Part 2 of the story of a 2007 land cruiser trip from Lhasa to Everest by YoWangdu’s Yolanda O’Bannon, shared with two South Koreans, Hong and Choi, along with our Tibetan driver, Tenzin, and guide. At this point in the story, after a few days journey, we have arrived at Everest Base Camp, at 17,000+ feet.
To read Part 1, click here >>
A Room without a View at Base Camp
It was a gloomy and still rainy 7 pm or so when we finally dragged into the Everest Base Camp tent city, and there was nothing — at all — to be seen of the mountain, or anything else really. If we could see the mountain, I asked our guide Tashi, where would it be? He circled his arm high over a grayed-out area in front of us – “Oh.”
Choi and Hong, more hardy than me, decided to take a horse cart up the 4 kilometers to what is known as Base Camp, though Base Camp is clearly a fluid concept, with our tent city being called Base Camp, but that actually being only the place where tourists sleep. Further up 4 kilometers is a viewing area that is the farthest casual visitors can go, and the actual climbers have their tents a bit further up from there. Choi and Hong went up to the “viewing” area and came back in the dark, frozen and shattered, having seen a little sliver of the summit snow in a momentary cloud break. For this excursion, Choi, unbelievably, was wearing, as best I can tell
- a t-shirt
- an Oxford shirt
- light khakis
- a thickish wind/rain breaker thing
- hiker/runner shoes.
Back in the tent city, I was wearing:
- a tank top, *3* light fleece pullovers, a down ski jacket, and a rain jacket
- thermal underwear, jeans and rain pants
- fleece gloves and fleece hat
- 2 pair of thick socks and hiking boots
Choi did admit to feeling a touch chilly.
We offered clothing, but he didn’t take us up on it.
Our yak tent was comfy and fairly warm, with Tibetan style shelf-beds with cushions around the edge where we slept, and a fairly useless wood burning stove. With my Diamox altitude meds and a huge sleeping bag borrowed from a guide in Lhasa, plus a couple of heavy blankets, I slept okay, but was hazily aware at some point of someone standing by the stove for a long time, seeming to make a fire, but I wasn’t really sure, and it seemed like they were there for a long time, just scratching around.
It finally occured to me — as it sometimes occurs to me in the middle of the night — that this could be an ax murderer, so I finally called out, “Who IS that?”
It was Choi, who claimed to be okay and said I should sleep. I should have known better, since it turns out he had pretty bad AMS (altitude sickness), couldn’t sleep, and was cold enough to get out of bed and try to start or restart the fire, without either success or effect.
Much worse, he couldn’t breath very well. Hong, with a bad AMS headache, also couldn’t sleep much. At some point Choi took oxygen and was okay till morning; Hong just didn’t sleep much at all. I realized later this is how people get in trouble up there — the confusion of the night — not wanting to bother others. We were lucky they were both okay.
The Face of Chomolangma
I knew they’d had a real bad night when they both refrained from going again to Base Camp in the pre-dawn morning. Both those guys are pretty stoic, and they had said they wanted to go twice. With driver Tenzin eager to get back on what I privately called the Old Shitty road back to Lhasa, I grabbed our poor sleeping guide, Tashi, and a horse cart — there was literally not enough time for me to haul my molasses-slow butt up the 4 kilometers to the viewing spot at Base Camp.
Off we went, into the still cloudy pre-dawn, wildly hopeful that the rainless night and the shifting clouds would work some magic and let Chomolangma (the Tibetan name for Everest) show her face. It was not looking good — the horse cart driver said rain and clouds had obscured her for 3 solid days. It was immensely depressing to realize that we very well might be like the German tourists leaving as we were entering the Everest area, who had seen nothing at all.
In a scene for which I will be eternally grateful, over the next 45 minutes, the clouds brightened and lifted, like layers of veils, as we got closer and closer, until, there she was — Chomolangma in all her glory — almost all white from the storms, that distinctive sharp summit, and long vertical slants of cracked snow fields rising out of the mists. Me and Tashi laughed out loud and high fived. Ha ha! Look at that!
Having deeply doubted in the night if those damn low clouds would ever lift, it was an even more tremendous moment, and it just got better. After we returned to the tents, slammed down some breakfast and made to leave, I stepped outside to brush my teeth or something, and looked up to find her even more glorious — the clouds completely vanished — the sky bright aching blue, the mountain in pure, bright white relief, a moment like the appearance of the mother ship in Third Encounters.
I badly wanted to get closer, to approach the glaciers at the foot of the mountain, but there was no time. Me and Choi and Hong snapped photos like mad while Tenzin tried to herd us out of there — we were two hours late starting — and we headed, bouncing, back to the Old Shitty, grinning, grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime gift.