On the short flight from Lukla to Kathmandu I tried to reflect on my long journey that started also in this vibrant city, long before the first earthquake. I remember that I was full of enthusiasm when I left town together with Lhakpa in a bus full of expedition equipment. Once the Twin Otter had landed, I realized that things had changed here. There were a lot people sleeping in tents in public parks or in open fields. I had a feeling that there were a lot more people outside now than after the first earthquake, but maybe I was just overwhelmed by the damage and number of people I saw in these huge “tent towns”.
The few days I stayed in a tent with the villagers above Namche Bazar was on one hand a very sad experience, but on the other hand an exciting and somehow enriching experience. Especially in terms of what we Westerners could learn from the Sharpas! As mentioned, it was just amazing to see how these mountain people were able to manage this difficult situation after the second big earthquake. It just looked that this was part of their life, and it was…
On the second day, I went down to the school and was looking for Lhakpa’s two children. I have been informed that the school will be closed again (they closed it already after the first earthquake), which is a good thing in this situation. So they informed all the parents to pick up their children, since it was a boarding school, where children would not only take classes, but also stay there during the academic year. In this school, just like in Thame, the classrooms could not be used anymore because of the earthquake, so school life took place in tents, but this was now also too dangerous.
It was an extremely terrifying moment for me! But first the background. The last few days I spent in Samde (Lhakpa’s current home village) and Thame at 3,800m/12,500ft. I helped Lhakpa and his family to clean up whatever there was to clean: Collecting the wood and trying to cover it from the upcoming Monsoon rain as well as fixing some of the broken stone fences. The rest has to be done by specialists, and they are very busy with fixing so many broken houses. Somehow, I must have hurt my back in the process and after having felt the pain for over a week, I mentioned it to a Nepali doctor which I met in Thame and he suggest to me to rest for a few days. Well, resting was the last thing I was planning to do, but after having realized that the pain would not go away as long as I carry heavy backpacks up and down and move around rocks, I followed his advice and I decided to go down for a few days to Namche Bazar, which is still at 3,340m/11,022ft, to recover, work on my blog and check my e-mail (Namche Bazar was the only village that had Internet connection after the first earthquake).
On May 4, we got up early and left the hotel in Lhasa in direction of the airport. It is a one-hour drive from the center of Lhasa to the airport. There were many other climbers in the bus, but no of my climbing mates had the intention to leave Lhasa via Kathmandu. Once at the airport, we said good bye to our colleagues and Lhakpa and I went to the International Terminal. There was only one flight leaving the terminal this morning, and it was our flight to Kathmandu. Once we arrived at the security check, we found only six other travelers waiting for the flight. Yes, once again I realized that Kathmandu was definitely not a popular travel destination at this point in time.
On April 30, all climbers of our group, including Lhakpa and I, left base camp in an overloaded bus. We all knew this would be a long ride and that is why we were not too happy when we saw the small bus arriving in base camp to pick us up (yes, you can reach Everest North Side base camp by car or jeep…). Well, this was the only way to get out of base camp and we were actually in a good situation, since this was one of the first buses that arrived here. According to the information we had, there were about 150 climbers in this camp, and all of them hat to be moved out of the earthquake zone (defined by the Chinese authorities) in the next few days.
As planned, we left base camp on April 23 in direction Advanced Base Camp. The weather was good and the hike to the Intermediate Camp looked familiar to me from my earlier times here: for an hour or so along the Rombuk Glacier, relatively flat, and then a few hours up the East Rombuk Glacier to the Intermediate Camp at about 5,700m/18,810ft. The next morning we left the camp shortly after eight and hiked up the “Miracle Way” towards ABC. It was a long, but beautiful way up to this important camp.
This are good news: We are all fine here at the Everest North Side! We were at the Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 6,400m/21,120ft when the earthquake stroke. Most of us were in our tents, some outside, enjoying the nice weather, as all of us suddenly felt the rolling movement in the ground underneath us. It is important to know that ABC is mostly build on the top of a side moraine of the East Rombuk Glacier, not far away from a nearby mountain. So all of us were mostly concerned regarding falling rocks. But, luckily, nothing happened. So the good news is that everybody in our team and in the other teams on this side of Everest is fine and healthy. Most news you are currently reading is regarding the South Side and the terrible things that happened in Nepal. Unfortunately, because of our position high up in the mountain (no phones, no Internet…), we did not know what was going on in Nepal. It is so tragic!
We have spent now seven days at Everest Base Camp, at 5,200m/17,160ft, mostly getting used to the high altitude. It is not always easy to adapt to this kind of altitude so several rest days as well as acclimatization hikes up to 6,000m/19,800ft are necessary before the body is ready to move up higher. Headaches, colds, coughs and other aches are often part of this process. And this is still at relatively low altitude…
The packing and repacking has now been finished and as you can see on the pictures the Yaks have already been loaded for the long trip. Every tent, all heavy material, all the food and some of the personal equipment is moved up from Base Camp (BC) to Advanced Base Camp (ABC).
The strike in Kathmandu did not last as long as it was planned and we received green light to move up to the base camp as planned on April 9. However, before we left, Lhakpa and I went see a lama that morning to receive the blessing for our journey. This is an important Sherpa custom and there will be at least one other ceremony once we are at the mountain. Around 9:30am, Lhakpa and I finally left Kathmandu in a bus full of expedition gear. We arrived in Kodhari about four hours later and crossed the border by foot across the Friendship Bridge. We spent the night in Zhangmu, the border town on the Tibetan side. The next morning we drove to Nyalam and spent two nights there, for acclimatization reasons. We also did a short hike and had a great view of some Tibetan peaks, including Shishapangma. On April 12 we drove to Tingri, the last stop before base camp.
I arrived in Kathmandu on March 20 in the morning. As many times before, my good Sherpa friend Fur Geljen Sherpa was waiting for me and welcomed me in the Sherpa manner: With a big smile and a “good luck” scarf. We went straight to my favored small hotel near Thamel and the repacking started. The plan was to leave for the Khumbu area the day after. The next morning I walked around in this vibrant, dusty and noisy city, smelled again all the different flavors and enjoyed the warm temperature. It was about 28C/82F! I did some final shopping for my twelve-day trekking and went to bed early.