Sunday, April 28, 2013

April 21 through 28

Jangbu watches climbers move up the mountain.

April 21, 2013
Solo Trek to Gorak Shep

Note to Readers: I was able to repair the punctured air mattress. Also, my Palm Tree mascot has been joined by an inflatable kangaroo marking the tent of our Australian team member. 

***You can follow daily updates called in by satellite phone at this link
In these rather basic posts they will refer to my group as "Classic Climbers" Guided by Max and Aaron. I am only able to post when the team has returned to EBC after a rotation. 

This was suppose to be the day we put boots to ground for the first time on Everest. The plan was to rise at 3 a.m. and enter the ice fall, climb about three quarters of the way through it to an area called “The Football Field”, and return to base. Like everything we have done thus far, this too was intended to acclimate us for higher camps to come. But snow fell heavy through the night and “Big Boss” Greg Venovage judged the ice fall unsafe. “Hey Dave,” he called from outside my tent around 2:30 a.m., “I’m calling off the climb for today so get some sleep.” Then he shook my tent to relieve the heavy accumulation of snow and commented “Nice palm tree.” 

This is climbing Everest. As essential as it is to have a plan, it is still more important that one be willing to change it. After breakfast I checked out a radio from the Comm tent and set out on the four mile trek down the valley to Gorak Shep. I wanted to post to this blog, check my email, and connect with friends and family on Facebook. I find it helps me keep my spirits up when I read the comments blog Readers' posts, or friends add to my Facebook wall. Thank you! 

I skipped around Trekkers bound in heavy layers and moving in slow motion. That was me the first time I trekked into EBC, but I have since time acclimated. It felt good to clip along comfortably with Chicago playing in my ears, watching the rugged landscape of glacial moraine fold over on itself as a river emerged. 

April 22, 2013
Into the Ice Fall

We finished breakfast at 3:30 a.m. and began shuffling over to the Sherpa group tent. I was once again the last climber to arrive. Mingma looked a bit concerned but did not ask me to explain my chronic tardiness. This was fortunate as I had no good excuse aside from the general malaise that comes with being up and active at such an hour. Under Mingma’s lead we immediately began passing other Climbers, sometimes leap-frogging four at a time. I would have asked him to slow down, except this pace solved a different problem I had. I had only dressed in Long Johns and a shell layer in anticipation of the hard work ahead and presently felt quite chilled. Soon I was generating enough body heat to feel comfortable as we navigated the blue ice statues that stand sentry to the fall. 

By far, the majority of fatalities on Everest occur in the ice fall. There are two reasons for this. The first is the fact that the ice fall consists of the pieces of ice broken off the upper glacier. These pieces, ranging in size from mailbox to commercial building, are all melting, shifting, and toppling in slow motion as gravity and spring temperatures work upon them. Occasionally that movement is not be in slow motion. The second reason the ice fall is susceptible to tragedy is the somewhat regular snow and ice avalanches that sweep down from the west shoulder of Everest. It goes without saying some parts of the ice fall are more dangerous than others. So a big part of managing one’s passage involves keeping enough gas in the tank to speed through those troublesome areas. 

Myself descending a ladder in the ice fall. 

At times Mingma would invite me to lead our ascent, offering counsel when we entered areas where speed was important. At some point I noticed we were alone. I called for a break at a safe spot and asked MIngma what he had heard over the radio as other Sherpa and IMG personnel chattered. He said Big Boss had just turned everyone around.  Mingma and I had already crossed most of the ladders and were only 10 minutes from our objective, the Football Field. He got on the radio and received permission for us to finish out. In the end, myself and two of the Air Force climbers were the only ones to make it to the Football Field. I felt good about this, but was also spent after four hours of hard climbing. We arrived back in EBC a bit after 9:00 a.m. I slept until lunch. 

Big Boss, Max, and one of our Climbers interrupted lunch to make an announcement. This Climber had decided to end his bid. The altitude was causing severe blurring of his vision and he felt it would not be safe to continue given this. He would be leaving EBC by helicopter in a few hours. The Climber was tearful as he talked about how hard it had been to make this decision and surrender his dream. We tried to console him.  A well liked team member, he will be missed by all.

April 23, 2013
Rest Day

April 24, 2013
Arrive Camp 1
SpO2 = 74  RHR = 77

From a distance, the ice fall looks like a jumbled pile of fractured ice. But up close, when you are inside the ice fall, it is a strange and wonderous world not unlike something Dr. Suess might have created. 

It starts with the blue ice statues of cold
They welcome you in like climbers of old. 
“He’s over-dressed. He’ll get hot, then get sweaty.”
“This will attract fatigue or a Yeti.”
The ground undulates like a Pirian Fong
The ice creaks and sings it’s happy ice song
You enter a narrow white corridor.
Now the ice is above, below, to the fore. 
But the shapes are not straight the way you had thought. 
They’re round and reaching, curved like a pot.
Your headlamp bends the shadows like skilm
or the haunting features in a Tim Burton film. 
The trail narrows until thats all that there is,
flanked by darkness and the demons of Miz.
Now you slide to the side in a crystalline room.
It dazzles and rings, but you must leave soon. 
Straight up through the ceiling with crampons and rope.
Up up to the next place. Wide open, you hope.
It’s hard to breathe. The air is so thin. 
You gasp like a gold fish on land, one fin.
The ice block above you could fall any time. 
So you can’t rest here. Keep moving. Must climb.
Next come the ladders, scratched and bent. 
They span the deep fissures, where others have went.
They scale the tall ice, three, four lashed together
like a whoozit flamboozle left out in the weather. 
You cross them with shoes made of steel-soled spikes. 
you hold onto the ropes, the rungs and the likes. 
Then six hours later you emerge from a crack. 
The sun has risen. You take off your pack. 
You’re here at last. You’ve arrived at Camp One. 
Now nap in your tent. Your work day is done. 

