From Dhaulagiri Base Camp
(April 07, 2008)
Today, Monday, April 07, I am writing to you from Dhaulagiri
Unfortunately my computer has decided, without my
authorization of course, to die because of the lack of oxygen, so I have been
without the technological gifts of this thing. We have tried every possible
way: love, shelter, sweet words, caresses, restart a hundred of times, but
when there is no oxygen, there is no way. So simple as that, it dies and
Luckily my teammate Nacho Orbiz has borrowed me his computer,
so thanks to him I am with you again.
Today, after so many snowfalls, we have had an splendid day
which we have enjoyed to the max, including a little shower of warm water
after twelve days of not having that gift.
I send you the chronicle I wrote on Friday, which because of
what I wrote before I haven't been able to send earlier.
With your understanding, I say goodbye with a big hug.
Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte
Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera
FROM DHAULAGIRI BASE CAMP
When I write this note, it is 11h30 in the morning of Sunday
at Base Camp, at the foot of Dhaulagiri, location where we have finally
arrived at noon of last Friday with the help of a helicopter that took us from
Italian Base Camp to this place.
For now the immediate thing to do is to settle Base Camp with
all the comforts we need for the five or six weeks we will live in this
place. But unfortunately the bad weather we have right now stops us from
completing this task. With mathematical sharpness, a rare thing in Nepal, it
snows during the afternoons since a week ago. The blizzard we are
withstanding right now started yesterday afternoon and has not stopped for a
moment. The camp is covered by a whiteness of more than half a meter and
there is no sign at all that it will stop in the following hours.
So if the weather improves this afternoon, we should wait at
least a couple of days to start the first incursion into to the mountain with
the objective of finding the route to what our Camp 1 should be.
Despite the uncomfortable conditions of the weather, our
spirit is high in all of us, we are a strong team, enthusiastic and with the
will of getting to the summit of Dhaulagiri.
Until my next connection with you through this medium, I
leave you with the chronicle I wrote abut the anxiously awaited rescue from
Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte
Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera
THE HELICOPTER AT LAST
Friday, April 04, 2008
After a long wait which turned to anxiety for moments,
finally, we have been able to get out of Italian Camp and arrive today,
Friday, around noon, to the foot of Dhaulagiri at the northeast face where we
will settle our Base Camp.
As a reference, I have to tell you that the morning of
Monday, March 31 was very critical because of the brutal snowfall that fell on
the previous day, and that from the one hundred and fifteen porters we had,
ninety five quitted and we were left with only twenty to carry 3,500 Kg of
loads, two days away from our destination. Although it was almost impossible
to think in such operation, we didn't lose hope of doing it, but hope faded
away on the morning of Tuesday when a new snowfall made half of the thin
squadron of porters we had to quit. With this black panorama, just like the
sky in the last afternoons, the only way we had was to get somebody to pick us
up in a helicopter.
The negotiations, logically, were started immediately on the
same morning of Tuesday. They promised from Katmandu (unless the word
promise has another meaning in Nepalese) that the helicopter would arrive
early on the morning of Thursday.
We were so naïve.
On Thursday very early in the morning, we had breakfast,
dying from the cold outdoors, because we had already picked up our fleeting
Hours passed by, the clouds came up from the valley and we
could not see the so much coveted helicopter. We wondered with innocent faces
what promise meant in Nepalese.
Thursday passed in a sigh, like the one a young girl exhales
when she sees her love adventurer leave on his way to the Himalayas.
After dinner, we called Katmandu again to ask or to beg, I
don't know, for the helicopter.
With a very characteristic sweetness of any Nepalese who
faces delays, Ranjai Rai promised us again: No problem my friend, tomorrow
With the experience of the uncommitted promise we went to
sleep with the hope of watching, on Friday morning, the awaited rig.
