Friday, May 2, 2008

18 April: Sherpas & Prayer Flags

Another leisurely morning, preparing more for tomorrow than anything. Looking up to the Icefall, easily 50 people were making their way up the fixed lines enroute to Camp I. Some seemed to be moving easily, some seemed to be moving with difficulty. There was a biting breeze this morning- one where it was about three or four miles an hour faster than comfortable. So you needed your jacket, but then when the wind slowed down you felt like it was too hot to be in a jacket. So you take it off. Ahh, how nice and warm. Then a breeze again... shiver... almost frustrating.

After breakfast, the team checked out Camp II tents and prepared loads for Camp I as well, assembling them to make sure nothing was missing before hauling everything up through the Icefall.

Again, the Sherpas showed us how physically strong they are, and how adapted to this environment they can be. As we prepared our puny loads, Tendi, Lama Jambu, Lhakpa and our crazy Camp II cook started jamming gear upon gear into their packs- including some of our gear. Willie asked me "Hey, do you have one of those North Face duffel bags?" "Yeah" "Can you get those shoulder straps off of it?" I did, and handed them to Lhakpa who proceeded to take the shoulder straps, tie them with some rope and -presto- instant head band- very much like what the porters do with their head straps. I asked him why he had them and he explained that when they get tired, they use the head strap and it allows them to breathe more efficiently. I guess that after hundreds of years here in the Himalaya that these high altitude machines would have devised the most efficient way of ferrying loads. In the middle of marveling about how incredible these guys are here, Lhakpa and Tendi marveled at the Marines when I explained about some of the things we do.

It was a poignant moment and reminded me of a Birthday Ball a few years back. The Guests of Honor were NASA Astronauts and because I was going stag, I was asked to sit at the head table. Nothing special, just that they had an extra seat and no one to fill it. So, sit I did- right in between two Astronauts, one of which was a four star General and had been inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame. How small a group can that be? I mean, seriously. Armstrong, Shepherd, Glenn... how many? Of the two, the other one was the second person ever to fly the F-14, had commanded the Space Shuttle FOUR times, including releasing the Hubble Telescope and being the first to dock at the International Space Station. If that's not enough, he left NASA and went to work at Boeing, where he went on to become the Chief Test Pilot and flew things like the 777 before it went into service. So here he is, sitting next to me- sandwiched in between these two guys who had led careers that little boys heading off to Space Camp can only dream of. And as we talked, they became like little boys as well, getting all starry eyed and were truly- honestly- amazed that I had climbed Mt Rainier. Are you kidding me?! I wish I were. It was just amazing to me that no matter who you are, no matter what you have accomplished in life, there's always someone out there that has done something that is impressive to you. These Sherpas are so great- and they impress the hell out of me with what they can accomplish up here. Yet just like me being incredibly impressed with what they have accomplished relative to what we are here to do, they are equally impressed with some things we have done- no matter how irrelevant they are to us. In many ways, this is what is so special about this trip- getting to know each other and finding out special things that each one of us brings to the team.

Later today, G-Man did a good number describing the prayer flags (lungtar). We were sitting around and he spent some time familiarizing me with some basic Nepali (Tatto pani- Hot Water), and then basic customs. I have no idea how we got onto prayer flags- maybe because they are all over the place now. But here's a quick run down on what colors stand for particular elements... up until today, I had no idea- one of those hidden in plain sight sort of things:

Red: Fire
Green: Water
Yellow: Earth
White: Wind
Blue: Sky

Each flag has Buddhist incantations based on those particular elements, which is what makes them so important to the people of this area.

All the while, G-Man kept grinding away with super-hot chilis on a local rock adjacent to the cook tent. For lunch, some of the team sampled the hot sauce. Joe swore the back of his head was still sweating 30 minutes later.

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