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  Mt. Everest 2004: Joseba Sanz Dispatch One

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 ancestors.

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 promising project.

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. Joseba Sanz Basque Country Spain

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera


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