Archive for May, 2010

How Do You Top Everest?

By Stephanie Pearson

Around sunset time on May 17, I was sitting on top of my favorite boulder outside the Base Camp dining tent, watching the clouds roll up the west ridge of Everest and into the Khumbu Icefall. The sinking sun lit the summit of Nuptse and it was a sublime moment. But I was bawling.

I pulled my stocking cap over my face to make sure the Sherpas washing vegetables outside the cook tent couldn’t see my breakdown. I didn’t want them to notice because I had no good reason for my tears. Eight hours earlier, Jamie and Scott had radioed from the summit to tell us that they were standing on top of the world. Team Base Camp breathed in a collective sigh of relief, let out a few yelps and whoops, gave each other a round of celebratory hugs, and snapped a few hundred photos. That afternoon I went for a long hike toward the outpost of Gorak Shep and was elated—until I sat down on the boulder and let it sink in.

After 32 months, this behemoth goal dreamed up over a bottle of wine by Jamie Clarke and Rich Noll, the CEO of Hanesbrands, Inc. had finally come to fruition. Jamie Clarke had lived up to his part of the deal and climbed Everest. In doing so, he inspired 45,000 Hanesbrands employees and countless other followers that if you set a goal and put one foot in front of the other, anything is possible.

So why was I crying? I suspect the tears were mostly joy at the profound beauty of the Himalayas and relief that Scott and Jamie had reached their hard-won summit and were safely descending the mountain. But I also felt a tinge of sadness that the excitement was almost over. This expedition to Mount Everest has been a defining factor in my life since the fall of 2008 when I was invited to join the team.

It all started when an old colleague who I had worked with at Outside, Matt McKee, called me in the summer of 2008 to ask if I’d be interested in writing content for a corporate website “about a guy who is going to climb Mount Everest.” Having worked at Outside since the “Into Thin Air,” era, I was intrigued. I agreed to travel to Hanesbrands’ headquarters in Winston-Salem to meet Jamie and the team of bright, young HBI talent that had been picked to execute Noll’s overwhelming vision.

During that meeting Jamie, who had already summitted Everest once, said something that stuck with me: “I want to go back to Everest to feel that peace that comes on the other side of fear and anxiety, to feel a levity of spirit. When you engage in something fully, it is a catalyst that affects all parts of your life.”

Eventually, my content-writing job turned into an offer to join the team in Nepal. I was so excited that I didn’t think I could wait until the spring of 2010.

Slowly, slowly, the expedition crept closer. To fill the time, I read books about Everest, dined with friends who have hiked and climbed in the Himalayas and grilled them about their experiences, trained on the 12,000-foot peaks that surround my home in Santa Fe, and dreamed about the day I’d finally set eyes on the most storied peak in the world.

Now that I’m on week three at Base Camp, I won’t sugar coat the experience and say that it’s been easy. It’s hard to breathe at 17,500 feet and it’s easy to get claustrophobic living on an ever-shifting pile of rock and ice with 1,000 strangers.

But those grievances are minimal compared to the bigger picture that has unfolded over the past month: I’ve watched 17-year-old high-school junior, LaQuishia Stone, barrel her way up to Base Camp, while her mom LaShonda, battled with fatigue, but still kept putting one foot in front of the other. I’ve seen the filmmakers and producers, Kenny Wilson, Adam Stone, Geoff Thompson, and Paul Mistor literally spring ahead on the trail with 15-pound cameras in efforts to take the best, most effective shots. I’ve seen Matthew Young, Charlie Stack, and Mike Abbott from Hanesbrands efficiently and effortlessly handle every last detail for the good of the team, as if it were just another day back at the office. I’ve heard expedition coordinator Wally Berg’s endless optimism as he coached Jamie and Scott through treacherous aspects of the climb; and I’ve laughed out loud as Carver High School guidance counselor Theresa Hamer coaxed us all into summing up each day into six words, most of which can’t be printed here.

And then there are the Sherpas, led by brothers Ang Temba and Ang Tsering. Without their team of porters, yak herders, cooks, and cook boys, we wouldn’t have made it past the Hotel Yak & Yeti. They schlepped packs for us, fed us, boiled hot water for showers, built a stone fortress of a base camp, and taught us a thing or two about how to live in their harsh, beautiful environment. Most importantly, they taught us that Chomolungma (Everest) and all Himalayan peaks are the homes of gods and goddesses, and the mountain must be respected.

