Saturday, April 30, 2016

Time for the second rotation!

Me and Purba
The weather and route look stable - thankfully the winds have abated - so in less than 12 hours the Madison Mountaineering team will depart base camp for camp 2 (21,300 feet).  We are planning to spend the night of May 1st at camp 2, rest there the following day, then climb part way up the icy Lhotse face to camp 3 (24,000 feet), and spend a little time there to aid the acclimatization process before returning to camp 2 to spend one more night.  The following morning we will return to base camp to recover.

These rotations are much easier for me thanks to my Sherpa partner, Purba, who assures that my hypoxic brain doesn’t make mistakes on the technical sections of the route.  He also shoulders much of the responsibility for carrying my gear from camp to camp. His strength and endurance amazes me; he is 59 years old and smaller than me (I can usually only say that about teenagers).  He has summited Everest 10 times and is a Lama, it makes me feel better that he wears prayer beads when he climbs :)

Fingers crossed for good weather and route conditions!  For the next few days you can follow along here.


Friday, April 29, 2016

The rest period between our first and second rotations is near it’s end!  While the Madison Mountaineering team has technically been resting at base camp, we haven’t been bored, we’ve occupied ourselves in the following ways:

Preparing a "sancho" steam: hot water
 plus liquid tiger balm!
EATING! (the strongest climber is the best eater ;) 
playing cards
watching movies
doing laundry
generally making fun of each other
daily “sancho” steams to keep our airways healthy
socializing with other teams
repairing gear

And, taking short hikes around base camp.  Yesterday part of the team hiked to the base camp of neighboring Pumori, and enjoyed spectacular views of all of base camp.  
View of base camp, Everest (black peak on left), Lhotse, and Nuptse from Pumori base camp
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

Today, a few of us hiked about 1,000 feet above base camp to a rocky peak.  It felt good to walk on dirt and see plants, and even bugs!  A nice break from base camp’s rock and ice.  I even took the opportunity to test my balance with a yoga pose!

Yoga at 18,400 feet!
Photo:  Conan Bliss

If the weather and mountain allow, the plan is to begin our second rotation early (like, really early) on the morning of May 1st.  This rotation will take us to camp 2 for a night (21,300 feet), then to camp 3 (24,000 feet) for a few hours before returning to camp 2 to spend a night or two. 


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

There are always things to do around camp, and today’s sunny skies afforded the whole team an opportunity to catch up on chores.

Everyday, the kitchen team works tirelessly to provide the climbers & Sherpa with not only surprisingly delicious food, but also clean water.  At least a dozen times per day very strong Sherpa hike 10 minutes to a clean water supply, fill a 5 gallon jug, and carry it back to camp.  I can hardly walk up the stairs to the dining tent without being out of breath!

Next, the water is boiled - just to be certain that it is clean, and finally, the tatopani (hot water) is strained into jugs for drinking.  Chisopani (cold water) is also available, and just to be sure that it is safe to drink, I treat it with UV.

We are very fortunate to have hot showers, which involve carrying another heavy jug of water up a rocky hill, where it is dumped into a larger drum and thanks to the benefit of gravity, flows down downhill to the shower tent where it is heated by propane before flowing through the shower head.  Although rustic - this is one of the best showers I have ever had!

Lalu Sherpa filling the shower drum

Finally, since all of base camp is built on rock and ice, regular maintenance is required as the ice melts.  This afternoon, my tent was on the verge of sliding down a rocky precipice, so the team re-built its foundation.  Think about shoveling rock at 17,500 feet when you’re having a hard day at work!

Watching how hard our Sherpa team works to make our expedition safe and comfortable is completely humbling to me, these men work tirelessly, and always with good humor.  Witnessing their labor makes me appreciate things like a warm shower and clean water.  And, if it were not for their efforts,  climbing in the Himalaya would be a very different - and more difficult experience for people like me.  


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April 25 - back at base camp - first rotation complete!

The process of summitting Everest involves making multiple rotations from base to higher camps on the mountain.  This process allows climbers to acclimatize to increasingly higher elevations, and to stock camps with food, gear, and fuel.  The Madison Mountaineering team’s plan is to make three rotations, the third being a summit attempt.  

