Everest Diary: Lobuche - Poor hygiene means midnight blues on the top of the world

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The Independent Online
WEATHER permitting, we will move up to Everest Base Camp tomorrow and the more serious phase of our expedition to the top of the world will begin. For almost two weeks we have been winding our way deeper into the Khumbu, the tree line was left behind several days ago and now we are in a land of dazzling ice cliffs and glacial moraine.

I am just starting to enjoy the trip again after a couple of days suffering from the rotten guts that seems to have afflicted most of our Himalayan Kingdom's team at some point during the walk-in. The "call of the Khumbu" is the unarguable midnight summons to the stinking shack at the back of the lodges where we have been staying.

Most climbers and trekkers get ill at some point and it is not difficult to see why. Although the lodge menus contain familiar and seemingly safe dishes such as egg on toast, pancakes, and chips - the local potatoes are delicious, particularly with something like a Yak steak sizzler - kitchen hygiene is a bit rudimentary for sensitive Western stomachs.

Lodge kitchens certainly have atmosphere; thick with wood smoke from the black stove, all the Sherpa family is there somewhere in the shadows. Grubby fingers are dipped into pots to test the temperature and the dish is quite likely to be brought to the table by a child who will inevitably have a face smeared with snot. I make no complaint. God forbid that European hygiene regulations should be applied here. But just beware.

So, for our four-hour walk yesterday, up from Dingboche at 4,350m to the "Hotel 8000 Inn" at 5,100m, just above the hamlet of Lobuche, I was on auto-pilot after starving out my system. Once in the lodge I got into my sleeping bag and reached for the Discman. Andy Kirkpatrick, the sage and assistant at the Derbyshire gear shop Outside, who I have quoted before, said there were two essentials for Himalayan climbing: "A pee bottle and a personal stereo". Well, we haven't yet reached an altitude where the former is a necessity when tent bound, but the stereo is certainly an invaluable retreat.

Around the lodge was the sound of yak bells and rushing glacial water, while inside my head I was cruising the Alfa down to a sunny beach in Cornwall to the blues rhythms of Mike Henderson and the Bluebloods. Thus was a recovery made.

Arriving at Base Camp tomorrow, assuming we do, will be like stepping into one of the most famous addresses in mountaineering history - the starting point of Hillary and Tensing's first ascent in 1953, Chris Bonington's 1975 South West Face expedition and many others. Our Sherpa, Sirdar Pema, and his crew, are already there and the tents should be set up. Arjun, the cook, went up today.

On the walk-in we have had little contact with the other expeditions bound for Everest in this pre-monsoon season. In Namche we met briefly several members of an Iranian team. There are 17 of them but their Himalayan experience is scant. I saw three trying to buy rope in a Namche store and reportedly a concerned shopkeeper actually turned away business by advising the Iranians against buying clothing he thought inadequate. Ill- equipped and inexperienced teams who are hell-bent on planting their national flag is one of the biggest worries as the South Col route up Everest becomes crowded around summit time.

A Singaporean team, also hoping to establish a national first, is already installed at Base Camp. They got an early taste of what the mountain weather is capable of when high winds demolished several of their smaller tents. It promises to be quite an international circus.