Wednesday, May 19, 2010


End of my Journey

Hi All,

sorry for the delay in updating everything but a lot has been going on. My last report had me coming down from the North Col. We spent the next 3 days getting our butts kicked at ABC by the weather and wondering if we were going to get the chance to go back up the North Col, spend the night, climb up to camp 2 (25,900 ft) and then go back to ABC. The weather report wasn’t looking favorable and our team wasn’t feeling very good. Fanuru was so sick that he couldn’t even talk. Lopsang was still trying to get over his sinus infection and Julio’s cough was nagging him. On the eve of the 3rd night the team made the decision to hike down to base camp instead of back up the North Col. Little did we know how lucky we were. The day we hiked down to BC was the same day there was an avalanche on the North Col. Who knows whether we would have been caught in the avalanche. All I can tell you is that we were to climb up the North Col that day with team Jordan. Since we were more acclimatized than they were we would have been directly above them. When the avalanche hit, it took out the two Hungarians killing one and injuring the other. The Hungarians were located right above team Jordan. The avalanche hit Jordan and knocked him into his father with Jordan’s crampon hitting him in the head. Fortunately for Paul and Jordan the ropes held them to the mountain and Paul got a cut above his eye that needed only 4 stitches. As for our team, we only heard about the avalanche when we got down to base camp. Our plan was now to recoup for the next 5 or 7 days there at BC and then head back up to ABC and stay there for the rest of the climb. The next 3 days at BC were spent getting our appetites back, taking showers and changing our clothes, and trying to get weather reports. On the 3rd day we decided to walk down to a nearby Tibetan village (1 hour walk) to have some chicken and beers. About 100 yds from the village, I all of a sudden had a bout of vertigo. I went down to one knee, regulated my breathing and tried standing up. Again the vertigo hit me like a ton of bricks and I fell to the ground. I called out for Julio and the Sherpa’s and they came running back and picked me up off the ground. I put my arms over their shoulders and we walked to the village and went into a tea house. As I sat down I quipped to Julio about how funny it was that there was a black chicken that kept running back and forth across the room. He asked me what the hell I was talking about. After closer examination I realized that I now had a big black spot in the vision of my left eye and that there wasn’t any chicken in the room. Not good. At this point I became very tired and proceeded to pass out for the next two hours as Julio, Lopsang, Lhapka Gelu and Fanuru sat there and ate chicken and drank beers. When I woke up, I was pretty much in a daze and not in any position to walk back in the driving blizzard that had arrived so we paid for transportation to get us back to camp. At dinner that night, Julio and I went back and forth discussing all my alternatives and potential damages to my eye. In the end, it was determined that it was probably better that I leave the mountain. The next morning we arranged for the yaks to bring down my gear from ABC (2 days) and my transportation back to Kathmandu (2 day drive). While I was sad to leave the team and the mountain (without achieving my goals) I felt it was best to protect my eye. Over the next two days my head felt a little foggy but I thought it was because I wasn’t drinking enough water. On my last night at BC Fanuru had baked me a cake and we drank some whiskey to celebrate my climb. It was a great way to end my climb as we held our glasses high and cheered to Chomolungma and ate some cake! The next morning I was picked up by my Chinese driver Sumday for my 6 hour drive to Zangmu. It would have been a great drive had he spoke a lick of English but he didn’t. Instead it was like a cone of silence which was ok because it gave me time to reflect on my overall trip. More about that later. On the way back we had lunch in my favorite town of Tingri and spent the night in Zangmu. I’d have to say that night was fantastic as it was nice to actually have a real pillow under my head and be able to spread my feet out more than the width of my sleeping bag! I was excited to be getting back to Kathmandu and then home. The next morning we crossed the border without any problems and I met up with Geljen for my 4 hour ride back to Kathmandu. I could already start to feel the thickness and warming of the air. As we got closer to the city the heat and the smog started to appear and being back into civilization was quickly becoming a reality. When we finally pulled into the Yak and Yeti hotel all I could think about was taking a long shower and changing into some fresh clothes. As I got into my room I stood in front of the mirror and noticed that my clothes were hanging on me. It turned out that I had lost 20 lbs. on the mountain. An amazing weight loss in such a short period of time. My beard had grown in full and I was now staring at someone that I didn’t recognize. After cleaning myself up and putting on some shorts I headed out of the hotel to find an internet cafĂ© to send off some emails and make some phone calls. Unfortunately, the Maoists decided to start their protests with the government and all offices, stores and transportation had been shut down. Not a thing was open and all the streets were empty. Everywhere I walked there were protesters along with soldiers just waiting to clash. It was kind of eerie walking around with the streets void of any cars and motorcycles yet nice to know that you weren’t going to get run over. So it was back to the hotel for dinner and some well deserved Everest beers! I used the hotel phone to call Sue for 15 minutes to let her know I was alright and back in Kathmandu and it cost me $105. Highway robbery but I didn’t have any alternative. The next day when I woke up my vision was all blurry. It was worse than what my vision was before I had my Lasik surgery 8 years ago. I could see well enough to walk around but when I went to the business center in the hotel to send some emails I wasn’t able to read the screen or anything for that matter. Now I had an even greater reason to visit the high altitude medical clinic that was right around the corner from the hotel. Fortunately it was open and I was the only patient at the time. I met with a young doctor who spoke English and we went over all my symptoms. Pretty quickly he pulled in the head of the clinic to talk to me about the seriousness of my situation. Apparently they see people like me all the time coming off of Everest. He said that he was pretty sure that I had a bad case of High Altitude Retinal Hemorrhaging along with cerebral hemorrhaging and that he wanted to get me to an Ophthalmologist as soon as possible. He also recommended for me to get an MRI when I get back to the states to see the extent of the hemorrhaging on my brain. He said I was a very lucky man that I had paid attention to my symptoms on the mountain and chose to come down. He mentioned that had I ignored what was happening to me and gone higher, I would have lost my vision and then slipped into a coma with limited chances of survival. OK, at this time I became worried because the extent of my condition was getting worse and not better and I had no idea I was as bad off as I was. Fortunately they were able to make an appointment for me with an Ophthalmologist just an hour later. The clinic had someone walk me over to their office of which I then went through an 1 ½ hour exam. The end result was that I had major hemorrhaging in my left eye and moderate in my right eye. The good news was that the doctor felt my blurry vision would correct itself over time and the eye hemorrhaging would dissipate over the next 2 or 3 months. He said it was very positive that the hemorrhaging didn’t reach the one area of my eye to cause any permanent damage. He also cautioned me that due to the extent of the bleeding in my eye that I also probably had extensive cerebral bleeding and that I should get it checked out once I got back to the US. The fact that I hadn’t had any vertigo since base camp or any headaches was a good sign that the pressure on my head had been relieved from coming down from the altitude. Now my next job was to deal with the airlines to change my flight home. Fortunately due to all the unrest in Kathmandu the airlines were willing to change my flights without charging me any extra fees. 2 days later I was on my way home! After 30 hours of flying and plane changes I arrived home on Mother’s day. Of course that was on purpose! Once I got home I went to see my Doctor, then an Ophthalmologist and finally a Neurologist. All confirmed what I had been originally told about my eyes and brain. My vision is back to normal but I still have the black spot. Apparently it will go away when the blood in my eye dissipates enough. We shall see. As for my head, it has been a tough road. I have been really tired and unable to do much in the way of tasks but I have been improving each day. The doctor said this is common for people with brain trauma. My memory is not what it used to be but I assume that will improve with time as well. The Doctor has banned me from any physical exercise for the next two months and to rest whenever I feel tired. Any of you that know me realize that it will be difficult for me to sit around and do nothing but that is what the Doctor is telling me to do. So now it is my job to do nothing but eat and we all know that is one of my favorite things! I’ve already gained some weight back, shaved my beard and back to studying the stock markets so almost back to business as usual.

