Thursday, May 28, 2009

On his way home . . .

I don't know if anyone is still watching this blog, but I received an email from Bruce this morning and thought I'd share some of it. When they got back to base camp after the climb, it was snowing hard and continued to snow for the next 24+ hours. They were prepared to be snowed in for a while, but it looks like things worked out and they were able to leave. Here's what he says:

As you have probably guessed because of the lack of a phone call, we are on the move. The day after I last called you (the day of the huge snow storm) it dawned perfectly clear and Russell got us all out of bed early and told us to get packed. I've never packed in such a hurry and within an hour and a half we were headed out of base camp and on our way. It was pretty tricky going for the first half of the day because the trail was covered with so much packed snow. As we slowly descended the snow turned to slush and it became very sloppy and wet but we didn't care because we are headed home! At about the 14,000' elevation grass and small bushes began to appear. That is always such a great sight after being in a lifeless land for so long. It was a very long day but after all the time acclimatizing at 17,000' I felt like I was getting drunk on air. It really feels great. We spent the night at Pangboche, which I am guessing is about 18 or so miles from base camp, at around 13,000'. We are below the snowline and it is absolutely beautiful. There are evergreen trees and grass and bushes. I'm suffering from sensory overload. It was nice for the first time in two months to not wake up in the night gasping for breath.

Today we walked for about 4 hours in a drizzle and have arrived and Namche Bazaar. It has changed since we were here two months ago. With the recent rain, all the fields around the town have turned green. The trekking season has pretty much ended so the place feels like a ghost town. Tomorrow we walk to Lukla and spend the night and hope for good weather the next morning so we can fly to Kathmandu.

As we have been walking I have thought a lot about what climbing Everest means to me. It still hasn't hit me what I have accomplished and perhaps it won't until I get home. All my life I feel like I have struggled with my ability to complete what I start. I have had many goals in my life that I have started and then allowed to fall by the wayside. This has taught me that I do have the ability to follow through if I want to enough. It is totally up to me. This probably sounds trite but I have learned that I can be a finisher and not just a starter.

Sorry I haven't sent any more photos. With the big snowstorm I spent so much time dealing with keeping my tent cleared off (so it wouldn’t collapse) and other housekeeping issues that I didn't get a chance. My laptop computer is packed away now and hopefully on its way, on the back of a yak, to Kathmandu, so I don't have a way to resize my photos and send them from here. They are so huge that I don't think I could send them full size. You'll have to wait until I get to KTM.

Keep your fingers crossed for good weather two days from now. I'll call you as soon as I can.

Okay, this is Janet again. Isn't it interesting how we judge ourselves so much more harshly than others judge us? I have never thought of Bruce as someone who didn't see things through, in fact to me he's exactly the opposite . . .

I will continue to update the blog at least until Bruce gets home, so that he can add his own thoughts and share some experiences and add some photos. At this point I'm not sure what day he'll be getting home. He will call from Kathmandu and then I get to start working on changing his flight itinerary. I imagine it will be sometime next week. I'll let everyone know as soon as I know.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Safely back to Base Camp!

Bruce called late last night to let me know that he had just arrived safely back at base camp. This is great news. The icefall has been notoriously unstable this entire season, and was my last, big worry. He said that every time they've gone through the icefall, the route has been different, because it collapses and avalanches and the sherpas have to go in and re-fix the route. At one point on this last time through, they had to cross over a huge crevasse, which was spanned by five (FIVE!) ladders lashed together vertically. It scared him to death, apparently, as the whole thing swayed back and forth as they crossed it, and it seemed like it went on forever. You can't just walk across those things looking straight ahead, you have to look down to make sure you are placing your feet properly, and therefore you are forced to stare down into a seemingly bottomless crevasse as you cross. Can you imagine?!

Anyway, as the climbers came into base camp they were greeted by a huge crowd of the climbers in group one, the sherpas, sherpa cook staff, guides, etc., all banging on pots and pans and shouting congratulations. He said it was pretty fun. As we were talking some other climbers came into camp and I could actually hear the pot-banging through the phone.

He says he's lost weight and has the usual dry cough that always occurs at high altitude, but other than that he feels great, and still has all his fingers and toes. He will be home earlier than June 10th, which was the projected date, so that's good news, but we're not sure exactly what day at this point. He said he might email some pictures for me to post, so if you want to keep checking you can watch for those. I think I'll keep this blog going at least long enough for Bruce to add some of his own thoughts when he gets home.

