Thursday 26 December
As usual, I was awake for long periods in the night (which is pretty normal at such altitude) but I used the time productively to start writing my Everest trekking poem, and in between those periods of wakefulness, I slept very deeply, so woke up feeling quite refreshed. Everyone else seemed quite groggy yet again, and many people were still struggling with the aftermath of stomach bugs, though at least there were no new victims in the night. I didn’t even have a headache today, so was again feeling on tiptop form. We had another very gentle ascent up to 4100m for lunch, and our last view of Everest for the next 3 days, although there were still fantastic views of Ama Dablam towering above us. I’ve love to climb that some day. Who knows, maybe if I learn to climb properly, one day I could actually do it. I never thought I’d ever climb Kilimanjaro until the guide in Peru told me I should go for it. And I might not have made it right to the top, but I could have done had things been a little different. I reckon if you can climb Kili, and if you have proper climbing experience, then you can climb Ama Dablam.
Today I talked with Chong, our head guide about Everest. It turns out he’s been on quite a few expeditions to the summit, but he’s only ever made it as high as the South Col. Apparently he suffered from altitude sickness too badly every time he got to that height, and couldn’t go on. He’s now in his 60s and says he’s too old for Everest. I realised it could be a difficult subject, but I asked if he’d ever seen anyone die on Everest. I’m genuinely so curious about all these things, having read so much about them, and to have the opportunity to actually talk to someone who’s been there was so exciting, I felt brave enough to broach some tricky subjects. His tone changed very quickly as soon as we talked about anything to do with his personal experiences, but to his credit, he answered my questions very honestly. He told me a harrowing story about watching his friend, another Sherpa, fall off the mountain and die. I had to read between the lines a little, but I think that incident was what made him quit. For him, and I don’t blame him in the slightest, the sanctity of life became more important than the desire to stand on top of the world. And of course, he had family to consider.
Something I find very interesting is what I learned about the different attitudes of the sherpas to others (be they clients or guides, commercial or private) about Everest and its dangers. For the sherpas, it’s a job, and however much they want to summit Everest, it’s still primarily a job. Until Camp 4, it’s pretty much like any other guiding or portering job, and their first priority is their clients. Above Camp 4, it’s every man for himself, and if at any point they don’t feel safe, they descend. There’s no obligation to risk their lives for the sake of their clients, or indeed, to help them in any way, and any decision about that is not made lightly.
Our leader, Jangbu, has summited Everest twice, and is hoping to summit a third time in the coming season. He was also very happy to talk about his experiences. We are so lucky to have him as a guide, given that there are only 3 Exodus guides who have ever summited Everest.
We arrived at Dingboche (4530m) mid-afternoon, and as I was still full of energy, I went for a little walk up the hill. Most people seemed to be exhausted once again, so I felt not a little smug. I would have gone a lot further, but I was a little scared of going far because I could hear yaks but couldn’t see them. Having seen them chase one of our group earlier in the week, I was pretty scared that a lone yak might start to chase me, and of course no one knew where I was or could come to my aid. Dying on Everest is one thing, but being gored to death by a yak when I hadn’t even got to Base Camp would have been a pretty rubbish way to die.