Monday, September 29, 2008
Many people have asked me about an Everest show – it’s this Friday 7pm at the Mazamas. It’s a fundraiser for the Mazamas Expedition Committee, so they’re asking $5/7 members/nonmembers. I can attest it’s going to a very good cause – it was help from them that helped get me started on expeditions.
Since I can’t of course describe what it’s like to stand on the summit of Everest (hmff! Probably overrated :) I hope to impart a sense of what going to Everest and spending two months at base camp, and climbing amidst the circus, is like. I'll have tall tales, big lies, and daring deeds with which to regale you, plus lots of video. I gathered over 10,000 photos from our team, only the top few percent were used in the show, including many pictures up to the summit.
Since many of you won't be able to make the show, I've put some of the better photos up on Picasa http://picasaweb.google.com/montys61361/Everest2008#
Hope to see you there!
Mazamas Mountaineering Center
527 SE 43rd Ave
Portland OR 97215
Sunday, June 1, 2008
The way began about three and a half hours ago, or at least that is where it began this evening. The steps, decisions, and desire to be here actually began much earlier. Five days earlier it began at base camp: all rested, acclimatized, and ready to try for the summit. Two months earlier from home: two duffels of essential gear ready to go, body trained, and soul excited. Two years earlier on Shishapangma: the body can deal with life at 8000 meters; the lessons of the mountains, weather, and partners sink in. Five years earlier in Nepal for the first time: the first view of Everest from the top of Mera Peak--clear, majestic, alluring. Around thirty years earlier: remembering my dad sailing across the ocean to Hawaii . . . adventure is in my blood.
From the Balcony we continue on up. We follow footsteps and a few headlamps. We passed most of the headlamps early on, but keep around four ahead of us. It is steep. It is windy. It is dark, but looking up the stars are bright. Sometime during the night the orange moon rises near Makalu and the way is a little more clear. Occasionally the lights ahead of us stop for a few minutes for a break, and I wonder at first why they don't wait until the route takes a way that is less steep for their break, someplace where if you put a pack down it wouldn't fly down the slope. Then I realize that there are very very few of those places around. And sometimes you just really need to pause for a minute or take a drink. PhuNuru and I stop maybe four times during the climb up for a quick drink or to take in some calories. The Gu's in the pocket of my down suit were very thick—almost frozen, but not quite.
I check my altimeter and watch often: we are making good time. Early during the climb we average 500 ft vertical an hour. I like using oxygen. There is a downside though--what if we make the summit before sunrise? The wind keeps us moving for heat; the fact that we are on Everest keeps us moving for safety.
The route is fun. It keeps going and going. You don't even think about the fact that it is 1 am in the morning. A steep snow slope will turn and offer some rock steps to climb during this low snow year. You reach an anchor: unclip the biner, clip above, re-attach your ascender above the anchor. Step, breath, step, breath, and repeat until the next anchor. Then you reach a section of new rope that is all twisted up with the old rope: time for the biner only.
At some point you look up and the headlamps that were above you are no where to be seen: the South Summit! You've reached ~28,700 feet and are getting quite close. The route drops down a little, you take a quick break, and then head off to cross the ridge to reach the base of the Hillary Step. The winds here pick up a bit. Keeping warm involves the usual bit of feet stomping, hand curling, down hood holding, and strategically placing a few hand warmers. Nicely enough I am able to climb using ice climbing gloves, which gives me dexterity that is hard to come by if you are wearing mittens. The Hillary Step itself is almost all rock, and much easier to ascend than descend. One new orange rope lays unfettered for your biner; below there is a Technicolor set of ropes from last year and the year before and before and before and . . . Those are also used to help you get up and down 'safely.' Once above the Step, the way is the most gentle of all. Step by step, the way is complete!
Sunrise at the top of the world is hard to describe. Beautiful, of course. Not to be missed (well, if you are a mountaineer). The warmth brought by the sun and the safety of so much light invades you. The happiness of accomplishment, and the support and confidence to make it safely back down to the Col, to base camp, . . . to home, to life, to loved ones, this comes with the sun, the dawning of the great eastern light. [For a taste of this feeling, see the first picture 0SummitSunrise]
It is 4:45 am and you are on your way down from the top of the world. The way down is more scary than the way up, and you need the sun. Arm and hand rappels, angel rappels, the occasional munter hitch rappel, and many many carefully placed steps get you down. Below the Balcony you see a few bodies, reminding you of the seriousness of the mountain. The mango juice boxes that PhuNuru brought along as a treat are frozen, so you wait for arrival at the Col for more hydration. The next day you make your way down and around the Geneva Spur, across the Yellow Band, and down the entire Lhotse face to Camp 2. The final day of climbing sees you safely down through the Icefall for the last time. It is now time to try to take in more of what the past few months have been about. And time for some fresh veggies.
0SummitSunrise: Sunrise on May 24, just below the summit. You can see climbers along the route and the South Summit from above. We actually summited before sunrise, but it was too cold and very windy to wait for the sun to rise up there; it rose after 5-10 minutes of heading down.
1TeamBeginSummitBid: PhuNuru, Val, Monty, and Passang as we began our summit bid at the bottom of the Icefall.
2CwmFromLhotseFace: Looking down at the Western Cwm from high on the Lhotse Face. Camp 2 is in the Cwm on the right.
