Stuck at the base of Everest
Day 8 – After travelling 4 days from Lhasa Airport, and spending 4 days at 5200 metres, we are all feeling the effects of altitude but mostly suffering from frustration at the lack of information about the Olympic torch. Mark Chisolm, Reuters Cameraman and Producer, Nick Mulvenney, Reuters Correspondent and myself travelled from Beijing on April 25 to Tibet to cover the Olympic torch’s ascent of Mount Everest. We are currently at a make-shift press centre located near Everest Base Camp. Facilities consist of an extremely good media centre, with amazingly fast internet, a press conference room, that doesn’t provide the media with any information (but I will get onto that later), small basic cabins that offer fairly comfortable beds but are just plain freezing, a dining room with excellent food, and last but certainly not least, the toilet block. Oh wow!! I cannot even begin the try and find the words… so I will leave it at that.
Mountainmen Chisholm, Gray and Mulvenney.
The altitude is a major factor in everything we do. It affects each person differently. Some have a very low percentage of oxygen in their bloodstream, some have a very high heart-rate, some get high blood pressure, many get severe headaches, others stomach problems. But all get breathless after walking just 20 metres and all are very tired. But the effects of altitude are not consistent, and even somebody who has travelled frequently to and from high altitude react differently each time. So the fact that the three of us have managed to feel ok after our schedule of travelling from Beijing, situated at a height of just 50 metres above sea level, to Everest Base Camp at a height of 5200 metres in just 4 days, does make us feel like we have achieved something, even before we have produced any stories. But this is not to say we are in the clear. Acute altitude sickness can hit anytime, even once you are back at normal levels, so we are extremely wary of this achievement.
The days consist of walking around the 500 metre cordon we seem to have been restricted to. Chinese Border Police keep a watch on our moves from several vantage points along the road and surrounding hills. I like to watch the changing weather patterns on the peak of Everest, but you cannot keep photographing it every hour – the weather might change but its shape doesn’t.
The nights are the toughest. The three of us share a small hut made of what looks like recycled paper shavings. Temperatures drop to around minus five degrees, down to maybe minus 15 with the wind factor, and the paper walls are just not thick enough to keep this cold out. But while I am freezing in my bed, all I can think about is how the teams on Everest must be feeling, camped on what some have called a ‘death zone’.
But the biggest frustration is the lack of information regarding the Olympic torch’s whereabouts. The most basic questions like ‘where is it now’ and even ‘how many people are in the team taking it to the top’ are simply not being answered. The real shame is that all the good work that has been done regarding media facilities, especially the mobile phone coverage and internet, is being undermined by the lack of information.
The lack of information combined with the rigours of the altitude, freezing temperatures, absence of washing facilities and the lack of a confirmed depature date means that frustrations are high.. almost as high as the summit of Everest itself.