I would really like to say thank you to all the people who have been following and commenting on my amazing journey over the last two months. It was great to read your supporting comments. It was really tough being on the mountain and it gave me strength to hear so many positives thoughts coming from you all. While I am very sad that I wasn’t able to reach my goal of 26,000 ft and then the summit I realize that I made the right decision to come off the mountain. It is tough for me to realize that my body won’t accept going higher than 20,000 ft but that is the way it is. It isn’t possible for me to go back and try again. In the end, I am glad that I had the opportunity to be there, see the mountain, climb the mountain, meet and climb with Lhapka Gelu and Julio Bird and then get home safely. Being away from home for such a long period of time you get a lot of chances to think about your life and all it encompasses. I am lucky that I have friends and family like you all to support me in my endeavors. We are all very lucky that we live here in the US. It truly is the land of opportunity and freedom. Make the most of it! If anyone has any questions about my climb or trip feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email. When I get all my pictures downloaded to the web I will send out an email on this blog with the address to view them. All the best, Bill Fisher

• My climbing partners, Julio Bird and Lhapka Gelu just summited on Monday. It is an amazing accomplishment that they both made it to the summit in such bad weather and difficult conditions. This is Lhapka Gelu’s 14th summit of Everest and makes Julio one of the few Americans and the only Puerto Rican to ever have summited from both the North and South sides!!! Congratulations to both of them on such an incredible achievement!

