Giant on the move
If the word around camp is anything to go by, the final assault on the summit of Everest will begin in the early hours of Thursday morning. Journalists and accompanying officials have spent much of the day taking souvenir photos and snapping up post cards at the “world’s highest post office”.
The rumours would appear to be based on nothing more than collective will (or hysteria, perhaps).
A brief flurry of concern fizzed around camp when, after two days of clear skies, the wind picked up and clouds blocked our view of Everest.
This project is no walk in the park, though, as the climbers hanging around here are keen to emphasise.
At an early press conference today the novel inclusion of information we hadn’t heard before briefly raised spirits in what has become quite a downbeat media camp.
As the weekend snowstorms destroyed the careful preparations the Chinese had made on the mountain and a second week in Tibet became an inevitability, there has been a lot of talk about going home. Not just from journalists, either. Many of the officials who travelled with us from Beijing or joined us at Lhasa airport barely attempt to disguise their low spirits any more. I don’t know whether the cause is the altitude, the cold, the increasingly predictable diet, the lack of showers or just day after day of telling news-hungry journalists that there is no news. One of the senior officials told me again today that he thought we were getting “closer and closer” to “our goal”, while another said he thought our fond farewells would not be not too far away.
Well, we are still here. Invited as we were to cover this amazing event, we have been kept at the press centre located near Everest Base Camp for over one week now, and still we do not know the answers to a basic, important question – Where is the Olympic torch now?
Frustrations are obviously still running high, and at 5200 Metres altitude, that frustration is unfortunately multiplied.
The foreign media contingent was moved from the huts to rooms inside the media centre late on Saturday evening, due to to the extreme weather. It was welcome, and much warmer. It seems it was by way of compensation for not taking us back to a hotel for a shower and a night in a proper bed, as we had requested. After the recent snow, the roads were apparently too dangerous.
One man who did get away was Joerg Brase of German television. Joerg had been suffering with high blood pressure ever since our arrival at the foot of Everest.
I heard excited cries outside our hut this morning and the optimist in me immediately thought the climbers had reached the summit of Everest with the Olympic torch.
A warm bath, clean clothes and bedding were only a matter of hours away, I thought, as I poked my nose over the top of my sleeping bag into the icy cold.
You’ll never guess who I met at Base Camp.
After a quick stop to watch the monks and nuns at the Rongpo monastery at prayer this morning, we finally got up to Base Camp proper this afternoon.
It was pretty bleak. Basically, a cluster of tents on an exposed rocky flat. It made us feel almost grateful for our humble cabins back at the media centre.
More negotiations over whether we should delay our departure for base camp kept us off the road for an extra couple of hours and stretched the patience of the Chinese journalists.
All was forgotten, though, a couple of hours later when got our first real look at Everest from the top of a pass.
After another round of negotiations with the organisers the next morning, we reached an agreement that we would get an extra day to acclimatize before we reached base camp.
That didn’t, of course, mean we would make the short journey to the next stop at Lhartse in short order and have the rest of the day to relax.