Authors: Bear Grylls
It snowed all night, and at 7.00 a.m. we left Namche. We headed out into the mist, following the yak-trail towards the village of Deboche, five hours’ walk away. As we
started up the steep track, towards the Buddhist monastery at Thyangboche in the distance, the sun reflected off the muddy snow around us. Three hours later, approaching the monastic village, we
could hear the monks’ meditative chants. The sound seemed to waft over us like some soothing balm, as we climbed the last few hundred feet through the wooded slopes.
The monastery dominates the entire valley; and having been built laboriously by hand, chipping the rocks one by one, you could almost feel the solace of the place. The lama of the region,
believed to be the living reincarnation of an ancient Buddhist deity, chanted from a parched scroll as we discreetly sat in the shadows at the back. After the ceremony we went outside the monastery
and into an adjacent hut, where we sipped soup around a fire with some of the villagers. A couple of hours later, we headed out into the snow again, towards Deboche, half an hour further on.
DIARY, 3 MARCH:
Deboche turns out to be a cluster of only three houses and, as expected being higher up, is even more basic. The hut we are in is wooden, as are the beds; cushions now seem
a luxury of the past. We all huddle round a fire as night brings with it the cold.
Two Buddhist monks are having a ceremony next to us, and are busy chanting and tossing rice around. They offered Mick and I some of their local alcoholic brew, called ‘chang’,
which we sipped tentatively, having seen them coughing ferociously into it seconds earlier. Sharing drinks here is always a bit dodgy, as many of the locals suffer from tuberculosis, but being
‘British’, we felt it important not to appear rude.
We have found a lovely kitten here, which now follows us round the hut. The local name for cat is ‘biralou’, but this one seems alive with fleas, so Mick renamed it
‘bira-fleas’. I wish that we could take it with us as our ‘high-altitude’ cat, but he says that it will make everyone scratch. I tried to tell him that I’d had
fleas for years, but he wouldn’t listen. The cat had to go.
The lady who runs the place here is apparently an old girlfriend of Edmund Hillary. She laughs beautifully, despite showing her only three black, rotten teeth. She seems to have chronic
tooth decay though, and to be in real pain. She clutches her jaw and grimaces, smiles briefly, then carries on moaning. I feel pretty hopeless, as all I have to give her are some painkillers.
So I have given her a large dose and told her to sleep. I’m suddenly a little worried that I’ve given her too much, especially considering the altitude that we’re at. We
haven’t seen her again, I hope I haven’t killed her!
That morning after a considerably colder night, the lady, who to my huge relief was still alive, woke us. It was dawn and she took us out through the trees to a clearing fifty
yards away. There in the still of morning, some fifteen miles away, and five kilometres vertically above us, we saw the summit of Everest poking out from behind the huge mountain of Lhotse Shar.
The early glow was catching the top, and she seemed so beautiful and remote as the wind drove the snow off her summit. Completely stuck for words, we both strained our necks and watched the sun
rise behind her; then she was hidden again by the mist of day – gone.
I knew what Mallory meant when he said: ‘Higher in the sky than imagination had ever ventured to dream, the top of Everest itself appeared.’
The sight of the mountain, so elusive, high, and impossible, filled my mind for the rest of the day. I had imagined that I would feel an excitement when I first saw her, but instead I just felt
Later on that morning, having each been given a cord necklace that had been blessed by the head Buddhist priest of the region, we left Deboche. The landlady, who had lived in
the shadow of the mountains all her life, beseeched us to be safe; she assured us that the necklaces would bring protection. We thanked her and, deeply moved, headed on. We weaved our way through
the snow-covered forest tracks, further into the heart of the mountains. From this height onwards, the flowers and trees would stop growing and the snows would really now begin.
DIARY, 5 MARCH:
This morning I had the treat of washing my hands in the freshly fallen snow. It’s wonderful to see their real colour after the grime of the last few days. Everything
gets much cleaner the higher up we go because it’s colder, and bacteria and germs are less prevalent; it makes me feel much safer biting my nails!
