Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another update

We heard from Bruce again last night. They had returned from their second acclimation climb of Lobuche Peak. They spent the night on the summit this time, and from their camp site they had this awesome view of Everest. Bruce took this picture at sunset.

I was actually a little surprised at the lack of snow at the top of the mountain, but Greg tells me the wind almost always scours it clean of snow at the very top. Their route will go up the skyline that you can see on the right, most of which is hidden by the mountain in the foreground.

Bruce says he feels great and is acclimating well. The first time they climbed Lobuche, they weren't carrying any weight, and yet it still felt like an effort. This second time, because were spending the night on the summit, they had to carry their gear (tents, sleeping bags, food, etc.) Even though he was carrying a fair amount of weight, he said the climb felt easier this time, so he's adjusting to the altitude. They'll have a couple of days rest now at base camp, and then he thinks they'll start acclimating on Everest itself. They don't have a specific schedule yet, but will most likely go up to camp two, spend a couple of nights, come back to base camp, rest a bit, go up to camp three, spend a night, then back to camp two, spend a couple of nights -- that sort of thing. He'll let me know more specifically in his next phone call.

He said the weather has been absolutely perfect the entire month of April. It's in the 50's and 60's during the day, and although it usually clouds up and gets a little unsettled at about sunset, there has been none of that. Hope that continues for another few weeks!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lobuche Peak

Bruce called tonight and said they were back from their excursion to Lobuche Peak (elev. 20,075 feet), which they were able to summit. As he explained in the last post, they climbed Lobuche, whose base camp is about a half-day's walk from Everest base camp, instead of going back and forth through the ice fall so many times, in order to alleviate some of the danger there. Apparently there was a collapse in the ice fall the other morning that wiped out the route, and the "ice doctors" had to go back in and re-do it. This happens quite regularly, Bruce assures me, but the less time he spends in there the happier I'll be. They are apparently going to rest a couple of days at Everest base camp and then climb Lobuche Peak again, but this time they will spend the night on the summit as part of their acclimation process. He did say the view from the summit of Lobuche was amazing -- a fantastic view of Everest, as well as Lhotse, Nuptse, Makalu, Pumori,Cho Oyu, and Ama Dablam. I can't wait to see the pictures -- Bruce must be in heaven!

He still has a cough, but says half the team does also, and nobody seems to be very worried about it, including Bruce. There's still quite a bit of time before they really have to get serious about summiting, and he seems to be acclimating just fine in spite of it, so I'm choosing not to fret.

He said he spent the morning "leveling out his tent base." He said at first glance the base camp at Everest looks like it's all rock, but it's a glacier, and it tends to melt and shift under the tent, which makes sleeping uncomfortable after a while, so he worked on that this morning. In the afternoon, they were going to practice on a ladder course that the sherpas have set up to get some practice crossing crevasses on ladders. Have you seen them do this on TV? They walk across these metal ladders -- sometimes several ladders lashed together -- with a whole lot of NOTHING underneath them, with crampons (i.e. spiky things that could make a person trip) on their feet. You couldn't pay me enough . . .

I discovered that one of the Himex guides is putting Everest newsletters on the Himex website. If you want to read those, click here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Email from Base Camp

Got this email and photos from Bruce today. Here's what he says:

We’ve now been at base camp for several days. It’s situated on the edge of the Khumbu Glacier, about a 45 minute walk from the start of the icefall, at an elevation of about 17,300 ft. With 29 climbers, Sherpas, cook staff and guides it looks like a small village. There are about a dozen large tents – roughly 12’ X 20’ (used for dining, storage, communications and internet), Sherpa living quarters, kitchen facilities, bathroom/shower facilities and a tent for the Discovery film crew. In addition to those, there are roughly 40 two-person dome tents for all the climbers, guides and trekkers. We each have our own which is nice because it allows each of us to spread out and also have some privacy. We also have a large dome tent to relax in. It’s about 30’ in diameter with carpet, couches, a heater and a large flat panel TV. One side of it has clear windows that look out onto the flanks of Nuptse. We are located about 10 to 15 minutes down the valley from the normal base camp where all the other expeditions are camped. With a group this large we felt it would be best if we stayed a little ways away from everyone else.

The route through the ice fall was completed a couple of days ago by a group of Sherpas known as the “ice fall doctors”. They are paid with a portion of everyone’s permit fee and work through the entire climbing season to maintain the route through the ice fall, which is constantly shifting and moving. It’s a very dangerous job and rumor has it that they’re pretty much always drunk just so they can face the task each day. Right now there are 22 single ladders in all, which isn’t too bad. In most years there are usually a few spots where several ladders have to be lashed together.

Six of our Sherpas left at 4:00 a.m. yesterday to begin carrying gear up to Camp 1 and Camp 2 in the Western Cwm. These guys are amazingly strong. Their round trip time to Camp 2 was around 10 hours, with loads, which I’m pretty sure is faster than I’ll be able to do the one way trip. I guess I’ll find out eventually but not too soon. Most teams acclimatize by making several trips through the ice fall and making their way to progressively higher camps and coming down to base camp each time to recover. We’re going to acclimatize as far as possible by climbing Lobuche Peak (20,070 ft.) at least once and maybe twice which will eliminate at least one round trip through the ice fall. Obviously we’ll eventually have to make the trip through the ice fall for an acclimatization trip and for our summit attempt but that will be several weeks from now.

