Only an insane love of motorcycles and mountains can lead to a journey like this. Because Everest is not a destination, but THE destination. Flying to the Himalayas in late December to begin a unique trip from Lhasa, the main city of Tibet, a region of China, to Everest Base Camp. A touch of madness is required, of this there is no doubt.
But why late December? Not because we like to travel in the cold, no. We decided to go during winter simply because there is more chance of seeing the top. The warm season, between June and September, is equivalent to monsoon season. Clouds and snow at high altitude mean that the summit is constantly hooded, with very few days of clear skies around its 8,848 m peak.
The trip includes daily stages of about 300/400 km, also off-road, with temperatures ranging from zero to -20°C. Our overnight stays are in structures that have been closed for months, as this is not the season for tourists and mountaineers, who usually frequent the area in spring, and so they are quite literally freezing.
Dressing properly is not just advisable but essential. There are two levels to your choice of clothing and you can either wrap up well, with the aim of resisting and not freezing to death, or go a step further, equipping yourself with everything that might help you achieve thermal comfort, even in such extreme conditions. The difference is that if you travel well even at -20°C, then you can ride and enjoy the roads and views without thinking about the fact that it's cold. Because.... yes, it’s cold. And so you need a winter touring outfit in Gore-Tex, for maximum insulation against the external environment and any bad weather, goose down padding, the best for tackling the cold, the real cold, and then technical layersin an attempt to obtain optimal comfort despite the prohibitive conditions.
Once there, safely inside your microclimate, you discover that Tibet is wonderful even in winter, with its valleys, narrow gorges carved by ancient rivers, mountain lakes of a rare blue, and breathtakingly beautiful and imposing peaks. We travel constantly at high altitude, checking the oxygen in our blood several times a day using a device on our index finger, because you start out at 3,650 m in Lhasa and don’t descend below 4,000 m for days, with many sections over 5,000 m. When you get on the motorcycle, there is no time to gradually acclimatize, so it’s good to keep all parameters under control.
Our destination is North Base Camp, at the foot of the Rongbuk Glacier, which you can no longer reach by motorcycle. About a year ago, the Chinese government decided to stop motor vehicles 25 km back, so the rest of the journey is made by electric bus. They are also clearing the tons of garbage left behind at the Camp by commercial expeditions to the summit. In short, the authorities have moved to preserve it, because although it is a great source of tourism, it is primarily a natural heritage. And we like it that way. You get off the bus in front of the Rongbuk Buddhist Monastery and then walk the last kilometer.
You have Everest in front of you and it is impressive of course, but you don’t see an 8,000 m mountain in front of you, because you are already at 5,350 m and then it climbs another 3,500 meters or so. You can't breathe, there’s a very strong wind and it's cold, cold enough to cut your lips. If you smile they’ll tear instantly. But our body is protected and can cope, and so we stay there for half an hour, some taking in the mountain view while others reflect, say a prayer, or have a cry. But it’s a liberating sort of cry.
It wasn't that hard to get here, but it’s nice to do it and see the cloud-free mountain. Chomolungma , the Tibetan name for Everest, is a place that really means something, like few other sites in the world. This place has seen the stories, tears and hopes of streams of people, who all come for a reason, whether dreamers, athletes, or those seeking a challenge or rematch. Many have lost their lives here as they battled themselves or their demons. This place leaves you with real emotion. And the layers protecting us from the cold cannot keep this out. This they let in. And now it’s inside us, it will stay inside us forever.