Monday, April 15, 2013

The next several days

Approaching Everest Base Camp

Dear Readers, 
Internet access has proven more challenging than I had thought   ...which is to say our satellite BGAN system at Everest Base Camp is very nearly useless. I will continue to blog this adventure, but it will likely come to you in batches of 5 days at a time as I am able to make the 1 hour hike down to  Gorak Shep. 
All the best, 

April 10, 2013
Lobuche Base Camp: Elev 15,800 ft. 
SpO2 = 86  RHR = 81

We set out from Phariche under overcast skies, with a cold headwind that encouraged most of us to add a layer of clothing. I had slept well and felt happy to be moving on, but for some reason my energy level was low. This might have bothered me in earlier years; might have enlisted my ego to drive hard for the sake of keeping up with the fastest Trekkers. No more. I reminded myself there will be good days and bad in the course of the two month span of this expedition. The most important thing is to not beat myself up. Take it day by day. I credit my good friend Phil Drowley for this perspective. I hung back with the Trekkers keeping a more casual pace and had a perfectly enjoyable day. 

We arrived at Lobuche Base Camp around 1p.m. Our advance Sherpa Team had already set up the tents, the kitchen, a dining tent and drop toilets. A few years ago we would have stayed in the village of Lobuche, but expedition organizers deemed the conditions there intolerable. Since then IMG has opted to create their own village away from town in a low depression sheltered from the wind.  This allows for better control of the circumstances contributing to food safety. By all accounts this has been a success, and one could easily meter a lift in morale among expedition members as we settled in. 

We enjoyed a hearty lunch made all the more delectable by virtue of being less worrisome. There were thermoses of hot tea, coffee, and citrus drink. The kitchen staff brought us warm moist towels scented with menthol to clean up before the meal, then served hot dogs on fresh baked buns, baked beans, and cucumber/beet salads. 

After moving into our tents, we spent the remainder of the day getting to know the camp. Snow started to fall in heavy wet flakes as we finished dinner. The temperature dropped to the mid 20’s, but I was perfectly comfortable in my down sleeping bag. 

April 11, 2013
Rest day in Lobuche Base Camp
SpO2 = 88  RHR = 75

It is easy to take simple things for granted. The basic act of washing one’s hands is one such thing. You can walk into almost any public restroom in America and find hot water, soap, and paper towels provided gratis. There will also be light, and functioning private toilets. It is a mistake to assume any of these will exist when visiting a restroom in Nepal. If there is a sink, there is not necessarily water. If there is water, it will most certainly be cold.  You learn to carry soap and a small towel on your person. 

So imagine the sublime joy I experienced that first morning at Lobuche Base Camp when hot water came out of the spigot of the cooler at our camp hand washing station. It was 6 a.m.  Fresh snow had covered our camp, and yet the kitchen crew had already filled the cooler with hot water. What is more, there was a fresh bar of soap and clean towel at the ready. I choked back tears of joy as I washed my hands a fourth time. Seized with the purpose of a Disciple, I wanted to spread this good word, waking tent after tent of the unclean.  Sure they had all used Purell and it’s package purports to kill 99.9% of germs, but we all knew it was that .1% germ that had sickened us and probably propagated like Starbucks franchises during our sleep. Who would not gladly surrender much needed rest to receive such information? In the end I did not wake anyone, instead choosing to accost people as they emerged sleepy-eyed from their dwelling.  

April 12, 2013
A second rest day in Lobuche Base Camp. 
SpO2 = 90  RHR = 73

Our first case of the Khumbu Cough came forth on this day. This is a dry incessant cough believed to be brought on by exertion in the dry cold air of greater altitudes. Our best defense is to breath through a buff, especially at night, and avoid overly strenuous pacing when on the move. That said, it is likely 70% of us will have contracted Khumbu Cough two weeks from now and will not be rid of it until returning home many weeks hence. 

This was a true rest day. Unlike yesterday, there was no acclimation hike. Most of us took advantage of the sunny weather and did laundry. The kitchen crew provided large bowls of hot water to this end. A colorful display of garments were then left to dry on rocks and makeshift clothes lines while spontaneous games of Frisbee and Hackusack commenced. 

Swept up in the spirit of cleanliness, I decided to shower and shave. A tall narrow tent had been erected with flat stones placed for a floor. A large bowl of hot water was provided with a ladle.  Under such circumstances one comes to understand how little we actually need to bath. I treated myself with a clean change of clothes and felt as shiny as a new dime.  

