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  American Autumn Shishapangma Expedition 2005: On to Plan S (ŒS¹for Shishapangma, or Summit) ­ Oct 6


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

First there is Plan A, back home, when you have some experience with mountains and climbing and foreign countries and what you think is high altitude (e.g. 6850m). By the time your team is assembled you are on Plan E (or so), which includes all sorts of logistics, travel, and the big unknown: mountain time. Mountain time is of course divided up into sections you think are logical and realistic, including time for setting up camps, resting, and of course the big one: acclimatizing.

By the time you reach base camp, you are on Plan J. You talk with other expeditions and many climbers to figure out what their acclimatization schedules are and how they compare to yours. Then you have your first trip up the mountain where you get to really feel the trail and the scree and the penitentes and the snow slogs. And the presence or lack of headaches. And you are on to Plan L with a new number of rest days and days traveling up the mountain or at various camps.

Right around Plan N we were on our (first) summit push: Eric spent one extra night up at C1 since he had missed the previous trip to C2, and Monty and I were on our way up for a trip that included C1-C2-C2 (rest)-C3-Summit-return. The first few days went as planned, but then at C2 Eric felt the lingering effects of his bronchitis (and chose to go down), and then some new information (from several different sources) came along regarding the weather: tomorrow was supposed to be good weather, but the next day (our intended summit day) was forecast to have precipitation. Since C3 is at the top of an avalanche-prone couloir, getting stuck there first in a storm and then having to downclimb seemed a poor choice.

Okay, Plan O. Can we go for a summit push from C2? Let’s try. Sure many of our friends who had made the summit hadn’t put in such a long day (or night/day combo), but with potential weather coming in, we had to try. After consulting with Bemba, the decision was made for a summit push leaving that evening, direct from C2. Almost-frantic preparations began immediately.  We’d given most of our water to other summit climbers as they arrived thirsty at C2, so we needed to start melting snow for dinner as well as two liters apiece for climbing.  Finally, by 7:30pm we left for the summit in pitch darkness.

One thing is for sure in the mountains: you must listen to your body. And there is a very tricky balance between pushing yourself hard to achieve a huge goal, and determining when you need (truly need) to turn around. That particular night push from C2, I felt many things crowding in on me: the size of the climb ahead of us (our biggest and obviously highest so far, plus other friends who had attempted less were completely wiped out), the encroaching darkness, the slow gain of the slope with every step, the long twelve hours until daylight, the slow gait of my steps, the wishing that we could have done this climb instead in the daytime. Slowly my worries were articulated (reaching sometimes a level of whining--okay, not a normal personality trait), Monty questioned me to check for cerebral edema (one of the symptoms is a change in personality), but edema or not, we decided to return to C2. Monty continued to check me throughout the night. We had aborted our summit push after a few hours and a few hundred meters from C2; it was a hard decision, but the right decision. We were partners, agreed to get each other to the summit, and/or protect each other along the way. Our summit push was over. Bemba cleared our tents and stoves from the mountain. We cleared our sleeping bags, food, and clothing from the mountain. Such are the decisions made at C2 after long hard days on the mountain.

So where are we now? Should we go to Cho Oyu? Can we give up so easily on Shishapangma? Down here at ABC, the weather is beautiful, our bodies recover, and our thoughts clarify...

On to Plan S: S for Shishapangma, S for Summit; we will try again. We have pushed out the date of the yak transport of all our gear down to BC, we have coordinated with others to get Eric to Kathmandu and to use his tents so we don’t have (re-) carry one, we have (almost) re-packed our packs, we have rested for two days, we have eaten good food, but most importantly, we have mentally prepared to go back up the mountain for one more summit push. One more push based on our schedule, our bodies, and our desires. We leave tomorrow!



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