Friday, April 25, 2014

Mt. Everest 2014 South Side Basically Over

Well, that’s it. There is a Russian team left, because the mountain is officially open, and Russians have a reputation to uphold. Everyone else, all the major guided teams are out. Why? The short answer is the physical safety of everyone going above base camp can not be assured because of threats from a small number of local high altitude workers. The long answer is more complicated and I don’t have the energy to share it now.

Saturday we trek out. We are going out over Mera Peak, which apparently is like 6380 meters, or around 21,000 feet. I’ll be honest, I don’t really care how high it is. It’s depressing, I came here to see how high I could walk and breathe or climb and breathe and now we are trekking out over a little mountain, that while tall, is something like 8,000 feet shy of the top of Chomolungma. I think it will take around 7-10 days to get to Lukla (five would be better) and then we fly out depending on the weather. 

What’s next? Well, I will change my flights to leave Nepal almost six weeks early. Then I plan to stop by Pune, India to meet some friends and coworkers in person for one or two days, then back to Chicago. However, It was a fair amount of work getting more than two months off from work, and I am very acclimated, so I’m going to go climb something else. I'm still in a state of disbelief that I came all the way here, I have been to 18,500 feet twice, I am healthy and I have only worn my crampons for two hours of practice on the glacier beside our   base camp.

My first choice is Aconcagua in Argentina, it’s not the right season, it’s fall down there and wind is an issue, but I would like to talk to a few of my resources to see if a solo on the normal route is possible this time of year. I’m really strong right now, all I need is like two days of good weather. I’m also open to Ecuador, Peru or Bolivia climbing because I speak Spanish and I’ve just never been down to those mountains. 

Second choice is Europe, specifically, Chamonix. Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, the Eiger, who knows what else. The issue is that those mountains are low enough that being acclimated won’t help as much as being in great technical shape, and I’m not in the best steep technical shape right now. Plus, Europe has never really thrilled me as the place to go alone, I mean, it seems romantic to me.

Either way I will still end up back in the states by the end of May. This is depressing. I’ve been planning for years to come here. I am here, I’m fit, I’m healthy the weather has been mostly great, there was a tragedy and most of the high altitude workers demands were met, thanks in part to media pressure, yet there are more demands and then threats. Dawa Steven Sherpa, our expedition leader and owner of Asian Trekking has offered us a generous deal to come back in the next few years, but I really am not planning on coming back next year. The number of sacrifices I had to make to be here right now... I’m not coming back until this place is somewhat more organized than it is now. A small part of me says I don’t even want to come back. I don’t know. I’ve changed my mind many times before and I’ll change it again. Part of me says that Nepal is so concerned about this incident that next year will be flawless and only about climbing. I don't know. 

There is a lot more to say in the future, but my fingers are getting cold on the 3G rock. Until later friends, stay safe!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Many Sherpas Are Striking

The situation is escalating. A few days ago most of the climbing Sherpa community came up with a list of 13 demands, from the government. Every year in the mountains high altitude workers die, it is part of the job, just like mining, forestry or fishing. While the pay is good for Nepal ($4500-7000 for two months of work) there are no benefits. When the chief breadwinner in the family dies, who is left to pick up the bills? This has been brewing for years. It just happened that a 16 person tragedy happened this year, so it has all come to a head. 

I won’t say most Sherpas are striking, and even using the term Sherpa is not the most appropriate as high altitude worker is more appropriate because there are other ethnic groups represented from other valleys. The number seems to be around 300 people that are gathering and voicing concern about their benefits and effectively closing the mountain. 

The ice fall doctors (SPCC?) have been given one week (now six days) to remove the ladders in the ice fall or the strikers will send volunteers up to take the ladders down. We were told that without the ice fall doctors, the mountain cannot effectively be summited. (I beg to differ, I happen to think I am the strongest I have ever been at altitude before and the arrogant American that I am I happen to think that if this route can be soloed, I am that man this year.) 

The problem is, most of the people striking, are paid on commission based on number of load carries to camps 2, 3 and 4. Our Sherpas, in Asian Trekking, are on salary with benefits, and are not taking part in the “mob”. This is complicated. These people paid on commission want to go home, in fact some of the most vocal live in Kathmandu and are more political, however they can’t go home and save face if anyone stays on the mountain. 

We, Asian Trekking, are staying. We are here to climb, it’s dangerous, we, and that means I, could die. I don’t know what the 13 demands were, but my guess is they are reasonable. Also staying are IMG and Himex, effectively the three largest teams. 

This is where the real conflict comes into view, between the high altitude workers and the government. I, and every other Everest climber, paid $10,000 to get a permit to climb this hill. Where does that money go? Where is the insurance or pension? This has been brewing every time a local here dies. Now that 16 perished in one day, it’s time to make some changes. 

