Monday, May 5, 2008

27 April: Trek To Camp I

I honestly don't know how G-Man is so cheery at 4am but however he does it, I appreciate it. "Good morning, Dough" (there's no silent "H" here- it’s pronounced just like it's spelled).

5:10am and we were off like a shot- thanks to the mad dash yesterday the base of the Icefall seemed fairly open. I was curious to see how acclimatized and rested we were after several days "off," but what I soon learned is that some things aren't that romantic. Despite hauling ass and pressing as hard as I could, I only shaved 10 minutes off the time it takes to reach the ice block we use as a mile marker of sorts, located close to the base of the Icefall.

Gaining altitude, the increase in speed is there, although nothing dramatic. My understanding of this slow and deliberate process is that with time, repeat trips, and higher forays up the mountain it will come. Indeed, I did pass several teams who stopped, got out of the way, and waved on with a breathless wandering expression on their faces.

Up higher, I had another run-in with a Swiss group. Boy, I tell ya. What's going on with these pushy and cocky Swiss? Ya know, I have plenty of Swiss friends so this isn't an indictment of the Swiss in general. But Swiss climbers here think they own the mountain. This particular group of two were cutting and bumping other climbers, again not practicing safe procedures. Even Sherpas were looking at each other in disbelief as these two stared on haughtily with disdain at anyone who wouldn't make way for them.

Interestingly enough, at almost exactly the same time as I had my run-in with this Swiss group, Willie had yet another altercation with the loose cannon IMFGA Guide from the other day. In a pinnacle of arrogance, he told Willie that unlike him, we (as in, our team) weren't "qualified" to be here, among other things. But of course, he is. Now there's a guide I want to follow. You know, I have spent years getting myself prepared and in what I consider to be decent shape for this climb, and I know my fellow teammates have done the same. What an absolute ass. 38 teams out here, and these guys are doing their absolute best to alienate themselves from the rest, time and again. Well, for one thing they must know something the rest of us don't. But I do know that climbing books are riddled with obituaries of guys like these and can guarantee that if there's a safety line to clip into- I'm clipping.

A little while later, we did manage to get dusted to Camp I by an Italian named Marco who had just arrived at Base Camp yesterday and was enroute to Camp II. Friends and teammates of Roberto and Angelo, the Italians we had lunch with and who are attempting a summit without supplemental oxygen, Marco had only taken 2 1/2 hours to make the high ladders at 19,300'. The sun hit us, and I said "doesn't that feel good, Marco?" "Doug, I am so sorry, but I am too tired to find pleasure in the sun right now." I smiled as he continued on his way, disappearing quickly into the snow waves above the Icefall. I waited for the rest of our team and felt my body core temp jump thanks to intense UV rays, and soon thereafter even my toes came back to life from frozen blocks jammed inside climbing boots.

Five hours and fifteen minutes later, we pulled into Camp I, tent to tent. Not as quick as we had planned, but we still shaved 45 minutes off our previous time. Joe pointed out that we have been through the Icefall to varying distances nine times now.

Jumping into our bags, we all caught some Zs, which felt fantastic. Lhakpa began to root around and stumbled across a bunch of MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) and cooked up some dinner. MRE's. Yep, I can't get away from them- standard field rations for US Marines. Every month for the last several months, and once again here they are- in the Western Cwm, in Nepal. Among the team, they were a huge hit, too. Designed to be extremely high in calories, sodium and fat content, each MRE as a full meal can contain up to 5,000 calories. So I warned the guys about what Marines already know- having an MRE can shock your system and stop you up for a good two days. But given the environment and being easy to prepare, they truly hit the spot.

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