Thanks everyone, so much, for all the prayers and good wishes. It has helped more than you know. You can't imagine how relieved we are and how proud I am of Bruce!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

HE MADE IT!!!!!

At approximately 10:00 a.m., Saturday, May 23, 2009, (10 p.m. Friday Utah time) Bruce made it to the summit of Mt. Everest!

He borrowed someone's sat phone and called at 3:15 a.m. this morning to let us know that he had made it and was back at the South Col (Camp 4). Still very high, and still using oxygen, he will spend the night there, then head to Camp 2 for one night, then back to base camp. He will call from base camp with much more information.

When I asked how he did, he said, "Oh, it was hard. I struggled, but it was so worth it." He said the weather was a little dicey at the summit; cloudy, windy and very cold. He said he feels good, and he sounded good (strong, healthy, no coughing) to me, and very happy. He said, "We still have a long, steep descent ahead, and we have to go back through the ice fall, but I don't anticipate any problems."

I will post again after he calls from base camp, probably Sunday. Right now I have to go do something -- cartwheels maybe . . . : )

Friday, May 22, 2009

I wish . . .

I wish I had some news. I wish I could find some mention of what is happening on the Himex website. I wish I had a crystal ball. I wish this was over.

The other morning, KSL ran a little news spot on Bruce. They had interviewed me on the phone the day before, and didn't tell me that they would actually use part of that interview in the news spot, but they did. I don't love to hear myself recorded, but oh well. And it was pretty short, thankfully, so I didn't have time to sound too stupid. Anyway, the newscasters made the comment that "he didn't take the satellite phone with him," and then at the end of the report, they joked, kind of sarcastically, about "What kind of guy goes to Everest and forgets to take the phone?"

If you logged on to KSL.com and listened to the story there, it was a completely different news person who did it, interestingly enough, and he didn't make a joke, but he also said that Bruce "didn't take the phone."

What I had said to them was that he didn't take the phone with him "to the summit," not that he didn't take the phone at all. The whole experience made me realize two things:

1. This is why I am squeamish about having articles or news stories done about all of this, and
2. Maybe everyone is wondering why he didn't take the phone to the summit, so I'll try to explain.

A satellite phone is not like a cell phone, it's bigger and weighs more. When you're at that kind of altitude, working so hard to just put one foot in front of the other, sometimes having to stop and breathe several times before you can even take another step, every extra ounce that you're carrying on your back makes a difference. There is a fair amount of gear that you simply have to carry, but anything extra could be a liability. Bruce and I together decided that he shouldn't take it with him to the summit, and I would endure until he could call me (most likely when he returned to base camp).

Of course I would love it if he had it. I would love to have gotten a phone call from the summit of Mt. Everest. I would love to not be sitting here wondering where he is and if he has made it or not -- but I wanted him to be able to fully concentrate on what he is doing, rather than worrying about calling me, having to take his gloves off for even a minute to make the call, having to take his oxygen mask off while he talked to me -- you get the picture.

So here we are. If everything is going perfectly according to plan, he should have made the summit by now and be on his way back to Camp 4. I hope, I hope, I hope. I promise I will update this blog the minute I hear anything -- and many of you will probably get a phone call. Thank you so much for all the support and concern and prayers and good wishes. It means more than you can imagine.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

This is it . . .

When Bruce called last night he told me that he would be starting his summit attempt in the wee hours of the morning on May 19 -- midday tomorrow for us. I mentioned before that their group has been divided into two climbing teams, and that Bruce is in the second one. The first group actually left yesterday, and no, I haven't heard anything yet as to how they are doing.

I thought I would take a minute and describe what the next few days will be like for Bruce. Starting in the wee hours of the morning, they will head back up through the icefall. They do this at that time of day because that's when it's the coldest, and therefore the icefall is the most stable. (I have a hard time with this, because the icefall seems so scary to me even in the daytime -- I can't even imagine doing it by headlamp, but I can see the wisdom. The avalanche that killed a sherpa in the icefall a week ago occurred at mid-morning.)

They will continue on to Camp 2 (bypassing Camp 1) the first day and rest there for two nights. Then they'll ascend to Camp 3, which at roughly 24,000 feet is as high as they have been so far and higher than any point in the world outside of the Himalayas. My understanding is that they will begin using supplemental oxygen at Camp 3 -- sleep with it that night -- and will continue using it from that point on, until after they summit and get back down to Camp 2.