Back in April 1920 in a speech he gave to the Royal Geographical Society in London, Sir Francis Younghusband told the audience that he believed “the accomplishment [of climbing Mount Everest] would do a great deal of good. It would elevate the human spirit.”

What a visionary. Almost 100 years later, I’m sitting at the base of the world’s highest mountain feeling a little sad, but mostly elated that I’ve been part of a team that not only climbed the world’s highest mountain, but did it with grace, humor, and super-human will. Now only one question remains: What’s my next Everest?


Everest ER

Imagine the M*A*S*H tent without the camouflage, place it at 17,500 feet, staff it with the best high-altitude physicians in the world (who volunteer their time), and you’ve got Everest ER.

It’s been a busy week for Dr. Peter Hackett, the man who wrote “Mountain Sickness,” the Bible of high-altitude physiology, and Dr. Steven Halvorson, an emergency department physician at St. James Hospital in Butte, Montana. Today a trekker tumbled off a steep ridge between the outpost of Gorak Shep and Base Camp, did three somersaults, and smashed up his nose and face. Yesterday a patient suffering from “Transient Ischemic Attack” (minor stroke-like symptoms), was evacuated down valley by helicopter, and earlier this week Hackett and Halvorson, along with a few expedition leaders, led a high-altitude educational seminar for 40 Sherpas.

The roomy white tent with two comfortable cots, Asian rugs on the floor, and stethoscopes hanging from the metal poles is the beating pulse of Base Camp. If a climber comes down with the Khumbu cough (a relatively harmless inflammation of the bronchial tubes), diarrhea, hemorrhoids, headaches, or far more serious ailments like High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), he or she heads to the ER.

The clinic is a boon to climbers, but Bozeman, Montana-based founder, Dr. Luanne Freer, started the ER in 2003 with the intention to provide quality healthcare for the Sherpas and porters who risk their lives working on Mount Everest.

“A lot of what we do is urgent care coming to the Sherpas,” says Dr. Halvorson. “Dental work, GI tract, frostbite, infectious diseases. This is a culture where you have to walk miles to get an immunization. As doctors we have to do our best in a very remote wilderness situation.”

The non-profit clinic, which receives no money from the Nepali government, is funded in large part by private donations and expeditions, which pay $100 per client for use of the ER during the duration of the expedition. The fee buys unlimited access to physician visits (medications cost roughly $20 extra) and allows the expedition Sherpas and porters to use the Everest ER free of charge. Any Sherpa or porter not involved in an expedition pays a visitation fee of 200 rupees, roughly the price of a cup of tea. So far this season Everest ER has seen roughly 375 patients; 50 percent Sherpa, 50 percent Westerners.

To help the cause, Hanesbrands, Inc. printed 1,000 t-shirts with a cool Everest ER logo, hauled them in 22 duffels to Base Camp on yaks, then gave them to Freer to use in a fundraising effort. The T-shirts are the hottest item in Base Camp this year.

Dr. Hackett, who lived in Nepal for seven years as the medical director of the Himalayan Rescue Association and wrote “Mountain Sickness” in 1980, has seen new advances in the treatment of high-altitude sicknesses, but he still posits that the best way to prevent the most serious ailment, high-altitude pulmonary edema, is descent and oxygen.

“There will never be a drug as good as descent and oxygen,” he says. “My big thing now is that nobody should be dying of altitude sickness. It’s all about education, the right way to use Diamox, the right rate of ascent, and how to monitor your body.”

Even with education and the evolution of treatments there are some issues that crop up at Base Camp that even Everest ER can’t fix.

“We have one woman here who has never seen snow,” says Dr. Halvorson. “You can chuckle about it or you can get really dark. One of the things I love about this mountain is that it’s so absurdly and gloriously human.” —Stephanie Pearson

How to take a shower at base camp

By Stephanie Pearson

I’ve taken one shower in the last two weeks. For most hyper-hygienic Americans, including me, my routine sounds disgusting. But after I tracked the work required for the Sherpas to create my ten-minute rendezvous with cascading water, I’ve decided that taking a shower more than once a week here at Base Camp is a luxury I can do without.

To find out how the hot water miraculously arrives in the rubberized 30-liter Pack Shower, I spent the morning with Chuldim Dorje Sherpa, the 38-year-old “cook boy,” who acts as an assistant to our chef Deli Raj Rai.

