|Just before I went to bed last night it cleared briefly and I noticed a
load of torch lights on the the other side of the strip. Went over to
investigate, a group of Sherpas have set up their camp consisting of two
or three tents with a big tarpaulin strung between them on a nice flat
bit of ground - which just happens to be right in the middle of our
repaired bit of
runway! Of course if it had happened to be nice weather early today
present a bit of a problem but they seemed to be perfectly happy to move
if we needed to use the strip early. We didn't. Pea soup and rain
first thing this morning, cold and very damp.
I got chatting a bit more to some of the 35mm film people who arrived
yesterday afternoon. Seems they are a bunch of climbers, film
and several vacant looking pretty girls. At least one person had a
patch on his
fleece saying the '2004 Working Title Everest Expedition', apparently
they were there not
to make a film per-se but to collect a bunch of 'real' images of Everest
for a feature film about the 1996 storm. I noticed one of their bags had
a label saying something really corny like 'Extreme Storm' on it - the
Their team contains two people who were there in '96, David
Braishier, definitely the heroic type of American (who seems to know it)
and the Austrian Robert Schauer. Both I think were involved with the
now famous IMAX film made that year (if you can find an IMAX cinema).
What happened in 1996 on Everest has of course
become the stuff of legend, and indeed some controversy as it
highlighted the extreme risks to clients of the relatively new
commercial Everest Expeditions. A huge storm
overtook the montain and a lot of people died, including some well known
figures in the climbing world. There were also some extraordinary
survival stories, that of Beck Whethers is probably the most famous.
Subsequently more books were written about events of that year on
Everest than are
normally published in 10 years or more.
This is big money stuff (someone said backed by Universal Studios).
They had a lot of
film equipment up there and when we complained about having been here in
poor weather for a week or two, one fellow said to me "you should
try 50 days at base camp!" Anyway, he explained their objective; it is
to expect any big name Hollywood stars to actually climb Everest, so
they have been up there getting the 'real' footage - and they did
summit - and later they will go somewhere more comfortable like the Alps
or New Zealand with the actors to complete the film.
I had heard about something like this a few months ago. My friend Matt
Dickinson (whose plastic boots I am wearing for high altitude flights)
and who was also filming that fateful year, and sumitted, and wrote a
book; 'Death Zone', about it,
mentioned to me a few months ago that there may be an
opportunity to earn a bit of cash by doing some 35mm aerial
stuff, but nothing more came of it. I was told yesterday that they
didn't actually need any aerial stuff which may explain why, but given
the weather we've had I wouldn't have been able to do much anyway....
As it became light it became abundantly clear that the tarpaulin between
the tents on our strip was not some sort of rudimentary shelter for
porters but was actually covering literally tons of the film people's
kit. Quite how it got there without us noticing I am not quite sure.
Yes, there was a fog so we couldn't see the other side of the strip from
our camp, but it must have been fifty or more Yak loads so it's arrival
wouldn't have been exactly discreet, and it wasn't some sort of side
effect of the beer we bought yesterday, Barty and I only had one each
last night. Lucky there was fog this morning then, as we wouldn't have
been able to take off with that mountain of stuff in the way.
The Helicopter had a couple of tries getting in but we just heard it in
the murk. I was fairly convinced they would be here for another day but
eventually at about 9.30 there was a bit of a clear spell and
not one but two helicopters arrived within a few minutes of each other.
of the Greek party from yesterday plus some very nice Canadians who had
also summitted got into the first one, and most of the film people's kit
was stuffed into the second until it was completely full, and off they
went to Kathmandu. Of course the second one hasn't been here since we
have and if it
wasn't enough that all the film kit was on our strip, their helicopter
managed to taxi all over our repairs making some nice new ruts and it's
load of plywood and corrugated iron was dumped on our bit of
strip too. The only saving grace is that it has been so wet lately it
didn't blow all our repairs away completely. Fairly typically the film
people who mattered didn't seem to appreciate the problem they had made
for us - too much up their own bottoms to care about anyone else as
What's happening of course is that we are now in the middle of a flood
of expeditions returning from Everest Base Camp with Yak loads of kit.
I am told there were only supposed to be 11 expeditions there, at least
that's the maximum number of permits which are issued each climbing
season, but I have heard that there were upwards of 20 there this season
and that 'some teams were sharing permits'.
In any case not much of a load can be flown out of Base Camp, but Yaks
below here so the best option is to transport stuff down by Yak and fly
out of here with a
decent load rather than transfer everything to hundreds of porters and
go further on down to Lukla.
This afternoon more kit from yet another expedition started arriving on
herds of Yaks - and being piled on our bit of strip, but we are wise
to this now and before too much had arrived we asked them to move a bit
to the side which they did. We have also cleared away all the plywood
and corrugated iron (it was supposed to be going to Tengboche further up
the valley but it was fogged in, so I suppose will take some days to go)
and fixed the new ruts. The new helicopter crew (also Russians) now
understand what we are up to so hopefully they will keep off our 5
metres in future, the strip is very wide and they have 35 or 40 metres
to play with and if they
complain it is a bit rough in places they only have themselves to blame
as they caused it; they could repair it.
So apart from the remains of the film kit our strip is now clear and
usable again. The fog and rain is back now so it won't be going
anywhere today but it's not so much stuff and I am sure if it is flyable
tomorrow morning they should be able to move it out of our way quite
The weather is not looking too good for tomorrow anyway, but there is a
glimmer of hope for Monday or Tuesday. After that I think we will
almost certainly be pulling out ourselves - the monsoon is nearly here.
The highlight of the day? Sydney Spider had a short ride on a Yak.
Yaks have an air of cantankerous but infinite patience, and would appear
to quite like to just stand around and chew the cud. To get them to
move along at a slow walk they need constant cajoling, Yakmen do this by
throwing stones at them, or threatening to throw stones at them.
One rather undesirable feature of this sudden influx of Yaks is the
appearance of quite a lot of small stones on our previously clean
airstrip, I have to carefully clear them off every morning. Despite
their apparent docility Yaks are prone to suddenly charging off in
directions, usually in the interests of food, but also if their load is
disturbed or unbalanced. Today I saw one thundering across the airstrip
at suprising speed persued by its Yakman and trailing some climber's bag
which had become half detached as it was being
unloaded. Eventually everything came to a halt but if there was
anything fragile in the bag it won't be any more.
Sydney rode an unladen Yak
and he seemed to quite like the experience, nothing like as hazardous as
his encounter with the
Eagle, and the Yak behaved itself though its Yakman was a bit bemused by
the whole experience.
Our satellite comms were wotking again this morning so I managed to get
yesterday's despatch off. As Intelsat
is managed in France we thought it highly likely nothing would be fixed
until monday. It isn't working again this afternoon, so I suppose this
despatch from rainy, foggy Syangboche will be a day late too.