activity on the mountain, from our team and everybody else. The weather has
been generally very good to excellent.
EVERYBODY UP TO C2
2. THE FUN
4. DOWN AND
EVERYBODY UP TO C2
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!
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
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.
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!
2. THE FUN
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.
across this on a fixed line, here is how it goes:
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.
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
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.
3. DOWN AND
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
down at the headwall between C1 and C2. The monster crevasse at the lower
photo is the "Fun Bit".
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.
judge the overall health of your sinus system by the color and viscosity of
the ejecta. Here on a scale:
No ejecta to very light runny clear. You are good for
couple of days at most.
- More viscous, light yellow, stringy,
little blood (pink), consistensy of molasses
peanut butter. This stage can last a surprisingly long time.
Sick - Thick, chunks, come off in crimson bloody gobs,
loosening up produces copious amounts of yellow to green
and strings, consistency of Extra Crunchy Kentucky Fried
to 80W transmission fluid.
Lots of nasal spray, lots of fluids, lots of TP
question: What did climbers do before baby wipes were invented? My personal
favorite: Wet Ones, Citrus scent.
observations on outdoor toilets. Here is a primer on their characteristics:
(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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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