Spent much of our rest-day today reading a book detailing the disaster on Everest in 1996; the disaster that Neil so narrowly escaped. I find it all too near. It’s
kind of hard to ‘armchair’ read a book that goes into graphic detail about how so many lives were lost in a storm high on Everest, when you’re actually on the way out there
yourself – and you’re scared enough as it is. Still I guess the key is to learn from what happened. In many ways it boils down to being courageous when the chips are really down,
and not just acting courageous when you’re all safe and cosy. Courage should always be softly spoken. I must remember these things now.
A few hours later, we had arrived in the little village of Pangboche, the home of many Sherpas who live and climb in the Everest region. The houses were perched on the steep
slopes of the valley, overlooking the gorge below. Many of these were full of climbing memorabilia, heralding past triumphs or disasters, and famous names lined the walls.
In this village, we were to meet Henry our expedition manager, who had been up here getting acclimatized, before having to head back to Kathmandu to arrange the collection of the oxygen cargo.
Mick and I headed off to find him. He was staying with the head-Sherpa, or Sirdar, as they’re known – called Kami. Kami’s job was to organize the Sherpas who would help us carry
supplies on the mountain.
The house Kami lived in was a beautiful, traditional Sherpa house. We entered through a tiny wooden door that led into a stable where the yaks lived. This was a small low room, with a packed mud
floor, covered with straw. Through the darkness, a shaft of light revealed a wooden staircase going up into the main living area of the house. As the stairs creaked under us, we emerged into a
large single room, where the whole family would live, cook, and sleep. A mud stove gently burnt in the corner, and the sun shone through the smoke that leaked from its side. Great yak furs lined
the floor and beds, whilst yak droppings dried in the corner. These would eventually provide fuel for the stove. Tucked up in the corner of the room, grinning from ear to ear, twiddling his beard
and sipping on a lemon tea, sat Henry.
We spent the afternoon with Kami and Henry, rummaging through barrels of equipment and checking all the supplies, so that Henry would know what had gone missing and be able to resupply it in
Kathmandu. Everything came out; from tents to ice-probes for finding people under an avalanche, aspirins for thinning the blood and helping acclimatization higher up, to even mayonnaise. Hundreds
of ice-screws, kilometres of rope, and a mountain of Mars bars. Once at Base Camp, resupply would be almost impossible, everything had to be checked and double-checked now.
Later on that day with Henry, whilst chatting to the Sherpas who had just come back down the valley, we heard our first piece of tragic news. A porter had been killed in the ice approaching Base
Camp. Neither of us knew him, yet that evening there was a soberness amongst the three of us as we sat and heard what had happened.
The porter had been ferrying equipment up to Base Camp – a long trip that many of them do as an extra source of income. This time, though, he had been climbing over the glacier towards
Base Camp too late in the afternoon, the time when the ice is least stable. Base Camp is perched at the head of the glacier, at the foot of the mountain, and the route is found by snaking
one’s way across the ice, amongst the huge glacial pinnacles that line the trail. As the climbing season approaches, this trail becomes better and better trodden – but in the early
days, such as now, it was still pretty much virgin territory.
During the afternoon the ice is always weaker after a morning of sun on it. Apparently this porter had become disorientated, then lost, and they believe that an ice-bridge must have given way
beneath him, sucking him away down the ice-smooth glacial streams that run beneath the surface.
Henry was returning the next day to Kathmandu, and warned us seriously against travelling to Base Camp at any other time than early morning – especially before any safe route was
established. I prayed for the porter’s soul and his family that night, and heeded Henry’s advice carefully.
We spent much of that evening after Henry had left playing with some of the kids in the village. I lent a little girl of five the only pack of cards we had, hoping they wouldn’t get too
ruined. They were an important item for the times ahead. Secretly, though, I wasn’t that hopeful, and pretty soon there were cards everywhere. Fifteen minutes later, it was wonderful to sit
and watch this girl carefully tidy them all up, put them in their box, and place them back neatly alongside my diary. I smiled. I had learnt more about gentleness watching this than I would in
months of charging around London. Funny really . . .
DIARY, 7 MARCH:
We walked for three hours today, up towards the last village before Base Camp – Dingboche, at 14,500 feet. We contoured along and up this huge wide valley that
surrounds the beautiful and majestic peak of Ama Dablam.
