May 15 - Base camp
I need to apologize if this
turns into a long blog post.. theres much to cover, and we have little time
before kicking off in two days for our Summit Push through the Icefall. I
wanted to pass on a story that Willie and another guide who is here, Kenton
Cool told us at dinner the other night. It was so unique and filled with both
the hazards of climbing on Everest coupled with humor that Francisco and I
found ourselves even talking about it the next day:
The Polish Guy
In 2005, this middle aged
Polish guy arrived at Base Camp without a permit to climb on Everest, but
fully intended to try anyway, going unnoticed. He had very little money and
basic equipment, but felt stong and capable enough to take on the mountain and
at one point made it all the way through the Icefall and up to Camp I. 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. As we have seen from our limited time here, the Nepalis
take their high dollar Everest climbing permits VERY seriously. But, we have
also seen that if you were to go incognito enough, there is a good chance that
you could go unnoticed. That is, unless a dramatic or tragic event changed
your anonymous status quickly.
In 2005, 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. More or less a hundred year avalanche. Dozens of
tents were flattened from the air blast alone, almost all were covered, and if
you hadn't placed your tents on the high ground fingers (like where ours are
located), you were in jeopardy. By some stroke of luck though, most climbers
were down in Base Camp that day and at the time the avalanche struck, Camp I
was almost deserted. The Polish Guy was unique- he had elected to stay in Camp
I along with a small handfull of others that day. When the avalanche hit, he
apparently jumped out of his tent to film the thousand tons of snow and ice as
it moved in on Camp I- not exactly something that's recommended. But he was a
tough old guy and must have thought he'd be ok. As an avalanche moves forward,
it is preceeded by a wall air- a blast wave that pushes things down quickly
and with force before the mass of snow comes along and washes everything in
white and sweeps it along as the avalanche travels on it's way.
It was this wall of air that
seems to have done the most damage to the Polish Guy, who had his camcorder
pressed up to his face at the time he was hit. Out in front, the solid air
slammed the camcorder with such force that it cut his face in many places and
people afterwards wondered if you might be able to read "SONY" imprinted
backwards on his forehead. Word of the avalanche reached Base Camp, and
rescuers quickly pressed out, reaching the Camp I record time. Dazed and
confused, the Polish Guy was already staggering down the mountain with only
what he had on, still bleeding and face all smashed up. He clearly knew that
he'd be found out and didn't want to pay a massive fine, thrown into a Nepali
jail for climbing without a permit. As he passed several rescuers enroute down
the Icefall, he gruffly waved off care and just kept on going. The confused
rescuers didn't know what they would find up at Camp I, so they kept moving up
and figured the Polish Guy would be taken care of by someone else further down
Upon arrival at Camp I, the
rescuers found what remained of the Polish Guy's tent- just an old, small job
barely bigger than a kitchen table. Peering inside, they found: gas for
boiling water, and a very large bottle of vodka. That was it. Nothing more,
nothing less. Gas and vodka. To climb Everest. The rescuers radioed that back,
almost laughing in disbelief at how Spartan this guy's tent was. But by now
the Nepali authorities knew about him and also knew he didn't have a climbing
permit so they were actively looking for him with vigor. They didn't think it
was very funny for sure. He wasn't in Base Camp, so the Nepalis figured he
must still be coming down through the Icefall and focused their energy there.
After a few hours he was nowhere to be found and they realized that despite
their best efforts, he had somehow slipped the noose.
Several days later, the
climbing community at Base Camp learned of his fate: Somehow, the Polish Guy
had made it all the way to New Delhi, India and repatriated back to Poland
from the Embassy there. New Delhi? Apparently, the Polish Guy had managed to
walk close to 100 kilometers in the exact same climbing clothes that he had
been wearing when hit in an avalanche at Camp I in the Western Cwm. Bleeding,
injured, and only with the clothes on his back, he downclimbed through the
Icefall, and no one noticed as he traveled all the way through the Khumbu
Valley, out through Lukla and into Kathmandu.
From there, he likely took a
bus across the border and all the way to New Delhi. He didn't have much money,
so people speculate that he sold his climbing boots in Kathmandu for just
enough money for bus fare to leave the country unnoticed. Even today, when you
enter the Sagarmartha National Park gate near Lukla there is a picture of the
Polish Guy looking all gruff and dazed on a ratty wanted poster that has
likely been there since a few days after he ran off in 2005. My guess? He made
it home, started putting back his loved vodka, told his tale to friends and
family who called him a crazy nut, and he gave up on Everest completely.
