Qomolangma is the Tibetan name for Mount Everest. It’s known as Sagarmatha in Nepalese and Chomolungma/Zhumulangma Feng in Chinese.
Climbing season officially closes on the mighty mountain on June 1st. I just learned that 4 more have lost their lives bringing this season’s death toll to 10. They were found in a tent at camp four, 7,950 meters (26,085 feet), by a rescue team who were there to retrieve the body of a Slovak climber who died on the mountain earlier in the week.
With nothing exciting happening in Dong’e, I decided to reminisce about my journey to Mount Everest nearly one year ago. Since having the overwhelming experience of camping overnight at base camp, I feel a connection to the mountain and a bit emotional when I hear that “another one or four” succumbed to the fierce mountain.
Even before I came to China, I had an interest in Tibet and meeting the Dalai Lama is on my bucket list. Yes, I know he no longer lives in Tibet, that aside, how could I come all the way to China and not visit Tibet. Let the research begin. As I soon found out, getting to Tibet isn’t as easy as jumping on a train or plane and getting off in Lhasa. An individual cannot enter Tibet without a travel permit and a Tibetan guide. In other words, an individual cannot just turn up in Lhasa and hang out for a few days and travel around the region. My plan was to go in June at the end of the school semester. I would travel places easily accessible from Changning, Hunan where I was living and then continue on to Tibet before returning to the USA. I applied for my Tibetan Travel Permit and found a guide and a group following the itinerary that I was interested in.
Working our way south from Changning, I was initially travelling with my Russian roommate, Yulia, I would leave her in Gungzhou and continue to Shenzhen on my own. In Shenzhen, I would begin my 53 hour train ride to “The Roof of the World’ or “The Land of Snows”, otherwise known as Tibet. I decided on the train, first of all, because why not, it should be beautiful, right? How bad can 53 hours be? It was actually quite enjoyable as I met a Malaysian girl named Song and we hit it off famously. Secondly, Lhasa sits at about 3,500 meters or 12,000 feet above sea level. Taking the train is supposed to make it easier to acclimatize. Each train compartment has oxygen that is released periodically or also can be released manually. It is also recommended to spend a few days in Lhasa before heading to EBC, Everest Base Camp, which is at 5,200 meters or 17,000 feet above sea level.
When they say you can’t enter Tibet as an individual, believe it. When my train reached Lhasa, everyone excitedly exited, passport and travel permit in hand as instructed. Upon exiting, you had to show the documents to uniformed police/soldiers, I wasn’t sure. After checking the documents you were led to another building and again checked before finally being handed off to your official guide who had to meet you there with his credentials or you weren’t going anywhere in Lhasa.
EBC is about 500 miles from Lhasa. After spending 3 days in and around Lhasa (I had a free day as I arrived one day before our official tour began), my group spent two days traveling and touring Gyantse, Shigatse and Dingri before arriving at base camp. That journey itself was spectacular and I will address it at another time……on to one of the most amazing experiences of my life thus far.
We arrived at EBC as sunset was nearing. I hadn’t given any thought as to our accommodations and we hadn’t brought any “gear” with us. The first thing our guide told us was that we were actually about 3 km from where the “real climbers” overnight. Without an Official Everest Climbing Permit, this was as far as we were allowed to go to sleep.
Our accommodations were called “tent hotels”. They are owned and operated by local nomads. There are approximately 30 tents at base camp, each housing 5- 10 persons at a cost of 40 rmb per night or $6.00. Tents are made of yak hair as it withstands heavy rains, snows and strong sun. Inside the tents are daybeds with a table in front for eating and personal belongings. There is a stove in the center fueled by yak dung that heats the entire tent. The tent also has a small kitchen which serves basic food such as rice, noodles and eggs. Beer and baijiu are also available even though they recommend no alcohol at this altitude. The beds were cozy and the tent quite warm. The latrines…..not so nice. The latrines were across the way from my tent and cost 1 rmb or about 15 cents to use. Home sweet home for the night.
