Journey to the top of the world

From Shigatse we begin our climb back up to over 5000m. Fearing that our second trip up to high altitude is going to be as difficult as it was previously a few of the group panic buy cans of oxygen, perhaps not unwisely! The drive to the Qomolangma national park is truly stunning. At the top of each pass we stop at holy places filled with prayer flags but also filled with rubbish, the Chinese are an unfortunately dirty bunch.

Prayer flags on top of the pass

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The landscape in this part of the world is surprisingly barren. Arriving at camp, inside the national park, during the late afternoon we set up quickly and begin the rather difficult task of cooking dinner. Cooking is another aspect of camping that becomes increasingly more difficult at high altitude. The boiling temperature of water lowers to somewhere around 80 degrees celcius meaning everything takes longer to cook. If you’re considering attempting to boil potatos don’t bother, it can take literally years before they become even remotely soft and by that time the 20 hungry overlanders with the altitude munchies that you’re attempting to feed may well have decided to eat you instead.

Camping in the Qomolangma (Mount Everest) National Park

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We rise at 4.45 the next morning in order to drive the 102km to the Mount Everest base camp. The road switches back as we climb to 5200m on the pass. We catch our first glimpse of the mountain at around 6am. Just as the inky blue sky begins to brighten the clouds clear and the mountain pokes its awe-inspiring peak over the horizon. Bleary eyed but buzzing with excitement a few of us scramble over each other to get off the truck take in our first sighting of the highest point on earth. It takes your breath away, literally as well as figuritively. We spend a few moments with this magnificent mountain, cameras clicking furiously, capturing every angle we possibly can but I do make sure I spend some time taking in as much as I can without the camera pressed to my face. All too soon we are hearded back onto our vehicle to continue our journey.

Early morning view of the mountain

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From the top of the pass we work our way down the otherside of the valley. We soon find ourselves in a surprising gully covered with tiny hamlets inhabited by small farming communities, not at all something I was expecting to see on my way to the Everest base camp. Life up here must be incredibly difficult, particularly in the winter where I imagine it is bitterly cold with very little food.

The short 102kms takes us seven hours on the winding roads. We, of course, stop at every opportunity to check out the mountain from it’s best angle. Luck is once again on our side as we are viewing the mountain in crystal clear, bright blue skies, the clearest day of the season so far.

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Our final stop before base camp is the highest monastery in the world. A small affair the monastery is somewhat unimpressive in comparison to those we have visited over the past weeks, but when you have one of the best views of the tallest mountain in the world I guess it’s a case of what’s on the outside that counts for a change.

The highest monastery in the world

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We spend some time at the monastery admiring the view once more and posing in front of the mountain on a rather picturesque rock. When we’re finally finished jumping for joy and admiring ourselves we tear ourselves away and head to base camp where a slap up lunch of pot noddles is “enjoyed” by all. After lunch we have the opportunity to either walk or take the bus to base camp proper. The group splits in two and those that are wanting to get the bus are picked up and whisked on their way. Those of us detirmined to walk grab our guide Sophie (even at the highest point on eath we are unable to go anywhere without her) and head off in the direction of that beautiful peak.

The view from the monastery

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The 2km walk takes us a little over an hour in the searing heat and altitude. Walking is a struggle but it’s worth it for the view. When we arrive at the check point for “base camp” we find it marked by armed guards. We also discover that the point that we have walked to is not techincally base camp but it’s good enough for us. We are given half an hour on the viewing platform and are given strict instructions as to what we can and can’t do up there. Ignoring most of the more ridiculous instructions, being careful not to push it too far, they are carrying machine guns after all, we spend far more than our alloted time on the platform once again jumping, skipping, posing and admiring. We drag ourselves back to camp just as the rain sets in. Delighted with our day we spend the night wrapped up in a heated yurt, popping out at regular intervals to take in a view of the mountain at night which is, by now, unfortunately covered with cloud.

Walking to base camp (I’m not sure what the pose was all about)

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We made it to camp!

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Jumping for joy at the top

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We leave early next morning when my camera decides it no longer wants to play and gives me a mild heart attack when I think I have lost all of my photos of the mighty Qomolangma. Luckily by the evening I have managed to fix it and regain the photos. My journey to the top of the world (nearly) has been awe-inspiring and everything I have dreamed of, perhaps even more of a spiritual experience, for a nature lover, than Tibet itself.

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