So, the first rotation is complete!  The team returned to base camp early this morning, leaving camp 2 (21,300 feet) at 5 am, just as the horizon was turning pale shades of purple and pink.  It was cold, and a little windy and my crampons sounded like they were puncturing styrofoam on the descent from camp 2 to camp 1.  The terrain was mellow, so I was able to watch the sun light pristine peaks in the distance and was grateful for the amazing parts of the world that climbing affords me to witness.

Rapelling at sunrise
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

Although there were several queues of climbers to negotiate, the day continued smoothly, with a brief stop at camp 1 and then a safe descent through the Khumbu icefall.  

A crowd awaits as I cross a ladder
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

The plan is to rest at base camp for several days, allowing our bodies to recover and build gazillions of red blood cells before starting the next rotation.

Monday, April 25, 2016

April 23, camp 2 21,300 feet 

The wind roared all night at camp 1, when it whipped the nylon sides of the tent, a flurry of ice crystals fell on my face.  Finding enough motivation to unzip my warm sleeping bag in the morning was challenging, and when I finally did the bottom of it was covered in a thin layer of snow that must have blown I through the vented tent door.  Even though it is easy to forgo things like teeth brushing and deodorant, I think k it's important to keep up these rituals in order to feel just a little bit human.  So, I forced myself through the motions and tried to ignore the wind and the upcoming project of going to the bathroom.

By 9:30 the team was geared up, fed, and ready to move up the glacier to camp 2. The first part of the route is a series of giant undulating crevasses that vary in depth from 10 to 25 feet, I'd guess.  Multiple times we walked down one side, into the flat bottom, and jumared up the other side.  The jumaring left me breathless for several minutes and I was thankful when the crevasses were skinnier and could be scaled by walking across a ladder.   After this the terrain gave way to a mellow incline as we walked through the western cwm, boardered by Nuptse to the right, Everest's windy summit to the left, and the glistening blue ice of the Lhotse face in front of us. I tried not to think about ascending the steep face.  
Climbing from camp 1 to camp 2
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

Thank goodness I practiced crossing ladders in the garage!
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

After about 3 hours we made it to the lateral moraine of Everest's west shoulder, which is home to camp 2.  The 30 minute walk to camp was the hardest for me, my lungs screaming and struggling to function at 21,300 feet.  I found an unfortunate distraction in the debris littering camp 2 - jars of peanut butter, tattered down clothing, kitchen strainers, nylon pieces of tents, entire kitchen kits.  After last year's earthquake, camp 2 was evacuated very quickly, its inhabitants leaving behind most of their gear in an effort to quickly return to safety. 

Camp 2 serves as Madison Mountaineering's advance base camp (ABC) we will stay here for three nights, and acclimatize by taking short walks on the glacier and moraine.  
April 21 camp 1 19,500 feet 

My oxygen saturation yesterday afternoon, after I had been at camp 1 (19,600) feet was 75 percent.  This afternoon it is 79 percent, a welcome improvement, but a saturation that low would earn me a trip to the Emergency Department if I were at home.  I am always amazed by what our bodies can endure.  Everything at altitude is more difficult.  I loose my breath while drinking out of a water bottle, it takes extra effort just to put my boots on.  And I have 9,500 feet to go!   Needless to say, most of my time at the higher camps is spent relaxing in the tent, letting my body adjust to the new altitude by building more red blood cells, sleeping, reading, maybe playing cards if enough people have the energy. 

The Madison Mountaineering team did spend a few hours this morning checking out the route to camp 2, we walked about a quarter of the way there - the most challenging part as the terrain is heavily crevassed and undulating and includes a few short, steep climbs and ladder crossings.  We'll spend the rest of the day relaxing and then will move to camp 2 tomorrow!

Camp 1
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

April 20, climbing from base camp to camp 1

Two-thirty came early, but I was still excited to begin climbing.  Base camp is comfortable, but it's a long way from the summit.  I've always liked climbing in the dark because it's easy for me to focus on the circle of light coming from my headlamp and block every thing else out of my mind.  It was hard to ignore; though, the seriousness of climbing through the Khumbu icefall. Occasionally I would hear a loud pop! as the ice continued to harden and crack in the cold night.  There were several climbers and Sherpa starting out at the same time and for a while it felt like rush hour traffic as everyone vied for their place, based on their pace.  A nearly full moon shone over me as I climbed up, over, and around towering blocks of ice.  Just as the sun was rising, I heard a collapse of ice, but couldn't identify its location.  My rule of thumb is that if I can feel the ice moving, I'm in trouble, but f I can only hear it I'm ok.  I don't know if this is logical or not, but so far it has worked for me.  When I heard the collapse I grabbed my Sherpa partner, Purba Rita and I think that I screamed right in his ear.  We weren't in any danger, but it was still terrifying.  

