November 11, 1999

Intro
Meet the Team
March 31, 1999
April 2, 1999
April 5, 1999
April 8, 1999
April 11, 1999
April 19, 1999
April 21, 1999
April 25, 1999
April 27, 1999
April 30, 1999
May 2, 1999
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Latest Dispatch

April 8, 1999

Thyangboche, Namche Bazaar, and Khumbu

(Note: Nationalgeographic.com does not research or edit dispatches.)

THYANGBOCHE:

Thyangboche [monastery] is on a ridge in the Dudh Khosi river valley, and the main route up and down valley passes the Gompa (monastery) which has been the subject of numerous photos.

The Gompa is home to the Guru Rinpoche who brought Buddhism to Tibet and by extension, to the Sherpa culture. The current Guru Rinpoche is one of a long line of reincarnations going back many centuries. Pete Athans and I have met the current Guru several times on the way into expeditions.

So it feels good to be back here in Base Camp. Everyone’s excited about our puja, which will take place the day after tomorrow. One lama who will be coming up from Pangboche will give the final blessing to the team. Then we’ll be able to move under his good auspices up to Camp I and we’ll actually send a Sherpa team to Camp II. The monastery burned down about a decade ago after the installation of electricity—the inevitable case of an electric heater left on in the wrong location. After a very successful fund-raising campaign—for which I will refer you to Norbu Tenzing of the American Himalayan Foundation in San Francisco for further details which I do not have to hand at base camp—the monastery was rebuilt, and the interior is a very fine example of Buddhist liturgical art.

Download the Thyangboche QTVR panorama (160K).
(You will need the QTVR plug-in.)

In the panorama, the Gompa appears towards the left. The mountain behind is Khumbila, one of the holy mountains in the area, also visible from Namche Bazaar just peeking over the rear of the natural amphitheater.

Download the Namche QTVR panorama (160K).

Swinging towards the center of the image are various lodges which supply a good annual income to the Gompa. In the left center in the distance is the Everest massif. The summit pyramid of Everest is visible over the Nuptse ridge, and the peak on the right of the massif is Lhotse (fourth highest mountain). To the right of Lhotse is the silhouette of Ama Dablam, the most picturesque peak in the region. Although it looks higher than Everest, it is a relative pup at 23,000 feet (7,015 meters). Passing over the ridge/mountains caught in the glare of the morning sun, we end at the Tashi Delek lodge and assorted trekking tents.

KHUMBU:

Download the Khumbu QTVR panorama (160K).

This panorama is the battlefield of the titans. Plate tectonic motion is driving India beneath Tibet giving rise to the greatest train wreck on the planet, while glaciers wear away the proverbial train carriages as they are pushed and stacked on top of each other. Recently new players have entered the arena—global warming and glacial recession. The panorama was taken on the formerly-medial-now-lateral moraine of the Khumbu glacier. That is to say that the small valley to the left of the ridge used to contain another glacier probably originating from the Chang Ri basin, joined by smaller glaciers descending from Lobuche Peak. Looking up the ridge you see the conical peak of Pumori, and to its right the lesser peaks of Lingtren and Khumbutse. Both are the border with Tibet and their flanks define Everest Base Camp.

To the right of the ridge (moraine) is the Khumbu glacier itself. Unlike the popular image of glaciers as glistening white rivers of snow and ice, this one has a granola topping of rocky debris which has fallen down from the surrounding mountains. It is only right at Base Camp, immediately below the Ice Fall that the glacier displays a classical “white” aspect. I estimate the glacier to be 1,000 to 2,000 feet (305 to 610 meters) thick (assuming the bottom of the glacier has a very shallow slope, and then subtracting the altitude of Tugla below the terminal moraine from the altitude of Base Camp).

To the right of the Khumbu is Nuptse, and if you look carefully you will see a half moon of paler rock pushing up into the darker overlying rock. This is a batholith or pluton of granite that rose up into the overlying sedimentary rocks, cooking them into schists and marbles. The pluton extends the whole way under the Everest massif, and is visible in the Western Cwm where the Khumbu glacier has scraped a gouge through the middle of the original mound of rock. It is possible that the buoyant uplift from the pluton has contributed to Everest’s height. Moving past Nuptse, the entire lower glacier is visible with several melt water tarns visible (currently frozen over).

At the far end of the glacier you can see a puff of cloud rising over the terminal moraine. This is a dust cloud from the Pheriche valley. This winter has been so dry that everything is very dusty, and indeed forest fires have been burning elsewhere in Nepal, making the atmosphere very hazy except at the highest altitudes. To the right of the terminal moraine are the mountains of Tawoche and Cholatse, with the least snow any of us can remember. Finally at the right hand side of the panorama is the mountain Lobuche East, with a glacier which is rapidly receding back from its most recent terminal moraine—perhaps evidence that global warming has reached the high Himalaya.

—Charles Corfield (typing in a hurry after a morning trip to through the Ice Fall to Camp I and back).

Everest Main