A year ago this week, I was making my final preparations to depart on the most epic adventure of my lifetime. I was excited and scared all at the same time, but two years of preparations were going to come down to what would happen when my plane touched down in Kahtmandu. You can read about the daily adnventures of the trip on all the previous blog posts, but one of the chapters is just finishing up, all these months later.
One night after a long day of trekking, we were just finishing our evening. The stove in the center of the room had at last been lit, and we were regaining much wanted warmth from the yak dung fire. Our Mountain Madness staff all came in…the porters, the kitchen staff, the sherpas and the yak herders. Each one of them assembled with us, all smiling at us even after they had worked a long hard day in addition to the trek in order to make our trip comfortable. Deana Zebaldo, our Guide, interpreted while each one of them introduced himself to us, told about his job responsibilities on the trek and then a little personal information. It was mezmerizing to hear these men speak of their lives in Nepal and their families. Most were farmers the bulk of the year, but worked in the trekking industry to try to get a leg up for their families. Getting a leg up meant taking an English class, getting more lumber for the building of your home, or paying for school for your children.
I was a slow trekker. Real slow. As a result, I was the last in my group and therefore always had a sherpa with me. Most days that Sherpa was Mane. a 24 year old man who was unmarried and lived in a house three days trek out of Lukla. He told us that one of the reasons he was working as a sherpa was because he was a member ofhe Untouchable caste. Because of this, when the power company was running power into his village, his family along with five other familes, were left out. However, due to changeing attitudes in the region, they can now get the power company to bring the power in, but it would be costly for them. At the time I heard this, I thought it was awful and figured it was simply cost prohibitive. I asked Deana how much it was going to take for them to get the power put in. She told me she would find out. I figured it was a massive amount of money. Not knowing much about the existing infrastructer, and knowing that anything that was going to be brought in to the village was going to have to be flown in to Lukla and then walked by porter for three days into his village, it was not going to be cheep.
A couple of more days passed with me bringing up the rear of the group. Each day, Mane was there with me, carrying my pack, stopping me to eat and drink…and always smiling.
Finally, Deana was able to determine how much Mane and the other villagers were going to have to come up with to get the power in. It was around $2,600 dollars…not much more than my plane ticket for the trek. But for him and the others, it was a huge amount of money. It wasn’t something they would be able to do that year…it was going to take several years to save up the money. And with the corruption in Nepal, the price would change as they got involved in the process.
On April 8, 2012, Mane delivered me safely to Mt. Everest Base Camp at 17,800 feet above sea level. I had fulfiled my goal and my dream. I would leave base camp rather abruptly, so the picture above is one of my last moments with Mane. Though I have never seen or spoken directly to him since, I feel like he is an adopted son. I began to think more and more of his lack of electricity and when I got home, many of the people following my trek expressed their gratitude and admiration for Mane too. I started a fund and within about a month, over 40 people contributed to his getting power. The outpouring was humbling. We got all the money together and wired it to Dawa, the Big Boss Sherpa who was also with us on the trek and who would walk three days to Mane’s village to get things started. He would also have to walk three days home and stay two nights each way in a tea house. That is life in the himalayas.
Back home in the USA we were all waiting with baited anticipation to see the final product. The Monsoon Season was long and rainy, so we waited. But then we heard that Mane was heading the project up and that it was underway! So we waited. Then we heard that the internet cafe was closed in Lukla and there was no service to get pictures out. So we waited. (There is no postal service in the Himalayas, it is all hand carried.)
Then I heard from Sagar through Deana. Sagar is the man who takes care of all the Mountain Mandess personel in Nepal. He also took good care of me in Kahtmandu after my evacuation. He sent the long awaited pictures of the lights burning bright in Mane’s house! And as the trekking season begins, Mane’s family is at home without him, with lights to sit in the evening and enjoy each other’s company. I will leave you with the pictures and the thought that how something that looks so easy and simple and small has changed 6 families lives high in the Himalayas of Nepal.
His name is Man Bahadur Bisworkarma. We call him Mani or Mane. He has worked this trekking season as a Sherpa for Mountain Madness, a trekking company out of Seattle. He lives in a village called Khorya in the Solokhumbu District of Nepal. I met him in Lukla when he was introduced to us among the other Sherpa that would be assisting us on our Everest Base Camp Trek.
One night we had the opportunity to spend time with the entire Mountain Madness staff. They introduced themselves and told us bits about their lives. By this time I had spent a lot of time with Mane. From the second day of the trek on, he assisted me to get to base camp. Carrying my pack. Encouraging me and always smiling that big smile. During this time of getting to know the staff, we learned that Mane is a member of a caste. That Caste is The Untouchables. Wikipedia tells us this about the Untouchables:
The Harijans or untouchables, the people outside the caste system, traditionally had the lowest social status. The untouchables lived in the periphery of the society, and handled what were seen as unpleasant or polluting jobs. They suffered from social segregation and restrictions, in addition to being poor generally. They were not allowed to worship in temples with others, nor draw water from the same wells as others. Persons of other castes would not interact with them. If somehow a member of another caste came into physical or social contact with an untouchable, he was defiled and had to bathe thoroughly to purge himself of the contagion. Social discrimination developed even among the untouchables; sub-castes among them, such as the Dhobi would not interact with lower-order Bhangis, who handled night-soil and were described as “outcastes even among outcastes.”
