Sunday, January 25, 2009

Everest Gear- Best & Worst

As with the stories of Everest, it sometimes can be valuable to see or hear what sort of equipment worked in that sort of extreme environment, and what didn't.


1: General Dynamics Duo Touch II

This piece of hardware is about as hard-core as you can get. Ruggedized to the hilt, it proved invaluable and completely reliable despite subzero temperatures and 21,000'. The General Dynamics team provided me with a version that has a solid state hard drive, GPS and screen viewable in full sun. It also uses a lithium battery, and these are capable of operating in temps far lower than alkaline batteries. In an environment like Everest having them prove invaluable. This is without a doubt one durable piece of gear and having it made communication with home possible.

2: Sony Cybershot DSC T200

Only a few ounces in weight, these little cameras have two things going for them: they are light, and they take fantastic pictures. I wanted a camera that didn't have any real moving parts, as in telescoping lenses and would operate off of lithium batteries. The Cybershot has 8.1mb high resolution image capture, is chock full of features and can be operated with heavy duty down mittens.. all for $400.

3: Outdoor Research Alti Mitts

Remember the discussion about how cold it was on summit night? Negative 20 degrees is fairly mild up at 29,000', but I'm guessing that even if it were much colder these mitts would still perform well. Throughout that night, I found my hands sweating- a good sign when I had chunks of frozen breath fuzed to my eyebrows. Before I left on our summit push, I casually held up two separate sets of mitts and asked Willie & another Everest vet "hey, which ones work best?" It took them about 2 seconds to collectively say "bring the Altimitts!"

4: Feathered Friends Snowy Owl

I used this sleeping bag on McKinley and fell in love. Is it possible to fall in love with an inanimate object? Yes. This thing is like the Rolls Royce of bags- rated down to -60, it kept me warm and comfortable thanks to a massive cocoon of down every night I was away from Base Camp. While on the South Col, I shared this bag with Tendi and Danuru in our tent. "Hey, where's your bags?" "Doug, we didn't bring one." Wtf? So, my bag was then shared among the three of us as we used it to keep our feet toasty, using our 8,000 meter climbing suits as sleeping bags. The next morning, Danu accidentally melted off the foot box with our stove while making breakfast. I then looked like I had a goose hidden in my pack as I down climbed the Lhotse Face as feathers flew all over the mountain. Even then, the next night it was still incredibly warm. It is an amazing piece of gear. Now to figure out where to load a DVD player into the thing for absolute comfort..

5: Petzl Tikka Plus Head lamp

Super light, this LED head lamp operates off of 3 AAA batteries blasts out a humongo amount of light and is as reliable as they come.

6: Intuition Boot Liners

Ahhh.. warmth. Intuition liners are another item I used on McKinley, and think that they keep your feet uber toasty. They are super light and dry quickly. Upon arrival at the South Col, I took my sopped liners out and threw them into the sun for about 3 hours. They dried quickly in the powerful UV rays that exist at 26,500' and were incredibly comfortable, leaving my feet warm for the next 14 hours.

7: Hughes BGAN

Plugging the DT II into this portable satellite dish will link you in with the world. While initially it seemed like you needed a PhD to get the thing to work, it did prove surprisingly simple once we had it all figured out. While the Nepali liaison officers were doing their best to please the Chinese by monitoring Base Camp and telling them that no one had Internet access, we were able to point the BGAN at a local satellite and get connected- all from inside our tent. A little heavy, this is still one good piece of gear.

8: MREs

Laugh if you want to, but the standard MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) that Marines eat happily while in Iraq or in the field anywhere are perfect for high on Everest. Vacuum sealed, the meal packets contain high calorie meals that have flavor and are super easy to prepare. While melting snow for drinking water, you can kill two birds with one stone by plunking one into the pot to cook a meal in minutes. We chowed down on these meals all the way to the South Col and I'll bring more along on my next expedition.

9: Julbo Explorer Glacier Glasses

It is truly amazing how clear and crisp the images are that come through with these glasses. They wrap to your head, are lightweight, and rubberized to ensure that getting banged around will not result in then breaking on you.

10: iPod Shuffle

Lightweight and using flash technology, I would plug this little bad boy into a solar recharger and have it ready to go in just 30 minutes. Because there is no screen, it will run for a tremendously long time. With 4gb of memory, this little MP3 player will hold hundreds of songs to play as you trek and climb through the Western Cwm.


