Thursday, May 15, 2008

15 May: Prep For The Summit Push

I need to apologize if this turns into a long blog post... there's much to cover, and we have little time before kicking off in two days for our Summit Push through the Icefall.

I wanted to pass on a story that Willie and another guide who is here, Kenton Cool, told us at dinner the other night. It was so unique and filled with both the hazards of climbing on Everest coupled with humor that Francisco and I found ourselves even talking about it the next day:

The Polish Guy
In 2005, a middle aged Polish Guy arrived at Base Camp without a permit to climb on Everest. Fully intending to try anyway, he focused on going unnoticed in order to avoid the steep climbing permit fees. He had very little money and basic equipment, but felt strong and capable enough to take on the mountain and at one point made it all the way through the Icefall and up to Camp I. Some of the larger guide services made note of his presence but he spoke little English, wasn't very friendly, and seemed to be able to take care of himself. So they left him alone and only saw him on the periphery while they looked after their clients.

As we have seen from our limited time here, the Nepalis take their high dollar Everest climbing permits VERY seriously. But, we have also seen that if you were to go incognito enough there is a good chance that you could go unnoticed for some time. That is, unless a dramatic or tragic event changes your anonymous status quickly and unexpectedly.

In 2005, something happened at Camp I that everyone prepares for but almost never happens- a huge avalanche calved off of Everest's West Face that was large enough that it literally washed over Camp I. More or less a hundred year avalanche. Dozens of tents were flattened from the air blast alone, almost all were covered, and if you hadn't placed your tents on the high ground fingers (like where ours were located), you found yourself in jeopardy. By a stroke of luck, most climbers were down in Base Camp at the time the avalanche struck and Camp I was almost deserted.

The Polish Guy was unique- he had elected to stay in Camp I along with a small handful of others that day. When the avalanche hit, he apparently jumped out of his tent to film the thousand tons of snow and ice as it closed in on Camp I- not exactly something that's recommended. But he was a tough old guy and must have believed he'd be ok where he was standing.

As an avalanche moves forward, it is preceded by a wall of air- a blast wave that pushes things down quickly and with force before the mass of snow comes along and washes everything in white and sweeps it along as the avalanche travels on its way. It was this wall of air that seems to have done the most damage to the Polish Guy, who had his camcorder pressed up to his face at the time he was hit. Out in front, the solid air slammed the camcorder with such force that it cut his face in many places and people afterwards wondered if you might be able to read "SONY" imprinted backwards on his forehead.

Word of the avalanche reached Base Camp and rescuers quickly pressed out, reaching Camp I in record time. Dazed and confused, the Polish Guy was already staggering down the mountain with only what he had on, bleeding and face smashed. He clearly knew that he'd be found out and didn't want to pay a massive fine or end up thrown into a Nepali jail for climbing without a permit. As he passed several rescuers enroute down the Icefall, he gruffly waved off care and just kept on going. The confused rescuers didn't know what to do. Help this crotchety yet bloody guy refusing help, or worry about what else they might find at Camp I? So they kept moving and figured the Polish Guy would be taken care of by someone else further down below.

Upon arrival at Camp I, the rescuers found what remained of the Polish Guy's tent- just an old, small job barely bigger than a kitchen table. Peering inside, they found: gas for boiling water, and a very large bottle of vodka. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. Gas and vodka. To climb Everest. The rescuers radioed that back, almost laughing in disbelief at how Spartan this guy's tent was. But by now the Nepali authorities knew about him and also knew he didn't have a climbing permit. They began actively looking for him with vigor, and didn't think it was very funny for sure. He wasn't in Base Camp, so the Nepalis figured he must still be coming down through the Icefall and focused their energy there. After a few hours he was still nowhere to be found and they realized that despite their best efforts, he had somehow slipped the noose.

