Friday, June 1, 2007

April 29, 2007

"Writing about climbing is boring. I would rather go climbing." — Chuck Pratt

Entered the Khumbu valley ever so briefly today. I wanted to see the third stuppa that we had missed the day before so Kaji decided that we would descend into the Khumbu and make our way to Tangboche from there. I can't say that there is much that distinguishes the Khumbu from any other of the valleys I've been in other than what lies at its head. I did get to see several yak calfs, and they are quite cute. Our hike started in the alpine tundra and ended in lush rhododendron forests, quite the contrast, and at first all the colours were a bit overwhelming after having only really seen shades of grey, white, and brown for the previous 2 weeks. We encountered a couple of americans just outside of Dingboche. When I first spotted them at a distance I thought they must be American or British as one of them was wearing a down parka despite it being 10oC. However as I neared them I saw a Canadian flag and knew that something was up as no selfrespecting Canadian would be wearing a down parka in those temperatures. As it turned out they were American and didn't want anyone to know that fact and so they sewed a canadian flag on their pack. I just hope Canadians don't get a bad name because of americans doing this.
Kaji and I visited the monastery in Pangboche and will visit the one in Tangboche this afternoon when it opens to visitors, this is the monastery seen in the Everest IMAX movie and is one of if not the most important monastery in the region.
I just stood outside under the night sky . The stars and moon were so bright and the scene that unfolded before me was beyond description, simply out of this world. The stars, too numerous to count and the mountains, Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Kantega, all basking in the moon light, simply breath taking

Sunday, May 20, 2007

April 28, 2007

"Climbing is the only cure for gravity." - Unknown

Arrived in Dingboche around noon after a 3 hour hike from our previous camp at the junction of the trails to Island peak base camp and Ambulapcha La. It was an uneventful hike although we did encounter some yaks and naks (yaks are male, naks female). We also got caught in a yak traffic jam on the narrow streets of Dingboche, Kaji and I had to scramble up a large boulder in the middle of the path to let the hurrying yak pass. After lunch Kaji and I hiked up some of the near by hills NW of town to visit some old chortens (chorten, according to Kaji, is the sherpa term for stuppa). While in need of modest repairs the chortens were in the perfect location over looking the valley that Dingboche occupies and the valley that leads to Everest base camp as well as looking up at the towering peaks, the most notable of which being Ama Dablam. Today was the first day I was able to properly observe Ama Dablam in all its magnificent glory. The eastern ridge it forms with Ombigaichan is an impressive wall of ice and snow and appears very much impregnable, it must be seen to be believed, I spent a good 15 mins just staring at this ridge.
I finished reading the 2 books I had brought along with me: Shackleton's South: The Endurance Expedition and Dostoyevsky's Notes from the underground and The double) on my last rest day and so now I am finding it a bit difficult to occupy my leisure time. Luckily today Kaji found me a copy of Hemmingway's Old man and the sea, unfortunately I enjoyed it too much and devored every word in 3 hours.
After lunch Kaji and I discussed our plans for the remainder of our trip as we are 3 days ahead of schedule. We will be staying at Namche Bazaar for 2 nights which was not on the original itinerary and basically visiting most of the small villages between here and Lukla. We will be heading back to Kathmandu a day early, I'm glad to have an extra day in KTM as I feel like I barely scratched the surface at the start of April.

