Life at base camp can vary dramatically for the various teams living there. Some teams come equipped with ping pong tables and solar showers, while others arrive with the bare minimum. Unlike the south where everything has to be either carried in by porters or yaks, or helicopters at considerable expense, the north has a dirt road running up to it courtesy of the Chinese Olympic flame procession, which passed over the summit of Mount Everest in 2008. Transporting equipment and luxury items up to base camp on the north side of Everest is therefore considerably easier.
In my opinion our team found a respectable balance between what was comfortable and what would have been overindulgence. Base camp exists to allow climbers’ bodies to acclimatise and recover. Higher up the mountain and arguably, even, as low as advanced base camp this does not happen. The lack of oxygen in the air means that climbers’ bodies are in fact deteriorating at that altitude. Consequently a lot of time is spent at base camp recovering from altitude gains, and it is important that base camp is sufficiently comfortable to aid recovery.
Our base camp consisted of two mess tents, a store tent, a cook tent and an individual tent for every team member. On top of this there were washing facilities which amounted to two toilet tents and a shower tent. In comparison to many other teams on the north side of the mountain we had a comfortable base camp, though, while we certainly didn’t have the worst set up, we certainly did not have the best. A number of teams on the mountain had large dome mess tents which created a communal atmosphere and allowed team members to enjoy a civilised meal. Our mess tents on the other hand were two long rectangles with tables running down the middle, leaving little room to move around once people were sitting down. This certainly created a bit of tension come meal time when plates and bowls were being past back and forward for seconds across those who had still not finished. However it meant the team came together, to eat and socialise, every evening which was important especially if they we had not been together during the day.
Adventure peaks did provide some luxury items for us to enjoy, probably the most important of which were two large plasma TVs situated at the end of each mess tent! These TVs were constantly in use in the evenings, at least when we could convince Ganu our base camp manager to turn on the generator. While two plasma TVs were probably extravagant and we possibly didn’t need two films showing each night in Theatre 1 and 2, having at least one TV makes a real difference and it allowed people to wind down in the evenings and relax. Spending 24 hours a day with the same group of people, no matter how nice they all are does get tiring even for the most patient of people, so escaping into a movie allowed people that time to themselves. Similarly having our own tents at base camp made a real difference and allowed each and every one of us our own space to. When we were on the mountain above base camp, we always shared a tent both for warmth and to save our Sherpa’s carrying more tents than was necessary.
Life at base camp is very relaxed and chilled out; most days are spent reading or playing board games or chatting to other team members in the mess tents. Base camp is still at 5400m which is higher than anywhere in Europe, so any strenuous activities are normally avoided, the time spent at base camp is meant to be used to recover and rest. Personally I found sleeping to be a favourite way to pass time at base camp, it is very easy to crawl into your sleeping back and curl up and fall asleep. Though sleeping during the day I also found out to be dangerous, for when the night comes the temperature drops significantly and if you have slept all day and therefore can’t fall asleep at night it can be rather unpleasant lying wide awake in your sleeping bag and not being able to do much or get out of it because of the temperature. I also found at base camp and even more so as we went higher that the solitude, and maybe the lack of oxygen, increased the intensity of your dreams and they became more vivid and life like. This certainly provided some amusement in the mornings when people were brave enough to retell their dreams from the night before.
Base camp also provided a time for meeting members from other teams. When you are on the mountain and walking, especially above ABC you are normally out of breath and not inclined to strike up a hearty conversation. The different teams at base camp often have parties and invite other teams over for drinks and food. These parties are a great way of finding out information about the mountain from other teams who may have been higher up more recently than you, and to meet people from all corners of the world. This year we had teams from Russia, Britain, America, Germany, Malaysia, to name just a few.