Monthly Archives: April 2012
Today we got up early and prepared to depart base camp. I was feeling ok and had achieved a dream…but there is a long way to go. My feet were tingling and my right hand was real cold. It had escaped my sleeping bag during the night and my arm had gotten a bit icy. Nothing really more than like when you are a kid and play outside too long in the snow. But uncomfortable none the less.
Mani was already gone from camp, so Nadja and Kadji left with me ahead of the bunch. The plan for the trek today was to head for Peroche. But the Heli Pad was finished and we were all headed there first because we were told a Heli was coming in. Big excitement for Base Camp at 17,500 feet up! As we all
gathered and were told how far to stay back, I took a perch on Kadji’s back pack and was just right for the view. It was cold but as the sun came up over the high Himalaya‘s warmth immediately took over that feeling and it was quite comfortable sitting out on the glacier.
Soon we could hear the wafting of the Heli blades from far down the canyon. Everyone began to chatter to one another. The Heli came in, circled and went off. Then You could hear someone say..”no…..cannot go that fast….cannot go that fast…..”. Then the Heli came over again and made another circle and touched down. Everyone was covering their faces from the wash of the blades. The men jumped out and
took off some supplies and then gave a signal. Suddenly, Kadji grabbed one of my arms and Deana the other and lifted me from my comfortable spot. Mani had my duffel and my pack and they were both tossed into the Heli just ahead of me. Just that fast the door was closed behind me and I was lifting off in what was the first Medi-lift of the 2012 Everest Climbing Season. My whole team was below me waving as I was taken from my beloved Glacier.
You see, what I did not tell you was that I was so exhausted and so low on O2 when I had arrived the night before that Deana, my Mountain Madness Guide, had serious concerns about me. She gave me options about walking out much slower, as our pace was to pick up over the coming days, and I had no extra energy as it was. That would leave me alone in the mountains with a Sherpaat Tea Houses as my energy allowed. I would miss my international flight
and have little support going out. That seemed like a far less safe way home than to be shipped out via Heli. Very serious stuff up here in the Khumbu. I borrowed a phone and we called my Brother, Joe, to let him know what was going on. I ate soup. lots of soup. But still was not able to really eat anything else. The food was so good, too!
My roommate had laid out my bag and pad and pretty much everything was done for me. I spent the night listening to the ice crack and the avalanches and knowing tat in the morning I was leaving on a heli and would never see or feel any of this again. I fought the feeling of failure and knowing that some would look at this trip in that way. But they didn’t have boots on the ground, up and down the mountains. They did not have my dream so they cannot end my dream. I was cold at times and could not get real comfortable, but that did not dampen the truth. I DID IT!
As I looked at my team mates below and lifted off into the morning sky, I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I had not got to know them the way I would have liked. I was never with them during the long days to chat and joke and build the kind of camaraderie that they built together. And I could see it. I was not left out, it was just the way it was.
Soon I was at Lukla, where we had all been what seemed eons ago, though was only 8 days. I was confused since we were supposed to be going to Katmandu. But things are never that easy in Nepal. So I stood, feeling tired and weak, aside the heli pads at Lukla watching the planes come in and out of the scariest airport ever. No real protection between me and the planes and copters wondering what would happen next.
About two hours went by and the same copter that had brought me from the glacier whisked me up again and by gosh it was the ride of a lifetime! That copter hugged hills, buzzed roof tops and dodged weather over every hill and dale between Lukla and Katmandu. It was the longest roller coaster ride of my life and thrill does not begin to define it. After and hour or more of that I was at the big airport again in Katmandu and a tiny ambulance awaited my
arrival. Along with my Mountain Madness man who rode with me to the clinic. We headed through the crowded streets of Kathmandu and the tiny siren tweeting atop the capsule was barley even audible in the loud and busy city.
But alas, we arrived at the clinic and inside I went to undergo a barrage of testing. Blood samples were drawn and and ECG performed. Funny thing that ECG. Giant Frankenstein like clamps were attached to each ankle and wrist. Then funny little suction cups around my chest. The paper feeding through the machine sounded loud as a chain saw. I felt like the machinery was right out of the 50’s. (But I also felt awful and dirty having had no shower since Namche Bazaar.) The doctor ordered IV and some juice! So I lie in the bed in a funny little room that seemed to house two such beds with a separator curtain along with odds and ends of furniture from other parts of the facility. But it was clean and comfortable.
