The Khumbu Mambo

Human traffic jams, drones, and generators

by John All

Normally this Mambo headline might make you think about stomach ailments, but in this case, it refers to the ‘backpack to trekking pole’ traffic jam that plagues the Namche every morning as a literal flood of tourists pour out of their tea houses in unison and head towards the Khumbu valley around 9am. Crowding among climbers on Mt. Everest has occupied newspaper and blog headlines recently, but the situation with trekkers is far worse.

Each person steps as the next person steps, slowly shuffling forward - it reminds me of people at Disney World waiting for the latest ride. But in this case, you are also dodging yaks and porters and the children running between your legs. Many of the tourists are not acclimatized and shuffle along with a zombie gait that infuriates the people who are better prepared.

As we moved up the Khumbu valley, we kept expecting the traffic to lessen. Amazingly, the entire valley - a seven day trek from Namche - was packed step for step with tourists. As we crossed onto the Khumbu glacier and the landscape became more and more stark, the traffic thickened as the air thinned. The trip from the highest village in the Khumbu - Gorek Shep - to Everest Base Camp normally takes me 45 minutes when I’m walking at a relatively brisk pace. Now, with the hordes of tourists flooding up the valley to see the fabled Base Camp, it takes two and a half hours as we politely follow the crowds and make way for porters bearing their massive loads.

Once you arrive in basecamp, there are an additional two new denizens that have wrenched this climbing haven into the ugly modern world.

The first was presaged by a loud whirring as a drone came swirling down the line, filming the tidal wave of humanity. We were surprised, thinking drones weren’t allowed in the national park. Apparently, for $10,000 they are and most mornings we are woken up by drones circling camp. My team mates have taken to flipping them off or mooning them. We’ve talked of sending for slingshots to further dissuade them. Taking acclimatization hikes to Kala Pattar or Pumori Base Camp often entails a drone circling the top as we futilely seek solitude as a reward for our efforts.

The final new addition to basecamp resulted from the earthquake emergency in 2015. Many inexpensive generators were brought in to provide emergency power. And they never left.

In the past we all ate dinner in early evening with a small gas heater to provide warmth. Once the sun was truly down and we were fed, in all but the most expensive camps, we all went to our tents and an early bed.

Now, when the sun goes down and the solar panel output fades, the roar of generators begins around camp. A 360 degree cacophony of sound. I thought to see if our camp could eschew the growling monsters. But the amazing array of cell phones, sports watches, cameras, go-pros, radios, and gps that everyone from western climbers to Nepali kitchen helpers possesses is truly dazzling. We have entered a fully digital age of electronics toys and necessities no matter your nationality or economic status. In the face of this global transformation, we lose the peace and silence of Everest Base Camp at night.