Holiday Getaway:
Mount Everest Base Camp

by Marie Felde

Looking for a little vacation inspiration? Talk to Susan Spencer. The director of Environment, Health and Safety is already back from her trip-a trek to base camp on Mount Everest.

"They made it. They summited today," announced Spencer on May 23, waving a print-out from the web site of the NOVA TV crew filming a special, "Alive on Everest."

Spencer had had the good fortune to be a last-minute fill-in for a friend's husband on the trek to base camp with the climbing and TV crew. She'd been following the progress of the climbers via their web site since April when she returned from a three week trip to Nepal.

The journey to base camp began in Kathmandu. A helicopter delivered Spencer, her friend, Paige Springer, and two world-class climbers-Pete Athans and Ed Viesturs-to the Himalayan hillside town of Lukla.

The hike from there to base camp, at an elevation of 17,500 feet, took eight days. "You realize you are hiking on their Highway 80. There'd be guys with eight 12-foot-long pieces of lumber strapped to their heads. Everything moves by foot power and yaks."

Reaching base camp ahead of schedule, the advance party learned everyone else had been delayed.

"We had four days at base camp. It's an international tent city on ice and rock. There were probably 200 to 300 people, but it is clean. You don't see trash. Our neighbors were a huge Japanese expedition and a Canadian team, who adopted us and invited us over for meals.

"What struck me was the Himalayas themselves. You're in this bowl of enormous peaks. They are so rugged and raw. From our tents we could look up and see the ice field. And all night long, we could hear avalanches and ice falls.

"The Sierra and Rockies are like old people. The Himalayas are two-year-olds."

Life at base camp is slow and companionable, she said. "Everyone is getting ready to go. There are lots of prayer flags and religious ceremonies. A lama comes in before each ascent and leads a ceremony for the climbers."

Finally, it was time for the two women to head back or risk missing the flight home. "It took us eight days to reach base camp and just two and a half days to get down," said Spencer.

Not entirely sure where they would stay on the way down, or whether their flights to Kathmandu would be lined-up, the two friends were amazed when, on the second day down, they were summoned by name.

"This guy comes up the trail and says, 'Miss Springer, Miss Spencer? I have a letter for you.' The letter contained their flight information. The host of a guest house they'd stayed in on the way in had sent the messenger out to locate them.

The final touch on the charmed trip was being invited into a monastery by the visiting lama who happened to be staying at a lodge with them.

In the Himalayas, "it was amazing to me how you live in the present. You have to concentrate on every step and the scenery demands you are in the present," she said.

"I've always loved the outdoors, but I've been a cautious traveler. Now, I want to go everywhere."



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