Saturday, April 20, 2013

What does Everest Base Camp sound like?

April 20, 2013
Rest Day at Everest Base Camp
SpO2 = 82  RHR = 76

I am thinking of all my friends at the Bellingham Boys & Girls Club this morning. First of all, you are all AWESOME! (high five someone near you). Secondly, I know I owe a couple games of foosball to a few of you and I am hoping you are working on your skilz so we can settle, once and for all, who is the King Mondo Foosball Dominator of the free world when I get back. 

I want to take you on a tour of Everest Base Camp today. But I thought it might be fun let the sounds lead us. So close your eyes (I assume one of the equally awesome staff members is reading this to you) (Staff member should high five someone near by) and try to imagine what comes next. 

It is early morning, and we can hear snow sliding off our tent. Normally it is too cold to snow at Everest Base Camp (EBC), but a warm spell has settled in. There is bird singing from the top of a nearby rock pile. We peek outside the tent to see it. This bird looks a lot like a Robin.  Aside from the big wooly yaks, there aren’t many animals around EBC, so this is special. The snow has covered all the tents scattered among the giant piles of rock and dirt here. It is very peaceful. 

We can hear a gas cooker working over in the cook’s tent. He is already putting together breakfast. Then a soft wampf wampf wampf starts moving up the valley toward us. It gets louder and faster as the sound moves closer. It is a helicopter coming to EBC. As it lands a football field away, the powerful rotors stir up the fresh fallen snow, scattering it in whirling white clouds about the camp. We look out from a crack in the tent door and see two people climb on board the helicopter. Then it is gone. It is probably taking a sick Climber to the lower elevations where he can get better. He will be alright. 

This is a special day. Today we will inflate the palm tree we have packed all the way from Bellingham. We remove the packaging and start breathing into the colorful plastic decoration. Pthhhhhhhhh, Pthhhhhhhhh, Pthhhhhhhhhh. It doesn’t take long to inflate, and we don’t even feel dizzy because the air is thin up here at 17,500 feet. After anchoring the palm tree down next to our tent, we walk toward the dining tent to get a cup of cocoa. The snow crunches beneath our feet. A big piece of ice breaks away from the hillside and rumbles down the hill. As we pass by one tent we can hear a man talking to his family on a phone. He sounds happy-sad. You know, like when you are so happy sometimes you cry a little. 

As we pass by the green communications tent little bursts of radio talk emerge from it. It sounds like there are climbers moving up to higher camps on Everest and the staff is keeping track of everything. Long strings of prayer flags flutter overhead throughout camp. The Sherpa people believe the prayers written on these flags are carried by the wind and bless everyone that wind touches. All of these strings of flags come together at a Buddhist alter in the center of our camp. We can hear the soft chanting of one of the Sherpas as he burns juniper branches at the alter. The smell is wonderful.  

There is no one in the dining tent yet, but a tiny propane heater is hissing quietly at the far end of the long table we all eat at. The table is cluttered with tea, cocoa, and other drink mixes. There are also boxes of various cookies and biscuits. We can see our breath when we exhale. It is very cold in the tent. So we sit at the end next to the heater and pour hot water from one of the thermos containers, then mix in the cocoa. We use more cocoa mix than we normally would because we are hoping the sweet taste will help us forget about the cold. We know this is probably silly reasoning but we do it anyway. 

Soon the tent fills with other members of our climbing team and a happy chatter seems to chase the cold away. We talk about how we slept, what we will do with our day, and funny things we have seen or heard.  We did not know each other a month ago, but now we are good good friends. It feels like summer camp.  The cook beats on a tin pan to bring any stragglers to breakfast, then starts serving hot spam with potato wedges and egg omelette. It tastes good. 


  1. Nice prose brother. I'm there with you. Better dust off that inflatable palm tree. :) stay safe in the ice fall.

  2. Again you give such great imagary with your musings! You are such a great writer and climber! Be safe and crank up the heat in your boots and get some hand warmers on! Xoxoxo

  3. Dave, may your inflatable palm tree keep you warm both inside and out.

  4. Hey Dave, maybe if your air mattress still has a hole in it....
    you could sleep on your palm tree.....and pretend the falling ice
    in the distance is actually coconuts and the hiss of the propane
    is the surf............. : )

    Thanks for the tour of EBC, your words are so good....I'm there.


  5. Dave, Great post! we look forward to them!I can tell in your voice you are loving this climb! Stay safe,warm and about the air mattress? is it fixed now because I was about to stay comfortable! You must be tolerating the thinner air with your O2 sat@82%. Happy climbing with your Sherpa lottery win!

  6. Dave,
    The palm tree is a unique touch of class (cough, cough). Glad you and Ty are having a good time! Status on the air mattress???

    Luv J & J

  7. Dave,
    I wanted to let you know that I'm reading your blog with great interest and enjoying it immensely. Keep climbing and stay safe!!
    Forgive me for being nit picky, but I thought I'd give some feedback about the abnormal breathing observed in climbers at altitude. It is called Cheyne Stokes Breathing, named after the two physicians that first described it, and is observed in brain injury such as from stroke or a tumor, that interferes with respiratory centers in the brain. My understanding of the physiology in play at altitude is that there are different respiratory centers that respond to concentrations of oxygen or carbon dioxide in the blood. At sea level, the two should be in sync, but at altitude, they are not. In order to maintain adequate oxygen, one must hyperventilate, which lowers the CO2 level. In many individuals, the CO2 responsive center is stronger, and the drive to breath is shut off, causing the apneic spells.


  8. Dave, your word pictures are so clear and vivid. Thanks so much for sharing with us all. I see your palm tree and I think Mai-Tai's. Pretty potent at high altitude, I'd imagine! Climb on intrepid soul!


  9. Dave, I have attached a link to a picture of some Arizona Sun to warm up.
    Thanks for sharing your adventure, what an amazing adventure.