The poor weather that was preventing the climbers in Nepal from departing Kathmandu has dissipated over the past few days, and numerous teams are now on the move in the Khumbu Valley. Many are now making the long hike to Everest Base Camp, which actually marks the beginning of their acclimatization process for the climb to come. The trek takes roughly 8-10 days to complete, but is an important step for getting both physically and mentally prepared for the challenges ahead. Along the way they pass through numerous small villages filled with wonderful, inviting, people as they walk in the shadow of some of the most beautiful mountains on the planet. It is a truly memorable hike for those heading to Lhotse or the South Side of Everest.
Among those currently on the trail is Alan Arnette, who checked in from Namche Bazaar over the weekend. Namche is the largest town in the Khumbu, and one of the first milestones achieved on the trek. It is reached after just two days of hiking, but requires a tough slog up a steep hill to actually get to the village. Most trekkers and climbers take a rest day in Namche after they reach that point in order to let their bodies get use to the altitude. It is also one of the last places to purchase a piece of gear that you may have forgotten, or enjoy a few other amenities. The villages that follow are increasingly smaller, and have fewer shops and restaurants.
One of the familiar sounds of the Khumbu is the frequent ringing of bells that hang around the necks of the yaks that are used to carry gear, food, and other supplies to the various towns and camps that dot the landscape there. Anyone who has ever hiked through Nepal will recognize the distinctive sound immediately, and know that a yak train is coming through so they had better get off the trail. Yaks are indispensable in this part of the world, and are about as common on the trail as hikers. Watching them carry their heavy loads – at altitude – with ease is fascinating.
Also now on the move in the Khumbu Valley is the Altitude Junkies team. They reached Namche on Saturday and spent the traditional rest day there yesterday. They’ll get back on the trail today as they head for Dingboche, the next popular stop on the hike. If they continue on schedule, the AJ squad should reach Base Camp sometime next weekend.
Meanwhile, Madison Mountaineering is sharing the first look at the new route through the Khumbu Icefall. In order to avoid some of the dangers that the porters faced last year – and which contributed to the avalanche that claimed 16 lives – the Icefall Doctors have pioneered a new route through this very dangerous section of the climb. The route now stays further to the right than what has been taken in the past, veering towards Nuptse. The hope is that this section of the climb will be much safer, and get the climbers through this treacherous section as quickly as possible.
Over on Annapurna the teams are still waiting for conditions to improve before they head up. But solo-climber Alex Barber has been working on his acclimatization in preparation for a summit bid down the line. After arriving in BC last week, he has now gone as high as Camp 2, and spent the night there, as he lets his body get use to the altitude. Over the weekend Alex returned to Base Camp however, where he is now waiting for conditions to improve before going back up once again.
Spanish climber Carlos Soria is hoping to launch his summit bid soon, and reports that the upper slopes of Annapurna are clear of snow at the moment. That bodes well for the climbers who are waiting for the weather to improve. Once a weather window opens, they can then proceed up with less fears of avalanches, something that the mountain is well known for this time of year.
Even though the season is now underway, most climbers are still en route to their respective Base Camps. For the most part, the climbing portion of their expeditions won’t get underway for another week or so, but this is all part of the process, and crucial to their preparation. Things will really start to get exciting soon, but for now it is a slow and steady walk through one of the most spectacular regions of the world.