Practice Run No.4: Welcome to Everest Base Camp

In Practice Run No.4by Steve

EBC – My home for the next 6 weeks, in between rotations on the hill.

Two days ago I arrived at Everest Base Camp, three days ahead of schedule. Here I’m joining Tim Mosedale’s expedition, but they’re not due to arrive until later today, so I have spent the past couple of days with our Sherpa team who have been here for the past ten days setting up camp. Within Tim’s team, there are four climbers heading to Everest, and myself and one other heading to Lhotse, plus the climbing Sherpas, without whom none of us would be going anywhere.

I’ve seen and read many documentaries and articles on the commercial era of climbing on Everest, mostly critical. But I’ve always had a fascination to see it for myself. Now I haven’t even been up the hill yet, but Base Camp itself is a site to behold. It stretches for several hundred meters along the side of the Khumbu glacier with a mass of tents, large mess tents, kitchen tents, stores tents, personal sleeping tents, toilet tents, etc scattered everywhere. Being on a glacier it is all ice and rock underfoot. I’m predicting rolled ankles are going to take top prize for most common injury, ahead of altitude sickness and frost bite.

I’ve heard there’s been over 500 permits issued for climbers attempting Everest south side this year, and then for every climber there’s climbing Sherpas, expedition leaders, base camp staff, etc. That gives you some idea as to the scale of the setup. Most of the sleeping tents are small yellow/orange dome tents, of which there are literally hundreds. I can imagine trying to find your tent after a night at the pub would be a mission and a half. (And no, there’s not actually a pub here but they do have pretty much everything else. I’ll be abstaining from any of that anyway, at least until after a successful summit). It definitely is a circus, but I am one of the clowns contributing to the chaos so I can’t comment.

Despite the sheer size of the operation, it still actually feels relatively quiet. The side of the glacier is undulating with waves of rock and ice. Tents are pitched anywhere there is level ground, usually in the hollows. Looking around, I can really only see my immediate camp. It is not until you get to a high point that you can see the true size. Plus people are still arriving so it will likely swell in the coming days.

Our team’s camp is near the northern end of the entire camp, directly adjacent the menacing Khumbu icefall. I’m happy as it means we are close to the start of the climb, compared to the teams at the other end of the camp who have to traverse several hundred meters back and forth along the glacier each time they go up the hill. It also means it is much quieter as we are away from all the trekkers who typically only go as far as the southern end of the camp. We also have Everest ER, an emergency clinic set up to treat climbers coming off the hill, directly next door. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.

And, as I found out this morning, out of the hundreds of tents here, mine is literally the closest to the makeshift helipad servicing base camp. I was lying in my tent this morning and could hear the roar of a chopper overhead. Most choppers are just doing scenic fly-overs, but this one was coming in to land. My tent started to shake wildly with the downdraft. I quickly got up and to my surprise, the helipad was no more that 20m away. I wish I had have spotted that before picking my tent.

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