Between March 16 and 28 I've been doing the Nepalese trekking of Everest,
passing by the most representative locations of the Sholu Khumbu, the
birthplace of Everest's Sherpas.
The triangle formed by Namche Bazar, Khumjung and Thame has been the cradle
of most of the Sherpas that have ascended Everest, achieving limited glory for
that, and of many more whose work has been to carry heavy loads dozens of
times up to the South Col (7,900 m.), with no merit for that. In fact, in
Namche we have had the opportunity to interview Gyalzen Sherpa, one of the two
only Sherpas who still live among those who participated in Hillary's
legendary expedition which crowned Everest's summit for the first time in 1953
and, in his 85 years of age, confessed that for them the summit was never
important: the mountain was nothing but a necessary way of life to be able to
bring home six rupees a day.
Critic and wise, without speaking a single word in English, Gyalzen is able
to see good and bad in Everest: the greed of the western man, the loss of
customs and tongue of the Sherpas, but also all the positive change that
brought Everest and Hillary in person: hospitals, schools, bridges... Sir
Edmund Hillary, after touching the sky, devoted all his efforts to improve the
way of life of the Sherpa people.
Eager to see Hillary's work, we approached Khumjung. In this town, at 3,900
m., under the imposing figure of Ama Dablam, we have decided to play a
solidarity soccer game with the Sherpa children. The principal of "Hillary
School" welcomes us and receives the material donated by Bilbao's Athletic
Club (jerseys and soccer balls). With other jerseys, donated by TNT courier,
they quickly organize two teams to play this game in the clouds. Although the
Sherpa kids demonstrated much improvement, the TNT-Sherpa team won 7 to 6.
Continuing our trekking, we visited the location of Thyangoche, where we
have our first sight of Everest, from the Buddhist monastery. In Pangboche we
had the chance to chat with Nima Tashi Sherpa, before he departed again to
Everest, to try to crown it for the eighth time.
Dizzy with all the wonderful landscapes, besides the height we are getting
at, we leave behind Periche and Gorak Shep, on the way to the place where we
will have the best panoramic view of Everest: Kala Patthar, at 5,600 m. After
the mandatory pictures with the flags of the red and white club and of the
Diputación de Bizkaia, the main sponsors of this adventure, we begin the
descent to the valleys where more surprises still await for us.
We go back to the "Sherpa triangle" and, after a whole day of following
rumors, signals and yaks, we find Ang Rita Sherpa, the Sherpa of all Sherpas,
the number one: 10 times on Everest without oxygen. He welcomes us in his
natal house at Jelayung and offers us that salted and thick tea of his Tibetan
Flooded with experiences, we go back to Namche Bazar, center of the Sherpa
World, to meet this time with Thsering Gyalzen, grandson of Gyalzen Sherpa.
The first and third generations join saving mountains: Gyalzen with his piolet,
Thsering with the help of a satellite. In his office, flooded with Sherpa
kids, he talks about the project he has recently started: education from a
distance via Internet for kids of the Thame School. In a valley that has no
electricity, no telephone, or no communication means that is not a satellite,
the effort of Thsering means the continuity of the Sherpa tongue and culture,
and for that he is accepting donations from any part of the world. Not in
vain, he has had the honor of donating the first -modest- rupees for this
The final surprise was still to come. Guided by illusion, we continue
investigating roads and following paths in English, Sherpa and Nepalese, in
the search of Pasang Temba, a legendary character in Euskal Herria, who went
along with Zabaleta to the summit in that first Basque ascent to Everest, in
1980. The confusion and smile on Temba's face is followed by a warm welcome of
all his family, the tea and a long chat. Pasang remembers clearly his friends
then and recalls with love (and also anguish) the terrible bivouac near the
summit in which never have a Basque and a Sherpa shared so much solidarity.
Making a stop in the climbing -of remembrances and emotions- he proudly shows
us that picture that has a prominent place in his home and that became an icon
in Euskadi: Pasang on the top of the world, arms high, making the victory
sign. As in the Hillary and Tenzing ascent, and contrary to what happens these
days, in that occasion "sahib" was not in the picture. Pasang waves us goodbye
with an "Eskerrk Asko, Agur", to let us fly the next day, happy and tired,
from Lukla to Katmandu.
Here is where the real work of the expedition begins. The last preparations
before leaving to Tibet and the first interview with Elizabeth Hawley, known
as the "notary" of Everest, a British old lady that has more than 40 years
registering facts and achievements of a "sport" for the crazy. She confirms
the ascents, certifies the achieved summits: the western world is thirsty of
news. Meanwhile, the Sherpas, anonymous heroes of the daily activities,
continue fighting in Khumbu to stay loyal to their way of life.
Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera