Everest Base Camp Trek: Living At Base Camp
Lying in a tent in Everest Base Camp, you can hear the ever-moving glacier beneath you crack and pop. Minor avalanches fall with a rumble and a rush on the surrounding mountains, their plumes of snow invisible in the darkness. These are the sounds of night at the edge of the Khumbu Icefall. By early morning, the mountains have a blue-black glow. The half moon is sharply luminous overhead, but the stars have been extinguished. Men stir. Stoves are pumped, primed, and begin their whoosh and whir to heat morning tea. Another day of setting camps, supporting climbers, and reaching for the summit begins.
After a night on the glacier, I wondered what it would be like to spend TWO MONTHS living at Base Camp. So I asked Pemba.…
Pemba Gyalje, at home on the glacier
“The first few days living at Base Camp is not too bad, but when we are staying a long time, you feel kind of boring. You want to see more grassland and more green. A long time staying on the glacier is not a good feeling. Always we are greedy to see plants and vegetation.
“Early on, both climbers and support staff are busy to get everything set up. Sherpas are doing a lot of climbing to push up all supplies from base camp to higher on the mountain. Foreigners are doing less climbing – just for acclimatization. After Camp 4 (high camp) is completely set up and everyone has good acclimatization, then we are just waiting and waiting for good weather – always waiting for a good weather window.
“People play cards and games and make jokes to pass the time if there is bad weather for three or four days. That’s all – there is no extra fun. Now the majority of people come down to Gorak Shep, Lobuche, or Pheriche if there is a forecast of one week bad weather. They want to see vegetation, have a good shower, and relax.
“Water is a big problem here because there is only running water (melted ice) during the day. Morning and evening there is no running water from the Icefall, so people use glacial lake water for drinking and showering. Glacier water has strong micah content. The first two weeks is difficult to adjust to the water’s mineral content. It smells different and makes an uncomfortable stomach.
“Some people are very satisfied staying a long time on the glacier because there is clean rock, ice, and snow. Sometime we organize ice climbing for 2 – 3 hours in a day and refresh everyone’s skills. If there is a lot of fresh snow, there are many fun things like ice climbing, playing with snowballs, building a snowman, and even taking a snow bath if it’s a sunny day.
“For me there is no frustration or boredom even if I stay two months because I have spent so many years on the glacier. Now I feel comfortable just like staying lower down. I have fully adjusted to the glacier environment, and I feel very easy.
“EBC is an international base camp with so many different people from different countries. It’s good to see people and interact with them. It’s quite important for climbers and trekkers because they can learn so much about climbing, culture, and politics all across the world.”
Descending in one day what took us three to climb, we re-cross 3 small bridges, 2 large glaciers, and 1 rockslide until we are skipping over stones on the broad and windy plain of Pheriche. At 14,000 ft., breathing comes easily now, appetites have returned, and sleep is solid. Back in a habitable, if not quite hospitable, landscape.
Pangboche Village and Monastery
Pangboche is home to a 600-year-old monastery (the first in the Khumbu Valley). Built around a rock where a famous lama once meditated, the dim interior is filled with old statues, crumbling relics, wrathful deities behind locked doors, and the exaggerated faces of carved masks used in ritual summer dances.
Monastery interior. Blandine Fayolle photo
Men from this village, as from all in the area, are leaving their homes and families for the start of climbing season. It’s not surprising that we find three old lamas conducting a short ceremony for protection in this dangerous work. No one starts a journey or undertakes a risky venture in Nepal without a blessing first. Nearly every Sherpa going high on the mountain will pay for a ceremony at their home monastery in addition to the blessing the lamas will conduct for each and every group at base camp.