Words from Wik

Sharing my Experiences

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Everest Update

Just wanted to send a quick update to follow up on my last not-so-pleasant post. We have now gone through the ice fall 3 times, and there haven’t been any serious issues with anybody on our team. We all still know it’s not the safest place to be, and we respect it, but it’s not going to be a reason we go home.
I have now been away from home for over a month. I don’t know if I can say the time flew by but it hasn’t dragged on too much. We have just one more acclimatization trip planned up into the mountain, where we will sleep at camp 3. Then we come down, recharge our batteries in one of the lower towns, then come back to base camp and wait for everything to fall into place for the summit attempt.

Me in my private tent at Base Camp.

Personally I feel quite good. I have lost a bunch of weight already, but I think I still have enough in me to go on and make a good try for the summit. I feel strong and I still have a decent amount of muscle mass in my legs. We will see if that will be enough, but all things considered I feel pretty good.

Our Base Camp at night, in the background is either a lightning storm that is taking place well below us, or some sort of heat lightning.

That’s all for now, hope everyone is well back at home. Though we still have a bunch of work ahead of us here, we’re all looking forward to getting this thing over and done with and going home. We all discuss and wonder about those people that climb this mountain more than once, or those that hear about us going and say “Oh wow, I’m envious, you’ll have such a good time, I wish I was back on Everest!” Maybe it’s the fact that after a period of time all the hardships selectively leave our memory, and only the good memories remain. Well let me go on record while I still go through all the bad things and say those people can go knock themselves out and have this mountain when we’re done with it. There’s not much fun to be had in climbing Everest.

Anyways, didn’t mean to go off on a tangent like that, but once again take care everyone, all the best back home, see you when I get back!

The stars shine very bright up here in Base Camp, this view is looking above the Khumbu Ice Fall.

posted by Mike at 14:05  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Khumbu Ice Fall – One Bad Ass MoFo

Yesterday we headed up from BC to Camp 1, which takes us through the famed Khumbu Ice Fall. It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. And I’m gonna do it another 3 times or so. I can’t wait. But let me start at the beginning.

There is much hype about the Khumbu Ice Fall. Anyone going to Everest must choose whether or not they want to cross it; for those choosing not to there’s the North (Chinese) route. If you read my blog entry North vs. South I discuss the ice fall as a major decision maker, among other things.

The way I had justified being okay with crossing the ice fall was that it is just a lottery system. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time and a serac falls on you, maybe it was just your time to go. It can be just as likely as being in a car accident, or changing the light bulb and falling off a chair/ladder.

When we arrived to base camp and saw the ice fall, it didn’t seem to be able to live up to this hype. It looked like a nice peaceful ice field, just another obstacle we would have to cross. What naïve thinking…

When morning rolls around on April 16, we get ready to make our first trip through the ice fall. We woke up after 3:00 am with the intention of being in the ice fall during the coldest part of the day, when the chances or seracs falling are the lowest. We leave at 4:00 am with our headlamps on and start walking. Once we get to the steep section of the fall, the danger becomes obvious. Most of the time we are walking under, around, or on top of huge seracs (that seem to be anchored pretty well, but you never know).

My style of walking is usually slow and steady, with a keen eye on my heart rate, to make sure I don’t waste too much energy on the acclimatization hikes; I want to save as much as possible for the summit push. When navigating the ice fall, the Sherpas we were walking with would often say, “Please, walk faster through here, not a safe section. We slow down later.” I obviously take their advice, walk faster and watch my heart rate soar partly from the exertion, partly from the fear of the place. I get thirsty but I don’t want to stop for a drink. I have to go pee but keep pushing on until we get to a “safe” section which would be hours away.

On the way up nothing dramatic happened. No seracs fell, no one fell off any ladders while crossing them. So I could have taken this imposed fear as nothing but a joke, but I have learned to take advice from people more experienced than me. So I knew it was real.

I was also beat. The ice fall is a technically and physically tough place to be. Not being able to pace oneself or stop for breaks doesn’t help. Once I made it to the top of the fall, there were other members of my group sitting having lunch. Camp 1 was another 1 hour away, on relatively flat ground. It was already 10:00 am; I had spent 6 hours getting myself up the ice fall. I did not really want to go on, as we still had to go back down through the ice fall to base camp. If I started back at noon I would be among the seracs when they are most likely to be falling. Luckily, I was able to give my supplies that I had been carrying to stash at camp 1 to one of the Sherpas, who “ran” up to camp 1, stashed it there, and still managed to pass me on the way down.

Khumbu Ice Fall

Khumbu Ice Fall

The way down. This is where the action took place. By the time we started down at 10:30 or so, the sun was well up. Reflecting off the sides of Lhola and Nuptse (the mountains on each side of the ice fall) as well as the millions of tons of white ice in the ice fall itself, the sun creates an oven effect. Going up I wore 4 layers, fleece gloves, warm hat. Going down I was down to a single shirt, hat to protect from the sun, and liner gloves more to protect from burning by the sun or rope than for warmth. All that heat we felt was felt by the ice fall itself as well, and I could see water starting to drip in places.

Going down was thankfully a bit easier. We would clip ourselves to a fixed rope for safety, then hold on to the rope as we navigated sections of varying steepness. The bad thing was I was tired, dehydrated, and going was slow. But again we had the insistence of the Sherpas we were with, “Please, no rest, we continue until safe place.” So we continued.

Then all of a sudden there is a loud crash above us, and everyone turns around to look. A serac has broken off less than 100m above us, toppled down, and is breaking up into bits as it comes down. I hear the Sherpa behind me start chanting something over and over again, I assume it’s some sort of prayer; instinctively I also cross myself. As we watch the ice lose steam and the dust settle, we have a closer look around, and realize the serac broke off to the left of the route, so posed no danger to anyone. Whew. But okay, this stuff is real, let’s get ourselves out of here.

We continue down, and after I don’t know how many minutes, we hear another crash on our right. Once again we all look, I hear the chant behind me again, I cross myself, as we all watch another serac, this one at our level and maybe 20 meters away, come crashing down and smash itself to bits. This one was close. All of a sudden the Sherpas behind me (not from our group) politely push their way past and start going down faster. I, already tired, dehydrated, hungry, hot and sweating, take their lead, kick it into gear, and pick up my pace. No longer am I wasting time to clip into and out of the safety rope. What is the point of protecting oneself from a fall of a few meters when there’s the threat of getting crushed by a giant serac? I just hold on to the rope with my hand, jump over little crevasses, cross ladders in double time.

What’s going through my head? I hate this place. The Khumbu Ice Fall is one mean SOB. It has already physically kicked my ass, punched me in the nuts, chewed me up, and I’m just waiting for it to spit me out, hopefully still alive. (Actually, my thought had a lot more swear words in them, but you get my drift.) I wondered why I was stupid enough to not go on the North side. This justification of the ice fall being a lottery was somehow not enough anymore. Once I thought of the mechanism of how I would actually die by serac, I didn’t want to die this way. Would the ice knock me in the head and kill me quick? Or would the big blocks just pin me, break some bones and paralyze me while I died slowly from the cold? Or would the sharp ice also cut me up, make me bleed as I was shoved into some crevasse, bleeding to death very slowly because the cold ice would preserve me for longer than normal? Whatever way it would be I couldn’t think about it for very long, but I knew I had to get out of there.

I hate to be overly dramatic with what I’m saying above. But that is how it happened. And that is how I felt, never more scared in my life.

Anyways, to make a long story even longer, we all got down with no further incidents. Others were in the ice fall longer, for more of the day, and we heard no news of any deaths. So things weren’t that bad. I got back to base camp the most tired I have been yet on this trip.

So now, looking ahead. Yes, we will cross the ice fall again. But we will never again go up and down in the same day. So we should be able to make the most of the cold night and navigate the ice fall only during this time. And as we get more and more acclimatized we will move through it faster, lowering our exposure time to the danger. It didn’t kill me the first time, and knowing what to expect, I will be less afraid of it each subsequent time. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right?

Another point I wanted to make. On Cho Oyu, the elevation gain from Base Camp to Camp 1 was about 1100m. It was hard at first, but it became no big deal. The elevation gain on Everest from BC to Camp 1 is less than 600m. But it feels a lot more difficult, takes a lot more out of you, requires more rest days to recover from it. This was confirmed by others who had been on Cho: Everest already seems 10 times more difficult than Cho Oyu ever was. We have to spend a lot of time and effort on simply surviving here: on hydrating well, eating well, staying healthy, staying warm, staying sane (everyone has thoughts of going home, dealing with those thoughts is part of staying sane). On Cho Oyu I was taking my 2kg camera with me on almost all acclimatization hikes, taking photos, videos, thinking about composition, making cool effects with depth of field, time lapse photos. Here I have not used my camera in days. Unless I feel really strong on summit push (or I can pawn it off on a Sherpa) I might not take me camera any higher than BC, where it sits now. Photography has taken a back seat. Since I am doing this climb for charity I had in mind ideas for photos and videos, to promote the charity and some of the bigger supporters at various stages of the climb. That has now moved way down on my list, the priority is to be prepared to attempt the summit.

Okay, that’s about all I had on my mind. A bit of a long read but I don’t think I’ll have much more to say anytime soon. Just FYI, I do not have access to my email, so I cannot respond to or even read anything you send me, this blog is being sent via one-way stream, I won’t bore you with details.

Hope everyone is doing well back home, my family in Calgary, Singapore, Poland (among other places), my friends in Calgary and all over the place, any ex-coworkers that may be following, and anybody else that may have found an interest in what I’m doing and how I’m writing about it. Take care and see you when I get back!

posted by Mike at 3:49  

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Everest Base Camp, 5330m

We arrived yesterday to Everest Base Camp (EBC or simply BC). It is a rocky resting place for us surrounded on all sides by sheer mountains. Only the way we came from is lower, and the way we’re going, up the Khumbu ice fall, is not a sheer wall.
We have long since left behind the greenery of the lower towns on the trek to BC. Here there are only three colors: rock, snow, and sky, with a smattering of colorful tents here and there, but those are just temporary. In what was a bit of a surprise to me, you cannot actually see the summit of Everest from this camp. We saw it a few times on the hike in, a giant rock very high above, with barely any snow on it; the constant winds of the jet stream don’t allow much snow to collect.

Today is a rest day, and tomorrow most likely as well. We all need it. Last night’s dinner conversation was non-existent. People are not feeling their best. We’re all taking it differently, some are suffering silently while others talk about going down and home. But this is normal. In fact, everyone that was sick in some way on the hike to BC has gotten over it, myself included, so while we are not feeling good due to having to adjust to the altitude, at least we’re not sick. So all in all, things are progressing about as planned.

Ama Dablam

On the hike to Everest Base Camp, the mountain is Ama Dablam, a very beautiful looking mountain and a good technical climb; there's always eyes watching us on the trail.

The hike to BC took us 9 days, only two of which were rest days. And the last 5 days were all spent walking, so the rest days we will be taking now are much deserved, some would say overdue. During the hike in we walked about 54 km and ascended over 2500m. The air at BC is only 53% as thick as what you find at sea level. We are now at an altitude where our bodies are not able to regenerate; any cuts we get will stop bleeding but will not heal until we descend; the muscle mass we use by exercising (acclimatizing by walking up and down) will not be regenerated at this altitude; our bodies (and some would say our minds as well) are in a constant state of degradation. It is for this reason that we have planned a trip to some of the lower towns before going for the summit. The idea is to go lower where our bodies are able to regenerate, eat well for a couple of days, stockpile some energy in our bodies before we go for the summit. That is not possible at BC.

