Friday, 25 April 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Shine Bright Like A Diamond

I likely made the mistake of reading the "reviews" for Rongbuk Guest House prior to my arrival. The result was hearing the word "Rongbuk" spoken in more of a creepy/sinister voice complete with Vincent Price type maniacal laughter. So much so that we had all started to verbally do this whenever we spoke of it in the days preceding it. Upon reflection, I suspect many of the reviews were written by people whose idea of "roughing it" would equal a 3.5 star hotel. Some people actually sound like they were expecting a 5 star resort or something. Yeah um no. This. Is. RONGBUK. (Remember: must be read in creepy/sinister voice complete with Vincent Price type maniacal laughter....)

The way I see it is if you managed to make your way through the winding, bumpy 3 hour drive to get here complete with dealing with rocks that just barely cover your arse when you need to pee, then everything else is peachy keen. Yes, the room for 4 of us to sleep in was basic, the toilets, or lack thereof, were even more so but they were surprisingly relatively clean and not at all stinky although may be it had frozen in the subzero temperatures?! I did have to avoid the yaks when visiting the toilet in the middle of the night and their eyes glow all weird from your headlamp, but c'mon, this is the stuff of lifelong memories! Looking out of the window of the room at Everest looking down on you and watching her face change by moments from sun to cloud and back to sun more than makes up for even the slightest bit of discomfort.

Granted, I didn't have my best night's sleep here, due to the altitude and my bony hips on a hard mattress, and I believe at least 3 of us got headaches due to the altitude. I would wake every few hours, lie there for what seemed like an eternity, apparently fall asleep before doing it all over again at a new time. The superhuman German in the room of course slept in his boxers. Ah to be 19 again. The bedding was basically copious quilts and blankets providing the ultimate nesting experience. I also slept fully clothed complete with touque, two pairs of gloves, 6 upper body layers, two lower body layers & hiking socks all whilst inside of my sleeping bag liner. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly I awoke during the night absolutely roasting and although I knew the room itself was absolutely bloody freezing it wasn't an issue for me, at least whilst I was snug as a bug. The lock on your door from the inside was a twig that looked like chopstick that if you turned just the right amount, kind of like cracking a safe, you could somehow get it to make sure the door didn't rattle from the wind.

The common room area was always warm and welcoming even if it was heated with dried yak dung. You’ll probably have at least one headache from the effects of yak dung heaters if not due to the altitude. That said the pancakes were to die for although don't start thinking about the hands touching yak dung potentially then making your pancake. The electricity is used sparingly so take a headlamp/torch although they appear to turn them on in the toilets at night only. It all added to the experience. I wouldn't have missed any of this for the world. It certainly knocks the ego back a peg or two.

Upon waking "for real", a voice from beside me chirped up "Here comes the sun". This has been a trip of lyrics at the best and worst of times and this one fell right into my lap, somewhere under the vast layers of blankets. "Little darlin', it's been a long cold and lonely winter" was my retort. We laughed.

I was outside with my camera waiting for the sunrise to fall upon Everest. Oh how I missed my blankets! Dawn. Subzero temperatures. Couldn't feel my fingers. The crystal clear shots I got? Priceless. Of course as soon as I ran inside for a "quick warm up" the sun started putting in an appearance again so back outside I went. Click. Click. Click. Until I was literally wincing in pain. Oh but she was worth it. She glistened in the sun like millions of diamonds. It was breathtaking.

Pancakes and ginger lemon honey tea whilst sat beside the yak dung fire was ample reward although the real reward was obviously out in the cold. Alas it was soon time to leave, 3hrs back along the very same road that had brought us here. I felt a little bit sad to leave her behind. She has this pull on you, draws you in. I can see why people end up chasing the dream of wanting to summit Everest.....

"You've read 'Into Thin Air'" I sternly told myself.....

Over 250 people have died trying to climb Everest. Most deaths have been attributed to avalanche, injury from fall or ice collapse, exposure or health problems related to conditions on the mountain. Not all bodies have been located, so there are no details on those fatalities. Due to the difficulties and dangers in bringing bodies down, most of those who perish on the mountain remain where they fall, although some are moved by winds and ice.

The most infamous tragedy on the mountain was the 1996 Mount Everest disaster on May 11, 1996, during which eight people died while making summit attempts. It is Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air" that I read covering the disaster. In that entire season, fifteen people died trying to reach the summit, making it the deadliest single year in the mountain's history to that point.

The upper reaches of the mountain are in the death zone. The death zone is a mountaineering term for altitudes above a certain point – around 26,000 ft (8000 m), or less than 5.16 psi of atmospheric pressure – where the oxygen level is not sufficient to sustain human life. Many deaths in high-altitude mountaineering have been caused by the effects of the death zone, directly or indirectly.

Well if lack of oxygen was ever a concern of mine, it didn't last long. Soon the bottled oxygen was cracked open in the van. Oxygen partaaaaaay! Of course someone had to do the whole "I am your father, Luke". And whatdoyaknow, my headache disappeared! In fact we all became quite the happy campers what with oxygen and candy being passed around. The ultimate sugar-oxygen rush! My former chemist brain didn't think there'd be any adverse reaction. Woooot! That said, my brains still look like they're coming through my nose however every time I blow it. Yay Diamox!

Oh and the Rongbuk monastery across the way from the guest house is the highest in the world. It is apparently open to visitors but of course for me the major attraction was the stunning scenery all around, and the view of the world's highest mountain's north face. In 2011, it was ranked on the top of CNN's 'Great Places to be a Recluse' if anyone is interested.

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