Practice Run No.3: Base Camp – Now the Fun Begins

In Practice Run No.3by Steve

Settling in to Base Camp

After a week of trekking, last Saturday we finally arrived in Ama Dablam Base Camp (BC), ~4500m. From here, the summit looks so close, as if you can reach out and touch it. But we still have approximately 2.3 vertical kilometres to go. You lose all perspective of scale amongst these giant peaks.

On the way up we went through Tengboche, home of the world famous monastery. Then continued on to Pangboche where we visited Lama Geshe, the oldest Lama in the region. He doesn’t get out too often so we visited him in his home. We entered this one room. Three walls were lined with Buddhist paintings, gold statues, candles, etc. while the fourth wall was lined with hundreds of photos from past expeditions, mainly summit shots, with words of thanks to the Lama for his blessings.

Like the expeditions that had gone before us, we too were there for our blessings from Lama Geshe and prayed to the mountain Gods for safe passage on the mountain.

Yesterday (Sunday) morning a couple of guys were heli rescued off the mountain from Camp 2. We had seen through the telescope the night before that there were still some guys high on the mountain above Camp 3 as the sun was setting. Not a good place to be. They would have had a very long and very cold night. The helicopter came in at first light. Landing is impossible so they were rescued via long line suspended beneath the chopper. We haven’t heard the outcome but hope they are ok.

Yesterday morning we had our expedition Puja, a Buddhist ceremony to the mountain Gods. A Lama came up from the local village to conduct the ceremony. It is a big deal for the local Sherpa who are climbing with us. They will not set foot on the mountain until the Puja has been held. A small monument with prayer flags was set up. We put out items of climbing gear to be blessed, along with food as an offering to the Gods. There was lots of praying, chanting, rice throwing, flour tossing, etc. Then at the end we each had to have a cup of Chang (local rice wine), two shots of rum and a beer. It would have been disrespectful to turn it down, but also too early for partying, so I called it quits at that (plus it was the worst rum you’ve ever tasted, next time I’ll bring over a bottle of Bundaberg’s finest). The Sherpa’s however kicked on well in to the day with plenty of eating and drinking.

The rest of the day was scheduled to be a rest day, but boredom quickly set in so I decided to go for a walk, an up hill walk. I figure every bit of additional altitude I can get can only help. It’s the “climb high, sleep low” theory. I was feeling good so pressed on to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) before descending back down. ABC is at about 5300m so it was a reasonable climb for the afternoon. The route was relatively steep in parts but did not involve any technical climbing. The technical climbing starts just below Camp 1.

Today (Monday) was a day of rope training, learning how to ascend and descend fixed ropes safely. All pretty straight forward, but a few tricks to move efficiently while always having double protection.

Tomorrow we’ll start the acclimatisation rotations on the hill proper. Progressively making our way higher while dropping back down to lower camps to sleep.

The route we’ll be taking is the South West Ridge. On this route there are three main camps, Camp 1, 2 and 3 and an intermediate camp between BC and C1 for initial acclimatisation. Camp 3 is rarely used anymore following an accident in 2006 when a section of the “Dablam”, the hanging glacier, broke off and rather than taking the normal route down the face, span off sideways and took out Camp 3. There were 6 people in camp at the time. No survivors. These days, there is now what they call Camp 2.9. It is a little lower and tucked further around the corner but it only fits a couple of tents. It’s also incredibly exposed so it is generally only used in emergency. We’ll be aiming to get well acclimatised and then go for the summit push from Camp 2. That’s a little way off though. Step by step.

That’s enough for now. Time to get back to BC (I had to walk half an hour down the valley to get reception) and pack up to head up hill tomorrow. Now the fun (and suffering) begins.

“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”.