Inside the Khumbu icefall
Photo:  Stuart Erskine
Me crossing a ladder in the icefall
Photo:  Nick Perks

The rest of the morning continued basically the same way, climbing around and over unimaginably huge blocks of ice, which made me feel very small and very fragile. Near the end of icefall it was obvious that a collapse had occurred as the rope was buried, in this location ice chunks towered at least forty feet above me, and all I thought was that I wanted to get out of there as fast as my lungs and legs would allow.  

Climbers exiting the Khumbu icefall
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

I arrived at camp 1 just before 9 am, tired but happy to be safe.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Today was all about preparing to move up the mountain!  To increase the team’s comfort level with the Khumbu icefall, we ventured  into it this morning.  The terrain started out rocky, and I moved along clumsily in stiff mountaineering boots.  Soon the rocks gave way to snow, and then to ice and all around me were towers of  ice the size of buildings.  We walked in the icefall for less than an hour, just until the ice got really steep.  

Today's high point

We did take the time to find a safe spot to celebrate the Seahawks!

Go Hawks!!

The Madison Mountaineering team will wake up at 1 am (ugh!), eat an early breakfast and leave base camp by 2:30 in order to make it to camp 1 before the heat of the day makes the icefall less stable.  I am anticipating that it will take 6 - 8 hours to travel the 3.75 miles and 1900 vertical feet to camp 1, which sits at 19,390 feet.  The plan - weather permitting - is to spend two nights at camp 1, then move to camp 2 (21,998 feet) and spend at least one more night there before returning to base camp to recover.  The weather at this point looks good, so I am planning to spend 4 - 5 days on the mountain.  

Look for an update when I return. Until then, you can find updates here.

Let the climbing begin!!

Today was all about preparing to move up the mountain!  To increase the team’s comfort level with the Khumbu icefall, we ventured  into it this morning.  The terrain started out rocky, and I moved along clumsily in stiff mountaineering boots.  Soon the rocks gave way to snow, and then to ice and all around me were towers of  ice the size of buildings.  We walked in the icefall for less than an hour, just until the ice got really steep.  

Today's high point

We did take the time to find a safe spot to celebrate the Seahawks!

Go Hawks!!

The Madison Mountaineering team will wake up at 1 am (ugh!), eat an early breakfast and leave base camp by 2:30 in order to make it to camp 1 before the heat of the day makes the icefall less stable.  I am anticipating that it will take 6 - 8 hours to travel the 3.75 miles and 1900 vertical feet to camp 1, which sits at 19,390 feet.  The plan - weather permitting - is to spend two nights at camp 1, then move to camp 2 (21,998 feet) and spend at least one more night there before returning to base camp to recover.  The weather at this point looks good, so I am planning to spend 4 - 5 days on the mountain.  

Look for an update when I return. Until then, you can find updates here.

Let the climbing begin!!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Today was a rest day for all of base camp.  To show respect and remembrance for the 16 Sherpa who died in an avalanche when a serac fell off of Everest's west shoulder two years ago today.

For me, today was also an opportunity to reflect on the seriousness of this endeavor and to appreciate the Sherpa who make it possible for me to safely climb Everest.  Mountains are fickle and unyielding, and don’t care if I have spent months preparing to climb them.  They are in control, and I feel grateful everyday that I am able to safely climb.  I also realize that I would not be able to climb Everest without the Sherpa who graciously support me and the rest of my team.  Without fail, every Sherpa that I have climbed with is adept, unbelievably strong and respectful of the mountain.  And also better at card games than they admit ;)

This afternoon the team prepared loads for our move to camp 1 on the 20th.  The whole camp is excited and ready to begin climbing!  

Preparing loads to carry to camp 1
Photo:  Lisa White

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The first significant obstacle on the journey to the summit of Mt. Everest will be the Khumbu icefall, which, even though I have been staring at it for five days, still looks impossibly daunting.  

