While God was carving the landscape of the Earth, he wished for a landmark. A place so different and distant that mankind would always be reminded of His existence. Maybe, it was this wish that gave rise to Mt Everest.
At 8848 metres, it looks like a bookmark in the folds of the Himalayas. And the wonder of all wonders, two men managed to reach the summit one day, staring blankly in the face of death. Though the first bid was made in 1923, luck chose Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953 for this feat.
More than luck, it was their planned execution.
We’ll soon celebrate the 62nd anniversary of man’s first meeting with the Everest, dreaming of that majestic peak is obvious; at least for the ones who charter their own course. With 3124 people making 5104 ascents to the summit since 2010, the task has become a test of daredevilry. An average of 150 people are able to climb up to the summit every year, out of the odd 2000 that try.
Year 2012 saw Tamae Watanabe, 73, conquering the peak. A feat that needs an adjective that’s more than just ‘remarkable’. As they say, climbing Everest is more a test of will than power.
If you, too, have set your heart on the Himalayan crown, here’s all that you need to know.
Time taken – While we have Pemba Dorje Sherpa, who took just 8 hours and 10 minutes to reach the summit, there are others who have been trying to reach the summit for months. If you’re gunning for an average, it’s ought to be around 4 days.
The ones, who are in a hurry, need to content themselves with a trek to the Base Camp. The trek takes around 10 days, and is the closest that you can get to the Everest without attempting the summit push. If you’re lucky and there are no clouds around, you’ll have an uninterrupted view of the beauty that’s Everest.
Average budget – USD 30,000 approx
- Permit – USD 11000 approx
Climbing gear – USD 5000 approx
Sherpas or porters – USD 7000 approx
Must haves –
A set of 5 bottled oxygen kits is the ideal count to stay on the safer side, apart from the camping gear. Take a closer look at all the safety gear, essentially including ropes, axes and hiking boots (check for the spikes).
Weather and time –
Winds of over 100 mph are a common thing on the trek, while temperature can range between extremes. Another thing that you must keep in mind is to know when to draw back, as you might be asked to make a descent in the face of strong winds, or storms.
To start with, there are two routes that you can take –
the North Ridge – begins from Tibet, from the north side of Everest, or
the Southeast Ridge – begins from Nepal base camp, from the south side of Everest
Since you need two visas to begin your ascent from the North Ridge, one for Tibet and one for China, and the route is closed since China’s invasion of Tibet, the Southeast Ridge becomes the obvious choice.
The trek to the Everest Base Camp on the Southeast Ridge is a journey in its own right, for you cannot walk more than 300 metres a day. Stretching it might cause altitude sickness, so 5-6 hours of trekking a day is the maximum time advisable.
To the base camp – This trek starts from Lukla, Nepal. A flight from Kathmandu will get you here (world’s most dangerous airport!). A trek of around 3 days that’ll take you across Namche Bazaar. One of the best stays here is at Khumbu Lodge (they got amazing yak steak!). It’s after Namche Bazaar that your experience starts, as you hike towards the base camp, with yaks being the main porters. At least 10 days are spent on the trek, as you get acclimatised. Pangboche is one of the most equipped villages on the route, and you won’t mind spending a night here.
The red rush of rhododendrons soon blurs into browns and greys. Sonam Friendship Lodge is where you can stay at village Dingboche. On your way to Dingboche lies the beautiful valley and the Tengboche Monastery. You should stay at the Base Camp for around a week for proper acclimatisation. After this, is your first stop, the alluring Khumbu Icefalls.
Khumbu Icefalls – As breathtaking as these icefalls are, they are treacherous (also infamous as Death Trap). Expert sherpas and hikers set the rope ladders, before you begin this breathtaking ascent. As the ice-blocks tend to shift with the rising Sun, the ascent is started in the wee hours of the morning. It’s advisable not to attempt the ascent in mid-afternoon or when the Sun is high, for ice blocks as big as whole houses can shift and fall! At the end of it, Camp I awaits you.
Time taken to reach Camp I – Expert climbers can reach Camp I in 4 hours, while the less experienced need anything between 6-7 hours.
Camp I – Camp I prods you towards the Valley of Silence, also known as the Western CWM. At 6500 metres, this glacial valley can be swelteringly hot as the steep cliffs cuts off wind from all sides. Your aim here is to reach the base of Lhotse or Camp II, the fourth highest mountain in the world. Once you reach Lhotse, all the hiking skills that you ever learnt are to be used, for ropes are the main way of traversing here.
Caution – You’ll have to pitch a tent at Camp I. And while you do so, look closely for any cracks in the ground. The ice keeps shifting beneath the glacial layer and you can only imagine what might happen if a block shifts right underneath your tent. Stay away from the walls too, for as sheltering as they may seem, they are more likely to sift.
Time taken to reach Camp II– You need to tread the ground for some 3-7 hours before you reach Camp II.
Camp II – Lhotse foot comes as more of a surprise, as you finally see the good, old, sturdy rocks after gallons of ice. While clouds come sweeping over, you’ll have the first close sighting of the Everest, as majestic as ever. While continued physical activity will help you in acclimatization, this is the last place to have a decent meal. Act your ravenous best, for only instant food will be your saviour after this.
Time taken to reach Camp III – A not so difficult ascent of 5 to 8 hours will take you closer to Camp III.
Camp III – Imagine yourself on an icy, free fall swing. The only difference being that the ice is real and you are dangling thousands of feet in the air. Ropes are your saving grace on this one, as you scale the wall to reach the camp that sits like a nest in the wall side. Avoid leaning too much on the ropes by using your legs against the wall, as it can be extremely tricky. As you pore over the last wall of Camp III, you might not see a sign board. But what awaits you here is lovingly called as the Death Zone of Camp IV.
Check all your gear while it’s still day, as you’ll be needing a handy use of axe from now on.
Time taken to reach Camp IV – A night’s stay is essential before you set yourself up for the final adventure, the summit push!
Camp IV/Death Zone – A strange silence crawls over, as you settle in for the night here. Within a whisk away from the summit, you are near something else too. Yes, this is the point where you’re closest to the atmospheric layer on the Earth! And, of course, quite near is mortal danger too. You got a maximum of just 3 days to make all your attempts, for every second longer than that, you’re in for a fate that may be death. The next challenge is the ever tricky Geneva Spur, and of course, the Yellow Band. The latter requires some 100 metres of rock traversing.
Time taken to reach the summit – Ideally, the summit push shouldn’t go beyond 12 hours.
THE SUMMIT – After you have soaked in the views from The Balcony, continue your trek to the ridge, where waist deep snow will be waiting for you in all probability. This is where you land at the South Summit (8750 metres). Everest, now, is just round the corner. Cling close to the Cornice Traverse or the southeast ridge from here on, for one wrong step can take you plunging in the unfathomable depths.
Come what may, do not attempt it without clipping the ropes. You need to be extra cautious till Hillary Steps, where you might need a knife, for getting entangled in ropes is the last thing you want here. The whole stretch is roped and you might have to wait for the others to pass by, and trek through a section that’s largely loose rocks before finally reaching there – the Everest.
30 minutes of a sense of achievement that’ll shadow everything else that you might have ever done, ever achieved.
You are, quite literally, at the top of the world.
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