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  Mt Everest and K2 Summiter: Ivan Vallejo Kangchenjunga 2006: Pasang, the kitchen aid, is dead

Fernando Gonzalez-Rubio on the Summit K2

BACK FROM 6,600 Meters

Kangchenjunga Base Camp

Dear friends:

Greetings on this Thursday 27, back in BC after the acclimatization process that took place at 6,600m.

The summary of our activity is this: On Monday 24 we climbed to C1 at 6,200m and we spent our first night as part of the acclimatization.  What a night, my God!, how you suffer up there when you are just beginning to acclimatize.  On the next day, Tuesday 25, I had a bad day because of a kind of flu or allergy I got, I had my nose completely stuffed and a very nasty headache around my eyes.  I was totally wasted on Tuesday.  Fercho, with a lot of solidarity, stayed with me almost all morning and decided to climb at noon some 200 meters of the trail to C2, to continue acclimatizing.

On Tuesday night, another martyrdom similar as Monday's, with the advantage that contrary to not having slept at all, I could sleep at least a good little half an hour, as they say in my town.  Despite the beating suffered the day before and to the new bad night, the flu, the allergy or whatever it is, I got a truce and I feel better now.

At nine in the morning of Wednesday, Fercho and I loaded the backpacks with tanks of gas, ropes and a tent, and we left with the idea of reaching the place where our friends had deposited the material the day before.  I felt wonderful, I forgot about the allergy, the two bad night and I left again happy of having recovered from my fears and worldly pains.  I thought for sure that I had eye bags that hanged down to my mustache and that I had wrinkles in the corner of my eyes, deep and groovy, a la Robert Redford.  But I was also sure that my soul and my spirit were shining again, new, ready, happy to be what they were and to belong to whom they should belong. 

That Wednesday as soon as we reached 6,400m where our teammates were the day before, when we got there I swallowed half a little of a drink in one gulp, I asked Fercho to give me some head start and I took off to climb 200 meters of virgin terrain on this slope of Kangchenjunga.  When I finished the length of the rope, I fixed a lock to an aluminum stake, I came down really happy, we celebrated with a hug and we went down to Base to rest and eat well.  So now I sent two reports from this place, which I gladly wrote for you.  You will get the first one today.

The alarm clock rings at seven thirty in the morning, there is a spectacular day out there and the Sun, it has been shining on my tent for half an hour by now.  I take it all with calm, there is no rush, I have the whole day today.  The plan is to climb to C1 and spend there two nights as part of the acclimatization.

I exit my tent, greet the Sherpas and the group of Swiss, as well as Tilok the cook of our expedition, Pasang the Sherpa from the Basque team and on the way to the mess tent, impersonating the paisa accent a tell Fernando: What's up Fercho, how is it going?, Are you going to drink a red one with me or what?  I go to the mess tent, I wash, dry and sit to have breakfast.  During the breakfast time, after which I setup my backpack, despite that Bacilos is singing Cara Luna on the MP3, I feel a lot of anxiety, I feel uneasy.  I reckon that all these clear symptoms are called pre-competition stress in the sporting circles.  Being the worrisome that I am, I check the list I made last night again and again: everything is in order, nothing is missing, however, my anxiety continues, indeed, I need to go to the bathroom once again although I had gone early in the morning.

If everything is in order, why should I worry?

Fernando left ten minutes ago, I don't have anyone to share this feeling, so I have to face it alone, talking to myself aloud, and I say it: Ivansito, you are afraid of the two nights you are going to spend at 6,200mm, aren't you?  The anguish of not being able to sleep consumes you again, because of the lack of oxygen, right? It makes you afraid that you won't open your eyes the next day, curiously after not being able to close them for a moment the whole night to make the most simple exercise of sleeping, and you will feel nauseous and you will feel like throwing up.  That is the fear, right? 

And when i face fear, I feel relieved.  I turn off the MP3 because it doesn't help at all, I check the backpack for the last time and I remember to save this precious card that my little daughter Kamila sent, inspired on my last day of training when she went with me to the Olympic Stadium track.  And if worries go away sweetening the mouth, I peel a maracuyá candy, I pick up the backpack and I get ready to leave with my fear to C1 at 6,200m.

When I say goodbye to Daki, Ang Nuru's wife, the Nepalese Sherpa that administers our base camp, I ask her once more if she has any news about the health of Pasang (54), her uncle, who was working as kitchen assistant in our expedition, but who had to be taken down last Saturday to Ramche, because he had a strong chest pain.  She says she doesn't know anything either.  I say goodbye to Daki, the rest of the cooks of the other expeditions and I get into the ice, I enter the glacier, the innards of Kangchenjunga. 

The first time, just to climb from BC to the depot at 6,040, it took me almost five hours because of the bad conditions of the snow.  Today, not only to the dept but to C1 at 6,200m, with the open trail and the help of fixed lines, it took me less than three hours.  I arrive fine to C1, as I use to say in these cases, like a flower, when I still have not lost glamour, the strength, or the sense of humor.  I greet everybody with a hug, as I like it and as it should be, and when I hug Mikel, from the Basque team, he says to my ear: there is very bad news for you and for Fernando.  What!  What happened?  Pasang has died this morning in Ramche, possibly because of pulmonary edema.

I freeze, still hugging Mikel, thinking about Pasang, who God, Buddha or Shiva have in their glory, about the pain of Nuru and Daki, his two nephews.  I've always thought that in the tremendous impact of the death of a loved one, the worst part has to be taken by those who are left behind, because of the pain of their absence.  

The friends of the other expeditions share their solidarity and their feelings.  Then Fernando comes, I let him rest and while we are installing the tent, I kindly let him know the news.  The hit is maybe stronger to him because he knows Ang Nuru's family since 98, in an expedition to Manaslu.  We finish installing the tent, it starts snowing hard and we are forced to get inside of what will be our home for the next two days: a miniscule space of no more than three square feet.

After having rice and meat stew with abundant olive oil for dinner, Fernando and I get comfortable, each one in their sleeping bag, waiting for the suffering: let the hours pass, the long hours with little oxygen at 6,200m.


Iván Vallejo Ricaurte


Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

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