Just like on Manaslu, I came down with a cold when I arrived at base camp. I’m not alone though. I think about half the people in camp have some form of illness but at 17,300 feet it’s not much fun. I think I’m slowly on the mend and am just trying to take it pretty easy for now. The acclimatization process is very slow so it probably doesn’t seem like much is happening right now, which is true, but it’s one of the most important parts of the climb.

Himex base camp

Looking toward Everest from base camp. The west shoulder of Everest is in the center of the picture. The ice fall is the jumble of ice at the center/lower portion of the mountain. The route goes through the ice fall from left to right into the Western Cwm between Everest and Nuptse. The long strings just above all the dark rock are prayer flags : )

Inside the relaxation tent.

The climbing team. Bruce is standing on the far right.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Everest Base Camp!

Bruce called last night to let us know that they have reached base camp and all is well. He thinks he will have internet access as soon as they get everything set up, so I'm crossing my fingers that I'll have emails and maybe even pictures from him to post.

Their group, Himex (short for Himalayan Experience) has actually set up their base camp a short distance away (about a fifteen-minute walk) from the main base camp. Their guide, Russell Brice, did this for a number of good reasons, one of them being the fact that their group is fairly large -- around 60 people including sherpas, guides, etc.) and another being that regular base camp gets to be kind of a zoo, what with all the groups that converge there. If any of you have read the book "High Crimes," you'll understand that being a little removed from the main base camp may also shield them from some of the shenanigans that go on there. I bet my kids are going to tease me about using the word shenanigans : )

Base camp is about 17,700 feet elevation. Bruce says he can see the ice fall from where they are, but has to walk a little ways to see the Western Cwm (pronounced "coom"). Wikipedia has a pretty good description of the route that they will take up the mountain. Click here if you want to read about it, and scroll down to the section called "Southeast Ridge."

They are having a couple of rest days at this point. The majority of their gear was hauled up the mountain in barrels on "yak back" and when they got there, they just unloaded the barrels and threw everything into their tents. Bruce said his tent looked like a bomb went off in it and he was going to spend today (which is over now for him, I guess) organizing everything.

I'm hoping to get an email soon, which will be a lot more detailed than the few minutes we are able to spend on the satellite phone. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Moving right along . . .

Bruce called tonight to give me an update. They are in the village of Dingboche, Nepal, which is about 14,400 feet altitude. They arrived there today and will spend one more day there before moving on to the village of Lobuche. He said the landscape is pretty barren (as you can see from the photo below) but the mountain scenery all around them is spectacular.

Apparently a lot of the people in their group are sick with colds or the flu. They are going to great lengths to avoid each other. I told Bruce to wash his hands a LOT, then realized that wouldn't be as easy for him there as it would be here. He said he had been throwing up for a day or two (kept walking of course, just threw up occasionally along the trail -- how fun does that sound) but feels great now, so hopefully he's done with being sick and won't catch anything else.

They are scheduled to reach base camp on the 10th, and he said he probably won't call again until they get there. I'll update when I hear from him.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Namche Bazaar

Bruce called late last night from the village of Namche Bazaar, pictured above. You can read about it here, if you want. At 11 p.m. for me it was 11 a.m. the next day for him, and they were about ready to head off to the next village, called Khumjung. I'm assuming he's there by now and his itinerary looks like they will stay there two nights before going farther up. Namche Bazaar is at 11,283 feet elevation (if I remember correctly how to convert meters to feet) and Khumjung is 12,660 -- so you get an idea of where he is elevation-wise.

Everything is going well. He said that he had just returned from a hike to the top of the village where you can get your first view of Everest. The bottom part of the mountain is blocked from view, but he was able to see the south summit and the Hilary step.

The photo below is one I pulled off of the internet that is labeled as a first view of Everest from Namche Bazaar. I've read you can also see Cho Oyu, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam from there. Pretty spectacular scenery!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Prayer Flags on the Porch (and waiting for a phone call)

While I'm waiting for Bruce to call I thought I'd explain the decor on my porch. When Bruce went to Nepal last fall to climb Manaslu, he brought home some Tibetan prayer flags. I decided I wanted to hang them up in honor of Bruce's trip to Everest, so here they are.

The five colors of the flags represent the elements and are arranged from left to right in a specific order: blue (sky/space), white (air/wind), red (fire), green (water), and yellow (earth). There are prayers, blessings, and mantras (among other things) printed on each flag. Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to 'gods,' a common misconception, rather the Tibetans believe that as the flags flutter in the breeze, the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all. They are also thought to calm the elements, and are often hung on high mountain peaks to "pacify" the mountain. This, I'm thinking, is a very good idea.

Prayer flags in Kathmandu

Prayer flags at Everest base camp.