Several days later, the climbing community at Base Camp learned of his fate: Somehow, the Polish Guy had made it all the way to New Delhi, India and repatriated back to Poland from the Embassy there. New Delhi? Apparently, the Polish Guy had managed to walk 80 kilometers in the exact same climbing clothes that he had been wearing when hit in the avalanche at Camp I. Bleeding, injured, and only with the clothes on his back, he down climbed through the Icefall, traveled all the way through the Khumbu Valley, out through Lukla and into Kathmandu. Somehow, no one had noticed him or wondered about why someone wearing climbing boots and bleeding was staggering down the trail as far as Lukla. From there, he likely took a bus across the border and all the way to New Delhi. He didn't have much money, so people speculate that he sold his climbing boots in Kathmandu for just enough money for bus fare to leave the country unnoticed.

Even today, when you enter the Sagarmatha National Park gate near Lukla there is a picture of the Polish Guy looking all gruff and dazed on a ratty wanted poster that has likely been there since a few days after he ran off in 2005. My guess? He made it home, started putting back his loved vodka, told his tale to friends and family who called him a crazy nut, and he gave up on Everest completely.

Other Items

New Base Camp Manager
We have a New Base Camp Manager named Bridie, who joins us today. She is from New Zealand and originally came to Everest with a NASA research project and decided to stick around for another week when offered our Base Camp Manager job. This is a great win-win for all of us- we will be able to provide regular dispatches as we progress on our summit push, and she gets to gain experience as a manager for an Everest expedition.

Sherpa Progress
All of the Sherpas punched out today for Camp II, arriving in short order as usual. I swear, the push up the mountain for them is like commuting to work. While we take the metro, they hike from Base camp to Camp II. They needed to push forward in order to ensure they are forward staged for the move to Camp III and further prepare to stock the South Col camp (Camp IV). We'll see them soon enough, so it's good in many ways to see the beginning movement of the gears that are to be our final summit push. All weather forecasts are showing the 20th/ 21st to provide us with a solid weather window, and these continue to be the dates that we are targeting.

Rest of the Team
As for Francsico, Willie and me, we are still in recovery/waiting/prep stage. I am looking to items that I will be bringing to the summit and making sure they are packed, which include:

Flags: 3-Dimensional, Vectorform, American, USMC, Ohio Wesleyan, KandDP Consulting
Good Luck Charms: Watch, Dogtags, Atta's Lucky Poker Chip, Mini-Bible
Utility: Knife, whistle, altimeter, binoculars
Other: Seahawks football

Knock on wood all things go according to plan... both Francisco, Willie and the Sherpas are doing the same thing, as each has special items that they want to make sure they are bringing with them and have to share/save as memories of their trip. For example, Francisco has three of his flags that he plans to fly on the side of his tent right now, getting them ready for our push in two days:

As with yesterday, we had a few visitors today in the endless parade of people visiting Willie and wanting to get a little more info on what Willie's strategy is. All of the Fuzzies from next door came over and asked if we had an adaptor that would work on his electric razor. In casual conversation, he confessed that people in his camp were beginning to call him a Woolly Mammoth. Francisco and I cracked up when he told Willie that. Another visitor named Sergio Martini is an unassuming and very gentle-spoken 50-something Italian man who speaks little English. I'm typing away; he quietly and conscientiously poked his head in the tent and asked if Willie was around. "Yes," I said and offered him a seat. After 30 minutes, and only after asking in basic terms who this guy is, was I told that not only had the man sitting three feet from me climbed all 14 8,000 meter peaks in his career ("What was the most difficult?" "K2, I did the North Ridge and it took 4 1/2 months") but, he was here at Everest again to raise money for a hospital and give back to the community that he has spent so much time in, which is really, really neat in our eyes.

In the evening, we continued with our streak of really cool dinners- tonight's is fondue, believe it or not. Kenton (Dream Guides), Mara (Jagged Globe), Mark (IMG), and Jambu (IMG) joined our team for dinner and a movie to pass the night and enjoy the camaraderie that has formed over the last several weeks.

Back to Top Ten Stories:

No comments: