My Mount Everest base camp experience began by flying into the “world’s most dangerous airport”, Lukla airport, which is perched on the side of a mountain and is complete with the shortest airstrip on the planet.
Upon landing, the airstrip goes straight up hill as the pitch from front to back is 10 stories.
The pilots slam on the brakes.
Along the trek you come aross a very special place – the beautiful Tengboche Monastery, located at 3860M/12,660 ft. It was destroyed first by earthquake, then by fire and rebuilt both times. You also get treat to once in a lifetime views of some of the most famous big mountains in the world from this lofty little village – Everest, Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Nuptse, Tawache and Thamserku.
The monks host public chanting sessions twice a day as well.
We pass a field of about 100 memorials made out of stones, prayer flags, and plaques commemorating many of the climbers that died on Everest. Many of those people’s bodies are still there on the mountain, and probably will be forever. Pictured is Scott Fischer’s memorial, who perished on Everest with 7 others in 1996, the tragedy made famous by the John Krakauer book “Into Thin Air.”
I remember reading this book about 15 years ago, feeling the grip of this Khumbu region, Everest and the Himalayas in general. Ironically the account of this tragedy cemented my desire to make this journey. To see that memorial brought a mix of feelings and I was a bit emotional this day, not only for realizing the stark reality of seeing those stones for the fallen, but also because I finally made it.
And finally I arrive at Everest Base Camp (17,600ft/5380M) – hallowed Ground. I’ve read, thought and dreamt about this place and this area for the last 20 years of my life. Is there a place in nature that has illicited a more varied range of human emotion?
Some climbers party in expedition tents after summiting and fulfilling lifelong dreams, experiencing towering peaks of human emotion – quite literally right next to another group that may have just lost 3 team members-fully experiencing the horrors of death, interspersed with gut-wrenching second guessing and poisonous guilt. For many reasons and on many different levels, there’s not another place like it on earth.
Kala Patthar (18,519ft/5,644M) is a small peak that provides the most accessible point to view Mount Everest (due to the structure of Everest, it can’t be seen from base camp). It’s a class 3 scramble towards the small triangular tip, with sheer drop-offs of 1500+ft on 3 sides as you get to the small perch that is only big enough for 1 person-quite simply it has one of the best views in the world (that I’ve seen or can imagine).
Some of the most famous big mountains in the world right in front of you: Lhotse, Nuptse, Nup II, Changtse, and of course Everest (middle left) staring you right in the face, with the nefarious, infamous and deadly Khumbu Icefall in the lower left. Honestly, the most beautiful spot I’ve ever been in my life.
It took me a while to process this trip. There’s so much planning and strategizing every day to keep yourself hydrated, energized, warm, rested, well fed, clean, organized, acclimated – you don’t have a lot of time to just exist. It’s unlike any other hike in the world, especially when unseasonably cold temperatures settle in at the higher elevations day in and day out, as they did in my time there.
Watching a few people come in to lodges and immediately crash on the floor for rest, or get helicoptered down to lower elevations to possibly save their life brings a different energy to your day. I’ve read a lot of books about Everest climbers, their experiences and processes, but after being here I have a new-found respect for what they go through on 2-3 month journeys that go over 10,000 feet higher, get sooooo much colder and are much, much harder on the body and psyche.
Trekking to Everest base camp and Kala Patthar was a trip of a lifetime. Not easy or comfortable, but a lot of the most cherished and valuable experiences in life are neither. The impressions and memories will be part of who I am forever and for that I’m grateful.