Finding Solitude on the Khumbu

The surreal, giant landscape of the Khumbu Glacier at base camp. Left of center is the west shoulder of Everest (the summit and most of the mountain itself are concealed). Khumbu Icefall is in the center.

The surreal, giant landscape of the Khumbu Glacier at base camp. Left of center is the west shoulder of Everest (the summit and most of the mountain itself are concealed). Khumbu Icefall is in the center.

THWAP-THWAP-THWAP-THWAP-THWAP. A chopper stirs me from my early morning slumber. I graze the edge of my tent, unleashing snow flurries of my own moist breath frozen to the nylon through the night.

This is the second morning of my spring at Everest base camp. It’s a scene.

Base camp is smeared over a mile-long stretch of the rubble-strewn Khumbu Glacier at 17,600 ft or so. A collection of over a thousand mountaineering tents, communications domes and dining rooms are perched on makeshift rock platforms on the constantly crackling glacier. In the era of commercial mountaineering where peaks are sold as commodities, companies compete with each others’ base camp perks, from big screen TVs and couches to open bars. My base camp, for the record, isn’t absurd but does offer respectable modern accommodations: a shower and a spacious carpeted dining tent. Good times!

Everest base camp, located on the Khumbu Glacier. Everest is out of view to the right. In the center background is Changtse, located in Tibet.

Everest base camp, located on the Khumbu Glacier. Everest is out of view to the right. In the center background is Changtse, located in Tibet.

With all the amenities, daily heli flights and ample testosterone-fueled posturing, I’ve found it easy to forget about this place and why I actually decided to show up. I require a strong personal connection to the mountains I choose to visit. In this day, it may be harder than ever to establish that relationship, but I find it essential to meet the mountains on their own terms.

Our base camp, complete with a communications tent, dining room, kitchen and solar power.

Our base camp, complete with a communications tent, dining room, kitchen and solar power.

Our dining tent. Propane heat, a great selection of condiments, and comfortable chairs!

Our dining tent. Propane heat, a great selection of condiments, and comfortable chairs!

Where am I? What’s the mood of the Khumbu this early spring?

After dinner, I stumble out of our dining tent and head out onto the glacier. The Khumbu is a giant river of ice, flowing downhill at one to a few meters per day. By the end of the season, I’ll have drifted perhaps a quarter mile. I stand over a precipice of ice and rock. Penitentes, giant pillars of ice formed by the intense low-latitude sun, catch the moonlight to form ghostly shapes. As a mist rolls in, I gaze up at the base of the route—a chaotic pile of ice known as the Khumbu Icefall. It’s grand, if not completely uninterpretable chaos. This year, the route trends to the left side up teetering blocks of ice and beneath overhanging glaciers clinging to Everest’s west shoulder.

I often hear people back home lament about places such as these. ‘UGH, the [Yosemite] Valley is so crowded these days. I’d never go to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the North Rim is way better,’ and so on. It’s not the places’ fault. Let’s not make Everest apologize for being the highest mountain in the world. It is we who should approach these fragile and magical places with humility and respect.

I wander out further onto the glacier through a maze of ice ridges not unlike cresting waves on a stormy sea. Some of these fins of ice reach forty or fifty feet high. In the icefall itself, they’ll be the size of apartment buildings, teetering over bottomless crevasses. The mist briefly parts to reveal the flanks of Everest and stars above. As snow begins to fall once again, the orange and yellow tents are like glowing candles guiding me back to shelter.

L to R: Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse. The Khumbu Icefall and base camp are below.

L to R: Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse. The Khumbu Icefall and base camp are below.

Our nine climbing sherpas. These guys are the real deal. Tashi, center, is our sirdar, or leader.

Our nine climbing sherpas. These guys are the real deal. Tashi, center, is our sirdar, or leader.

Erecting prayer flags during our puja, a ceremony to ask permission to visit the mountain gods and to bless our safety. Chomolungma (Everest) is the mother goddess of the Earth.

Erecting prayer flags during our puja, a ceremony to ask permission to visit the mountain gods and to bless our safety. Chomolungma (Everest) is the mother goddess of the Earth.

Katas and smears of butter top the rock chorten during our puja. Apparently the bird landing is auspicious.

Katas and smears of butter top the rock chorten during our puja. Apparently the bird landing is auspicious.

Our equipment is blessed by Mingma (a sherpa on our team) and a lama.

Our equipment is blessed by Mingma (a sherpa on our team) and a lama.

At the end of the ceremony, we smear each others’ faces with tsampa (barley flour).

At the end of the ceremony, we smear each others’ faces with tsampa (barley flour).

A little ice play during some down time.

A little ice play during some down time.

I negotiate a headwall during a practice session.

I negotiate a headwall during a practice session.

The view down the Khumbu from Pumori BC. Ama Dablam on the left.

The view down the Khumbu from Pumori BC. Ama Dablam on the left.

4 thoughts on “Finding Solitude on the Khumbu

  1. Julie Christopher

    I’m a friend of Sue’s here in Charlottesville. She told me about what wonderful things you are doing. Keep up the good work, have a wonderful life experience and be safe. I look forward to following you on your journey.
    Julie

    Reply
  2. Daniel Snyder

    Hari,

    I taught with your dad last semester at Murray and you came in and spoke to the class.

    Excellent photographs and words. I envy your journey and am glad to see that you are finding a way to connect to the mountain even among the throngs of “adventurers” you are sharing it with. Be safe, take it slow, and do good work!

    Reply
  3. Hari Post author

    Thanks everyone for the comments! Daniel, glad you’re following along and congrats on getting married! Good luck with everything. Matt, so glad you moved to Cville and I’ll see you in a few weeks! I’m working on my climber tan. And Julie, thanks for following. I’ll be back in Charlottesville in June and it’d be great to meet.

    Reply

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