Beer at Everest Base Camp
Deep in the Himalayas, the great house of snow that runs like a backbone along the north side of Nepal, lies Everest Base Camp. For some, it’s the destination, but for others, it’s only the beginning of a higher adventure.
After seven days of cold, tortuous walking, I pull myself up to the EBC at 17,600 feet. I’ve finally made it. Catching my breath, I meet the eye of the other hiker at the top. He smiles. (Or I think he does; it’s hard to tell under his sunglasses and muffler.) Four other foreigners strike silly poses as their sherpa guides snap dozens of photos.
Sunny skies create a deceivingly pleasant atmosphere, but a hard wind blows down the surrounding snow-covered giants. Prayer flags wave here and there, and a pile of knick-knacks left by the hikers of days past takes center stage, nearly overshadowing the main attraction. Above us, Mount Everest calls.
It’s February 2015. Soon, this base camp will fill with hopefuls in the weeks leading up to the big climb. But for now, it’s too cold, and the path through the icefall hasn’t been set, a job reserved for the most experienced sherpas.
Standing in the shadows of the Himalayas, it’s hard to forget that tragedy struck just the year before. Sixteen sherpa mountaineers were killed in an avalanche while preparing the route. My guide told me his friend was one of them.
Shaking off a bit of melancholy, I dig around in my pack. With gloved hands, it’s a bit difficult, but I’m able to locate the can of beer I’d purchased for the occasion.
Back in Gorak Shep, the last accommodation point before Everest Base Camp, the innkeeper had asked if I’d like a can of Everest Beer to take with me. Her latest supply shipment had arrived yesterday by yak. I accepted her offer, ready to toast my accomplishment. Now, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake.
The altitude sickness, which my body has barely held at bay through the past 48 hours, is beginning to set in. Dozens of EBC hikers are evacuated every year, a fact made evident by the red helicopters we spot daily. For most, the sometimes deadly affliction begins with headaches and nausea, symptoms I’ve felt come and go for the past 48 hours. Altitude sickness is only exacerbated by alcohol.
Throwing caution to the wind and joining in the celebratory atmosphere, I revel in the refreshing snap of tin as the can peels open. Waiting for the sound of carbonation escaping its confines, I’m instead rewarded with an eruption of what can only be described as beer slushie. Elated, I slurp up a few sips as my exposed hand freezes against the can.
Quite suddenly, angry clouds gather around nearby peaks, and the mood shifts. The eyes of my sherpa guide dart around, assessing the situation.
“We must go. Snow is coming.” My guide is ready to leave. I glance down at my still full Everest Beer sitting among strings of colorful prayer flags.
“Leave it. The gods will enjoy,” the sherpa says.