Newsletter 817 April 2012
Everest Base Camp - Behind the Scenes
While the Everest climbers are acclimatising on Lobuje East having all summited the peak in the past two days, life at Everest base camp goes on. “We have a lot of little jobs to do and now is the best time to do them as the camp is empty,” Russell said. As I am writing this sitting in front of the White Pod gazing at Everest’s West Shoulder and Nuptse towering above us, the Sherpas are busy cleaning and organising the camp. “I don’t think I have ever seen such clean toilets in a camp,” said Nancy, a trekker from Arizona. “It makes going about your daily business much more pleasant.”
However, not only the toilets, which are separated in men’s and women’s, are something to write home about. “This is the best kitchen above 5,000m and I am very proud of it,” our head chef Tashi told me wiping down the stainless-steel counters. Each kitchen unit was carried up by one porter and even though each weighs 80kg, according to Tashi, it is not as heavy as our 120kg-generator, which supplies some of the electricity at our camp.
Providing enough electricity for the dozens of phones, cameras, iPads, laptops, etc. is another big challenge for Russell Brice. “We generate the equivalent of the electricity needed for two households per day and it is still not enough,” he said looking at the 50 solar panels that are essential to keep our huge camp as well as the communication going.
Getting around the Himalayan Experience village almost requires a map. With its four dining tents, two kitchen tents, store tent (which could almost qualify for a shop), two toilet tents, shower tent and the different quarters for Sherpas, members and guides it can take up to five minutes to get from one place to the other. “All in all we will have 137 people coming through this camp and when we are full with all the Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse climbers there will be 94 people staying here at a time,” Russell explained.
Of course, all these people have to be fed and in order to fill so many hungry mouths, the kitchen staff had bought almost five tons of food for the expedition. “It took seven people ten days to pack it all up and get it flown to Syangboche, the airstrip above Namche Bazaar,” Tashi explained. In total, the equipment of our base camp amounts to around 12 tons, which were carried up by porters as well as yaks. “Before the rest of the team arrived, the Sherpas had been working here for more than three weeks to set up the camp,” Phurba said.
Happy to be back
This year, Himalayan Experience employs 31 climbing Sherpas and 12 kitchen staff to cater for the members and guides. For the Sherpas, coming back to Everest is almost like coming home. “Our group of Sherpas is like a big family and we are proud to be working for Himalayan Experience,” Lhakpa Sherpa explained.
Every season is also a huge learning ground for the local Sherpas as they find out more about hygiene, health and cleanliness. “For us this is a very important time and sometimes people wonder how we feel about the Westerners climbing Everest. We need them as without them we would not earn any money,” Tashi said.
Expedition life has certainly changed the culture and the lives of many Sherpas and even though they work hard, they also enjoy great benefits. “Even though the work is hard and risky, we like being on expedition. Here we get better food and we get time off during which we play cards or just enjoy each other’s company. Most of us have to work harder when we are at home so it is almost a holiday for us,” our Sirdar, Phurba Tashi said. “Of course, our wives are worried and every time they hear a helicopter they wonder whether it is one of us, who is being rescued.
The main reason why the Sherpas are here is to earn money as life in the Khumbu has also changed and money is becoming increasingly important. Ang Tshering used to be a monk in one of the local monasteries but now he has a family, who he needs to feed. “Our culture is changing and whereas money was not that important before it is now. I am very happy to be here and have the opportunity to earn my money with Himalayan Experience.”
Also new this year is the latest Sherpa uniform from Toread from China. “I think other Sherpa teams are a little bit jealous of our nice new outfits,” Phurba Tashi said with a smile. “The other day, a group of Sherpas looked at us wondering whether we were Sherpas or climbing members.”
And so, base camp life goes on. The Sherpas are busy preparing the camp for the members to come back and be comfortable, Russell is organising a rope fixing meeting (which we will report about) and the rest of the team continues to acclimatise on Lobuje East, and I will be in touch again with more news and profiles in the next few days.
Billi Bierling at Everest Base Camp