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!