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Nepal 2014

Day 15. Everest Base Camp Trek. Lobuche to Gorek Shep and Base Camp

NEPAL | Saturday, 31 May 2014 | Views [776]

Today’s trek started on thin peat beds on the flank of the Khumbu Glacier. The magnificent peak of Pumori to the front left and the massive and imposing Nuptse, spawning clouds to the right, dominate the view. Everest can't be seen, hidden by Nuptse's mass. On either side of the trail, steep moraine walls with the palest of growth of short bladed grass that soon peters out. You're walking on powdered rock, gravel, rock spoil and rubble fields of an old glacier bed. To the right blue glacier ice can be seen through a covering of insulating gravel and rock. Khumbu, the largest in the world, grinding inexorably downslope. It's level is perhaps 50-100 metres lower than it was at its peak; global warming reducing the ice feeds yearly.

Huge slabs and tongues of ice cling to the sides of Nuptse seeming to defy gravity. They fracture in parallel striations in slow motion icefalls forming the feeder glaciers to the Khumbu, Everest's glacier.

We caught our first glimpse of Base Camp a couple of hours into the hike, perhaps 6 km away, but hours yet on foot. The going was very rough over the tumbled boulders and rocks, and at over 5,000 m (16,400ft), very tiring but the wind was at our backs like a cool helping hand.

We reached Gorek Shep in mid morning and elected to have an early lunch to give us time to reach Base Camp and return. Gorek Shep is a dismal collection of battered lodges and a few microwave antennae. A dry lake bed provides a natural paddock for yaks that do the heavyweight carriage from here to EBC. Our lodge was depressingly cold and dark, foreshadowing a frigid night. Upstairs the underside of the corrugated roofing can be clearly seen from the bedrooms and the attempt at double-glazing is defeated by wide gaps in the window frames. The room is little more than a wooden tent and probably more draughty than canvas. 

The hike to Base Camp was an agonising scramble over more rubble in a thick stream of yaks, porters and trekkers in both directions, stumbling like drunken sailors on the rounded rock. The valley closed in to form a vast arena with peaks in Tibet forming the left side and end, and Everest and Nuptse to the right. Finally we descended to the glacier and picked our way to a chorten with streamers of prayer flags, the designated spot for 2014 for Everest Base Camp. It has to be moved each year because the apparent rubble beneath our feet is actually the moving ice of the Khumbu Glacier. It is actually 2km higher than it was when Hilary and Tensing summited, such is the effect of global warming.

We had a few minutes of elation and celebration, took photos and stared up the Khumbu Icefall to the Western Cym where preparations are underway for 2014 summit attempts. We wandered a little further into the encampment of expeditions preparing for the few weeks beginning in May when summit attempts are viable; before the monsoon snows and avalanches. I suffered my first fall, slipping on the ice, fortunately with no damage.

The trek back to Gorek Shep was a nightmare of round, loose rocks, cold wind and breathlessness. The lodge dining room that night was the liveliest we have been in, packed with excited hikers, or perhaps they’re hikers overcompensating to cover the joyless prospect of a bitterly cold night, dreary lodge food and frozen, overflowing toilets. 

Diversion on lodge standards

Food and toilets are two things the Nepalis could target and make a giant leap in quality of the EBC experience. To be fair, everything we touched on this journey, fair or foul, has been painstakingly transported by teams of whipped animals or manhandled by tough porters in a relay of custody that would defy understanding; so to expect anything approaching Western standards is churlish.

However, every lodge menu is the same predictable array of Nepali staples or Western approximations, everything fried in ghee. Some do a good job in quality and presentation, whereas the same menu in different hands is a repetitious succession of greasy foodstuffs fried beyond recognition. High altitude exertion kills appetite, (fortunately here in Nepal). Had we been trekking in the Swiss Alps, I'm sure we'd look forward to dinner, rather than dread it. 

As for toilets... Many lodges have made concessions towards Western style sit-ups, but the porcelain bowl is where the similarity ends. Seats may or may not exist. Flushing almost invariably requires a jugful of water from a big bucket, which results in water everywhere, and often an incomplete flush. And no one has solved the problem of freezing. If the bucket and jug aren't locked in an ice block, then the 'U' bend is, and all contributions to the porcelain bowl remain where deposited in a frozen fecal sculpture. Fortunately, little food intake equals even less excreted, so there is a tiny relief from this retch-inducing ordeal.

One gets the idea that the Nepalis are making a best guess at what the West requires without good guidance. An ideal graduate engineering project: Design a toilet that will function in Nepali lodge subzero conditions. It would do more good to Nepal's image and sanitation than a new heart-lung machine at Kathmandu General.

But there's no photo op in a new loo, compared to high tech surgical apparatus, is there? What's forgotten in the photo op world is that to function, high tech requires trained operators, skilled maintenance technicians, sensitive calibrations, critical gases, clean room conditions, stable power supply, etc., and most of these aren't available in third world countries, so the gesture is wasted and the high tech value is lost.

Hey, Donor World! Let's start with Nepal's biggest tourist draw and revenue earner, the Himalayas, and target toilets and train and encourage the cooks.

Tags: everest base camp, gorek shep, icefall, khumbu glacier, nuptse


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