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  American Autumn Shishapangma Expedition 2005: Down to Kathmandu

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 Oct. 6.

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 my attempt.

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 leaving.

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.


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 head-on.

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 plateau.

We stayed in a greasy hotel just 200 meters from the Chinese Immigration that we would pass through in the morning.

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 sleep.

Next - Crossing the Border


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