Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lobuche Climb

High Camp on Lobuche

April 16, 2013
Return to Lobuche Base Camp: Elev 15,800 ft

I arranged for breakfast an hour earlier than was scheduled so a small band of us could spend an hour using the WiFi in Gorak Shep, in route to Lobuche Base Camp. This worked out pretty well. Though the $9/hour charge was a bit steep, there was plenty of band width in the early morning hours and  we were able to upload photos and post to blogs, etc. 

Being a cloudy day, the winds were cold as they swept up the Khumbu Valley. But the weather broke for a short period and Ty and I stretched out with our packed lunches in a meadow near a glacier. Others in our party found this scene inviting and joined us. The skies grew dark again as we finished eating, and we all set out along the trail wearing fortified layers. By the time we arrived at Lobuche Base Camp we were all quite chilled. 

I immediately began setting up my sleeping kit, consisting of a mat, inflatable air mattress, and sleeping bag. But before crawling in, I decided to take a dose of cold medication.  Finding the tin foil backing to be quite impenetrable, I pawed through my scattered belongings for my folding knife. My cold numb hands possessed enough dexterity to liberate the pills, but not enough to hold onto the knife. “Pooooooooooooof,” said my air mattress as the the knife fell point first into it. “S#&t,” I exclaimed, knowing one of my few comforts had just been destroyed at my own hands. Having no better ideas, I crawled into my down sleeping bag, on top of my sad flat mattress.  “I can fix it tomorrow,” I thought as I recalled the repair kit that came with the air mattress. “This will only cost me one night.” I started to feel bad for reacting the way I had over something so small. 

April 17, 2013
Climb to Lobuche High Camp: Elev 17,500

I drug my miserable air mattress out of the tent and examined it’s wound. Mingma, ever attentive, came over to wish me a good morning. I told him the story of what had happened to the mattress, leaving out my expletive. He studied the hole. He studied the mattress. Mingma’s passive facial expression is one of quiet wisdom. I imagined he was about to share some time tested Sherpa anecdote that spoke to such circumstances in life’s condition. Then he looked up at me and said “S#&t.”

We enjoyed a leisurely morning packing the climbing gear we would need for our attempt on Mt Lobuche; Crampons, ice axe, harness, heavy clothing, and various pieces of mountaineering hardware.  The team then set out for high camp on Lobuche, 2,000 feet above us. 

Without the benefit of a group dining tent, we all gathered in a loose circle while our cook ladled out steaming bowls of Sherpa Stew from a large pot. I thought of taking my bowl back to the tent Ty and I shared, but this somehow felt impolite. I must assume others felt the same as no one left our shivering collective. But all bets were off when snow started to fall, with team members turning on a heal while casting a “good night” over one shoulder. 

Ty and I arranged our gear for the 3:00 a.m. start, then dug down into our sleeping bags. We spoke in muffled voices for the next twenty minutes, quizing each other on who was the all time best Rock and Roll Drummer, Vocalist, Guitarist, zzzzzzzzzz

April 18, 2013
High Camp Lobuche to Summit and descend to Base Camp

We woke at 3 a.m. and set about executing the tasks prepared for the prior evening. I opened up a packet of hand warmers and set them out to start activating. I dressed in my layers, harness and climbing boots. Then I joined the others forming a headlamp circle around our cook. He had prepared porridge, cheese omelets, and hot coffee. I hastily ate a bit of each, then returned to our tent. There was more to do, more to fret over before leaving for the summit and I was determined to not be the last one ready. 

I was the last one ready. Our Guide, Max, made the rounds checking on each climber. “You are going to sweat like a pig,” he counseled upon examining my many warm layers of clothing. His recommendation was a scant combination the likes of which one might wear when flying a kite. Accepting his guidance, I began removing the offending items in what must have looked like some kind of mountaineers burlesque show. The entire team set out without me, but Mingma stayed back to help. I was ten minutes back by the time we finally got going. 

I caught up with my compadres and settled in as the last headlamp in a long line. There were fourteen climbing clients, our Guides Max and Jenny, and numerous Sherpa embedded among us. I passed a few team members here and there, eventually catching up with Ty. We climbed together the remainder of night. Shortly after dawn Ty told me to move on past him, so I did. I did not intend to set an aggressive pace, but it felt so good to finally be climbing that I just kept going. My crampons bit into the steep ice face with satisfying purchase. I  passed climber after climber until I found myself leading the climb with three members of the Air Force team. We reached the summit, 19,600 feet,  about 8 a.m. with clear skies and no wind. I should point out that this was not a race and indeed there are downsides to climbing quickly.  But I had held back from using my high gear at the urging of our Guides and just had to let it run to assure myself I was still carrying it with me. 
Myself on the summit of Lobuche. Everest in the background.

April 19, 2013
Gorak Shep: Elev 16,900
SpO2 = 84  RHR = 90

This morning we said goodbye to the Trekkers who have been a part of our team up to this point. They now start down the Khumbu valley, descending into summer. Us climbers are returning to Everest Base Camp (EBC). 

I took a long last look at Lobuche Base Camp as we wended the traverse to the west. This was a good camp, a clean camp, a place where only our people resided.  I knew I would not likely see this place again. I studied the massive rock face that stands over the camp, the stratified layers standing on end with snow capping each. It would be scary as hell if it were not so beautiful. Which is to say it is not dissimilar to many of the sorority girls I dated in college.  

Tomorrow is a rest day at EBC. The plan is to make a short exploratory trip into the ice fall the following day. I will post when I am able.