NEWSLETTERS - Everest Expedition 2003

Newsletter 214 April 2003

Lhasa to Base Camp Mount Everest (5200m)

A few hundred metres higher than Lhasa and several hundred kilometres closer to the objective, Xigatse is largely a chinese trading town now, although it has a beautiful old monastry up on the hills above the centre. The hotel's finest quality for us was the last "normal" hot shower for months (watch later dispatches for the outrageous concept of a hot shower at ABC).

The team are in pretty good shape and acclimatising reasonably well. Some better than others and most are wrestling with headaches from time to time. The body is struggling to deal with the height gain and needs to produce more red blood cells to cope with the decreasing availability of oxygen. A few have had pretty bad stomach upsets and needed TLC from the rest of us which is always available. We are bonding well as a crew with the emphasis so far on relaxing together before it all gets serious later. The characters of the team are creeping out but since I'm typing this only a couple of hours before pulling out of BC to head up I'll fill some content in when we get on line at ABC.

5/4 Xigatse to Tingri

8hrs in the 4x4 passing through dry, barren desert scapes climbing to a dramatic pass @ 5500m. Not much to report other than staggeringly beautiful surroundings, chillin' music and rock n' roll on the MP3's and MD's and tall stories from all. One key item was the first sighting of the mountain even at this distance an intimidating sight. It was an emotional time for everybody as we are all reminded of the complex reasons for heading towards what, for most, will be one of the biggest challenges of their lives. For some its a first, for othrs its unfinished business!

Tingri was a one yak town when I saw it 3 yrs ago. Now its a one yak, one tractor and one mobile phone tower town. Ah, the relentless march of technology. But kind of gratifyingly the old mud hut hotel is still the same, mud walls draped in colourful cloth, a single flex light in each twin room and the homely scurry of tiny feet in the mud thatch roof to lull you to sleep at night. The Tingri Hilton is all its marketing literature cracks it up to be.

6/4 through 7/4 Tingri & into BC

A short hike up a local hill in Tingri helped with acclimatisation and the look back illustrated just how isolated the village is sitting in the middle of a 20km wide flood plain prone to dust storms that turn the main street (only street) into something from the "a fist full of dollars". You can almost hear Enrico Morizioni's music (apologies for spelling).

We improve on the Tingri Hilton by building a Zen rock garden in the dust out side our rooms and Andy and Laura set up a dancing school for Jive which leaves us all breathless after three moves but ridiculously pleased with ourselves.

The approach to BC crosses another 5500m and we are all blown away by clear blue skies and scudding clouds being ripped by some of the highest mountains in the world but dwarfed by the central dominance of Mount Everest. She is flanked by Makalu, Pumori, GainChang and Cho Oyu. The characteristic stream of ice crystals stretch eastward with the prevailing jet stream. We are beside ourselves and many team photo's are shot lots of hugging, kissing and even a few tears.

The Rongbuk monastry is the next major step, only 5k's from BC but the traditional blessing place of all the early expeditions from Mallory and Irvine in 1924 through Hillary and Tensing in 1953 (remember this is the 50th anniversary year). In fact our Sirdar (head sherpa) has already obtained blessings from the Rimpoche of Rongbuk monastary in Kathmandu efore we left. Lhama's from the monastry will come up to BC for a Puja (ceremony asking for safe passage on the mountain) at BC in a few days.

We arrive at BC around midday on the 7th and Russ and the Sherpas had gone ahead to install the basic infrastructure and so we are able to step out of the 4x4's and have a fine meal and drinks to welcome.

8/4 to 14/4 Base camp is an open moraine field at the snout of the Rongbuk glacier which is surrounded by 6000m peaks and dominated at the head of the valley by Mount Everest which towers over everything including Changste which sits in front of it, a 7000m mountain in its own right. The next 6 or 7 days are all about doing as little as possible other than acclimatisation hikes every couple of days and giving the body chance to adjust to the 5200m altitude. Almost everyone suffers with headaches but gradually over the week these improve. They are worse at night when the body's metabalism and breathing rate slows down and oxygen deprivation makes its steel band head crushing pressure felt.

The weather is unseasonably warm to the extent that on some days we can wear a tee shirt and some even have shorts on as long as there is no wind. There is some consensus that the whole season may be early and this creates a sense of purpose and some drive to get moving up the hill and captilise. The sherpa team installed Interim and ABC towards the end of this period and are even starting to explore the route to the North Col.

On the 8th we had our BC Puja with many blessings, climbing equipment is blessed with yak butter and wafted with smoke from juniper as the monks chant their mantras asking for peace and safe passage and blessings from the goddess. Everyone is enthralled, believers and non-believers are captivated and all willingly take part in a moving ceremony which characteristically for Tibetan's and Nepalis ends in beer and cakes. Everyone is completely trashed by midday.

Some time around the 9th we had a BC party with the mess tent cleared and dance music from the teams collection competing for space with superb Tibetan and Nepali sitar music and dancing from the sherpas. Everyone joined in and some joined in a little more than others (notably the girls tending to be more outrageoius than the boys but those of you who know our girls will not be surprised).

There is an enormous amount of infrastructure required to support a 17 strong team on this mountain. Approx. 11 tonnes of equipment for 7 climbers, a leader and 9 sherpas. Perhaps I'll fill in some more details later but here's one, 2000 fresh eggs each carefully set in packaging and then stacked in card board and caged in a metal frame to cope with transport on a yak. Over 400 individual yak journeys will be used up.

By the end of this period most of us are well acclimatised and only a few colds and coughs remain. Some decide to hold off a day before heading up to ABC because of minor sickness which is most sensible since the higher we go the greater the level of duress on the body and so the longer it takes to throw off illness. Today the 14th, Herman is leading Matt, Chung, Zedi, Andy and Laura up to IBC en route to ABC and they pull out around 10am. I'll catch up just as soon as I've finished typing (approx. noon.)

Next message will be from ABC at least 3 days from now.

Tashedelek to you all as the Tibetans would say on passing.

Tony Kelly signing off: 11:27am Monday, 14th April Everest Base Camp.