Essay: Transitions on the Mountain Tapley Richards - Basecamp Tue, April 17, 2001 5:30AM
As I stumble past the final rock piles that make up the terminus of the Central Rongbuk Glacier, the valley opens up and the feel of the Tibetan plateau comes alive. It's a very abrupt transition; the site of Base Camp causes my senses to shut down and the slopes of Mt. Everest suddenly seem much further away. I've spent the past five hours walking on auto pilot - my hands swollen from dehydration, my skin burnt by the wind and sun, my feet stinging from slapping the twelve miles of rocky trail. Upon arriving at Base Camp, Pemba greets me with a refreshing cup of juice. I shed my pack and head for the mess tent, a comfortable setting with music playing and team members banging away on laptop computers. I find bliss on this "other side of Everest" by sinking into a comfortable chair.
From the lounge position, I watch my compadres compose emails and talk with loved ones on the satellite phone. For Mallory and Irvine it was the coming of a handwritten letter that brought sublime joy to an expedition member. And just six years ago, on my first Himalayan expedition, we relied on the good ol' postal service for communication. Unfortunately, this revolutionary approach to communication has a dubious side to it, as well. In an environment where dust and cold are abundant, our electronics are more temperamental than ever. Computer screens involuntarily take on a whole new look (or no look at all), battery power is minimal (even with ten solar panels and a windmill), and the satellite phone gives you brain tumors. If you are lucky enough for your computer, and the sat. phone to be working simultaneously, you can count on it costing fifty dollars to send and
receive five emails. Nowadays, your ability to communicate is only as
good as your newfangled contraption.
As did Mallory and Irvine, we still come down to Base Camp to retreat from the brutal and tiresome life of the upper mountain. And in some cases, the hospitality and the accommodations we find at Base Camp are even greater than what we encounter back at home. The food we eat is prepared, fresh, three-meals-a-day. We drink Starbucks coffee, Coca-Cola, and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Hot water is available for washing clothes and for the occasional body scrub. I mean some might even consider a trip to Mt. Everest in search of better living, and it may even unclutter your life in the process. In spite of the fact that all of this is sounding pretty good, I would not recommend it for your FIRST family vacation or honeymoon.
There's lots that's changed since the early British expeditions set foot on Everest. What had once seemed a novelty, like the opportunity to send an email, or the ability to recharge your Walkman batteries, now are commonplace for many Everest teams. The reasons for coming here, the elements of adventure, and the overall goals are maybe the least that's changed. To really experience Everest, it's necessary to take steps away from Base Camp and walk towards the mountain. The higher one climbs, the simpler life gets, and the closer to the Mallory and Irvine experience they become. For the way we now spend our time at Base Camp is far from anything Mallory and Irvine could have ever even imagined. It's an element of the expedition that has little to do with the success of reaching the summit, but its' growing relevance plays a huge role in Base Camp life - and life back home.