Friday, April 11, 2008

11 April: Ropes Course & Base Camp Layout

I think I'm falling in love with our space heater. I'm sitting right next to the thing right now as I type this and am trying to hatch a plan for hiding this contraption in my backpack unnoticed and getting it to high camp. I wonder if anyone will notice...

Today we spent the morning playing around on the ropes course that Willie pulled together. This of course only after we woke again to beautiful and warm skies. And what do warm skies bring? Melting snow. And what does melting snow bring? Avalanches. Check out this nice sized one calving off the Lola Col:

The three of us moved gingerly through the ropes course while Willie familiarized us with types of challenges and obstacles we will be facing within days. After moving directly up and across aluminum ladders with mechanical ascenders, we traversed along narrow ledges and relied on ropes to rappel back to the beginning. With time, our confidence grew and we picked up on little tips and pointers Willie taught us in order to make our time in the Icefall more comfortable.

I have been asked by several people what exactly our Base Camp life is like. So since we have another slow day (it's snowing outside right now), I thought it might be good to take the chance to describe our camp layout and the earthier side of camp life. All things considered, our camp is fairly cush compared to some other camps which are very expeditionary in nature (read: one tent, one cook pot). Here's a quick strip map of our camp perimeter:

With each day, we try to improve just a little more. For example, two days ago we put in the camp shower- a plastic canvas tent that has a propane heater installed on the outside where water is injected into heat coils when our generator is running. The water then is pumped into a shower head and with the use of an on/off switch you can take a -quick- shower. It is important to zip the door closed all the way or an errant wisp of wind will leave you shaking uncontrollably... the water isn't that hot but this is truly a luxury item. I took a shower for the first time yesterday since Namche Bazaar... so mebbe like 10 days? I'll probably take one in a day or two again but only after the sun comes out and it isn't windy. Everyone's stinky here and you can't really smell anyway so it's not that bad.

Our tents are located in several areas across the camp site. Joe, Francisco and I are located in one area. Lama Jambu and Tendi are located in another. Lhakpa moved his tent from next to Willie's because the generator was too loud, and the cook staff and other support team members crash in their respective tents- there's plenty of room in there for them and they are truly happy with this arrangement.

Each tent is home for the next several weeks. We try to keep ours clean and well organized in order to feel like you have more space inside. The tent models we use are Mountain Hardware Trangos and North Face VE-25s- 4 season hardened models that can withstand just about anything thrown at them. Except as it turns out, UV Rays. These rays are so intense here that one tent has only about a 2 or 3 season service life before the rays structurally weaken the fabric beyond serviceability. Each tent has a little garden solar light out front and is anchored down with heavy glacier rocks should stronger wind gusts come along. There is a front window to see out of and through the rain fly, we also have three foam and air mattresses to keep comfortable from the rocks below and insulated from ground freeze. Last night while trying to sleep I could hear the glacier creak, groan and snap underneath us.

There are two toilets, both covered in blue tarp- one western (a.k.a. there's a toilet seat) and one of the Middle Eastern/ Nepali model which is more a hole in the rocks. There's an unwritten rule to not pee in the barrel- human waste is transported out and weighed for charges. Peeing in the barrel will increase weight dramatically and therefore, we have designated sites for that. There is an actual rule in Everest Base Camp that if you were to lose your mind and drop a bomb outside of your cans- and are caught... congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a $5,000 fine. Like many other items in camp, we have solar lights to illuminate the inside once darkness descends across camp.

We do our own laundry by asking the cook staff for a "washing pot" and then scrubbing dirty clothes like crazy in water that turns brown quickly. Once these items are clean, we lay them on a rock to dry- you have to do that b/c if you try to line dry them they'll just flash freeze- even when it's fairly warm thanks to the UV rays. The air is still below freezing.

The camp is powered by a 16 year old Honda generator and this accomplishes two things: it powers the lights that illuminate the community shelter and cook tent. It also recharges two automobile dry-cell batteries that power items when the generator is off.

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