The next day they'll climb to Camp 4, located on the South Col at approx. 26,000 feet. This is the start of what's known as the "death zone." This refers to the fact that it is at this height that the body literally starts to deteriorate, no matter what, even with supplemental oxygen . That is why they will keep their stay above 8000 meters to a minimum.

Very early on Day 5 (sometime between midnight and 2:00 a.m.) they will begin their final push to the summit. If the weather and the mountain and their physical bodies allow it, they should be standing on the highest point on the planet sometime later that morning. At that point they will have climbed just over two vertical miles from Base Camp. They will limit their time on the summit to 15 - 30 minutes -- just enough time for photos and to take it all in -- and then head back down to Camp 4. They will spend one night there, then descend to Camp 2 for one night, then back to Base Camp. Seven days total if everything goes as planned.

Bruce will phone again tonight and I'll post again if any of this has changed. In the meantime he directed me to the blog of one of the other climbers in his group, which has a picture of Bruce in the icefall. He's the one on top with the red gloves.






Monday, May 11, 2009

Bad weather on Everest

video

I pulled this video off of another group's daily dispatches from Everest. It's the group that includes Ed Viesturs, the well-known climber that Bruce mentioned he had seen in the airport in Bangkok. It shows what the weather is doing right now, and why they are waiting before they try for the summit. Interestingly, this video mentions that their weather equipment missed this storm, but Russell Brice saw it coming and made sure that all of the Himex climbers were safely back at base camp before it hit.

Bruce is feeling better every day and hoping these days of waiting will give him time to get over his lung congestion. Right now they are sort of predicting that the weather will break around the 18th, 19th, somewhere in there. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Waiting for the weather window

Bruce is back at base camp after a pretty strenuous acclimation climb. They made it through the ice fall, which Bruce described as "pretty scary," and spent one night at camp one (20, 015 ft.). The next day they went on to camp two (21,500 ft) and spent two nights there. Then on to camp three (23, 621) for one night before heading back down to base camp.

The next time they head up the mountain will be with the intent to summit, and as of right now it's looking like the weather window for that is at least a week out. Bruce is glad for the chance to relax and regroup. He has had a lingering cough from the cold he had early on, and while he did great and felt very strong getting to camps one and two, he struggled a little bit the day they went to camp three. The camp doctor at base camp has given him some antibiotics, and he has several days now to rest, so we're hoping it doesn't prohibit him from performing well when it comes time for the summit push.

Apparently six or seven of the original climbers have quit and gone home, a couple of them because they simply could not face going through the ice fall. Russell (their guide) has divided them up into two groups -- the faster climbers and the slower climbers. Bruce was placed into the faster group but wanted to remain tentmates with a friend who is in the slower group -- so basically he's traveling with the slower group, but he's the fastest guy in that group : )

I've tried very hard not to put my opinions or thoughts into this blog -- my intent is purely to keep everyone informed of Bruce's progress. However, I want everyone to know how much it means to us both that you are keeping him in your thoughts and wishing him well. This is a hard thing he's doing -- physically, mentally, emotionally -- and while he made the choice to do it (and I made the choice to support him) that doesn't make it any less hard. So thanks for your positive thoughts in his direction, and if you could just keep them coming for a couple more weeks . . .

Friday, May 1, 2009

the ice fall

Bruce called quite late on Wednesday night. It was about 11:30 a.m. Thursday for him when he called and they were just about to hike over to the base of the ice fall to get a good look at it in the daylight, because that night at midnight they were going to start hiking through it to get to Camp One, then on to Camp Two, and possibly even Camp Three for the climbers who were feeling well acclimated enough. This was going to be over the course of a few days, of course, and they were going to be carrying a fair amount of gear up to the higher camps. He wasn't going to take the satellite phone with him, but will call when they get back to base camp (possibly next Wednesday?) and then will take it with him when they go up again.

He said that the whole group was feeling a little anxious about this first trip through the ice fall. I can't even imagine doing it in the dark, but I guess they needed an early start -- I had been asleep when he called and didn't get up to take notes like I usually do, so I'm a little fuzzy about the details here. A little anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing -- it will certainly make them more careful -- but I have to say that when I went to the internet to throw some pictures of the ice fall on here, I had a little anxiety of my own.





















I'm estimating they're on their way to Camp Two right now, and I'm sure I would have heard if there was any problem, so no news is good news. We're sort of getting down to the wire on the timing now. I know that Everest has been summited as early as May 1st in the past, however it's usually during the second or third week of May, so it won't be too long now. I'll post again when he calls next week.