Today is Wednesday, six days from the accident. No government worker has come up from Kathmandu to discuss the workers requests. Of the approximately 50 liaison officers supposed to be with their expeditions in base camp, only three are here. So those are the two things I am requesting, both on my blog and in an email I just sent to the US Embassy in Kathmandu.
  1. At least half of the liaison officers come to base camp and moderate and document the requests of the high altitude workers to calm the discussion and give it a professional atmosphere instead of being described, by a Sherpa in base camp as a “mob”. 
  2. Someone from the government with authority, negotiate with the Sherpas. I realize that this may be viewed as a simple labor dispute, not worthy of the government’s time, so I give the following appeal: Nepal, I don’t like being forced to go to your Pujas when I am a Christian. I saved money for three years to afford this, it is the most expensive thing I have ever bought. I had a wonderful experience in Pakistan, and it cost me around 40% as much. If I can’t climb this mountain this year, I’m not returning. 
There you have it. If we can’t climb, if we get kicked out of base camp, I don’t know what I will do. I came here to test myself on the highest mountain in the world. I don’t want to go to Alaska and climb a 20,000 ft mountain. It’s too early to go to Pakistan and try an 8000 meter peak there. Considering all the trouble we’re having in Nepal at the moment, I’m pretty much either Everest or bust. This could, and probably all will, change in the next few days. Not to mention I’m banned from China as an American climber at the moment.

I read this aloud to my teammates, and their two comments were to make sure I had 50 liaison officers instead of 15 (which I did) and to comment on me being an arrogant American thinking I could solo the route.

The situation is tenuous. While I don't feel in any danger, Asian Trekking, IMG and Himex are all together on the lower side of base camp while most of the drama is taking place on the upper side of base camp. I feel that if I tried to climb the route now, or even make a fuss in the upper side of base camp at the wrong time, I might not be as safe. Right now I'm sitting in a lodge in Gorak Shep and people are laughing and even singing like nothing is wrong. That is how it always is though, isn't it? I stuck my head out the window video taping as we drove through Abbottobad past Osama Bin Laden's house in 2009, I had no idea. Last year in Rwanda we were maybe 20 miles away from the war zone in the Congo, and you would have no idea. 

Welcome to my life. 

Finally, as I mentioned yesterday, please donate to The Juniper Fund, which provides assistance to families of those killed in the mountains. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Everest Ice Fall Incident 2014

Written Friday the 18th, but not published until I have 3G access in Gorak Shep today:

Wow, this is so bad. This is the worst mountaineering disaster in the history of Mt. Everest. It will take some time to figure out (I’m thinking Mt. Rainer avalanche in like 1986, or some of the early avalanches like 1950 Annapurna, and Manaslu 2012) if it is the worst, but it’s bad. There may be as few as 5500 Sherpa people in the Everest valley, and that is where the majority of climbing Sherpas come from. As of 4:30 PM Nepal time Friday, the confirmed death count was 13, with three still missing (missing = really really low chances of survival). Added to that there were several critically wounded and a number of walking wounded. One Sherpa even broke his femur and then still managed to descend 200 meters on his own power. 

Heros for the day include Jason, the high altitude helicopter pilot who flew a constant 7 or 8 hour day at altitudes from 17,000 to 20,000. You try doing that. Also, Melissa Arnot, who was transported to the scene of the disaster and helped triage the wounded and transport the deceased. 

This affects everyone. I have heard that on one of the small teams three of their six Sherpas died. On two larger teams five Sherpas both died. Our team, Asian Trekking, Eco-Everest 2014 came through totally unscathed, physically. Mentally, 16 people just died while I was drinking hot chocolate this morning in the same location I was supposed to be on Saturday! Honestly, it’s easy for me. I didn’t know any of the deceased. But for the Sherpas, all of the Sherpas, this is a little valley, everyone knows someone affected. Roughly .3% of the valley, let alone the 20-40 year old male portion of the valley, just died. 

What happened, as I have heard is that there was a ladder crossing a crevasse or ascending  something, and there was a queue of people waiting at the bottom of the ladder. A serac fell, and boom, just like that it was over for many of them. We heard the avalanche in base camp, but to be honest, didn’t think much of it aside from the fact it was in the direction of the ice fall. However, as I was talking with Melissa and other teammates, a radio call came through and the paramedic that she is left the dining tent, not to return until the middle of the afternoon. 

After lunch I walked up to the helicopter pads and watched. Yes, I took a few pictures and some video. You are not going to see any of it. The video I took next to the helicopter, when I was 20 feet away and they put a body in, I turned around and walked away crying. Another video, the high altitude helicopter pilot was carrying a body on a rope below the helicopter and the man’s arms and legs were splayed out. It was sickening. 

Written Monday the 21st around noon:

I am sure you have heard by now, 16 people died due to a serac falling, with three unrecovered. While we may call it an avalanche, this is about as far from a US powder avalanche that you can get. Think of a ten story building, made of solid ice, that falls over. For those people under it, that's it. 

We all knew this could happen eventually. The Kumbu ice fall is a deadly place and people die in it all the time, but never 16. This is the worst disaster in Everest history. Period. 16 people die on April 18th. 

Not to be callous, we 8000 meter climbers are maybe type T personalities. Death happens. It affects us, but we keep going. However, there is an interesting dynamic at play right now. We clients, western climbers, are here by choice. We pay to come here and test ourselves. The Sherpas, the people that carry our loads, set up our tents, cook for us, set up the ropes on the mountain, they are here because they are paid 10-15 times the average annual Nepali salary to do this for two months. When a tragedy like this happens they are justifiably concerned that their loved ones are not taken care of. There is no $200,000 life insurance policy for these workers. 

The comment has been made that it would have been more appropriate that it was an even mix of Sherpas and western clients. I certainly won't argue with that thought, but in a way this is the defining event for the climbing Sherpa community. 

