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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Goddess Mother of the Earth

Holy @*&!, That's *&#& Everest!!
"Holy shit, that's f-ing Everest!" I yelled.  We had been coming around a bend, and suddenly in front of us I saw the unmistakable black diamond peak.  A few moments later, we straightened out and the whole mountain sat right in front us, in all its glory.

"Holy shit, that's f-ing Everest!" Charles replied.

There's really nothing else to be said.  It didn't seem real.  It was completely unlike the Nepalese experience, so much so that it was hard to believe I was looking at the same mountain I had glimpsed 5 years before.  In Nepal, you first fly into the comically dangerous strip of pavement glued to a mountainside known as Lukla.

Don't try to land at Lukla in the fog

View of Everest from atop Kala Pattar, mostly hidden behind Nupste's west face
Then, a 10-day trek through beautiful green forests, waterfalls, monastaries, past huge white peaks, spending quiet nights in teahouses with the Sherpas, and finally up into the high country where everything is a different shade of gray and white.  At last, one morning, head pounding from the altitude, you climb a small mountain called Kala Pattar to get that postcard shot of Everest.  But even then, its mostly hidden behind the wall of Nuptse.  Rising impossibly high beyond, you only see that famous black pyramid summit in the background.

(For some gorgeous photos and a great blog on EBC from Nepal, click here...)

First glimpse of the Big Boys after days of driving

In Tibet, we had just driven for two days from Lhasa, past 6 or 7 military checkpoints, through endless barren mud-colored mountains.  The last part takes you on a brutal gravel washboard track for 3 more exhausting hours, bumping out your fillings in an old rattling Toyota landcruiser.  We had gotten a nice glimpse of the Himalaya earlier from Pang La pass, hooting and high-fiving at the first look of the Big Boys.  The view from the pass is actually quite dramatic, the peaks from left to right, on a lucky day, are Makalu (8462m) and Chomo Lonzo (7780m), Lhotse (8516m) and Everest (8848m), and off to the right Gyachung Kang (7952m) and Cho Oyu (8201m).  (Click here for some insane photos of this pass, this lucky guy got it on a clear day and had a great camera).

On top o the world (Everest just barely peaking out above my head (a little on the left) if you look hard....)
In other words, 4 of the 8 highest mountains in the world stood here rubbing shoulders, lording down over the rest of the world.  We had arrived on an early June afternoon, and although most of the mega-peaks were covered in cloud, we did get the adrenalin rush of seeing Everest's summit peek out for a minute as the clouds ambled along.

Then it was another long descent, more rattling around, and an interesting "short-cut" as our Hell-on-Wheels driver decided to bypass the road and scream straight down the cliff.  Somehow, we didn't roll off any thousand foot drops or get stuck as we bottomed out in a stream and the landcruiser scraped over the rocks.

And so, after such a tiring (and somewhat life-threatening) journey of the same old same, it was a shock to round a bend and Boom!

Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Woot woot in technicolor
It is difficult to find words to adequately describe how bizarre it is to emerge from Tibet's brown, dusty, lifeless foothills and suddenly stumble onto the entire north face of the largest mountain in the world.  From the north, Everest is not hidden by Nuptse.  It is not hidden by anything.  The entire horizon of brown earth rises until it becomes a vast expanse of snow and ice.  This continues to ascend untold thousands of feet, past a flowing glacier and smaller peaks that form the waist, until the shoulders narrow.  Then, the mountain becomes black as it turns into a sheer vertical cliff that rises more thousands of feet.  Finally, the face funnels into a forbidding tooth: the legendary summit of Peak XV, Everest, Sagarmatha, Qomolangma.  There are many names for the place that has claimed the lives of over 200 climbers.  But my favorite is the Nepalese translation: Goddess Mother of the Earth.

We were bumping along a gravel road at around 4900m, jaws hitting our knees, staring straight up to the 8850m peak.  The gain of nearly 4000m, or 2.5 miles, is just a number.  It doesn't do the view a shred of justice.  There wasn't a single cloud in the piercing blue sky.

 Everest was alone, naked.

I am fairly certain I will never again witness such a spectacle.

Your moment of Zen, courtesy of Tibet

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