Friday, December 4, 2009

On Everest

Image of the Himalayan plateau rising above vast cloud banks; Qomolangma is on the right.Dear Gentle Reader,

My chest still hurts.

Sitting, standing, lying...

All positions are uncomfortable.

It reminds me of when I had altitude sickness in the high Karakorum between China and Pakistan.

Lucky me.

That memory twigs me to the pills I took to avoid altitude sickness when I went to Mt. Everest.

Or, Mt. Sagarmatha (सगरमाथा) as the Nepalese call it.

But, Mt. Sagarmatha is a political name chosen for internal, political reasons in the 1960s with no real historic or linguistic or cultural ties to Mt. Everest; the Nepalese who lived near Mt. Everest used the same name for the mountain that the Tibetans did.

We could call Mt. Everest what the Chinese call it on the theory that a billion people can't be wrong (I used to call this the Coca Cola argument).

The Chinese call the mountain Zhumulangma Feng (珠穆朗玛峰 in (Mainland) China, or 珠穆朗瑪峰 elsewhere [spot the difference? The 'horse' radical, ma, 馬, is simplified to 马 in (Mainland) China]).

But, Zhumulangma Feng is simply the Chinese transliteration of the Tibetan name for Mt. Everest.

Qomolangma (ཇོ་མོ་གླིང་མ), the Saint Mother, is what the Tibetans call Mt. Everest.

The British, via the Royal Geographic Society, would have called Mt. Everest Qomolangma if they had been allowed to enter either Tibet or Nepal to survey it...

(As, again, the Nepalese who lived close to Mt. Everest called it Qomolangma just like the Tibetans did.)

...But, the British surveyors were given access to neither Nepal nor Tibet. They, also, were given no information about the mountains' names which they wanted to survey--that was top secret stuff.

To be fair, in a sense the names of the mountains was top secret to the Nepalese and the Tibetans as the mountains were variously seen as homes of the Gods, in the Hindu tradition, or Gods themselves worthy of veneration and offering.

And the British surveyors were not questing for religious edification and purification and so were unworthy.

The British were on a purely secular mission, surveying the mountains of the Indian sub-continent in the mid-nineteenth century. Further, the Tibetans and the Nepalese were worried that maps could be used for political and military campaigns of annexation.

Not that the British ever hankered after empire...


Why is that mountain called Mt. Everest in English?

The Surveyor General of India, who surveyed the mountain, in the absence of any hope of finding out the local name, named it after his predecessor, Col. Sir George Everest.

Now you know.

Every day, during the season that we visited, Mt. Everest is shrouded by clouds.

Image of clouds shrouding Mt. Everest / Qomolangma.
On some days, however, you are lucky and the clouds blow away just before dusk to return just after dawn.

On the last day of the road trip to arrive at Mt. Everest we drove through a massive cloud bank.

And then we parked under the cloud bank.

Worse, a storm blew into base camp.

At two in the morning I was woken by distant thunder.

Image of yak dung burning in a fire for heat at Everest Base Camp.I dressed, put some more yak dung in the fire for everyone else, and stepped outside.

The night was black and stars twinkled faintly--the storm had passed by as had the clouds, but I still couldn't make out the outline of Mt. Everest against the night sky.

Just then lightning branched across the horizon, in the distant darkness, zig-zagging through a monumental arc of the sky.

...Except for one chunk of sky that stayed black... a mountain shaped chunk...

...The storm had moved to Nepal and the lightning was behind the backside of Qomolangma.

As I stood, counting while waiting for the thunder to work out how far away the lightning strike had been, another fork of light split and lit the sky, except for the Everest-shaped patch of blackness in the night.

I raced back into the hut to wake your Heroine and our two traveling companions.

We all rushed outside and quietly froze, chattering softly, waiting in wonder for lightning until neck fatigue and bitter winds forced an eventual retreat to the warmth of the hut and the yak dung fire.

We, however were glowing; we had seen Everest, or, at least, her silhouette.

At 4:30 I awoke again, stoked the fire, warmed your Heroine's clothes, and eased her out of a sleep which she clung strongly to.

We woke our companions and we all went softly out of camp, hoping for some private time with Qomolangma, Mother Saint, when the sun would, hopefully, reveal her.

The other couple decided to walk to a slightly higher stone valley where everyone else would also head, later.

We worried that sunrise might come before we crested the hill so your Heroine and humble scribe chose to traipse across the valley floor, amidst a herd of previously sleeping yaks, until we found the angle which we thought would be best for us.

We hung out in the chilled darkness waiting for the sun's messengers to visit amongst the quiet huffs of softly remonstrating yaks and the sparkling, improvised melody of a glacial stream.

When the sun's first messengers finally did arrive they were followed by a (light) cavalry charge that caught Mt. Everest in profile and then ricocheted to us.

Each photon seared itself into a memory which in turn is hardwired to what your humble scribe calls the Everest grin, a manic manifestation of joy on the face.

Science tells me that that manic state is related to the lack of oxygen at high altitude; I prefer the experiential explanation of just being at Everest at dawn.

Dawn's crash troops kept racing up the near face of Everest and then cascaded, reflected, into our valley.

Image of Qomolangma (Mt. Everest) at dawn from the Tibetan side.
Soon we saw Qomolangma in all her glory.

