While most of the crew and gear have departed for advanced base camp already, seven of us climbers are just packing now. The last of us have been at base camp for eight days. It has actually been good for our bodies and the team effort to laze around at this lower altitude.
We've climbed more of the local hills (up to 21,000 feet high), wandered up and down the Rongbuk Valley, and have been able to stuff our tummies for the cold nights ahead.
Meanwhile, the Sherpas, Mark Whetu and Russell Brice have been able to establish a posh advanced base camp for us. They've had a few hard days of building tent platforms and ereceting tents. Advanced base camp is at 21,500 feet. It sits atop a pile of rocks, underlain by a glacier. Each year, as the glacier slides down hill, it destroys the old camp sites. A lot of work is involved with rebuilding the sites each spring.
Our team isn't the only one at advanced base camp. There is a group of Dutch climbers and a Russian group camped there. The Dutch and I flew into Kathmandu together and we have been enjoying each other's company for the entire trip. We'd turn our backs in Lhasa and they would be there. Their base camp is about 100 feet from ours.
The Russians are trying hard to reinvent the rules of high altitude climbing. Since arriving a day or two behind us, they have rushed up to 7,000 meters already. Now they are laying around advanced base camp, some trying to retreat to base camp. They whipped themselves senseless, climbing too high too fast. Rumor has it that they are trying to beat all the climbers, including those on the south side, to the summit. (Traditionally the climbinc conditions allow for earlier ascents on the south side, often two weeks earlier.) Seems like some people are into this idea of being first in the year 2000.
The millenium has brought out some other interesting teams. Camped next to us at base camp is a huge Chinese TV team. Over 20 sherpas are trying to get one Chinese climber to the summit. They will then broadcast live on Chinese TV.
I read in the Kathmandu paper that an orchestra was planning on summiting via the south side and then playing a 24-hour concert on top. I hope I reach the top to the subtle sounds of the tuba section playing " When the Saints Come Marching In."
Not quite finishing the string of interesting teams on Everest, a Spanish group is planning on climbing in 1920's period clothing (tweed jackets, knickers, etc.). They've made it to base camp, but their trucks, loaded with hemp rope and cotton tents, are lost somewhere on the Tibetan Plateau. Didn't the Spaniards know that there were no roads in Tibet in the 1920's? Well, it is time to put my own two feet into action.