Days 15 & 16/April 5 & 6, 2009 (Sunday & Monday)
My plan had been to bypass "Dead Bird" aka Gorak Shep entirely, moving from Lobuche directly to Everest Base Camp (EBC). As fate would have it, a handful of our team had some mild gastrointestinal disturbances --- most likely due to some tainted food along the way. Conferring with Eric, I elected to move to the intermediate stop of Gorak Shep with the bulk of the team --- most wanted a more leisurely pace up to EBC --- while a small group of climbers went all the way to EBC to get settled in.
Sunday afternoon in Gorak had some plusses: I accompanied several of my new South African friends to the summit of Kala Patthar (Black Rock) at 18,500 feet, offering some intermittent views of the summit block of Everest, the Balcony, the Geneva Spur, the South Col and a small portion of Lhotse between clouds. Pasang Rinji, my friend Monty's Sherpa from last year, led our small group on the short but quite steep trek, and it was great to spend some time with him as well. I never cease to be amazed by the strength and calm of my Sherpa friends, and how much they seem to love their work high in the Himalayas.
Tending to those with illness sometimes sets you up for illness yourself. I had climbed very strongly to Gorak Shep and Kala Pattar, but on the way down succumbed to some lower GI distress myself. Decorum prevents going into greater detail, but suffice it to say that my quads are strong as steel from the challenge.
Monday morning the sun shone brightly, my spirits and GI tract in fine form, and our team moved up the final 1,000 feet or so via the terminal Khumbu glacier to EBC. The terrain near Gorak Shep was nearly identical to the way I remembered it from last spring, with some initial ups and downs and hugging of steep scree slopes to my left, eventually ending up on the central moraine of the glacier.
The first camp I came across was the large Himex village, run by Russell Brice, and within another 10 minutes or so I was in the heart of EBC, at the International Mountain Guides camp. Greeted by Eric, Ang Jangbu and Danuru, I truly felt at home in this remote but enormously beautiful place: once again, my tent vestibule faces the outrageous Khumbu Icefall, and the familiar comm., dining and kitchen tents were configured much as they had been last year.
After the team had reassembled in EBC, we had the puja ceremony to beat all puja ceremonies: as the Lama (officiating Buddhist monk) and two IMG Sherpas (formerly monks) chanted, our puja pole was installed on top of the altar, with prayer flags subtended in several directions from the top. Our climbing gear had also been placed on the altar for good luck and safety on our journeys up the mountain, and chang beer was available to augment the celebration (definitely an acquired taste!). Rice was thrown towards the summit of the mountain to pay it proper respect. As is also custom, tsampa flour was distributed to all participants, which we then smeared on each other's faces: the symbolism is that the climbers will live to an old, gray beard age. I'm all for that!
I'm off to settle into my tent --- photos tomorrow!