Monday, May 2, 2016

Camp 2 Dining Tent

So I'm not entirely sure why I headed up the mountain on April 26th. I mean, I haven't quit coughing. Anyway, in case my Internet gets cut off again as I write this, I made it to camp 1, and it was tough. It was a long seven hours up through the ice fall.

Then I had a bad Tuesday night. 8:30 PM I woke up with a headache... bad new. At midnight-thirty I went over to Sandoop and Nwang our Sherpas tent and told them I had an issue so they broke a diamox in half and gave it to me. That helped for a few hours until about 3 AM, then I more or less tossed and turned all night until it was time to get up and get going. Also, on the 26th I drank at least six liters of water, that's a lot for me, in fact, I cannot remember drinking more in a day. Perhaps during a 24 hour run, but I'm not sure. 

Anyway I was super strong going to camp 2 on the 27th. I did half of the ascent to camp 2 alone, because I was going fast. Then I did the whole descent to camp 1 alone. The next day I descended to camp 1 alone, almost at Sherpa speed, but not quite.
Dining Tent at Camp 2
Anyway, I have a terrible Internet connection, good night.

Sunday, May 1, 2016


A couple years ago my employer did Safe Start training. One of the four states of mind that leads to problems is rushing. This hit me like a sack of bricks last week when I spent three unpleasant nights in basecamp. Well, I didn’t realize I was rushing exactly until I descended and felt great. I knew that I ascended fast and that was why I was feeling poorly, but I didn’t think of it as rushing until I knew that it was beyond my limit. It’s one of those things, if it works out, you’re an efficient monster, if it fails, you’re a rushing idiot. 

It is the same way in much of life. We speed in our cars to get to a place one or two minutes earlier, usually with no consequences, until you get into an accident because you were speeding. We rush from one social appointment to another without really listening to what our friend was saying. 

It’s funny, I came here a week later than everyone else because I wanted to trying running a race before going on an expedition, something I had never tried before. Early indications are it worked. I could have probably used another day or two at sea level to recover muscularly but I am fine. However, when I got here I felt like I was playing catch up, even though my plan all along was to summit later in the season after much of the fanfare had worn away and the mountain was a little less crowded. Now I’m here and people are talking about May 5th and May 10th summits, and there is absolutely no way I will be ready to summit by then!

The lesson here is that feeling are not fact, and by rushing from one thing to the next you might not be giving each activity, or more importantly each person, including yourself, the time she or he (or you) deserve. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Next Step

I lost sight of the next step last week. I started thinking about summit pushes and rotations, and marching up the highest mountain in the world. That’s not at all how these things are climbed. It’s one step at a time. 

A couple years ago I read an article about a female Olympic skier who was a bit obsessed with the perfect ski turns. She wasn’t so much interested in being the best in the world, which she was contending for, she wanted to ski the perfect race. This is part of the reason that Steve Prefontaine has captured the minds of so many young runners, he didn’t exactly run to win, he ran to see who had the most guts. 

Depending on the outcome of this Everest season I may write a book about my journey from a slow kid in the flat lands of America to the top of the world. It’s an interesting story, and one that took place very slowly, one step, one skill at a time. As the saying goes, ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ And you can’t lose sight of that at any moment. The minute you start worrying about the big picture you quit actually doing the work to arrive at the end destination. I should clarify that.

The president of the United States has a busy calendar. I can’t imagine how many decisions he has to make on a daily basis that have serious consequences for the rest of the nation and even world. You could say that he has the ultimate big picture job. Certainly there is collateral damage economically and socially, and in humans lives, in the decisions that he makes. These decisions aren’t in a vacuum, and they often reference other decisions. Yet, each decision has to be made, one at a time, within the context that is known for that specific situation. 

A mountain is climbed one step at a time. A child is raised one moment at a time. A job is worked one task at a time. I lost sight of that, of the process, and I got sick. 
Me Descending Halfway Between Camp 1 and Camp 2 with Everest Over My Shoulder

Friday, April 29, 2016

Everest Update April 29th

Blogging is something that takes time, effort, and honestly, money. Let me tell you about the Internet situation at Everest Nepal basecamp. For starters, I have my Delorme, inReach SE, the company was recently bought by Garmin so look for some really interesting products next year from that collaboration. I’m thinking some sort of heart rate uploads during an activity, so that you can see how hard I am really working in real time via satellite. I would pay for that. Anyway, I paid $300 for my inReach SE, and this go around I am paying $65 a month for unlimited tweets and text messages instead of $35 a month for 40 tweets and texts. It uses GPS satellites to determine location and then uses Iridium satellites for communication, which means true global coverage compared to most satellite communications which use one or two satellites in geostationary orbit. Iridium has a constellation of something like 70 satellites in low earth orbit, so eventually even if I am in a crevasse or a canyon one will travel overhead and my text will get out. So that’s my primary mode of communication. It also does live tracking, which I will use when I am actually on Mt. Everest traveling between camps and of course the summit push. 

