Dawn was starting to break. Mt Everest is the obvious tallest peak in the photo.
Today was the big day when we would get real close to Mt Everest. My husband and I had always been interested in Mt Everest, reading lots of books about it and watched the movie and TV shows with people climbing Everest. The more I read about it, the more I realized how crazy it would be to climb it (for me). I don't believe people who were not experienced climbers should be "guided" up the mountain. I was certainly not one with any experience, I didn't even go camping! But the longer I waited, the less likely I would be able to see Everest with my own eyes. I only wanted to experience the great mountain in a safe way and from a reasonable distance. So after reading several accounts of people on travbuddy visiting the base camp, I decided I should go as soon as practical.
Kevin and I before the sunrise
That was last year. I did some research, found a company (Geographic Expeditions) which organized tours there and signed up. Kevin was more than willing to go, but I wondered if anybody else we knew would be interested. We found 2 couples we knew who were intrigued with the idea and they also signed up. So after almost a year of anticipation we were finally almost there!
We got up early today and were supposed to leave the hotel at 6:30am, to ensure we were well positioned to see the sunrise from Pang La (5200m) over the Himalayans. Jan and Joel were wondering at breakfast where our guide was since he usually was around at breakfast time. We figured he was around and didn't worry until we all got to the lobby and still no guide nor drivers! After talking to the hotel staff, they were able to locate our people.
Lhotse catching a little sun, while Mt Everest is still not lit.
Oops, there were some frantic activites and probably swearing in Tibatan in the direction of their room. They were really sorry to have overslept and had hurriedly gotten ready in less than 30 minutes. Without breakfast for them, we headed out.
We stopped at some checkpoint to show them we had permission and ticket to go into the area, and up the pass we went. We got there about 15 minutes before the sun rose, so no problem. There were no clouds over the mountains, and we could make out the outline of the mighty Himaylans. Furtherest east, we could see Makalu, the 5th highest mountain in the world (8463m), there was a pyramid shaped peak to its west, which nobody seem to know, so apparently it's not tall enough! Then some distance more to the west (14 miles to be exact) was Mt Everest, a bigger pyramid shaped peak, with Lhotse hidden slightly behind it on the left (east), then more lower ridges, and we had a very impressive and long ridge whose rightmost (west) peak was Cho Oyo, at 8201m, the 6th highest in the world.
Mt Everest sunrise (as well as Makalu at the left)
Then slightly out of our view from this location, would rise Shishapangma, at 8013m, the 14th highest in the world, and the only one entirely in Tibet.
There were others waiting for the sunrise, most have cameras ready on tripods. There was however a couple of vendors who were rather annoying. One decided to lay out his souvenir cloth right in front of me, and demanded me to move. I argued with him saying I was there first, but to no avail. So eventually I moved, there were other spots just as fine for photographing. I did tell Kevin not to pay any attention to this vendor when he had the nerve to start trying to sell something to us. This was the only bad encounter I had in Tibet with anyone so rude. Later in Nepal and Thailand, we would run into other and lots of bad vendors!
Taking some deep breaths to calm myself, I focused back on the mountains, and watched the sun hit more and more of the peaks and changing the colors of the snow from white to pink then to white again.
top of Cho Oyo is the rightmost lit peak
After the sun rose, all the peaks became white again, we walked up the top of the pass for a wider view. And since there was a cell tower right there, the cell phones had 5 bars. I called David and Eric and told them I was viewing the sunrise over Mt Everest. It was really exciting. From the top of the pass, we had a view further west, and Shishapanga was in sight. The temperature was above freezing, but there were frost or ice crystals formed on the ground.
We then headed toward base camp. Stopping at one more place for good photos and a group photo of us with Everst in the background. We were supposed to stay at the Rongbuk Lodge across from the monastery according to our itinenary, however, after reading blogs from Larry and Cindy and others who had been to the base camp and stayed at the tents, we decided to check out the lodge as well as the tents.
Makalu at the far left, the unknown pyramid peak, then Lhotse and Everest.
Personally I thought the tents would be more interesting. The lodge didn't have indoor plumbing, so not much of and advantage.
We drove to the base camp, which was a small tent village. Looked around and all decided the tents may be better because we all got to stay in the same place, so we could talk more easily. Our tent/hotel was very close to the toilet tent, so at least it's not a long walk to go there. Most tents pretty much looked the same. I was thinking they should offer something unique and use it as a selling point instead of having 50 all basically offering the same thing. Our hostess was a 17 year old Tibetan girl, who ran the tent along with her 18 year old sister. The tent experience was definitely unique (but probably the same in every tent).
Panorama of Himalayan sunrise from Makalu, Lhotse, Everest all the way to Cho Oyo
People of all kinds would wander in and out of "our" tent at all times, some were local tent hotel hosts or other workers, and others would be tourists like us. The locals would come in, sit down, and some would start smoking! I told them no smoking here and they would put out the cigrette. Others would walk through and visit the girls in the back tent. Privacy definitely had a different definition here, but there would be more surprises later. We did have a young German couple who wandered in to chat, they told us they were not very well acclimatized and they had come from Kathmandu, instead of Lhasa
. I would become a firm believer that one should do this trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu, for many good reasons.