Our camp sits at the base of Mt Lobuche (elev 19,600 ft). It is our first round acclimation objective. We will trek to Everest Base Camp (elev 17,500) tomorrow and spend two days acclimating before returning here and mounting our attempt on Mt Lobuche. One of the earlier IMG teams left here yesterday for Lobuche High Camp. We watched them all morning through binoculars, sharply defined against the steep white flanks, as they summitted under perfect conditions. It was thrilling to see climbers on the mountain plying their craft. We chattered excitedly, eyes cast skyward, deconstructing the route as  we fixed our own ambitions several days from now.

April 13, 2013
Trek to Everest Base Camp: Elev 17,500
SpO2 = 76  RHR = 90

The seven hour trek to Everest Base Camp took us through the dusty and unremarkable villages of Lobuche and Gorak Shep. One member of our party began suffering the ill effects of altitude and so turned back for Lobuche Base Camp. Otherwise it was a pleasant day of trekking the higher Khumbu valley. Most of the route followed the same river valley that is fed by Everest snow melt. Snow still lay in scattered patches along the shady side of the valley. Our trail traversed the sunny side through grazed pasture lands that smelled of summer as the day’s warmth awakened the low cropped grass. At one point my I-pod randomly chose the song Mellisa by the Alman Brothers. It was the perfect sound track.

We wandered the glacial moraine to the area near the Khumbu ice fall staked out by IMG.  Lunch was served and camp chief (Big Boss) Greg Venovage greeted us. Greg is a tall affable man with a quick smile and quicker wit. He is a veteran of Everest expeditions and sports the kind of physique that says so. You could bounce a quarter off his chest and it would ring all the way to the ground. 
The Punja ceremony to bless us and our equipment
After lunch we moved into our tents.  We each have our own two-man tent to call home for the next many weeks. This may sound like a luxury, but having a small piece of personal space is vitally important when it comes to keeping one’s mental balance during such a protracted measure of time. I unpacked a few things, but was already getting the headache that typically comes with moving up to a new altitude. I drank a liter of water and took a short nap. Feeling better, I then hung some photos I had brought along; My FiancĂ© Lin, my boys Trevor & Chase, and my Mom. 

Several large ice falls in the surrounding hills woke the camp that night as spring inched a bit closer.  I pulled on my down clothes around 3 a.m. and stepped out of my tent to look at the sky.  The brilliance of the stars easily challenged a thin crescent moon and the pale yellow light it cast on Everest. A monument in the center of our camp crackled with fire as prayer flags reached out into the darkness in every direction. “I am here,” I thought. Having spent so much time thinking about this climb and the experiences it would bring, the moment felt surreal. 

The first part of any Everest expedition is getting to Everest Base Camp. While this can be quite enjoyable, it is not without it’s challenges. But Ty and I made it in good health and high spirits.  If anyone reading this post has considered a trekking experience in Nepal I would, in spite of the fore mentioned challenges, strongly recommend it. It is a magical experience that will take you away from everything you know, and pleasantly haunt you for some time after. 

April 14, 2013
Everest Base Camp: Elev 17,500
SpO2 = 79  RHR = 85

Myself and Mingma Chhing
Today we were gathered before the climbing Sherpas and each assigned as team mates for the duration of the climb. The process of matching Sherpa and Climber remains somewhat mysterious, but for however it may work one thing seems clear; I won the Sherpa lottery. I have been paired up with Mingma Chhing, ten time Everest Summiter. He is a senior Sherpa and quite often seems to be the guy in charge. We got to know each other while going over my equipment. Like myself, Mingma has two boys.

The expedition then spent some time practicing crossing ladders with crampons on. I noticed Mingma stepped forward to study my technique and gave me an approving smile when I was done.
Myself crossing a ladder

April 15, 2013
Everest Base Camp
SpO2 = 85  RHR = 74

We spent a few hours training today on our ice techniques. Under the watchful eyes of our Guide Max, and our companion Sherpas, we scaled a small ice face near camp using crampons and ascender, safety leashes and figure 8 descenders. Everyone performed well and it felt good to finally be doing some ice work. Tomorrow we start our first acclimation rotation, leaving EBC for Lobuche Base Camp and the climbing of same.