Monday, April 14, 2014

Everest 2014: Puja Ceremonies, Base Camp Arrivals and the Beginning Of The Climb

As expected, it was a busy weekend in the Himalayas, where most of the early teams have now arrived in Everest Base Camp on the South Side, or are en route to Chinese Base Camp on the North Side. After spending a couple of days getting settled in, most are now resting, acclimatizing, and going through a series of skills checks before they start their first forays up the mountain, where the weather reportedly remains cold and heavy snows have fallen.

One of the most important steps before anyone begins their climb on Everest is to take part in a Puja ceremony. During the Puja, a Buddhist monk blesses the climbers, and their gear, while asking for permission from the mountain for them to climb its slopes. The Puja is especially significant to the Sherpas, who generally won't go above Base Camp without first receiving the blessing. While it is conducted in all seriousness, and is marks the true start of the climb, the Puja is also a good opportunity for the climbers to get to know their teammates better, and celebrate ahead of the start of the serious work.

Over the past few days, a number of teams have completed their Puja ceremony and are now prepping for their first rotation up to Camp 1, or have left BC to acclimatize on one of the lesser peaks in the region, such as Lobuche. That's where the IMG team is at right now, and they hope to summit today, before heading back to Everest. Similarly, the Peak Freaks squad will be headed off to Island Peak for their acclimatization climb. After which, these climbers will venture into the Khumbu Icefall for the first time.

Several teams are reporting issues with their communications systems in BC at the moment, with Himex, RMI and the Altitude Junkies weighing in on the topic. The satellite BGAN system is not working properly, while the cell towers in Gorak Shep have intermittent access at best. Heavy cloud cover in the region is mostly to blame, as that won't just prevent satellite connections, but the cell towers are powered by solar panels. As the season progresses, clearer skies will make help to facilitate better comms, but for now they'll have to be patient.

My friend Gulnur Tumbat reached Base Camp last Friday, but the communications problems are preventing her from sharing too much about the experience just yet. She is hoping to become the first Turkish woman to summit Everest. Blind German climber Andy Holzer should be there now as well, as he looks to become the second person to summit without the use of his eyes. Melissa Arnot has not checked in just yet, but she should be settling into BC on the South Side as well.

If you're interested to know more about the logistics of an Everest climb, check out this article from Outside Online which introduces us to Adrian Ballinger, the founder of Alpenglow Expeditions. The company takes a unique approach to a climb up the highest mountain not he planet, that is both quicker and more expensive than most other guide services. It is an interesting read about how Adrian is trying to change the approach to climbing Everest, which he says has mostly gone unchanged for decades.

Expect some updates to begin to flow in from the Tibetan side of the mountain in the next few days. Base Camp on the North Side is still becoming fully operational, but there should be plenty of action to report there soon as well. I would expect a major team meeting to take place on the South Side this week, as they begin organizing the efforts to fix ropes to the summit. That isn't a concern on the North Side, where the Chinese take full responsibility for that process.

Once the comms situation is sorted out, I'm sure we'll start to get more news. For now, sit tight and know that things are just getting started.

1 comment:

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