Khumbu icefall
Photo:  Lisa White

To be sure that we are prepared to safely and efficiently climb through the icefall, the Madison Mountaineering team will spend three days training in the lower icefall, just a short walk from our camp.  We have spent several hours each morning working through obstacle courses of steep ice, ladders, and precarious ridges.  The obstacles are both fun and exhausting, and already I feel more comfortable with the required skills.

Tomorrow we will continue our training and plan to begin climbing in the icefall on the 19th.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Today we took advantage of the morning sunshine to tour base camp.  There are about 1000 people here, with 235 registered climbers for Everest or neighboring Lhotse as of the last count.  In 2015 about 360 people were registered to climb either Everest of Lhotse.  Needless to say, base camp is not as busy as typical years, and Everest veterans report that it is much more spread out.  

Khumbu icefall
Photo:  Lisa White

Our tour included a stop at the Himalayan Rescue Association which functions as the Emergency Department for the mountain. Each expedition pays a fee for the support of its international volunteers.  In exchange, consultations are free, and medications are dispensed at cost.  The HRA also provides free medical care to Sherpa.  The medical staff most frequently treats GI and respiratory issues, including the Khumbu cough.  Ankle and wrist injuries are also common as walking on the ice/rock/yak poop terrain around base camp can be challenging.

Inside Himalayan Rescue Association tent
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

This afternoon we will suit up in our climbing gear and venture out onto the ice for a short walk!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

We enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day at Everest base camp today, which was perfect for our puja.  A puja is a Buddhist ceremony which includes prayer, chanting, dancing, drinking, and making offerings.  In our case, the offerings were made to Mt. Everest.  The Nepali refer to the mountain as Sagarmatha or “Mother of the Universe”.  Today we offered her fried dough, beer, yak milk butter, candy, and whiskey.  If I were a deity, those are the offerings that I would appreciate :)  

The ceremony begins by burning juniper on a stone alter.  Then, the Lama chants, and intermittently throws rice in the air while blessing the climbers ice axes, crampons, and other gear.  The high point of our two-hour ceremony was raising prayer flags over camp.

Prayer flags being raised above camp
Photo:  Lisa White

After the prayer flags were in place, we each received a kata and string from the Lama and we took turns wishing each other good luck and long life by wiping sampa (flour) on one another's cheeks. 

Wiping sampa on one another's cheeks to wish good fortune and long life
Photo:  Lisa White

The puja is done to ask for good fortune and safe climbing for the Sherpa and climbers and is especially important for the Sherpa because now they can begin climbing in order to prepare the mountain for us to safely climb.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I’ve arrived at Everest Base Camp!!  It would not be possible for me to make the 40 mile journey from Lukla to EBC without the support of local porters, yaks, and dzos.  Well, maybe it would be possible, but it would take a whole lot longer and I would be a lot less happy!

I am always a little torn about using porters and pack animals to carry my gear and supplies because part of me feels like it should be my responsibility.  But, I also realize that supporting Himalayan climbers and trekkers provides a major boost to the Nepalese economy.  In the 1950s, one-third of the Nepalese workforce was dedicated to portering.  I am always humbled by the strength of the porters in the Himalaya, who are about the same stature as me and are able to carry incredibly heavy loads over precarious terrain; usually wearing sparse footwear.

Porters carrying heavy loads to Everest Base Camp
Photo:  Lisa White

The team will spend the rest of the day getting settled into our accommodations at EBC.  In addition to our personal sleeping tents, our camp includes a communications tent, dining tent, cooking tent, shower tent, toilet tents, plus tents and facilities for our Sherpa team.  

View of camp
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

Now the fun begins!!  

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Today was a rest day in Dingboche, which doesn’t actually mean that I did any resting.  Rather, the team hiked from town to Nangkar Tchang, the hike ended on a rocky outcrop at 16,200 feet, higher than any place in the continental US.  

Hike to Nangkar Tchang
Photo:  Lisa White

A rest day does mean that we will spend one more night in Dingboche which affords me the time to do some much needed laundry and to wash the dirt out of my hair.  As we move closer to Everest base camp, services naturally become more sparse and more expensive.  I splurged and spent 500 rupees (about $5) for a proper shower, as opposed to a five gallon bucket of hot-ish water for 300 rupees.  While I waited for my turn in the shower - a yak had kicked the pipe requiring a repair - I sat on a stone bench and spoke to Chhiring, the proprietor of the Yak Lodge that I'm staying at.  Chhring has attempted Everest nine times and now owns multiple lodges in the Khumbu.  He told me that summiting Everest is "very easy", and advised me to breathe every time I take a step and not to "pant like a dog".  