Caption: abandoned at the foot
of the frozen west face of Dhaulagiri, with our poor camp, awaiting for the
The wait was anxious today because we were promised a
helicopter yesterday to pick us up at nine in the morning. But the notion of
being on time in Nepal is a very particular one and I don't think there is
another similar one in the planet. As expected, it was nine o'clock and no
signs of the helicopter. At nine thirty, nothing. Ten in the morning and the
clouds from the valley gathered in a subtle way, as if agreeing on a riot to
boycott our escape from Italian Camp. Just like the clouds evolved form white
and subtle to thick and black, our anguish was on the way to mass hysteria
facing the possibility of having to undo the packages and settle a provisional
camp again, in the middle of discomfort and the snow. Alex Chicon, one of my
adventure teammates, like a good Basque began to ponder what would be the best
torture to inflict on Ranjai Rai who was pulling our legs since two days ago
with the arrival of the helicopter. Ten thirty came and with a rare mix of
anger, desperation and beg we made another call to Rai, he told us then that
the helicopter had left twenty minutes ago from Pokhara. We hailed victory,
but with much doubt, because you never know in Nepal.
Eleven in the morning came and no signs of the immense
mechanical bug. We were biting our nails chewing our fear inside, quiet.
Finally at eleven fifteen we heard the low roar that came from the bottom of
the valley. We hailed victory there, but one thing was still to see… that the
helicopter could land in the tiny space we had prepared.
It was a blue and yellow ship moving slowly above the
canyon. When I saw the yellow letters painted by the side of the fuselage I
was sure it was from MANAG AIR and that it was Valery without a doubt, the
great Valery, one of the best pilots I have met in the Himalayas, who was
commanding his airship. When the apparatus came close with its blue belly in
the front we all got to the ground to sink in the bushes and to get away from
the hurricane that was made by the blades. Deep in the bush I managed to see
in the corner of my eye the elegance with which such apparatus landed slowly
with the precision of a watchmaker in the tiny space we had prepared. When
the revolutions of the motor diminished we all perked our heads, as prairie
dogs coming out from their lairs, and I could see that it was Valery. There
he was behind the crystals of his amber eyeglasses, with black headphones that
were prominent above his impeccable baldness. I approached the window and
saluted rising my right thumb, and he did the same thing back.
What came later was what we had rehearsed for the last four
days: move the packages, pick up the packages, pick up the back packs and put
them in the empty belly of that flying dolphin. When that belly was full with
1800 Kg of weight, the skipper gave the order to close the doors and start the
fight. In the first trip there were four expeditioneers and four Nepalese.
With the same quickness with which it came, he elegantly lifted the rig, sided
it slowly in the direction of the valley, drew a couple of enormous circles in
the air and there we were flying above the canyon, the pines and the
rhododendrons of the west face of Dhaulagiri.
We made it to our destination in a matter of fifteen
With the same craziness with which we loaded our packages, we
had to unload them, he had to make another trip. When we finished the task,
with the roar above us, I turned to the stepladder and entered to the cabin to
look for Valery, I patted his shoulder, he turned around to see me, I gave him
a poster of my summit in Annapurna and rising my voice so that he could hear
me I said: Valery, you are the best. He gave me back a smile rising
I jumped out the door in the direction of my teammates, we
all huddled to endure another hurricane. The blue dolphin rose in the air and
we had arrived to our Base Camp.
Caption: With the same
quickness with which it came, he elegantly lifted the rig, sided it slowly in
the direction of the valley and started to fly
por la puertecilla en dirección a mis compañeros, todos juntos nos hicimos un
ovillo para aguantar de nuevo otro huracán. El delfín azul se alzaba por los
aires y nosotros habíamos llegado al Campamento Base.
Translated form Spanish by Jorge Rivera
On the way to Dhaulagiri BC, Tuesday, April 1, 2008
I write this note on the way to Dhaulagiri, BC, at the
bottom of the west face of the mountain, in a place called the Italian Base
Camp at 3,610 m. of altitude, two days away from our destination.
