Day 12: EBC To Come Here Is Folly
Gorak Shep (5150m) → Everest Base Camp (5270m) → Gorak Shep
Plus! Nepalese Disco Night!
Outside, I found it was bitterly cold with a blasting wind, even in the very bright sunshine…
…and when we set off, the mood was somber.
To reach EBC from Gorak Shep involves crossing a ‘moraine’ which is a bouldery, dusty wasteland left after a glacier passes through, and that's what we were traversing. In fact, there was almost nothing between our two endpoints but.
Despite my lack of enjoyment of it at the time, looking at the photos, it's hard to deny this place had a stark, desolate beauty. I guess one of the things I'm dealing with lately is the fact that the past, via memory, can never really be recovered. (As did, I guess, Proust.) Can it be recovered via meticulous photo-documentation and note-taking? I don't know. I do know I am at least in part recreating the experience now, 18 months later, sitting at my desk in Chelsea.
As we got close, we encountered a lone Frenchwoman having a fag break. She offered to move. “You want to take a photo?” I didn't. “You must go that way.” She pointed in the direction leading down to base camp. She was like a character misplaced from a Sartre play.
So that there trying to spill down all over base camp is the Khumbu Icefall. Aside from being the bottom of the Khumbu Glacier, the world's highest, it's also one of the most dangerous parts of the ascent to the south face of Everest. This because it's not only melting, but also moving all the time, different parts at varying rates, creating crevasses up to 150 feet deep and towering ice seracs over 30 feet high. Due to collapses, avalanches, or good ole just falling into a crevasse, 44 climbers have died in the Icefall 25% of the historic total (from the Nepal side).
The climbing season is of course in May the 2016 season had been a ‘successful’ one, with about 600 successful summits… and ‘only’ five deaths. Good times compared to recent years: In 2014 an ice serac fell off the west shoulder of Everest, killing 19 in the Icefall (16 of them Sherpas), and ending the season immediately with no summits on the south side. And of course 2015 saw the devastating earthquake that killed 9,000 Nepalis plus 19 in a resulting avalanche onto EBC.
While the climbers were lured back this year, trekker numbers were down 40%. (Despite the fact that, as my research found, the only trekkers who died did so when their Kathmandu hotel fell on their heads. As usual, people are very bad at rational risk analysis…) The huge fall-off in the trekking trade was of course devastating to Nepal, and just when they needed the money most desperately, but very pleasant for us empty trails. I guess I could also feel good that we were there spending money.
Anyway, we were here to admire the lonely momument to the ‘success’ of the 2016 climbing season…
Here's what I posted to facebook from the scene:
Getting here involved crossing a moraine – a vast lunar wastescape of boulders and dust, left after a glacier blasts through – in a freezing howling wind, then out onto the ice fall, which is like some Nordic conception of hell done in ice rather than fire. To come here is folly.
Get ready for Tropy Photo City, baby! Population: us.
But, you know what, pretty quickly probably right after I saw the likes and comments start coming in I was actually glad to have the trophy photo, and glad Darby insisted. (I might not have chosen to pay the price of coming all the way up here for it; but that price was paid, either way, and the result was, yeah, kind of cool.)
And… back. The way we'd come.
Just pausing to note that this photo was not only a close first-runner-up for the banner image above but one of my very favourites of the trek, I think. Captures the beautiful desolation, and the loneliness, pretty well, and if I do say so myself.
On our return, I presented with painful and itchy hands, to which Aakash applied something pink, which seemed to do the trick. I also got sick of the overcrowded, underheated main room of our teahouse, so f'ed off to the smaller one I discovered upstairs. It was all of warmer, cosier, less crowded, and more charming than ours, and a great boon to me. (I can by no means blame Mountain Monarch for sticking us in the other one; like I said, they must have had a replicator from Star Trek to provide as much as they did for as little as we were paying them.)
Additionally happily, I got to chatting with a woman from Derbyshire, a Glaswegian bloke, and a film producer from Toronto. We rapped movies and Graham Greene, and I slightly felt myself getting my mojo back:
I made some further motivational notes to myself, which would be embarrassing to reproduce here… Dinner must have followed (notes silent on the subject), then traditional evening briefing regarding our ascent of Kala Patthar, and subsequent short retreat back down to Lobuche, both of which we'd be doing on the same (i.e. next) day.
7/7.30/8. Layers, windbreaker, leave after lunch, 2hr → Lobuche @ 3/3.30.
Tonight, though, post-dinner, post-briefing, and post-bed… there was a lovely and very unexpected coda:
Nepalese Disco Night!
There I found 30-40 Nepalese youths getting their freak on. And DJing from his phone was… Aakash! The revelers were the cooking and cleaning staffs from every teahouse in town, and they get to do this once a year. They work terrible hours in the shadows, and I can't imagine get paid much. They were all young. They were all happy and smiling and singing and dancing. There was rum and beer and a lonely bowl of popcorn.
One Kiwi bloke and I were the only Western infiltrators. I resisted both the drinks I was graciously plied with and the entreaties to dance and sat and ate a roll of coconut crunches and spectated and smiled myself at being afforded the privilege of this look behind the veil.