New Base Camp Manager We have
a New Base Camp Manager named Bridey, who joins us today. She is from New
Zealand and originally came to Everest with a NASA research project and
decided to stick around for another week when offered our Base Camp Manager
job. This is a great win-win for all of us- we will be able to provide regular
dispatches as we progress on our summit push, and she gets to gain experience
as a manager for an Everest expedition.
All of the Sherpas punched
out today for Camp II, arriving in short order as usual. I swear, the push up
the mountain for them is like commuting to work. While we take the metro, they
hike from Base camp to Camp II. They needed to push forward in order to ensure
they are forward staged for the move to Camp III and further prepare to stock
the South Col camp (Camp IV). We'll see them soon enough, so it's good in many
ways to see the beginning movement of the gears that are to be our final
summit push. All weather forecasts are showing the 20th/ 21st to provide us
with a solid weather window, and these continue to be the dates that we are
Rest of the Team
As for Francsico, Willie and
me, we are still in recovery/waiting/prep stage. I am looking to items that I
will be bringing to the summit and making sure they are packed, which include:
Vectorform, American, USMC, Ohio Wesleyan, KandDP Consulting Good Luck Charms:
Watch, Dogtags, Atta's Lucky Poker Chip, Mini-Bible
Utility: Knife, whistle,
Other: Seahawks football
Knock on wood all things go
according to plan.. Both Francisco, Willie and the Sherpas are doing the same
thing, as each has special items that they want to make sure they are bringing
with them and have to share/save as memories of their trip. For example,
Francisco has three of his flags that he plans to fly on the side of his tent
right now, getting them ready for our push in two days.
As with yesterday, we had a
few visitors today in the endless parade of people visiting Willie and wanting
to get a little more info on what Willie's strategy is. All of the Fuzzies
from next door came over and asked if we had an adaptor that would work on his
electric razor. In casual conversation, he confessed that people in his camp
were beginning to call him a Wolly Mammoth. Francisco and I cracked up when he
told Willie that. Another visitor named Sergio Martini is an unassuming and
very gentle-spoken 50-something Italian man who speaks little English. I'm
typing away, he quietly and concientiously poked his head in the tent and
asked if Willie was around. "Yes", I said and offered him a seat. After 30
minutes, and only after asking in basic terms who this guy is, was I told that
not only had the man sitting three feet from me climbed all 14 8,000 meter
peaks in his career. "What was the most difficult?" "K2, I did the North Ridge
and it took 4 1/2 months." But, he was here at Everest again to raise money
for a hospital and give back to the community that he has spent so much time
in, which is really, really neat in our eyes.
In the evening, we continued
with our streak of really cool dinners- tonight's is fondue, believe it or
not. Kenton (Dream Guides), Mara, Mark (IMG), and Jambu (IMG) joined our team
for dinner and a movie to pass the night and enjoy the cameraderie that has
formed over the last several weeks.
Earlier: May 14, 2008 - Everest
Base Camp (17,575 ft)
need to backtrack a few hours and make this dispatch start at more like 13 1/2
May... reason being that the afternoon events of yesterday are worthy of
mention. Sorry if that throws the blog universe out of whack somehow, but I
figure that there's only a minor risk of that happening and I'll try to keep
last night's stories as entertaining as possible…because it was truly a good
Around 6 p.m., Willie comes
running in with a sushi roller. How does he find these things?? Somehow,
someone here in Base Camp had brought along an actual flippin' bamboo sushi
roller, and even more amazing is that Willie had managed to sniff it out. I
mean, how random. My first guess would have been the Japanese team, but they
are all up the hill in Camp II or down the hill in Dingboche. So - here it
was, enabling us to have…Sushi Night!!
