Chomolungma (Mount Everest) from Kala Pattar
In Tibetan, Chomolumnga means "Mother Goddess of the World." Standing before her (also known as Mount Everest), just after sunrise, there was little doubt in my heart as the depth of her name. While this image -- the highest elevation to-date of my journeys (18,600 feet or 5,600m on Kala Pattar) -- was a milestone in many ways, the two nights before this photograph was created just might be more memorable of an experience ...
We arrived in Gorak Shep, last village before Everest Base Camp, to find every room was taken, due to an unusually large trekking group arriving in town earlier. One of the teahouse managers so generously offered us his personal tent for the night, and a room for the following evening if it became available. (He would sleep in the dining room with the other Sherpas.) We crawled into the tent just after an icy sunset, grateful for sleep and that we had zero degree down sleeping bags for the Himalayan night.
A few hours into the night, my trekking companion awakened, having a bit of trouble breathing. This was quite unusual -- Doug is one of the rare few who is nearly unaffected by high altitude; sea level and 18,000' are about the same to him. A quick investigation revealed that the tent was now covered in a thick layer of snow -- an unexpected mountain storm had blown in and blanketed the area, even though it was the first week of April. The snow was cutting air circulation -- and the limited oxygen available to us sheltered in the tent.
I promptly awakened, and we spent the rest of the night alternating knocking the fresh snow off the sides of the tent. It was little sleep and a very cold Himalayan morning when the first light revealed the transformed landscape, crystalline white -- both a glistening beauty and new appreciation for the intensity of this landscape, the edge of life on the Khumbu glacier.
To receive spiritual insight on the "Sacred Himalaya," click to read: "Divine Feminine of the Himalayas: Sacred Khumbu of Nepal."
"Man & Goddess": Everest Base Camp & Khumbu Glacier
After the unexpected snowstorm described above, we were blessed by a full clear day to be with the great mountains circling the Khumbu glacier. This spectacular day of photography and cross-glacier travel to Everest Base Camp did come at a price -- we "bought" our extra day by taking one travel day from the 39 mile return hike to the airstrip at Lukla for our flight back to Kathmandu. But after three weeks traversing the "Three Valleys" of the Khumbu (Sagarmatha National Park -- Bhote Valley, Gokyo Valley, Everest Valley), we hardly wanted to miss the opportunity to explore the valley circled by the highest of peaks on Earth, clustered on the border between Nepal and Tibet.
Our timing at Everest Base Camp was a month before peak climbing season, so only the advance teams of Sherpas were setting up camp. It was a construction project like no other -- a cluster of brightly colored high tech domes, scattered across the Khumbu glacier. And -- as evidenced by this photo -- EVERYTHING is carried by foot (human or yak). It is a 45 mile walk to the nearest airport (ascending about 10,000 feet in elevation). And, from the airport, another 4-5 day walk to the nearest road.
For more photos of Everest Base Camp and my Himalayan trek, click here for the main "Sacred Sites of the Himalayas" gallery.
Bhote Valley: Long, high road to Tibet
Just around the corner, you can see the white-rimmed peaks of the Himalaya on the Tibetan border. Those are several days walk away, to cross from Nepal to Tibet over the Nangpa La, one of the highest passes of these borderlands (near 19,000 feet or 5800m). In the Bhote Vally, we are far from the (relative) crowds of the Everest Base Camp. Two mountain passes, both nearly 18,000 ft (5500m) must be crossed to reach this better known area. In the next two weeks, we would cross both of them -- one in beautiful weather (Renjo La) and the second (Cho La) after our first of two unlikely spring snowstorms.
But here, in the Bhote Valley, we spent the night in Thame with only one other foreigner in the Sherpa town known for its remote monastery. The next night, just a handful of trekkers were staying at the base of first pass near Lungden. There are probably far more yaks in the Bhote Valley than Sherpa people. These long-haired, tough travellers are "real" yaks -- Himalayan survivors from long evolution to live in this cold, dry environment -- not the cow-yak hybrids commonly seen and used by porters at lower elevations.
My time and experiences in the Bhote Valley inspired this article: click to read "Who are the Yeti of the HImalayas?"