A nurse came to talk to me. She was a Sherpa woman. She went to school with Babu Chiri Sherpa‘s second eldest daughter. Her own father had died some years earlier leading men up Everest. It is common here if you are of the Sherpa people to have family on that mountain.
I spent the day sleeping the sleep you have when you are in a car. When the IV’s had run all of their healing juices into my veins they turned me loose. Sagar came and got me and followed my cab to the Yak and Yeti. I showered. Boy did I shower. I went and ate and came up to my room and went to bed. It was raining hard. There was lightning in the very skies I had just cone through a few hours before. I though of my friends in the mountains coming down and I was sad not to be with them. The rain beat down on the windows. and I smiled. I had done it. I had made it to Base Camp. I do not know all that it means to me yet, but I do know it means more than I can articulate here. Oh, and yeah. I am getting pictures in again. More later!
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!
Due to a mishap, Karen has been out of touch. At 2:47 a.m. PDST this Friday morning (that’s 3:32 p.m. Friday afternoon in Nepal) she sent the following e-mail:
I am at Gorek Shep. Tomorrow to Base Camp. Maybe Kathy can guest blog. I dropped my iPhone in a squat toilet making it impossible to text or check in on the spot. It is now enclosed in a ziplock bag with rice, and I will take it to Apple and see if they can pull the picks off while wearing hazmat. I gave the little girl who took it out 100 rupees. She tried to decline the money.
I am struggling and it is very difficult. Most difficult thing I have ever done. Mani is my personal sherpa and carries my stuff every day. So now I’m at 17,000 feet. Today’s hike was arduous. I am just carrying too much weight on my bones. I am also not able to eat more than about 700 calories a day despite plenty of food being given to us. We burn about 500 calories per hour.
It was 11 degrees outside last night and about 23 inside. My gear is working good as I was toasty warm in my bag.
Today was a Kala Patar hike as well, but there were no views due to weather. No summit of Kala Patar will be attempted by the group as weather is not offering views. I am not disappointed as I am achieving my dream of being at Base Camp. That takes place tomorrow and I will see Russell Brice and Conrad Ankor. We hiked by Brice’s low camp yesterday.
This is hard. Really really hard. I cry at the end of each hike just for the sheer overwhelming feelings and exertion. I have not seen one other woman on the trail my size. But I am doing it. I have made it to the eve of my goal. Then we head back. Long hard days back and that will be great, too. I don’t mind the difficulty. It is good for me.
Most days they only light the fires at 5:00 or later. I play liars dice with the sherpas in the evening. They all keep telling me how strong I am – even ones that are not in our group but see me in the lodge later.
I love the yaks. They are the sound of the hills as I move along, lumbering in many ways as they do. Will check in next chance!
Today is a day of rest. That means a HIKE! I got better layers set out and hoped for the best for the morning acclimatization hike. The tea houses are getting more rustic as we go. Rooms are very small, which is good because it keeps the heat in. The wind is fierce and the Yak Dung burning stoves take some time to project the heat. Last night I slept in my Big Agnes sleeping bag with a thick fleece, polortec pants, and my Fits Roy Down Hoodie. OH, and a light comforter provided by the lodge. I also threw a boiling hot bottle of water in the bottom of the bag. It was very comfortable. The Sherpas all slept outside in tents.
Our kitchen travels with us. It is part of the service provided by Mountain Madness. I see the staff throughout the day on the trail, portering the goods and utensils needed to cook three meals a day and afternoon tea. All of our meals are prepared outside. The staff rings it in to us and we get as much as we want of a good variety of food. Have had Water Buffalo, sardines, pizza, lots of wonderful tasting potatoes, soups,……it goes on and on. I am having trouble eating enough, however, and I am not sure why. When a plate is handed t me I am excited to get some food but quickly feel full and simply cannot eat more than a very little off my plate. Up we were this morning and I ate some cereal and a couple bites of egg and hot chocolate. Then we headed out to our rest day hike. Deana told us where she wanted us all to go to achieve the needed work of the day. Some would continue on to an even higher point. The trail was steep and we headed up to 15,000 feet. I rested there, took some pictures with the Sherpa and then headed back down. I felt good. So good that I picked up my pace and thought I would give Mani a treat by getting back quicker. Then it happened.
