Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sybilla's letter home

Day Five at Base Camp!!!!. Will tell you about that in a bit but must say that we’ve had a fabulous journey – into Kathmandu then through Tibet, starting in Lhasa, stopping en route in towns that became more and more remote (and more and more untouched Tibetan!) The landscape just got better and better the closer to the Himalayas we came. Our last stop was a tiny place called Zegar where we trekked up to the Zong – an ancient monastery complex (methinks – must read up on it in the LP) built on the side of a mountain. It was bombarded by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution so all that remains now are the ruins cascading down the mountain. It was a really tricky walk for a city kid like me (very steep with sheer drop – not good for vertigo). Also, the altitude there was around 4,300 metres and I was really out of breath when I got to the top (understatement of the year). However when I reached the top there I had my first glimpse of Everest – the peak of which was visible above the mountains in the foreground. It was a bit weird seeing the top of it and thinking, we’ll be camping near the bottom of it soon! It seemed so far away and imposing….but here we are!!

The drive from Zegar to Base Camp was beautiful – up and over the Panglar Pass where you see Everest towering above the other mountains in the Himalayan range. We were really lucky – it was beautiful and clear and the view was stunning. We then descended through valleys carved between ruddy mountains, past tiny Tibetan villages and frozen rivers. We stopped at the Rongbuk monastery which is the gateway to BC. Just along from here the road opens up to a large rocky expanse – BC itself. I can’t quite work out how large it is – maybe 3 miles square? Anyhow to be honest,my heart sank when I looked around and thought ‘this is home for the next two months’. After all the rampant beauty it seemed so unappealing. However, it does have quite a monumental view – look above the glacier which it’s parked at the bottom of and there it rises up - the north face of Everest – which is quite something (second understatement of the year). I guess it’s a bit like seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time – a really famous image, but you’re standing right before it. Of course Everest has the advantage of being made by nature and truly uncompromising, compelling, and magnificent.

Life at Base Camp:
It’s quite something. Our camp is set up and managed brilliantly by the Himex crew and their fantastic team of sherpas. The film crew is separated from the climbers by the Expedition Tents - a kitchen tent, supplies, medical tent and Russ’s tent (the Expedition Leader). Crew and climbers are in rows of tents on either side of the Expedition tents. We’ve each got a comfy 2-man dome to ourselves which is great. We bought rugs en route which really make a difference and make the tent feel really homely (my god it needs it in a place like this – will explain more in a mo).

We’ve spent the past few days setting up our systems. We’ve got a fantastic shed which the sherpas built. It’s going to be my daytime home along with Steve, our editor. It houses the edit suite, camera gear and office gear. Steve and I will be beavering away here; I’ll be logging the rushes whilst Steve rough cuts the material. I’ll also be on comms to Advanced Base Camp when the clients and film crew head up there (next weekend) and also on comms to the UK production office to keep them posted on events here. I’ll be writing the production diary so that when we get properly into post production back in the UK, we’ll have a reference point of what happened when (days merge here!).

The daily routine is great. We get woken up at 7am by sherpas with hot flannels – enough to freshen up your face. Another two sherpas come round with hot tea (those who know me well know that I never drink tea in the UK but the hot, milky, sugary tea they serve here is delicious and reminds me of the tea Mum gave to me when I was little). I must admit, getting up is really hard. The tent is absolutely freezing – my water bottles have been frozen along with the wet wipes, and climbing out of the sleeping bag and getting undressed from my down layers which I’ve been wearing inside my sleeping bag and into my daytime layers is really grim!

At 8am a cooked breakfast is served, follwed by a two course lunch at noon and then a three course dinner at 6pm. The food here is amazing – Lachu is the chief sherpa in charge of the kitchen and he’s a genius in there. One of the symptoms of altitude sickness is loss of appetite – you can forget that as far as I’m concerned! The Wilson appetite has proved once again that it is invincible, and I’ve in fact put on about 4 kgs since the beginning of the trip! Speaking of AS, we’re at at 5,200 metres and it was about 2 hours after we arrived that I started to get headaches. They were really bad on Day 1, especially overnight, then they cleared after breakfast on Day Two but came back intermittently during the day, usually when I’d been active. Just sitting down, rehydrating and resting made them clear. Most people were taking painkillers but I decided not to because I was determined to see how long it would take for my body to naturally acclimatise and the head to clear. Well it’s been a daily progression to normality, and today I’ve had no headache at all – so I’m really chuffed. We’ve been on two acclimatisation treks – one up on the glacier to a beautiful turquoise lake – with Everest as the backdrop, and then this afternoon up along a frozen river. It was treacherous (again especially for me and my appalling balance) but it was great all the same.

This morning we had the Puja ceremony – where monks from the Rongbuk monastery held a service to bless the climbing expedition and to pay respect to the mountain. Climbers brought their ice axes and crampons – all to be blessed. There was lots of chanting, yak butter and smoke, also a bottle of whiskey going round and nibbles. At the end all of the Tibetans and sherpas linked arms and danced, all rather rowdy but fun!

Up here the weather conditions are pretty extreme. When the sun is out during the day it’s very hot – you can’t lie down in your tent because it’s roasting. The minute the sun’s gone down it’s freezing. We huddle together in the mess tent to keep warm, and it’s really hard to leave and trudge back to your tent. Also the wind gets up during the afternoon and it’s fierce. The dust is appalling – you have to clean your tent zips with a toothbrush in order to keep them working. Dust is a huge problem, it gets in your clothes, skin, absolutely everything. I plan to shower in a day or two, but I know I’ll be filthy again very quickly! One thing I haven’t mentioned are the bathroom facilities! Well it’s set up excellently. There’s an ablutions tent with a shower room on one side (when it comes to the time you ask the sherpas for hot water and they’ll fill a pump contraption for you). On the other side of the tent divide is the toilet – a blue barrel with a toilet seat lashed to the top. You breeze in, flip the lid, don’t look down, do your business and then flip the lid back and exit as soon as possible! The blue barrel is for number two’s only – we don’t want it filling up with pee. The contents will be carried down the valley when it’s full.

Our camp is sandwiched on one side by Koreans and Indians on the other. They’ve really hardly given us any room. Apparently Himex is so renowned to be the best expedition company they all want to get close. Unfortunately the stone-walled latrine (for peeing) which was built for us is right in the view of the Korean camp – fine for the guys but impossible to use with any privacy for us girls. So the sherpas dug another latrine with the stone wall facing in and it’s absolutely great. One can squat there in peace knowing nobody can see!

The sherpas are really amazing. They work so hard, getting up in the early hours to melt snow for our morning tea and breakfast (one of the reasons why it would be entirely selfish to expect to wash with water more than once a week – and even then I know I’ll feel guilty when I ask for some! The climbing team and film crew are great characters too. However, as it’s approaching dinner time I’ll stop now and send this so you get some of the picture, even if not as much as I’d like to paint for you.

Love to you all – and apologies once again for having to do a round-robbin, but keep those emails coming as they’re a delight to read.

Loads of love and big hugs to you all (selfish because I’d like your hugs to warm me up!),

Sybs XXX


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic description of base camp, can picture it now. Be safe up there all of you, take care.Charx

12:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great discription of BC life.Russ the best in business when it comes to orgenizing expeditions. I was fortunate to summit with him twice.Send my regards to Russ,Mark, Ginger Peedom, Lachu, the great Phurba & the rest. Best of luck. ZEDDY

11:36 am  

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