“might explore placing an ad in one or another senior publication as seniors have the time and many have the resources to afford this kind of trip and our group certainly proves that it can be done safely, if probably more slowly than if there were more thirty somethings and fewer geezers.”
I must admit that I really got a kick out of this as I sat in my comfortable chair in my comfortable office sipping a freshly brewed Americano and reading my emails several weeks after recuperating from the trip. As we were reminded of several times, Tibet is the Wild Wild West of the East, but it is also a gem. Traveling in Tibet is hard, rewarding, frustrating, pleasant, colorful and intriguing. It’s heights circean. The people are the soul of the landscape, and it is refreshing to say that in the way that they will never know what it is like to be us, that the same is true of us of them.
We begin our trip in Beijing, the future home of the 2008 Olympics. The air is a bit cleaner this year as they try to prepare for the athletes. They still have a long way to go in this regard, but when they are serious about something they really seem to go for it. We made our usual visits to Tienamin Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall, and I am reminded of what a great place this is to start our journey through China. Understanding Beijing a little bit preps your mind for the socioeconomic situations that you encounter in Tibet’s cities. Our visit here is short and sweet, and we are all eager to begin our journey to Lhasa tomorrow. We lay our jet lagged bodies in bed early in preparation for our early flight tomorrow morning, only to wake up at 3 AM and lay sleepless in our beds until it’s time for breakfast.
Walking up the jet way I turn to the person behind me who is trying to mask how short of breath they are on this seemingly benign walk through a normal looking modern airport. I must admit that I am sucking wind too. They look back at me with a look that says, “I am out of breath but there is no way in hell that I am going to be the first to admit this to my guide.” After we retrieve our bags, we are met by Big Dawa, our local guide, friend, and super good guy. Dawa was born in Lhasa in a small home in the shadow of the Potala Palace. (The homes are no longer there as they have been replaced by the Chinese with a monument.) Dawa is the guy who makes it all happen for us our entire time in Tibet, and is an authority on Tibetan history and religion. He is at our side all of the time except for when we are trekking or are above base camp. Even then he is in communication and ready with a jeep to help us out if need be.
Lhasa is a visual cornucopia. The markets, the Barkhor, the Palace, the people, the Jokhang Temple, just aim your camera and shoot. Like taking pictures on Safari, it is like shooting fish in a barrel. The colors, textures, and subjects are as good as it gets in this regard, and this is one of the reasons that I return. It does not disappoint.
Well, they are not really jeeps, they are Toyota Landcruisers, and they are our home for a few days on our way to Tingri. Our overland journey will take us through Gyantse to the Pelkor Chode Monastery and the exquisite Kumbum Chorten, to Shigatse and the Tashilhunpo Monastery, on to our first trekking camp in the outskirts of Tingri. This leg of our journey allows us to acclimatize, relax, take lots of pictures, and see how the other half lives so to speak. Even though the road is now mostly paved, it is still a wild landscape and the road is beginning to pothole already. I think in a few years when the potholes will be large enough to swallow jeeps, we will be wondering if this is better than dirt roads.
Finally, we are out of the jeeps and ready to walk. As we drive into camp we are met by Dendi. Dendi is also a regular on these trips and a welcome sight. Dendi is the head honcho and will be with us all the way to ABC. He and his entire crew, have driven over from Katmandu with our gear and provisions. He makes the logistics, sherpas, cooks, and yak drivers tick like a swiss watch..........most of the time. There are a lot of variables in this neck of the woods and Dendi is a great improviser. He gets the job done, and everybody likes him at the same time. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks. After a couple of nights at our Tingri camp and a 4 hour acclimatization hike we begin our journey towards Everest. Today the scale of Tibet sinks in. We can see our destination from our Tingri camp, but it takes ALL day to get there. It is good to finally be walking.
We get our first grand view of Everest’s impressive North Face from our camp at the Rongbuk Monastery. It is the kind of place and time where, most of the group just stands there looking for long periods of time at the mountain. Watching the light change on the mountain as the evening matures, I usually take about 100 photos this evening. All the same photo, just different light on the mountain. This is the moment that many of us are reminded why we are here, not just to work hard on the trail, but to experience something bigger than us.
Everest Base Camp:
It is very cool to arrive at base camp having walked there, rather than arriving in a jeep fresh from the hotel. It just feels good. By now the joy of just getting here is starting to become familiar and our minds start focusing on the hard days ahead getting to ABC. Some people wonder how they will do, others wonder how the others will do, and some are still just trying to get rid of that nagging headache. Three nights at Base Camp should give us all a chance to catch up with ourselves and get a fresh start as we begin our journey to the highest place on the planet that you can go without climbing.
Well rested and antsy to get moving again we begin our journey up the moraine to camp 1. Our cozy base camp has to be broken down and the yaks loaded for the first time. This is no small task for our sherpa and yak driver team. Figuring out the loads and making it to camp takes a couple hours longer that it takes us. This allows us to take a nice slow pace and take long breaks to soak in the view. We get fantastic views of Pumori and the other peaks surrounding Everest, until the clouds come in. We arrived in camp an hour before the yaks and in the snow. Bundling up we wait for them to arrive. When they arrive, the sherpa team is quick to set up the mess tent and serve us hot drinks and snacks while they continue to set up our sleeping tents. We are tired, but these guys work so hard to keep us happy and healthy. We will spend two nights here to get ready for our huge move to camp II.
The trail to Camp II:
The “Serac Highway” has to be seen to be believed. The combination of gravity, cold temperatures, wind and sublimation have shaped the ablation zone of the East Rongbuk glacier into Nieve Penitentes on steroids. This is a very long day with varied terrain up to Camp II at 20,000’. For a large part on the day, we travel on a medial moraine up through the seracs with views of Everest’s summit and ultimately our camp at the top of the moraine amongst these giants.
The weather is good and our team is in as good a shape as we can expect, so we plan to go to ABC tomorrow morning.
When we awake the next morning the weather is fantastic. Sun, gentle breezes, and a killer view await us and the group is quick to get going this morning. (So fast in fact that one climber went for several hours with a pair of sunglasses in their boot!!!) We had perfect weather all the way to ABC and our Sherpa team took excellent care of us. All fourteen of us made it and were graced with a spectacular view of a recently snow dusted Mt. Everest. Tired as we were, the view that day of the mountain and the looks on our faces will remain in my mind.
On the way down it began to snow and some of us towards the back had quite a good little snow storm to descend in. In varying degrees of exhaustion, we trickled back into camp to be nursed back by our still attentive sherpa team. It was a great day and all down hill from here so to speak.
Return to BC:
We returned to Base Camp to celebrate our success and had one big final meal together as a group. Several folks would be departing for Khatmandu tomorrow morning and the sherpa team made us a chocolate cake to celebrate with. (We also had a case of Lhasa Beer to help.) The rest of us would retrace our steps over the next few days back to Lhasa, where we would take the new train back to Beijing. Good Job Team.
Congratulations to the Team!