Wendy’s latest post from Everest Base Camp!
We’ve settled into a routine here at base camp. I hesitate to use the word ‘comfortable’ although in many ways it really is. You begin to sort of accept things, and as the daily routine becomes the norm you learn, and from there you grow more familiar and comfortable. In that routine the body slowly accepts life with less oxygen and every day you feel a little stronger than the day before.
Breakfast is always at 8 am sharp in the dining tent. I awaken early when the first light hits my tent around 5:45 but it is still bitter cold and there are ice particles on my sleeping bag and inside my tent created by the warm air I exhale during the night. To minimize this, the tent flap is kept open during the night. We estimate the temperature to be somewhere around 16 degrees F. From 5:45 until 7:41 I stay deep in the down bag (think hibernating chipmunk here).
At exactly 7:41 the sun hits the back of my tent. Almost as if an electrical switch has been flipped, the temperature warms up to a tolerable 30. The clothing items I washed the day before are hanging in the tent frozen stiff. They will be dry enough to wear within hours of sun rise. I have less than 15 minutes to pull myself together. I am far more groggy than at sea level so getting going takes a lot longer. I sit upright in my sleeping bag for several minutes gathering my thoughts.
My clothes are cold and slightly frozen so I stick them in the sleeping bag to thaw for a few minutes. Once dressed I rush to the small ‘restroom” tent about twenty feet from my tent. This is difficult terrain on morning legs, rocks, ice, snow – no different than the interior of the restroom tent. I imagine the beautiful new bathroom I just redid back home… nope got to banish that thought quickly. Breakfast starts with rice pudding, it is all I can do to get a few spoonfuls down. We then have some sort of egg and toast or pancakes. I am not eating well and find it difficult to swallow most of the food, liquids seems to be the only thing I can tolerate. I’m making an effort but I know my calorie count is way down. It is recommended we eat (you lowlanders will just love this!) 8000 calories per day and drink at least 4 liters of liquids. I do make it a point to eat a candy bar every afternoon with a Pringles chaser. Great diet!
After breakfast we assemble and head out for a training hike. Since base camp is at the end of the long trek from Lukla we can not go any further, steep, high slabs of rock and ice prevent further passage. Not to mention, China is on the other side and they are not too keen on our entry. So we head back down the valley a short way and then up toward some surrounding peaks.
As usual getting the heart and lungs working efficiently is both frightening and important. Several times during these morning workouts I feel as if I am suffocating and my limbs grow weak as the oxygen rushes to my heart and lungs leaving the limbs deplete for several seconds. That will humble a person. I know I look horrendous at this moment and grimace in fear and discomfort. As always my nose is running (the Fish Chicks know this well) I am snorting like an overworked yak and I am miserable. This misery I am assured is part of being an alpinist. Yesterday I was told it was like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer. It only feels good when you stop. Remind me again why I choose to do this?
After lunch we are instructed to lay low, rest is crucial, too much rest
devastatingly difficult to shake out of. I try to stay out of my tent which by now is delightfully warm and cozy but cooks the energy right out of you. Its like a sauna and despite being very cold outside I can take off all my layers of clothing inside. That is until the sun goes behind a thick afternoon cloud or sets for the day around 5 pm. then get ready! Every layer I have comes back on including an enormous down parka, gloves, hat, hood, the full deal. In a matter of seconds every speck of liquid has turned solid – including me.
We assemble for a team meeting at 6pm. here Dave outlines the following day’s itinerary and the team discusses needs, health and concerns. Dinner is promptly served at 6:30, the meals are amazing. Dinner always begins with soup followed by some of the most creative cuisine I have ever seen. Our camp chef carves flourishes out of fruits and vegetables and adorns water buffalo in ways I have never seen. We have had pizza, chicken cordon bleu (at least I think that’s what it was, please don’t tell me differently), curry and burritos (okay, that night our American base camp director cooked). Dessert has been anything from canned fruit to a homemade apple pie.
Now all this doesn’t sound too extraordinary except the actual kitchen is a primitive stone structure with a blue tarp roof lashed down with rope. The stove is propane, there is no electricity or running water yet our Sherpa staff are able to see to our every need.
Depending on the following days activities, after dinner either everyone escapes to their tents for the night or Mark Tucker, our base camp facilitator as he likes to be referred, calls to action a game of poker. Mark wears about a hundred hats each with a huge smile and wonderful sense of humor. He has corny jokes and the attitude of a Vegas casino operator, but behind the scenes he is what makes base camp run in all aspects from seeing there is peanut butter on the table to the vital communications and technology required on the mountain. Mark is the ‘go to’ guy and he will see it gets done quickly, efficiently and always with a sense of humor.
Man, am I lucky he is on my team. But at night it’s “Tuck” who gets things riled up. The poker games began innocently enough down valley but now at EBC they are serious – the stakes are high! Once we stopped playing with beans and the poker chips were located the stakes grew from 20 rupees (about 25 cents) to 100 rupees ($1.30) all the way to 500 ($8.00) and we have only been here 10 days. I am whipped out of poker chips quickly and happily go off to my tent with two water bottles filled with hot water. These go into my sleeping bag for the night. One at my frozen feet, the other on my stomach. They will stay warm until morning and then I quickly locate them and extract them from my bag. By about 8:30, or if it is a late night of cards 10 pm, I am in my sleeping bag. I can still hear the card game going strong and Tuck yelling “come on… Daddy needs a new pair of crampons!”
I am still taking life a day at a time. Everyday I feel a little more settled and resolute hopeful that the following day I will be a little stronger, a little faster and a little more equipped to take on the bigger task ahead in a few weeks.
Everest Base Camp