April 25, 2013
Rest day Camp 1

Camp 1

We ate breakfast in our tents. The Sherpas brought us hot water for tea and to mix with our Oat Meal. Shortly thereafter we set out in light gear on the path to Camp 2. We had no intention of covering the entire  distance, but merely wished to keep our legs from stiffening up after the difficult prior day. 

Though the terrain was a pleasant rolling snow scape of little consequence, we never the less clipped our safety leashes into the running fixed lines. The soft contours of this windswept snow belie the many deep crevasses beneath. Indeed, the first casualty of this Everest season occurred on this very stretch. A Sherpa, part of the team setting fixed lines, fell 47 meters through a thin hidden snow bridge. 

We turned back at the halfway point, returning to camp just prior to a subzero wind storm setting in. We ate MRE’s while hiding in our thick down sleeping bags, then rested for the move to Camp 2 the following day.  

April 26, 2013
Move to Camp 2 (Elev 21,300 feet)
SpO2 = 71  RHR = 98

Crossing a ladder

The white faces of Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse from a perfect solar concentration down on the valley common to them all. It is a strict “no no” to get caught out in this valley during the hear of the day when temperatures can race from the morning cool of 10 F to 90 F at peak sun. So it goes we left Camp 1 at 6:00 a.m. in the tight chill of night and the soft dusky light of dawn. Ty and his Sherpa, Lakpa, together with Mingma and I, enjoyed a casual pace that delivered us to Camp 2, just as the first direct rays touched the tents.  We threw out things into a vacant tent, then adjorned to the dining tent for some hot Tang drink. 

Ty and I started talking about a wayward butterfly that had come into our tent the previous afternoon, taking refuge from the coming storm. Ty enlisted the counsel of the Sherpa tending the dining tent. “This is good luck,” the Sherpa asserted. Ty then added that the butterfly had sadly passed on during the night. The Sherpa looked uncomfortable, assuming we likewise wanted his interpretation of this turn. It must be understood that the Sherpa culture avoids conflict, bad tidings or any whiff of negativity. “Ummmm. Uhhhhhhh,” he stammered. “This is VERY good luck,” I offered, though it made no sense at all. “Yes,” the relieved Sherpa agreed, “this is very good luck.”

April 27, 2013
Rest Day at Camp 2
SpO2 = 76  RHR 86

Ty, loading his pack at camp 2
I am missing Lin and the boys. It has been several days since I have had cell service. I dream about them at night, pedestrian dreams where I am following them around the house. I will be back at EBC tomorrow as we finish this rotation and I plan to call them straight away. 

A big shout-out to my friends at The House. I have known some difficult moments during this rotation and found strength in your prayers. Many thanks and God bless. 

I break this climb down into two metrics; The game plan and my overall status. At this point we are still on game plan A, which is to say our summit day is likely around May 18th. Frankly, I consider this remarkable given the many variables at hand. Good on us! I also consider myself to be on my A game. This is a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual health. To be sure, there have been times I was not on my A game. But here, looking up the steep icy Lhotse face, I am grateful to feel this good. 
The Lohtse Face and approach
We will have to come to terms with the Lhotse Face on our next rotation. It is said this challenge separates many climbers from their dream. 

April 28, 2013
Camp 2 to EBC
At EBC SpO2 = 86   RHR = 83  
Oxygen bottles moved up to camp 2
Mingma stopped by my tent to the night before. He wanted to make sure I knew breakfast was at 4:30 a.m. and we were leaving right after. “Don’t be late,” he pleaded. I decided Mingma had done so much for me that I would make a concerted effort to satisfied this request. 

It was not just a matter of getting out of bed. All my gear had to be sorted for what would stay behind in a rice sack at camp 2 and what would return with me to EBC. I dedicated the next 2 hours (in 10 F temperatures) to this task. Some things were obvious; Down Suit, -40 F sleeping bag, and mattress pad would all stay. But when it came to a certain hat or candy bar I found myself flummoxed. It is entirely possible this was a symptom of the altitude. In most instances I ate the candy bar and left the hat behind, rationalizing that it had taken a lot of energy to get that hat up the hill and I owed it to myself to celebrate that success by not creating a counterfeit second effort. 
Team Leader Max Bunce and Mingma Chhing
I reported for breakfast very much on time. The Cook prepared fried egg and bacon on toast. It was quite tasty. Then Mingma and I set out into the predawn light at an improved pace. Not a lot of talking takes place during such a move. From time to time my concentration was summoned as we crossed another aluminum ladder laid out across a hungry crevasse, but otherwise I was free to be with my thoughts.  

My thoughts;
      -On the 1960’s sitcom Bewitched it was unfair of Darren to demand his wife not use her powers. She should have turned him into a newt.
      -I wonder what my son, Trevor, is doing right now?
      -The only track I can recall bass player of the Who, John Entwistle, singing lead on is My Wife.  This lyric indictment paints his wife as being a maniacal shrew for not understanding how he might have “had a bit too much to drink,” taken a wrong turn, and thus been AWOL the last four days. True or not, this could not have been good for his marriage.
       -What did I do with that last Mars bar?
       -When I get to EBC I will have concluded the second acclimation rotation. There will only be one more rotation before I am ready to make a summit attempt!
        -Mingma declined my invitation to make barnyard noises. Is it possible he is ashamed of his cow?
        -I can’t wait to shower and shave at EBC. It has been 9 days. 
        -I wonder how much weight I’ve lost.
        -My niece, Sasha, wrote a very nice message to me on Facebook. I already liked Sasha before this, but now I like her even more. I should either send a nice message back to her or ship a Mars bar from Gorak Shep.