Monday, March 9, 2009
Did I say Tibet? Oops! I meant Nepal.
The Chinese have done it again. They've effectively closed Everest from the Tibet side for the second year in a row. At least this time we had a little more advance warning, enough time to switch to the Nepal side. I guess I'm not surprised. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's exile, so the last thing the Chinese want when Free Tibet protests inevitably erupt this spring is a bunch of western mountaineers sympathetic to the Free Tibet cause hanging around Tibet with their digital still and video cameras, satellite uplinks, and access to the internet. It's harder to shoot teenage nuns in the back and leave them for dead in the snow when a video of the atrocity is going to show up on YouTube right away. The Chinese closed Tibet to tourists for the entire month of March. That prevents Nepalese sherpas from entering Tibet in time to prepare base camp and start moving tons of supplies up the mountain. Logistically, April is too late to start the process and hope to have everything in place in time for an Everest summit bid when the weather opens up toward the end of May. There was no guarantee the Chinese would open up Tibet to tourists in April anyway, so it was not a tough decision for Everest expedition organizers to switch to Nepal. That comes with a big price tag, however, both in terms of money and the potential for bottlenecks through the Khumbu ice fall and the Hillary Step. I've had to cough up an extra $14,000 to make the switch, and with the Nepal side of the mountain filled with climbers who were otherwise going to make the climb from the Tibet side, there's bound to be some traffic jams at key points along the route. I'm disappointed, naturally, because I was really looking forward to seeing Tibet, and although climbing Everest from the Tibet side was going to be more of a technical challenge higher on the mountain, I was happy about the fact that there is no equivalent to the treacherous Khumbu ice fall on the north side of the mountain. Now, having switched to the Nepal side, I can look forward to ice climbing and crossing deep crevasses walking on crampons across aluminum ladders lashed together to bridge some of the wider chasms.
On a much more positive note, I took some time off from training this past Friday to speak about my upcoming Everest expedition and my quest to reach the highest point on each continent at Laird Elementary School in Tempe. The kids were very attentive, seemed to love the pictures, and asked lots of interesting questions. There was a palpable sense of positive energy at the school, a can-do sense of hope and optimism, a sense of meaning and purpose. Kudos to the faculty, staff, parents, and students. It was an honor and a privilege to speak. The whole experience made me think of my own third grade teacher, Mrs. Fry, who spoke these words to me, words I'll never forget: "Michael, there is nothing in this world you can't accomplish if you set your mind to it." I believed her, and that has made all the difference.