On Sunday, March 30, at three thirty in the afternoon, we
arrived to this place with a snow fall following us closely. While most of
the porters arrived, snow fell abundantly and the walls of the mountain were
illuminated at intervals with they thunder of the storm. The snowflakes that
fell were huge and in a matter of one hour the entire place was absolutely
white. One by one the porters came with their loads, and they were completely
white because of the snow.
Hours passed by, hand by hand with the snow fall and we were
numb and uncomfortable bearing the cold in a mess tent that we installed in
The snow fall stopped at eight in the evening, the stars
finally were seen, we had dinner and we went to sleep worrying about what
could happen on the next day.
Yesterday, Monday, March 31, it was completely clean by
daybreak, a blue sky in the front and on our backs the immense west wall of
Dhaula, but the news were really bad: almost all of the porters did not want
to continue their work because they saw that the conditions of the march to
Base Camp were really hard. In an uneven negotiation, with the language
barrier in the middle, we resigned impotently to the dismissal of EIGHTY
porters. We had only 20 of them for 3,500 Kg of load.
The situation was undoubtedly complicated.
Any way, with our optimism we had the idea of going to BC
with the few porters we were left, counting of course, with at least tour
round trips to carry all the loads.
For the moment the situation looked like it had a solution,
but when things want to get really complicated, there is always material for
that (read the Murphy Law). It started to snow again at 12h30, just like on
Sunday afternoon or even more. While the snowflakes feel we saw with anguish
that we had reduced possibilities to get out of this place. To make a long
story short, we went to sleep and it was still snowing.
Today, Tuesday, April 1st, at six thirty in the morning we
woke up to the shouting of the porters, with the high notes of three Sherpani
girls (female Sherpas) who were part of our staff.
Just like we had feared there was more desertion. 9 more
porters were leaving (including the three women who were among the strongest)
and we were left with only 11 for all the equipment we had brought. It was
logical to understand the desertion, with the fresh snow up to our knees and
in the poor conditions they move, there were no arguments to convince them to
stay and finish the job.
Now the situation had changed from difficult to dramatic.
We would be simply left abandoned somewhere in the Himalayas two days away
from Dhaulagiri BC.
Now that we had accepted the problem, we had to look for a
solution and it was the only one: to get a helicopter that could get us out of
When I write this note now, it is four in the afternoon of
Tuesday (it is still snowing for a change), we have already called for help
and they said that they would come Thursday morning with a helicopter to get
us out of this place and that in a ten minutes flight they would leave us in
the awaited destination, Dhaulagiri BC.
Caption: One of the most difficult passages of our approach
Caption: From the Italian Camp, with the west wall of
Dhaulagiri in the background, where we were left with no porters.
With my affection from Nepal.
Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte
Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera
ON THE SHORE OF
Today is Tuesday,
March 25. I write from the hotel in Pokhara, on the way to Dhaulagiri.
We have come to
this enchanted place by the foot of the Himalayas, in a matter of forty
minutes, from Katmandu, thanks to a Yeti Airlines flight. With that we have
saved six hours of a trip that covers only two hundred kilometers of distance
(you can imagine how complicated and difficult it is to travel by that road).
Anyway, now in Pokhara this is wonderful because there is no noise, or the
chaos of Katmandu. We have the lake that has the same name as the place and
that is the mirror of a part of the Himalayas mountain system, where usually
one of the most beautiful mountains of this part grooms at dawn: Mapuchare
which in Sanskrit means Fish Tail.
Lake Pokhara is the mirror of this part of the Himalayas
The hotel where
we are is called Khantipur, just a minute from the lake.
