Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What's Base Camp like?

What’s Base Camp Like?  It’s a question I here pretty frequently.  Here are some personal observations:

1. The most important thing is the Madison Mountaineering folks are buttoned up on running Base Camp.  The Camp is designed to make your life easier and set the climbers up for success.  I have nothing but praise for the way MM does things.
2. It gets quite cold and very quickly so when the sun goes away.  It was common for the apparent temperature to drop 30-40 degrees in just a few minutes.  During a few nights I found that it dropped into the low single digits and I needed to have 5 layers on top including my big Puffy jacket to be able to sleep.  Because of the cold and dark, most of us spent a good 10+ hours in our tents each day.  My tent was slightly slanted—maybe 5 degrees and because of that I drifted a bit downward each night.  In the morning, it was typical to have a coating of frost on the inside of the tent that comes from the condensation of water vapor in your breath.
3. I was hungry a lot.  The workload associated with each of the treks of-course burned calories.  But the stress that a 17,400-foot altitude places on your body, and the metabolic cost that comes from that stress, leads to higher metabolism, even while resting.  Most trekking days we were probably burning 6,000+ calories.  You just can’t eat that much at that altitude, so you’re hungry even though you’re eating more than normal.  I remember feeling distinctly hungry in the early mornings, around 4 or 5 am.
4. It’s on the Khumbu glacier.  It moves (not a lot) and makes loud popping noises every now and then.  It’s a bit chaotic physically.  You have to walk down a rocky path and then descend down about 10-15 feet on an uneven step of rock steps to get to the big tent.  The trip to the bathroom or shower tent was even more precarious.  A good 25 foot descent—especially fun in the cold and dark!  I made a decision to always bring one of my walking sticks as a safety precaution.  I think I was the only one in camp who did.
5. The food that Ant made was consistently excellent and sometimes truly outstanding.  The salmon we had for the first lunch there was one of the better meals of my life.  Our lives at base camp tended to revolve around the 3 meals and we gathered in the Long Tent to share them.  This was a very pleasant ritual and we laughed a lot.
6. Connectivity.  This was a constant thing that has to be managed in Nepal.  Electricity and Internet connectivity are scarce, expensive, and sometimes unreliable.  The satellite phone is less effective than past trips, especially when cloudy.  We were able to make ready use of Face Time Audio, which really helped us communicate with home.
7. The physical environment is incredible.  Waking up in the middle of the night to a star filled sky or in the morning with the greatest mountains in the world all around you is simply amazing, everyday.  The cold, crispness of the air and the typically calm air in those times made everything seem even more vivid.  Also, several times each day we would hear the distant roars of falling snow avalanches.
8. There are a lot of interesting people at EBC.   Some stop by.  Some you go visit.  Some you just bump into as you go about your lives at EBC.  Very interesting place.
9. The showers were a welcome treat—I took one about once every 3-4 days while I was there.  However, they were generally a cold experience, especially when drying off and getting clothes back on.  When I got into my room in Kathmandu on the way home, the first thing I did was take a 20-minute hot shower—heaven!

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