Saturday, May 1, 2010
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.