Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mount Everest Summit, To Base Camp

Time to wake up! CLANG, CLANG, LOUD TALK, LOUD TALK. Wtf!? Some jack ass Sherpa from another camp who must have grown up in the Bronx comes blowing into our camp talking as if he's in Yankee Stadium. I try politely at first to ask him to keep it down since I know that at 6am, I'm not the only one sleeping. This rapidly erodes after the 5th time of asking to me yelling at the top of my lungs that if he doesn't f-ing keep it down, I'm coming out of the tent and he won't like where it goes from there. He gets the point, although grudgingly. Hey, all spiritualness of the mountain aside, if you want to talk like you are in NY, you get to hear responses like you are in NY. He scoots off. Super Mila is irritated at his friend and apologizes to me endlessly about how he acted. Some guy from Kathmandu, he explains. You know, Big City, doesn't know better. Kathmandu isn't what I consider Big City, but I feel for him on how his friend acted. Everyone is now up anyway. Cripes sake. Let's make the best of it and get outta here.

We spend ~3 to 4 hours breaking camp. The goal here being to get everything out of Camp II so that no one has to go back up and pick it up as we "clean" the mountain.

This includes cook tents, stoves, food, personal gear, and even... yes, garbage. Despite the mountain of trash that we found initially, and even the second mountain that emerged from the snow as the sun beat down on the camp, we are hauling out our trash. I wish I could say the same for every other team, but we did. I'm conscience clean about how we left Camp II. I won't point any fingers on other teams, but let's just say that over the weeks spent in Camp II purgatory, I saw an awful lot of trash that seemed at first glance to have Hongul printed all over it. There, I won't say any more.

Over time, the camp began to resemble nothing more than a few overloaded packs and a jumble of rocks... we were almost ready. I think my pack weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 lbs and Willie's must have weighed over 100- easily. It was so heavy that we had to pull him up onto his feet.

In order to haul everything from Camp II, we set up a series of Drag Bags- items wrapped up in burlap & canvas that we can pull behind ourselves via ropes. I ask aloud about why things aren't stored in secure boxes & storage containers at Camp II so that next year this system doesn't have to be repeated, but the answer is that the weather can be so severe up here that it just wouldn't work. Ok, well at least I asked.

My Drag Bag is filled with... garbage. Yep, there's that garbage again. 70 lbs of gear on my back and I'm dragging this stupid trash bag through the snow behind me to Camp I. Hey, what can you do? I could be sitting in a cubicle getting old and watching my butt get fat like Bob Combs, right? So, in some respects it could be worse.

I'm confident Willie wants to bring it down, but also equally confident that once it makes it to Camp I and a Sherpa has to haul it down to Base Camp from there that it's going to end up in a bottomless crevasse with a bunch of Korean trash... when he's not looking. Hell, enroute to Base Camp?? I think it crossed my mind at every crevasse ladder. Ugh. But haul on I did, and tried my best to keep up with Willie and Francisco through what turned into a driving snowstorm.

And talk about a challenge. Yee cats. I already hate those aluminum ladders, some of which can be notorious. This trip I have heard story after story about ladders flipping unexpectedly on people, people falling off the side of one, people dangling from safety ropes for two whole hours before someone happened along and found them. Now add to the equation two things- tons of snow falling, making the trail all but obscured except if you stop every two steps to see where the trail leads you as you navigate the crevasse-infested Western Cwm. And a 40 lb trash bag.

So here I am, taking my time on the ladders, one step at a time. Left hand on my trekking pole, right hand holding this stupid trash bag which is still tied to me, AND the ladder guide rope. Ladder is all bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, snow falls off the bottom of my crampons as loose flakes blow by me in the driving storm. I can't believe I did all that for the sanctity and purity of Sagarmartha National Park. Some climber about 100 years from now hopefully will appreciate it.

We pull into Camp I, which is essentially under four feet of drift snow now from when we first arrived. Tents are still there, but it looks like a high Himalayan equivalent of a Wild West Ghost Town. No one is using this camp other than to transit through. We dump our Drag Bags and try to probe for crevasse while regaining the trail out of Camp I, through the Icefall and down to Base Camp.

From Camp I, it was absolutely slow going- ultimately, it had to be. Heavy, driving snow and wind stayed with us for at least 600 vertical feet of our downclimb through the Icefall. Down, down, down we climbed- through the upper Icefall, past Crazy Ladder 4, 3, 2 and then finally 1. Through the Soccer Field, and then the Popcorn Field. We heard two enormous avalanches calve off of LoLa Face, but it was too cloudy and snowy to see anything so we all just flinched and then relaxed when we realized we weren't in jeopardy.

Then we hit the waves at the end of the Icefall, and it was only then that we realized that we were safe- we were almost at Base Camp. Seven hours after leaving Camp II, we staggered in, weak smiles and extremely tired backs. We made it- "home." That night, Francisco and I reminisced about our two months here. Willie came in, exhausted smile and sunburned face to tell us that we are leaving in two days. The boys in the kitchen cooked us a celebration cake, Bridie gave us all hugs in congratulations and we were able to finally release.

Next: Last day at Everest Base Camp
Last: Downclimb to Camp II

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