Just so that I acknowledge it, the incident last year [that may have painted Sherpas in a negative light] in my mind was due to a couple of people [both western and Sherpa] in stressful situations that had tempers flare and said and did things that in the moment seemed like a good idea. Haven't we all done things we regretted the next day when we were stressed?

Now, I may not have all the story, but from what I understand Easter Sunday the Sherpas had three meetings, with up to 300 climbing Sherpas attending and they came up with a list of 13 requests. One of which was that 30% of the climbing fee be dedicated to a life insurance and retirement pension fund for the climbing Sherpas. Considering I paid $10,000 for the fee to climb Mt. Everest and next year it is going up to $11,000, and, I am not sure where that $3,000,000 goes every year, I totally agree with the Sherpas. 

It's worth saying that when we had news of the avalanche, probably 60% of the people in base camp were asleep in their tents. I was awake, but I have been waking up around 5:30 AM without an alarm. So using the word, "escaped" to describe what was a dull murmur 1.5-2 miles away from me, and most of us at base camp, is not the best word. Had the serac fallen the next day… well I might have been under it along with a slew of other western climbers. I have always known, since probably 2002, before I even decided I wanted to try Everest, that the Kumbu ice fall was an unpredictably deadly place. In my opinion life in the US is so sanitized and safe, that we have lost some appreciation and acceptance of risk. I certainly don't seek risk, I think bungee jumping is stupid. I don't even speed when I drive most of the time. I rarely rarely check my phone when I drive too because I've swerved seemingly every time I do check it. Sorry, I'm rambling. 

 What does the future hold this season on Everest? I have no idea. Climbing is closed through Friday. Those of us on the Asian Trekking Eco-Everest 2014 that did not go climb Lobuche East are going to do that tomorrow. If possible I think Adventure Consultants has some tents near the top (about 20,000 feet) that we might use. This probably means I'm out another grand, but what else are you going to do? (Well I did just demolish the speed record on the Kalla Pattar weather station by 11 minutes. 1500 vertical feet from 17,000 to 18,500 in like 32 minutes. It's on Strava if you want to check, average heart rate 174!)

We are all stunned that this happened so early in the season. 16 people dying on April 18th. I have some pictures and video, but I'm not going to share it. It's not gore, but it's personal. There were people that were probably laughing eating breakfast early Good Friday. We climbers sometimes talk of the brotherhood of the rope. When you tie in with someone, you are seriously trusting your life to them. It creates a strong bond. Even if I didn't know any of the people killed or injured, they were my friends. I'm tearing up just writing this. 

Everest From Kalla Pattar Weather Station April 21, 2014
So things are in flux. Buying that inReach was a good idea, I like sending satellite texts from wherever I am. So I will keep you updated on where I am. Again, I think this is a defining moment for the true workers on Everest. When every single person that dies, is a Sherpa… It's not a good situation.

While we western people are being encouraged to be patient and stay out of the discussion at the moment, I want to make a difference. Melissa Arnot, one of the people I view as a hero in the situation, although she would never say she is, started a charity a few years ago, The Junpier Fund, to educate the children of workers killed on the mountain. Just imagine, 16 bread winners in one day, 17 Sherpas so far this season, have been killed on the mountain, and many, if not most of them have wives and children. I encourage you to give something to The Juniper Fund. (On a side note I am trying to get a charity started, Sustainable South Sudan, but it takes a lot of work to get a charity off the ground.) 

This mountain is different than any other mountain I have climbed. Normally, I do the climbing, I carry the gear, I set up the tent, I use the stove, I place the gear. Here we have 20 climbing Sherpas and 14 cook staff, plus a team doctor and expedition leader, all for 15 client climbers. I never directly asked for this system, but I paid for it with my checkbook. We had Sherpas just 30 minutes ahead of the serac fall in camp one, they escaped while I had hot chocolate in base camp. Talk about guilt.

Well, I'm still here. I would still like to climb this mountain, but there are things at stake more important than my selfish, arrogant, and egotistical summit ambitions.  I have not planned to return to work in Iowa until Monday, June 9th so I'm here. If you donate to The Juniper Fund, thank you! This is very much a story in progress. Thank you for your prayers! There is nothing more important. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jesus Loves Me: Part 1

I told this to numerous people before I left for Everest, but I didn’t share it with everyone. In light of recent events in my life, I feel the need to share it. In the event that I die over here there is one thing worth remembering about me: Jesus love me. Everything else is insignificant in comparison. 

Sure, I like to imagine that all that other stuff I have done has made a positive dent in the world, but ultimately, it’s not about me and all that I have learned and all that I have done. That’s it. If you want more information, and you managed to find my blog I’m sure you can find other references.

Part 2 is with my family, to be published if I die, or maybe I will publish it if I summit. It’s not the most kind article. (Sometimes you just need to write that angry email, and then delete it without sending it.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Little Side Hike

[I wrote this on the 17th, so in light of the events of the 18th, it may seem callous and insensitive considering the tragedy that happened, but it is part of the story.]

We hiked up to “high camp” or “camp 1” on Pumori Wednesday, April 16th. It was really nice, both to get some extra acclimatization and for the view of Everest. Unfortunately, you can’t see the top of Everest, or much of the route from base camp. We hiked up to 18,500 feet on the side of the mountain, and it was a nice pleasant scramble, only class three because of our impatience to find the second class route. I felt strong and ended up being the first up and the first down. I did wear tights over my running shorts, a light windbreaker, and cycling jersey instead of a backpack, so in the traditional mountaineering sense, I cheated.

