the climbing season (usually around the middle of May) base camp houses over 1000 people including Sherpas, porters, cooks, medics, expedition support staff and of course, the mountaineers themselves.
- Advance teams arrive in the Khumbu valley a month before the climbing expeditions to take on the monstrous task of levelling parts of the glacier to form foundations for tents, kitchens, stairs and helipads. Just think about that for a second…attempting to flatten part of a moving glacier made up of huge rocks, stones and blue ice in order to build a temporary community!
- Helicopters regularly buzz through the valley transporting vital supplies for the camps, removing the sick and injured, and bringing oxygen-mask-clad tourists up for an expensive fly-by.
- You can’t actually see Mount Everest from Everest Base Camp. It’s a 40-minute walk down the glacier until the Big Girl comes into view. What you do get though, is an incredible perspective of the Khumbu Icefall, one of the toughest parts of any Everest ascent. Famous for its vast crevasses, aluminium ladder ascents and constantly shifting ice pack.
- Every day the surrounding landscape creaks and groans as the Himalayas forge their way towards the heavens. Avalanches and rock-falls are an almost hourly event and in the quiet of night the ice pack cracks and groans under the very tent you sleep in.
- Get ready to experience, and enjoy the long drop toilets – the single most efficient way to unload! However, making the midnight decision of whether to venture into a frost-bound toilet tent is a constant mental battle.
- It can get cold, really cold, even in summer. On a sunny day, daytime temperatures hover just above freezing but once the wind picks up, the sun disappears behind the clouds or night time shows its frigid face, the mercury can drop to -20c and below.
- Compared to sea level, there’s only 60% of the oxygen available, so doing virtually anything quickly leaves you short of breath. Eating, drinking, even brushing your teeth can be a Herculean task and trying to get to sleep in the first few days feels ridiculously claustrophobic.
- With expedition teams visiting from around the world the food on tap is surprisingly varied. There are kitchens serving up cuisine from China, Korea, India, Indian, Malaysia, Thailand and even a basic bakery!
- Walking from camp to camp across the treacherous glacier is a game of balance and dexterity. Trying not to slip on the exposed ice, dunk your feet in a pool of frigid melt-water or get hit by one of the huge rocks balanced precariously on a block of ice are just a few of the fun games I play every day.
- The local sport of Rock Tipping is brilliant fun to watch. Daring Sherpas and porters slowly chip away the ice underneath gigantic rocks until they tumble into the valley below…all in the name of making the camp safe of course.
Waking up in the shadow of the world’s highest mountain range is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had.
Yes, life up here is bloody tough and you feel like the mountains could cave in at any time, but it makes you feel alive. There’s no light pollution, no traffic noise, no television or decent internet and as a result, rather wonderfully brings back the power of community and conversation.
Even if you don’t get to stay overnight the trek up to Everest Base Camp from Lukla is well worth the ten-day adventure. The sights, sounds and smells of Nepali life along the track are refreshing and rewarding.
In my next post I’ll be writing about the trek itself; what to expect, what to bring, what to leave behind and what you’ll get out of it.