Monday, May 10, 2010

North Col Climb

North Col Climb
Finally the day has arrived where we are going to do some climbing. Not just any climbing but up a 2,000 vertical foot of snow and ice. This is really going to be a test for my fear of heights! So we headed out early that morning 8:30am and start our walk up the dirt moraine. 45 minutes into the hike we headed off of the dirt and on to the glacier which is called crampon point. Another 30 minutes across the glacier we reached jumar point which is where you drop your hiking poles, grab your ascender and fix yourself to the rope. So this is how it works: The Chinese have fixed rope the whole way to the top. The ropes run consecutively about every 50 yds or so and are held in by ice screws. As you approach the rope you will already have your harness on and your crampons affixed to your boots. You’ll have about a 5 foot rope that passes through the main support of your harness and has a carabiner on one end and the ascender on the other. You attach the carabiner to the rope and then above that you attach the ascender. Your crampons are like velcro to the ice so no worries there. As you take each step you move your ascender higher. So: step – step – ascender. The problem comes in when it starts to get steep and you rely on the rope (which is never a good thing). If the rope snaps you have nothing protecting you unless your carabiner snags. The North Col starts off at about a 60 degree angle and then varies from there up to 85% down to flat. About half way up we reached an area with a ladder crossing a crevasse. It wasn’t that long of a stretch to cross but you looked down into a gaping hole and your crampons wouldn’t fit across two rungs. Therefore you had to balance yourself on each rung holding on to the two ropes. Not very easy. Once across you reached a plateau about the size of a dining room table. As the four of us stood there you all of a sudden realized that this was nothing other than a flat topped snow cone attached to the side of the glacier with the crevasse below you. Above you was an overgrown serac. Other people were starting to come up and your only thought was to get the hell off of what we then called shmoo point. After that fun area you then moved higher to one of the more difficult areas. Here is when you have to move laterally across a swath of ice at about a 70 degree pitch. If you slip the rope will hopefully hold and save you. The alternative isn’t thinkable. Julio and I made it up over several hours, sat on the ledge and then watched everyone else come up. I’d have to say the view was magnificent and it felt great to make it there. As for my fear of heights it really didn’t come into play. I measure everything I climb by whether or not I would ski down the slope. Most of the areas weren’t that bad and I’d say there where about 4 areas that I just didn’t look. I did grab my camera and take a picture in one spot without looking and I can’t wait to see it. What goes up must come down. I’m not that experienced in going down so this was quite the adventure. As you can imagine there are only two ways, facing up or facing down. Lhapka Gelu told me it was more fun to face downwards so I said what the heck. Here, you are now entrusting the rope 100% but better to face what you are looking at than not. So I held my breath, leaned forward and moved like hell down the rope. As I reached each plateau you could hear me try to yell Yahoooooo but in the high altitude it was more of a Ya – cough, cough, cough. What took us hours to get up only took me 30 minutes to get down. Once we reached the bottom we were exhausted. Time to eat, drink and get moving again. On the way back to camp all I could think about was what a great day it was and that I finally had reached a new altitude high for me of 22,000 feet!!! More later.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