I sat on a rock and studied the route I had climbed four months earlier. It felt good to see the peak, and to think that I’d stood on its summit. The mountain, though, still seems
exactly the same as before – it’s as if the climb has changed only me, and not it. As if only I’d been affected. I wonder whether, looking down, it even remembers me
struggling, gasping for oxygen up those last few hundred feet to the top. Looking at it from this angle, part of me wonders how the hell I ever got up.
We passed the spot where Kami’s sister was killed a few years ago in a landslide. It’s strange seeing the torn scar in the hillside where the landslide happened; climbing over
huge boulders of rubble that cover an entire village deep beneath them. Tentatively we made our way along the narrow path, with the ravine dropping away steeply to our right.
Two hours later we reached Dingboche. This village is situated at the foot of the huge mountains of Nuptse and Lhotse, with Everest behind them. Both Mick and I are tired today, and I think
the altitude is now really beginning to have an effect. We’ll rest here tomorrow, to try and recover a bit. It’s this careful balance of rest, exercise and sleep, in preparing
ourselves to be in the best possible state for the rigours ahead.
The tedium of such a strict routine is alleviated by the raw beauty of our surroundings. Vast mountains, the biggest in our world, rise straight up all around us, and when the wind blows
through the valleys where we are, it feels as if the giants are stamping their heels.
A wonderful lady with a huge smile and only one eye, runs the lodge here. We piled up all the straw cushions and rested like the ‘Princess and the pea’ – a treat after the
wooden boards of before.
I’ve just seen my face in an old cracked mirror, it was quite a shock – I hope it wasn’t me who cracked it. Mick confirms that I look pretty rough, having not had a wash
since . . . England. I can’t say, though, that he looks like any Casanova!
At 6.00 a.m. we moved on from Dingboche, heading higher up still, towards Base Camp. We hadn’t gone far, when we came across a great sight that I don’t think I will
Tucked into the side of the trail, stoically enduring the morning chill, sat two seventy-year-old English gentlemen enjoying some early morning breakfast. Seated at either end of a table that
seemed to loll at a somewhat precarious angle on the rough ground. They both seemed lost in the ecstasy of spam and eggs at 14,500 feet.
We soon found out that these British eccentrics’ ambition had been, for years, to walk through these valleys and to be able to see the ‘Great Everest’, as one of them said,
‘in the flesh’. His eyes lit up with delight. We couldn’t resist staying a while, and soon found ourselves, at their invitation, dining like ‘kings’ in the company of
two fine ‘queens’.
Whilst we sipped our tea at the end of the meal, the two of them became deep in conversation, arguing everything from the role of the Queen to the falling standards of British Rail sandwiches.
Only when a punch-up over which was the quickest way from Salisbury to Bodmin seemed imminent, did we think it might be time to leave. Greatly inspired by seeing such extraordinary people in such
an extraordinary place, we wished them luck and carried on – feeling much uplifted.
From there we followed a yak-trail, until we came up over the lip of the valley. Ahead was a vast plain that stretched away into the distance, under the looming shadow of Mount Pokalde. We
walked all morning through this plain, past the remains of old stables that had been used to house yaks. Soon we began to turn north, towards the foot of the glacier, upon which Base Camp is
situated – still a day’s walk away.
The path wound its way up through the mass of rocks that form the terminal moraine of the glacier. Buddhist shrines, called chortons, stand scattered along the route. Old prayer flags adorn
these, and flutter away incessantly, beckoning you on your way as you pass them. The going had become progressively slower these last few days, and the thinner air was very noticeable now. Mick and
I would stop every twenty minutes to rest, drink, and take the chance to savour the views of this barren land.
At mid-afternoon, we found a small hut with some Nepali porters inside, and joined them in drinking some tea. We then set out to try and reach Lobuche, before nightfall came. As we came over the
moraine onto the glacier, we found ourselves in blazing late-afternoon sunshine. The main trail petered out into a small snow path, and the sun reflected strongly against our faces. A warm glow
came over me; we were nearing the end of this long walk through the valleys to Base Camp. It wasn’t far now. We’d be there tomorrow, God willing. We could just see in the distance,
where the mountains met the end of the glacier – the place where it would be.