|April 19, 2001|
From: Maurice Peret
Before proceeding further with my blind man's view of camp life and this extraordinary adventure, I would like to take an opportunity to introduce our magnificent hosts, the Sherpa people. They must be the most gracious folks on earth, contributing charm, dignity, and pure hard work to our endevor, the like of which is rarely seen.
The Sherpas are an ethnic minority of Nepal, primarily occupying the Khumbu region of the country. They are descendants of the Tibetans of China some 400 years ago. A healthy trade relationship still exists between the Sherpas and the Tibetans. Every Saturday the market in Namche Bazaar swarms with traders. Goods are carried on the backs of porters or yak caravans.
Once among the poorest of Nepalese, the Sherpas now enjoy an increased standard of living, largely due to the numerous trekking and climbing expeditions that bustle through the area, requiring their assistance in many ways. A loose hierarchical structure exists in the type of jobs performed by the people of the Khumbu. Porters, for example, come largely from the lowlands of the Khumbu known as the Solu, which is located above and mostly below Lukla. Lukla is the point of entry by aircraft for most trekkers and climbers. The porters can be seen wearing flip-flops, if any footwear at all, and carrying unbelievably heavy loads of gear. They bear the weight using a wide strap across the forehead. They definitely leave the impression that we Western travelers, with our comparatively light daypacks, stand out as true foreigners.
Other Sherpas serve as cooking staff for the expeditions. During our trek to base camp we were humbled and privileged to have Ang Dorje, the cooking Sirdar, (leader), who became famous during the fatal 1996 expedition with Rob Hall, to whom he had been close for many years. His role was recounted in John Krakauer's book, "Into Thin Air." Ang Dorje has summited Mt. Everest 7 times and other 8,000 meter peaks in the Himalaya as well. Unfortunately this incredible Sherpa fell ill with epileptic seizures during the trek. He is recovering nicely in Khatmandu. Tenzing is currently our cooking Sidar. Meals are definitely prepared to suit the Western palate; the only thing lacking, perhaps, is variety. Dahl baht is a popular Nepali dish consisting of white rice and lentils. Dairy products such as milk and cheese are derived from the naks, the female yak, which are also sometimes a source of meat.
Climbing Sherpas usually come from the higher elevation villages of the Khumbu. On the National Federation of the Blind Allegra 2001 Everest expedition 13 climbing Sherpas fix ropes, carry gear to the various camps on the mountain, and set up tents at the camps. The climbing Sidar is Kami Tenzing. Beyond his climbing responsibilities he coordinates the seemingly endless details of base camp life and of the entire expedition. In the midst of rather primitive outdoor living conditions we are yet in the lap of luxury under the meticulous care of our Sherpa friends.
In addition to the 20 or so personal tents of the expedition members there are also a dining tent; a communications tent, dubbed the "Duck Tape Dome"; a storage tent; a cook tent; a medical tent; two toilet tents; and a shower tent. And this does not even include the tents that travel to upper camps on Mt. Everest. Our expedition, including all of the trekkers, once numbered 48, and all of the personal and other gear was transported up the mountain by porters and yaks, an unimaginable load.
Water is boiled for many purposes: drinking, washing clothes, showering, etc. Some of us also use a supplemental safety precaution of iodine tablets. Water and food borne viruses are the most common source of mountain sickness.
The temperature at Mt. Everest base camp varies drastically. During the day, when the sun is shining, it can reach the mid 60's. At night or whenever the sun is hidden behind the clouds or snowfall, the temperature falls to 2 degrees above zero, as it did last night. Layering clothing is the absolute key to mountain wear up here.
Delayed by yesterday's snowfall, the National Federation of the Blind Allegra Everest expedition is now almost entirely at camp 2, where they will remain for the next week making carrying forays to camp 3 during that time. Everyone remains healthy, happy, and eager for success on the unforgiving mountain. Ours is just the team to accomplish it.
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