Friday, May 18, 2007

April 27, 2007

"Maybe true. Maybe not true. Better you believe." — Sherpa saying

Today was quite the day! We aoke at 3:30am for tea and breakfast, after what for me was a restless night. We were off for the summit of Island peak at 4:30 am and it was immediately clear the summit was going to be a busy place. Unfortunately unlike Mera where only a short section of fixed line was needed, several long pitches of fixed lines were needed to be set up, hence Kaji and I couldn't make a mad dash for the summit. It also became evident early on that this was going to be a much more technical ascent then Mera. We had to cross couple of precarious snowbridges and even climb down into a shallow crevasse (the crevasse of course was plugged, who knows how deep it really was). The real difficulties began with a 300ft ice ramp that had to be climbed to gain the summit ridge. As no fixed ropes were in place so Kaji and the guides from a British group had to fix them. This took quite a while and during the fixing and Italian group showed up and butted in front of our 2 groups to use the lines, that was really not cool! Ascending these lines was extremely fatiguing and still left you a couple of hundred feet shy of the summit. I thinik I incured a repetitive use strain in my left knee ascending this slope, which likely played a role in my mishap on the descent (~80% of accidents happen on the way down). After the ramp more fixed lines ascended to the summit over a rather narrow and harrowing ridge, in places no wider then the width of both feet, this was less stressful than on the descent. The summit, while providing great views was exceedingly small so I only waited to for Kaji and descended. Just below the summit on a narrow section of ridge I mis-stepped and fell off the ridge (the snow I stepped on had given way beneath my weight). I fell perhaps 20 ft before I was able to arrest my fall in some soft snow. I was likely not in any real danger as I secured to the fixed line, but you never know what shape the rope is in. After that incident I decided to rappel the rest of the way to the bottom of the ice ramp, and other than the sore knee it went smoothly. I think Kaji was more afraid then I was, I didnt have time to be afraid during the episode.
So I managed to scale 2 6000m peaks and a 5800m pass, and now if I can only spot a yeti I will consider this expedition 100% successful. And now we begin the trek back to civilization, back to Lukla, starting with Dingboche.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

April 26, 2007

"No one is completely useless — They can always serve as a bad example." — Anonymous

We are in place for a summit bid on Island peak tomorrow morning. We are camped at a place I call high high camp as we are at least 100m above high camp which leaves ~ 500m to scale tomorrow. I was joking with Kaji about whether we were going to camp on the summit as we kept climbing well after passing high camp. I'm estimating a return trip of about 6 hrs tomorrow, we have less altitude to climb but the climb will be much more technical. We can then begin the long march back to Lukla. Not really much to write about except I'm quite lethargic and want to nap.
I love down, so comfy and warm and compressible and light weight. Another reason I love down? My jacket smells like jalopeno nacho cheese, yummm. I think I must spend about 1/4 of my time thinking of food.
Kaji and the porters (hey that would make a great band name!) are certifiably insane, they're all running around up here bare footed like hobbits. The temperature at best is 0 and there is snow on the ground, nuts! My feet are cold and I'm wearing my mountaineering boot liners, inside my cozy tent, just nuts!

April 25, 2007

"Climbing would be a great, truly wonderful thing if it weren't for all that damn climbing." — John Ohrenschall

I got to sleep in today until 7:30 and its hard to describe a greater feeling of bliss then knowing there is nowhere to go today, no passes to cross, no mountains to scale, don't get me wrong I love doing these things thats why I'm here, but occassional break does the body and mind a world of good. I feel almost like a new man today as it was warm enough to wash my hair. Its amazing how something so simple can feel so great. It had been ages since I last lathered up my hair because its always been subzero temperatures when the opportunity has arise.
My face is in a perpetual state of crispiness, I apply sunscreen but I guess the solar radiation is too intense for the frequency with which I apply it.
I was startled last night while answering the call of nature by a herd of yaks, how many people can say that?
This afternoon Kaji and I will hike upto Island peak basecamp if the weather cooperates, shouldn't take more than 1-2 hours as there isn't any real change in elevation nor is the distance great. Every thing in my tent is covered in a fine layer of dust. I really should shut my tent door to prevent this invasion but it has been days since we've been able to lounge about in such warm fine weather that I can't bring myself to do it.
As of today I only have 13 days left in Nepal and roughly only 10-11 days left on this expedition. It has gone by entirely all too fast. If I can swing it I will definently return to Nepal, possibly to climb Cho Oyu. I love Nepal and Kathmandu. Lovely, now my lemon tea is covered in dust, well I suppose I've got my mineral intake for the day covered.
To anyone who has or had concerns about my asthma acting up in this rarified air you can rest easy as I have suffered no ill effects.
The situation here has turned suddenly dire, we are down to our last four tea bags after which I will be forced to consume "coffee". The "coffee" I speak of is quite dreadful and hardly deserves classification as anything other than black bitter acidic liquid. It makes me long for a cup of Maxwell house instant decaf, now perhaps you can see how dire things have truely become. With any luck the weather will hold and we can procure more tea in a few days.
Lips are in a bad way having been over exposed to the sun and wind, constantly cracking, a lesson to always use ample chapstick. Tongue is similarily in bad shape with all taste buds seemingly gone off the fron tip and only sensation felt is pain. Its amazing how slow the body seems to recuperate.

