Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Namaste. At the center of the world
Namaste. Namasté is a popular greeting at the trail leading to the Everest Base Camp which is a Sanskrit word that means, “The Light of God in Me recognizes and honors The Light of God in You and in that recognition is our Oneness.”
Welcome to our adventure, our adventure to the ultimate base camp-the base camp of the roof of the world, Everest Base Camp 5,567 meters above sea level. It is the world’s most popular trekking destination of Europeans, Americans, Japanese, Koreans, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Chinese and other citizens of the world.
In April 2007, there were 3,495 trekkers registered trekkers to the camp. April is considered the peak of the spring climbing season. In October last year, the peak of the winter climbing season there were 6,595 registered trekkers at the Sagarmatha National Park.
The base camp is popular because it is the gateway to the peak of Tibetan’s Chomolungma, known as Sagarmatha to the Nepalis and to the world, Mt. Everest. Sagarmatha to the Tibetans is the "Forehead of the Sky.” Chomolangma or Qomolangma to the Nepali’s is the "Mother of the Universe."
While the Everest Base Camp is the world’s trekking capital, the Filipinos dread it. It is not yet their popular trekking destination. A Filipino did not reach Everests’ summit until 54 years after the successful expedition of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on May 29, 1953 at 11:30 AM Nepal time. Leo Oracion, the 1st Filipino to peak Mt. Everest reached the summit on 17 May 2006 3:30 PM followed by Pastour Emata on 18 May at 5:20 AM. Both were members of the First Philippine Mt. Everest Expedition. Romy Garduce, the 3rd Filipino who mounted a solo expedition in 2006 made it to the summit 19 May at 11:00 AM.
Why is Nepal the world’s trekking capital? It is known for the Himalayas mountain system. The Himalayas mountain system is the planet's highest and home to the world's highest peaks. It has over a hundred mountains that exceed the eight thousand altitude, including Mount Everest. The Himalayas stretches across six nations: Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is the source of three of the world's major river systems, the Indus Basin, the Ganga-Brahmaputra Basin and the Yangtze Basin.
Nepal is the entry point to the summit of the world’s highest mountain from the south side. With over a hundred mountains exceeding 7,500 meters ASL, the views are spectacular punctuated with a rich cultural heritage of the Nepalis and Tibetans. Trails developed by the British are well established with lodge accommodations and food facilities in place.
There is an Everest fear factor created by media and accounts of those who explored the mountain system. It is dangerous as people die. Most recent and celebrated were the Scott Fisher and the Rob Hall expeditions in 1996 where 8 died. The most common ailment is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), a condition with no known antidote where one can die.
Those in the tropics like the Philippines are not geared for alpine climbing and have to acclimatize to higher elevation. Our body system has experienced for the first time gasping for a share of oxygen. The Philippines highest elevation in Luzon is in Pulag at 2,992 M ASL. South East Asia’s highest point is Kota Kinabalu at 4,095 M ASL. Lukla airport, entry to the Himalayas from Katmandu is already at 2,850 M ASL.
By Philippine standard, travel to Everest is expensive compared to the cost to climb locally and to nearby Kinabalu. A trek exceeding a 5 day climb is considered long. Timetable to complete the Everest base camp is minimum 16 days. From Manila, the budget for a group expedition is over US $ 2,000.
After the First Philippine Mt. Everest Expedition (FPMEE) successfully placed the 1st Filipino at the summit of Everest in 2006, a Manila based club Philippine Airlines Mountaineering Club (PALMC) planned a club expedition in 2007. As far as we know, it was the First Philippine-based club to do so. This expedition was in support of the Kaya ng Pinay Tibet to Nepal Everest traverse.
The trek to the base camp was not a walk in the park. It was not easy. There are hassles of travel transfers of the 3 hour travel from Manila to Bangkok, another 3 hours from Bangkok to Katmandu and the short trip from Katmandu to Lukla. Imagine the anxiety to be in places one has never seen before. Not one from the group has been to Nepal. There is also the anxiety not knowing too well the other members of the team. Thinning air at the higher elevation, a fact that we have to confront with slowed us down.
