The Shed - High on the Tibetan side of Everest
My first memories of bothying were in the early Sixties as a member of the Boys Brigade. I was making up the numbers on the Duke Of Edinburgh Award staying at Back Hill of the Bush in Galloway. The smell of wood and smoke, beans and sausage will stay with you forever and you always remember that first experience. As the youngest and smallest (I was given the most kit to carry, nothing changes) and enjoyed the crack so much I was hooked. Mountains and Bothies became my life, which has taken me all over the world.
I have been very fortunate to visit the Himalayas on several occasions and also to visit the highest mountain in the world. During 2001 I visited Everest from the North, the Tibetan side on a 3-month trip as a member of the RAF Mountain Rescue North Ridge Expedition. It was a fantastic trip in which we managed to get 2 team members to the summit and all get back safe and well (even more important). In between we carried out 3 rescues one at over 8000 metres for one of our own team, who was very ill. It was a magic trip, a successful expedition and the experience of a lifetime. Tibet is a wonderful place and what an adventure just getting to the Base camp.
Previous trips by friends to the West Ridge of Everest had been extremely hard as the winds and dust get everywhere and the constant noise of the wind during stormy spells makes resting at altitude very hard indeed. Base Camp on any big mountain should be as comfortable as possible, which is not easy to achieve in tents. One of our team had wintered in Antarctica, and he convinced us of the benefits of taking out a substantial Communal Base Tent, hence the idea of the "Shed" was born. He had had two wild trips to the North side of Everest, where the weather and winds from the Tibetan Plateau made life very hard at Base Camp (BC). We had a plan, "The Shed" this was a wooden prefabricated shed made by a local company in Scotland put together by bolts. The shed was transported curtsey of RAF Hercules to Kathmandu and then by vehicle to Everest Base camp at over 17500 feet. This is where the fun started; at altitude everything is very difficult, things have to be taken very slowly. The "Lego Shed" arrived safe and the boys put the shed up the next day. This caused much amusement of all at Base Camp. The politics game had to be played just like in Scotland where problems can arise with a difficult landowner whose land and bothy we use! Some of the top mountaineers said there would be no chance of getting permission to put up the Shed. The Chinese Liaison Officer whose word is final, controlled the Base camp area, after a few drams and the odd bottle he agreed permission to us putting the shed up. This amazed all the other expeditions at Base camp chance of getting permission to put up our shed. Politically we had to purchase a Chinese flag and fly it above our flags; it was game of "hearts and minds"
The local Tibetans were amazed when the Shed was up and we were the focal point for most of the expeditions during our stay. The comfort inside was amazing and once the door was shut at night it was a peaceful place. At various times during poor weather and disasters on the mountain, (there were 2 deaths when we were there) we all returned to Base Camp and spent some unbelievable nights in the Shed. It was amazing how the altitude affects the alcohol intake but we had some nights reminiscing of nights in the bothies at home. We were great friends with the Russians and various other expeditions and we had several wild nights with them during the bad weather. It was great to see how well everyone got on; we even had a bothy book to sign.
The Shed was an oasis of peace at times during the various epics that occurred on the mountain. Two friends from a Russian and a New Zealand expedition, died high on the mountain and the Shed was used on many occasions to bring people together after such sad events. At the end we were the last people on the mountain as we tried to get one more shot at another summit attempt. The weather was awful and we were lucky to get off the mountain without the loss of any of our team. I was the last of our team down from Advanced Base Camp at 21500 feet. The Sherpas and I brought down 50 Yak Loads of rubbish left by other expeditions. How can people treat such a majestic place in such a way? It reminded me of when we used to go round the popular bothies at the end of winter with the helicopter bringing back rubbish left by similar minded people in my own country. At least we tried and left the place a lot better thanks to our Sherpas and the local Tibetan Yak herders, who transported it, back to Base Camp.
It was decided to give the Shed to the local Tibetans to use as an eye hospital further down the Rongbook Glacier. At the end of the expedition we presented it to one of the local Tibetans' the first local to reach the summit. This was a fitting end to the "Shed" our Everest Bothy and a long way from these early days at Back Hill of the Bush!
This article was published in the Mountain Bothy Association Newsletter