I took a step and the heel of my right boot caught a rock. I went tumbling face first, in what seemed in my minds eye was thousands of feet down the side of a mountain. In reality, it was about a three step, face first fall. Mani dove to grab me like a super hero. He quickly assisted me to my feet. I made sure everything was working the way it should and we went on. I slowed down and remembered that every step has to count. No more over walking myself.
So back here in the village, I was happy to get the daily hot cup of Tang. We get it every afternoon before lunch. It is good and warms up a core that is getting increasingly colder by the day. Anther wonderful treat is the head cook, Ramkaji (sp) hands each of us a towel that is piping hot and has menthol in it. We inhale it and wash our hands and face with it and it is a pure delight.
Yesterday, Deana told me that the head of the Sherpas told her that I was know to them as BIG SISTER. It is a term of endearment. She told me that Dawah had reported Kahji, my Sherpa of the day, had said I was a very good walker. It seems sped is nothing to them, distance without rest is. I made the cut. I’ll take BIG SISTER to the bank!
On the very last bit back into Dingboche today, I overheard some other trekkers stating they had a signal. I quickly dashed off a text to Kathlene and hope she got it since she had last only heard that I was trudging through the Himalayas like a Yeti in a snow storm.
Today is supposed to be not as hard as the last few days. However, I am finding that each day is quite difficult. In the mornings I often feel weak and sort of low blood sugary. They take our pulse and O2 every morning and night and I am doing well. No headaches or other symptoms of altitude. I think that may be the benefit of going so snail like in my days of hiking. Kate, the young Ausie girl has been sick for several days and trudges along with her father at her side, Now he is sick and she is nearly better, but this is not easy work. The morning has been hot down through the rhododendron forests. I am hiking in shirtsleeves. But as we climb up away from the river the weather changes quickly. I have what I think is a soft shell. However, it is not because a soft shell should give you some protection from rain or snow. The next few hours are awful and wonderful all at once. The narrow trail winds up from the river around the contours of the mountains. Ama Dablum is up there every now and again saying hello. But the snow has come and I haven’t the right gear and simply must push onward. Mani is the Sherpa assigned for the day. I cannot help but feel sorry the he cannot simply spring ahead and get in out of the weather. But his job is to stay with me and to protect me.
The snow was really coming pretty good and we were high up on a ridge. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be alone with a Sherpa, high in the Himalayas, in a snow storm.
When I arrived for lunch with the others, I was soaking wet and had to have one of my momentary cries. Then I settled in, ate a bit of food and the Sherpas fashioned a poncho for me out of plastic. I knew the next three hours would be tough, and they were. The weather didn’t let up and the climb up from the river seemed even harder. I couldn’t understand why because I thought we were going to be at around 12k again, but I was mistaken. When we pulled in, we were over 14k in altitude…higher than Mount Rainier. This is an adventure. It is hard
After the Namche Rest day, we got up and headed for Tengboche. This is where there is a great monastery. The group set out and I, as usual, am in the back. I am always with Sherpa, and like every day, he took my pack after about the first 45 minutes. I am slow. Real slow. I remember In Junior High Track, Mrs. Campbell always said that my run was more of a glorified walk. It was true. And when Kathy and I were picking strawberry’s one summer…I never made progress down the long, seemingly ever longer rows. I think of some of that on my long walks in the Himalayas all by myself. The Hike in to Tengboche seemed innocuous on the map. We would end up a t relatively the same altitude that we left in Namche. But hikes here are not like walking across a ridge to the next village. It walking down the river, crossing on a hanging bridge and walking up again to the ridge…and then maybe back down and up. This is nothing like I thought it would be. I am expending every bit of energy every day. It is wondrously beautiful. I have never had this much solitude in my life. I am by myself with the Sherpa of the day assigned to me. He is really not assigned to me except that my slowness makes him “my” Sherpa by default. I have hours and hours to my own thoughts. I hear the sounds of traffic, which consist of the slow moving dong of the yak bell and the fast, high pitched chaos of the jingle bells that are around the horses necks. As I pass groups of porters resting aside the road with the baskets heavily laden with all sorts of necessities of life and trekking I do feel transported to another world. But it isn’t another world. It is just different. It is a mixture of worlds that are coming together and the people seem quite happy. Though it may seem odd to me that a young man trekking a basket up thousands of feet on his back reaches for his cell phone when it rings it is life as he knows it. Far be it from me to require that my trekking experience be more rustic because it fits my imagination. At the end of each part of the day, I find myself so exhausted by the up and down work that I seem to have to have a good crying moment. Not sad, not hurt, just emotional to be able to be doing this and to be with the people I am with. Every one to the last one are kind to me and to each other. The Mountain Madness staff is beyond reproach. They are helpful and happy and they love to interact with the group. Some speak pretty good English too!. So arriving in Tengbouche for me, was difficult. I set out the Spot Connect, ate a little bit of dinner and went to bed. No real interaction with the group. The next day was coming.