In my mind, to attempt to walk, scramble and “jumar” up to 29,035 feet without using a tank of fuel (oxygen) the lower elevations have to be easy. 18,500 feet must be a piece of cake, and I can tell you it was. I was obviously tired because I am not acclimated yet I put one foot in front of the other and next thing you know I did the 1,200 vertical feet in about 90 minutes, which is not fast, but for an unacclimated person, I’ll take it. Then on the descent it was a mere 31 minutes down to the yak trail to Everest base camp. I won’t say I ran at 18,000 feet, but it was an awfully fast hike. 
Me At 18,500 Feet on the side of Pumori with Everest and South Col in the Backgorund

The bad news is, I went a little too hard, with my heart rate often in the 145-160 range that I have a slightly sore throat. I talked to our expedition doctor and he said that because it did not hurt to swallow and I was not coughing, I didn’t even warrant any cough drops. I think this goes to an athletes perspective on health. We are hyperaware of any tiny imperfection, yet at the same time, have the perseverance to walk 40 miles, hike and do a little ice climbing on a broken toe for two weeks. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Bad Day in the Ice Fall

Well, I might as well cover this because everyone else will be. There was an avalanche in the Kumbu ice fall around 5 AM (maybe a little before) this morning, and a number of people were caught in it and died. No one from Asian Trekking, Sherpa or client, was injured, although we did have Sherpas in camp 2 who are assisting with the rescue and recovery effort.

I believe that it was Sherpas that were caught in the avalanche, and the number of missing is in the mid to high single digits. I will delay publishing this article for several hours so that there is time to contact the loved ones. I realize that the amount of detail I have given is scant, and may likely worry others more, but the key take away for my loved ones at the moment is that everyone from my expedition is safe.

We all know the risks in this endeavor. It is shocking how many people have died thus far. I worry that this could end up being the most deadly season on Everest. No one has even been to camp 3 yet, and camp 4 and above is traditionally where the climb is most deadly.

In short, today is Good Friday. For those of you Christians out there, please say a prayer for us and the families of the deceased. That this may be a safe season with no more tragedies.
Helicopter and Crowd at Upper Side of Base Camp
Me Using 3G to Share the Story

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Expedition Philosophy and Drinking Game

Success on a big mountain, in my limited experience, comes down in large part to showing up in great shape and then being
obsessive about staying healthy and hydrated. On top of that there is also some genetic factor, but since you can't control your genes you have to play the cards you are dealt.

I woke up Tuesday with a small headache, despite drinking half a liter of water after I went to bed, and being hydrated when I went to bed. My first cup of coffee in two weeks quickly made me feel like superman again and I have a feeling a lot of my headache woes the last two weeks have been due to caffine withdraw rather than the altitude. Regardless, every day I play a drinking game with myself. It is very simple:
- If I drink 5 liters (of water, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, tang, etc.) I win
- If I drink 4 liters it is a draw
- If I drink 3 liters I lose

The picture above is the helicopter this morning taking two of our members down to Kathmandu. One was a trekker, who will not be returning and one is a climber with a minor issue that will be returning. I won't go into more detail than that except to say they will both be 100% in two days according to my estimation, so minor issues. Yet, the seriousness of taking a helicopter ride out of BC is not lost on me.
So I eat and drink and drink some more. I feel that things like a cough, headache, tiredness often have more to do with dehydration than the altitude. The problem is that life is hard up here. It was 8F in my tent when I woke up this morning, probably colder outside. The air is very cold and with the cold comes low humidity and thus every breath is dehydrating. A minor issue on a two hour winter long run is devastating when my resting heart rate is 80 (unacclimated) and jumps to 110 walking 30 meters to the dining tent.

I am very thankful to have the references and mentors that I have learned from. I have no cough, after a cup of coffee I have no headache, as we said in Boy Scouts I am clear and copious. "Strong" would be the wrong word to describe me, but I am certainly not weak at the moment. 

It looks like tax day is going to be a beautiful sunny day here! Yesterday was the Nepali new year and it looks to be a good one. Rumor has it there are 299 western climbers on the south side this year and 16% women. Our expedition has 25% women on the permit. Climbing Sherpas, I don't know, maybe 500? 

If you are going to do something, do it all the way. If you are going to run the steeplechase, win the thing! If drinking an extra four cups of tea and "hot lemon" (it's like instant hot lemonade) every day is the difference between success even though I am not thirsty, that is an insignificant sacrifice to make. I am so blessed that not giving my all is a failure. It's a process, like anything, if you do all you can and you still fail on paper, well then you know how not to succeed. The next time you will do better after learning from the experience. Have fun! Enjoy the spring weather not on Mt. Everest!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Finally at Base Camp!

Monday the 14th at noon we pulled into base camp!! Now the real expedition can begin. 
Just before Everest Base Camp
Here is a picture of base camp as seen from 15 minutes outside. We, Asian Trekking (Eco-Everest 2014) are the lowest camp on the glacier. That means less climbers going past us in the night, potentially more tourists stopping in our dining tent, and a slightly longer walk to the crampon point where the real climbing begins.

