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  American Autumn Shishapangma Expedition 2005: At Camp 2 - Oct. 3



From Eric:


Lots of activity on the mountain, from our team and everybody else. The weather has been generally very good to excellent.












We have been moving.


Several days ago (10/1/05), Val, Monty and I were in C1 (6,400m) after the brutish snow slog (sorry Val) that it is. There is no way you can describe that slope as "fun" or whatever tra-la term you want to use. It is just a SLOG.


I had gone up a day before Val & Monty in a small attempt to acclimatize more, as I had come down before and was not up to their level. My bronchitis and the attendant coughing, which I had thought was a lot better, resurfaced in a nasty way, forcing me to wear a bandanna and breathe this "turbocharged" warm/humid air. The one thing it did not have enough of was oxygen. A compromise at best. It only bothered me much when I move!


Overnight cooking dinner led me to the realization that I had forgotten my spoon! A crucial mistake, and one that a certain partner of mine is notorious for. I had to use the same spoon handsomely crafted from a pinkie-finger-sized bamboo wand from the last time I was at C1. Yummy, Chickan Stew ala Bamboo.


Rest day at C1, and it was blowing snow, calm for a few seconds, then another burst of wind, calm, etc. All day and through the night. Val and Monty arrived in the afternoon, and had climbed up in this stuff. Nothing much to do but watch Channel 1.


The next day (10/2/05) we awoke to amazing calm. I was expecting any second the winds to pick up, but they didn't. So we got rigged up and headed up to C2 around 9:45 a.m.. This was new ground for me, both the mountain and in terms of highest elevation I have ever made.


Over a nearly-flat plain for probably 1.5 miles, then up the steepening headwall, watching a few tiny dots of climbers not moving fast at all. I was definitely not feeling well with the coughing, although by some circumstance I was in front and somehow gaining ground, but hardly with any conscious intent. I had one speed, it was "GO". At one point, feeling it too much, I tried to turn back, and Monty says "Nooo, Nooo! You are killing us here! Slow Down!" That took me by surprise; maybe this was too much in my head, so swallowing the lozenge he gave me, I kept heading on up. Damn it was a long way!





Now it would be an exaggeration to call this slope more difficult than the slope between C1 and the penitentes. They both are SLOGs. Really big, slow, this one steeper, but you still can do it with a ski pole. Except for that one exceptionally nasty crevasse 1/3 the way up.


To get across this on a fixed line, here is how it goes:

Clip into the fixed line with an ascender (thanks John), look down into the blue-green bottomlessness, click-click up as tight as possible, swing the ax to get a grip on the upper slope, click-click up a little more, and haul up and over, expecting that sickening yank and air-under-your-boots feeling when the small bit of snow you jumped from lets go. But it didn't, and I was over. That was the one bit of fun in the whole 4.5 hours of SLOGging.


The specter of a nasty storm coming over the saddle and blasting down on us never materialized, and we just kept going and going until the route domed over left, and there were the tents, a half-mile away. Damn this is a huge mountain. Not so far, unless you happen to be at over 20,000 feet.





Camp 2 (C2) is just a string of tents on a wind-swept plateau, somewhat down and to the right of the summit massif. From ABC and C1, the summit massif view was blocked by a subsidiary peak, but now we could see the whole thing. Camp 3 (C3) was yet another slog on a trail that parallels the bottom of the rock of the summit triangle. C3 could be seen just below the headwall where the route leads to the ridge. It (in a typically deceptive Himalayan manner) did not look too far, but I knew it was at 7,400m, which was 600m above us.


At C2, the tent that I was allotted was a cigar-box-sized Integral Designs tent brought by Dave to be used here. Word of Warning: Do not attempt to sleep in one of these unless you are shorter than 5'6"!. Sitting up to cook put the hanging stove 4" from my nose, and of course it was impossible to move or do anything else. It was some sort of light-yellow soft-shell torture chamber for oxygen-addled mountaineers. And this was a two-man! HAH. No way. You just deal with it.


Meanwhile I gaze not 10 feet away at my beautiful Bibler Toray, probably three times the size, and shining a happy, comfortable lime yellow in the bright sun. Val and Monty were snugly ensconced and chatting away. Damn them! Whose idea was this, anyway? I should pay more attention to plans.





Although not cold, the night was fairly torturous for me. The altitude does not allow you to sleep well, and I could not even stretch out in the tiny tent. 14 hours of this does not leave one in a good frame of mind, nor does it contribute to your physical health, either.


To make matters worse, when sitting in the only position from which it was able to cook, the coughing started, only this time it was deeper and coming directly from the chest, producing a bit of whitish-to-yellow phlegm. Not a good sign at all, and one that I knew from experience that likely pointed to either the possible onset of pneumonia or pulmonary edema.


This is no place to be sick. Sick climbers are not only a burden on their team, but a burden on everybody on the mountain, because it disrupts plans that have been carefully laid. I did not want either to be a burden, or to be sicker, or worse. Because of the demands of this level of climbing, everybody gets sick somehow. It is a judgment call just HOW sick you are, and whether or not you can work through it.


Around 10:00 a.m., Ed, Mike and Chris came down from above, grinning (in a kind of exhausted way) so big as to bust themselves a new smile. They had summited! They told tales of over 1,000m of fixed ropes (a lot of which their team had put in), very steep in places, and a nearly impassable summit ridge to the highest summit. It sounded absolutely fantastic! They chatted with Val, Monty and I, and then made preparations to go all the way down to ABC, a huge distance.