ABC Part Deux

Well, I am sure you all can tell how much affection I have for ABC. It has only grown since my last blog. I read through my last blast and realized that I didn’t really give you any visualization of this place. From about 15 minutes outside of BC you are walking on what appears to be rock and dirt but really it is the end of the glacier that begins at the foot of the North Col. As you walk the 14 mile trek in to ABC you would swear that you have just been on a dirt trail until you trip up and dig down an inch or two and you hit solid blue ice. About half way up you hit an area where you can stand next to the glacier as it towers over you about 4 stories high. As you draw closer to ABC the glacier widens and your trail narrows till all you see out from you is a sea of ice. This view goes on for miles as you turn right to head up to ABC. You are now surrounded by beautiful mountains and this Icelandic blue ice glacier. All the tents are on the right hand side of the glacier where the width is about 100 yds and stretches for about 700 yds. There isn’t anything green or any other color except dirt, rock and ice. As for animal life you would be surprised to know that there are plenty of black crows and little sparrows to eat up all the leftovers and in our dining tent we have a family of 3 mice. Not rats but mice which are much cuter and easier to live with. As for the various nationalities they are all here. I would have to say that the USA is not well represented. I would put no more than approximately 12 Americans although I have only met 8 not including ourselves. Right next to our camp we have the tres amigos Alfredo, Pedro and Stephan who are from Espana. This is great because these three guys are a hoot. Fortunately Julio speaks perfect Spanish (these guys speak Castillion) so there is quite a dialog until I try to jump in with my 3rd grade Spanish of Dos cervecas por favor. They just look at me and laugh and feel so bad for me they start to speak English. Their age ranges are 30’s, 40’s and 50’s respectively which fits in well with Julio and me. All I can say is I would love to go out in Madrid and party with these guys some day. Next to them is the Amical group of Rolf and Andreas. Rolf I believe is head of a company called Lowa and Andreas is his climbing partner. I met Rolf down at BC when he was trying to negotiate the Yak herders. He came over and we started talking about the art of the deal with them. He said he ordered and paid for 16 extra yaks in addition to the 18 he already paid for. He said look around and count how many yaks there are, 14. Then the Yak herders told him he owed an additional $3,000 or they weren’t going to move his gear. WTF. Guess who you pay for your yaks???? Yes, the Chinese. Once again skimming off the top. Talk about how to shoot yourself in the foot. Needless to say it has been very nice to have Rolf next to us because he is our weatherman. Apparently he gets his information from some high tech people out of Austria and we get it from him for free! Thank you Rolf! Just below us is the Jordan Romero team. This is the father/son team where the son is trying to be the youngest to summit all 7 summits. They are very nice and are the only people to let us use their phone and internet for free which is incredible. Thank you! The 7 summits club is down and to our left. They are a big group (27) and have quite the set up. I met a guy by the name of Jamie who is using their services and has invited me over twice. They have a communications tent. Are you kidding me? They have a bank of phones, computers and a 48 inch HD TV for watching movies. We can’t even get a generator to work let alone have a communications tent. I am very jealous and they guard it like a hawk. I tried walking in backwards but they kicked me out.  Further above us is the Chinese. This is a huge group of about 80. They have been here since the beginning of April and are the most acclimatized. They run up and down the mountain like they are at sea level. What I like is that they definitely have fun. They have a movie tent and you can hear these guys party all night long. How they do it I do not know. It is hard enough for me to go from my tent to the dining tent let alone party. I hope I reach that point. My Sherpa tells me that they aren’t really Chinese but Tibetans. Then you have the Germans who are here in force along with the Italians, Hungarians, Japanese, Irish, British, Australians, French and I’m sure some others. So each night everyone goes to sleep about a half miles walk from the base of the North Col and staring up at the summit. It really looks like you could reach out to the top but then you realize that it is 8,500 vertical feet. What is also interesting to note is you can always here the crackling of the glacier off to one side and the rock fall from the mountain on the other. Remember that we ARE sleeping on the glacier which is constantly moving and directly above our heads is a huge slope of rock. I’d have to tell you that sometimes I have slept in my boots just so I could run out of my tent if I needed to. I think it just might be a Californian thing because my Sherpa’s think I’m nuts. It keeps my feet warm too! More later.

Basecamp to IBC (interim base camp) to ABC (advanced base camp)

