69 days on Everest, 48 days on Cho Oyu twice, 54 days on the Gasherbrums, 70 Days on Broad Peak & K2 three times and that is just the 8000ers. I may not have summited all of them but i still have ten fingers and ten toes and a really great base camp setup. For those of you who have been on an expedition with me you will recall how plush i make my personal tent at base camp during expeditions. I wanted to write this article to help my teams and others out there overcome one of the toughest aspects of any expedition. The mental factor.
One of the most challenging parts of any expedition to the Himalaya, Karakoram, Andes or the other great rages of the world is staying comfortable and happy for those long periods of waiting at base camp. Regardless of the mountain, there is always a lot of time spent waiting in base camp and inevitably in your tent. 99% of expedition outfitters provide their members with a personal 3 man, North Face VE25 tent and a sleeping mat for base camp. the rest is up to you. Sure, there is always the dining tent with tables and chairs, maybe a heater, maybe some lights and if your lucky an insulated floor. I’ve led trips that have 30 inch flat street TVs and DVD players, generators, a dedicated communications tent with internet, phone and everything else under the sun. But when the lights go out and the day ends, do we really need to retire back to a cold tent with a sleeping mat, mummy bag and our down jacket for a pillow? No way! Here is the recipe for a super cozy and comfy personal sanctuary that will make life in your expedition base camp not only tolerable but enjoyable.
KEEPING YOUR TENT CLEAN AND ORGANIZED WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY
Be sure to find a way to keep everything organized in you home away from home. The reason for this is that it gives you something to do and also serves to help you find things when the lights go out. Instead of just dumping out your bag in your tent and finding somewhere to sleep, organize your things and keep them that way for the duration of the trip.
LIVING ON A GLACIER REQUIRES CONSTANT LANDSCAPING
Life on a glacier like the Baltoro can be described as dynamic. K2 base camp moves many centimetres each day, especially at night during the freeze thaw cycles. A tent can melt out very quickly and during our 2008 K2 expedition, one member had to use his ice axe to climb up the 1.5 meters to get into his convex tent platform. This can easily be remedied by constantly adding rocks and sand around the outer edges of your tent and keeping any bare ice covered. Building wind breaking walls, patios and sidewalks is always fun too. Also, it is something to do.
SHOP LOCALLY AND MAKE YOUR SELF A GREAT BED AND WARM TENT
No matter where you are, Kathmandu, Skardu or Zangmu, you can always get a few small items to make your sleeps at base camp perfect. For the cost of a case of beer one can change their house into a home. The following items are usually never mentioned on an expedition packing list but here they are:
- 3.5 meters of closed cell foam purchased locally ($4 usd)
- 2 pillows and pillow cases purchased locally ($5 usd)
- 1 or 2 synthetic fill duvet, comforter or thick blanket purchased locally ($10 usd)
- Hot water bag or bottle for your thermal enjoyment
All you need to do is lay down the foam, cut it to cover the entire floor of your tent, add the extra for under where you sleep and you are set. If you have 2 duvets use one on the floor and one to sleep under. A couple of pillows and you are will experience the pure ecstasy of a perfect base camp sleeping setup.
OPTIONS FOR ENTERTAINMENT MAKES FOR A PEACEFUL MIND. ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY
Now days, it is so easy to keep your mind active and stimulated. Sitting and counting the little squares in the ripstop (85, 671 in a VE 25) will drive a person crazy and create a lot of stress. Keeping busy will also keep you relaxed. Although it is unlikely that you will have free reign to zone out on your Facebook page or constantly tweet your every move, you can still feel like you are close to home. Here are a few essential items to keep the brain happy on those bad weather days at base camp.
- iPod touch or iPad loaded with games, movies and music.
- world band radio for all you news junkies.
- Small battery powered speaker for music and movies.
- a battery or solar powered lantern to hang at the apex of your tent.
- books, magazines, kindle. It is always great to bring a lot of books and put them into the public library in the dining tent after you are finished.
- a small laptop computer is also an option. If you have your own Thuraya phone get it hooked up to your computer and enjoy surfing the web or in Nepal, check out this article on communications on the cheap in Nepal.
- Thuraya or Irridium phone if you have an extra $1000.00 lying around.
KEEPING IT CLEAN, GREEN AND OFF THE GRID
One should never rely solely on a generator at base camps. The dirty fuel and high altitude wreak havoc on those little Hondas so lets just leave them at home for the next Y2K scare. Now days, solar technology is becoming so cheap and efficient there is really no excuse for not being totally green and clean, especially after flying half way around the world in a gas guzzling 747. Here is the ideal base camp power generation setup. It is a bit of an investment but in the end, it is an investment.
- I use the Goal Zero equipment and it is a near perfect solution. 27 watt solar, battery and power inverter. check out their website for all the specifics. They are a great little company and offer perfect service and friendly support. There are also many other options out there but try to have at least 20Watts of solar for yourself, just do it, its the 21st century.
- USB cables for charging.
- 12V car charger adapters for charging.
- wall socket chargers should be kept to a minimum(usually far less efficient), but the Goal Zero UI does a great job. My small setup charges my Macbook Air in 4 hours from a totally dead battery.
- rechargeable batteries & charger for your lantern and speaker.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL GOES A LONG WAY, BRING A LITTLE HOME WITH YOU.
Some people have a really hard time being away from their families, pets or girl/boyfriends. Combined with base camp lethargy and cold, it can really bring out the blues in anyone. Here are a few simple things to give you that warm cozy feeling when you need it most:
- photos of loved ones.
- small mementos that remind you of home.
- something from your daily life that uplifts your spirits.
- your favourite snack foods or drinks.
- writing letters to loved ones in a note book and giving it to them after.
- your lucky “rabbits foot” what ever it may be. (See Inception film)