As I mentioned, we arrived just before sunset. Sadly, the peak of the mighty mountain was under cloud cover. We got settled in our tent, I was rooming with George and Phillipe, who I had become quite close with during our time together and a French couple who had also hung out with us during most of the trip. It was nice being just the 5 of us in our tent. We were still getting settled in, when we heard a bit of a ruckus outside. Dropping everything we went to see what was causing the commotion. I got outside and everyone was looking toward the peak of Everest. The skies had opened and we witnessed the sun setting on that magnificent summit that has claimed the lives of so many, so many who are still buried in her breast. All I could do was look to the sky and cry. I turned to George and Phillipe and we all knew we were witnessing something amazing. The peak of Mount Everest, a glowing orange triangle bathed in the setting sun. They gave me a squeeze and we just stared in silence. I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt at that moment in time. Pictures snapped, tears dried, we headed back to our tent for hopefully a good nights sleep. Of course, me being me, had stuck a couple of those airplane size bottles of absolut in my bag. As the evening air was quite cold, they were nicely chilled and we all had a toast to life.
Okay, the sun has set, it’s dark, why didn’t I think to use the toilet when I could actually see where I was walking. This isn’t exactly a walk in the park to take a pee. I mean, I am on a mountain, no not any mountain, I am on THE Mountain. Find my phone for light, there is no outside lights at base camp, grab a 1 rmb bill, I can’t believe someone stays up all night around a smelly latrine to collect 15 cents. Whatever, shoes on, I hike across the stones to a box with a hole in the ground so I can squat and relieve my bladder.
Outside, I am once again filled with awe as I stare up at the shining moon amongst what looked like a million stars. If you don’t believe in God or a higher being, you might start here. “I think to myself, what a wonderful world”….beyond description, I could have looked up forever, except for the fact I was freezing my nuts off, well if I had them they would be freezing off. Back to the tent and under my nice thick, warm, cozy quilt. I awakened a short time later, feeling a bit funny, maybe it was the alcohol at this altitude, maybe it was the yak dung stove fumes, maybe the food didn’t sit so well, I just felt like I needed fresh air……it was about 4 am, I went outside the tent. Alone, under the stars on Mount Everest. I just breathed in the cold night air and was swept by emotion. Not sure how long I was out there, but it was a most peaceful, serene feeling that encompassed me.
Peaceful and serene until my bladder said you aren’t going back to bed yet. Well, there was no way I was making my way back across the rocks to that lovely latrine. Besides, I was the only person outside, there are no lights, I have lived in China long enough to just drop and squat outside the tent. I did make sure I moved out of the walkway. Back inside and sweet dreams until morning.
Morning arrives and we have the option of trekking the 3km to the “official” base camp or taking the bus. Still feeling a little light headed, I opted for the bus, which isn’t really a bus, but a dilapidated van with no heat. I also found out I wasn’t the only one who felt a little funny, I think maybe we had a touch of altitude sickness. Nevertheless, I walked outside to a glorious morning and the peak of the mountain in perfect view. Going to the official base camp and seeing where the “real” climbers begin their ascent was pretty cool. In order to try to summit Everest, you must purchase a climbing permit at the price of about $11,000. Wow….that’s all I can say……wow.
Upon leaving EBC, we were supposed to head to the Tibet/Nepal border and on to Kathmandu. Because of the 2015 7.8 earthquake in Nepal which triggered an avalanche on the south base camp (Nepal Side) killing 22, the border between Tibet and Nepal had been closed. When I booked my trip, it was scheduled to open the week before my EBC excursion. After we arrived at EBC we were told the border was still closed and they would transport us back to Lhasa and make arrangements to fly us to Kathmandu.
So ends this journey to a magical but controversial part of the Middle Kingdom…..the Roof of the World…..Tibet.
I hope you don’t mind me jumping back in time with some past excursions in Down the Rabbit Hole. Until next time, here are some more photos from this once in a lifetime experience.