Down from C2 - Sept. 29
Dispatch Sept 29
We've been up on the mountain
for the last six days acclimatizing. Other than routine descriptions of the
route, weather, cramped camping, etc., the real story is helping out with
evacuating a body from Camp1.
So rather than take it
chronologically (the body was last) I'll start with that.
Val and I were leaving Camp2,
heading eventually for ABC, and saw lots of people milling about C1. Someone
stopped us before arriving at C1 to let us know there was a somber air to
camp, as a Czech had died in the night. Apparently he and his brother were
sharing a tent, and he'd been having difficulty breathing. His brother
checked on him periodically, but when morning came he wasn't breathing, and
the brother called for a doctor. Warrick, the same Aussie doc that helped
Dave with his cerebral edema, declared him dead at least an hour. That's
roughly when we arrived.
Since our plan was to
jettison gear and descend, Val and I offered our services however they be
needed. This consisted of carrying much of the brothers' gear down, and
towing the sled with his body.
Various Monte Rosa (the
deceased was a Monte Rosa client) and McGuinness clients rigged a sled from
two skis, ski poles, and a backpack, while the body was wrapped in a sleeping
bag, then tied on.
Seven of us then dragged him
roughly 1,500ft down the slope, to the penitentes. Despite being on skis,
this was HARD work. In addition to the rope getting cut, there was plenty
under the skis (poles, rope, etc) to add considerable friction.
We were stopped at the
entrance to the penitentes, which started with a 20ft ice climb - the first
of dozens. Rather than attempt movement through them, a Sherpa suggested
building an actual litter and hiring four Sherpas/porters to carry him
through. So the body was left in the shade (only three hours daylight left)
while the Monte Rosa team arranged further transport. Today, ~15 of the Monte
Rosa team headed up to bring him through the penitentes, and a yak will then
transport him to ABC.
The most tragic part of this
story for me is the surviving brother. I can only imagine the hell he's
enduring, knowing that his brother died while he slept, and a doctor was just
a few feet away. I had a moment alone with him and told him how sorry I was,
and in a choked voice, he expressed concern about whether he could get the
body back to Czechoslovakia (someone had already suggested he be interred in a
crevasse, but that was quickly rejected). So today the rest of the body
recovery begins. Monte Rosa will have to transport him through the penitentes,
then via yak to Base Camp, then work with Dawa, the BC Liaison Officer, for
motor vehicle transport to either Lhasa or Kathmandu and a flight home.
Compared to that sad
experience, our tale on the mountain is rather straight forward. The plan was
to move to C1, rest, move to C2, rest, push to C3 and descend. That's pretty
much what we did, with the exception of pushing to C3.
Getting to C1 is in three
distinct portions - a two-hour hike up the moraine, then across the penitentes,
and then up a lightly-crevassed 1500ft snow slope. The only part worth really
worth mentioning is the penitentes.
This is an ice climber's
paradise. Up, down, across, through - whatever it takes. There are numerous
small to large streams running through, and watery potholes just waiting for a
boot. All of it could be traversed using either front-pointing or French
technique, without the aid of tools. This took about an hour to cross. Our
exceptionally nimble-footed Tibetan porter, Bemba, did it without crampons!
From there, the glacier is
mostly flat ice for maybe a quarter mile, to the beginning of the snow slope
upon which it's your usual snow slog, with crevasses. All told there were
only about a half dozen crevasses to cross, most with fixed lines over them.
Camp1 is situated on a
plateau, and consists of about a dozen tents. Val, Eric and I were to move up
together, but Eric wasn't feeling well so took another rest day at ABC. After
reaching C1, Val and I took a rest day, at the end of which Eric arrived. Our
plans for the next day were that we would attempt to reach Camp2, and Eric
rest a day in Camp1.
But how often do plans work
out? Val and I reached the large crevasse about halfway to Camp2, but the
wind was so fierce we retreated to C1 before attempting the crossing. In the
meantime, Eric was feeling so bad with bronchitis that he descended back to
The next morn was bright and
calm, so Val and I pushed to Camp2 while Eric rested at ABC. This is again
just a long snow slog, about 1500ft vertical, but with a major crevasse in the
middle. There's a fixed line over it and it's overhung almost to the point of
being closed, but looking into it while crossing reveals how much empty space
exists beneath its tenuous snow bridge. From there it's just more slogging up
to the next plateau, where Camp2 sits at 22,500ft (6862m according to the
GPS). Bemba, our Tibetan porter, caught us just above the crevasse, and we
three arrived at Camp2 together. Camp2 is a line of about eight tents, just
sitting out exposed on the plateau. From here there's a long flat approach to
Shishapangma's summit pyramid, and a rising traverse up to the summit ridge
where Camp3 sits.
Bemba had already set up two
tents at Camp2, but they were the smallest tents I've ever seen. Val and I
shared one while Bemba had the other. I'm going to get in trouble with this,
but Val takes more than her share of the tent. I figured I might draw a line
and clearly state "This is your side, and this is mine" but team unity (and
being grown-up) prevented me.
The following morning Bemba
descended to ABC and I moved into the other tent for a rest day. Y'know,
'resting' at 22,500ft is incredibly boring. I read much of the day while Val
slept in her tent. Fortunately, the weather was quite calm (versus the
earlier very windy rest day at C1). Unfortunately, Bemba smoked in the tent
and it reeked badly when I took it over. That evening Val and I shared dinner
and retreated for the long night. We were the only ones at Camp2, and with
the exception of two Italians who were making a summit bid, the only people on
the mountain above C1.
