A Week in Base Camp – Melbourne Weather, Day Walks and Cyst Removal.
Weather is possibly the most boring topic, the kind of topic you discuss with strangers when you have nothing else to talk about, but not in Everest Base Camp. Back in Australia, Melbourne is renowned for its unpredictable weather, its “4 seasons in one day”. Well this place is like Melbourne on steroids. It probably also says something about my lack of activity over the past week when the weather is the most exciting item I have to report.
Over the past week we’ve had bright sunny days, freezing cold nights, snow storms, gale force winds and everything in between. Even Everest veterans have said the past week has been the strangest they’ve seen.
A snow storm last weekend turned base camp white overnight. It was actually quite welcomed. Counter-intuitively, it actually made it much easier to walk around. The snow packed in around all the loose rocks that coat the glacial ice underneath making it much more stable and secure underfoot.
The two days that followed were clear but with unrelenting winds. It made doing anything outside a misery. My tent, which was pitched on a slight rise and fully exposed, wasn’t standing up too well. With each gust that came through it got flattened. With its flexible poles it would stand back upright in the lulls only to get blown over again in the next gust. Inside, I had the choice of either putting my feet up against the roof to hold it upright, or just let it collapse on top of me. The toilet tent fared even worse. With the tent blown over and spread across the rocks, attending to morning business exposed to the cold, blustery morning air was not pleasant. There was definitely no stopping to read the morning paper.
The past few days have actually been quite nice, back to the usual pattern of warm sunny mornings, cool overcast afternoons, and clear freezing nights. The sun didn’t take long to melt the snow and we were back to trying to walk on a rocky, undulating skating rink. Although as I write this, it’s starting to snow again, while the sun is still shining through as well. Melbourne has nothing on this place.
Other than the weather, the past week has been relatively quiet, just been in around base camp getting things ready to go up the hill. We had our expedition Puja, had a couple of days rope/skills training in the icefall, and I’ve just been going off by myself doing short walks to keep active and keep going to higher elevations. Oh, and I almost forgot, we had Easter last weekend. Happy Easter Everyone! Celebrations were subdued here but we did have a box of Cadbury Creme Eggs which went down very well.
The Puja, a Buddhist ceremony to the mountain gods, was a lively, colourful event. In preparation for the Puja, a stone alter was built. The quality of work would have put most stone masons to shame. A Lama came up from a local village and dressed in his maroon robes led the ceremony and gave us blessings. It started out with soft chanting, ringing cymbals and tapping drums, and then progressed to tossing flour and rice, and got increasingly more rowdy as Chang, beer and rum was passed around. During the ceremony a mast was erected above the stone alter with strings of prayer flags tied to the top and pulled out over our camp like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Five spokes seems to be the magic number, stretching with a radius of about 30m with small individual flags alternating in red, green, yellow, blue and white colour along its length. Each team has their own Puja with their own alter and own prayer flags. Base Camp is now transformed with these colourful prayer flag wagon wheels flying above.
While waiting in Base Camp I’ve been trying to keep active and taking myself out for short walks in our down time. Most others seem happy sitting around camp playing cards. Each to their own. So far I’ve been back down to Gorek Shep and up to Kala Patar twice, a 3.5hr round trip up to 5545m. And up to Pumori Camp 1 twice, a 2hr round trip up to about 5800m. It’s good to keep the blood flowing.
I’m going to prelude this next section with a disclaimer, it contains information some of you may not want to read. About a month before leaving home I noticed a small lump on my chest. Consulting with Dr Google I diagnosed myself with either a benign cyst or breast cancer. Not that I don’t trust Dr Google, but figured I should go to my GP for a second opinion. She said it was just a benign cyst and not to worry about it. She said it will just stay as it is, a small barely noticeable lump. Anyway, over the next 2 weeks it roughly quadrupled in size and got red and inflamed. I went back to the GP asking to get it cut out. She was reluctant knowing I was about to head away and the risk of infection with a wound in a less hygienic environment. She instead put me on a course of antibiotics to get the inflammation out of it and told me to return when I get back to Australia to get it surgically removed at that time. The antibiotics worked initially but it flared up again last week. It grew to about the size of a 10 cent piece, raised about a centimeter and quite uncomfortable. I’d seen some YouTube videos of cyst removal. It didn’t look that hard so thought I’d give it a go. I’ll save you all the detail but in summary, with a pocket knife, sterilized of course, and a light squeeze, it didn’t require much encouragement for the contents of this thing to start oozing out. The relief was immediate and strangely satisfying. Now according to my YouTube medical degree, to fully remove a cyst and prevent it from reoccurring, I had to cut out the cyst lining. I figured that was going to require some anesthetic so decided to leave that till I get home. For now it is 10 times better though and no longer bothering me.
While on the medical front, my chest infection, which I ended up taking two courses of antibiotics for, seems to be under control. And today marks 6 weeks since I broke my wrist, so I am now free to start removing the splint and mobilising my wrist. Although I think I will keep it on while climbing just for a bit of extra stability and security.
Tomorrow we are heading up the hill for our first acclimatisation rotation. The plan for our team is to head up through the Khumbu icefall and have two nights at Camp 1, then continue through the Western Cwm and have one night at Camp 2, then return to Base Camp. I have already been to the equivalent height of Camp 2 on Mera Peak so hoping I can alter that schedule slightly and push a bit higher but we’ll see how it goes.
“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”