A little bit about how I’m feeling. Stomach issues went away thanks to probiotic tablets. I still haven’t been able to get rid of my sore throat, and I’m starting to think that won’t happen until I arrive home. I have a runny nose and when I clean it there’s traces of blood. From my experience on Cho Oyu that won’t go away either. Walking from the dining tent to my sleeping tent is absolutely exhausting! I have to lay in my tent and rest before doing anything. Just writing this post is an effort in itself. So all in all, things are pretty normal!

What else to say. Tomorrow we will be having a puja, a Buddhist ceremony to appease the gods of the mountain to allow us safe passage. The Sherpas all need to take part in one before they will go any higher on the mountain, and so we are all invited to take part. Other things about life in BC: we are accompanied by the thunderous sounds of seracs falling around us, turning into powdery avalanches as they break up and descend. We heard a bunch of them last night, and this morning caught sight of a pretty big serac falling.

Khumbu Glacier

Here we see the Khumbu glacier, as it turns to the right it goes up into the Khumbu ice fall, on the outside of that turn you might make out some tents of our base camp. And above it all the rock of Everest peeks out over everything.

So far we’ve been taking things one day at a time, trying to pace ourselves and enjoy the hike to BC. Now that we’re here, there’s no reason to do any different, but I find it hard not to look ahead and realize we will be at BC for the next 7 weeks. That’s a long time to be putting up with crap. But we’ll see how it goes. And remember, I’m not complaining. While things here aren’t perfect, they’re exactly the way they’re supposed to be. There’s not many things I would trade this experience for.

Hope everyone is well back home, enjoying their spring and all the wonderful things that normal everyday life has to offer. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to write blog posts, as our expedition has no internet connection whatsoever, not even via satellite phone. To send this out I’m going to go beg, mooch, or pay some other expedition to let me use their internet. Same with Twitter, doubtful about being able to update that. Just keep on top of our dispatches at Summit Climb, and assume no news is good news.

Anyways, take care and see you later!

posted by Mike at 18:02  

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Namche Bazaar, 3440m

Today we are taking a rest day at Namche Bazaar, our second stop on the way from Lukla to Everest Base Camp. If you look at our latest dispatch (which I see hasn’t been posted yet) you’ll know that everyone is doing good, and our bags not being here is the only issue that’s not perfect. So I wanted to elaborate on that a little bit because that’s pretty vague.

Myself, I am not feeling 100%. I started getting a little bit sick as we were leaving for our hike. I usually only get sick when I don’t sleep, and that was the case in Kathmandu, due to the jet lag. Also, the hotel room I was in was freshly painted and I seemed to get a little bit of an allergic reaction to that (or who knows what else that may have been in my room?) Anyways, it made me wonder what kind of paint they use in Nepal, somehow I don’t think it’s the latest and greatest in non-toxic paint, and I wonder how much lead is in it? Not something I would normally ask but under the circumstances… Anyways, I had a sore throat on the first day of our hike and felt pretty weak, right now I’m a little stuffed up, but luckily I have been sleeping a lot lately and seem to be getting over it.

I also have some stomach issues, I frequent the bathroom often among other things, but it’s something I experienced already on Cho Oyu, so I’m not too worried about it. I needed stomach antibiotics last time to sort that out, this time I’m hoping the pro biotic tablets I have can help.

There’s others on our team that are not at their best. One member has Giardia (sp?), another got a sore throat at the same time as me, but rather than get better his sore throat has been spreading lower, and now it’s sitting in his lungs. Others are getting typical headaches, things like that.

So things are not all perfect, but honestly this is about standard for these kinds of expeditions. But because it’s normal, don’t expect to hear these kinds of details in the dispatches that we send out.

That’s it for now, we’ll be another week or so in getting to base camp, I’ll try and write more if there’s anything worth mentioning, and if I have internet access. Hope everyone has a good Easter!

posted by Wiktor at 13:48  

Powered by WordPress