There's a great little sushi
restaurant in the Los Angeles area called "Tokyo Delves" - it's where you go
when you want to have Disco Sushi. Disco music comes on, a disco ball starts
spinning, the sushi chefs literally dance while they prepare your food, and
you have a blast. This was as close to Tokyo Delves as I have ever been and
how comical that it was happening at Everest Base Camp. Willie pulled out nori
paper, G-Man went rooting through the storage tent to grab items like shredded
crab and cooked salmon. Super Mila went to town on vegetables like cucumber
to get them prepared. It was a community event and everyone got in the spirit
to pull it off. When it was time to start preparing sushi rolls, where I
turned into some sort of de-facto sushi roll sensei of sorts and everyone made
a roll - and I mean everyone. Here are some examples of the rolls prepared,
and the preparer:
Super Mila: Salmon and
G-Man: Salmon, Crab,
cucumber and carrot roll
Lhakpa: Corsani roll (the
Sherpas snapped this one up in about 3 seconds. Corsani is a local spice and
that's all he put on it. Corsani and rice)
Music is going on in the cook
tent, some people are dancing, everyone is laughing and there was a truly
festive atmosphere. Several other guides and Base Camp residents came over
for dinner to pack our little tent: Kenton, a British guide from Dream Guides,
Mara an American guide from Jagged Globe, Steve an American and Claudia an
Australian - both surgeons from the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) medical
After eating the night away,
we learned of a Sherpa party in the adjacent tent camp cook shelter and we
were all invited to come along. It was jam packed with Sherpas, pumping iPod
music into speakers causing spontaneous and sporadic dancing based on the
tunes. There was local music and Tibetan monk music flowing smoothly and to
great fanfare. And just because you have to have it, mixed into the score
would be the occasional electro dance mix, Madonna and Queen of all things.
A lead Sherpa for the French
Team named Angshiri offered me a local home-brewed drink which I took him up
on. It was clear, and tasted faintly like Japanese sake and like a Long Island
Iced Tea. You couldn't truly taste the alcohol. However, I also learned that
very much like a Long Island Ice Tea this drink is one that is capable of
having you forget what you are doing and end up waking up in the morning with
fake-o cheese, shredded lettuce, and Taco Bell wrappers all over your chest.
At one point later in the
night, Angshiri, who was way deep in the dancing going on casually asked me if
I wanted a second one - I'm a big boy, I thought. "Sure". You would be amazed
at the looks I received from around the tent: Willie, Kenton, Mara, Lhakpa,
Tendi, Daruru…even G-Man. It was like when I was at my Cousin Dave's wedding
and my mom caught a bunch of us doing shots with this one extremely large and
very drunk guy named Pete who ended up later passing out on the beach.
Shooting lazer beams. I just left the glass on the table untouched. Yeesh. I
felt like I was 21 all over again.
On to 14 May.
Most of the day was again
dealing with preparation for our summit push. Ropes, rigging, battery refresh
in radios, final food packing. I think it finally hit Francisco and I when
Willie and Lhakpa began going through all of the oxygen regulators and valves
after breakfast. Upon closer inspection, we noticed that they appear to be
the same type of masks and valves used by Russian fighter pilots:
Masks were handed out and
tried on which brought on a whole bunch of Darth Vader impressions: "Luuukkeeee.....
I am your fathorrr" - breathe breathe breathe in Darth sounding breath.
Francisco tried a mask with oxygen flowing and told me he immediately wanted
to take a nap. Man, I can't wait to get going up the hill again.
So speaking of which, we discussed a few things. The weather at present seems
to support a push in a few days and so we are leaving in two days, depending
upon what closer forecasts reveal. The jet stream continues to stay out of the
area and today is a beauty - again barely any clouds, warm, and just wisps of
wind. The good part of staying put for at least a few days is to continue
eating and recovering from our week at Camp II. It also allows the new fallen
snow of a few days ago to settle and compress, calve off where need be and
continue to drop risk of any potential avalanche off of places like the face
We also picked up a Base Camp
Manager today - Bridey, a New Zealander who was here working on a NASA project
has agreed to come on and assist where need be while we are on our summit
push. This is a great thing- she's going to be able to monitor things from
Base Camp as we move up the hill (including the ability to send regular
dispatches on team progress) and we'll be able to know we have a support
structure in the rear. Doug Pierson
Earlier: Everest 2008:April
11 Ropes Course & Base Camp Layout
I think I'm falling in love with our space heater. I'm sitting right next to
the thing right now as I type this and am trying to hatch a plan for hiding
this contraption in my backpack unnoticed and getting it to high camp. I
wonder if anyone will notice.Today we spent the morning playing around on the
ropes course that Willie pulled together. This of course only after we woke
again to beautiful and warm skies. And what do warm skies bring? Melting snow.
And what does melting snow bring? Avalanche.
The three of us moved gingerly through the ropes course while Willie
familiarized us with types of challenges and obstacles we will be facing
within days. After moving directly up and across aluminum ladders with
mechanical ascenders, we traversed along narrow ledges and relied on ropes to
rappel back to the beginning. With time, our confidence grew and we picked up
on little tips and pointers Willie taught us in order to make our time in the
Icefall more comfortable.
I have been asked by several people what exactly our Base Camp life is like.