Finally on 8 May 2007, we embarked on the expedition. The actual expedition covered about 60 kilometers of established trails in a changing landscape and elevation. Total distance made from start to finish was 120 kilometers. A 2,717-meter ascent was made from Lukla, site of the airport at 2,850 M ASL up to EBC at 5,567. Each day, there were trails going up and going down. Each hanging bridge crossing meant a sharp descent and a difficult ascent. Degree of difficulty varied each day from moderate to difficult to as short as 3 slow hours to 8 long hours a day for 15 days. It took 15 days to reach the base camp and 6 days to descend. The acclimatization added trekking days going up to the base camp. The shorter trekking hours were made at a higher elevation while the longer trekking hours were down at the 1st 3 days of the trek. Temperature was average was at 10°C, 3 °C in the mornings. At the base camp it was negative 10.
There were rewards to this not too easy climb. There were surprises on every twists and turns like Mt. Everest peak showing, glacier laced peaks of the other mountains or deep ravine with green gushing flowing river. We were thrilled with the sightings of hanging long suspended bridges and nervous when we crossed them. Going up again was a curse to us.
Every now and then, we would meet young Monks along the way. One the way down, we were blessed by a Lama who dismounted from his donkey to give us a special dispensation. Each trekker from all nationalities we meet at the opposite side would unconditionally give us Namaste greetings. We would answer back with our hands held together. Sherpas carrying over 10 cases of Coke, San Miguel Beer surprised us. What shocked us were sherpas bringing up generators at their back and metal parts from a helicopter going down.
The walking route was not just established trails, flora and fauna. We were exposed to the rich Nepali culture in the form of religious icons as thanka, chorten, prayer flags, prayer wheels, prayer stones, bells, money stones and temples located with the most spectacular views. Combine the experience of climbing the sacred mountain of the world, its religious icons and the prayers made during a climb gave us a spiritual uplift. Sounds of bells ringing when yaks pass the trail were a welcome respite from the non-stop gushing sound of the river.
As Everest is a high profile mountain, news made were media stories creating renowned personalities and memorable events. We had live face-to-face encounters with documentary and book personalities and locations from Jambling Norgay, son of Tenzing to Apa Sherpa, the world’s fastest Sherpa and the most recent, the blind trekker. We paid tribute to the memory of Scott Fisher, Rob Hall at the Thukla memorial tomb
The trek was lightened up with a fun-filled company of fellow Pinoys like John F., Ralph P. Larry H., Fred J., Leo O., Orvin D. and even Jodell C. There is comfort to be in foreign land bonding with fellow Pinoys at high altitude. Even in secure company, we could not help but also meet new friends from Singapore, Israel, Malaysia, India, France, Germany, China, UK and of course USA.
Most significant to us was giving a warm welcome to the world setters Pinay summiteers descending from Tibet to the Nepal Everest base camp on 18 May. Noelle, Carina and Janet were the 1st Asean women to summit and the 1st women in the world to traverse from Tibet to Nepal.
Fullfilling for us were opening the gateway of the Everest Base Camp to fellow Pinoy club members. Proud we were as Pinoys sharing the trail, toilet, dining halls and campsite with world’s trekkers mostly from the West and the 1st world Asian countries. For the 2nd time, straight in a row, we placed the unfamiliar Philippine flag at the base camp making it now a familiar figure to returning Sherpas to the base camp.
What was significant with this journey? For us successful base camp trekkers, we were a step closer to be at the center of it all, at the world’s highest point. We had a foot in to the roof of the world.
At Everest, we felt ourselves at the center of the world, not just Asia, not just the Philippines but the WORLD. As we went back to a lower elevation, we wished that that memory remained with us to prepare us for the next. That memory is what we wanted to share with you, in stories and in images.
-Banny Hermanos, Dom Goduco, Cesar Banares, Rico Cabusao, Orvin Diaz, Goncalo de Almeida, Chito Razon
-John Fortes, Larry Honoridez, Leo Oracion, Fred Jamili, Ralph Pilapil, Peewee Wenceslao, Jodell Coates
-Art, Pastour, Ted, Sasha,Vince, Abner, Wilbert and our other friends
Maraming Salamat Po!
For articles, visit http://tochs.blogspot.com/
Thanks to Larry, Cesar, Rico, Dom for the pictures most especially to Banny.
(Expanded version of a Powerpoint presentation presented at a welcome party by PALMC to returning Everest Team Members 16 May at the PAL Training Center Padre Faura courtesy of Mr. John Fortes.)