Next up is satellite Internet at basecamp, however it goes at like $10 per hour, so it’s expensive, although the speeds seem to be reasonable. All of the Asian Trekking Sherpas have unlimited access to this as part of their employment perks. 

Then is Everest Link, which is a great idea, and one which someone is making thousands of dollars off of. It costs $50/1GB of data or $30/500MB. Still rather expensive, also, it’s a little congested at times as probably 70% of western climbers seem to be using it every time I walk into a dining tent. One guy blew through 4GB uploading all his iPhone pictures to iCloud (and I’m not sure it was on purpose) and another through 1GB in two days. Needless to say despite spending thousands of dollars to be here this option doesn’t really excite me either. The nice thing is it works in basecamp, and that means I don’t have to leave my tent, and how much is that worth?

Finally, is the budget option, Ncell 3G. I paid about $33 for 10GB of data good for 90 days, the only problem is that the tower is in Gorek Shep and there is a minimum 30 minute walk to get within 3G range. There is EDGE reception in basecamp, but that doesn't allow data transfer. I use a little USB stick on my computer, so I can access the Internet from my computer. It is actually the fastest connection of them all, but again, it requires a short walk down the valley. 

Back on to the Everest climbing bit. Here is a short day by day recap of everything so far:

April 11: Arrive Kathmandu.

April 12th: Day in Kathmandu.

April 13th: Fly to Lukla, hike to Namche Bazar Camp de Base lodge at 11,300 feet. 

April 14th: Day hike to Everest View Hotel and stay in Namche again. 

April 15th: Come down with diarrhea in the night and spend another day in Namche.

April 16th: Thank God for antibiotics! I walk about 12 miles to Dingboche at 14,100 ft. and stay at the Snow Lion Lodge. 
April 17th: Hike another 10 miles to Everest basecamp. While it went well, going form 11,300 feet to 17,300 feet is incredibly ambitious. Two of my Sherpa friends that live in Kumjung elevation 12,000 feet said that they would even get sick ascending that fast. But… I have a lot of experience at these altitudes and I wanted to push it a bit to see how my body reacted.

April 18th: It didn’t react particularly well. 

April 19th: Nope, not really feeling that great at all, but surprisingly feeling okay. Certainly below average, but no need to go to a hospital or take drugs.

April 20th: The day I was supposed to arrive in basecamp I had a big headache, which for me is the sign that things are bad, so I hiked down to Dingboche and spend the night.

April 21st: I felt so good I wanted to go for a run. My headache was totally gone and my sinuses felt much better. I hiked in the afternoon up to Louche at 16,100 feet. 

April 22nd: I hiked back to basecamp to “feel” like part of the action. 

April 23rd: I hiked up to Pumori camp 1 at 18,550 feet in 94 minutes and back down in 41 minutes. I took some pictures and video and that is what I will leave you with below. 

April 24th: Hung around basecamp, pretty uneventful.

April 25th: Another day trying to be healthy at basecamp.

April 26th: Headed up the mountain at 3 AM with Sandoop, Nwang, Cristof and Andrej. It took just over seven hours from our basecamp to camp 1 and 6 hours exactly from the time we put crampons on until we reached camp 1.

April 27th: Headed up to camp 2, ate lunch there and hung out for nearly three hours, then headed back to camp 1, and the vast majority of this was hiked (climbed if you must) alone.

April 28th: Woke up at 5 AM, was walking down the mountain by 5:45 or so, alone again, and got back to our basecamp around 8:45, for a solo descent through the Khumbu icefall. 

April 29th: Hike to Gorek Shep to use cheap Ncell Internet. Also have quite the cough and some pain on my left side chest over the heart between two ribs, it hurts to take a deep breath, which is what we do up here all the time.

I'm going to set a few more blog posts for the coming days. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Why am I so Blessed?

"No, I'm not lucky, I'm blessed, yes!" - Niki Minaj in the song Moment 4 Life.

It's pretty amazing that I am here about to climb Mt. Everest, for the second time, before my 30th birthday. I met one guy from South Africa, Anthony,  a civil engineer, and when I told him how much it cost me, he said that's how much he makes in one year, with the message between the lines being that I make twice as much as him with roughly the same education. Plus, he had to quit his job to go take a few months to explore the world.