Personally, I'm not acclimated at all. In the space of one week I went from basically Denver to 17,300 feet. That takes it out of a person. Going back in time:
April 5th - 4200 ft Kathmandu
April 6th - 4200 ft Kathmandu
April 7th - 6500 ft I forget the name...
April 8th - 11,000 ft Namche Bazaar
April 9th - 11,000 ft Namche Bazaar
April 10th - 12,600 ft Tengboche
April 11th - 14,100 ft Dingboche (I tried to Tweet a picture of the inside of the lodge, but I'm bandwidth limited at the moment.)
April 12th - 14,100 ft Dingboche
April 13th - 16,100 ft Lobuche
Lobuche, 16,100 ft. 
April 14th - 17,300 ft Base Camp

That's a fast ascent in my book. That being said, aside from lethargy of acclimating, and a couple very minor headaches, probably more due to caffeine withdraw than the altitude.

I am just amazed how well things are set up here in the Everest region in Nepal. I totally did things backwards. I have not had to sleep in a tent until tonight, at base camp. This place is way more luxurious than Pakistan. I'm guessing it's more luxurious than Alaska and Argentina as well. Yet for some reason, I went to the most rugged place for my first expedition, Pakistan.

The plan is to have Ncell 3G service in base camp, however, it must have been a rough winter, and the tower is down. The rumor is 3-4 days until they fix it, so a week or so most likely. Since today is the free pass over satellite Internet day, it maybe be a week before I log another blog post. It will be just be Tweets from my inReach SE.

Tentatively, our Puja is scheduled for April 17th, which means no climbing for climbers from our expedition above BC until at least the 18th. Our Sherpas had a Puja a few days ago so they are approved to climb above BC. It's worth noting, we went to a Lama, in a town I can't remember between Tengboche and Dingboche, and I was the only one of our entire expedition not to get blessed by the Lama. I consider myself a Christian, and while the "rules" for conduct for being a Christian might be interpreted differently by people, the first commandment is "You shall have no other gods before me." I didn't feel like paying $5 to be blessed by the Lama. So, I suppose, I'm being a little different in that respect. It's not enough for me to want to climb without supplemental oxygen, I'm not getting blessed by the Lama either.

I've got lots of great pictures and videos, but of course using satellite Internet, and a dozen people using it means no more pictures. When they get the cell tower back working I'll get more media uploaded because I have plenty of GB of data, but until then, settle for text messages.

I realize I'm changing subjects frequently, Sherpas are not invincible. One died already this year, like I mentioned before, my guess is he ascended too quickly and there was some other pulmonary issue going on. The air quality, specifically in Kathmandu, is not good at all. Aside from that incident, I hiked a fair amount of time with a 27 year old Sherpa with four Everest summits to his name and while he was carrying 50 lbs. to my 8 lbs., at the same pace he was breathing like he was running a race. Same for a 39 year old Sherpa with two summits. I will hold off on more opinions for now, suffice to say, I was expecting, naively, super athletes, but the reality is something different.

Other than that, I met some really nice young ladies from Australia and the UK. It's funny, people expect that since I'm climbing Mt. Everest, that I would have everything in my life together. I'm still intimidated talking to attractive women. I've been rejected so many times, that so often I feel, 'what's the point?' It's the same with the rest of my life, I have plenty of student loans, a falling apart van, and I really struggle to give my existing relationships the attention they deserve. How's that for philosophy from 17,000 feet?

Overall, things are going really really well! I uploaded my hiking to Strava (the temperature is messed up it was in the 40s not the 100s) and my position is updated on the Delmore page. Only 10k worth of hiking and climbing to go! I'm healthy, I'm fit, and it's not best to compare to other people I realize, but wow, I am so ready for this!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hiking the Tourist Route

For the record, I'm spending close to an hour writing and uploading each of these blog posts. It's not an issue, because I have close to four hours between now and when we eat supper, but it does take time and there are no guarantees that as I get up the valley I will have the time, energy, cell or wireless service, or power to run my laptop for an hour.

We hiked up from Namche to the Hotel Everest View, which is where the rich people fly into to get a view of Mt. Everest. The picture below is from the parking lot in front of the hotel.
Parking Lot in Front of Hotel Everest View
If you go directly above the red and yellow helicopter the relatively shallow mountain with a lot of spindrift to the right of it is Everest. Unfortunately, this might be about as good of a view from far away as I ever get.
Patio of the Hotel Everest View
This view is from the back of the hotel off the patio. Our Sherpas are in the foreground and the members of our team are near the edge of the patio. My iPhone died soon after, and most other pictures will take even more effort to upload, so that's all you get in pictures for today.

We walked down to a local village, who's name escapes me. There we looked at one of the first Hillary schools, then we went to the local hospital, also started by Edmund Hillary, and finally the monastery that has the yeti scalp. All things I have heard of just a 15 minute walk from each other. I would write more and go into more detail, but my Garmin is giving me trouble. (Dear Garmin, my Fenix has a Garmin and Garmin Fenix folder, and won't save activities, this is a problem.) Plus, I'm getting bugged to play cards. So I'm off for the day.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Journey to Namche Bazaar

We made it to Namche Bazaar by about 9 AM Tuesday morning. I roomed with the T's (for those that don't normally read my blog, unless I ask permission, or you have your own website, and thus positively acknowledge publicity in some way, I don't like to post names, but rather initials), two of the camera crewmen from Germany and Austria. We woke up at 4:45 to go down and watch the Mi-8 take off on it's first flight. Here is a nice panorama I took this morning just before it got started.
Watching the Mi-8 Prepare at 5:27 AM Tuesday
About an hour later, at about 7, after they put the seats in, we boarded and took off on my first ever helicopter flight, complete with Russian pilots. From the time the engines were turned on in Jiri until they were turned off at Namche, was only about 25 minutes. The best part: I have the whole thing in one continuous video clip video!