1: Feathered Friends 8000m Climbing Suit

Where to start with this piece of gear. In a nutshell: At the Balcony, my zipper stuck in the open position. For the next 5 hours, I fought with it as cold air kept pushing in and I couldn't safely close the suit to protect me from the elements. At the bottom of the Hillary Step, I finally gave up and had to tear the zipper to "fix" it. That's just the half of it. When I brought the suit in to explain this situation to Feather Friends, one of their sales agents got openly hostile, loudly clarifying the store's position on not issuing refunds. Ya know what? If you are selling an 8,000 meter climbing suit, it should work at 8,000 meters. Not break and expose the wearer to frostbite. And frankly, when your store is located in the shadow of REI's superstore it is hard to understand how you compete with REI's refund with no questions return policy. Especially when you cop an attitude about your crappy product. I love their sleeping bag, but have lost all confidence in this overpriced piece of junk.

2: HighGear Altitech II

I think this thing is advertised all over Everestnews, Explorersweb and other adventure websites. Well, it fritzed out on me once above 20,000' and when the temps started to drop the screen simply whited out. Even below 20,000' I found that I had to adjust the thing regularly to reflect accurate altitudes. It does look cool, which is probably why G-Man snapped it up so quickly when I offered it to him as a gift. Good for lower elevations, but if that's all it's good for it shouldn't be positioning itself as a piece of gear for the Himalaya.

3: Omega Pacific Jake HMS Screwgate Carabiner

Maybe it was just a need of WD-40, but the gate on this carabiner seized up on me several times. While running ropes through the Icefall, I found the gate open several times.. bad news when you need to know that your life line is secure.

4: Columbia River M16-12Z E.R. Knife

While some people prefer to save weight wherever they can, sometimes reduced weight = flimsiness. I prefer durability and will sacrifice weight when I know something will last, so my Ka-Bar folding knife ran circles around this little guy that broke within 2 weeks of arrival at Base Camp.

5: North Face VE-35 Tent

Narrow and with few pockets, this tent is just not comfortable for two larger guys- especially when your tent mate snores and seems to forget about that magic invisible equator that exists to separate the tent halves. I prefer the VE-25 for space, interior height and storage pockets.

6: Oakley A-Frame Ski Goggles

I reached the summit right as the sun started getting bright. Time for some eye protection. I threw on these goggles, breathed out and within 5 seconds of having them on my face found them fogged and frosted over. I hauled them all the way to the summit and ended up never using them, instead wearing my Julbo glasses for the down climb.

7: Beer & Alcohol

The team next to ours decided that it would be fun to drink regularly on their trip. Of 11 climbers, only 2 made the summit. Leave the partying for after and focus on the climb, yo.

8: Sardines & Herring

Blech. I don't care if they are loaded in vitamins & energy, there are other things to eat.
'Nuff said.

9: Free Tibet Flag

In a year of political posturing and a looming shadow of having the entire climb be cancelled, why would someone bring a Free Tibet flag to the mountain? I mean, seriously. Save it for a time and place where you aren't potentially going to screw it up for several hundred other people. This is just an exercise in poor judgement.

10: Chinese Olympic Climbing Torch

Finally, number 10 of the worst gear on the mountain. After watching TV when I made Kathmandu I think this piece of hardware has to take the dubious honor of being listed. I watched the Chinese climbers struggle on several occasions to get their torches to light. So I have to ask... given the eyes of the world on these guys, wouldn't they go out of their way to make sure they had torches that actually lit properly?

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Everest Top Ten Stories

The below list is of my top ten stories over the course of the climb expedition. Some are surprising, some are funny. Most have an interesting flair to them that after so many months still stick in my mind’s eye as highlights and as such have decided to share them.

With the top ten stories coming in rapid fire, I think it's best to get the bad ones out of the way first and then move into the interesting and funny ones. In addition to a fatality on the 21st, there were myriad of other issues.. literally. Snow blindness, HAPE, HACE, frostbite. You name it. All on a quiet, windless, relatively mild night at 29,000'.

#10: The South Col Guy

After descending the Step and almost to the South Summit itself, we came across a sole climber traversing on his way to the summit. He was not on Oxygen and clearly was exhausted. His face was a nice shade of blue and he was moving extremely slowly. Moving, but cautiously and labored across one of the most technical and dangerous portions of the climb.

The 45 y/o man continued on to the summit, and succeeded in making what turned out to be his sixth 8,000 meter summit. At the summit, so I heard, he realized that he had spent too much energy getting there, and was in trouble. On the way down, he was at the Triangle Face and right above Camp IV.. and had a heart attack.