Most of the villages along our trek end in “buche” or “bouche”, which signifies that Buddha walked through them many, many, many years ago.  Tomorrow we will move to Lobuche, our second-to-last stop before base camp.  

Friday, April 8, 2016

We left Deboche early this morning, crossed the Imja Khola river and began trekking toward Dingbouche. 

Prayer Wheels
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

Along the way we stopped at Lama Geshe's house in Pangboche to receive a blessing.  The Lama, who appeared to be in his 90s, traditionally blesses all Himalayan climbers; one wall of his room is dedicated to summit photos.  We crowded into one room of the Lama's house and waited while he finished blessing prayer flags for a local woman.  Next, there was some discussion in Nepali between our Sherpa and the Lama and then various items for the blessing were collected - rice and special threads.   Finally Lama Geshe started chanting and tossing rice in the air in all directions.  After several minutes he lead us in chanting om ma ni pad me hung hri several times.  

Lama Geshe told us the importance of giving up intentions to harm others and to do our best to benefit from all experiences.  

The ceremony ended with each of us presenting the Lama with a kata which he blessed and then tied a string around our necks so that we will have a safe expedition.

Receiving a blessing from Lama Geshe

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What an eventful day!  

After breakfast at the Panorama Lodge we were treated to katas and good wishes from the proprietor, Sharip, and his family.  We each took turns sipping homemade chang, the local brew, while Sharip tied a silk kata around our necks and wished us safe passage on Mt. Everest.

Kata ceremony
Photo:  Lisa White

Next our bags were loaded onto dzos,the half-cow half-yak animals that are used to carry loads at lower elevations in the Himalaya.  

Dzo waiting for a load
Photo:  Lisa White

At 9am we hit the trail, headed for the village of Tengboche. We gradually gained and lost elevation multiple times, following the Dudh Koshi river.  We spent most of the day on dusty, rocky, forested trails, shaded by pine trees and giant pink rhododendron.   Ama Dablam, Everest, and Lhotse greeted us when the trail meandered out of the forest.  

Views of Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam
Photo:  Stuart Erskine

After several hours and a final steep push, we arrived at the Tengboche monastery and waited until 4 pm to view the lama’s daily prayer.  A giant Buddha overlooked the room, and we crowded onto the wooden floor as the lamas each sat at their assigned spot on raised benches.  They each put on a thick russet-colored robes before sitting cross-legged on their benches.  After burning juniper, in unison, they chanted as they turned the pages fragile pages of their prayer books.  It was a very moving experience.

Monk at Tengboche monastery
Photo:  Jim Lumberg

We ended the day in Deboche and are now about half way on our forty-mile trek from Lukla to Base camp and each day Mt. Everest looks just a little bit closer :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Namche Bazaar

I've safely arrived at Namche Bazaar!  Not only is Namche the trading hub of the Khumbu region; it also serves as the gateway to the Himalaya as most climbers and trekkers heading to Everest base camp pass through it.  To support the tourism business, the local Sherpa people own lodges, shops, and tea houses that cater to climbers and trekkers.  In Namche you can drink a beer at an Irish pub and buy nearly everything necessary to outfit an expedition. 

Pano or Namche Bazaar

This is my first visit to Namche, and the narrow, cobbled streets seem busy to me, but one shop owner estimated 50% fewer customers this year, a sign that people are waiting to see what transpires during the 2016 Everest climbing season.  Although it is unfortunate for the people making a living in the Khumbu, I’m happy to know that there will be fewer climbers on the mountain this year.  

The next week is all about acclimatization as we slowly make our way from our current elevation of 11,300 feet to 17,500 feet at base camp.  To aid in that process, today we hiked to the Everest View Hotel where I got my first view of Everest.  It still seems impossibly massive and really far away.  

Mt. Everest from Everest View Hotel

Tomorrow we will leave the luxuries of hot showers, bakeries and electric blankets and trek to the village of Debuche, which is about 10 miles up the valley.  So far I’m feeling good an am really excited to be starting this adventure!