Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 14:26 UK

Baking bread on top of the world

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Everest base camp, Nepal

Everest base camp bakery
The bakery is very popular with trekkers

At the heart of Everest base camp, in one of the hundreds of tents that make up this seasonal settlement, is a bakery.

It may be one of the world's highest. The man who had the idea for it, Dawa Steven Sherpa, isn't sure. But it does attract customers.

Entering the tent, the weary trekker is wrapped in a welcome cloak of warmth and of mouth-watering bakery smells.

The various goodies are stacked in plastic trays - chocolate cake, apple pie, croissants, cinnamon rolls, banana bread and doughnuts.

Chocolate chip cookies are piled in plastic jars.

Following their noses, hikers troop in. Some appear disconcerted by the prices, which are steep compared with those lower down the mountain. But then, this is 5,350 metres high. The visitors buy, and eat.

Dawa is on his second expedition up Everest and had the idea for the bakery on his previous trip.


"At base camp there's no central place to socialise," he says, pointing out that each of the many expeditions tends to be quite insular.

He says that on a climbing expedition in 2006 he was with an Australian colleague, Blair, who "always needed bread".

So the idea for the bakery was born.

Dawa Steven Sherpa, owner of the bakery
Dawa says baking at this height involves lots of trial and error

Dawa says government officials concerned with Sagarmatha (the Nepali name for Everest) and its surrounding national park were, and remain, lukewarm about the whole idea.

He himself is one of the bosses of Asian Trekking, a large trekking and tourism concern, and the officials took exception to the idea of any kind of commercial enterprise at base camp.

But, he says, all the profits are going to a trust fund helping local villages prepare for the worst effects of climate change - the possible bursting of lakes caused by melting glaciers, which is a real danger in this region.

The fund is run by the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and Dawa's expedition aims to draw attention to the same ecological issue - indeed, the bakery tent is shared by a photo exhibition on the subject.

Cutting freshly baked cheesecake is Shera Sherpa. He and his young colleague, Kancha Sarba Magar, make up the bakery team.

'Trial and error'

Shera has been with the trekking company for 24 years as an expedition cook and has effortlessly transformed himself into a baker.

Shera Sherpa, one of the bakers
Shera used to be an expedition cook

The main tool of his trade is a gas oven specially designed to be carried by a porter - so not too big or too heavy.

Baking involves "lots of trial and error", says Dawa, as there are no temperature indicators.

The Everest base camp bakery is indeed becoming something of a focal point for the camp.

Many from the sub-camps come to buy bread for their breakfast, Dawa says.

With bitterly cold night-time temperatures, the food is probably best eaten as soon as possible after it is made.

And with Nepal continuing to close the top of the mountain until China has brought the Olympic Torch up the other side, the mountaineers, forced to wait in base camp or a little above, may well be in extra need of this comfort food.

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