First Chuldim grabbed an empty 35-liter plastic water canister, then we walked for about five minutes over loose scree and boulders to a small ice-covered glacial lake, about 30-feet in diameter. Since the beginning of the climbing season, Chuldim tells me, the lake has receded by at least a few feet.

I lobbed a huge rock into the center to break the ice, while Chuldim got down to the business of filling the plastic bucket with a recycled tin orange juice can using a funnel created from a recycled plastic bottle. To fulfill all the water requirements of camp for cooking, cleaning, and drinking, Chuldim and the other Sherpas make six to nine trips to this watering hole per day. After about 30 pours, Chuldim filled the container. The plan was for me to haul the water back to camp, but Chuldim wouldn’t allow it. Instead, he sat down on a rock, strapped the tumpline around his forehead, and, using massive quad strength, stood up and started hauling the 75-pound jug up and over the boulders.

Back at camp Chuldim brought the water to the Sherpa kitchen, where he set it next to a massive cauldron sitting on a kerosene burner. This is where Deli Raj and Chuldim boil all the cooking, drinking, and cleaning water for camp. To heat enough water for one person’s shower takes about 30 minutes—which burns up a lot of precious kerosene, which has also been hauled in on the back of a porter.

After he heats the water, Chuldim fills the Pack Shower, then hauls that big bag down a steep rocky ledge to the “Shower” which consists of a flagstone floor—built, of course, by the Sherpas—surrounded by a blue nylon tent. After he fastens the bag, which is attached to a miniature plastic shower head, he alerts me that the shower is ready.

I can’t deny that the deluge of hot water, which lasts about 15 minutes, is heavenly. (It’s best to squat down to get the full effect.) Plus it’s hot and steamy in the shower tent. But after I’ve seen how much work is involved to create this luxury for just one person (multiply that by at least five or ten of us in camp at any given time), some of the hedonistic pleasure melts away. Cleanliness may be next to Godliness, as the saying goes, but at 17,500 feet cleanliness also requires hard labor.

Life at the Vinyl Village

By Stephanie Pearson

“Base Camp reminds me of the gold rush days,” says Diane Whelan, a Canadian filmmaker who has spent the last month in this vinyl village filming a National Geographic documentary. “It’s like living a Jack London novel. People have no idea how expansive it is.”

Expansive, indeed. This morning I woke to the sound of an avalanche blasting down Nuptse. It was too high on the mountain to squash tents, but it definitely rearranged the scenery. Closer to home, the sun has transformed Expedition Hanesbrands’s site from an ice cube into a braided stream. And most of the 300-plus climbers who have paid a lot of money to go up the mountain have migrated farther down valley to rest and wait for a decent summit window.

Like any dense metropolis, it takes at least an hour to thread through this shape-shifting tent city of approximately 1,000 climbers, guides, Sherpas, and porters set on the Khumbu Glacier at the base of Mount Everest, Mount Pumori, and Nuptse. The official entry is at the wind-bitten “Everest Base Camp: 5,364 m” sign, which hangs from a rock cairn strewn with hundreds of disintegrating prayer flags, photographs, and inscriptions left by trekkers. The sign is like Mecca for high-altitude trekkers. From here, an exurb of Base Camp proper, it takes approximately 25 minutes to walk up, down, and around the glacial boulders and scree to arrive at our camp, set in a protective basin right in downtown EBC.

Some Sherpas who work for big guiding companies arrive here as early as January to stake their claim and carve out their own slice of high-altitude heaven. Search hard enough and you can find soda-making machines, generator-operated freezers, flat screen TVs, massive cuts of Norwegian salmon, and the largest stash of Fudgee-Os outside of Canada. Our own compound has a yellow-domed yoga tent, strewn with colorful Asian rugs. If yoga at 17,500 feet doesn’t sound appealing, we can always play the Mountaineering edition of Monopoly or watch a “Mortal Kombat” DVD with the Sherpas.

Each camp varies in size and luxury, but every one is guaranteed to have two necessary items: First, there will be a poop-only outhouse, which consists of massive hole in which a blue barrel is placed. As part of their expedition cost, clients pay a fee to ensure that this solid waste will be removed by porters who come at odd hours of the day to remove old barrels and replace them with fresh ones, then trek down valley to discard the solid waste.

The second mandatory item at each site is a puja, a Buddhist altar made of rocks and strung with prayer flags where climbers and Sherpas burn juniper as an offering to Buddha before they ascend the mighty mountain.

