5 Days to Everest — The Preparation
After we got to Lhasa, we learned that it was still possible to take a trip to Everest Base Camp, despite the season and the approaching of the Tibetan and Chinese New Years. EBC, as it is known, is the 5200 meter (over 17,000 feet) high lower encampment from which those who attempt to climb the world’s most famous mountain begin. Composed of only a few permanent buildings (mainly a postal hutch and several outdoor toilets) and tents of those who are visiting, attempting to climb, and even some tents rented as hotel rooms. The camp is located 7km away from the road, meaning that to reach EBC, you have to hike that distance in an altitude higher than most mountains in the world. At this height, the air is a little more than half as thick as it is at sea level, meaning that you have to breathe about twice as hard to get the same amount of oxygen into your system. This becomes a real problem when hiking.
We located a tour organizer, Lotse, who could get us set up with a driver and a good route of between 3 to 5 days for sightseeing, with stops at restaurants and hotels along the way. The cost was to be the same for 1 or 4 people, so we teamed up with a couple of people who were also interested in taking the trip. We sat down with our tour organizer and planned out a route from Lhasa around Yamdruk Lake, to Gyantse to see the monastery, then sleeping in Shigatse. The next day, we’d see Tashilhumpu, the palace of the Panchan Lamas, go from Shigatse to Sakya monastery and sleep in Lhatse. Then from Lhatse to Shegar. On the fourth day, we’d actually go to EBC, then back to Shegar. On the fifth day we’d make the long return trip to Lhasa and be done. We met our driver, Sonam, and paid half of the total fare.
Our traveling companions were two Canadian citizens of Chinese ancestry. Kernby was the first of the two we met. He was traveling with his father, Kamson. We’d first noticed them on the train coming to Lhasa, then gone out with Kernby and a couple we met our first night in Lhasa named Andy and Katch. That night, Kernby had been telling us that he didn’t really believe in Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), a condition where the high altitude and relatively little oxygen content in the air can lead to nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia, lethargy, dizziness, headache…lots of not so fun symptoms. However, by the time we were ready to leave for the trip, Kernby had been fighting the condition and had finally won; his body had become acclimated to its new surroundings. We were able to buy small bottles of oxygen for the trip to prevent this kind of thing happenning on the multiple mountain passes and places we’d be hiking and sleeping where the relative 3600m height of Lhasa would seem like flatland.
We all went to bed early the night before we were to leave on the trip to be ready for the next 5 days of our adventure.