by John Alexander
Leaving behind the chaos of Kathmandu we soar over a visual lattice of colour and form before a rapturous ripple of richly deserved applause signals our safety as we land in Lukla.
A sea of grateful faces leave the confines of the cabin to be illuminated by the early morning light. Wrestling bags, cameras, packs and poles the apparent rarity of the alpine air reminds of our altitude, as do the distant giants whom claw at the sky.
No longer battling the comparative chaos of Kathmandu, our senses are charged by the scale of the setting and a singular smell; burnt juniper that hangs heavy in the air. The route winds its way through valleys, villages and vistas, crossing a ribbon of rivers that straddle this corner of the Khumbu.
As we settle into a daily routine, an oscillating ladder of rise and fall, we measure our progress by the growing traffic that congregates on this Himalayan highway.
While we step ever skyward, drawing breath at every turn, a cacophony of bells, whistles, hoofs and herds rise from below. Unperturbed by our meandering nature they hustle past, and in their wake dust us with a sprinkling of grit and determination, a sandy scene to lift our hearts, heads and pace as we continue to climb over the coming days.
Ever closer to Everest time on the trail affords opportunity to meet like-minded folk. A confluence of global citizens whose personal narratives are peppered with their reverence for this land and a common sense of quest.
“Not to conquer, but to climb.”
Navigating our way across the shifting surface we pass silent amongst the shadows. Gravel, grit and rocks slip and slide over an uneven bed of ice. As we rally sore legs and aching limbs we step into Base Camp buoyed by the promise of warm food and a to be honest, a beer. Whether we can stomach the latter at this altitude is another matter, but I’m confident we’ll give it a try.
Everest Basecamp (EBC) lies at 5,200m (17,000 ft) anchored afloat an evershifting glacial river at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall. Shrouded by the shoulders of Mount Everest, EBC is surrounded by the high alpine Himalayan chain whose peaks such as Nuptse and Pumori stand watch over the 2km ribbon that is this temporary tented town.
There is food, water, shelter and the simplest sanitation, while a helicopter landing site and modest field hospital complete the scene. But unlike it’s Hollywood depiction it remains austere.
A walk amongst the colourful canvas is rewarded with the sights, sounds and smells of international cuisine bringing people together. National flags dutifully bristle but there are no borders here. No pressing political agenda. Just people coming together: “Not to conquer, but to climb.”
Over the next week hands are shaken and new friendships form as teams collaborate, coordinate and plan, gravitating ever closer to the infamous same page.
Juggling periods of acclimatisation, equipment checks, and marking time honoured traditions such as the Puja, a watchful eye remains on meteorological models.
As we watch and wait my enquiry begins.
With many whom have loved ones scattered across the globe I wonder why they would willingly invest their blood, sweat, tears and time, and lives, in an attempt to reach the roof of the world. Even now.
However, what I found within the ice was not a case of cliché but a collective whose rational was as diverse as the corner of the earth within which they were born.