Thursday, May 1, 2008

17 April: Budget Trips vs. Experienced Trekkers

Tendi and Lama Jambu did a load to Camp I today. It took them about two hours to make it to their destination. Two hours. It took us two hours to barely make the Soccer Field the other day and these guys were at Camp I. Every time I see these Sherpas flying up and down the trail I'm constantly amazed at their physical abilities. And the most impressive thing? They are so down to earth about it- doing all this with a smile and incredible humility at what they can do. Here we are, wheezing, dying, gasping, snotting and doing everything in our power to keep from passing out when saying "hello" to someone on the trail. And whizzing past us at what seems like the speed of light with packs easily five times heavier come a train of Sherpas- not out of breath, dancing along the lines, and sure-footed as they come.

While these superhumans were trucking up to Camp I, the rest of us woke to another interesting morning of a humongo avalanche calving off Pumori.

As I watched this, I looked down and noticed that the Khumbu Icefall Lake District had extended all the way out to open up a new subdivision right by my tent. As Joe and I talked about this, we wondered aloud what the Icefall- especially the part where we park ourselves- would look like in four weeks time. While in Gorak Shep the other day, we noticed that a frozen lake we trekked right over was now essentially a puddle. Would the rest of the glacier follow suit? I'm a bit concerned that there might be one day that I return- tired, hungry, and wiped out. And then look around and wonder... hey, where'd my tent go? There is a smallish cavern right adjacent to my tent- I think it's just a linear crack, but when this morning I tried to dump rock after rock into the hole, it didn't seem to do much at all- even after 15 minutes of dumping. Given that most glacial movement seems to be happening in the evening hours, how bad would it be if one of those groans and creaks I hear each night ended up with me taking a quick drop into a frozen water bath? Yowzah.

Still, the nights these days are eerie. Silent at times with no wind. Mountains stand like giant ghosts in moonlight. Then in the distance you can hear the hurricane force winds whipping off peaks like faint jet engines, occasionally dropping down & rattling the tents where you can hear gusts coming like a freight train from a long way off. We learned that winds along the mountain tops are to be between 80 & 100 mph. Last night we had a spring storm, lashing tents with vigor & accumulating snow. But most of us were too exhausted to notice much and the snow melted off by ten. As the moon approaches full, its intensity is magnified by the snow, creating a truly beautiful sight and you don’t even need your headlamp. But crystal clear night = quite cold as well... and we are. Yee cats is it cold. But so incredibly beautiful.

Tomorrow we plan to ascend to Camp I and possibly Camp 2. Acclimatization is such an interesting phenomenon. Other teams are going at different rates and different plans- not all logical. It is here that you truly see what can get an unprepared climber into trouble, and where experience pays off. At the top of one ice shelf yesterday, Willie is chatting with two climbers on a budget trip. Their Sherpa ratio is 7:1 and they largely set their own schedule, which has them in the Icefall ascending much later than Willie or our Sherpa team are comfortable with. The look on their faces when they realize in conversation that they are several liters short of O2 for summit day... meanwhile, another climber at the point of exhaustion, completely decked out in down & expedition weight mittens/ overboots takes a full ten minutes on one ladder. He looks to be overheating in the noon sun, but struggles- finally- to the top of the ladder, immediately taking a knee. His three country flags flutter proudly from his gear, but perhaps like their owner, too proudly. He ignores our questions as to if he is ok, and even Lhakpa's checking on him. These people have no safety net if things go wrong. It's at times like these that you don't skimp and essentially get what you pay for.

In 2002, I had Lasik on my eyes. There are plenty of places around advertising $500, or something akin to basic budget Lasik. I went with a guy in DC that cost over $3000, but is the doctor that performs eye surgery on FBI sharpshooters. To me, there wasn't even a discussion about the value. There are some things you don't put a price tag on. To me, finding yourself halfway up Everest with no safety net in the event the shit hits the fan is exactly one of those things.

1 comment:

nepalwriter said...

Sherpas are the true heroes of Everest. Without their assistance, very few would reach the summit. To learn more about this amazing tribe, read Beyond the Summit by Linda LeBlanc. Details of Sherpa culture and religion are interwoven in a tale of romance and high adventure. The story has something for everyone: a love affair between an American journalist and Sherpa guide, conflict between generations as the modern world challenges centuries of tradition, an expedition from the porter’s point of view.

Below are selections from reviews. To read the complete ones and excerpts go to

Beyond the Summit, is the rare gem that shows us the triumphs and challenges of a major climb from the porter’s point of view. The love of two people from diverse cultures is the fiery centerpiece of a novel that leads its readers through harshly beautiful and highly dangerous territory to the roof of the world. Malcolm Campbell, book reviewer

Conflict and dialog keep this gripping story of destiny, romance and adventure moving from the first page to the last paragraph. LeBlanc has a genius for bonding her readers and her characters. I found I was empathizing in turn with each character as they faced their own personal crisis or trauma.
Richard Blake for Readers Views.

A gripping, gut-twisting expedition through the eyes of a porter reveals the heart and soul of Sherpas living in the shadows of Everest.

A hard-hitting blend of adventure and romance which deserves a spot in any serious fiction collection. Midwest Book Review

LeBlanc is equally adept at describing complex, elusive emotions and the beautiful, terrifying aspect of the Himalayan Mountains. Boulder Daily Camera

LeBlanc’s vivid description of the Himalayas and the climbing culture makes this a powerful read. Rocky Mt News Pick of the Week

A rich adventure into the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom. Fantastic story-telling from one who has been there.

This is the book to read before you embark on your pilgrimage to Nepal. The author knows and loves the people and the country, and makes you feel the cold thin air, the hard rocks of the mountains, the tough life of the Sherpa guides, and you learn to love them too. This is a higly literate, but also very readable book. Highly recommended.”
– John (college professor)

Memorable characters and harrowing encounters with the mountains keep the action moving with a vibrant balance of vivid description and dialog. Literary Cafe Host, Healdsburg, CA

This superbly-crafted novel will land you in a world of unimaginable beauty, adventure, and romance. The love story will keep you awake at night with its vibrant tension and deep rich longing. Wick Downing, author of nine novels

Such vividly depicted images of the Everest region and the Sherpa people are the perfect scenario for the romance and adventure feats narrated. It’s a page-turner, so engrossing you end up wanting to visit Nepal! Not just novel, but perfect for those seeking to get acquainted with the culture of this country.
By Claudia Fournier (América, Bs. As., Argentina)

Available through Barnes and Noble, Borders,,, and the web site