So off we all went for our 7 hour hike from BC to IBC gaining some 2,000 ft. in elevation. The hike was through several valleys and up and down many hills all with a slight gain. In the beginning it was neat because you were looking at Everest from the West side so you could see the North Col up along on the left with the South ridge and the glacier below it on the right. When climbing a mountain it is always nice to see as much of it as you can. As we bore to the left of Changste, history started to come into play as this was the very route Mallory and Irvine had taken on their ill fated attempts to summit Everest in the 20’s. It was rumored that each man had over 2 tons of gear and 300 people for each of their climbs. How time has changed everything. We have also heard that there is an expedition that has already been here for 5 weeks looking for Irvine’s body and camera. We spoke with them and they feel that they have already pinpointed the body and will be going to retrieve it soon. Julio and I just might be here for some amazing history! A couple of hours into the hike my stomach decided to enact revenge on me. I guess all the altitude gain had finally met its match. As I was walking all of a sudden I looked up and saw my shmoo meter. You know the one. On the left it says you’re ok for a while. In the middle it gives you 10 minutes and on the right it says find a rock now. Well the needle was bouncing off the right so I quickly looked for the biggest rock near me and took care of business. Wow that was close. Unfortunately for me it happened 5 more times on the way to IBC. I’ll spare you the details but just imagine walking on a billygoat trail with most stones the size of footballs. I’ll leave it to your imagination of the afternoon I had. By the time I reached IBC I was a little worse for the wear and was ready to hit the sack or so I thought. We had a nice spaghetti dinner and Julio and I were roommates. As we put our heads to our makeshift pillows all this clanging became clear. We were sleeping amongst the yaks who all wear bells of various tones to signify their ownership and seniority. It was so loud and funny that I broke out my video camera that couldn’t capture a picture but you get to hear all the sound and our laughter. Strangely enough it sounded much like the chime I have outside my bedroom window at home. The next morning was an adventure because I told Julio that I refused to carry my backpack any more when we have all these yak herders around us. He liked the idea too and we both agreed that we weren’t really breaking any climbing rules! So it was then that I announced to all the yak herders that we would pay to have them carry our packs. I swear I thought we were in Pamplona with the number of the kids that ran over to want to carry our packs. So for $60 we got our packs carried for the next 6 hours and we didn’t have to carry anything!!! It was also at this time I took a Diamox. I had never climbed this high without taking one (18,000ft) and we were about to climb another 2,000 ft. so I figured what the hell. An hour into what was to be a 7-8 hour hike my body started to shut down. I was drinking enough water as noticed by my urine and my head was clear and not dizzy so I wasn’t sure what the heck was going on. I walked for another ½ hour and then sat down and said I wasn’t going any further. This isn’t like me at all but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I told Lapka Gelu that I was going to go back to BC and then come back tomorrow. He came up with a better idea of getting a tent and food and we would camp out here and move to ABC tomorrow. I said great. So off he went. I figured I would just keep walking slowly with my backpack carrier and see where it would get us. During this time my shmoo meter began to arrive with the arrow pointed hard right. What the hell was going on. I surely hope that I didn’t pick up a bug because at this time Lapsong already had a sinus infection and Fanuru was not far behind him. So I continued walking till Lapka Gelu showed up with all the gear. He asked me how I was doing and I said I felt weak and had the big D. He then looked at me and said in his pretty good english “You need to use a Mars bar for diarrhea”. Now I know I am in altitude and sometimes things sound strange so I asked him “ So if I am to use the Mars bar, am I to eat it or place it?” We then both started to laugh and he said eat it because Mars bars stop diarrhea. Now we all have learned something new for the day but I’d have to tell you I was a little nervous. After the Mars bar and several other food items I felt fine. In all the confusion I forgot one of the most basic rules of climbing which is nutrition. With my stomach full and eating 200 calories every ½ hour I made it to ABC in 6 hours. Julio made it in 5. There was a point towards the end when Lapka Gelu kept telling me one more turn and we are there. This pissed me off to no end so I bet him an Everest beer that if camp wasn’t on the next corner the beer was mine. Of course this time he was right. I should have known. As we made it into ABC and walked into our dining tent and saw Fanuru, Lopsang and Julio sitting there, they all jumped up as they were surprised to see us. It was nice to have made it and cover the 4,000 vertical in 2 days. Julio was so happy to see us he demanded a man hug on the spot. More later.

