The Pujah

Today was a fairly mellow day, we spent most of it relaxing until we had our Pujah. What is a Pujah, you ask? It is a blessing of our expedition that is made by a Lama from one of the local villages. You are probably a little confused because half of my posts have included some type of blessing but this one is a little different. The Pujah is a traditional blessing that must occur before the expedition team can begin its foray up the mountain in earnest. It is frowned upon by the Sherpa people and considered bad luck if you begin moving up prior.  

The Lama was scheduled to arrive at our camp around 10:30, so we all cleaned up as well as we could. The Sherpas collected some items that were placed in the center of our camp, including food and other religious items, and the climbers threw in some of our more important climbing gear. Brent warned of “Nepali time”, which meant that 10:30 was probably not realistic. I’m guessing that many of you are laughing because you think that Nepali Time sounds a lot like the clock that I run on. Anyway, Brent was right and we waited for two hours before we decided to eat lunch as we waited for the Lama to arrive.  

We were hardly into our soup when we heard lots of shuffling outside and Phurba (Our Sirdar) came in to announce that the Lama had arrive. The team hustled outside and took our seats in front of the Lama and the offerings. The blessing included about an hour of chanting from the Lama, while several of the sherpas lit incense and candles, while another rhythmically beat a drum. It was quite interesting and concluded with Phurba and the team erecting a large flag over the offerings with five longs prayer flag strands reaching throughout camp. Once this was done, some of the sherpas distributed blessed Nepali fried bread, which was quite tasty, and… wait for it… blessed beer!!! Yes, I was as shocked as you might be to hear that they blessed beer to drink during a ceremony but who am I to shun the tradition of the local people??? In fact, I was a good team player and had two beers because I was feeling extra reverent. 

Phurba and a few sherpas erect the flag pole above the offerings, while the Lama and Garrett look on.

Doing my best to uphold the Pujah tradition!  Notice the flour that is rubbed on my cheeks (and on my jacket), which is done to everyone at the end of the ceremony for good luck.  I think I got extra good luck because Phurba got really excited to rub as much as he could into my beard.  

Little did we know, the Ghurka climbing team that is camping next to us was waiting for our Pujah to finish so that they could join in on the fun. Shortly thereafter, Nepali music was turned on and the dancing began. At 17,000+ ft, beer and whiskey make even the most apprehensive dancers join in on the fun. The two teams had a great time dancing and getting to know each other for the next hour or so. (Note: The Ghurkas are elite Nepali military that are employed by the British Government. I definitely recommend Googling them if you are bored at work this Monday.) 

Madison Mountaineering Team joining in on some dancing with the Ghurka Team in the middle of our camp.  

After a day of lounging and fun, we topped it off with a viewing of “Top Gun”. I never thought I’d be watching “Top Gun” at Everest Basecamp but it seems quite appropriate now that I think about it.  
Climb Update: One last thing before I shut off my headlamp for the night… you are probably wondering when we will be moving up the mountain and I wanted to give you an update. Teams generally spend about a week at EBC before moving up because it’s important to allow your body to produce more red blood cells. Once this initial period is completed, the “rotations” begin. A rotation is a series of days that are spent above EBC and in the case of climbing Mount Everest, teams usually use a three rotation schedule with the third rotation being the summit push. Brent, Geoff, Anders and I were initially planning on beginning our 1st rotation today but the 18th of April is a “no climb” day, out of respect for the sherpas that were killed in the 2014 avalanche. We would have had to sit at Camp 1 for an entire day, so we decided to push of our move to the 19th. As long as the weather holds, the four of us will be moving up to Camp 1 on the 19th and move to Camp 2 on the 20th, spending 2-3 days above EBC before heading back down to recover. I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted with changes because they happen often up here.