New film invites us to spend 40 Days at Base Camp

For decades Mt. Everest has held sway over the imagination of adventurers everywhere. Standing 29,029 feet in height, it is the tallest mountain on the planet and the focus of countless books, television shows, and movies. But a new documentary entitled 40 Days at Base Camp looks to offer new insights into what it takes to climb the mountain and spend more than a month living in its shadow.

As the name implies, filmmaker Dianne Whelan spent 40 days living in Everest Base Camp on Nepal’s South Side of the mountain. During the spring climbing season, Base Camp becomes a tent city, filled with hundreds of climbers from around the globe, along with their all-important Sherpa guides. The film follows a number of those climbers as they pursue their dream of climbing the mountain, no matter the risks and the costs.

Whelan’s film is unique in that it deftly mixes the drama of the challenging climb along with the daily routine of living in Base Camp, where climbers spend much of their time resting, acclimatizing, and physically preparing for their ascent. She also examines the effects of climate change on Everest and the implications for the future of the ecology of the mountain. As you’d expect, all of this is set with the stunning backdrop of the Himalaya Mountains – one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth.

The film is in limited release, so it may not be arriving in theaters everywhere. But if you have an interest in mountaineering or Everest itself, it looks like a fantastic documentary worth tracking down.

Ultrarunner sets new Everest to Kathmandu speed record

Last week, British ultrarunner Lizzie Hawker set a new speed record for running from base camp on Mt. Everest to Kathmandu, Nepal, besting her own previous record in the process. The 35-year old endurance athlete covered the 200 mile distance in just 2 days, 23 hours, and 25 minutes.

Hawker, who is considered one of the top long distance runners in the world, first made this run back in 2007, when she completed the course in 3 days, 2 hours, and 39 minutes. She had high hopes of shattering that record by a significant margin this time out, but heavy rains and cool temperatures forced her to take shelter in the village of Bupsa. That delay cost her 8 hours of time, which put her chances at the record in serious jeopardy, but she was able to find her rhythm and still managed to beat the previous time.

Covering 200 miles nearly non-stop is an impressive feat in and of itself, but when you consider the conditions that Hawker was running through, you gain a whole new appreciation for her accomplishment. The trail from Everest to Kathmandu is not a paved road, but is instead a rough, uneven path that wanders up and down the Himalayas. In addition to the rigors of the trail, Hawker had to deal with altitude as well, as base camp sits at 17,600 feet. The record run also came after Hawker participated in the 125 mile, nine-day Everest Sky Race, during which she also contracted a respiratory infection.

I’m going to try to keep all of those challenges in mind when I whine about my 3 mile run later today. It’ll help keep things in perspective.

Trekkers stranded in Lukla, Nepal again

Bad weather in the Himalayas has left many travelers stranded in a remote village in Nepal this past weekend, stretching supplies and accommodations to the limit. Fortunately, improving conditions allowed for many of them to be evacuated yesterday, with those remaining are expected to return to Kathmandu today.

Last week, heavy fog and rain descended on Lukla, a small village located at 9383 feet in the Himalayas. The village has one of the few airports in the region and serves as the main gateway for adventure travelers and climbers headed to Mt. Everest and other major peaks. That airport is considered to be amongst the most dangerous in the world during the best of conditions, and the heavy fog grounded all incoming and outgoing traffic starting on October 31st. With no planes getting in or out, trekkers completing their hikes were left stranded, and by the weekend, nearly 2000 people were stuck in the mountain town.

The fog and rain finally lifted yesterday, allowing aircraft to start shuttling trekkers out of the mountains at last, but the final groups weren’t expected to be airlifted until today. Other travelers elected to continue their hike on to the village of Jiri, a four day journey that would allow them to return to Kathmandu via bus and thereby avoid any further weather delays.

This is the second year in a row that the weather has left travelers stranded in Lukla. In November of last year thick fog prevented planes from getting in and out of the town as well, forcing the Nepali army to eventually use helicopters to facilitate the evacuation process. Fall in the Himalaya is a popular time for trekking, but the weather can be a bit unpredictable as the region transitions from the summer monsoons to the clear, cold of winter.

Having visited Lukla in the spring of 2010, it boggles my mind to think that there were more than 2000 people stranded there. The town is meant to be a brief stop over for those coming and going from Everest, and really isn’t set-up to accommodate that many visitors at one time. Judging from the reports, it seems everyone made it through just fine, but I’m sure there were some cramped quarters and cozy accommodations for a few days.

Mountaineer summits Everest, tweets from the top

Yesterday we mentioned that the Sherpas had finished fixing the ropes to the summit of Everest, clearing the way for all the commercial climbing teams to soon follow. We predicted that the big push to the top of the mountain was still a week away, but a British climber took advantage of good weather and empty slopes, to rush to the summit yesterday. Once there, he not only savored the view from the highest point on the planet, but he also took time to send the first ever tweet from the top of the mountain.

Mountaineer Kenton Cool, who climbs with the Dream Guides company, set off for the summit two days ago, not long after getting word that the Sherpas had finished the route. He reached the top at 7:30 AM local time, notching his ninth successful climb of the mountain. Cool was sponsored by Samsung on this expedition and he used one of their smartphones to send the following tweet from the summit:

“@KentonCool: Everest summit no 9! 1st tweet from the top of the world thanks to a weak 3G signal & the awesome Samsung Galaxy S2 handset! @samsunguk”

Cool was able to send his tweet thanks to a 3G cell tower that was installed near Base Camp last fall. That tower has provided very spotty service to the climbers this season, but is still a marked improvement over years past when only expensive satellite phones were able to provide any kind of communications from Everest. The tweet is also excellent advertising for Samsung’s Galaxy S2, allowing the Brit to give his sponsor the recognition that they were surely looking for.

Does anyone else find it annoying that climbers can now make phone calls, send texts, and tweet from one of the most remote places on the planet, while I still get dropped service on my nightly commute home?

First summits of the year on Everest

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.