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Tibet Traverse 1999 – Everest basecamp

Before going to sleep I glance yet again at the star filled sky: thousands upon thousands of stars are visible in the thin atmosphere at 4,200 metres. However, the world´s highest summit at 8,850 metres above sea level – the Tibetans call it the “goddess of the earth” has still not let itself be glimpsed. Snow covered mountains form a dark, impenetrable wall as if this mountain"s secret should remain hidden as long as possible... Working desperately hard, I "flail" between huge stones and boulders. The gravel track resembles a dry streambed that rises steeply. It zigzags over an emormous area of scree. The small number of jeeps, which pass, can still be seen for some time over a long distance. Their engines screaming, they crawl up the mountainside bend after bend.
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At 5,000 metres above sea level, breathing becomes difficult; my bike often threatens to tip over. A short break, my strength is fading rapidly. But giving up is simply not an option. The desire to reach my dream of goal is too great, the longing too strong. 80 kilometres and 2,000 metres` altitude are still ahead of me, however. They will be the toughest kilometres` cycling of my life! A national park, which extends round the Tibetan part of Mount Everest, lies at 4,300 metres a few kilometres from Friendship Highway, which links the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, with Nepal. For me the long climb to Pang La, which is 5,120 metres high now begins. The Tibetan word "La" means pass and for a cyclist that means many hours` pedalling up into the breathtaking mountain landscape of the Himalayas. Not until several kilometres have passed is it clear that one opportunity for obtaining supplies that I had reckoned on is not going to arise again. Turning back is no longer feasible because of the distance. My supplies are almost exhausted. 30 kilometres and 1,100 metres` altitude to the next village. And this has happened after almost three months on the road in Tibet. Irritating! I pump stream water through my ceramic filter, plunder my last supplies. They will not fill me up. This will make the ride up to the pass even more difficult than I had expected without this problem. The thin air, my heavy luggage and the bumpy track cause me a lot of difficulty.
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However, having reached the top, I can scarcely describe either my mood or the view: a sea of colourful, waving prayer flags and a fascinating view of the boundless Himalayas quickly make me forget all my hard work. If the weather is clear, there is a glorious view of the chain of 8,000 metres high mountains. Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Gyachung, and Everest. I do not reach the next village far down in the valley until evening. It´s not much faster going downhill; I keep the bike at walking pace until the wheel rims glow and my hands ache from constantly braking. Before going to sleep, I glance yet again at the star filled sky: thousand upon thousands of stars are visible in the thin atmosphere at 4,200 metres. However, the world´s highest summit at 8,850 metres above sea level has still not let itself be glimpsed. Snow covered mountains form a dark, impenetrable wall as if this mountain´s secret should remain hidden as long as possible. Next day, I carry on under a blue sky and in a dazzling sunshine. The path crosses fields of scree and sandy wastes and is cut again and again by streames and watercourses. Behind every hairpin bend, higher and more precipitous mountains are visible. It cannot be much further now. A final break. A shepherd tending yak assuresme that my destination is to be found just behind the mountain, the Rongbuk monastery, apparently the worlds´s highest monastery at the foot of the Qomolangma "the goddess of the earth" as the Tibetans reverently call the world´s highest mountain.
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Impatiently I set off. I am afraid of only seeing Everest swathed in clouds, as many travellers have already had to experience it. The route seems endless. The state of the road gets worse and worse and I feel my strenght ebbing more and more. I catch sight of a summit, that must be it, the mountain of my dreams! I push against the pedals yet more impatiently. A crowd of monks accompanies me for a little while. Despite the heavy load that they are bringing to the monastery, they help me to push my bike. Their cheerful singing seems to distract them from their efforts. Following two hours of agony, I finally stand before the gates of the monastery at 5,100 metres above sea level. Overwhelmed I stand before the world´s mightiest mountain. The glacier, the imposing north face, the ice-covered summit are revealed in all their glory. My dream has become a reality; I´ve managed it through my own efforts. An unbelievable feeiling of happiness seizes me, a feeling that no money in the world can buy. The next morning, my tent and bike are covered with film of ice. The valley where the monastery is situated is still entirely dark but the world´s highest mountain is already gleaming in the sun´s first rays. The low-lying sun shows marked contours on the north side of the mountainous mass. As the light increases, the whiteness of the everlasting ice becomes more and more dazzling and the blue sky behind it more and more intense. At midday, I reach the Everest Base Camp, a few kilometres above the monastery, with a colourful, highly mixed group of hikers. The base camp consists of a permanent mountain rescue building, of campsites and a stone slab with the simple inscription "Mt. Qomolangma Base Camp 5,200 metres". One can scarcely believe that many major expeditions started here. We meet a group of Spanish mountaineers, who are just preparing to climb Cho Oyu (8,153 m). Their equipment was transported to the base camp by lorry. Following a few days´acclimatisation, they will start their arduous climb to the summit.
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I then carry on for a while on foot, to the Rongbuk glacier: a wide, gigantic ribbon of ice runs for kilometres into the valley. While walking, I become even more clearly aware of the immense dimensions of this mountainous world. I walk for several hours but get scarcely any closer to the mountain. In the only "pub" for miles around, the few travellers sit together in the cosy bar and tell each other of their experiences and adventures on their travels. It´s wonderful after many lonely kilometres` pedalling. Momos (pastry envelopes with various fillings), egg rice and chapattis (thin, flat bread) are consumed. Calories and carbohydrate are important. Finally I will go back over the same route for the next two days. At night, I crawl out of the tent once more. The north face of Everest lies in the gentle light of an infinite number of stars. The "goddess of earth" has cast her spell over me.
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