James' Most Moving Travel Memories - Sunset On Mt. Everest
Towards the end of my travels in 2009, I was passing through Tibet on my way to Nepal. I had 6 months of rough travel behind me, backpacking through the islands of Indo, the jungles of South East Asia and the plains of China before rising up onto the dry Tibetan Plateau. My route had taken in 8 countries, numerous cultures and a myriad of different sights and experiences, all of which had left their mark on me. I felt like a thoroughly changed man, at one with new cultures, and home was far from my mind. I was entirely immersed in the traveller’s life. I had latched onto a group of travellers and we were in a beaten up old 4x4, driving across the Tibetan landscape for a week before we neared the trail to Everest Basecamp, the final stop before we crossed the Himalayan border into Nepal.
The drive up to basecamp was a zigzag slog up rocky hills for hours on end. I watched the sun dip low in the sky as we climbed the scree mountainside before finally popping up over the crest of a hill and entering the mouth of a valley with a little stream running down its dusty centre.
(The climb up to basecamp)
We followed this stream (its source being the glaciers on Everest) towards a small huddle of tents in the distance, Everest’s North Face basecamp. Beyond these tents the valley continued higher and higher, with its far end cloaked in low clouds.
(Clouds concealing the mountain)
Upon arrival at basecamp, we dropped our backpacks in a spacious cloth tent that we rented for the night. The sun was dropping below the tops of the mountains at this point, bathing them in a deep orange glow while the valley floor grew cold and dark in the shade of the mountains on either side.
(The dying sun on the surrounding mountains)
The clouds had still not cleared, so we warmed our feet by the yak dung stove and drank cups of salty yak butter tea with the owner of our tent, a young, rosy cheeked Tibetan lady with a baby strapped on her back.
(The inside of our tent at basecamp)
After one too many cups of tea, I had to step out of the tent to take a piss, and that’s when I saw Mt. Everest for the first time.
The clouds at the end of the valley were drawing back, cleared away as if some unseen hand was tearing them away like pieces of cotton wool. The north face of the mountain was sheer and craggy, a patchwork of dark and imposing rock, and brilliant pearl white ice, rising high up into the inky sky. The last rays of the sun were already fading, but held enough power to light the mountain in orange and gold.
(Sunset on the highest point in the world)
It was magnificent, words truly don’t do it justice. The air was still and icy cold, and there was no sound. Only the crunch of gravel as I sat down outside the tent served to break that still silence, the kind of silence you only get at altitudes so high that there is nothing living to make a sound. In this moment I suddenly missed my home. I missed my girlfriend, who I had not been entirely faithful to on my travels, I wished she could have been there with me to experience that awe. I was humbled by it all, finding it difficult to bear the weight of all that emotion by myself. I needed someone to share it with me. I just sat there and watched as the colours on the face of that great mountain changed from gold to orange to purple, until the first cold stars started twinkling in the indigo sky above. As the sun’s light finally died, the mountain looked cold and ghostly under the light of the newly risen moon. The sky filled with stars and the Milky Way painted a glittering stripe over the tip of the dark mountain’s silhouette. I sat there well into the night and watched as the stars turned in the sky above that immovable, looming mountain top.
(The view up the valley from basecamp the next morning)
So began a love affair with Mt. Everest and the Himalayas in general, that has seen me visit Everest’s South face in the years since. However that first unveiling, when the clouds cleared in a valley in Tibet, remains one of the most moving moments of my life. I know I’ll return there one day.
Photo @coryrichards Olivia Hsu @olicow on the trail to #everest Basecamp during an assignment for @natgeo in 2012. Because of the traffic that Everest receives, the #Khumbu valley is one of the most affluent regions in Nepal. That said, a western Everest guide is paid 10-20 times as much as a Sherpa in an equivalent position…a disparage highlighted by the 2014 events on the mountain. @natgeocreative @thephotosociety @thenorthface #neverstopexploring @3strimgsproductions by natgeo