(A mix of travel notes and comments added later)
16-09-2014 - Tuesday
Todays agenda was a bus trip to Everest with seven of us planning to cycle back. The weather was promising at our campsite but we were several hours away from the mountain. The ride to Everest had been canned as the main road was closed (to cyclists anyway) and the alternative was just a road too far.
Even if that hadn’t been the case the planned itinerary was unrealistic so Bas, Tashi & Sujan had come up with this alternative.
Just driving to Everest was tough going!
Three, or was it four?, felt like about ten, hours drive in the bus on a heavily corrugated dusty dirt road. In addition to a long day at the wheel some sections required real precision driving from Nima (or Nyima?), our Tibetan bus driver. He knows exactly how wide his vehicle is! At times creeping past other vehicles, ledges or rock outcrops with literally millimetres to spare!
The construction nearer Base Camp was a multi-kilometre mess with the ‘road’ often diverting around partially finished culverts and bridges. Some of the temporary detours were so steep, cambered and rough that I was amazed a 2WD Bus got through them. Funny to think of all those 4WDs ‘essential’ for the school run at home…
Having seen the road I was glad not to ride this stretch. Altitude challenges aside just dicing with trucks, earthmoving equipment and buses would have been risky. However, I was glad to be there before the finished paved highway made our adventure just an easy drive.
My first sight of Chomolungma, Tibetan for Mt Everest, was out of the bus window poking above the moraine on the roadside. Grabbed a photo through the window in case that cloud cover increased before we got there!
We had to go through an army run passport check, again, close to Base Camp. In the tent was a very young looking Chinese Army soldier who didn’t excel in the warm welcome department. It was OK there on a fine day but wonder what it would be like in that tent in winter and where he’d come—well, been sent—from to be there. Wonder if it is a privilege or punishment to man the Rongbuk checkpoint?
You’re not allowed to photograph the checkpoint, they’ll insist you erase the card if seen (see post 19 Nyalam to Zhangmu when I’ve written it!), so this was a sneaky shot after we’d passed through. It is looking down the valley away from Everest. Note the cloud cover in that direction compared to the mountain view we enjoyed!
While waiting had the rather curious sight of massive truck loads of rocks being carted towards the mountain. Seems odd as thought one thing there is no shortage of around here is rock!
Given what I’d read before the trip I found Rongbuk Monastery somewhat underwhelming. Amazing location but from the outside it appeared to be far from its former glory. I was also sad at the amount of rubbish around it.
Seems something many of these places have in common. The state of toilets in monasteries being amongst the worst on the trip. Makes you wonder if instead of spending endless hours contemplating spiritual purity they could devote a few to clearing up the mess on their doorstep. Perhaps the non-spiritual atheist side of me missing the point or is it just what happens with a house full of men?
Robin at Rongbuk (thanks for taking this Bas!).
Prayer flag blowing in the Chomolungma valley wind.
The last 8km to base camp had to be done in an ‘official government bus’. ‘Official’ means an ancient Toyota with no working suspension and half broken seats driven exuberantly! Suspect it was more a move to get more money out of tourists and a way to manage the time spent nearest we could get to the mountain.
Everest itself was impressive. We had really good weather and everyone took a zillion photos of the mountain. Just climbing a small 20m hill (at 5200m) to take some photos left me gasping for breath and I was not alone. The thought of climbing a further 3600m to the summit just horrific!
Me at Chomolungma, Mt Everest!
Although there are many direct Kiwi connections with this mountain it wasn’t a life long dream of mine to visit Everest. It has always been a part of NZ heritage, for both achievement and tragedy. All my life the exploits of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, Rob Hall and others have been familiar. Not being a mountaineer or trekker (beyond a day walk) it just wasn’t on my agenda.
Then Bas suggested this trip, the research and preparation changed that.
I watched a documentary about Sir Edmund Hillary’s expedition, another on Mallory’s attempt (and discovery of his body) and spoke to Mike Allsop (who has summited) at TEDx Auckland only weeks before departure still not really believing I would soon be there.
Well, it wasn’t quite as planned but we did get there and were incredibly lucky to have astounding views. Although Tibet to Nepal was the objective getting to Everest was a significant goal. It was disappointing not to have the opportunity to ride there but official and resulting geographic obstacles made that impossible.
