Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Land of great cathedrals

The ‘circus’ at Everest Basecamp was non-existent on this bright and sunny morning in early November in the heart of the Himalayas. The still air was crisp and cool, and the midday sun pierced the iridescent sky, rays of warmth feeling good on the face.

No tents, no people, no cameras – the buzz of expedition fever had dissipated along with the changing weather. Just a few tattered prayer flags every now and then, breaking the ground-level monotony of grey rock and Khumbu ice. You can’t even glimpse the summit of Everest from this fabled ‘launchpad’, and so I wondered...

In the days approaching Basecamp we had learnt from other trekkers along the way that it was now ‘empty’, the last and unsuccessful summit expedition of the year having returned to Spain three weeks earlier.

For a trek that was billed ‘Everest Basecamp’ it was now something of a dilemma – it had been our big chance to fleetingly rub shoulders with those taking on the highest mountain on Earth. But the circus and its paraphernalia had left town.

Several hours back from Basecamp along a tortuous, zig zag route of rock and ice is the remote settlement of Gorak Shep, in the shadow of Nuptse. Here the trappings of Everest expeditions past and to come can be seen – neatly stacked aluminium ladders lashed behind huts for self-keeping and a compound of empty ‘gas’ bottles.

But we jump ahead. Back in September, the Lighthouse Keeper asked ‘How high is Everest?’ and promised to enliven the dark winter nights by marking the tenth anniversary a first visit to Nepal with a retrospective blog, re-living the journey in words and pictures – from the excitement and heat of Kathmandu to the extreme cold and wilderness of the lower reaches of Everest.

So, in the words of John Ruskin, our journey to these ‘great cathedrals of the earth, with their gates of rock, pavements of cloud, choirs of stream and stone, altars of snow, and vaults of purple traversed by the continual stars’, starts here.

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