Later I met Sean, who is an administrator at a college in Sri Lanka, and he had to take out a seven year loan just to do a trek to Everest basecamp. His view was that prices in Nepal were higher than he was used to in Sri Lanka. He was maybe more interested in the upcoming US presidential election than me.

When I arrived in Lukla I took my bags over to Paradise Lodge, on the other side of the runway, and told them to arrange getting both bags to basecamp. It's pretty standard, Paradise Lodge works with Asian Trekking all the time. I didn't really expect to see my bags until basecamp, I thought they might go on a yak train some time later. So it was a surprise when I saw a red Asian Trekking bag being carried by a porter. I talked to him, as much as his 20 words of English, and my three of Nepali, made a conversation possible. Later he and the man carrying my other bag were stopped at a tea house just outside Namche so I went in and motioned as politely as I could until they both came out and we took a picture.
Satoman, Myself and Budda Sanjay
It's important to me to give visibility to all of the people that don't get recognized for making my life, and this adventure possible. It's heart breaking. Why am I the wealthy person that is doing this? I mean, it's nice that those two men are employed for a week to take my climbing equipment up to base camp, but it's a hard job for much not pay. The financial inequality between them and I is tremendous.  The thing is, they are the global working class, maybe even lower middle class. They are the truck drivers of the Khumbu valley. In many states in the USA a truck driver is the most common occupation and provides for some standard of living which is better than working for minimum wage.

Trying to solve poverty is a depressing and impossible task. We can do many difficult things, like go to the moon, or make cars that get 50 miles to the gallon, but solve poverty? It's a task where progress is made, but the finish line is never crossed.

Mount Everest in particular is a place where the richest people in the world come and do something on the backs of thousands of people less fortunate. They risk their health and their lives for the benefit of so few people. I try not to think about it too often because it makes me want to stop. When I left I 2014 I suggested that maybe I would never go on a commercial expedition again and ask high altitude porters to risk their lives for me, and the owner of the company immediately responded that no I should not do that, because many people depend on the incomes from these expeditions. I'm not saying it's charity, far from it, but there is a satisfaction in knowing that Satoman and Budda Sanjay have work because I am here. In some small way I made the local economy keep going. It's a similar "thrill" when I buy a coffee at the local coffee shop in Dubuque instead of the national chain.

"a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them..." Ecclesiastes 6:2

These are all things I draw motivation from. When I am hopefully high on Mt. Everest in May, in good health, but tired, there will be many reasons not to go for the summit. Yet, knowing how hard so many people, like the porters, the Sherpas, the cooks, my teachers and coaches over the years, and specifically my parents, have worked gives me motivation to do the best that I can. Don't interpret this to mean I am going to take any risks I don't feel comfortable with, rather it is an explanation of part of how I have mentally been able to do what I have done in the past, and what I intend to do in the future is driven. To be honest, as I write this, it takes more motivation during the event to do a 24 hour run well than climb a mountain. 

The point is: I know how blessed I am, and it makes me cry sometimes. Sometimes people are impressed that I do what I do, yet in my mind I have simply taken advantage of the opportunities that have been provided to me. As for the question, why am I so fortunate? That I do not know. I'm not a good person. I don't believe in good people. It seems to me that while I can spend a lot of time pondering that question, it is more important to use the opportunity of my blessings.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Spectrum of External Assistance (or Support)

This is the development from a conversation with my parents about motivation and how they created a culture of support for my sister and I that has been a launching pad for all of the things that we do now.
The Spectrum of External Assistance, maybe External Motivation?, maybe just Support?
I wasn’t sure what to title this, the Spectrum of External Assistance seems appropriate, but pretty vague. I would say simply Spectrum of Support, but really that’s not the best because support is a subset of the spectrum.

This started in the conversation because I told my parents that they did a great job of supporting me and not encouraging me too much and never really pushing me. To give one of the specific examples we talked about, at age 16 when I decided to hike Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert in one day, with no prior experience above 12,500 feet, they supported me, and helped facilitate the effort. Yet my parents never forced me go to Boy Scout camp or track practice.

This is a work in progress. it really just came up in about the last two weeks and I wanted to try and flesh out my thoughts a little bit. To be honest I hope that someone else can build off of it and develop it a little further. I have not done any research into this so there are probably already books out there about this exact spectrum. This is just my parents and my idea. 

What really got me interested in this two weeks ago was the concept of support versus encourage. Having spent some amount of time around youth sports I can easily say that many parents do not do a good job of allowing their children to develop their own interests, or allowing the simple concept of fun drive the child’s involvement in activities. 