Everest Base Camp – BC

I forgot to mention that during our first nights dinner I asked Lapka Gelu if it ever snows at ABC or BC. He said that it often snows at ABC but he has never seen it snow at BC. Well you know what that means. We woke up to 1 ½ inches of new snow everywhere. Now it was day two at Base camp and all of us were fighting off the dreaded headache that comes with gaining altitude. So what do we do, drink lots of water and rest in our tent. I wasn’t a big fan of this type of acclimatization as on most of my climbs we climb high and sleep low. It appears according to our schedule that we will be doing a lot of climbing high and sleeping high. Rah. So day two was spent doing much of nothing. So it boils down to talking about my favorite part of the day, eating! Breakfast is always the same which is either pancakes, an omelet, or porridge. Lunch can be considered pretty boring except they make us these sandwiches that you have never seen before but know they are going to be good. Too hard to describe but just know they are tasty. Now it’s dinner time! Tonight we had our first and hopefully not our last Yak burger. Anyone who knows me knows that I love burgers. This one was great because I have basically been protein deprived and it had a different flavor that was between buffalo and very lean beef. Fanuru added his own seasonings which made it all the better. I got extra of that one too!! Now during the night you all can only guess what happened again? Yep, it now snowed 2 inches of fresh powder. The next day (3) we knew we were going on an acclimatization hike to possibly 20k but more like 18k. As we headed out we ran into another group bound for the same hill. There were probably some 16 of them and we were to learn there are a total of 27. Not to point fingers or anything but these people couldn’t hike up their shorts let alone this straight up climb we were about to do. I asked the guide how many of the 27 were going to attempt Everest and he said all but 5. Then he looked at me and said anyone can attempt to climb the mountain. In retrospect I think that meant a lot. He knew that most of these people wouldn’t get past ABC but you could see the determination on these people’s faces. This was their dream and be damned if someone was going to take it away from them. Each day I learn something new. It is the journey! Our group made it up to 18,600, sat there the needed ½ hour to adjust to the altitude and then headed back down for lunch. The rest of the day was spent in the tent or staring at the mountain (in my case thinking about dinner). What could top a Yak burger? How about sizzling hot chicken in an amazing sauce with vegi’s. I wasn’t ever going to leave. Clearly the altitude wasn’t effecting my appetite! We had leechi nuts in syrup for dessert. I had to explain to everyone that evening that one of my favorite martini’s is leechi nuts in vodka. Boy do I wish I had some at that moment. Day 4 was spent resting and packing up for the move the next day. I meandered over to a spot that really tugs at the heart. There at base camp is a location with many of the tombstones of people who have died. You then turn around a get a full view of the mountain. It was very sad to see all the people who have passed away making this very same climb. It did bring tears to my eyes knowing that these lives have been taken away and they won’t be seeing their families any longer. I had to really sit there long and hard to reason why I am making this very same climb. What makes me different? Will I be like them? What am I doing differently? To me this was sort of a right of passage. I don’t think it is responsible to move forward till you pay your respects to the people who climbed and lost their lives before you. Now, having done so, I felt more comfortable moving on up to ABC tomorrow. For our last night’s dinner at BC we had Sherpa’s stew. This is just like shepard’s pie except we are with Sherpa’s so it is Sherpa’s stew. It just doesn’t have the crust on top. For dessert Fanuru out did himself. He made a banana tart with the top layer completely braided. How does one get the flour to cook let alone rise at 16,000 feet. It was cooked perfectly. No snow tonight but there wasn’t any shortage of wind. This brings me to one of the reasons I am here. After dinner I walked back to my tent and just stared at the sky. Fortunately it was a clear night and you could see forever. Literally. The sky was filled with so many stars you couldn’t get any more in there. You could see the Milky Way galaxy along with all the constellations. There were tons of clusters along with moving satellites and shooting stars. We had it all to ourselves! In a way, it really lets you know how small you really are when compared to the rest of the universe. We hear a lot that there is more wind on the North side as well as being colder and so far the mountain hasn’t disappointed, unfortunately. The next day was moving day along with our Psuja and dealing with the Yak herder’s. We woke up a tad earlier because I think everyone gets excited about making a change and seeing the new terrain. Unfortunately for Hoshino the change in terrain wasn’t what he was looking for. Apparently he had been dealing with some immense pain in his back molar tooth but just wasn’t telling anyone. We found a dentist who was nice enough to come over and check out his tooth. It wasn’t that scientific. He grabbed one of our spoons and hit his tooth. Hoshino’s reaction was right along with a roar out of the lion king. Just what the Doctor thought, the tooth was badly infected and had to be pulled. It had decayed to the point that there was already a hole in the side of the tooth. Hoshino’s next stop would be Kathmandu and the dentist’s chair. It was sad to see him go as he brought a lot of great spirit to our team. He did get to stay to be part of our psuja! Right then our holy Lama road up on his motorcycle for our ceremony. Everyone started running around getting our prayer flags, making these domes out of barley and setting up the temple. Right where we were staying someone had already erected a stone temple so we just got to use that one. About a half hour later we were ready to get the ceremony started. We lit the tons of incense, the Lama started his chants and all the Sherpa’s started to spread out the flags from the top of the temple. Right in the middle of it all it sounded like Hoshino’s cell phone started to ring, and Hoshino was sitting next to the Lama. Nope, it was the Lama himself. We all laughed so hard it even made the Lama smile. Now back to the ceremony. As the smoke continued to billow over into our faces we had the final parts of throwing grain onto the temple, chanting, drinking some of the holy water and pouring it on ourselves. Then as the finale ritual we grabbed some white looking flour substance and wiped in on each other’s chin. This is all for good spirits and luck. It was a unique experience and glad that it was over as Julio and I looked like chimney sweeps from all the smoke hitting us. As we stood up we were all greeted with cheers and yelled Chomolungma! Then the beers and celebration started. It was important to celebrate the ceremony and eat some of the food that had been blessed by the Lama. Strangely enough most of it was candy. I went for the bread. Just like perfect timing the Yak herders arrived. Now began the process of weighing all the cargo going up to ABC and back. This was a unique process where they put the bag on one end of a long stick and a weight of dubious amount on the other. The yak herders all yell and the weight has been measured. Of course it is nowhere near what the actual weight is but how are you going to argue. Then they write some numbers on their arms, start to yell at you about their poor Yak’s that can’t carry anything because it is Spring time and you owe them $3,000. I’m just glad that Julio and I paid all up front because we would have been chewed up by these guys. None of them have taken a shower this century and quite frankly smell worse than the yaks. I think it is part of their negotiation tactics. So it was up to Geljen to worry about his margins for the trip. After it was all worked out the yak herders had the gear on their yaks in 15 minutes and on their way. Now it was time to say goodbye to Hoshino and Geljen and for us to start towards Intermediate base camp IBC. FYI, the average temperature at BC was 10 degrees. Add in the heavy winds and it is enough to chill anyone to the bone. More later.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rants and Raves