So since we have another slow day (it's snowing outside right now), I thought
it might be good to take the chance to describe our camp layout and the
earthier side of camp life. All things considered, our camp is fairly cush
compared to some other camps which are very expeditionary in nature (read: one
tent, one cook pot). With each day, we try to improve just a little more. For
example, two days ago we put in the camp shower- a plastic canvas tent that
has a propane heater installed on the outside where water is injected into
heat coils when our generator is running. The water then is pumped into a
shower head and with the use of an on/off switch you can take a -quick-
shower. It is important to zip the door closed all the way or an errant wisp
of wind will leave you shaking uncontrollably.. the water isn't that hot but
this is truly a luzury item. I took a shower for the first time yesterday
since Namche Bazaar... so mebbe like 10 days? I'll probably take one in a day
or two again but only after the sun comes out and it isn't windy. Everyone's
stinky here and you can't really smell anyway so it's not that bad.
Our tents are located in several areas across the camp site. Joe, Francisco
and I are located in one area. Lama Jambu and Tendi are located in another.
Lhakpa moved his tent from next to Willies because the generator was too loud,
and the cook staff and other support team members crash in their respective
tents- there's plenty of room in there for them and they are truly happy with
this arrangement. Each tent is home for the next several weeks. We try to keep
ours clean and well organized in order to feel like you have more space
inside. The tent models we use are Mountain Hardware Trangos and North Face
VE-25s- 4 season hardened models that can withstand just about anything thrown
at them. Except as it turns out, UV Rays. These rays are so intense here that
one tent has only about a 2 or 3 season service life before the rays
structurally weaken the fabric beyond serviceability. Each tent has a little
garden solar light out front and is anchored down with heavy glacier rocks
should stronger wind gusts come along. There is a front window to see out of
and through the rain fly, we also have three foam and air matresses to keep
comfortable from the rocks below and insulated from ground freeze. Last night
while trying to sleep I could hear the glacier creak, groan and snap
There are two toilets, both covered in blue tarp- one western (a.k.a. there's
a toilet seat) and one of the Middle Eastern/ Nepali model which is more a
hole in the rocks. There's an unwritten rule to not pee in the barrel- human
waste is transported out and weighed for charges. Peeing in the barrel will
increase weight dramatically and therefore, we have designated sites for that.
There is an actual rule in Everest Base Camp that if you were to lose your
mind and drop a bomb outside of your cans- and are caught.. congratulations!
You are now the proud owner of a $5000 fine. Like many other items in camp, we
have solar lights to illuminate the inside once darkness descends across camp.
We do our own laundry by asking the cook staff for a "washing pot" and then
scrubbing dirty clothes like crazy in water that turns brown quickly. Once
these items are clean, we lay them on a rock to dry- you have to do that b/c
if you try to line dry them they'll just flash freeze- even when it's fairly
warm thanks to the UV rays. The air is still below freezing. The camp is
powered by a 16 year old Honda generator and this accompishes two things: it
powers the lights that illuminate the community shelter and cook tent. It also
recharges two automobile dry-cell batteries that power items when the
generator is off.
Everest from the South Side
Base Camp - 17,500 feet (5350
This is a
picture of the popular South Col Route up Mt. Everest. Base camp is located
at 17,500 feet. This is where climbers begin their true trip up the
mountain. This is also where support staff often remain to monitor the
expeditions and provide medical assistance when necessary. Many organizations
offer hiking trips which just go to base camp as the trip is not technically
challenging (though you must be very fit).
camp, climbers typically train and acclimate (permitting the body to adjust to
the decreased oxygen in the air) by traveling and bringing supplies back and
forth through the often treacherous Khumbu Icefall. This training and
recuperation continues throughout the climb, with the final summit push often
being the only time to climbers do not go back and forth between camps to
train, bring supplies, and recuperate for the next push.
is in constant motion. It contains enormous ice seracs, often larger than
houses, which dangle precariously over the climbers heads, threatening to fall
at any moment without warning, as the climbers cross endless crevasses and
listen to continuous ice creaking below. This often acts as a testing ground
to judge if less experienced climbers will be capable of continuing. The
Icefall is located between 17,500 and 19,500 feet.
Camp I -
Icefall, the climbers arrive at Camp I, which is located at 19,500 feet.
Depending on the type of expedition, Camp I will either be stocked by the
climbers as they ascend and descend the Icefall, or by Sherpas in advance.
between Camp I and Camp II is known as the Western Cwm. As the climbers reach
Camp II at 21,000 feet, they may be temporarily out of sight of their support
at Base camp. Nonetheless, modern communication devises permit the parties to
stay in contact.