We landed at 11,800 feet and then walked down to 10,900 at our hotel, Camp De Base. This place is so posh. We have wifi, paid for by Asian Trekking. Nice hardwood floors, padded seats, carpet in our rooms. Legitimate mattresses (maybe three inches thick, but still), blankets and basically sun up to sun down coffee, tea, water, crackers, and all manner of snacks available to buy (I just had a snickers).
Nepali Tea (aka Chai aka  Black Tea with Milk) at Cafe 8848 in Namche Bazaar
It's worth mentioning I slipped and fell twice on the walk down to Namche. My Inov8 shoes might not be grippy enough. I was also troubled that we were walking so slowly. I've spent so much time running in the mountains and on trails since roughly 2010, that simply walking, in regular shoes on a trail with a tiny backpack feels awkward.

The rest of the day we walked around Namche, met up with our teammate from Belgium, who cycled here. Yes, he cycled to Nepal, through Russia and China, from Belgium. Obviously, I will tell more about him later. We went to see a movie about Sherpas, and the challenges they face carrying loads. It followed a German expedition in 2008. Sad part to the story, Gianni, a climber without supplemental oxygen died on descent from the summit. He started doing things that did not make sense, like unclipping from the rope. I am unclear if there were any warning signs, according to the movie, apparently not. That is something that really scares me, losing my mind without any warning.  If I have a headache, or cold fingers and toes, we have a problem, I can go down, but if I start being irrational, without any warning signs, all bets are off. It's never happened to me before, but it is always the unknown that gets up. Who would guess frayed wiring during the plugs out test on Apollo 1 would lead to catastrophic fire? No one really did.
After Landing at the Airstrip above Namche Bazaar
To finish off for the day, I Tweeted this picture earlier, but as I looked at it on my feed hours later, it's just amazing! I think, 'wow! I wish I was there! Oh, I was… I took that picture. This is really happening. I'm really here. I AM CLIMBING MOUNT EVEREST!!!'

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Drive to Jiri

I am now in Jiri, Monday night. We had a more or less pleasant drive over the mountains today from about 8 AM until about 5 PM on narrow, pot-holed and dusty roads. Just another day in the office right? Honestly, in my opinion things have been going really well. All but one of us are healthy. The food has been good. The scenery reminds me of Rwanda in terms of terraced hills, but these are maybe 2-3 times taller. It's worth noting I've been here three days so far and have not seen the mountains aside from the flight into Kathmandu.
Map with Monday's Travel Locations and Everest
Some history, the first successful expedition to Everest in 1953, with Edmund Hillary, passed through Jiri. Walking in from here would take 7-8 days to get to Lukla, so that is why everyone flies into somewhere before beginning their trek to base camp. It's so far from a road, that airstrips and helipads are just more convenient. Put in context, this trip is costing me in the neighborhood of $600 per day. So spending an additional week walking, when it might not help with acclimation, is a hard sell. (Of course, not all days are equal, summit day might well be worth more to me than the price I paid.)
Crossing a River (Probably the Indrawati) looking North in Nepal
I have some videos of the roads, but that is far more complicated to upload, suffice to say if you had a bicycle in this country and wanted to get some serious Strava King of the Mountain wins, you could. We were as low as 1900 feet today and as high as 8300 feet. And we basically drove over two "hills"and thus did it twice.
Main Street Jiri
Wow, pictures just don't do this place justice. I hope the video will be better. From my end, things are going well. I'm not really don't anything yet. I haven't even had to trek anywhere yet. My biggest concern is that my electronics will punch a hole in my dry bag. My toe that I stubbed a few days ago is getting better. It still hurts but the bruise has gone away. It doesn't feel the greatest to walk around in barefoot, but in shoes it's better and in a pair of boots, it is almost imperceptible.

A note on some subtle cues that my parents will particularly enjoy. There are quite a few motorcycles here and the average is probably just under 200 cc size. There are a lot of 125s and 150s, but also 200s and even some larger 250s. There is a lot of dust in the air, and some pollution to go along with it. Yes, we saw numerous women and children working. In a couple spots the women were wielding shovels. I'm not entirely sure where all the men were.

I am super excited for tomorrow to ride on the helicopter! I've never ridden in one, despite a stint of work at Sikorsky. Otherwise, I want to figure out how to bathe a little and walk around before we eat supper. Good night!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Another Day in Kathmandu

What do people do on expeditions? Spend time waiting for the weather to cooperate. I'm quite serious, if most people knew the amount of time expeditions (especially Patagonia ones) spend waiting on weather to cooperate for travel plans or climbing plans they would be stunned. Well, before we have even gotten out of Kathmandu, we have a one day weather delay.

The most cost effective way to get to the start of trekking to Everest Base Camp is to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla on a Twin Otter, a small two engine plan designed to land on 1000 ft. long runways. However, it requires flying through a pass, and that pass has been socked in with clouds. In the last two days, only about four flights have made it in or out. Tomorrow's forecast is not good. In Nepal the main form of navigation is visual flight rules, not GPS. To be quite honest, considering how many aviation accidents happen and how close some of these flight paths are to mountains, a 50 meter location error or three second delay at the wrong time could be deadly. Even if an accurate enough system was available, what if it was struck by lightning? So when the pilot doesn't want to fly, I certainly agree with him.