Up a small rocky incline next to our compound is “Everest ER.” Think M*A*S*H minus the camouflage. Today there’s one doctor on call, Stephen Halvorson from Bozeman, Montana. This morning he’s treating a Sherpa wearing an AC/DC T-shirt., while another patient, with a vicious, dry, wracking “Khumbu Cough” waits outside. Dr. Halvorson determines that AC/DC Sherpa possibly has an ulcer and is trying to explain the condition via an interpreter:

“Your stomach might be worn thin, worn out,” he says, prescribing a medication that will help. A consultation for Nepali Trekkers and porters cost 200 Nepali rupees, roughly $3.

The next patient is an Indian kid named Arjun Vhapai, who just happens to be the youngest non-Sherpa, at age 16, to attempt to summit Everest. He’s here for a routine checkup before leaving in next few days for his summit attempt with Apa Sherpa, the man who holds the world record for the most summits.

I ask Arjun if he’s nervous: “Apa’s a lucky man. Whenever he goes up, we’ll have good weather. I’ll stay behind him.”

“Do you feel pressure being the youngest person ever to try to climb Everest?” I ask.

“Nahhhhhh,” he responds. “Hey, at least I’m trying!”

Later in the day we hike back out to the Base Camp ‘burbs so Jamie Clarke can stretch his legs and blow off a little steam while he waits for a summit window to open. On our way out of camp, we see a group of about 20 men, some Westerners, some Sherpas, trying to heave a refrigerator-sized boulder off a cliff. The exercise wasn’t out of sheer boredom.

Russell Brice, the owner of commercial operator Himalayan Experience, and Mark Tucker from RMI, were leading the charge to build a new helipad farther away from Base Camp so helicopters would stop buzzing the climbers’ tents—a major complaint this season. After about 20 minutes of chipping away at the ice below the boulder, the guys gave one last heave-ho, then fling the massive rock off a 20-foot cliff.

Later on I pay a visit to Brice’s camp, one of the more luxurious sites way out in the Base Camp ‘burbs. At its heart is a heated white dome straight out of James Bond with tiger rugs, a bar with an espresso maker, and a decent stereo system. Brice picked the way out location to keep his 19 clients as healthy as possible.

“We like to camp here because it’s unhygienic up there,” Brice, who has been running guided expeditions on the mountain since 1994, told me.

His campsite may be standoffish, but Brice still appreciates the EBC community. “To run a business here you need to be a strong character,” he tells me. “But, frankly, I think it’s a good community. In general, we get on very well together.”

Navigating the Khumbu Icefall Maze

by Stephanie Pearson

In 1952 Swiss mountaineer André Roch coined the Khumbu Icefall the  “Suicide Passage.” Not much has changed in the past 60 years. The mile-long frozen waterfall that ascends almost 2,000 vertical feet from Everest Base Camp to the Western Cwm is the only way to approach the mountain from the south side. Its constantly shifting maze of crevasses and frozen ice towers—which can topple at any second—makes every climber feel queasy.

“You have the chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time all of the time in the Khumbu Icefall,” says Scott Simper, Jamie Clarke’s climbing partner and photographer.

To make traversing the Icefall easier, every year in the beginning of the season, a team of six Sherpas, called the “Ice Doctors,” which are led by 57-year-old Ang Nima Sherpa, set a fixed line of ropes and ladders to help climbers navigate their way through the hazards and crevasses.  It’s a dangerous job, but Ang Nima has a secret weapon.

“There’s some danger, but I go to the monastery, and every day I pray to Buddha and Buddha helps us,” says Ang Nima, whose camp is right next to our Expedition Hanesbrands headquarters.

Since they arrived at Base Camp in early April, Simper and Clarke have traveled through the Icefall six times on their acclimatization trips up and down the mountain. Their team of climbing Sherpas, responsible for stashing gear and food higher on the mountain, have traversed it maybe ten or 12 times.

“On one trip the Sherpas were within one second from being crushed by a falling ice tower,” says Simper. “It really freaked them out.”

So what makes the Icefall so crazy?

It’s like a maze in a video game that gets more hazardous the longer you play: First you wind your way from Base Camp through an unroped, relatively benign section of mini ice towers.

“It’s a very fascinating, very beautiful place to get your feet wet,” says Simper.

The next section is called the Dam, a 20-minute segment of 70-degree climbs. After that, you climb up and down a few ladders to the “Popcorn” section, where the ropes meander up and down and over about eight ladders that bridge deep blue crevasses.

