The Road to Everest

Day 17: Friday 12 May 2006
May 15, 2006,

Day 17: Friday 12 May 2006
New Tingri – Everest Base Camp – New Tingri (for photos please see gallery)

Today, was one of the highlights of the whole Tour and a day all of us will treasure for a lifetime - the opportunity to drive to the Mount Everest (Mount Qomolangma) Base Camp in our own vehicles, and get to see the world’s highest mountain at close quarters.

We all set off early in pitch black, to allow time to pass through checkpoints and arrive at Pang La before dawn. Initially we took the Friendship highway and at 7 km we encountered the China/Nepal border for a quick show of our passports. A further 5 km down the highway we turned off towards Qomolangma Nature Preserve.

From here it was a 17 km climb through countless hairpin bends to the top of the Pang La pass. The climb offered a vast vista of Himalayan foothills stretching to the north with a few of the higher peaks capped by snow, but predominantly the view is of rocky ridges.

As dawn was about to break we completed the final hairpin and passed under the string of prayer flags that marked the 5,120m summit of PangLa, to be greeted by the most stunning view of the Himalayas with Mount Everest (8,488m) as its centre piece over 80 km away. With the low early morning sun about to cast its cool light and long shadows, the snow line looked painted, and the whispy trace of a cloud over the peak slowly moved aside, as the first rays of the sun hit the top of Everest before any of the other mounts surrounding it (four of them peak at over 8,000m). The mountain scenery was particularly awe-inspiring. It truly was magical. All we could do was just stand there in silence as the sun rose and highlighted more of Everest before slowly catching the others mountains – a moment in life that will be forever cherished.

We then descended the other side of the Pang La, through more hairpin bends than on the ascent but it was never particularly steep, making our way along the Upper Dzaka valley where the road surface remained resolutely gravel being quite rough in places. Mount Everest remained hidden behind numerous ridges for the majority of this drive, with just the occasional glimpse of its snow-covered peak.

The next good view of Everest arrived as we turned the corner to Rongphu Monastery. Although not particularly old (built in the early 20th Century), this monastery (the highest in the world) has a particular place in history as it was visited by the most of the early Everest expeditions that logged its development over the years. From here it was 8km to the Everest base Camp. Normally no vehicles are allowed on this stretch of road only horse and carts, but we had permission to drive all the way through.

Once we reached the Base Camp it was an incredible experience and all took many photos before enjoying a cup of coffee, to warm ourselves up, in one of the few tents erected in that area.

One of the biggest achievements of the day was by Do and Annemieke Meeus, who despite battling an ongoing fuel problem and a brief radiator leak (which was patched up with ‘rad weld’ that morning) made it to the Base Camp without any tows. You could see the joy in Do’s face as he proudly stood by the Jag while we all marked the occasion with a big photo session – fantastic!

After, we had all warmed up we reluctantly returned to our vehicle to make the homeward journey. Predictably the journey back was less exciting as the sun was higher and the scene seemed a little less dramatic than earlier on.

Unfortunately, again the Meeus’ luck had run out, but this time it was the radiator leak that was back. The radiator was in such a bad state that after a failed attempt to fix it, it had to be removed and the Jag once again had to be towed by Jingers and Greg up and down the Pang La pass which took them the majority of the day, returning to the hotel at about 7.30pm. Luckily, Jingers managed to find a local ‘workshop’ and with the help of our local Tibetan guide Jen, was able to describe to the welder exactly what he wanted them to do, to mend the radiator.

At 10pm Jingers and Do collected the radiator and within a couple of hours had fitted it and the Jag was back in business ready for the next days run. The only other mechanical fixes were Michael Bernecker’s brakes which were changed by Medic Mike and a loose roof rack on the Holopainen’s Defender.

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Day 30: Thursday 25 May 2006
Zhaoqing – Splendid China, Shenzhen

On this our final day of the Great Tour of China 2006, we made a short journey mainly on expressway from Zhaoqing to the Splendid China Cultural Park in Shenzhen for the ceremonial finish.

May 26, 2006
Day 29: Wednesday 24 May 2006
Guilin - Zhaoqing

We left Gulin on smooth fast roads with wonderful views of the ‘eggbox’ type hills. These are hills of limestone which have eroded into shape over centuries covered in native vegetation and resembling very large teeth.

May 25, 2006
Day 28: Tuesday 23 May 2006
Kaili - Guilin

The agenda today was another long driving day to Guilin along a mixture of road surfaces: smooth main roads, bumpy secondary roads and some roads still under construction.

May 24, 2006
Day 27: Monday 22 May 2006
Huangguoshu Falls - Kaili

Before negotiating another day on the road, everyone spent a couple of hours today visiting China’s most scenic falls at Huangguoshu. Set against lush, local vegetation, the falls make up in beauty for what they lack in size.

May 23, 2006
Day 26: Sunday 21 May 2006
Kunming – Huangguoshu Falls

This morning we took the northern road from Kunming on a mix of main highway, dual carriageway and back roads. The first town we passed through was Quiyang en route to Honggu, a large town with coal mining and steel production as it’s main industries.

May 23, 2006