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  American Autumn Shishapangma Expedition 2005: ABC Activity, Good & Bad - Sept. 19


 

From Eric: So much has happened in the last two and a half days that we have not even had time to write. Now it is time. I write because Monty and Dave are heading down to Basecamp, but more on that you will see.

 

1. TEAMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

2. HIKE TO CACHE CAMP

3. ACCLIMATIZATION CRISIS IN THE NIGHT

4. PUJA CEREMONY

5. HIGH-ALTITUDE WIRING

6. TIME ZONES

7. SHOWER

8. PHOTOS

 

--------------

 

1. TEAMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

 

There are teams here with members from Italy, Spain, USA, Russia, eastern Europe (Croatia I think) and a rumored Japanese (though we can't seem to locate them). Some interesting fellows include Camilo, currently out of Boulder, Colorado, who just climbed K2 last year, among other notable Himalayan peaks. He is here sharing a permit with a couple of hot-wired Italian climbers. Camilo is partnering up with Carlos of Spain. It was fun chatting with him in Spanish. Never thought I would use it in Tibet.

 

2. HIKE TO CACHE CAMP

 

We hiked to Cache Camp yesterday. It is not much of an altitude difference (only 200 meters), but is all on moraine, and very much a "up-and-down, boulder hop, skid on dirt, cross a few streams, poles skate off rocks" kind of hike. At over 5,700 meters, it is very wearing. It took two hours to get there, the higher we went the colder it got and snow moved in. I was stupid and forgot a warm hat and gloves, and paid for it. Val lent me her hat for a bit. It took two hours for the four of us to arrive.

 

We came to cache some gear here, so we set up a small cache in the rocky moraine off the trail. We were not actually all the way to cache camp, but very close. It was cold now, and snowing lightly. The penitentes on the glacier are immense, some 30 feet high!

 

Traveling back down to ABC is wearing, I am tired. Dave has a bad headache, Val a small headache, but curiously Monty, who felt poorly on the way up, now feels great. I am very tired.

 

Pulling into camp is a relief. Dorje has lunch ready soon after we arrive. Dave is too sick to eat much lunch, sitting with his head in his hands at our small table in the dining tent with the colorful tablecloth that is accumulating a brief history of our meals. We have a dinner of fantastic Nepali pizza, 3" high and stacked with sausage bits, cabbage, carrots, cheese, and onions.

 

Dave goes to bed mid-dinner. Our solar panel is acting up, not charging properly. We barely have enough lighting to finish dinner. No tunes tonight.

 

3. ACCLIMATIZATION CRISIS IN THE NIGHT

 

I went to bed at 7:45. At 9:15, I hear Dave outside saying "Eric, let me in." I open the tent, and he tumbles in, very sick. Says he has had a headache all afternoon, and he wants help, doesn't want to be alone. His speech sounds a little slurred.

 

I get him settled, and root around for my Diamox. He swallows one 250mg tablet with warm water, and I make him stay sitting. Neurologic check of the pupils looks OK, so I am thinking what to do. Monty is not in his tent, so I tell Val what is going on, and return to Dave. He looks fairly out of it, but does respond coherently to questions. He must be in a lot of pain. His pulse is 85, not too high.

 

After a few minutes, he clearly is getting more agitated, then says he has to throw up, I guide him to the door, and he loses dinner, the water and Diamox in a very elegant manner. Good, I think, "trauma puke," is what they teach you in WFR.

 

It is clear he needs tending, so I convert my Bibler from one-person to two-person bedding, get his sleeping bag, and get him situated, then go to the dining tent, dig through the three huge med kits for the altitude meds, looking for the Dexamethazone. I already have Diamox.

 

Val comes over, then Monty. When Dave talks to Monty, he definitely cannot remember a word he was thinking of. This is looking worse than 30 minutes ago. Since he hurled the first Diamox, I gave him another with a sip of cool water, which he keeps down.

 

Monty thinks we should give him some Dex, gets the small medical oxygen tanks that we bought for this sort of emergency, and we set him up with a self-administered oxygen - push the button when you breathe in. This seems to help, but only a little. We measure oxygen saturation with a small device placed on a fingertip. His oxygen saturation is 61, which is critically low, a very bad sign. Ours are ranging in the mid-70s (not great) to mid-80s (acceptable).

 

After some discussion, Monty maintains this is much worse than we thought, and gets Warrick, a doctor from another team. Warrick says he should be immediately put on Dexamethazone. He gives Dave a shot, using our medicine, and we get him on the orange bottled Poisk oxygen.

 

Through the night, we monitor him on oxygen. Monty takes the first shift. I take the second shift, and do some testing. A 1.5 liter flow keeps his blood oxygen level at 95, a good number. His pulse ranges from 65 to 85. Val takes the third, Monty the fourth.

