How it feels to be at the bottom
of the top of the world
We just knew it was going to be a great day. We were up early, we'd left our backpacks at the lodge to collect later, and I was back to feeling strong and energetic. I can't forget to mention the crystal-clear sky and the bright sunlight shining down on the landscape from every angle. Despite what you may think, you actually cannot see Mount Everest clearly from Base Camp nor on most of the hike. The last time we saw the mountain was on Day 2 and since then, the mountain hadn't shown herself until this last stretch.
It didn't take more than an hour or two before we had Base Camp in our sights. The last stretch of trail before you hit camp is on a dragon's back ridge above the glacier below. EBC is actually set up on top of the glacier itself, which you can hear stretching and cracking its knuckles as it warms up. The mass of tour groups was gone; this time, it was just us. Well, us and a shaggy dog ahead of us whom we affectionately dubbed "Sherpa dog" for showing us the way when the trail got muddled.
I could hardly contain my excitement and darted ahead towards the yellow tents populating my field of vision. Just a couple of steps around an icy patch of glacier, a few bounds up a short hill and there I was, standing under the prayer flags like a Nascar driver when she breaks through the finish line. I was at Everest.
May, when we visited, is summitting season. Due to a brief break in the high winds that plague the mountain's peak, it's the perfect time to reach the world's highest point more easily and safely. May also means that base camp will be an actual functioning camp instead of the pile of rocks you see in the photo above. Although I knew there were a record 371 permits issued this year, I didn't expect base camp to be so expansive. I walked around the grounds for almost ninety minutes and still didn't see half of the tents that were up. Walking was challenging because of the unsteady terrain because the ground is covered in gravel and criss-crossing streams of water. Socks were laid out on rocks to dry in the sun; the unmistakable smell of marinara sauce steamed from large dining tents; friends rapped on each others tents rousing them from midday naps.
One of the Australian climbers coming out of his tent returned my smile and struck up a conversation with me. He shared that no one had summitted yet this season and most of the climbers were waiting for the Sherpas to return from their break at lower altitudes to commence climbing once more. No one can even think about climbing Everest without a Sherpa, a person belonging to an ethnic group bearing the same name indigenous to the region. They're the most knowledgeable about the region and have a lifetime of experience climbing and working in the altitude. Most people there had made it to Camp Three, a task that takes weeks. In addition to hiking to base camp, climbers have to brave the ice falls (those 10-feet tall pieces of ice sticking out of the ground like glass shards) to get to Camp One, descend, climb farther to Camp Two, descend, and so on until they are acclimated enough to reach the top. The whole process of actually climbing Everest takes between twenty and thirty days. Little did we all know that on that day, the first group would reach the top for the first time in years.
As an aside, I have to say it was so refreshing to get to the end of a goal I worked so hard to achieve and find that it was real. By that, I mean too many pursuits of note have become commodified and commercialized beyond recognition until everything you do feels like Disneyland. You stand in a big line only to get to a caricature of what the destination used to be, then exit through the gift shop. EBC was all the more special because your journey is the exact journey the summiters take, which makes the experience all the more authentic and thus powerful, exhilerating, and rewarding.