In the case of this person, the volunteers to aid in recovery just weren't there and the route wasn't in any condition to allow it. So at the South Col he stayed, and is there to this day.

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#9: The First Middle Eastern Guy

One climber took the prize when it came to not fame, but notoriety. Coming from a Middle Eastern country, he had his nation's flag literally plastered over every possible part of his body- at one point we counted no fewer than eight. He was fairly pushy, not completely social, and he almost died. In all truth, we were told he had died no fewer than three separate times. Like for two days, we actually did think he was dead. But he made it, and therein lies one of the most curious and entertaining stories of our trip.

Rumor of this guys lack of climbing skill trickled in over the course of the our time at EBC, but in an exercise in tenacity he stuck with it and continued to climb higher and higher, making mind-tingling scrapes with disaster over and over. At one point we learned that on his summit push he left from Base Camp along with the rest of his team, bound for Camp II. The rumor is that halfway through the Icefall, he fell off of a ladder and was left dangling in a crevasse for close to an hour. Exhausted and several hours behind his teammates, he staggered in to Camp II, found the first available tent (that turned out to belong to a complete stranger), crawled into it, and promptly fell asleep.

Shockingly, he somehow made it as high as the South Summit where he was noticeably out of it, disoriented and extremely tired. It was here that he was forced to turn around, and as a result he became extremely agitated. Soon thereafter he began to exhibit noticeable signs of HACE. At times, he would not walk. At another time he lost the ability to speak or understand English and required a translator. His team literally began drag him down the mountain toward Camp IV, finally, after several hours making The Balcony.

Five hours into trying to get him down, low on oxygen themselves and in perilous shape, they gave him one last chance to get down to Camp IV. Refusing, the team then had no choice but to say goodbye and leave him in a sleeping bag with a bottle of oxygen.

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#8: The Second Middle Eastern Guy

There was a second Middle Eastern guy on the mountain this year. Not quite as technically challenged as the first guy, this one had enthusiasm, was social, and approached portions of the mountain with open eyes.

On summit day, as he moved his way slowly down from the South Summit enroute to Camp IV, the second Middle Eastern guy began going delirious and snow blindness that was starting to hit him. As the temperature dropped, completely exhausted from exerting himself for so long he started to experience a good case of frostbite as well. He staggered over to one of the frozen bodies- a man in a blue climbing suit who had a heart attack in 2005 and is still in relatively good condition, located right on the trail.

“Wake up! Wake up! You need to get moving!” The first Middle Eastern guy started shaking the frozen body, grabbed his suit and tried to move him from the rocks he had been seized to for the last three years.

Finally back at Camp IV, the second Middle Eastern guy started having his own medical problems. We learned about him as well, and were concerned about his frostbite, now full-blown snow blindness and other problems that had stricken him on his second night above 26,000 feet.

With eyes completely covered in gauze and one foot stricken with frostbite, Willie began the slow, laborious job of helping him navigate around and down the challenging Geneva Spur. Vertical in some places, extremely steep in most with sheer drop offs, the Geneva Spur leads to the Yellow Band which is tricky in it’s own right.

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#7: Tendi Saves a Porter

Arriving in Pheriche on our out-trek, we finally found beds for the first time in two months. An actual bed! Talk about luxury.


Lhakpa and Tendi are telling Willie that one of our porters has HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema).

We find him, several buildings down the trail. It's definitely HAPE. Bridie has Diamox and gives some to the 14 year old. Then, when we aren’t expecting it Tendi throws a burlap strap around his forehead and piggybacks the kid, taking off down the trail and into the night for Dingboche - maybe 1000' lower. Even here, people are still falling victim if they aren't taking all the proper steps.

Willie and I learn that Tendi made it as far as Tengbuche. Tengbuche! That's a four hour trek from Pheriche in the daytime, with day pack. Tendi made it with a 140 lb kid on his back. Up, down. Up, down. The trail snakes down through the valley, linking up with the Dudh Kosi River and finally making contact with Rhododendron trees in full bloom.

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#6: Situational Awareness 300' from the Summit

Our team had just cleared the Hillary Step, and were roughly 300 feet from the true summit at 29,000’. Everything I had read, everything I had studied had told me that this was it- the Hillary Step is the last technical piece of the climb. Once you top the Hillary Step and scoot around this bulging rock that sticks out with an 8,000’ drop off, you are there. Nothing left, it’s essentially a jaunt up to the top of the world.