Our leader presented us with several options, and we took his suggestion to drive seven hours and take a "big helicopter" to Namche Bazaar (or rather a landing 200-300 meters uphill from Namche). I'm quite excited to do this because we will get to see a part of Nepal by bus, then another part by helicopter, and I have never ridden in a helicopter! It also means we are getting out of the city tomorrow morning, and while there is a lot to see and do in Kathmandu, I came here to climb a mountain.

I spent some time in Thamel, a district of Kathmandu, eating at Gaia and more or less walking around. I really enjoy the outdoor eating with plants all around. It's relaxing and quiet, and in my opinion, the plants probably take away from the dust and pollution of the street.
Eating at Gaia. (Don't judge me for staying on the tourist path, I don't want to get sick.)
It strikes me as interesting, and somewhat unexpected, the quality of brand name climbing stores here. You can see The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, and Marmot stores in the picture, Millet and Salewa have stores too. There are likely more. Around the corner, on the other side of the USA embassy, are Nike, Polo, and Adidas stores. For every name brand KFC and Pizza Hut there are five or ten gear shops and restaurants that do basically the same thing with used gear or local foods. There must be at least 30 shops with a selection of down jackets in Kathmandu.
Why buy gear at home when you can buy it all here from legitimate company stores?
In reverse chronological order… last night was just dreadful! I was exhausted at 9:00 PM, not very tired by the time I made it to bed at 9:30, lights out at 10, then I woke up at 1 AM not capable of falling asleep at all, until around 3 AM, then I finally fell asleep and woke up to my alarm at 6 AM for breakfast. It doesn't make sense to me. I'm tired, but then I can't sleep. I'm keeping a normal schedule for here, I suppose it just takes time to adjust to the time difference.

That's all for today! As will often happen, I'm not sure when I will be able to update again. This is all part of the two weeks it takes just to get to base camp.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Details of Kathmandu

What am I up to in Nepal? Mostly laying around my hotel room, but I'll certainly try to make it sound more dramatic and exotic and perpetuate the myths that surround Everest and me.

Friday afternoon we had a meeting at the Ministry of Tourism. That was interesting. A number of things have changed in the last year, and to be quite honest, all together they do not encourage future mountaineering tourism. That is all I will say for now. This is a developing story. However, I think the 8 kg of trash that must be brought down by every climber is a great idea. Also, somewhere on Facebook is an expedition picture of our group.

Dawa Steven Sherpa, my expedition leader's, TEDx talk. I know right?! I am quite excited to be on the expedition with him. We ate at his restaurant last night, Mul Chowk, and the pasta was really good with real strong parmesan. The five courses were a little overwhelming though. I tell people I live better on expeditions than I do at home, and last night was proof of that.

Andy Holzer is on my expedition. He is a blind Austrian climber. Just watching him walk around the hotel takes more effort than the rest of us, so it is inspiring to know he will be trucking it uphill with us. It's also interesting to see the total of six partner climbers and photographers that are along with him for the journey. It's a big operation. Two of the camera guys barely ate supper last night running around getting videos of everyone else eating.

Other expeditions I have seen around the Yak and Yeti are Alpine Ascents, Willi Benegas (may be the same as Alpine Ascents), NBC working on an unnamed documentary (probably Joby Ogwen), and a Japanese expedition.

In other news, Billi from the Himalayan Database interviewed me Saturday morning with some basic questions about where I was from, what my experience was, and welcome in general to Nepal.

Billi of the Himalayan Database Interviewing Me
Most of our gear, about 40 kilos of my 55 total kilos of luggage are traveling separately from us to base camp. This is done because it can travel faster than us with no need to acclimate.
Pasang Loading One of My Bags for the Separate Journey to Basecamp
Then we did a few hours of exploring. We went to I think a Hindu temple and then a Buddhist temple. I think this is a Hindu funeral ceremony we saw. They take the people, just a few hours after they have died, wash them in the river, wrap them in blankets, and then burn the body. On second thought, I'm not going to show that picture because you can see some dead guy's legs and a dead woman's head.

On second thought, I'm just going to show a picture of an alley. Nothing particularly interesting about it, it just seemed so symmetrical to me that I took a picture. There are a lot of alleys around here, most aren't this strait, but a fair amount are.
Random alley in the south part of Kathmandu
That's about it for today. My next blog post will probably be from Lukla or north of there, maybe all the way to Namche Bazaar. Turns out by the way, I might have enough bandwidth to upload videos...

Friday, April 4, 2014

I'm in Kathmandu!

