Everest base camp, 5200m, and on to Shigatse

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

From Nyalam we head to Tingri by Jeep. The drive isnt that far but we go over a spectacular 5100m pass en route. From this vantage point you can see the endless hills of the tibetan plateau on one side and the white jagged peaks of the Himalaya on the other.

We get to Tingri about lunchtime and take a walk around this small but bustling market town. Farmers bring in their crops to sell on the streetside, and there are repair shops everywhere fixing agricultural machinery. In the distance you can see the towering peaks around Mt Everest, where we will be heading the next day.

Sleep is difficult at 4300m, and I experience the rather unpleasant effect of waking up in the night thinking that I'm suffocating. Its caused by the fact that the normal sleep pattern breathing does not deliver enough oxygen to the brain, so the brain complains by waking you up with a start.

Next day we take the jeeps to the Mt Everest region. Instead of the main road into the region, we take a shortcut that is an old pack-horse track across the plains. The route is amazing as we pass farmers herding goats and tending crops, and pass through many typical Tibetan villages. We ford many streams and irrigation channels (occassionally getting stuck) and drive on lengthy detours to avoid impassable sections. It feels like we are really passing through the Tibetan landscape on a 4x4 landrover training course.

Finally we reach the point where the jeeps are not allowed to go further and we transfer to minibuses for the next hour. The Chinese Government have restricted traffic in this last section of the road to Rongphu Monastery. For the last section up to base camp at 5200m, we have to take a horse and cart or walk. Its not a difficult choice as we are completely knackered taking just three steps at this altitude.

As we arrive at basecamp the clouds are shifting around the summit of Everest, but it remains illusive and we cannot see the top at 8848m.

We decide on a moment of impulse to stay the night at basecamp with the idea that Everest will reveal itself in the morning and we'll be at the right spot to see it. We find a 'hotel' to stay in - its actually a huge tent with seats/beds arranged around the periphery and a wood/dung burning stove in the middle. The owners are pleasant enough and supply us with continuous supply of tea. They have a simple menu as well although the effects of the altitude dull the appetite a lot.

In the afternoon we take a short walk and see the graves and memorials to the many moutaineers who died attempting to climb the mountain. We see markers for Russians, Chinese, British, German, French and many other Nationalilities.

In the evening the wood-burning stove goes on. It doesnt vent very well and the room becomes quite smokey. We settle down for the evening wearing all our clothes and get huge piles of blankets on top of us. No one in the tent sleeps very well because of the cold and altitude.

In the morning we awake to find theres a blizzard outside and theres about 4inches of snow. I struggle out to the toilet - probably the worst one in the world - and decide that we should get back down as soon as possible. We're about to hike down when the horses and carts arrive. We don every last piece of clothing, and wrap a tarpaulin around us and set off. I feel a bit sorry for the cart driver who sits out front in the freezing snow wearing a woolen jacket - I guess the Tibetans are pretty hardy.

The jeeps take us back on the main road to Shigar. En route we go over another 5100m pass and stop to see if we can spot Everest. The cloud moves mysteriously around the summit and we think we glimpse it from time to time. The other 8000m peaks of Cho Oyu, Makalu, Lhotse, and Gyachung remain equally illusive.

Finally we reach Shigar and we are pleased to find our truck has caught up with us after being stuck for three days due to landslides. We drive for a mile or so out of town and set up the tents in a beatiful valley.

In the evening lots of the locals stop by to see what this strange encampments is, they are dressed in their brightly coloured clothes and their skin is burned deep brown, almost black, by the sun. Some arrive on horseback, others on foot; women, children and men. They stay usally no more than 20 minutes and are always keen to see if they can get something for free.

Next day we head to Shigatse, the second city of Tibet. Its a longs slow drive at first due to the roadworks and diversions, and it takes over 12hrs in total. Helen, one of our UK guides collapses due to the effects of altitude and we feel fortuntate that we have 2 medics on the trip with us who look after her and give her oxygen.

As the journey progresses the roads improve and the scenery changes to dry expansive river valleys where the locals grow barley, oil seed rape, and potatoes. At nightfall we reach Shigatse, seat of the Panchen Lama, and check into our rather posh chinese run hotel. We have our first really good nights sleep in several days.
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