This is important because people respond differently to different levels of support. Some people need to be pushed, others just need a little support, and in other cases sabotaging someone’s effort only makes them work harder, although that’s a rare one. So thinking of how we fall along this spectrum of assistance to others might help us be more aware of our impact on others, both positive and negative.

Here are some examples of a “friend” providing some mental and physical assistance to a person.

Person: “I just bought a new bicycle!”
Friend: “Yeah I noticed a flat tire on the way in.” (Because the “friend” let the air out of a tire.)

Person: “I just bought a new bicycle!”
Friend: “Yeah and you’re going to look good in spandex too.” (Because almost no one actually looks good in spandex.)

Person: “I just bought a new bicycle!”
Friend: “I suppose that means you are going to spend less time hanging out with your non-cycling friends like me?”

Person: “I just bought a new bicycle!”
Friend: “That’s great! You might even be able to commute to work sometimes and save some gas money.”

Person: “I just bought a new bicycle!”
Friend: “Good for you! Have you signed up to ride any centuries or a triathlon yet?”

Friend: “Have you been gaining weight? You need to get a bicycle and ride an hour a day, seriously.”

Friend: “I bought you a bicycle, and you are going to ride it, regardless of the weather and I am going to make sure that you do.”

What sticks out to me as I tried to make these examples is that at either end of the spectrum it’s not a very positive experience. Maybe this needs to be a two dimensional graph, kind of like my political circle I made a few years ago.

Really, this graph is about how someone like you or I assist and support other people, and not about the other person, it’s how each one of us is supportive towards that person and that activity. In other words, support is directly in the middle, either you support the person and activity or not. However, at either end of the spectrum you think you know better than that person what is good for him or her. To go back to parenting, yeah, I suppose sometimes you have to force your kids to get in the car or sabotage their ability to get access to alcohol. Frankly, parents do know best much of the time, but I would say not all the time. For example, despite not even having a girlfriend, I worry that I will push my kids to run and mountaineer and they will hate it, despite the fact I can’t imagine them being bad at those two things. It would be easy for me to encourage so hard I push them to do it, and even force the family to do this kind of stuff on vacations. Of course, the fact I am worried about it probably eliminates the chance that it would ever get to that point, but still I worry.

As I return to Mt. Everest right now I remember the past two years, and I have had every response from belittling me for doing this, to pushing me to go back, although most people fall into the middle, mostly supportive, some encouraging, and a handful bargaining. 

Food for thought. My opinion is we need more support and encouragement in this world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Why Do We Climb 8000 Meter Peaks?

I asked this question of Fabrizio Zangrilli back in 2009 when he was on I think his fourth K2 expedition. He said, “it’s an addiction.” It’s a stark thing for a 23 year old to hear. I mean I still liked to think that I did this because it was fun and the purpose of going after higher and taller mountains gave me a positive, even constructive, hobby. But admitting it was an addiction, that’s like saying you don’t have control, it’s like saying that the choice isn’t even mine to make. 

My climbing inspires people. That’s nice, but sometimes I wish it did not. The movie Everest had a nice scene at basecamp where Jon Krakauer asks 37 minutes into the movie, “it hurts, it’s dangerous, it destroys relationships, it’s costing you all a small fortune…I gotta ask the question, you know I do, why?” It’s a good question, and to quote George Mallory, “Because it’s there!” Which is actually a decent response because it is really asking the question, what is possible? You could say the same about why we went to the moon, because it’s there. Why have immigrants been flooding to the USA for the last 400 years, because it’s there. In other words, I would rather say, because I want to know what is possible. A good argument against my particular jaunt up the South Col on Everest is that it has been done, thousands of times, what is there to doubt about it being possible? My answer is, how can we attempt the “impossible” which is to say, that which has never been done, unless we first do what is possible, or what has been done?

To springboard off of the Everest movie again, when Beck and Doug are at camp 3 Beck mentions 47 minutes in that, “When I’m at home, I’ve just got this big black cloud following me, you know like a depression? And when I’m out here, on a mountain, any mountain, it’s just like it’s a cure. I feel like I’m reborn.” When my sister and I saw the movie in September she commented, “Isaiah, that’s you.” So I’ve spent the last six months thinking about that... 

I will not admit to having depression. However, I will readily admit that many of the life experiences I have had, like unemployment in 2010 or the avalanche on Mt. Everest in 2014, have been deeply sad and very unhappy, in other words, depressing. 