After Popcorn comes the “Football Field,” a flat, wide section where climbers finally have the chance to take a breather. From there they go through a section Simper and Clarke call the “Valley of Death” a section where climbers are surrounded by the largest seracs in the Icefall, whose bases are being melted by the sun. That section exits into what they call “Crazy Town,” a deep trench into which the climbers descend (and hopefully ascend), with dozens of spires and crevasses, where the leaning tower almost crashed on the Sherpas. Finally, there’s a climb up to a flat spot, then back down three ladders strapped together over a deep crevasse, then a climb up and over three more ladders to reach the top of the Icefall and the Western Cwm. The freakiest aspect: The route can change from day to day, so the climbers never know what to expect.

“The Icefall is like a bunch of dominoes waiting to fall over,” says Simper. “Speed is safety.”

Despite the risks, dozens of climbers travel through the Icefall unscathed every day.

“No sound mountaineer would enter the Khumbu Icefall if it weren’t for the jewel of Everest beyond,” says Jamie Clarke.

The Way to Acclimatize to 8,000 meters

by Stephanie Pearson

“I am nothing more than a single, narrow, gasping lung, floating over the mists and the summits. Only after I have drawn a couple of breaths do I again sense my legs, my arms, my head. I am in a state of bright consciousness, even if not fully aware of where I am.”

That’s how Reinhold Messner, in his book “Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate,” described his sensation after he and Peter Habeler became the first men to summit Mount Everest without the use of bottled oxygen in 1978.

At 29,035 feet, Messner was lucky he could draw a couple of breaths. The air is so thin at the top of Mount Everest that, without proper acclimatization, he could have passed out and died in 15 minutes flat.

Aside from wearing oxygen tanks, which wouldn’t necessarily save their lives, how do mountain climbers avoid death by thin air? If you’ve ever followed an expedition, you’ll notice that climbers spend as much or more time going down the mountain as they do going up. As masochistic as mountaineers may seem, they don’t ascend and descend for fun. This process, known as acclimatization, is a very deliberate, slow, and steady way to prepare their bodies for the hazards of high altitude.

At sea level, we live under what the medical website calls “a huge ocean of air that is several miles deep: the atmosphere.” As you climb a mountain, the air becomes less compressed and contains fewer molecules of oxygen. At 9,000 feet, there is 75 percent of the air pressure there is at sea level. At 18,000 feet—just between Camps I and II on Mount Everest—there is half. At the top of Everest there is one-third.

What difference does less oxygen make to humans? Our bodies need oxygen to make energy. Without it, our muscles will eventually seize up and die. The less oxygen our tissues receive, the more likely we’ll experience one of three altitude-related illnesses:

The first, and most common, is acute mountain sickness. At an altitude as low as 6,500 feet you can feel dizziness, nausea, headache, lethargy, and poor sleep. These side effects, which feel a lot like a hangover, are most likely the result of a slight swelling of the brain, which causes a slight increase on the pressure in the skull.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which can occur anywhere above 9,000 feet, is thought to be a severe form of acute mountain sickness with similar, albeit more severe, symptoms that may ultimately result in a coma and, eventually, death.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which can occur anywhere above 6,500 feet, is a build-up of fluid in the air spaces between the lungs that can cause oxygen shortages, which can be fatal within hours. HAPE symptoms can include blue lips, an elevated heart rate, breathlessness, frothy sputum, and the sensation that you are drowning.

HAPE and HACE are both very rare, but the tricky part is that no one can predict who is most susceptible to these potentially fatal conditions—even the most physically fit climbers can be at risk.

On the world’s highest peaks, everything above 26,000 feet is known as the “Death Zone.” That’s the point at which there is not enough oxygen in the air to sustain human life. Even acclimatized climbers have a very short window of time above the Death Zone before they will die of hypoxia (lack of oxygen).

To combat these potentially deadly illnesses climbers, like Jamie Clarke, have to be patient and allow their bodies to slowly adapt to higher altitudes, applying what’s known as the “climb high, sleep low” principle.

“It always seems weird to people when we tell them that we’re leaving in March to reach a summit at the end of May,” says Wally Berg, who has reached the summit of Mount Everest four times and is supporting Clarke’s Expedition Hanesbrands climb

Jamie, along with expedition photographer Scott Simper, will essentially climb the mountain three times, forcing their bodies to acclimatize. After they arrived at Base Camp on April 15, they started climbing the mountain in “cycles.”