As a result, his family and five others were not included in receiving electrical power when power was brought to his village of Khorya.
Social norms are changing some in the region and now he and other untouchables are getting better treatment. But there are harsh consequences to having been shunned so long. One is that he and the other families would have to pay a premium to get the power company to bring them power now that it has already been brought to the village. In order to get it there will cost what is insurmountable for poor Nepalis villagers who are not educated and still struggle in the work force to get jobs.
Mane was with me every step of my trek. One day I tripped and as I was falling, he dove to catch me. Another he kept stopping me to get me to try to eat and drink. He smiled all the time and tried hard to speak as much English as he could to me. Those were longer days for him than any of the others because once I did get to our destination, he still had to jump in and assist with serving us our meals. He never got the afternoon rest and tea the others did because he was with me. Keeping me safe and walking.
Mane is a hard worker in a place where there is no shortage of hard work for low pay. We enjoy so much here and it is easy to take that for granted. He will go home at the end of trekking season and work the rest of the year trying to farm a few crops on his land, though there had been a difficult time over the last years getting much to grow. He will try to have enough money to go to Kathmandu and take an English course so that he will be able to advance in his Sherpa work. You see, he speaks very little English. In order to advance he will have to improve his English skills. That costs money.
Because of all Mani did for me, I would like to try to see what I can do to help him. We have had hard years here in the US with the economy as well. But If you have anything extra and are of a mind to help Mani and the other 5 families get the electricity they need just to do the basics, please consider donating. I have set up a donation site and anyone who wishes to donate can do so easily with just a
click. It is a secure site. Once we have the money in, it will go directly to Nepal so that the installation of the power to the Untouchables can be achieved. They will be more like the others in the village and will do the things we take for granted after dark…perhaps read, or stay up and talk without burning fuel for a light. The Donor page is right here.
Here is a picture of Mane’s house:
So, as I marshal on with less communication…..and fewer showers, I increasingly get fatigued. That is OK, though, cuz it is what I signed up for. I am far slower than the group. Three went up Kala Pathar on their own and got great views. I got rest and tried to eat. But it was cold in the tea house so I went to bed right after dinner. No liar’s dice! So we got up and headed out to Base Camp. Nothing is a slight uphill to the finish. This hike was up and down and up and down again. Across the wonderful glacial push of the Kuhmbu. It is so quiet and I cannot even hear the foot steps of my daily Sherpa, Mani. He smiles all the time and speaks only little English. His goal with his money from trekking season is to buy lumber to cut for a house and to study more English. People here want so badly to speak English because it means better trekking jobs etc. I have met many people on the trail that I have previously met at the tea houses. They pass me and sometimes lap me going back from Base Camp.
One of the big up hills today culminated in a high flat area filled with monuments to fallen climbers. The first at the top of the pass was Babu Chiri Sherpa. He was the first Sherpa to get outside of Nepal sponsorship. he is the hero of the Sherpa people. I remember the very day he died. It was the same day as Dale Earnhardt. I had been following Babu Sherpa and then he stepped back to take a photo and fell into a crevasse. It was mesmerizing when I saw the plaque.
Just down from there was the large monument to Scott Fischer. He is the founder of Mountain Madness and was one of the victims of the 1996 storm from which books like INTO THIN AIR and THE CLIMB originate. It was an emotional moment and part of the dream of being here for me.
But this day was the day that would never end. I keep pushing and try not to stop too much but Mani tells me stop and I do. I drink and eat a snack and move on. A snack is a Shock Block or a bite of protein bar. Just no appetite. I got some views of Everest and Mani and others took pictures for me. Onward. I could see base camp. A long sprawling thing that seemed to never end….and we would be camped in North Face tents at the far end.
I was just getting beat. Dragging myself one foot in front of the other. I finally got to the spot. The clearing where everyone gets the Money Shot. EVEREST BASE CAMP. I was there. I had made it. All the years of wondering what it was like and dreaming and reading all at once…I was there. The jagged ice falls behind me. Russell Brice‘s huge set up complete with Dome Disco tent! I was there.
After a few minutes of relishing the moment, we moved on. Spent as I was, I had a long way to go to get to my groups camp. We passed camp after camp of busy porters and Sherpas working away for their particular teams. Jagged Planet, RMI, Mountain Hardwear….then there was this place all these Sherpas kept passing me to get to with pick axes and shovels. They were gathered at one mesa looking place and were swinging away setting up this year’s Heli-Pad. They have to do a new one each year because of the movement of the glacier. Onward. Then it hit. Just like day 2 when I was sick and retching. I was not doing well and we still had a way to go. Pretty soon, here came Kadji. Another of the Mountain Madness Sherpas that is on our team. He and Mani walked with me and helped me where the ice or slush made climbing difficult. I was absolutely out of gas. No fumes. Nothing. But tonight would sleep on the glacier, hear the three big avalanches, listen to the pop and crack of the ice underneath me.