3EverestSpurBand: From left to right, a view of Everest, the Geneva Spur, and the Yellow Band from the Lhotse Face. The climb from the Col climbs the right hand ridge, and the Balcony is the slightly flat part of the ridge just below where the cloud ends.
4UpLohsteFace: Looking up at Tim and Lhotse from the Lhotse Face.
5Val_YellowBand: The crux of crossing the Yellow Band. I am in the red, climbing with oxygen above Camp 3.
6Val_waytoC4: Above the Yellow Band the route is less steep, but got quite hot (I had to take my down suit top off).
[see the previous post for a picture of the route from the Col]
7PhuNuruPhortse: On the trek out, I went via Phortse, the village where PhuNuru and many of our climbing Sherpas live. It was a great village, and it was also sooo nice to see green again!
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Look for a post about the summit climb itself in a few days from Kathmandu! For now, check out these two pictures: one pic looking toward the summit from the Col (you can see the South Summit), and the other pic of me on the summit.
Monday, May 26, 2008
So here’s what led up the the evac: After the extra rest day at C2, Val and I were READY. We were both feeling strong; all the ailments were over. Planned 4am breakfast, then climb to C3 on our way to the summit. At 3am I was waiting for the alarm to go off; I was somewhat surprised at fluid running down my throat. When the alarm struck, I rose, but needed to wipe a runny nose. Uh, no… the snotrag was instantly drenched in blood. Drat – why now?
A few minutes passed and it wasn’t abating; I finally resorted to TP plugs in my nostrils and tipped my head back. I called for Val to come over (tent next door) and we discussed the situation. By now all the blood was running down my throat. I called Tuck at BC, and apprised our Sherpas of the situation.
By 4am it stopped, so I moved the dining tent to discuss with our Sherpas but the activity caused the bleeding to begin again. With the bleeding now recurring, it was clear that I needed to get it stopped PERMANENTLY before heading to C3. It continued for a few more hours, at which point Val and I agreed she’d take off without me. I consulted with the ER doc at the BC med tent as well as Scott, an ER doc on our team. None of their suggestions helped, indicating the bleeding was likely further back (not from within the nose itself).
By ~7am, with no slowing to the bleeding, Pasang and I decided to descend to BC; this was a risky decision – how much blood loss had occurred, and would I be safe descending? We decided the benefits of lower altitude and real medical care outweighed the risks. I was feeling extremely weak, but within five hours I was back at Base - normal descent time ~half that.
I went immediately to the med tent of the HRA; Himalayan Rescue Assn runs a medical clinic staffed with two ER docs. It was determined I needed (I love this term…) a nasal tampon in one nostril. This slowed the external blood flow, but for the next day I still had significant blood running down my throat or out the other nostril. So the next day I had a second one installed. If you’ve never had the pleasure of a nasal tampon, imagine a 3/8” x 3”long stick shoved into your brain. Trust me – it SOUNDS better than it feels. And the resulting headache is not to be missed!
Between the blood loss and sickness with swallowing the blood, hiking the 36 miles to Lukla was out of the question, so a helicopter was arranged. Scott Paraczinski, the ER Doc/Astronaut team member, joined me for the ride out. That afternoon we hiked to Gorak Shep, the nearest settlement, awaiting a military chopper at dawn. Well, the military had some bureaucratic SNAFU and didn’t get clearance to depart until late morning, but by then the clouds had moved in. We were instructed to descend further to Lobuche, where there was more chance of better weather (and more activity, which re-started the bleeding again).
We arrived Lobuche ~10:30, and waited four hours until we gave up and finally got a room at the lodge there. Scott and I were napping at 4pm when the Sherpas burst in – “Helicopter coming!!”
We grabbed our bags and ran outside just as the bird was landing, and hopped aboard. Then they threw me out! The pilot began liftoff, but we really weren’t getting anywhere. He turned to me and said “Get out – we’ll be back soon!” and departed down the valley.
I was chuckling at the irony that I, the evacuee, was now stranded, hoping for the RE-appearance of the rescue chopper. Fortunately in a few minutes they DID return. Scott was dropped off a thousand feet lower, they came back and got me, then picked Scott up at the lower altitude where they could lift off with both of us aboard.
Wow. WOW! A helicopter ride from the upper Khumbu to Kathmandu is NOT TO BE MISSED. It didn’t quite make the whole ordeal worth it, but it sure was cool!
The next morning in Kathmandu I went to the local Trekker’s Clinic where I finally had the plugs removed – every bit as painful as having them inserted. But HEY – no bleeding! Yippee!
So now I’m in Kathmandu, awaiting luggage and Wednesday’s departure. I got the previous ticket mess cleared up and I’m cleared for a flight home.
Am I disappointed? Sure, at first, but not after how things played out. When the bleeding started and I headed down, I admit to being in tears over the unfortunate turn of events. Then the bleeding continued and I got weaker. Soon, the summit faded and my own evacuation became the prime thought in my head. Yeah I’m disappointed, but I’m FAR happier to be down and safe. And I’m VERY thankful to Steve at the HRA, Scott, Pasang, Tuck, Jangbu and everyone else who helped me get here.
So I’ll be home soon, contemplating the future. Will I return to try again? I don’t know – it’s too soon to answer that question. There’s too much death and injury on this mountain, and I’ve come to believe getting both up and DOWN has a greater element of luck than skill, at least for a weekend warrior like me. And it might be too much reliance on luck for the return of this loved father, husband, brother and friend.