Monday, May 14, 2007

April 24, 2007

"Why ? Why, why, why do I do this ???" — Chuck Pratt.

Long day today, didn't set up camp until 3pm and we started at 8am. Today we crossed Ambulapcha La and it is easy to see why attempting a crossing after heavy snow would
be dangerous. After scrambling up perhaps 300ft of scree slopes we started climbing up fixed ropes up the face of the glacier. I enjoyed this stage of the climb quite alot, especially seeing
the all the different layers of ice each representing a year of ice and the various blue and greenish tints of the ice. After a couple of pitches we switched to mixed climbing followed by
a long gradual snow slope to the top of the pass. Most of the mixed climbing was on what I think was yellow marble much like that which makes up the imfamous yellow band on Everest.
The snow slope though not of incrediblly steep grade was a bit hairy as my ascender iced up and stopped catching meaning any fall would have been quite long as few anchors had been fixed. The top of the pass didn't feel like a typial pass, it felt more like we were simply crossing over a ridge. The way down from the pass was less omfortable, although the technical part was only 200-300 ft at most. The most difficult and intimidating part was a short rappel which was complicated by the fact I was still wearing crampons and the first half of the rappel was rock. Once I got the first 3 or 4 foot holds figured out things got easier. As stated earlier today was a long day, this was mostly due to the fact that like on Zatrawa La I was forced to do a lot of waiting (at least 3 hours this time) as Kaji had to retrieve all of the fixed lines once all the porters and trekkers had descended from the pass. It seems that Kaji always takes on more than his fair share of the work load, hopefully the other teams compensate him. I got my first glimpse of Island peak today although I was unaware of it at the time. We travelled along side lateral moraines standing a good 150ft tall, very impressive. This was where the Lhotse, Lhotse Shar, Imja, and Ambulapcha glacirs merge to form a super glacier. You can see Island peak from our campsite and hopefully tomorrow I will spy Ama Dablam. 2 days hence I should be at Island high camp preparing for an alpine start for the summit. We are foregoing basecamp as it is usually crowded unattractive and in the case of heavy snow fall prone to avalanches. Tomorrow will be a much needed rest day.

April 23, 2007

"One method of getting loved ones to look more fondly on your climbing is to tell them that since you've started climbing you hardly do drugs anymore." — David Harris.

Dear lord do my socks smell, hmmm... smell is too delicate a word to describe the rank and foul nature of the odour eminating from my feet. I pray that in 2 days time I will be able to do some 'laundry' for humanities sake. I have learned that there are several rarely discussed skills that simplify a mountaineers life if they can be acquired: 1) using a squat toilet (more about
possessing strong upper leg muscles), 2) being able to bathe using a bowl, water and hanky, and 3) I thought there was a third skill but I forgot it, although possessing only short term memory when it comes to pain definently helps. Oh #3 just came to me, being able to cleanly use a pee bottle.
We made good progress early in the morning and could see the 'hill' behind which lay our destination Panch pokari. We took several little breaks along the way to bask in the sun
and enjoy our last full day in the Hunku. The afternoon was not so pleasant, a stiff wind picked up an it started to snow dropping visibility down to ~20 ft, this in itself would have been
ok but it started to appear that Kaji had lost his bearings and thus our progress slowed substantially. We were definently headed in the proper direction but whether we would be close enough to camp to spot it or imply pass right by it was a bit up in the air. Luckily we were headed into a dead end valley so the worst that could happen would be camping at
a virgin camp site. I think the whole episode was more bothersome for me as I didn't have a good idea of where we were going before hand, I knew geographically but without
major landmarks that appear on the map I was 'lost'. We did eventually find the proper camp site after an hour or so, and as iis usual the clouds rolled out shortly there after and we
started the process of establishing camp which was a bit more difficult then usual as we had to 'landscape' a bit.
In the early evening Kaji, Dindy and 1 other person went off to scout our route up through Ambulapcha La tomorrow. I could see three wee specks up high on the glacier, I knew this pass was to be technical, but I didn't know our route would be taking us climbing up the face of the glacier. Anyways tomorrow looks like it will be a challenging but entertaining day.
I offered and poured Kaji some more today, he and the porters got a real kick out of this and were having a really good laugh. When ever I do what they perceive as their chores they seem to find it very odd and funny, I guess most trekkers treat it like a master-servant relationship.