What Is the Big Deal With Everest Base Camp?
Photos & Text: Zeb Blais
“Flames shot up, licking the delicate nylon fabric of Bali’s jacket. He was not dissuaded as another ball of fire came dangerously close to his flammable clothes. Evidently this wasn’t his first time serving flambe chicken at Everest Base Camp. I realize you’re thinking “why the &@#$ are they having flambe in the middle of the Tibetan plateau? What is this place?”
I’ll admit that I was simultaneously impressed, terrified and curious why the &@#$ we were having flambe in the middle of the Tibetan plateau. Base Camp on Mount Everest is a unique beast. The length of the climb and the environmental stresses on climbers and staff is intense. Base Camp is a place to recover from the demands of the expedition. With commercialization, Base Camp has become a comfortable and relaxing place to live.
Base Camp refers to both the individual camps of each team and the tent city made up of all the teams’ camps. Regardless of the team, Base Camp is the most comfortable camp on the mountain and depending on the team, it can range from very plush to fairly spartan. Either way, it is no alpine bivvy. This is the place where members and Sherpa can count on getting the rest they need to acclimatize and be prepared to make their summit bid. Base Camp also serves as a gear and food warehouse where we can sort gear and prepare loads to go up the mountain to other camps.
There are two Base Camps on the mountain, one on the south side in Nepal and one on the north side in Tibet. At both camps, infrastructure cannot be left on the mountain after the climbing season ends. Each year, tons of gear must be brought in and camp must be erected from scratch. By mid April, most teams have arrived and Everest BC becomes home to more than 350 climbers and support staff on the north side and 800 on the south side (this number is expected to grow to over 1200 this year!). Each team picks a spot where they can have their own space separate from other teams. Historically these spots remain with the same team each year.
EBC on the north side is accessible by motor vehicles, which means it’s relatively easy to bring in infrastructure and stock the camp. On the south side, teams typically have stores in the Khumbu Valley in villages close to Base Camp where they cache their infrastructure. This allows them to avoid flying everything in from Kathmandu and transporting it up the valley by porter and yak every year.
On the north side, there are 6 total camps. Base Camp (5200m), Interim Camp (5800m), Advanced Base Camp (6400), Camp 1 (North Col 7000m), Camp 2 (7800m), and Camp 3 (8300m). Base Camp is the lowest camp, so it has the warmest temperatures and the thickest air (higher pressure means more oxygen). This makes it the best camp for rest and recovery.
Our Base Camp consists of a cluster of tents, each with a unique purpose. This includes tents for member dining and lounge, Sherpa dining and lounge, kitchen, gear storage , food storage, shower, toilet (#2), and pee (#1) as well as individual sleeping tents for all members and support staff.
Our dining and lounge tent is a large dome where team members spend most of their time. The dome is insulated with Primaloft and is large enough to comfortably stand in. It is furnished with dining tables and chairs, lounge chairs, a desk with electric power for charging, a Bose sound system, and a heater. This is where we share meals, play cards, watch movies on a portable projector, and write blogs that hopefully someone reads. The dome has a large vestibule that serves as a mud room where we remove our shoes and wash our hands before entering the main dome. Preventing the spread of germs is a huge part of staying healthy on an expedition and having hand washing stations at the dining and bathroom tents is an important part of that goal.
So how do we power all this stuff? This year we had a great surprise. Upon arriving at base camp, we learned that the Chinese had banned gas powered electric generators and were supplying all teams with hydroelectric power. On previous years, our camp had been powered with solar. Despite our clean and quiet energy, we had to listen to the constant noise of generators from other camps. The electricity also powers our UHF radio base station for communication between guides, Sherpa and members, lights at night, chargers for cameras, cell phones, and laptops.
Apart from comfortable common areas, we have incredible communication at base camp. On the north side, we have 4g cell service provided by China Unicom. We are able to roam on their network using our american SIM cards for $10 per day. Higher on the mountain, we get wifi via Thuraya satellite service which runs through a device called an IP+. This is very costly, but provides incredible service considering the remote location. “