Words from Wik

Sharing my Experiences

Friday, March 12, 2010

North vs. South

I will be attempting to climb Mt. Everest via the southern col route, or southeast ridge route, which is in the country of Nepal. The other main route is the northeast col route, via the northeast ridge, which lies in Tibet (or China). You’ll generally hear people talk about them as either the North route and Chinese side, or South route and Nepali side. There are of course other ways up the mountain, you can go up whichever way you like, but if you’re not going up either of these two routes it’s because you want more of a challenge.

Everest Routes as seen from space

The first step in climbing Everest is deciding you want to go. The second step is deciding which route you want to take. I just thought I would go over some of the pros and cons of each side, and why I chose the side I did. Know that this is based on what I have heard and read (and I have asked a lot of questions about this of our leader Arnold, who has climbed on both sides), but obviously I haven’t yet been on either route.

Getting to the base camp on the North side means driving in. A while back when the Chinese were trying to put some of their own people to the top they made a road that goes all the way into base camp, and then paved it to put the Olympic torch onto the summit. Getting to base camp on the south means hiking in through the Khumbu Valley, which is supposed to be a very beautiful hike in, and worth the trip by itself just to hike into base camp. This takes about 10 days because of the need to stop and take rest days to acclimatize to the altitude. The Nepalis have made a national park of this area so roads are not going to be constructed anytime soon.

The North side is generally considered colder, as it sees less sun, whereas the South side can get decently warm when the sun is out. It’s a major consideration for some, especially those more susceptible to getting cold in their extremities.

The route itself is considered easier on the North side up to camp 4, where you sleep before summit day, but above camp 4 there are three technical sections (known by their imaginative names as the First, Second, and Third Steps) that catch a lot of people unprepared. This then creates the opportunity for people with limited technical competence to get quite high, then have trouble on the toughest sections, on the toughest day, and create traffic jams for everyone else. On the South the route apparently gets a bit more involved early on, and while it also has it’s technical section on summit day called the Hillary Step that can cause traffic jams, if you’ve gotten there already you have a decent chance of making it over without causing too many problems for others.

Then there’s the location of Camp 4, the highest camp before the summit. On the North side it’s at 8300m, which is the highest camp on earth! This means you have to spend a night at this altitude before trying for the summit. On the south side the camp is a little lower at 8000m, where you still need to sleep on oxygen, but it’s that much lower. However, that also means that you have 850m to climb to the summit from the South, and only 550m from the North; therefore summit day takes significantly longer from the South, but as stated above it is technically not as involved.

Another consideration is the famed Khumbu Ice Fall on the South, where you have to cross large bottomless crevasses via ladders strapped together end to end. It is the most dangerous part of the ascent via either side, and it’s for this reason alone that some people choose to climb from the North. The problem is that the ice fall is continuously moving, and while navigating through it there are chances that pieces will break off, onto people or break ladders that people are on. To me it’s the kind of risk you can do almost nothing about (other than avoid it by going the North route), as it becomes a lottery for who might or might not be affected.

Khumbu Icefall, Photograph by Olaf Rieck

One last difference is price. The Northern route is generally cheaper. This is because of logistics and getting people and supplies to base camp is done all by car. On the South, people and supplies are first flown from Kathmandu to Lukla, then people hike and supplies are taken by Yak to base camp. All this takes time and money. There might be a slight difference in permit price too, but I am not exactly sure.

So why did I choose the South side? Several reasons. I have heard such good things about the hike to base camp through the Khumbu Valley that I wanted to experience that myself. Getting to base camp from the North involves a drive that I have already done, as it’s almost the exact same approach as getting to Cho Oyu base camp. Another reason is that I would like if the people that are climbing around me on summit day have earned their place, and are not going to be caught off guard by the technical sections and cause traffic jams.

But the main reason is a difference that I only slightly touched on above, and that’s the attitude of the countries in which these two approaches lie. China made a road. Nepal made a national park. China has been known to limit access across the border when things in Tibet start heating up. If I can help it I will put my money into the country that is doing things the way I support, and not politically oppressing the region I am climbing in. But that’s a whole other story that I won’t get into.

So, what side would you choose? 🙂

posted by Wiktor at 11:39  

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What are the odds I’ll die on Everest?

I thought I would answer a question that might be on some people’s minds. I have been asked this question several times, and while mostly people say it jokingly, not expecting a real answer, I realize that it is a legitimate question. And I realize they do mean it, as “a lot of truth is said in jest”. Believe it or not, such a question does not bother me; I realize that what I’m going to do is potentially dangerous, and I have accepted whatever that risk may be. But I also know that it’s not that great of a risk.

The easiest way to answer that question is to check Wikipedia’s article “Eight-thousander”, which lists all 14 of the world’s peaks above 8000m, and gives some stats on them. Taking a quick look at Everest shows that since 1990, the death rate has been 4.4%. So, that means there’s more than 95% chance that I’ll be coming back, right? 🙂 That’s pretty good odds!

But actually it’s not quite that easy. Those numbers are out of date (Everest now has over 4500 summits by over 2800 different people), plus, for lack of data, they take the death rate as Deaths/Successful Summit, rather than Deaths/Attempt. Luckily, there is a database out there that is more up to date and more complete, it’s called the Himalayan Database, and it’s the archives of Elizabeth Hawley, a journalist that traveled to Kathmandu in 1960 and decided to stay there for good!

