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Shisha Pangma Basislager (April 10, 2011)

4/10/2011 - 7am

When we left Katmandu, there was already a lot of traffic here. Our minivan had to move cautiously through the narrow streets. On the outskirts of the city, we passed numerous brick furnaces. No wonder the air quality in Katmandu was so miserable. The black smoke from the countless stoves rises along with the smoke and smog from the traffic in the streets, made it very dusty.

The days spent in the hotel did me good, but I was happy to be moving on. The ride was very entertaining. Don Bowie and I discussed our plans for the next few months. The minivan was great because we could make ourselves comfortable, which made the five-hour drive to Zangmu go by quickly.

Zangmu is the border town between Nepal and China. But before we could cross the border, we would need to wait for our liaison officer to arrive. Once he came, we ate lunch, then walked to the border. There were two jeeps there, waiting to pick us up. Everything was controlled: we had to stand in the order of our permits, and our luggage was opened, then examined as if it was under a microscope. Books seemed to be especially interesting to the Chinese officials. They looked through every one of them very carefully. In the end, everything went quicker than expected, and we entered the Tibetan border region.

Suddenly, our surroundings changed entirely. The buildings were nothing but cold cement. It reminded me of Moscow's prefabricated buildings. Welcome to communism.

We spent the night in Zangmu, then woke up and drove to Nyalam, one hour from Zangmu. Our liaison officer needed an extra day to organize the yaks. 29 yaks were required for our expedition to the base camp of Shishapangma. Our group comprised of Don Bowie, Freddie Widmer (a journalist from Switzerland), Rob Frost (who works for the movie channel), Niklas Hallstrom (who managed a team of Sherpas), and our cook. I could not wait to begin our trip.

Don Bowie, my partner on this expedition, is 41 years old and had already climbed K2 without supplementary oxygen. He also made a successful attempt of climbing Gasherbrum Don. His quiet nature was appealing to me, and I was convinced that we would get along well on the mountain. Together we jogged on a nearby hill. It was good to be on our legs again, after spending so much time at the hotel.

When I arrived at the summit, I met two Tibetans who had kindled a fire in a small altar, and were sitting comfortably among the prayer flags. They were drinking Tibetan tea, and eating meat, which they offered to me, though I declined. As tempting as it was at that moment, I knew that my stomach wouldn't't be able to handle it.

When Don arrived, one of the Tibetans showed us the way to base camp. From the top of the valley you could see it well. We went over the ridge to the next summit, before descending. At 13.30 we ate lunch. The Chinese food was very good. I enjoyed their system of rice with various meat dishes and vegetables like tofu and mushrooms. We also drank Sprite; perhaps so we would't forget our Western roots. The only thing that I could complain about was that everything there was quite dirty. I hoped that we would survive the delicious meals without acquiring major stomach problems!

On the morning of the 13th we left Nyalam. We began our trek by riding 2 miles on a truck, until the road ended abruptly. At the stop we waited for the yaks and their drivers. Unfortunately, the weather did not seem to be on our side. The sky was overcast with cirrus clouds, and it looked like nasty weather wasn't very far behind.

The yak drivers loaded all of our equipment. Then they began a very lively discussion. We stood by and waited until the conversation ended. We discovered that we needed two more yaks! To avoid further delays, and paying extra money for more yaks, we decided to begin the expedition without them. As the drivers loaded the yaks, it began to snow.

The weather was horrible, but we continued our expedition, walking for the next seven hours through the thick snow. The temperature was nearly zero during the entire trek. At half past seven, we decided to rest and eat. Even with the harsh weather conditions, everything was running smoothly.

It snowed quite heavily all night. In the morning it looked like it would rip right open, and get much worse. Thankfully the Tibetans didn't want to run the risk of walking in such dangerous conditions, so we waited until noon, when the weather finally subsided. With the yaks leading the way, the snow became more manageable to walk across, especially when the sun began melting in our path.

I was finally able to enjoy this caravan of 31 yaks, 11 yak drivers, two Tibetan dogs and our team.

The base camp was located at 5306 meters on the edge of a lake. It was truly a wonderful place. The landscape was very open. There wasn't a narrow valley in sight. On the contrary, there were large, wide areas throughout the Tibetan plateau which were all bounded by the highest mountains on earth.

When we finally reached the base camp, we decided that we would now determine our own rhythm.

Kind regards,

Ueli Steck

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