I would have to give Verizon a failing grade as before I left I called their global phone unit and talked to them about using my Blackberry phone overseas. Everyone said my phone would work fine in Thailand and Nepal but that there wouldn’t be any coverage in Tibet. I also asked them to not shut off my phone but to only have basic service and voicemail. I was also supposed to be able to replace the sim card in my phone so that I could have cheaper rates to call from Nepal while I am there. Well, my phone didn’t work in Thailand or Nepal. I tried following the instructions for replacing the sim card and it didn’t work. I used several different sim cards to no avail. I had a lump of coal on my hands so I left it in Kathmandu. Then we enter into Tibet and I see this guy talking on his blackberry. I ask him who he uses and he said Verizon. He had a package for $70 and had unlimited data. He said the same thing that the phone didn’t work in Thailand or Nepal but that when he crossed the Tibet border his phone went crazy and started to download all his email and text messages. The picture you see on the blog was from his phone that he emailed to Sue. I then ran into a German guy who had a T-Mobile phone that worked as well. So right now I don’t have my phone and the message says that it is disconnected. Verizon, you are on my Sh-t list.
I haven’t shaved since I left California on March 26th. I now have a beard, yes I know it is hard to believe, that is brown, grey and my Irish red. I’m not caring for it too much but I don’t plan to shave till I get back so my brothers kids can shave my beard again!
Thuraya Sat phones. The damn phone weighs next to nothing, always give you a connection and cost only 70 cents per minute or less to call anywhere you want to in the world. If anyone plans to travel abroad do not get an Iridium phone. Get the Thuraya because the satellites are always stationary so you never drop a call and can get service in valleys like the one I am in.
Today I exchanged $260 for 18,200 Rupees. Somehow that just makes me feel like I am wealthier. 
We have upgraded Fanuru from Cook to Chef. He is so damn good. I am definitely fattening up before we get to ABC.
This computer is set up for Skype video so I am hoping it will work through the sat phone. We won’t know till we get to ABC. Now that would be cool.