For the final push, I was in the lead, Tendi was right behind me, and Francisco right behind him. I stared up, excited at how close I was and taking the final steps to the summit. I started moving more quickly, and this is exactly where I lost my SA.

Within seconds, I’m hip-deep in the snow, one leg completely in a mini crevasse only 2’ wide, flailing around with that 8,000’ drop right off my shoulder. I was ok, still on the fixed line and without concern of sliding anywhere given that I was pinned to the side of the ridge by an entire leg submerged in this crevasse. Tendi came rushing forward and said later that he heard a 30 second string of muted curse words coming out of my mouth, hidden behind an oxygen mask.

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#5: The Swiss Guide on Crazy Ladder Number Four

One day, there was a huge backlog at one of the ladder groups. This ladder set was no joke, after ascending one ladder (which is actually three tied together), you traverse a 40-degree ledge that leads you up to a 20' nearly vertical slope. This slope in-turn leads to yet another ladder, which doesn’t top out at the ridge, but actually requires you to climb a 6' vertical wall of ice to the top. All of this sits 50' above a massive crevasse, inviting an accidental mistake. There is a safety rope that you can clip into, but thanks to the technical merits of this move it is definitely one you want to take your time on.

As we were picking our way along the ridge, before our eyes this Swiss IFMGA Guide completely bypasses a 10 person queue waiting to get down, doesn't clip into a safety line, and AS two other people are up-climbing the ladder, basically stapled to the snow with some pickets- starts climbing down the side of the ladder. The SIDE OF THE LADDER. Willie goes bat-shit, yelling at him, telling him how stupid he is.

People often ask me about the jack-assery that happens in the mountains and what I see both climbing and with SMR. Unfortunately when on TV you hear "5 climbers fell into a crevasse on Mt. Rainier today" they almost always neglect to mention the series of bad decisions that get people into trouble.

Future Darwin Award Winner.

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#4: Relief on the Lhotse Face

“Hey Lhakpa- I have to drop a bomb”.
“What!?” No you don’t”
“Oh, yes I do, I can’t wait”
“Doug, you are 2,000’ up the Lhotse Face”
“Yup, here it comes”.. I scoot to a little nub snow outcropping next to one of the ice screws and three feet off the trail.

Lhakpa starts laughing in disbelief as I start to go with one of the most incredible views ever pictured from a bathroom. Ahhhhh… Three Sherpa pass me and start laughing. I wave them a big “Namaste” and smile as I take in the scenery on a blue skied, windless and warm day.

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#3: The Polish Guy

In 2005, a middle aged Polish guy arrived at Base Camp without a permit to climb on Everest. 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.

That year, 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. 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 and when the avalanche hit, he was caught in it.

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#2: The Olympic Torch

Several times, the Nepalis announced changes to it’s plan of what would / would not be allowed of climbers. China itself had shut off climbing on their side of the mountain to all but a small number of torch bearers this year, and it was no secret that they were heavily pressuring the Nepalis to do the same thing.

A few weeks into our climb, we were told that Nepal Army climbing soldiers would be stationed in Base Camp and at Camp II. There were rumors about them going as high as the South Col, but we all knew this could not be a sustained event, and even being positioned at Camp II wouldn’t be healthy for soldiers long-term. And so it began.

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#1: Olympic Torch Special! The Flag Guy

Upon arrival at Camp I, the Mountain Madness team (westerners and Sherpas) sat down for lunch outside our tents. While eating, William arrived and asked Willie if he could store equipment in the back of Willie's tent vestibule, which he quickly agreed to, giving William some pointers on how to successfully execute a climb on Mt Everest (William appeared to be climbing unsupported).

While unpacking on the fringe of our group, at one point William said "Hey, check this out" and with that pulled out a black flag embroidered in Thamel with the wording "Free Tibet Fuck China". Five of us witnessed the flag, and when Willie saw it he jumped up quickly and in unison we all asked William why he brought such a flag along in the first place. His response was that he wanted to fly it from the summit. After discussing the ramifications of having such a flag and how it's presence could result in the Nepali Government shutting down climbing altogether, we explained that him openly flying one of these flags went counter to everything we had been instructed about, was directly opposite to boundaries of the permit, and that his having this flag put all of us- as in every climber and Sherpa who had paid thousands of dollars to be here at risk. The risk being that the Nepal Government could potentially shut down climbing on the Nepal side for the

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