I literally fell into a heap in the dining tent. Blood Ox low, heart rate high for me. But I was there. I Had seen every bit of what I have come to see and I was soon to be huddled in a tent with my excellent room mate for a night on the glacier.
During the middle of the night I had to get up for a call of nature. I walked out into the cold air of 3 degrees Fahrenheit and looked all around at the wonderful mountains. Huge above us they shot into a night sky filled with stars. What wonder. But back to the tent quickly at that temperature! A few hours and our stay at Base Camp would end. As Sonya put on my logo: “I dreamt that I was standing at the foot of Mt. Everest…..and then I woke up and I was there! Cannot wait to share some pictures!
I must admit, some of the differences in the information are disturbing. I have always enjoyed Krakauer’s writing but given the answers provided him about his criticisms of Boukreev, and that he and his publishers got them prior to publication makes me ask why he never changes his criticisms. One of the biggest Criticisms of Boukreev is that he did not dress well on summit day. Photo evidence debunks this assertion outright yet Krakauer does not move from his statement. Pictures of Anatoli in the top state of the art climbing gear that existed in 1996 are easy to find.
I truly have read most that I can find written by Krakauer. And my decision to use Mountain Madness came after reading his treatment of the 1996 event and before reading Boukreev. But I feel dismayed that Jon seems not to have been able or willing to adjust to facts that were provided to him and his answers to why, with regard to some of them, left me outright appalled. What he thinks and what he feels are far less significant than what is trye when telling this story. There are times he claims he had heard conversations that he later, after being confronted with statements disputing his presence, says that he FEELS that what he heard was more accurate than what the first hand witnesses retell. For instance. He claims to have heard a conversation between Anatoli and Scott Fisher in which Anatoli was never told to descend immediately. Yet another climber present at the time claims the questioned conversation took place after Krakauer had begun a repel down, making it impossible for him to have heard what was or was not being discussed.
Whatever exactly happened on that mountain during that climb will never be completely clear. Anatoli is dead now. So is Lopsong Sherpa. Certain knowledge died with them. But the core of what is disturbing about INTO THIN AIR, is that Krakauer seems to have played fast and loose with the facts in order to hang the blame on one man….Anatoli Boukreev. And to what end? Both were on the same climb during the awful events that occurred. In my opinion, as a guide, Boukreev had a responsibility to his clients on the mountain. By all accounts he felt that way too. Krakauer was not a guide and had no professional responsibility to assist when Boukreev asked for help going back up to search for missing climbers. I don’t judge any non-guide’s decision not to foray out into what probably was a death sentence for themselves to assist climbers, some of whom were not well prepared to even be on that mountain. But Boukreev pulled off what truly is amazing. he got Sandy Hill-Pittman, who by most accounts was not a prudent climber, having used up more than her share of oxygen while ascending/descending among other counter productive actions that chipped away at others’ ability to get down the mountain alive. He got two other women down that were struggling and assisted a male climber in getting back to camp IV. All after his own ascent and decent and taking him out into the same storm that would kill 8 people that night. All with nobody willing or able to assist him. He made every attempt…repeated attempts…to gather helpers to no avail. He gave up his own emergency O2 supply so others could use it. In the end, Boukreev got all of the clients that Mountain Madness had taken fees from off that mountain. The only loss was company owner, Scott Fisher. The captain went down with the ship.
Rob Hall was a captain too. He was the captain of the ship Krakauer was riding. But the clients of that expedition did not do near as well. Rob was high up the mountain dying. The Sherpas and guides were either in camp or themselves lost and did not attempt to go back up to get anyone. Several died. Beck Weathers was left for dead more than once, only to defy the grim reaper with his own gumption and get to where he could be taken off the mountain. Badly and permanently injured for the efforts.
So what is Krakauer’s real beef here? Why soil a man’s reputation that did so much that night. Agree or disagree with his methods, they seem to have been chosen for the purpose of the clients and not to be self-serving. But no matter the evidence presented to Krakauer to show that, he persists in his outright campaign to keep Boukreev the villan.
This has made me become a little skeptical of one of my all time favorite writers. His books read so well and are absolutely some of the best story telling I have ever encountered. He truly is an artist. But if he is compromising facts along the way for what motives can only be known by him, then I will find myself less willing to read his work. If the integrity of the writing is sacrificed, it becomes but an empty, hollow shell.
More Books about that same day in Everest history:
- Everest: Mountain Without Mercy, Broughton Coburn
- Dark Summit – The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season, Nick Heil
- Climbing High: A Woman’s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy, Lene Gammelgaard
- Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, Beck Weathers
- High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed, Michael Kodas
- Mountain Madness, Robert Birkby
- Dead Lucky, Lincoln Hall