Tingri to Basecamp Everest

The next morning it was the standard breakfast and out by 9am. Goodbye Tingri and hello Everest. The ride over wasn’t so smooth. We immediately turned off of the paved road and on to dirt. So the bumpy ride began. Not too bad because we were excited about where we were going and what we were about to see. All of a sudden Hoshino yelled “Geljen, the cranes, the cranes”. Add in a Japanese accent and picture a little guy named Tatoo and Julio and I started to burst out laughing. Of course Hoshino had no idea what we were laughing about. Poor guy. What Hoshino was pointing out to all of us was the Blacked Necked Crane which there are only 2,000-3,000 left in the world. These birds have an annual migration from India to Tibet which means flying over the Himalayas. No other bird in the world is known to do so. We snapped a dozen pictures and a little video and were on our way. As we drove towards the mountain we were gaining altitude at a quick pace. Tingri was 14,000 feet high and basecamp is 16,300. The terrain was incredible. We were the only cars driving across this large plateau towards the mountains weaving our way in and out of the valleys. At one pinnacle we reached 17,000 feet and stopped to take pictures. You could see for miles in every direction with the mountains only getting bigger and bigger behind each range. Truly a spectacle. What you should also know is that since we crossed the border from Nepal to Tibet there hasn’t been a single tree or shrub or piece of green. It’s all brown desert. Now it was the last two corners and we were to be there. We joined into another road which brought us to our first of 3 checkpoints. Why the Chinese feel the need to have 3 checkpoints is beyond me. You can almost see each one from the other. As we rounded the final corner Everest revealed herself to us. We were now only 14 miles from Advanced basecamp and the North Col so the mountain looked huge. My immediate reaction was basically, “Oh Sh-T” and “Where’s my Mommy?” The mountain is immense and vertical. We could only see the top half but that would be enough to scare any normal human being. There weren’t any clouds and you could see that the wind was blowing up top. Right away the discussion began Where are the three steps?,Is that the location of camp 3? Is that the Messner colour? Wow, that summit ridge looks very steep. Not like in the pictures. I have felt this way before. When our plane landed on the glacier for the Denali base camp you looked up and saw the mountain. It too looked huge and I wondered how in the heck I was going to get from base camp to the summit. Now, in front of me, stood even a bigger challenge but one that I sure hope I can achieve. We made it through the final check point and then all the tents started to appear. All the big groups were already here. Asian Trekking, 7 summits club, Amical, Adventure Peaks, Himalayan ecstasy and of course the Chinese group. Right now it looks like there will be roughly 140 to 180 climbers but I won’t really know till I get to ABC. Then, far off in the left corner you could see our truck that Lopsang had taken up the day before. He and Fanuru (the cook) had already set up the entire camp. This is quite the endeavor as they had to set up all the tents (one for each person), the cooking tent, the dining tent, the bathroom tent alias (the shmoo tent named by my first, favorite and unfortunately now past away guide Bruce whom I met on Aconcagua(part sh-t and part poo and you get shmoo) and the shower tent. All in one day under high altitude. It was a pleasant sight to know that we didn’t have to do anything! Once we arrived we gathered all our gear and put it in our tent. Our new homes for the next 5 days! Then Geljen called for us to come to the dining tent. We had to right away start to drink the hot tea and eat some garlic soup. Remember earlier when Lapka Gelu stood over and made me eat the soup in the Khumbu Valley. Same here. He stood over all of us and began to explain all the benefits of garlic and acclimatization. From then on we were to learn that everything we are going to eat will be accompanied by garlic. I know this must make my Italian wife very happy! So after hot tea and soup it was back to our tents to organize all our stuff. Better yet, cram a little here and cram a little there and leave room in the middle to sleep. It was at this point you started to feel the 16,300 feet of altitude. It was hard to catch your breath. I would lay down for a while then start to cram my stuff into more places. Some of it brought back memories of past climbs only we had two to a tent and much more cramming. Then we heard from Geljen again to come back to the dining tent for lunch. It was a nice diet of spam and cheese. Now some of you might not like spam but I really do, so this made me excited to see what I call real food. They also had some freshly made bread to go with it. My food was gone in a second and Julio doesn’t like spam so I got his! Little did I know that Geljen makes the meals so that you can eat as much as you want. So I think I might have eaten a full can. Yum. Then it was time to rest and stare at the mountain. Julio brought out his spotting telescope so that we could pinpoint all the steps and trails. It made my palms sweat looking at the summit ridge through the scope. It was so high up there and so steep. I do not think there is a way to get over looking at an 8,000 foot drop. Even worse, that I was trying to put myself in a position to be standing there in the next month. Enough. Back to my tent. Before I knew it Geljen was calling us back to the dining tent for dinner. What came out was incredible. Fanuru put together a mixed plate of an Indian curry dish with pork and a green pepper dish with chicken over rice. The presentation was right out of a SF restaurant. The sauces he used danced on my palate. Again it was all gone in 2 seconds (which is a good sign in altitude). Then Lopsang asked if I wanted more. Hell yes. This was the best food I had since I landed in Kathmandu. Then we had poached peaches for dessert. Then we filled up our water bottles, drank some more tea and headed back to the tents. We were sticking to our schedule of rising with the sun and sleeping when it goes down. My first nights sleep was hell. You can’t call it sleep if you don’t get any. I was up going to the bathroom or tossing and turning because the altitude was working on me. I believe all in toll I got 3 hours. That next morning the AMS was working on me big time. How can I explain to you what it feels like. Imagine your worst hangover and everything around you makes you feel dizzy. You have a sickening feeling in your stomach that won’t go away unless you drink or eat something of which you know will make you throw up. If you sit there in misery and don’t eat or drink you start to feel a jackhammer hit you in the back of your head. At this point you better eat or drink something because if you don’t the headache moves to the front of your head and the back of your eyes. If you are still stupid enough to not have done something about your condition you begin to throw up and your body turns to jelly. At this point there is no turning back and your climb is done so the point is to not let it develop that far. So as you can imagine, I was drinking what water I could get down. This entire climb is about how your body adjusts to the altitude. There is not one person on the mountain whom will not be affected by AMS. It is just whether you can deal with it or not. We will be here at BC for 5 days just so we can deal with the altitude. Then we will move to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) 21,000 ft and deal with the effects of AMS all over again. It is hell on wheels. Don’t ask me why I do it during a climb because many expletives will come out. After the climb all is forgotten for some reason. That is the only way you come back. If someone were to video the rest days at camps and put it on their website not a single person would ever go climbing. As my friend Megan Delahanty said to me, “When I climb, I hate going up and I love coming down”. I don’t think it can be said any other way! More later.