Sleeping on a glacier… there’s an experience not many will ever get to have. And when it’s the Khumbu Glacier at the base of Mt. Everest, that’s all the rarer. I would give it my highest recommendation, with the advisory that it’s not for those that aren’t up for a bit of roughing it. It’s a hell of a thing to be able to say you’ve done, but it’s also just about as far from comfort as one could get. At least without beginning to actually climb Everest.
I was really surprised by how different it was than any of the other nights on the trek. As you can see in this episode, and as I mentioned in the commentary for said episode, the tent was much smaller than the ones we were used to. To the point of being almost claustrophobic. I’m not normally one to have problems with tight spaces, but it felt very small in there, a bit restrictive. Unlike our normal tents where one could easily sit up and stretch out a bit, even just sitting up had me rubbing my head against the ceiling of the tent. I’m sure that sense of claustrophobia was amplified by the rarer air up there, the difficulty breathing surely only made the space feel all the more compressed.
It was also much colder up there at night, we were sleeping on a glacier so there was the extra chill from being on top of a giant block of ice. As weird as it may sounds, most other nights it actually got a bit too warm in our sleeping bags. They were rated for -40°, and we were never even close to that. So even on nights where the temperature dropped into the teens (perhaps even single digits) we would be stripped down to our base layer (pretty much underwear and undershirt) at night, and still end up opening the zipper on the bag to vent it out and cool off. Not this night though, I slept with several layers on, and still ended up feeling a bit of a chill.
Oh yeah, and in regards to that whole “sleeping on a glacier” part… this is an active glacier. We had that moment before going to bed that night where we realized that we were slowly, imperceptibly moving. A bit of “Dude. We’re totally moving right now.” Geological information I read states that the Khumbu Glacier moves at a rate of about 3-4 feet each day. Not that one could tell, of course. But laying in the tent that night, it became clear. You could hear the occasional cracking or creaking of the glacier as it shifted beneath you. It was hard to not be made a little nervous by this, imagining the ice splitting open beneath you like you might see in some awful Michael Bay movie, though there was no real danger in that regard.
Also, as mentioned in the episode again, a layer of frost developed all over the inside of the tent overnight from the moisture in our breath. This never happened any other night, so I don’t know if it’s because of the lower temperatures (certainly below 0°) or perhaps because that tent was better sealed, maybe even a combination of both. But the net result was that we had a bit of snowfall inside the tent that morning as we jostled it about and knocked the frost off. Good times!
On the plus side, we had expedition weight pads to sleep on! At roughly twice the padding as our regular pads, this made sleeping oh-so-much more comfortable. That pad was frankly softer than the mattresses at our hotel back in Kathmandu. We were living the life of luxury up there on Everest! And there was just the awesome reality that we were sleeping in a tent at Everest Base Camp. How much could I really complain?
And, on that topic, it may seem like we complain a lot, constantly grumbling about whatever the discomfort du jour was was. And we certainly did our share of verbalizing our struggles day to day and moment to moment. But it wasn’t without reason, nor was it just a bunch of ingrates taking for granted what an amazing experience we were having in an equally amazing location. It’s very valuable to be be very candid about how you’re feeling and what’s going on with you. Many times there’s a solution to whatever is causing you troubles, but if you aren’t open and vocal about those troubles then no-one will know about it and be able to help. Whether it’s a pounding headache that’s cured simply by downing an entire liter of water quickly, exhaustion that’s helped by having one of the staff carry your pack for a while, or whatever else might ail you, there’s often a solution to your problem. So complain away, it really helps!
And now, well after the trek, I find several benefits to detailing so many of the hurdles. First, I’m damn proud of myself and what I accomplished. I, and all the rest of our group, worked through some pretty rough stuff to have this experience. Life in the Himalayas for a tourist is a challenging one, there’s a high price of admission to be paid for traveling through the region, so this was no walk in the park. (Well, we were walking. And it was a park. But you get my meaning.) I also know that many of the people watching the podcast may–as I was–be considering taking a trip like this themselves, perhaps even a future Everest Trek. I feel a bit like I owe it to them to be up front with what to expect, to know that it’s not all fun and games, though there is plenty of that as well.
Anyway, back to the Khumbu…
Our time in that tent was wonderfully capped off by one of our most fun morning updates. The “Jon & John Morning Show” took on an extremely silly, hypoxic tone that day. Much of what we filmed will never end up in the podcast, as we got really slap happy that morning. We even filmed an entire fake episode of The Rest Of Everest that morning on the proper technique for applying sunscreen to your face, including a full intro/outro from Jon and all. It was so, so much fun, as you’ll see in a forthcoming episode.
(Images from The Rest Of Everest podcast are © 2003-2010 TreeLine Productions.)