Image of Everest in the morning from the Base Camp valley.

Even then, of course, although Mt. Everest was lit up and gleaming, our valley was still in shadow; direct sunrise for the valley floor was still a short time away.

The scientific consequences of the sun hitting the Himalayan valley floors, however, was inimical to visibility.

As the sun's heat started to directly penetrate the valleys, especially lower down in the Himalayas, the close-hanging, thick, condensed, ground-hugging fog warmed up.

Warmth, of course, is merely a proxy measurement for the activity of atoms and molecules.

The hotter things are the faster their component parts and particles are moving.

Fog, when it warms up, like everything else, takes up more space and becomes more energetic. Further, as relatively hotter things do, like steam or hot air balloons, warmed fog rises.

So, the sun that gifted us with a vision of Qomolangma would also provide the engine, hot streams of photons, to raise an opaque veil and prevent us from seeing her, shortly.

One hour after sunrise the Himalaya's valleys' cloud banks had already risen to just below the feet of base camp.

Image of fog streaming up from the valleys to become clouds that will shroud Mt. Everest from view.

Within another ten minutes this rising fog would swallow base camp and, finding thermal equilibrium a few hundred meters higher, would hang, as if pinned, as a cloud around the base of Mount Everest.

For the rest of the morning these clouds would shroud the Saint Mother from prying eyes so that she could attend to her morning toilette in peace.

And then they would stay to provide her with solitude and peace to nap the day away.

And, maybe, maybe they would let us peek into her boudoir again, that evening.

Only time would tell.


Today's music is by an unknown, possibly renegade group of Tibetan musicians. The cd was a compilation cd called "Cuckoo's Love Sang" (sic) and it has no identification of the singers, or the publishers, or the distributors.

Further, the sellers were unwilling to tell us anything, especially when we asked in Chinese.

That means I know of nowhere to send you to get more information.

But, you can click here to listen to what we call 'Plucked Strings and Chanting Monks / the Second Song of the Tibetan Road Trip to Everest Mix' by unknown Tibetan musicians...


Fireblossom said...

If they had only waited, they could have named it after Sir Edmund Hillary. Then it could be Ed's Hill. This lacks majesty, I know, and yet naming it after a minor functionary isn't majestic, either.

Your first glimpse of Everest, in silhouette backlit by lightning, seems appropriate for such a singular place. What an image that conjurs in my mind! wowwwwwww

Cloudia said...

Yes, the high places are meeting spaces with the gods. The Hawaiians agree.

My post tomorrow treks into a valley...compared with your journey here....well, I'm just happy to have enjoyed this mind expanding experience with you and our Heroine. Pommes must have been relaxing back home, LOL.

Aloha, Magic Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Teresa said...


I'm not going to ruin the moment with words.

Teresa said...

But I do need to thank you for sharing the wonder.

murat11 said...

Glorious. With the thunder and the night view, I immediately flashed to Eliot's "What the Thunder Said," from The Waste Land. Your thunder said plenty. Mucho plenty.

Richard said...

Hopis believe mountains are repositories of spiritual energy. Amen to that.

Why does your chest hurt? Should we be worried?

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Fireblossom,

It was quite the image, and the sudden apparition of a backlit mountain, in fact of The mountain, in the midst of the blackest night, went slightly beyond striking.

As per naming, I hear you...

I am pretty sure, however, that Sir Hillary would not have allowed it to be named after him.

I heard him speak a few years ago, shortly before he died, and he didn't strike me as the sort that would allow it to be named after himself.

Mind you, Sir George Everest objected strenuously to it being named after hime--and it was named after him anyways...

Dear Cloudia,

Maoris, for example, agree, too. For that matter, so did the ancient Greeks.

I have been away over the weekend, as per normal, so I will tramp over and see which valley you have been tramping through.

Pommes was back home, but straining ever fibre of his body to astrally project. He didn't succeed, to our knowledge.

Dear Teresa,

You augment moments with your words, Teresa. :)

Dear Murat,

I hadn't flashed on that, and it is an apt flashback. I like that, amigo. I like that a lot.

Dear Richard,

The zones of intersection always tend to be popular real estate (land/water (the beach) or land/sky the hilltops and mountaintops)... there are lots of good reason to ascribe spiritual significance to certain locations. I certainly enjoyed our first time at Mt. Everest.

So, Amen to that.

As per my chest, I dislocated some ribs, or something like that, but they are back in position and feeling better, thanks.

Tschuess all,

debra said...

Wow, Chris, I see that I have not been here for a long time! And you have been traveling. Amazing!

The United Statesian said...

Nice to see that you are back with new posts. Sorry to hear about the ribs... this is not your year! Celebrate the end with a big bash and start anew!

Everest seems to have been a great experience. We just got back from the Pyrenees. Mountains are what I need!

Jeeves said...

Thanks for sharing the pictures. Wonderful post

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Debra,

I am always travelling and you are always welcome as part of your e-travels.

Dear United Statesian,

The ribs are tender. Just right for a chef, non?

We still don't know where we are going to be for New Years... the country is still a mystery...

We send our best to you both in Madrid. Save some almonds for our next visit (they were fantastic).

Dear Jeeves,

My pleasure, Jeeves. My pleasure.

Thanks for coming by!