Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Day 12: EBC – To Come Here Is Folly

Gorak Shep (5150m) → Everest Base Camp (5270m) → Gorak Shep

Plus! – Nepalese Disco Night!

“Behold, I have seen all things that are done underneath the sun, and all is vanity and chase after the wind.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:11
I stay in bed, D downstairs, until A. comes to tell me the sun is on the town.

Outside, I found it was bitterly cold with a blasting wind, even in the very bright sunshine…

…and when we set off, the mood was somber.

To reach EBC from Gorak Shep involves crossing a ‘moraine’ – which is a bouldery, dusty wasteland left after a glacier passes through, and that's what we were traversing. In fact, there was almost nothing between our two endpoints but.

Despite my lack of enjoyment of it at the time, looking at the photos, it's hard to deny this place had a stark, desolate beauty. I guess one of the things I'm dealing with lately is the fact that the past, via memory, can never really be recovered. (As did, I guess, Proust.) Can it be recovered via meticulous photo-documentation and note-taking? I don't know. I do know I am at least in part recreating the experience now, 18 months later, sitting at my desk in Chelsea.

As we got close, we encountered a lone Frenchwoman having a fag break. She offered to move. “You want to take a photo?” I didn't. “You must go that way.” She pointed in the direction leading down to base camp. She was like a character misplaced from a Sartre play.

So that there – trying to spill down all over base camp – is the Khumbu Icefall. Aside from being the bottom of the Khumbu Glacier, the world's highest, it's also one of the most dangerous parts of the ascent to the south face of Everest. This because it's not only melting, but also moving all the time, different parts at varying rates, creating crevasses up to 150 feet deep and towering ice seracs over 30 feet high. Due to collapses, avalanches, or good ole just falling into a crevasse, 44 climbers have died in the Icefall – 25% of the historic total (from the Nepal side).

You can actually still see Everest from here, top-not-quite-right

The climbing season is of course in May – the 2016 season had been a ‘successful’ one, with about 600 successful summits… and ‘only’ five deaths. Good times compared to recent years: In 2014 an ice serac fell off the west shoulder of Everest, killing 19 in the Icefall (16 of them Sherpas), and ending the season immediately with no summits on the south side. And of course 2015 saw the devastating earthquake that killed 9,000 Nepalis – plus 19 in a resulting avalanche onto EBC.

While the climbers were lured back this year, trekker numbers were down 40%. (Despite the fact that, as my research found, the only trekkers who died did so when their Kathmandu hotel fell on their heads. As usual, people are very bad at rational risk analysis…) The huge fall-off in the trekking trade was of course devastating to Nepal, and just when they needed the money most desperately, but very pleasant for us – empty trails. I guess I could also feel good that we were there spending money.

Anyway, we were here to admire the lonely momument to the ‘success’ of the 2016 climbing season…

Here's what I posted to facebook from the scene:

Get ready for Tropy Photo City, baby! Population: us.

But, you know what, pretty quickly – probably right after I saw the likes and comments start coming in – I was actually glad to have the trophy photo, and glad Darby insisted. (I might not have chosen to pay the price of coming all the way up here for it; but that price was paid, either way, and the result was, yeah, kind of cool.)

And… back. The way we'd come.

Just pausing to note that this photo was not only a close first-runner-up for the banner image above – but one of my very favourites of the trek, I think. Captures the beautiful desolation, and the loneliness, pretty well, and if I do say so myself.

On our return, I presented with painful and itchy hands, to which Aakash applied something pink, which seemed to do the trick. I also got sick of the overcrowded, underheated main room of our teahouse, so f'ed off to the smaller one I discovered upstairs. It was all of warmer, cosier, less crowded, and more charming than ours, and a great boon to me. (I can by no means blame Mountain Monarch for sticking us in the other one; like I said, they must have had a replicator from Star Trek to provide as much as they did for as little as we were paying them.)

Additionally happily, I got to chatting with a woman from Derbyshire, a Glaswegian bloke, and a film producer from Toronto. We rapped movies and Graham Greene, and I slightly felt myself getting my mojo back:

Committed to 3rd pass, eating meals again. Anna perked me up (said not to let [family members] get me down, looking forward to having her best friend back, plus Alex coming in).

I made some further motivational notes to myself, which would be embarrassing to reproduce here… Dinner must have followed (notes silent on the subject), then traditional evening briefing – regarding our ascent of Kala Patthar, and subsequent short retreat back down to Lobuche, both of which we'd be doing on the same (i.e. next) day.

7/7.30/8. Layers, windbreaker, leave after lunch, 2hr → Lobuche @ 3/3.30.

Tonight, though, post-dinner, post-briefing, and post-bed… there was a lovely and very unexpected coda:

Nepalese Disco Night!

A. had warned us there was going to be some kind of gathering w/music, and it might be loud. But there was music, singing along, and stomping in time… Couldn't sleep through it, plus was a little peckish, so drug self out of the cocoon furnace and downstairs.

There I found 30-40 Nepalese youths getting their freak on. And DJing from his phone was… Aakash! The revelers were the cooking and cleaning staffs from every teahouse in town, and they get to do this once a year. They work terrible hours in the shadows, and I can't imagine get paid much. They were all young. They were all happy and smiling and singing and dancing. There was rum and beer and a lonely bowl of popcorn.

One Kiwi bloke and I were the only Western infiltrators. I resisted both the drinks I was graciously plied with and the entreaties to dance and sat and ate a roll of coconut crunches and spectated and smiled myself at being afforded the privilege of this look behind the veil.

Update: Some Nice Shots of Me Darby Took What I Forgot

Tomorrow, Day Thirteen: Kala Patthar – The Roof of Our World

close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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