Diverging for a minute, motivation is a balance between the push and the pull, running away from something we fear and running towards something we hope to be. Depression, “the black cloud”, is the fear, it is the law (in the Christian terms of the law and the gospel), it is death. A mountain is a way to actually climb out of the dark valley and into the light. The light is hope, joy (ha! reference to Inside Out that Pixar movie), the Christian gospel, and really, love. We are all caught in between the two somewhere.

Climbing a mountain can be thought of as a metaphor, climbing from the darkness of depression into the bright light of hope, which is actually what you do when climbing many mountains, start in the dark down in a valley. Which brings up another aspect, achievement, accomplishment, dare I say success. 

There are many achievements in life that go unnoticed. Employee recognition is a developing area of business. In the past you were paid twice a month and that was your recognition. It seems more and more that people want to be recognized for the specific work that they do. That perspective could be totally off base, because it’s based on my limited engineering career.  Still, when I publish a blue print of something, it’s a big sense of accomplishment, but for every one compliment for publishing that blue print I had to hear three times each from five different people how I needed to hurry up and publish it. On the other hand climbing a mountain is concrete. It happened. You were there. Whatever happens after that, doesn’t change the fact that you climbed that mountain. The same can be said about running, once you run a marathon, even if it takes more than a day, you are now a marathoner for the rest of your life. When I go back and revise a blue print that I just revised six months ago, it feels like the blue print will never be done in the way a mountain is climbed or a marathon is finished.

Another reason, not to be discounted, is that we have prior mountain climbing experience. Five of my current climbing partners and I have been climbing together for four years. One recently said out loud that he was interested in doing Mt. Everest before he was 35 (something like 7 years or so to go). Unfortunately, there is only one highest mountain above sea level in the world, and as climbers go from day hikes to overnight mountains, like Mt. Rainier with it’s summit 9,000 feet above the parking lot, they start to wonder about the bigger mountains. That’s the nature of experience, to use what you know to do a few percent more than you did last time. Sad to say in September last year I found the Disappointment Cleaver route on Mt. Rainier to have the same technical difficulty as Broad Peak up to 7000 meters at camp 3. Granted the exposure wasn’t quite as big, and it’s way easier to breathe at 14,000 feet than 23,000 feet, but the actual steepness of the steepest parts was very similar, and the crevasses on Mt. Rainier are bigger than those on the standard route on Broad Peak up to 7000 meters. 

We always seem to search for "deep" answers, but like any question that we can talk about and come up with answers, really, we could sum up the answer in the way a five year old describes playing in one word, “fun!” Why make climbing a mountain out to be something it is not? Personally, referring to this expedition as my vacation, and my fun, seems more appropriate to me than making it out to be some dramatic noble effort.

The hard part is how to reconcile that fun with the tragedy that accompanies mountaineering. When I left Nepal in 2014 after 16 Sherpas had died carrying loads up through the ice fall, it took five months before I was ready to consider going back. After so much death, and I was just 24 hours away from being under that avalanche, it seems pointless. To be fair, in a way it is pointless because physically nothing is changed because I went to the top of a mountain. Although that is my mechanical engineering background speaking there, that something has to physically change for it to make a difference. I don’t believe that, but it’s important for me to recognize that idea when I have it. In other words, value does not only come from physical change, but also from mental, emotional or spiritual changes as well. The problem is physical change is so obvious that it is so much harder to see the other changes. 

Thousands of Americans go to Africa every year on “mission” trips. They are going to “help” the African people. However, for example, most Peace Corp. projects fail at their physical goal. What I learned from visiting Rwanda in 2013 what that we Americans don’t go to Africa to help the locals, we go to help ourselves. We may think we are going to help them, but the lasting changes are in our heads, and our hearts. So it is the same with climbing a mountain. We don’t change the mountain, and the locals near the mountain typically aren’t greatly impacted by any one person, but for those of us that made the journey, our lives have changed. I know the change from climbing a mountain can be beneficial. For example I have taken a number of people into the mountains and their confidence always comes out much greater on the other side. It has strengthened many of my relationships because it allows us to share both a stressful event (the difficulty of the climb and descent) and a happy event (the summit or views in general) together. The mountains are humbling too. People may have images of mountaineers triumphantly marching up to the summit, but more often it’s a slow unrhythmic shuffle, while we worry about the weather and gasp for breath. You can’t see confidence, humility, or a deeper bond, but I guarantee they are real changes. 

So there, what’s 90 minutes of writing about why I, or we, climb 8000 meter peaks. 

"A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?" Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 In this case the reference to "work" means mountain climbing to me, despite the fact I pay to do it, it is one of my skills, it is like an art to me.