Far above a trip to the Caribbean or Antarctica on my bucket list is a journey into the depths of Nepal, and I can’t help but feel jealous that my friend Bassam Tarazi beat me to it. Tucked above the northeast corner of India through a seam of the Himalayas, Nepal is the definition of adventure. It seems far enough away from the western world to be free of any nonsense like reality television and Us Weekly, rugged enough for a lifetime of hikes and camping trips and filled with all sorts of adventure opportunities. Nepal is also the home of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world and a destination in and of itself. In the above video, Bassam details his journey to its base.
The first successful summits of Mt. Everest for the 2011 spring climbing season took place yesterday, and as you might guess, they were accomplished by a group of Sherpas. The six-man team stood on the highest point on the planet after fixing the ropes to the summit, the same ropes that will now be used by the foreign climbers who will soon begin the long, challenging climb for themselves.
Each year, dozens of climber travel to Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet at 29,029-feet, in an attempt to scale that iconic peak. They spend upwards of two months, and $50,000, for the chance to stand on top of the mountain for just a few brief moments. Over the course of those two months, they climb up and down portions of the mountain several times, allowing their bodies to acclimatize to the extreme altitude, in preparation for the final push to the summit.
While those visiting climbers slowly adapt to the altitude, the indigenous Sherpas prepare the route to the top of the mountain. Using thousands of feet of rope, they put into place the lines that the climbing teams that follow will use to safely move higher on Everest. They’ll also establish a series of high altitude camps, four in all, which the mountaineers use as rest stops while acclimatizing and on their way to the top. This is difficult and draining work that only these unsung heroes of the Himalaya can complete in a safe and timely manner.
With the route to the summit now finished, the commercial climbing teams will now look for a weather window that will allow them to climb to the summit as well. Most are finishing their final acclimatization rotation over the next few days, after which they’ll return to Base Camp for a brief rest. All eyes will then be on the weather forecast, as the climbers look for an extended period of good conditions that will allow them to safely climb up the mountain. They may have to wait awhile however, as the weather on Everest this season has been unusual. Climbers report colder and windier conditions when compared to previous years, with more snow as well.
If all goes as planned however, there will be a spate of summits in about a week or so. Traditionally, most of the summits take place around the middle of May, before the seasonal monsoons set in in early June.
In another ominous sign of global climate change, climbers on Mount Everest are reporting that they are finding house flies in Base Camp for the first time. According to this story from The Guardian, the insects began appearing earlier this year, catching mountaineers, including the Sherpas who call the Himalaya home, completely off guard.
Everest BC sits at 5360 meters (17,585 feet), an altitude that was considered too cold and in hospitable for most bugs in the past. But the appearance of the insects was just another indicator of the impact of global warming on the Khumbu Valley, which has seen its glaciers recede at a rate of 10-20 meters per year. Further evidence can also be found in the mountain villages, where water sources are running dry, forcing inhabitants to hike miles each day for supplies.
These changes are having a direct impact on the tourism to the region as well. Each year, hundreds of climbers come to Everest to make an attempt on the world’s tallest mountain, and hundreds more trekkers make the hike up to Base Camp, taking in the mountain scenery that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. But with water supplies dwindling, there is less for the visitors to the Khumbu to drink as well.
Worse yet, the warming is changing the summit of the mountain itself. In the article above, Dawa Sherpa, a mountain guide who has reached the top of the world twice, says that in years past, as many as 50 people could stand on the summit of Everest. Now, fewer than 18 can be at that point at the same time, thanks to the shrinking of the cornice. Worse yet, it is likely to get smaller still in the years ahead.
A unique trek is about to get underway in Kathmandu, Nepal. It is a combination of adventure travel and photography/videography workshop that will see ten lucky people spending the next three weeks exploring the Himalaya, while receiving expert instruction in how to shoot better photographs and video.
Everest Base Camp Trek 2009 is the brainchild of professional photographer Chris Marquardt, who hosts the Tips from the Top Floor photography podcast, and professional videographer Jon Miller, who hosts The Rest of Everest, a video podcast that is the most comprehensive look at climbing in the Himalaya you’ll find anywhere. Each day, Chris and Jon will provide lessons, tips, and inside information to those joining them on the trek, all the while hiking up to Everest Base Camp, located at 17,500 feet.
Right now, Chris, Jon, and the rest of their team are gathering in Kathmandu, and the trek/workshop will get underway in the next few days. They’ll spend a little time siteseeing in Kathmandu, before flying off to Lukla and begin the actual trek up the Khumbu Valley. Most days will be spent on well marked trails which lead to Himalayan villages, and like most visitors to the region, they’ll spend the night in traditional tea houses.
But the aspect that sets this trek apart from all the others, is the workshop. Several hours each day will be set aside for photography and videography instruction. The students will then have the chance to immeditely put what they’ve learned into action in one of the most scenic settings in the world.
The team will be posting regular updates to their website over the next few weeks, sharing their experiences along the way. Hopefully they’ll be sharing some of those amazing photos as well.
As if Mount Everest isn’t getting enough traffic and trash….China announced it would start building a highway right up to the base camp at 5,200 meters (17,000 feet) next week, the Guardian reports. They want to get it completed by next year’s Olympic Games to accommodate the influx of tourists.
Ain’t a “free” market economy grand?
Not only that, in preparation for the Olympics, China has also designed the most far-reaching Olympic torch route in history: 85,000-mile, 130-day relay crossing five continents and scaling the 8,850-meter peak of Mount Everest.
What’s next? A lift up to the top?