From the peace of
this place I feel calm and I send you this note. But before continuing I have
to confirm what I wrote three years ago when I came to this place for the
first time, precisely on the way to my first attempt to Dhaulagiri. If I ever
get married again, I would chose this place for my honeymoon, without a
doubt. There is no rush here, everything goes slow, no hurry, at a slow
rhythm like the small waves that come to the pier of the lake to break into
foam. Above Pokhara is the Himalayas, white, shiny, silver or red, depending
on the sun and the hour. On the edge of the boardwalk is the main street and
on it are hundreds of stores that sell everything a tourist need to prove they
have been in this place, but there are also some little terraces with a view
to the lake, not the sea in this case, which are just charming. There you can
order a banana lhasi (a shake with yougurt), a green tea, a very cold Everest
beer or a cup of wine (red or white, your choice), and the daring would also
order an omelet with hallucinogen mushrooms, in which case in a matter of
minutes they are flying high above the Himalayas with no effort, or suffering
like yours truly, who now wants to get to a point at 8,167 m. Anyway, this is
a beautiful place, because time has another rhythm here and the geographical
surroundings are unique. That is why, if that is the case, I would come here
to spend my honeymoon without a doubt. When Sebas hears my comment he says
no, it is not necessary to marry to come for a honeymoon, because anyway, it
is not the same but it is. Just like that song from Silvio Rodríguez says.
After a walk on
by the boardwalk we go to the shore of the lake where Sebastian, Ferran and
Manolo are prepping up the equipment to make us an interview for Televisión
Española, to Edurne and I. Behind us, bending down, two Nepalese girls wash
their colored clothes in the water of the lake with their bowls which shine
like silver with the light of the afternoon; their children, small, with
innocent smiles play to jump between the boats that rest in a line by the edge
of the water.
My interview ends
and they continue with Edurne, I sneak up to where the Nepalese are and with a
bow I ask them to let me take a picture of them, then nod and continue
washing, making foam with their hands, twisting clothes between water and
soap, taking water from the lake with the bowls and from the bowls to the
grass. They talk and smile while they wash, they pull my leg because they
think I am from Nepal and I tell them I am from Ecuador. The ladies with two
words in English and I with two words of Nepalese, but the smile is the best
language in any part of the planet. I get close to one of them and ask for
her name. Susila, she says, and gives me a beautiful smile, and I thank her
saying ramro (pretty, in Nepalese) smile. She smiles again and illuminates
lake Pokhara even more. I take some pictures of her and thank her with a
smile and a bow. I show her the little screen of my camera and she makes a
party when she sees the pictures, she speaks to her friends in Nepalese and
the only word I get is ramro, ramro. So now I nod: dany abhat, baini ramro,
(thanks a lot, pretty woman). In the middle of the noise one of the children,
the one with the most lively eyes, talking to Susila says something in
Nepalese ending the phrase with umcha mami (ok mom). In a goofy mix of
English and Nepalese, without hiding my surprise, I confirm he is her son.
With the help of her fingers she makes me see that Muktu is 4 years old. I do
my math, more by visual than by chronological signs, and I assume that Susila
is not older than twenty. Young mother, I think, like in my town. Taking
Muktu by his shoulders and the rest of his partners, I put them around Fusila,
and they stay there for a second, quiet, like mother hen with her chicks. I
look through the viewfinder, everybody smiles, Muktu turns to watch his mom,
but it is too late, the light is caught and the picture is taken in
milliseconds. There are the children, the boats, lake Pokhara and Susila's
Caption: Susila gives me a beautiful smile and
I thank her saying ramro smile
Caption: There are the children, the boats,
lake Pokhara and Susila's smile.
I turn my camera
off and I touch one by one the faces of the kids, I touch Susila's shoulder
and I say once more: dany abhat, baini ramro. She generously gives me one
more smile and says: see you tomorrow. And I answer: No, tomorrow Dhaulagiri
expedition. She and the kids shake their arms and we mutually say good bye.
When I come down
from Dhaula I will come back to lake Pokhara, God willing, and I will probably
meet Susila playing again with water, soap and clothes, and I will tell her:
Iván Vallejo Ricaurte
Translated from Spanish by