Camp II -
climbers leave Camp II, they travel towards the Lhotse face (Lhotse is a
27,920 foot mountain bordering Everest). The Lhotse face is a steep, shiny
icy wall. Though not technically extremely difficult, one misstep or slip
could mean a climber's life. Indeed, many climbers have lost their lives
through such mishaps.
Camp III -
23,700 feet (7200 meters)
To reach Camp
III, climbers must negotiate the Lhotse Face. Climbing a sheer wall of ice
demands skill, strength and stamina. It is so steep and treacherous that many
Sherpas move directly from Camp II to Camp IV on the South Col, refusing to
stay on the Lhotse Face.
Camp IV -
26,300 feet (8000 meters)
As you’re leaving C4…it’s a
little bit of a down slope, with the uphill side to the left. There are
typically snow on the ledges to walk down on, interspersed with rock, along
with some fixed rope. The problem with the rope is that the anchors are bad,
and there’s not much holding the rope and a fall could be serious. Fortunately
it’s not too steep, but there is a ton of exposure and people are usually
tired when walking down from camp. The rock is a little down sloping to the
right as well, and with crampons on, it can be bit tricky with any kind of
wind. There’s a little short slope on reliable snow which leads to the top of
the Geneva Spur, and the wind pressure gradient across the spur can increase
there as you’re getting set up for the rappel. Wearing an oxygen mask here can
create some footing issues during the rappel, because it’s impossible to see
over the mask and down to the feet. For that reason, some people choose to
leave Camp 4 without gas, as it’s easier to keep moving down the Spur when
it’s important to see all the small rock steps and where the old feet are
going. Navigating down through all of the spaghetti of fixed ropes is a bit of
a challenge, especially with mush for brains at that point. One lands on some
lower ledges which aren’t so steep, where fixed ropes through here are solid.
At this point, it’s just a matter of staying upright, and usually, the wind
has died significantly after dropping off the Spur. The route turns hard to
the left onto the snowfield that leads to the top of the Yellow Bands.
which is at 26,300 on the Lhotse face, is typically the climbers' first
overnight stay in the Death Zone. The Death Zone is above 26,000 feet.
Though there is nothing magical about that altitude, it is at this altitude
that most human bodies lose all ability to acclimate. Accordingly, the body
slowly begins to deteriorate and die - thus, the name "Death Zone." The
longer a climber stays at this altitude, the more likely illness (HACE - high
altitude cerebral edema - or HAPE - high altitude pulmonary edema) or death
will occur. Most climbers will use oxygen to climb and sleep at this altitude
and above. Generally, Sherpas refuse to sleep on the Lhotse face and will
travel to either Camp II or Camp IV.
Camp IV is
located at 26,300 feet. This is the final major camp for the summit push. It
is at this point that the climbers make their final preparations. It is also
a haven for worn-out climbers on their exhausting descent from summit attempts
(both successful and not). Sherpas or other climbers will often wait here
with supplies and hot tea for returning climbers.
From Camp IV,
climbers will push through the Balcony, at 27,500 feet, to the Hillary Step at
28,800 feet. The Hillary Step, an over 70 foot rock step, is named after Sir.
Edmond Hillary, who in 1953, along with Tenzing Norgay, became the first
people to summit Everest. The Hillary Step, which is climbed with fixed
ropes, often becomes a bottleneck as only one climber can climb at a time.
Though the Hillary Step would not be difficult at sea level for experienced
climbers, at Everest's altitude, it is considered the most technically
challenging aspect of the climb.
29,028 feet (8848 meters)
climbers ascend the Hillary Step, they slowly and laboriously proceed to the
summit at 29,028 feet. The summit sits at the top of the world. Though not
the closest place to the sun due to the earth's curve, it is the highest peak
on earth. Due to the decreased air pressure, the summit contains less than
one third the oxygen as at sea level. If dropped off on the summit directly
from sea level (impossible in reality), a person would die within minutes.
Typically, climbers achieving the great summit will take pictures, gain their
composure, briefly enjoy the view, then return to Camp IV as quickly as
possible. The risk of staying at the summit and the exhaustion from
achieving the summit is too great to permit climbers to fully enjoy the great
accomplishment at that moment.
readers of this page know, the return trip can be even more dangerous than the
climb to the summit.
Pictures from Enrique
Guallart-Furio web site http://ww2.encis.es/avent/
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