Monday, April 27, 2009

Chillaxin' atEverest Base Camp

Chillaxin' at Everest Base Camp
Sometimes Google can be just a little too sophisticated. Otherwise I would have updated my blog ages ago. When I've tried to update my blog from here at Everest base camp, Google, the sponsor of this site, detects the location from which our satellite signal is originating and all of the menus show up in the script of a language with which I am utterly unfamiliar. So to make this work I've asked a friend to update my blog for me.
Our trek to Everest base camp was relatively uneventful, other than the typical health issues associated with hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition in the third world. Thank your lucky stars for flush toilets, hot showers, potable water, and food that you can trust. I used to be able to say that I was genuinely omnivorous in the sense that I could eat anything and that I was the least picky eater you were ever likely to encounter. Well, I've met my match: yak meat.
We took our time on the journey, trying to give our bodies time to acclimatize properly, spending a couple nights at the truly fabulous Sherpaland Hotel at Namche Bazaar, then on our trek making overnight stops in Tengboche, the site of the famous monastery, Dingboche, and finally Lobuche before we finally arrive at Everest base camp. Some of the guides and Sherpa associated with our 7summits-club expedition had preceded us to base camp and our camp was already set up by the time we got there. We stole the prime spot on the uppermost end of Everest base camp usually occupied by the Alpine Ascents International expedition, but in the interests of U.S.-Russia relations the AAI guys were very gracious about it. Along the way we met Todd Burleson, the founder of AAI, and Vern Tejas, one of their famous guides. Both of them were very classy guys.
Having never been to Everest base camp before, I really didn't know what to expect. Nor did I realize what a prime spot we had. There's a saying to the effect that !@#$ rolls downhill, and so it is at Everest base camp. There we are at the top, untouched by any filth from higher up, but I can't say the same for those down below. Everyone makes do as well as possible, but it can be pretty grim for people trying to climb Everest on the cheap. I really lucked out with Alex Abramov, the Russian leader of our 7summits-club expedition. The quality of our food and other amenities at base camp are far and away superior to what others have to endure. Proper nutrition is vitally important here, because the altitude really saps your strength and kills your appetite. You have to eat; otherwise you won't have the energy reserves to climb the mountain. The food isn't what I would necessarily choose, but there's variety and it's prepared in such a way that we're unlikely to get sick from eating it.
The topography of Everest base camp was a bit of a surprise to me. There's no flat camping area. The whole thing is built on top of a slowly moving glacier covered with rocks and gravel. It is melting out from under me as I write this. The terrain can best be described as undulating. To get anywhere, even in your own camp, you have to scramble up and down hills covered with loose, unconsolidated, sharp rocks and scree, with patches of ice showing through from underneath. It's a wild and crazy place to pitch a tent.
The bottom of the infamously dangerous Khumbu ice fall is quite close to our camp, so when I wake up in the morning and open the zipper of my tent I enjoy a spectacular view of the Khumbu ice fall. It's really quite breathtaking, and quite dangerous to move through. We've already been up through the fall twice for acclimatization purposes. The first time we just spent a night at Camp I and returned to base camp the next morning. The second time we spent a night at Camp I and then moved further up the mountain through a valley of glacial snow and ice known as the Western Cym (pronounced "coom") to Camp II, which is situated at the base of the steep Lhotse face. The next morning we retreated all the way back to base camp.
What makes the Khumbu ice fall dangerous? It's a huge jumbled of constantly moving blocks of glacial snow and ice known as seracs. Some of them are the size of buildings, and they can fall on you without warning. Then there are the deep crevasses, most of them bridged by aluminum ladders put in place by a specialized team of Sherpa known as the "Ice Doctors" who are responsible for maintaining the route through the Khumbu ice fall. They stay very busy as the fall is constantly shifting. It is particularly dangerous to be in the fall in the afternoon when the sun is beating down and melting out key structural supports for the larger seracs, so most people try to climb through the fall in the very early morning, but you never know. Things can get crazy at any time. We were barely missed by an avalanche on our second trip through the fall. All you can do is clip in to the nearest, strongest anchor, hide behind the biggest serac in the area, and hope for the best. It was especially unnerving, because we could hear the avalanche before we could see it.
It is Monday here. Early Wednesday morning I'll be joining Team I for our third acclimatization climb up the mountain. We'll spend one night each at Camps I and II, both of which we've been to before, and then push higher up the mountain halfway up the steep Lhotse face to Camp III, which is situated at about 23,000 feet. We'll spend a night there and then the next morning we'll attempt to climb without supplemental oxygen another thousand feet or so to the top of the Yellow Band. Then we'll scurry all the way back down to Camp II, spend the night, and then retreat all the way to base camp the next morning. Following that we'll take about a week to rest and recover, perhaps retreating further down the Khumbu valley to lower altitudes, and then regather at base camp for our summit push.
This has been so much harder than I ever could have imagined. It is taking absolutely everything I've got--physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically--just to cope with the challenges I'm facing. It will be nothing short of a miracle if I actually summit. So many things can and do go wrong, but then miracles do happen, and with the kind thoughts and prayers of so many friends I'm curiously optimistic. Thank you for all of your support. I can sense it.
It is said in some ancient spiritual traditions that the one and only voice of God is silence. That voice is very loud here. It's so deep and profound here you can't help but hear it.

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