Was it life changing?
Too much to take in on the day, something for a future post. What I did think about, prompted the Mallory documentary and recent Sherpa avalanche tragedy I guess, were the several hundred bodies still up on that majestic peak.
Photo from my Nokia 1520 phone, thanks for taking it Nic!
The Summit, photo by Tim
Group photo above by Tashi using Tim’s camera
Guides Sujan (above) & Tashi, Sujan & Bas (below)
All too soon it was time to head back. There was a bit of a scramble to get on the bus as a Chinese group tried to muscle in ahead of us. A sign in the bus (below) was amusing, well intentioned perhaps, but also inadvertently revealing of the authorities attitude:
"Keep your properties. If lost we have no response".
It wasn’t climbing season so the base camp compound was quiet apart from a few vendors, mostly selling souvenir fossil rocks, and the permanent tent “Hotels’. Hotel appeared to be a rather generous description for a bed in a tent that isn’t taken down!
Tashi was good at discretely pointing out real, vs. manufactured fake, rock fossils on sale but I wasn't shopping anyway..
Riding the roof of the world
The ride back would require a long difficult climb from a valley to ~5000m saddle before descending again to our camp.
(Tim leads me, photo right by Bob)
Just that climb would have consumed best part of a day as it was on rough corrugated dirt road. Just too much at this altitude for the time we had available.
Instead we bussed to the top of the pass and rode the last 25km or so back to camp. In the end just Bob, Bas, Tim & I did this ride. The others missed one of my trip highlights but it really needed a bike with fat tyres, suspension and disc brakes. Must say Bob handled the road without suspension really well but did have a rougher ride than the rest of us!
Tim, Bas & me, photo by Bob
Bas, Bob & me, photo (right) by Tim
My bike performed well, at times up to 51km/h, on the rough corrugated surface.
Several times Bas’ “take it easy, don’t want an accident’' talk went through my mind. Once as I freewheeled past him on a downhill because the bike just wanted to go!
I think 27.5 wheels gave me an advantage over his 26s rolling over the corrugations. It was enormous fun hurtling down these long downhills but was very dusty and bumpy. No chance to take any photos on the move as one handed riding was not an option!
At one stage we passed another small cycle tour (3 or 4) riding the other way. It looked really grim and they certainly weren’t enjoying battling uphill into a strong headwind.
Don’t know where they were stopping but when we passed they had about 20km uphill ahead of them to the ridge and it was already late in the day.
We met them again in Zhangmu, near the Tibet/Nepal border, and they still didn’t appear to be very happy!
Tim above, Tim & Bas below
The yellow sticker on my handlebar (below) cautions you to read the safety warnings in the owners manual before riding. Must do that one day if I ever get an owners manual…
Yaks on the road back from Chomolungma, Mt Everest
Suspension test, this or rougher all the way!
No filters on the photo below, or any others, just lighting by nature.
Tired bikes resting after the long downhill.
Noticed a strange crisscross dust pattern on my back tyre. Thought may have been tyre carcase/weave related but the tube wall is smooth at rest. Perhaps was to do with the tyre flexing or even airflow through the spokes at speed?
We got back to camp about 18:00 having had much more fun than those who stayed in the bus. It was a satisfying end to the day.
Bas was elated, reckoned it one of the best rides he’d ever had which is saying a lot. He rode to NZ from Holland (including through Tibet) about twenty years ago. Has been cycle guiding in NZ ever since and his ‘holidays’ include cycling in Vietnam, Australia and South America!
It was a joy to see him looking so happy after dealing with the stress of the past few days (evacuations and itinerary changes).
Unfortunately, and glad he wasn’t aware at the time, ‘the lurgi’ was going to change that all too soon.
Quotes of the day:
“Everest!” – Everyone!
"Yesterday was ok, today is good, last week was shit" - Base camp store owner on our good fortune with the weather at Everest.
“My Fitbit says 30,000 steps and I was sitting on the bus all day!” – Nic
“Awesome riding with you guys up here, and glad to be off that bus” – Bas on the ride back