Today was a big day for me, heading to Base Camp for the Puja and to meet my expedition team. Shawn (my roommate through this whole journey) and I were up by 5:30am, packing and getting all the gear together. Shawn wanted to come with me and film the Puja, so we needed to get both our gear combined. The group was hurting a little, everyone ate a good breakfast but the pace was quite slow.
We wanted to depart by 7am, however, today was also the start of the Nepali New Year (going from 2072 to 2073) and many of our porters were MIA as they possible celebrated a little too hard the night before.
As we slowly departed around 8am, Shawn and I only had about 5 hours to make it to BCE. We both stepped up our pace which meant leaving the group behind. Asha, Shailee and I felt that given how slow everyone looked at breakfast, not rushing a pace for Gorak Shep would be key.
As we got close to Gorak Shep, the trembling sounds of a massive boom stopped us cold and in front of us, a large avalanche falling down Mount Nuptse. Absolutely stunning to watch though extremely humbling and a little scary to know I’ll be hearing many of those sounds while on the mountain.
By 10am, Shawn and I reached Gorak Shep, Asha had taken an early lead to reserve rooms for everyone. As I was about to head into our lodge, I bumped into Marin, a Japanese climber that I met on Antarctica, who is so sweet. She is climbing Everest and was heading to acclimate into Lobuche peak, part of that expedition and the tents I had seen the day before. It’ll be great to connect more once she returns back to BCE. As we got to the lounge, I started feeling a little headache so a mandatory garlic soup was key.
By 11am, we were ready for our last push into BCE. The sun was out but the wind strong; clouds hovering around. From our last update with Shailee, the group was slowly making its way. We agreed to check on everyone’s status once I’d reach BCE.
Within 20 mins, the sight of all the tents at the base of Everest made me feel such a chill. My home for the next 6 weeks, looked closer and closer.
By 12:40 we had reached base camp and now the challenge was to look for my expedition site. I was so amazed how large was base camp, so many tents.
Luckily we found a person wearing a cap of Adventure Consultants (AC) and he kindly guided us into their site. I was worrying about missing the start of the Puja, and then realized it was Nepal and things tend to run late. As we spotted the AC site, the expedition leader, Mike Roberts came to greet me. He showed me around the site and told us the Lama running the ceremony was 30mins late. That gave us a little time to grab lunch, meet some of my expedition teammates and drop my bag at my new home.
As the Puja started, the weather became quite cloudy. The Puja is a special ceremony in which a local Lama (Priest) leads through a long service and offerings to ask permission to the mountain for the entrance and for a safe journey.
Lifting the ceremonial prayer flags.
There are various offerings in the Altar and as part of the ceremony, the local members in the expedition will serve us Tea, Whisky, a local fermented Millet drink, Wine and traditional food. The Puja usually lasts around 2hrs.
To me, the key priority was to meet up with the girls in case they were walking to Base Camp. As I connected to Shailee, she mentioned that everyone was exhausted, hence we decided to not push it but instead do the Base Camp trek tomorrow. That’d give me time to stay through the whole Puja and then walk back and join the team for one last night together at Gorak Shep.
It was fun to be part of this beautiful ceremony. I’m always respectful in ceremonial events, and so once all the treats and drinks were being passed around, I couldn’t refuse them. At the end of the ceremony, there is a beautiful tradition to smear everyone’s face in the expedition with a local flour. A way of blessing each one of us. By 4pm the Puja was completed and then it was time for Shawn and I to hurry back before it got dark.
As I said goodbye, and started the climb, my stomach wasn’t too happy for my respectful decision. Throughout this trek, I’ve been extremely careful on all my eating, and through the Puja my decision to participate in all what was offered upset my stomach badly. OMG! It was almost immediately, and not fun to walk back in altitude with such a running stomach. Lesson to self – complete abstinence of un-tea beverages for the next 6 weeks.
As we got to the lodge, all the girls were worried about us taking so long. It was almost comical to see me so sick, as I had played such the nagging “Mom” role since the start of the trek. Luckily Dr. Jackie relieved me with some medicine and 2 cups of potato soup would hopefully help heal my stomach.
Everyone was tired but really looking forward to that opportunity to visit Base Camp. We decided to have one final go around sharing our experience so far, and sweet tears of joy surrounded our beautiful talk. This incredible and beautiful journey has been meaningful in so many ways. However seeing the incredible bonding of our young participants was a dream that I can say had come true.
Dr. Jackie had a final favor from all of us, complete the last part of the altitude survey. To our surprise everyone’s scores were the highest from all three previous locations; should be interesting what the correlation with memory is.
By 9pm it was bedtime. Maybe getting sick was a great idea the higher powers had as it took away feeling too emotional, a very ironic way of going about it for sure.
Treat of the day: Attending the Puja and everyone in our team ready for our biggest day tomorrow!