Well, everything has gone incredibly smoothly. Both of my bags arrived. No delays to flights. No bad weather. I met up with a couple of employees, including the general manager, of Asian Trekking. Now I'm set up at the Yak and Yeti, a really nice hotel. Looking at the list of other members on our expedition I was stunned to see Melissa Arnot on the list. I'm a little starstruck.
Cows Eating Just Outside a Grocery Store in Kathmandu
There is a bad side to the story today. Last night I jammed my toe against a bed post in my hotel room. Now it doesn't feel the greatest. For all I know, it could be broken. (For reference it was bent inward before and my right foot is bent the same way. It's funny, and a tad worrying, spending all this time and effort to prepare, and I might have broken a toe at the last minute. I'm not worried yet because I can walk on it without a limp. Plus, there is at least one story of a guide with a broken arm trekking to Everest and after the cast came off he ended up summiting.
Is it broken?
In part, I was pretty spaced out at the airport and drive through Kathmandu. I'm tired from the travel and it's very comparable to Indonesia, Pakistan and Rwanda, and there is the usual hustle and bustle of people doing business in a language I do not understand. Yet as Nepal becomes the 11th country I have stamped in my passport, a lot of novelty of "off the beaten path" has worn off. Seeing the developing world again, I hardly took any pictures, just the one of cows above, because everything else to me seemed to normal. It makes me sad and fearful in a way, that somehow I might be less culturally sensitive than I was before.

Finally, before I even arrived in Nepal, the first death of the Everest 2014 spring season occurred to Mingma Tenzing from a bout of HAPE. I'm pretty shocked. I mean, it seems he became sick at base camp, and that's pretty rare. Then he didn't get better in Kathmandu, which according to my altitude watch is somewhere between 4200 and 5500 feet of elevation. This guy lived at altitude. There has to be something else at play in his case… some undiscovered or misunderstood aspect of biology, or biochemistry. There you go, there are more deaths on Everest in 2014 than summits. This will be yet another year with at least one death on the mountain. I was really hoping that one of these years, like this one, there wouldn't be a death for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Once again I am the youngest, the only 27 year old or younger, on this expedition, just like I was in Pakistan. There are two other men born in 1986 on this particular expedition, both in January. Well, I have a meeting at the Ministry of Tourism for a briefing, then a meeting at the Asian Trekking headquarters, then we are off to dinner together. For now, stay safe everyone!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I'm in India... Sort Of

Traveling, especially to other countries from whatever your home country is, has it's ups and downs. I'm going to focus on the downs for a minute, because at this instant, that's where my head is. So I booked a hotel just down the street from the New Delhi airport, but after at least three people directed me away from the exit and into the International Transfers area, it turns out, once in the International Transfers area, I can't get out. At least it would be rather difficult, and once again, I somewhat stand out. It's my own fault, I suppose I could have done better research, or I could have just walked out the exit when I had the chance and dealt with the consequences tomorrow morning.

In short, I'm now in the Eaton Smart airport hotel, which is nearly twice as expensive as the Radisson hotel I booked and have to pay for anyway because it is a late cancellation. I was, and really still am, super thrilled that I managed to get a $1300 round trip plane ticket from Chicago to Kathmandu, which is hundreds of dollars less expensive than the three other trips to the Eastern hemisphere I have had. Yet, now I'm paying for it in hotels…

Enough of the doom and gloom! I had a great flight! We pulled away from the gate 15 minutes before our departure time, and took off at 1:32 for a 1:30 PM scheduled departure. Then, we arrived here in India a full hour ahead of schedule! Not only was the flight efficient, it was daily empty. There were lots of extra seats, and no lines at the bathrooms. I only managed to sleep about three hours, on top of the only five hours I slept the night before (Tuesday night), so I'm exhausted now, but it's 4 PM and very sunny outside so I'm not ready to sleep yet. On the plane I was beside an Indian woman from Michigan and her nursing infant girl, which I was worried might mean screams for 15 hours, but the infant hardly uttered a sound, and spent more than one moment staring at me and even waving a few times. It was definitely a positive traveling baby experience. I would sleep now, but I have the adrenaline of being so close to my final destination, and being in Asia for the third time.

Air India Flight 126 (in the middle of the night last night)
It's always interesting being on foreign airlines flights, we flew north of Moscow, directly over Kabul and then south of Islamabad. I realize it's all at 35,000+ feet, it just always feels strange to be in the airspace of a country that isn't politically aligned with the US.

That's all for now. So far, security checkpoints have gone really well. I was patted down both in Chicago and again here in India. I have a huge bag full of electronics in my carry on, and if I were a security person, I'd want me to dump it out and take a look at it too. I can't get my GPS tracking working in the airport here, so you won't be able to see exactly where I am, but in about 18 hours I should be outside the airport in Nepal, then that's about all the travel I am responsible for arranging in the next two months. Tomorrow I get to meet everyone! I've been thinking, I will meet people tomorrow and the next day that I will likely stay in contact with for years, maybe even decades. Everything is so close!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Everest, Leg 1

First, a Drive to My Parents
Step number one in this 16,000 mile journey was getting to my parents house, after a day of work, with a stop at REI to pick up another XXXL duffle bag because my XXL wasn't big enough. 

Note to my sister, ask Delorme if they can update the maps other people see from my Inreach to the same as I can see. I think when people track me they only see the last point of location. I feel the trail is far more interesting. Mention I'm climbing Mt. Everest. That seems to have pull sometimes. 

Otherwise, I packed and repacked again last night and this morning. Now I have two 49 pound bags and something like a 27 pound carry on, plus my laptop in a hard case, and I'm going to wear my low mountain boots on the airline flights. 

I'm ready to finally get going! After the planning and all the last minute stops, I'm hours away from take off. My parents are driving me to Chicago O'Hare right now. If there are things I have forgotten, too bad, I will have to buy them along the way. I've brought plenty of backups for everything from tights to boots to headlamps. Here we go!