 

Early in the morning, Warrick comes by, and again generously offer their advice. They counsel that Dave should not just go to basecamp (still high at 5000m), but down to Nyalam (~3500?m) or Kathmandu (~1500m). This is the end of the expedition for him, as there won't be enough time to acclimatize if he were to return.

 

At breakfast, now that Dave is vertical, there is much talk of what Dave may do. He thinks perhaps the Annapurna circuit, a world-famous trek. Camilo has arranged a truck for a member of his team who is leaving, and offered to Dave to share the ride. This will save him $200 (I am liking this guy, liking his philosophy and willingness to help). There was much discussion of alien travel permits, climbing permit, and the hassles attendant with getting out of China.

 

Dave is taking this well. Sitting here, he seems quite normal and healthy. You would never suspect that if he were to stay here, he might be risking his life. He made the right decision.

 

Monty decides he needs some more time as well, and he offers to carry Dave's gear down to basecamp, allowing Dave to carry only the oxygen cylinder and some water. They are off, and we won't see Dave for quite a while, if at all on this trip. Of course Monty has had as little sleep as anybody, it will be a long hike for the both of them. Monty will be back to ABC in two or three days.

 

4. PUJA CEREMONY

 

For the next few days, what is left of our team is Val and I. Dorje and Bemba are here with us as well. We still want to have a puja ceremony before we step foot on the mountain, to honor and respect the mountain. The puja makes offerings to the mountain gods, asks for safe passage and blessings. Camilo and Marcos join us, along with Bemba (our Tibetan porter) and Pinjo (another Tibetan guide) who assists.

 

Bemba arranges with a Tibetan lama to do the puja around 10:00. This ceremony is so detailed and interesting, what I can offer are a few observations:

 

-- The lama is not what you would expect from the travel literature. He is a Tibetan herder dressed as a traditional Tibetan, with black braided hair, turquoise earrings, a shirt and vest of some sort, tennis shoes (really). Scruffy whiskers. If I had to guess, I would say he was 60, but probably no more than 40 years old. No robes.

 

-- Offerings of tsampa (barley flour) mixed with butter and sugar, beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon will do nicely), Chinese Coke-a-Cola, biscuits, rice, fruit, two types of incense.

 

-- Prayer flags of various sorts are strung in three directions from a bamboo pole, embedded in a pile of nicely-stacked rocks. Before Val left for Tibet, she had a going-away party, and her friends made her special prayer flags with various messages on them. These join the traditional ones.

 

-- We sit on mats before the altar, to which has been added smoking yak dung (no juniper around here) with sage incense stacked on top. Bemba makes a concerted effort to keep this smoldering.

 

-- The lama sits cross-legged, unties and unfolds a dirty cloth containing rectangular, very worn prayer scripts written in Tibetan. He starts chanting in a low, smooth murmer, reading from the scripts. We are sitting knee-to-knee. There is a feeling of a very ancient ceremony, as old as the people here.

 

-- At various times we are offered rice or tsampa to toss gently at the altar when he indicates, always in small modest amounts.

 

-- We offer a drink of butter tea, which looks a little too yellow, but

tastes fair.

 

-- A mani stone, which I purchased in Barkhor Square (Lhasa) from one of the vendor stalls backing up to Tibet's most holy shrine, the Jokhang, sits prominently at the top of the altar, joining the other things to be blessed, including all of our ice axes and food offerings.

 

-- At the end is a cash offering, Val and I both kick in 100 Yuan, not quite sure if this is too much or not enough.

 

-- This was a personally incredible experience, which I will treasure forever. It is unfortunate that Dave and Monty could not be with us.

 

5. HIGH-ALTITUDE WIRING

 

Fairly addled from having only 4 hours of broken sleep, I realize that the solar panel-battery charger combo is just not working at all. After lots of testing various bits of the system, I track down the problem to a Radio Shack multi-voltage connector. With Val's help, I unscrew the thing, and immediately see some fried circuitry. Luckily we don't need this exact piece, so I wire a through-wire and we are up and running. If this thing would go down, that would mean no lights, no e-mail, no battery charging. It would have been seriously bad news. As Red Green says, "If the girls don't find you handsome, at least they should find you handy."

 

6. TIME ZONES

 

It is sometimes a frustration of international travel having to deal with two time zones. In Tibet, we have to deal with THREE.

 

a. Time zone at home - varies depending upon where you live. Mine is Central Standard Time in the United States. Tibet is 13 hours ahead on Chinese time (see below).

b. Chinese time - the time the Chinese liaison officer and drivers use,

and all the rest of China.

c. Nepali time - the time that all the porters and Tibetans use. It is 2:15 earlier than Chinese time.

 

Right now, in ABC, we are on Nepali Time, as the Chinese, thankfully,

are nowhere to be seen up here.

 

7. SHOWER

 

First shower in eight days, since Shigatse. You only need 2/3 of a

bucket of warm water and a shower tent to feel excellent in the

Himalaya! A light snow was tapping on the side of the tent as I

finished, and dressed in the cool breeze. Sublime.

 

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