Cyclone Slams Everest, Team Evacuates Basecamp

Posted by: | May 27, 2009
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Everest
Elevation: 11,296 ft.

The cyclone pushed us out of Everest Basecamp. Early yesterday morning, it tried to crush us in our tents. Heavy, wet snow was falling at the rate of perhaps three inches per hour. Everything was getting buried fast… tents, yaks, climbing gear. It was tough to tell just how much accumulation there was since the ground is so uneven to begin with at BC, but it was common to be thigh deep while attempting to get from one tent to another. We’d eaten breakfast in our comfy dining tent, insulated from the storm, when Lam Babu suggested (politely) that we think of leaving. It was becoming impossible to maintain the camp in the continuing storm and it didn’t seem farfetched that we’d soon reach a depth of snow in which we could no longer walk to escape down-valley.

Each team member went back to his or her soggy tent for a rushed packing effort. It definitely wasn’t an optimal way for leaving the mountain. Ideally one would like to have everything dry before it gets stuffed and duffled for a trip to Kathmandu. Ideally, it would be great to be standing over an expanse of spread-out gear so as to figure what will be needed on the trek out and what won’t be needed until Kathmandu. Ideally, one would know that the bags were going to get yakked out in the next couple of days… enabling one to make onward travel plans that included said gear. Except… there wasn’t time, space or heat for anything like “ideally”. We hunched over in damp tents, pushing damp gear into damp duffle bags and we weren’t so sure when we’d see them again because the last yaks we’d seen fleeing basecamp were in snow up to their horns.

It made good sense to leave anyway, but we determined to do it as a team and to make noon the exit hour. A skeleton crew of Sherpas would remain at the gear dump formally known as Basecamp. At the appointed hour, Seth, Melissa, Kent, Cherie, Jake, Erica, John, Tom, Gerry, Lam Babu, Kaji and a handful of others (it was tough to see who was who with all the matching jackets, hats and goggles in heavily falling snow) followed my lead out of camp. The escape trail was surprisingly well-packed by people and packless animals in the preceding hours. I looked back often through the storm to make sure all were safely in the parade behind me, and I tried not to stop. We meant to go five hours down to Pheriche, but that depended on everybody staying strong and not rolling an ankle or knee in the powder.

It all went fine as we trudged down through the landmark villages of our long-ago trek in; Gorak Shep, Lobuche, Thukla… and finally Pheriche… all in much whiter condition than we’d seen them seven weeks ago. In Pheriche, we walked out of the storm to experience the novel INDOOR comfort of Nuru’s Himalayan Hotel. Long forgotten appetites came back, coughs mellowed in the marvelously humid air, and real sleep was had by all… 14,000 ft sleep, not the 17,500 ft version that we’d been calling sleep for so long.

And today dawned without much sign of the cyclone. The sky was blue again and the mountains were white again. We hit the trail and within a short time we were actually out of the snow and onto the dirt. Then there were trees… then green trees. And next there were flowers… and flowers in trees. The rhododendrons of Deboche and Thyangboche Hill were in bloom and beautiful. We walked up hills and down hills and along hills until we reached good old Namche Bazaar. Civilization as we know it… with internet and commerce and tourism and comfort at the easy to love altitude of around 11,500 ft. In two days, we’d come down what had taken us approximately 8 days to go up… long ago… in the Spring, when we were younger.

We’ll walk to Lukla tomorrow and we will begin hoping for cloudless flying weather which might get us to Kathmandu sooner. And we’ll just hope that our wet duffels find us before the contents rot… Life is not, by any means, trouble-free as yet but it is sure getting easier.

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