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Krakauer covers the first days and nights of the trek in this chapter. They spend their first night in Phakding, a place close enough to the ground to sustain some homes and lodges. As they keep walking, they encounter Namche Bazaar, what Krakauer describ es as "Sherpa society." The chapter explains and deconstructs the stereotypes associated with Sherpas. Krakauer explains that not all Nepalese are Sherpas—in fact, only 20,000 Sherpas inhabit Nepal. They are a Buddhist mountain society who migrated from Tibet hundreds of years ago. Their villages are rugged and tough, and for the most part they don't use cars, bikes or any wheeled transportation. Yaks are used for transport, food, milk and other staples. Sherpas were first used as climbing guides in 1921, and ever since the economy of the villages is directly related to the Everest's climbing season. The culture has also been affected by the fact that about one-third of the people who have died on Everest were Sherpas.
Sherpas compete for spots on expeditions, and teahouses and lodges compete for the travelers' business. Trees are cut down for firewood, Sherpa teenagers wear blue jeans and paraphernalia from American sports teams and families spend time playing American video games. The influx of money has improved schools, medical facilities, bridges, energy supplies and other aspects of life.
As the climbers make their way to Base Camp, they begin the process of acclimatization. Because they have all just arrived from sea level, it takes longer and there are some days when the climbers don't go anywhere at all.
They arrive at Tengboche, the most important Buddhist monastery in the village. While there, Krakauer meets the "head lama" of Nepal. The lama speaks to them, blesses them and offers a token intended to please God and ward off harm. The lama shows Krakaue r a photo album of a recent trip to America. There were pictures in Washington, at the Lincoln Memorial and Space Museum, and in California. The lama shows his favorite two pictures: one of him with Richard Gere and another of him with Steven Seagal.
Krakauer finds himself spending most of his time with Doug Hansen and Andy Harris. Harris and his significant other, Fiona McPherson, had just begun building a house together, but he couldn't pass up the opportunity to climb the mountain. Harris and h is girlfriend had both climbed in the Himalayas and even helped run a medical clinic to treat altitude related sickness. Hall's girlfriend, Jan Arnold, had worked alongside McPherson during Hall's first climb up Everest. Arnold and Hall both summated Everest together in 1993, and during Krakauer's trek Arnold was seven months pregnant with their first child.
That night during dinner, Hall and Harris have a conversation about the inevitability of a disaster on Everest, especially given the lack of experience of some of the climbers that hire guides. No one realizes just how prophetic this conversation is.
They spend the next night at Lobuje, a village with a filthy climbers' lodge. Base Camp is only one day away, but a heavy snowfall is keeping many travelers at Lobuje. The lodge is disgusting—people defecate outside, fleas and lice inhabit the bunks , and the heat is supplied by burning yak dung. While there, Hall learns of a Sherpa, Tenzing, who has fallen into a crevasse higher up on the mountain. Although he has been pulled out, he has a broken femur. Hall leaves the group at Lobuje and goes t o help the rescue effort. They later find out that Tenzing fell because he was climbing without a rope. Krakauer describes a number of events that befell young Sherpas whose guides did not impress upon them the importance of adhering to safety rules. The most gruesome of these stories had actually been witnessed by one of Krakauer's teammates, Frank Fischbeck. A young Sherpa who neglected to clip his rope fell from a distance of nearly 2,000 feet.
The differences between the terrain at the bottom of the mountain and the terrain at the top is vast. It is lush and vibrant as they climb to Base Camp, and Krakauer climbs in shorts and a t-shirt. This perpetuates the idea that the top of the mountain i s an entirely different world than anywhere else, even from other spots on the same mountain.
Krakauer spends much of the chapter talking about Sherpas, who they are and how the commercialism of Everest affects them. As westernized as many of them appear to be with their video games and Chicago Bulls hats, they benefit from the income. At first, K rakauer seems to be imparting a negative view on the fact that Sherpa culture is now so closely linked to the mountain's tourism. This may be an outsider's view when looking in on the Sherpa culture, expecting something more ancient and less connected wit h the modern world. He acknowledges that the Sherpas themselves don't necessarily see the changes as negative: "Most of the people who live in this rugged country seem to have no desire to be severed from the modern world or the untidy flow of human progr ess. The last thing Sherpas want is to be preserved as specimens in an anthropological museum" (58). This is yet another angle of Everest-associated fame. The Sherpa culture is famous because of their use as guides up the mountain. The economy has benefit ed, and the schools and roads have been improved. An element of authenticity might be lost, but unlike the money going to the climbers and the guides, the money that comes to the Sherpas is almost revolutionary. Krakauer says that the average per capita i ncome for a Sherpa is $160. The money a Sherpa makes accompanying an expedition is ten or twenty times that much—a veritable fortune.
The lama's connection to western culture is also surprising. After performing a ritual, he pulls out pictures of himself with American movie stars. This interaction meshes the ancient and the ultra-modern in a fairly bizarre way. One might expect a Sherpa , especially a lama, to be totally removed from pop culture. To learn that he not only is linked to popular culture, but proud of that link, is a shock. Krakauer reserves comment, however, and expresses primarily surprise. We are left to wonder how much t his really changes the culture, if at all, or whether the integration of western elements is an inevitable process.
Hall and Harris's conversation about the inevitability of disaster on Everest is eerily prophetic. Worse is Hall's comment that "it wouldn't be him; he was just worried about 'having to save another team's ass,' and that when the unavoidable calamity stru ck, he was 'sure it would occur on the more dangerous north side' of the peak—the Tibetan side."
It isn't long before conditions become inhospitable. The climbers haven't even arrived at Base Camp before they receive their first bit of bad news, about the mishap of Tenzing. Especially with Krakauer's comments about the inexperience of some of the cli mbers, it is both ironic and scary that the first injured party is not a climber, but a Sherpa. This reinforces the idea that no one is safe or immune from the mountain and its dangers.
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