Karen asked me to put up a blog post for her because she’s busy sleeping in a monastery after trekking her way to Thyangboche. She sends me brief little texts. Luckily, I can read between the lines because I’m her older sister and formed her mind when we were much younger.
On Saturday, she texted from Namche Bazaar that her scheduled “rest day” would actually be comprised of a hike, the pinnacle of which would be her first view of Mt. Everest. She didn’t bother to reply to my suggestion that she simply look at a postcard of Mt. Everest while remaining snug in her sleeping bag. When I inquired about the condition of her feet, she replied, “They’re great.” That translates into, “I am very happy I hiked Black Mountain a few weeks before my trip started, stamping my feet with such force that most of my toenails turned black – hey, I bet that’s why they called it Black Mountain, get it? Happily those pesky toenails fell right off, and now I don’t have to worry about them one little bit – get it?”
When I awoke on Sunday, Karen had already been up the “hill” above Namche Bazaar to gaze at Everest. She texted: “Saw Everest.” Now this is worrisome to me. I am beginning to wonder if she isn’t falling under the spell of that malicious mountain, and will conclude her trek with an overwhelming desire to conquer Everest. Though she scoffed at the notion of ever climbing Everest when I brought it up prior to her journey, I detect in her text a seedling, a mere sprout of what could become a full-blown mania. We’ll have to keep an eye on that!
Her next text to me was during her trek from Namche Bazaar to Thyangboche. It said, “Wow. Getting stronger! Hike hike hike!” Translation? “I am doing better than I expected, and I could Indian leg wrestle the Terminator and kick his cyborg ass.” Karen has always had phenomenal leg strength. I told her I bet her legs are like pistons. She replied, “My pistons are slow.” Well, duh! A locomotive’s pistons are slower than those of a Honda CBR 1100 motorcycle. My sister isn’t a flimsy little flash-in-the-pan motorbike: she’s a goddam train relentlessly chugging up a mountain with her whistle screaming, “I know I can, I know I can!” And by the way, the next filthy hippie who makes a disparaging comment to her on the trail had best be prepared to be shoved over the edge into a crevasse.
At 4:40 this morning (5:25 p.m. in Nepal), Karen texted, “Just got to Thyangboche Monastery. Long hard hot and cold day. Hiked down to the river (10,000 feet), then back up to 12,000 feet after lunch. Brutal.” I’ll just bet it was. A five-mile hike is 316,800 inches on the prairie. I’m figuring that in mountains some more inches sneak in. If Karen were obsessive-compulsive, she would count every single inch. Happily, Karen doesn’t suffer from that particular disorder.
Three hours later Karen texted, “Long hard day and another tomorrow – the rest day.” Indeed. Where on earth do the organizers of this trip get off calling something a “rest day” and then forcing people to Bataan Death March it up a mountain? Brimming with indignation on her behalf, I asked my sister about it. She explained that the rest day hikes are to further acclimate the hikers so they don’t fall prey to altitude sickness. Oh.
Karen expects to soon be able to update her blog, and I happen to know she has some hilarious stories. I won’t steal her thunder by leaking the details. Know she is well, persevering, and very happy.