Down to Kathmandu
It seemed a perplexing
proposition, getting out of ABC. I had a ride paid for by the CTMA, but
couldn't get my gear to basecamp.
The problem was yaks.
Since nobody came up the
valley that day to ABC, Bemba offered to go down to get the yaks. What that
meant is that he not only had to go to basecamp (a 3.5-hour hike), but he had
to go even further to the village where the yak herders live. He did this on
The next day was Oct. 7, the
day to leave. Arrangements were made by Monty to facilitate my departure. This
was the same day that everybody from that team was leaving, except three other
climbers who had come from Cho Oyu. They were going to attempt the peak.
Oct. 7 is also the day that
Val and Monty are heading up for another (probably final) attempt at the peak.
It was an exceptionally cold
morning in ABC when it was finally time to go. Due to my lingering respiratory
problems, it had been a very long time in basecamp for me. I had spent a total
of about 10 days trying to recuperate, but ultimately this problem would doom
I said my good-bye to Dorji,
as he was the only one around at the time.
The day I left, the climbers
strung out along the valley at varying stages of downhill hiking speed. It is
not significantly downhill, as ABC is only about 400m higher then basecamp. It
is a desolate, but beautiful hike out. The main problem is seeing the
landscape pass so very slowly. It is a very long way to basecamp. Time goes
slowly when you are hiking solo with a destination in mind.
During the morning, a heavy
storm arrived on the Himalaya, and blanketed Shisha in clouds. All the
surrounding peaks were gone. It looked pretty bad, and I was glad I was
I heard yesterday ago that
there was fresh snow in ABC, which had never happened during the month we were
there. I am concerned that Val, Monty and others are OK on the mountain, as
those slopes that hold C1, C2 and C3 are all prime avalanche slopes. If it
snowed there, they would have to stay put until the slopes stabilized.
Since a Land Cruiser had been
already arranged for my departure from basecamp, I was breathing easy down the
trail, despite the ultra-long-seeming trail. Arriving at basecamp, though,
revealed only one Land Cruiser and a truck, when there were supposed to be
three Land Cruisers.
I was not looking forward to
the "check out" with Dawa, the Liaison Officer. There are stories of
bureaucratic hassles that keep climbers stuck in basecamp for days, but it was
all for naught: it was painless. I gave him my copy of the climbing permit
(which I could not read because it was in Chinese, of course), showed him my
visa, and that was that. The CTMA makes arrangements for everybody to leave,
no matter what the expedition, so when he said we could get in the Land
Cruiser, I gladly (and quickly) obliged. Boarding-house rules -- first come
gets a seat! Four other climbers piled in too, and we were finally off early
in the afternoon, with a Chinese driver who knew absolutely no English.
ROAD TO XANGMU
We drove some pretty funky,
extremely rough "short cut" to get to the Friendship Highway. It was the usual
choking dust/hot ride, but hey we were moving, and DOWN.
Going through the Lang-Lo
(sp?) pass, there was the usual huge cairn with thousands of ragtag prayer
flags. A very high pass, we could see several Himalayan peaks, but nobody
could identify any of them.
Down through a tremendously
dusty region, our Chinese driver was possessed by some demon and was
determined to get to Xangmu as fast as possible, which was pretty fast.
Fortunately he was a very good driver and nobody got whacked. He had the
typical habit of these types of drivers of passing on the inside corner,
gunning it and honking the horn "just in case" somebody was coming.
Occasionally somebody was, and it usually was some sort of big truck coming
The rest is a tired blur, as
four of us were jammed in the back seat for the six-hour ride. No matter, the
scenery changed from dry-hill desolation to slowly more and more green as we
descended from the Tibetan plateau in the the Himalayan highlands.
We had passed through some
other small towns, sometimes stopping for ragtag police checkpoints. These
look like they were from "The Year of Living Dangerously". Ragtag clumps of
razor wire, multi-colored sandbag bunkers, cheap rickety metal chairs for the
soldiers. What a job, sit on your butt and look for Maoists trying to attack
the hydro project. Most of these were young men, in their early '20s.
Doctor Warrick (who checked
out Dave), mentioned that it was a 10 year mandatory jail sentence for
photographing military installations.
Once the truck was stopped by
the military. Everybody made an attempt at looking bored as the soldier looked
inside and under the seats of our small bus marked "Tourist Only". No Maoists
under that seat, dude.
After many hours of
descending, greener and greener landscape, terraced hillsides impossibly
steep, we finally descended at nightfall to Xangmu. This is a strange town. It
looks as if you cut up a regular flat town into Z ribbons like kids do in
Kindergarten, then pasted it to a steep Himalayan hillside. Add the usual
trash on the streets, many people walking about, hundreds of 5-ton transport
trucks and Land Cruisers, with a sort-of Chinese Himalayan flair, and you have
Xangmu. It had a decidedly tropical feel after the barren hills of the Tibetan
We stayed in a greasy hotel
just 200 meters from the Chinese Immigration that we would pass through in the
Dinner was -- Chinese, only
better than most. We had become all-too-familiar with the glass lazy-susan and
the standard 6-course Chinese meal. We had a celebratory Lhasa beer (or two).
Found out a little later in the evening that everybody else that was
supposed to get out of basecamp was delayed. I don't know where they hide
those Land Cruisers out on the high plains, but they were late, and I as sure
glad to have grabbed a seat in the first one. We joked there was some sort of
"batcave" somewhere with a fleet of Toyotas. The other climbers leaving
basecamp were stuck at Nyalam, not as close to the border as we were.
Included in this bunch was a
Russian climber whose partner had disappeared. He had waited five or six days
for him to show up. They had been climbing together for 20 years. I wanted to
talk to him about it, but somehow could not find the motivation. How do you
talk about something like that?
We explored the town a bit,
in the dark, wet, humid evening. It was after 8:00, which for the last month
had been well after out bedtimes in ABC. The humid air smelled thick, with
some nasty city smells thrown in occasionally. The others went out, I went to
Next - Crossing the Border
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