First Clarke and Simper climbed through the Khumbu icefall. A day later they climbed to Camp I, at 20,600 feet, and spent the night there. The next day they returned to Base Camp, then climbed back to Camp I, where they spent two nights, then carried a load of gear to Camp II, at 21,400 feet. They returned to Camp I to sleep, then moved to Camp II, where they spent five nights. After a rest day, they climbed to Camp III, at 23,600, descended to Camp II to sleep, then returned to sleep at Camp III for a night before returning to Base Camp to rest and wait for good weather for the summit push. If they don’t summit within two weeks of this cycle, they’ll have to repeat the acclimatization process over again.

The tricky part: Really experienced climbers want to minimize their time on Mount Everest to 40 days because if you stay at high-altitude much longer than that you’ll lose too much muscle strength to effectively climb.

“As slow as climbing Mount Everest might appear,” says Clarke, “it’s really a race against time. At high elevation you are slowly dying. The idea is to get up and down before you do.”

Trek. Sleep. Eat. Repeat.

by Stephanie Pearson

“You’re going to lose at least 15 pounds.” That’s what every friend who has climbed or trekked at high-altitude told me before I left for Nepal. But they didn’t have Phuri Sherpa cooking for them. It’s day eight on our hike to Mount Everest base camp and I haven’t shed a pound.

If we’re not trekking or sleeping, we’re eating. The routine goes like this: Every morning we wake up between six or seven with a knock on the door by Phuri, who serves us a high-powered combo of lemon tea mixed with a Tang-like lemon-flavored powder, which we leisurely sip in bed. An hour later, we meet in the lodge dining room where the Sherpas serve us hot porridge followed by French toast or eggs and sausage. At the end of breakfast, one of them presents us with a silver tray of Snickers, Mars, or Toblerone candy bars—a treat to save for later. How can I resist?

We hit the trail by 8 or 9 and, by 10 or 11, stop again at a tea house for hot beverage number two. A few hours later, we’ll stop for a hot lunch cooked on the fly, of course, by Phuri and his “kitchen boys” or assistant cooks. When we reach the lodge at around 4 p.m., we’ll have a mid-afternoon tea with popcorn, cookies, and Pringles, followed by dinner at around 7. Last night we dined in candlelight on bean burritos, a beat, carrot, and cucumber salad, white rice, and spicy green beans. Dessert was fresh fruit in light cream.

Wally Berg, head of Berg Adventures International, who organized our trek to base camp, estimates that the entire expedition (including Jamie Clarke’s team at base camp) will require a couple thousand pounds of food.

That number is staggering. But even more mind-boggling is that every last pound of food was either transported from Costco in Canada or bought in Kathmandu. Then Ang Temba Sherpa and his crew hauled up by the truckload to a town at the end of the road, put it on a helicopter to Lukla, then carried it by foot to our current location, Lobuche, which is 16,000 feet.

“The resources in the Khumbu are very limited,” says Berg. “The locals can grow potatoes, grain, and millet, but everything else—chicken, water buffalo, rice, and lentils—has to be brought in from Kathmandu or down valley. Even the eggs are bought in Kathmandu.”

For Phuri and his team, that means their day starts at 4 a.m. They wake up, start fires, serve tea, make breakfast, then pack their kerosene stoves, pots, pans, utensils, and food into their wicker baskets, and high-tail it to the pre-determined lunch spot, where they make a hot meal from scratch. The same goes for dinner.

The other day the Sherpas made us a picnic lunch in a rhododendron forest in view of the famous Tengboche monastery. As Ang Nuru Sherpa served us hot orange drink, Phuri’s assistant kneaded bread dough he had just made from scratch, which Phuri boiled in a pot of oil over a kerosene burner. Another assistant chopped fresh cabbage, while another one washes dishes. They all moved at lightning speed, while the rest of us snoozed on a blue tarp covered with a flowered tablecloth.

Just a few minutes after we arrived, our trekking guide, Khari Jang Rai, served us a first course of hot mushroom soup, followed by a plate of boiled cabbage, baked beans, fresh Tibetan fry bread, corn, and an unidentified fried meat that I’ll call Spam.

After approximately 26 more meals as full as this one, not to mention candy bar breaks and afternoon tea, I may be the only person who actually gains weight on the way to base camp.