A view from Makalu, Lhotse, Everest to Cho Oyo.
Spending a few days in Lhasa to acclimatize is a good idea, and since there were a lot to see around Lhasa, your time would not be wasted. Then take the time like we did to get to base camp, so your body will adjust properly. I did not know at the base camp there was even another good reason to do the trip in this direction, but I will describe later when we get to Kathmandu.
Our guide found out that a car had been broken into the other night, and our original plan of leaving unused luggage in the car locked up was changed to keeping everything in the tent and have at least one person watching them. Later we were told that the base camp would be shutdown that weekend, earlier than usual, because the authority decided that was the best way to prevent more trouble at the base camp.
The top of the pass is a little hike up.
The tents were set up every year, from March to October. And our girl hostesses would be going home after the shutdown and come back next year. We walked around, and walked a little ways out of the tent village toward Mt Everest, but we would go to the "real" base camp area tomorrow. There was a small rock hill just outside the tent area, before the East Rongbuk monastery. Some prayer flags were up there, and I thought maybe there would be some good view up there. So I walked up there, lots of big rocks, but it was not that easy to get to the very top, so I started back down. I heard some thundering hoofs and turned around to see several somethings ran toward me, but as soon as they saw me, they looked startled and turned and ran behind more rocks to my left.
ice crystals on the ground
I only saw some furry backends. I think there were sheep or goats (turned out they wer called "blue sheep"), and took out my digital camera in hope of more coming this way. Well, something did come, but it was a dog chasing the sheep! It was caught by my camera, in a startled look also, and it ran away too. This was a fun experience! I thought these sheep were wild, and we would see some of them later by the road on the way to the monastery.
In the afternoon, we went to the Rongbuk Monastery and visited the nuns there. There were making wicks for the oil lamps, which seemed to be a major task at all monasteries. The Rongbuk had both monks and nuns. According to the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve booklet we got as part of entry into this area, there are currently 11 monks, 8 nuns.
At the top of the Pang La pass, with 4 arrows pointing to Makalu (leftmost), Lhotse, Everest and Cho Oyo.
We saw 3 nuns making wiks. This is the highest monastery in the world, very unique because it forms a perfect photographic foreground to Mt Everest. I saw a photo from 1921, another from 1981 when it was in ruins, so now it is in pretty good shape. Since it is so remote, they got very few visitors. A very old monk was sitting in a tiny building in front of the monastery ringing the bell the old fashioned way. We walked the circuit around the Rongbuk Monastery before heading back to our tent village. Very fine view of Mt Everest from the monastery, I am sure you have seen photos of Mt Everest with a chorten (stupa) in front, that was from here!
In the tent, I passed the time by reading a book on how to tie knots, and our hostess girl was very interested and wanted to practice too.
Panorama view of Himalayans from the top of Pang La
She spoke Chinese just fine, and a little English. So over the 2 days spent here, we tied knots together, I tried teaching her some yoga moves and also some English. She told me she never went to school, and had to help the family since she was little. She was very curious, and a quick learner. The wind would pick up in the afternoon, and blew down the middle of the tent village , this was supposed to be a regular expected weather pattern here.
At dinner time, our guide cooked up some soup which was delicious and stir-fried rice. We did not have our usual appetite probably due to the attitude. There was more food than any of us could eat. Our guide took very good care of us and some of us joked that he acted like a Jewish mother, always worried that we did not have enough to eat! The girls would use the stove in the tent to cook hot water, yak dung and goat droppings were the fuel.
From the pass, this is the road we took down toward base camp.
When we had any boxes or papers or other material suitable for use as fuel, we were told to save them. They did not have enough fuel just from yak and goats. The sunset was closer to 8pm, so around 7:30 we went out to watch sunset. There were no clouds and we had a beautiful sunset!
The tent had solar powered lights for the evening, but there was not really much to do except to read (better with dayllight) and sleep and chat a little. We went to sleep probably before 10pm. The girls put a stick to prop the door closed saying that was to prevent people from coming in at night. Around 11:30, the door was busted open, and somebody walked in! He had a flashlight which he shone on the us quickly, and then went to the back tent through "our" room. Then he quickly left.
Pony cart encountered on the road to base camp.
I was not sure what that was about, and somebody who was sleeping in the back tent (a friend of the girls?) came out and tried to "lock" the door again, with a couple of sticks this time. It was not that cold (never below freezing in the tents) with all the covers we got, but I did wake up a couple of times during the night, once when a dog (probably the one I saw on the rocks today) started barking near our tent, and distant dogs howled back. This lasted for quite a few minutes. This was our first night at Everest Base camp.