Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I was told that several questions revolved around our interaction with other teams while here. Truth be told, the interaction is definitely limited- in Base Camp. The terrain is so rocky, the gravel so frustrating that it's like walking on a Slip-n-Slide. Base Camp resides on a glacier, so essentially all you need to do is dig down through all the sloppy rock and you have ice.
Frequently, especially through the nicer hours of the day when the sun is out, people can travel between camps. But one misplaced step and you quickly find yourself on your ass when you put your foot down on a spot where there wasn’t a few inches of gravel- there wasn't any and -whoop- you reenact that famous Charlie Chaplin skit of slipping on a banana for the amusement of all Sherpas within viewing distance.

Yesterday Willie wanted to go on a "shortcut." I swear I'm never falling for this again. While Joe sagely declined and made it back to our cook tent 20 minutes before we did, Francisco and I were led deep into the moraine field where I actually found myself surfing 10' down a steep face on a rock surfboard. Slipping, sliding, and cursing the whole way back, Francisco and I vowed that the scramble back into Base is one of the most tiring and frustrating parts of any evolution we have embarked on.

Yet, Base Camp is a necessary part of this expedition, and it's literally a village out here. Tent camps pop up every day as the population here ebbs and flows.

And fortunately, as the camp grows in size, mini-paths are also popping up as frustrated climbers get tired of people walking through their backyards. These trails have little rock walls, some even have rock entryways, complete with flat rocks where someone has written expedition names with a Sharpie pen.

These tend to make the 40 minute slog through Base Camp a little more tolerable, but even then the dramatic change in temperatures at the drop of a hat and way that the winding trails go up and down across the glacier make it more likely for interaction within your camp and less likely for cross-contact at this stage. Except for Willie, who knows everyone. This makes for a great opportunity to meet other guides, who are stopping by to say hello and see what his thoughts are if he isn't heading to their camps. It's amazing how small the guide community for a trip like this can be.

However, there is a great degree of contact on the trail, where I have met more climbers. Here, as you travel the ropes and have the chance to cross paths with people, I have met Jordanians, Saudis, Italians, Spaniards, Canadians, and Americans. Almost all are fantastic, some are asses. But you get that no matter where you go, so it shouldn't come as any surprise.

Mustafa is a great guy and lives adjacent to our camp. We first met at the Hotel Yak & Yeti, which seems like a millennium ago while preparing to depart for Everest. This is his 3rd attempt at Everest and if he succeeds, will be the first Jordanian in history to summit. King Fahd is very interested in his efforts, and Mustafa's constantly updating him, which I personally think is really cool. We see him every day, trade DVDs and keep each other posted on our collective progress.

If Farouk succeeds, he will also be a first. Studying and living in the US for the last seven years, he is climbing under the Saudi flag and I met him while on one of those crazy vertical ladders that are actually four aluminum ladders tied together. He was going up, I was going down. I looked, and saw a Saudi flag on his cap, so we stopped, midway through and chatted for a minute while about 20 other climbers were wondering what on earth we could possibly be talking about in that position.

The other day, Willie bumped into two famous Italian climbers whose faces we saw smeared all over posters at those hotels we stayed in on our way up here, and who Willie goes way back with. These guys- Angelo and Roberto have been climbing on the same mountains as Willie for years and are here at Everest, unsupported and planning to climb without Oxygen. Anyone considering this, I highly recommend they take a good look at the statistics- those on actually making the top, and those reflecting the accident rate. They are truly staggering. Yet here are two guys, very humble and down to earth, and extremely capable- sitting among us, concerned that they accidentally got snow on my sleeping pad. They willingly and with great excitement brought over enough Prosciutto to feed an Army and we chowed down as a group, talking and chatting.

And then there's the other, darker and unfortunate side of the coin.

One day, there was a huge backlog at one of the ladder groups. This ladder set was no joke, either. After ascending one ladder (which is actually three tied together), you traverse a 40-degree ledge that leads you up to a 20' nearly vertical slope. This slope in-turn leads to yet another ladder, which doesn’t top out at the ridge, but actually requires you to climb a 6' vertical wall of ice to the top. All of this sits 50' above a massive crevasse, inviting an accidental mistake. There is a safety rope that you can clip into, but thanks to the technical merits of this move it is definitely one you want to take your time on.

As we were picking our way along the ridge, before our eyes this Swiss IFMGA Guide (anyone wondering what IFMGA stands for, it's a high-brow guide certification which in a nutshell means you know what you are doing. Putting the IFMGA patch on your jacket like this jack-ass means you have a big head about it) completely bypasses a 10 person queue waiting to get down, doesn't clip into a safety line, and AS two other people are up-climbing the ladder, basically stapled to the snow with some pickets- starts climbing down the side of the ladder. The SIDE OF THE LADDER. Willie goes bat-shit, yelling at him, telling him how stupid he is.

The guy, complete with Cheshire Cat Grin, ignores Willie and walks right by him, not clipping in again. I’m sitting there w/ my lung in my hand, so I can't participate, but the guy walks right by me, cuts the 2nd queue, and skids down that ladder- not clipped in. He pops out at the bottom, and then, complete with a "look-how-awesome-I-am-guys" smile, looks up at his clients and teammates- all of whom are still way up above the first ladder and now sans guide to help them get down safely.

People often ask me about the jack-assery that happens in the mountains and what I see both climbing and with SMR. Unfortunately when on TV you hear "5 climbers fell into a crevasse on Mt. Rainier today" they almost always neglect to mention the series of bad decisions that get people into trouble. If this guy had slipped, I doubt the news would have reported how stupid he acted... instead that Everest had claimed a victim, and... gosh, it was an IFMGA Guide! How tragic. Whatever. Just keep that guy as far away from me as possible.

And here, so everyone can see- a future Darwin Award Winner:

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