The sun sets about 6pm and
most climbers are headed to bed by 7:00. I usually toss and turn until about
1am until I finally reach real sleep. The sun rises about 6:30 and soon the
tent is too warm. That night I recorded tent temps reaching 5degF , while in
the daylight sun temps within the tent of the 80s to 90s are common.
On the morning of our sixth
day, it was time to head back to ABC. We leisurely packed our gear, headed
down to C1, and there met the tragedy.
It never fails to surprise me
how incredibly difficult climbing, or just moving, can be while above
20,000ft. It's not so much a strength issue as a motivational issue. Every
step takes multiple breaths, and you're continuously sapped of all energy.
The ultramarathon runner's concept of 'relentless forward motion' is
constantly running through my mind as I climb. It's fairly daunting to think
that the closest we've reached is 4,000ft from the summit, and even that was
From here at ABC to the
summit it's about 7800ft, but the total up-down elevation we've done so far is
over 12,000ft. We'll easily exceed 20,000 vertical feet getting to the top.
So from here we'll take a
couple rest days at ABC and then begin our summit push!
You know you're near base
camp when you turn the corner after days and days on the mountain and see the
group of colorful tents with prayer flags flapping. You know you're near BC
(luckily) when your camelback runs out of water. You know you're near BC when
your teammate appears two minutes from camp with a lifesaver.
You know you're in BC when
you see your cook appear with hot juice and a clean mug. You know you're in BC
when you hear Ciao and Namaste and Hello. You know you're in BC when you have
your own tent to organize and take up as much space as you want :).
Being up high on the mountain
is hard. And gorgeous. What takes one hour to climb at home in Colorado (with
a little good hard sweat) will take four or five hours up high, where you try
to only exert yourself at a pace that can be maintained for twelve. And this
high is really high-- Camp 2 is the same altitude as my previous altitude
record. Rest days are needed to simply allow your body to adjust, taking the
time to let the small headache disperse, time to allow the blood cells to
adjust. I slept almost the entire rest day at C2. But acclimatization does
work if you do it right. My second time climbing up to C1 was much easier than
the first; things are feeling right. The route up Shishapangma curves just so
so that when we reach C2 we are finally right next to the mountain; one day
she is covered in lenticulars, and the next she will be clear and calm. No one
has yet made it to her summit.
After six days on the
mountain: six days of pee bottles in the night, six days of melting snow for
hours and hours in the hanging stove two inches from your head (only one small
finger burn to show), six days of body temperature regulation (on-off of the
shell, mitts, or booties), six days of drinking cider to wash out last of the
oatmeal or cocoa to wash out the ramen flavor, six days of protecting skin
from the intense sun, six days of wet-ones baths, six days of twelve hour
nights, after six days of these, it was time to return to base camp to
On the way down Monty and I
encountered the tragedy at Camp1, and tried to help out as we could. The space
of my backpack, which previously held items to keep me alive and comfortable
on the mountain (which were stashed at C2 and C1), was filled with items of
the Czech who would no longer need them: down booties, down mitts, gore tex
bibs, avalanche receiver, long underwear, socks that were just worn yesterday,
still holding his smell. Things that are simply worldly, but brought down the
mountain just as his body was. Back to base. Back to basics.
Slowly regeneration happens.
It is mental, it is physical. It is finding the perfect balance between the
two so that you can push yourself just to the limit. At base, the little
amenities creep in and allow me to sleep better: the tasty potato pancakes
prepared by Dorji, the sleeping bag liner allowing me to curl up as if at
home, the sounds of music coming from our little speakers causing me to dance
a little, a hot water shower rinsing off days of dirt (and a shave just to
feel good), washing clothes in little wash basins. Returning things to their
natural clean state, with some added red blood cells to help us climb this
mountain. After two days of recharging our batteries (cameras through our
solar panel, and bodies through eating good food from Dorji), final planning
of what and where all of our tents-stoves-fuel-food-gear are, and preparing
our bodies and minds, we will be ready for our summit attempt!
Sitting here in ABC for the
last five days was getting pretty old. I have been stricken with a sinus
infection and bronchitis. Took some meds to get rid of some of it, and it made
a dent, but it is not all gone.
Carmelo Lopez has been a good
companion, giving me advice about the Himalayas, permits, satphones, all sorts
of Himalayas-related stuff. Dorji has been an ever-smiling presence in the
dining tent where I have been hanging out, mostly resisting the impulse to
check e-mail every 10 minutes. I am afraid that is an incurable affliction.
Hearing the events from home, from my wife Teresa, daughter Jess, son Mickey,
and grandchildren are entertaining. More entertaining from afar that in person
sometimes, I certainly will admit, but I love them all.
It was entertaining to spend
some of the time with small hikes along the moraines and especially by the
large glacier with the fantastic penitentes, and endulging my habit looking
for interesting and especially shiny rocks. I think I must have been a raccoon
in my former life.
When we get down from the
mountain, I am definitely going to go play on these ice sculptures. Nobody
seems to do this here, which I find quite puzzling. I guess they are more
focused on the mountain.
Since I missed out on five
nights in the upper camps, tomorrow I will head up one day ahead of the
others, to acclimate a bit more. We will all hook up at C2, and give a summit
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