The last time I stood at the new Everest Base Camp was over a decade ago and the scene was very different. The majority of expeditions were still populated by climbers, commercial guiding was in its infancy and yet a small fabric city was still located on the glacial moraine.
There always seemed to be plenty of activity, climbers carefully preparing equipment or loads for transporting to higher camps, porter briefings, preparing and eating meals, melting snow, moving between encampments or communicating with climbing pairs on the mountain through two-way radios. This was life in EBC city, a busy textile town where the Khumbu Icefall was the commuter route that many took to work each day.
It was also an overgrown rubbish tip, with piles of discarded oxygen bottles, and many more were scattered around the site. The residue of man’s attempts to reach the summit carelessly dumped on the moraine of the glacier. Amongst the other rubbish there was masses of human excrement, which being difficult to dispose of made Everest Base Camp a huge public toilet.
The glacier itself had also retreated a considerable distance; since the first time I visited the change is both stunning and alarming. Where once there was striking blue, crevasse filled glacial ice there is now a monochrome world of rock and shattered ice. In the absence of the multi-coloured tents the only change of shade is provided by the green of the soup like glacial pools which pockmark the otherwise barren landscape.
It was already June and as all expeditions have to depart the camp by the 29th May, it was eerily deserted, just our Adventure Company trekking group and a few other late season adventure seekers were present. Oblivious to the moonscape like desolation, busily taking photos to mark the occasion and to prove to friends they had in fact been there.
The site has also been cleaned up quite spectacularly; a number of expeditions have been arranged over the years to remove all the waste of previous expeditions. It has been a great success and a very welcome change, the most visible and obvious difference.
There is little to mark the site as Everest Base Camp, no big sign or banner, just a small etching on an unobtrusive rock. Without any tents it is difficult to accept that it is the correct location and I overheard a few people actually expressing their doubt.
Even on a grey day the surrounding mountains tower above those that have successfully negotiated the altitude and strenuous trek to reach here. Everest is not in view even when the weather is clear, tucked away behind its smaller sister Lhotse. It remains a stark but stunningly beautiful place. The Himalayan giants dominate the view, rock and ice sculpted by nature into geological leviathans causing the already short of breath to gasp at their towering presence.
Sited at 5545 metres, beneath Sagarmatha “Mother of the Universe” and within the planets youngest and undoubtedly greatest mountain ranges, Everest Base Camp is a favourite destination. I wonder how it will appear next time the call of the Himalaya is answered.
*All images were taken on a Samsung WB250F compact WiFi camera.