Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Back to Kathmandu

Since our last brief post on October 3 a lot has happened. After reaching the summit on October 3 we descended to camp 2 for the evening. The night was relatively uneventful, and the following day (October 4) we descended to ABC. On the 5th we hiked to interim camp and then took a truck to base camp. Once at base camp we switched to a bus, and drove to Nylam, arriving after dark. After the usual waiting game at the border in Zhangmu, we finally made it to Kathmandu on the afternoon of October 6. Most of the group departed this afternoon (October 7) for the US and New Zealand and just the guides and Bob Meyer are still here in Kathmandu waiting to leave in the next day or two. Group 2, led by Mike Hamill, summitted October 5 and will arrive in Kathmandu tomorrow.

Now back to our summit bid...Our climbs to camp 1 and then camp 2 went very smoothly. After reaching camp 3 on the afternoon of October 2, things got a bit weird. The short version is that many people (none from either IMG group) fell from just below the yellow band and we became involved in multiple rescues. As many of the families may not have been yet notified, I am inclined to wait to give any details. The scene we witnessed in some of the other groups was one of disorganization and it saddened me to see other climbers hurt or killed. In the end one died on October 3 and then another died (a new, dear friend) October 4. These events took some of the joy from our otherwise near perfect climb resulting in 14 of 14 members reaching the summit.

We set out from high camp just before 1 am on the morning of October 3. As on past climbs we were treated to the lights of a thunderstorm over Nepal, far from us, but spectacular to behold. The five clients and 4 guides climbed with oxygen, the 5 Sherpas climbed without. Walking in the dark, with a mask on, and climbing by headlamp is an odd experience. We climbed the yellow band, a 40+ foot section of rock and snow via fixed line and all arrived at the top gasping for air. The common experience was that we wanted to get through this one strenuous section in a timely fashion to give those behind us the opportunity to come up....an event that left most feeling momentarily short on air. Once above this obstacle that starts a few hundred vertical feet above camp 3 (24,500) we had a long hour or two of climbing through steep snow and occasional rock before reaching lower angled terrain above.

Above the yellow band we walked though the remains of an old slab avalanche that had released several weeks before. As a forecaster it was sobering to note the stauch wall (foot of the slab), flanks, and crown, all which indicated a very large avalanche, which in the end had run 3000 to 4000 feet. We had been watching this for weeks and were relieved that it had released on its own far before we were climbing at this elevation.

The group moved very quickly and stuck closely together. Things progressed without a hitch and we all reached the summit within 10 minutes of each other at around 7 am. It was cold, windy, and beautiful. We probably spent about 30 minutes on top and then carefully worked our way back to camp 3, and then down to camp 2.

Olivia should be very proud of leading 14 of 14 climbers to the top of the world's 6th highest peak. I don't know the stats, but I suspect this is one of the more successful 8000 meter peak expeditions recently led by an American woman.

Bob Meyer proved an able and excellent companion as on past climbs, and as a friend I am very proud to have seem him step out of his comfort zone and competently and safely made it to the top of one big mountain.

I plan to post a wrap up of the entire expedition when I have a chance to fully digest the outcome for a few other climbers. Both Olivia and I are particularly devastated by the death of one young climber, a new friend, and it will take awhile to digest the situation.

We are now relaxing in Kathmandu, eating pizza, steak, ice cream, and Thai food and cleaning up supplies and equipment after what was overall a great trip. The lion's share of the credit for our success should go to Eric Simonson of International Mountain Guides and Ang Jangbu Sherpa of Beyul Adventure for world-class logistics, planning, and equipment.  The Sherpas that work for Ang Jangbu are the best I have met and provided a steady, cheerful, and powerful engine for our expedition. As I said to Bob, a lot of calories were burned on this trip and most of them by the Sherpa staff. Thanks guys...you are simply the best.

I can't get photos to load at the moment, but will get them up as soon as I can figure out what the issue is.  Olivia and I hope to be back in the US on or around October 10.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Message from Ang Jangbu Sherpa

JR asked me to let you know that JR, Olivia and Bob summitted Cho Oyu htis morning and safely came all the way down to camp 2. They will be down at ABC tomorrow afternoon and leave ABC for Kathmandu the next day (10/5). They will cross the border on 10/6 and reach Kathmandu same day.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Summit Soon...


Today is the 4th rest day for group 1 - the group Bob and I are climbig with. Our first two rest days were nice and sunny, the last two have been a bit snowy and blustery, but very little new snow has accumulated. The winds appear to have relaxed, but not disappeared up high. Our forecast calls for snow on the 29th (today) and the 30th with decreasing winds. With this in mind we are planning to go to camp 1 on the 30th and do the first leg in less than perfect conditions in hope of being in position when the weather improves. In general the winds and snow are forecasted to decrease in the days ahead.

This afternoon Eben, Hamish, Olivia and I sat down and ate a large pot of boiled potatoes with very hot pepper sauce. It was a nice gorge, and something that will be missed as we move up and our appetites and options for food decrease. Jangbu and IMG have provided us with a very good supply of camping food, but even the best food starts to seem hard to eat as you move higher on the mountain. In addition to Ramen, candy, cheese, salami, crackers, salmon, and a million other tasty things we have the cooks putting together packages of hard boiled eggs, chapati (like a thick tortilla), and more cheese to give us some variety for the first day. Team members have been fitting oxygen masks, making sure they are compatible with goggles, hoods, etc. and walking around camp looking like something out of star wars as they practice using O2. Some are packing, most are napping and trying to relax before what will be a big effort for all. Our team seems particularly compatible and all want the summit, but are even more focused on avoiding injury.

There will be 14 people headed up in our group (5 team members, 5 Sherpas, and 5 guides). We plan a late departure on day 1 to limit our time laying around our tents at camp 1. We will hit camp 1 on the 30th, camp 2 on the 1st, camp 3 on the 2nd, and finally (hopefully) the summit on October 3. After our summit bid we will return to camp 2 for the night as it is lower and more comfortable.

Summit morning is always an interesting affair. Up at 10:30 pm, brewing tea, messing with gear, trying to start with warm feet. We usuallly shoot to be off at 1 am and will of course be climbing in the dark. With your down suit, O2 mask, headlamp, radio, the dark, the cold, it all feels really quiet and outerspace like. We will sleep on about 0.5 liters per minute of O2 that night and then climb on about 2 liters per minute. Early in the summit bid we encounter the yellow band, a 20-30 foot section of steep rock that must be climbed using fixed line. Not hard, but an easy place to get out of breath....we often turn folks O2 up a bit for this section. Above the yellow band we climb steep, but reasonable, fixed line and the incline slowly lessens until we reach the summit plateau and finally step into the hard earned sunlight. The summit plateau takes about 30-45 minutes to negotiate and is relatively flat. Eventually the north face of Everest comes into view and we know we are on top of the sixth highest peak in the world. If we reach summit, it is likely that we will, at that moment, be the highest humans on earth, a fact that makes it hard not to be emotional. Imagine the luck of a person that gets the opportunity to be in that position on this planet with over 6 billion people - so few have both the physical and financial resources to consider the climb, the luck to get the weather, the courage to get out of the tent - it all comes together in those few moments on the summit. Big medicine. We have our fingers crossed.

Many things could delay our bid by a day or two and we have extra food and fuel along to give us the option to wait a day or two. I am psyched, Bob is psyched. About all we can do now is put one foot in front of the other. Here we go!