Mt. Everest Expedition: Bill McGahan’s Basecamp Observations
The last few days have been filled with training, climbing and socializing around our Base Camp. A few observations:
1. Everest Base Camp has now swelled to about 350 people, with all the corresponding tents and equipment. It is massive, and it takes up acres and acres of space on top of a moving glacier. In addition, Everest BC is visited each day by organized groups of trekkers who hike up from Lukla to see the place (and the show). The glacier is not flat, but is a series of small undulations in the moving ice (which is mostly covered with rocks). Yesterday during a training run we climbed a portion of the way up the Khumbu Icefall and, from close to 18,000 feet, we got to see the entire camp. What a sight!
2. Socializing. Last night our group invited over the Base Camp doctors for dinner. The head physician has been running the Base Camp medical clinic for 9 years, so she was well known to Dave Hahn (who, again, seems to know everyone). The Base Camp doctors are incredibly knowledgeable about high altitude illnesses, and their presence in camp has no doubt saved many lives. They are here to treat everyone, including climbers, climbing Sherpas, porters, and trekkers (and anyone else). The ten of us had a great meal, and then played speed scrabble (which encouraged the use of slang words), and then Apples to Apples. As an aside, we all learned some interesting slang words from the different nationalities (Scotland, Nepal, etc.). Sara McGahan even threw in some slang used by 10th graders. I know that I learned quite a bit.
3. It is up to a group of incredibly courageous and talented Sherpas to fix line up Mt. Everest each year through one of the most dangerous parts of the climb - the Khumbu Icefall. These folks - called “Icefall Doctors” - are employed directly by the national park and are paid out of the fees the climbers pay to access the mountain. The Khumbu Icefall is the section of Mt. Everest that is between Basecamp and Camp I, and it is extremely dangerous because it is ever shifting as the glacier slowly moves ahead and tumbles down the mountain, and also because it is susceptible to avalanches from surrounding peaks. When shifting or an avalanche takes place, massive amounts of solid ice moves (and you don’t want to be anywhere in the neighborhood when it happens). The Icefall Doctors also place ladders across huge crevasses and rope up steep sections of the Icefall, which is used by climbers to pull themselves up the mountain, but, as importantly, to “clip into” for safety. There would be literally no way for a climber of my capability to climb this mountain without the Icefall Doctors. They are amazing people.
4. In the incredibly capable hands of our lead guide Dave Hahn, Sara and I have been climbing around Base Camp in order to do two things: 1) continue to acclimatize, and 2) work on the skills that we need to move quickly up the mountain. One of the greatest dangers that we face on Everest is avalanches, and speed is one of our best ways to minimize our danger. We are working hard to be able to move quickly and safely though the icefall. We need to be able to breathe (this always helps!) and to have a comfort level on ladders and fixed line. Dave has spent days with us helping us
with these skills, and we will be continuing to work on them in the days ahead. Only then will we venture up to higher places on the mountain.
5. Fun. One of the reasons that trekkers and climbers alike come to Base Camp is that it is a fun place. Every day people come by to socialize with us. Mark Tucker (our Base Camp manager) is always ready with some kind of game. Mark and I teamed up to win a horse shoe throwing contest, and the other night we had a poker tournament (Texas hold em) with guides from other groups. We have also played golf on the frozen ponds on the icefall, with yours truly hitting a hole in one, much to the chagrin of Mr. Tucker (it earned me 50 rupees - ha!). So, there is always something going on, with people coming and going, and it is one of my favorite things about climbing. The people are adventurous, interesting, international, and fun loving - the best people in the world in my opinion.
So, thanks for following our blog. We are working hard and will have more to report in the days ahead.