Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Are you kidding me?

I'm in Singapore, 3:30 a.m. local time, waiting for my flight to Kathmandu in the morning. I was featured on ABC15 news at 10:00 o'clock the night before my departure. Some enterprising burglars put two and two together, realized I would be gone for a couple of months, and decided to break into my Biltmore home, the one I'm raffling off for charity. (See www.ArizonaDreamHouseRaffle.com for details.) My neighbor stopped another crew that was trying to steal my Rolls Royce! I know times are tough, but just how low can you go? I mean, seriously, are you kidding me? Who would break into a house that is being used to raise desperately needed funds for the Child Crisis Center, a charity that helps prevent child abuse and neglect? I guess no good deed goes unpunished. I'm surprisingly calm and unruffled about the whole thing, but I really didn't need the distraction as I prepare to climb the highest mountain in the world. I wish the burglars well, and I hope their circumstances improve during these hard times to the point where they no longer target people who are trying to do a little good in the world.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I'm leavin' on a jet plane ...

T-minus 10 hours and counting before I begin my journey to Kathmandu, Nepal. The first leg is an early morning United Airlines flight from Phoenix to San Francisco. From San Francisco to Kathmandu I'll be flying Singapore Airlines all the way with a fuel stop in Tokyo, a long layover in Singapore, a change of planes, and a direct flight from Singapore to Kathmandu. I'll arrive in Kathmandu around noon on Wednesday. The last time I was in Kathmandu was 1994, so it will be interesting for me to see what's changed over the years. I look forward to meetin the other members of the expedition in person. We'll be staying at the Yak & Yeti Hotel for several days before flying to Lukla to begin a 9-10 day trek to Everest base camp.

I'm feeling a whole rainbow of colorful emotions right now. I'm worried, concerned, even a little fearful of the daunting challenges that lie ahead. The area above Camp IV, from 26,000 feet to the summit of Everest at 29,035 feet, is known as the "Death Zone" for good reasons. So many people have perished attempting to climb Everest. Yet I'm also feeling a profound sense of quiet confidence and certainty that this is what I'm supposed to be doing right now. I honestly don't think I could have trained harder or smarter, especially sleeping in my altitude tent for purposes of acclimatization. I've had the hypoxic generator set at 20,000 feet for weeks now. I'll soon see how well my training prepared me for the climb, especially the first time I make the arduous ascent through the infamous Khumbu ice fall. I don't think there has ever been a climber gasping for breath on the summit ridge of Everest who thought to him- or herself, "You know, I wish I hadn't pushed myself so hard with all of the training. This is a walk in the park." I'll soon be grateful for all of the effort.

Our expedition leader, Alex Abramov, informs me that we'll have a satellite uplink to the Internet and our own wi-fi network at Everest base camp. I'm taking a pair of laptops, a Macbook Pro and a Macbook Air, to stay in touch while I'm climbing Everest. That means I'll be able to update this blog regularly once we get established at base camp. I've also just figured out how to use Skype to make video calls over the Internet, so with all of this technology I'm going to have a very different experience on Everest compared with what things were like on the other big mountains I've climbed. I had some porter help on Kilimanjaro, but everywhere else I had to carry everything I needed myself. On Everest most of the heavy load carrying is done by Sherpa, so you're not going to catch me boasting that I climbed Everest by myself. No way. I will give credit where credit is due. My chances of successfully summiting Everest are so much better precisely because of all of the help I anticipate from Sherpa.

I'm so very thankful for all of the help and support I've received from friends and family far and wide. I absolutely thrive on the positive energy, prayers, and best wishes so many people so generously send my way. I couldn't do this without you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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.