Adventurer, film-maker, photographer and author Dianne Whelan launched her latest book, Base Camp: 40 Days on Everest, at the Gumboot Café in Roberts Creek on April 25.
The timing was particularly poignant. The week before, 16 Sherpas, mountain guides, were buried under an avalanche. Whelan had known four of them.
They are not the first bodies this mother of a mountain has claimed, and they won’t be the last. Nonetheless, hundreds of climbers flock there each year, paying the enormous sums the Nepal government demands, hiring locals, stocking supplies and waiting at base camp for a rare opening in the weather to scale the peak.
In the spring of 2010, Whelan journeyed to Everest with a camera operator, Andrew Coffin, to live at base camp and interview the many climbers, mostly amateur, who wait to summit the world’s highest mountain. The result was her Leo award-winning documentary, 40 Days at Base Camp.
She describes base camp as “a land of dirty rock, garbage and many tents.” It’s no place for the faint of heart, literally. At such a high elevation, more than 5,000 metres, Whelan’s resting heartbeat doubled its pace and she experienced headaches and agitation.
The thrills didn’t end there. Whelan also described the terrifying, tiny plane that lands on an abbreviated air strip between two cliffs, the risk of avalanche, the rebel activity in the country, and the horror of finding preserved corpses among the melting ice.
Whelan uses her journal notes, photos and acute observations of those around her to give an unvarnished look at the commercialization of the mountain myth, the effects of climate change and of the human impact on Everest.
“But for all the commercialization, the spirit is still there,” she told the Gumboot audience.
The book is a Sunshine Coast venture. It is published by local Caitlin Press and has a map by illustrator Sheryl McDougald and a cover design by Edmund Arceo of Spiderplus Graphics. Though Whelan forays into Vancouver frequently, she lives in Garden Bay. She was drawn to the area years ago when she decided to leave the city on a quest — she wanted to learn how to grow food. On her first drive up the Coast, she followed a bicycling hippie into Roberts Creek and knew she was home. She’s had a fondness for the area ever since.
Base Camp includes many photos and is available in paperback for $24.95 from local bookstores.
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