Decision time: Monty came to my tent and asked how I felt. Ever the optimist, he wished I would stay, even going so far as to say I was the strongest on the team (what the hell was he drinking anyway?), but I knew that if I would stay, it would mean one of two things: I might get worse, turning the current condition into full-blown pneumonia, or even worse than that, pulmonary edema. So I might summit, but at what cost? Not much to think about there.


That cost is too high for me. The summit does not matter, as I have told them many times, what matters is the journey. I decided to go down, and asked if I could go with those three. They replied very enthusiastically yes, so once again, I headed down the mountain, this time for the last time.


Monty and Val both, I think, accepted my decision, and we departed with big hugs. I hope they do well, they certainly seem to want the summit.


Ed and I climbed down together, with the other two a ways ahead. It was straightforward, we made good time. Weather looked a bit threatening though, as some clouds churning at the top of the saddle looked to scream down on us. Once again I was wrong, it never happened, and we made it to C1 in just over an hour (that took 4.25 hours to go up).


He was a good companion, and we talked about Alaska and South America, and other things of little consequence. He was clearly tired and was carrying a huge pack, but I admired him for having the energy to summit a great distance, and then go down. The weather was good and we just kept going and going, down to the penitentes. The bowl of this headwall had really been baked by the sun, and the lower 1/3 was nearly all solid ice now.


We struggled through the penitentes, with a worsening trail than before, at a record slow pace, finally to Cache Camp, where I split off. Mike and Chris were there, with their Sherpa. Deciding I was too tired to carry my full load of gear down (probably 65#), meant that I would have to come back sometime in the next four days up this accursed trail and get the rest of my gear. Oh well, that's the way it is.


I was taking the last few K into ABC on autopilot, the shades of evening already arriving. The camp was clearly fairly deserted, and I had to look around a bit to find Dorji, who was happy to see me. He didn't like to be here alone, he said. He made an excellent dinner of mushroom soup with near-lethal amounts of garlic, tea, juice, and papat. So nice!






Looking down at the headwall between C1 and C2. The monster crevasse at the lower photo is the "Fun Bit".






For those of you pathologically curious (I know there are some nurses, doctors and rescue personal out there, at the very least), here are some things you may wish to know about what happens to your body when placed in the circumstances of high altitude, cold, dry mountains. It's kind of a drive-by phenomenon.





You can judge the overall health of your sinus system by the color and viscosity of the ejecta. Here on a scale:


Healthy - No ejecta to very light runny clear. You are good for

    a couple of days at most.

Goin' Down - More viscous, light yellow, stringy,

    maybe a little blood (pink), consistensy of molasses

    to peanut butter. This stage can last a surprisingly long time.

Now You're Sick - Thick, chunks, come off in crimson bloody gobs,

    loosening up produces copious amounts of yellow to green

    chunks and strings, consistency of Extra Crunchy Kentucky Fried

    Chicken to 80W transmission fluid.


Treatment: Lots of nasal spray, lots of fluids, lots of TP





Just one question: What did climbers do before baby wipes were invented? My personal favorite: Wet Ones, Citrus scent.





Some observations on outdoor toilets. Here is a primer on their characteristics:


WORST (snow): The worst are, well, nonexistent, e.g. a flat plain of wind-pack snow with a 30mph wind and blowing ice crystals. Visibility: You're out there, baby, at everybody's mercy.


WORST (land): A field with nominal visibility. Typically winds up next to a trail, for some unfathomable reason. Pretty much undegradable means a field of nasties for years to come.


BETTER: A big boulder (at least a meter high) with bad visibility and a reasonable distance from camp. Preferably of a shape that you can lean against, with some local mineral material (rock, dirt) to throw on the mess when you are done.


BEST: An actual TENT, would you believe, made for such a purpose. Looks kind of like a guard shack on the Yellow Brick Road, tall and pointy, except there is no window, only a full-length zipper. A really professional team digs a rectangular hole (the only acceptable tool being an ice axe) which is offset in the internationally-accepted direction for wiping. It is best to go in the early morning or afternoon, after the vapors have settled, or else leave the tent flap open for at least 30 seconds. These are owned by a particular expedition and are highly prized and territorially guarded.


Locals living in this type of terrain typically don't use TP, they usually use either nothing or a small flat rock. This is a phenomena I have observed in many parts of the world, all of them arid. Ow.





The Tibetan herders will gather dried yak dung to use for fuel in their cooking fires. This method is sensible, as there is not a tree or bush in sight or even hundreds of kilometers past that, and they probably know that burning plastic from the climbers' trash produces tons of dioxin. Unfortunately the smoke from these yak dung fires could strip the paint from a battleship, and does not improve your respiratory health. Watch where these guys camp, and stay somewhere to the side or upwind.




Author's Note: These are my personal opinion and observations, which should be obvious, as the result of somebody in basecamp with idle time on their hands, not quite enough oxygen in the brain, and a ready laptop. On the "here is what we did" part of it, I may have got something wrong there. If that is so, sorry about that, take it up with me personally. On the other stuff, that's life, get used to it. It is all done in the spirit of trying to understand other worlds.




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