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  Annapurna Dhaulagiri 2005: IVAN VALLEJO RICAURTE: WHILE THE SNOW FALLS


Dhaulagiri Base Camp Sunday, May 1, 2005 (delayed reporting)

Dear friends:

I write to you today, Sunday, May 1, Labor Day (May Day), from BC, in this long wait, waiting for the snow to stop falling during the afternoons so that we can continue with our ascent progress.

We tried yesterday to climb to CII, but we could only get to CI, completely wet because of the snow that did not stop falling all morning long.  Frustrated and totally wet we turned around to BC.  After changing all my clothes, I took my notebook and I wrote this chronicle to tell all the routine we are living since six days ago.  What you are about to read is what happens in one day; only multiply it by six and you'll have the recipe for the last week.

I give it to you, with my love.

WHILE THE SNOW FALLS

I don't know where to start the story of this routine which is six days long, knowing there are more to come; anyway it doesn't matter because I will always end in the middle of the snow. 

I want to start talking about the night, after dinner, when I go from the mess tent to my personal tent.  I walk some 50 meters to get there, through a path covered by fresh and abundant snow, that covers all the rocks in the way: the big ones, the middle ones, the little ones and the tiny pebbles that form this marble tapestry. 

Before going to my tent I suddenly stop at the door with my hands in the pockets of my feather jacket, while I hold the hot water bag I take close to my belly.  I look up to see and of course, I find you.  There is Orion: the belt, the sword, the arms and legs totally spread.  It's very odd that we can communicate through the Moon and the stars, I think that those stars are our satellite telephone; it looks pretty and sage, because you see that technology is not reliable.  Sometimes a button, a command or a cable in the wrong place mess things up and there is no more communication.  But the Moon and the starts will never fail.

I know how suspicious you are, so you'll ask: what happens if there is fog or bad weather?  Well, nothing, they will be there, just playing hide and seek.  You know how to find them?  In those cases I close my eyes and I recite a paragraph or that Argentinean samba by Horacio Guaraní: I am not afraid of the winter / Full of Sun with your memory.

After looking at you, I enter my tent with the memory of all the stars on my head.  The sleeping bag is cold inside and out: I take out the hot water bag and the two of us (me and the bag) dive in the feather tunnel, I go to the bottom and from there, when I feel warmer I start to go out: first the end of my nose, then the face and finally the shoulders and arms.  Then I can read Benedetti and I find that: Your strategy is that any day, I don't know how, at last I will need you.  Then I remember that: When you love you ask for well being / A cedar bed / A special mattress / When we love / It is easy to fix / It is good with sheets / It is OK without sheets. 

I am here, at 4,800 m, at the other side of the world, without sheets, without cedar bed, without special mattress, but with millions of little lights above this tiny house, which talk precisely about you... 

I turn off the frontal lamp and I go deep into my sleeping bag until the next morning. 

In the new day I wake up with the drops falling inside my tent.  After looking everyday at this physical-chemical phenomenon called condensation I don't care.  Hundreds of drop tired to scratch with their own weight the fabric of my tent, fall down un a rush through all the luminous space that is sheltered now by the Sun and hit me hard on my face, on my pillow or on the cover of my sleeping bag.  I kill the drops and their sound with indifference and I continue sleeping, it is only seven in the morning anyway.

Eight in the morning:  I decide to abandon my hole and I do my things in the same order as yesterday, before reading Benedetti's Anthology: I take out the end of my nose, the my cheekbones, all the face, the shoulders, the hands and finally I stretch like a cat in the middle of the soup of feathers I have on me. 

I put on my Oakley sunglasses so that the smash of light would me on the skin and not on the eyes.  Clarity is everywhere: from above, the blue sky I have as a roof; from the front, the snowy wall of Dhaulagiri, from the floor, the immense glacier that we have for floor.

In the mess tent, I greet in every language so that no one is left out: Buongiorno, Good Morning, Guten Morneng, Namaste and Buenos días.  A chorus of angels answer me back.

Two sips of strong Italian Coffee and I am finally awake, it is like a pair of slaps in my head: Ah!, the smell of coffee: penetrating, delicious and unique!  I thank Biman for the breakfast and I race against time because this blue sky is just a joke.  I clean the snow that covers my tent, I get out the sleeping bag to dry, I do my chores in my little 2 square meters house (read tent, please), I don't take much time (in such space).  Then I turn on the generator, I connect the cables, I turn on the telephone, the computer, I bless technology (when it works) and when I connect with cyberspace I find you (like last night in Orion), and I tell you how I am doing.

Still with the taste of coffee in my mouth, writing to you, the blue and the intense light suddenly go away.  Now it is all gray, it gets dark, and immediately snow flakes begin to fall from the sky very lightly, with grace, and they make me go back to my hole to dress up at 11 in the morning like in Christmas, but in the North Pole.  There I remain reading while I listen how the snow flakes sky joyously in the yellow track of the outside of my tent.

One in the afternoon:  Biman calls for lunch, I exit my house and I look like a snowman while I pee.  The sky is still falling down, in tiny white pieces on my shoulders. 

Pasta, prosciutto, pods, cardo flowers and cheese.  Nobody talks.  With such a meal, what for!  Then tea with lemmon or tea with milk. 

We remain by the table and talk in Italian, Spanish, Nepalese, German, Friulian, Slovenian and every language.  My feet: cold.  I ask for Italian coffee to warm up and after I take the last sip I jump up, so that gravity helps me get warm, but it's useless.  I go to my tent and like a little fish, I dive into my sleeping bag.  Rub, rub, move, move, there they go, there they go!  At last: how nice, warm feet!  Now let's continue with whatever follows next: Penac, Benedetti and Jarret, Chicane or Norah Jones to my ears.

It continues snowing outside, it doesn't stop, from time to time I hit the walls of my tent to make the snow slip and tomorrow in the morning, with the heat of the Sun, it will be easier to clean.

I read, sleep, wake up, read again, music, sleep, think.

Seven in the night:  Biman hits on a pot and then screams "Dinner is ready".  Pants, hat, gloves, hot water bag, socks, shoes and ... out.  Buaaaaaa, so much snow!  How big is the sky, because those tiny white pieces are falling since eleven in the morning.

Hot soup, canguil (popcorn); then rice, lentils, buffalo stew and as the cherry on top, apple cake with coconut pieces on top.  Full belly, happy heart, and everybody still for the picture.  Like a wolf after eating little red ridding hood.  We have just had dinner and the falling of thousands of white flakes from the sky has finally stopped.  I go out to see and I find you, there with your Orion belt and your sword, through the blackness of the open night.

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte

Expeditioneer

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera 

Dispatches

 

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