Himalayan Database

Anyways, depending on what time range you pick, the values of course differ, but if you take the last 20 years like Wikipedia does (1990-2009), or the last ten years (2000 – 2009), the death rate on Everest per person that showed up to climb above base camp is in the 1.5% range. For example, in 2009 there were 5 fatalities, a German, a Czech, a Chinese man, and two Nepali Sherpas. And there was almost 400 people with permits to climb above base camp.

I would like to think those odds are reasonable. I don’t have any stats for what is the likelihood someone will die in a car accident, or from a certain disease, so it’s hard to compare. But I definitely don’t feel that my life is at stake with every step I take. At the same time, on Everest there are no guarantees. A bad year with weather might mean more people don’t come home; good weather might mean more make the summit. Although the odds are in everyone’s favor, someone has to make up that 1.5%. Is that acceptable? That becomes a personal decision for everyone… And what about other effects, such as losing digits due to frostbite?

Anyways, that’s all I’ll dwell on this topic. It’s not something I focus on, but it is something I am aware of, and I think most people would be surprised at how good those odds are. Obviously the most newsworthy trips up Everest are the ones where someone doesn’t come home, so that’s what people tend to hear and that’s what they tend to associate with the mountain.

posted by Wiktor at 8:11  

Friday, February 12, 2010

Go read Into Thin Air

Into Thin AirFor the last little while I have been reading the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, and I suggest you have a read of it. If you want to read about a real-life adventure, or if you want to learn more about climbing in general and high altitude in particular, or some of the history of Mt. Everest, you will find it all there. It’s a good book for everyone, as it assumes you know very little about the world of mountains and climbing them. Many people I have spoken with that have very little interest in mountains and climbing really enjoyed the book; it gives a very good description of what it’s like to climb in these high mountains, things I explain to people when I show them my photos and share my experiences. So if you have a read of this book you will know at least some of what I’m going through when I am on my trip this spring.

I thought it was a very good book, well written and a well told story. It’s not quite as epic as “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson (read that one after if you want, it’s one of my favourite books ever), but good nonetheless. However, read “Into Thin Air” with a grain of salt, as there is some controversy over some of the things in that book, mainly the author’s guesses at people’s motivations for their actions. An entire book was written to tell the tale of that disaster from another point of view and question some of what Jon wrote, so just keep that in mind.

Let me know if you want to borrow my copy of the book. I will share some quotes to get you interested:

But at times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find that what I really sought was something I had left behind.
– Quote taken from Hornbein, “Everest, The West Ridge”

Everest has always been a magnet for kooks, publicity seekers, hopeless romantics, and others with a shaky hold on reality.

The fact that a climber has paid a large sum of money to join a guided expedition does not, by itself, mean that he or she is unfit to be on the mountain.

People who don’t climb mountains – the great majority of humankind, that is to say – tend to assume that the sport is a reckless, Dionysian pursuit of ever escalating thrills. … At least in the case of Everest … the ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other mountain I’d been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium, and suffering, it struck me that most of us were probably seeking, above all else, something like a state of grace.

“If client cannot climb Everest without big help from guide,” Boukreev told me, “this client should not be on Everest. Otherwise there can be big problems up high.”

Mountaineering tends to draw men and women not easily deflected from their goals. By this late stage in the expedition we had all been subjected to levels of misery and peril that would have sent more balanced individuals packing for home long ago. To get this far one had to have an uncommonly obdurate personality.
Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregards signs of grave and imminent danger as well.

Bottled oxygen does not make the top of Everest feel like sea level. … 29,000 feet with gas felt like approximately 26,000 feet without gas.

Not only during the ascent but also during the descent my willpower is dulled. The longer I climb the less important the goal seems to me, the more indifferent I become to myself. My attention has diminished, my memory is weakened. My mental fatigue is now greater than the bodily. It is so pleasant to sit doing nothing – and therefore so dangerous. Death through exhaustion is – like death through freezing – a pleasant one.
– Quote taken from Reinhold Messner, “The Crystal Horizon”

posted by Wiktor at 4:27  

Thursday, February 4, 2010

50 Days to Everest

In 50 days I will be on a flight leaving Calgary in what you can call the official start of my trip up Everest. I have just a few loose ends to tie up but most things are starting to fall into place. I have sent in my final payment for the trip; if you check the summitclimb.com website you will see that the cost of climbing Everest from Nepal is $27,750 USD (and prices are going up next year). I have also paid for 5 oxygen bottles valued at $510 each (they are cheaper if you buy them in Kathmandu, but that $510 includes transport by Yak then porters then Sherpas up the mountain to the high camps where we’ll actually need the stuff). I’ll leave you guys to add that all up.


With all that money spent I thought I would take some time to reflect on my trip in the context of ‘commercial expeditions up Everest’. There are other expeditions that charge $65,000 or more for a similar experience, where does that difference come from? Well one big difference is that our trip with summitclimb is not considered a “guided” trip; there is a team leader but there are no guides that will be walking with us up the mountain. We are expected to know enough about mountaineering to make our own way up and down the mountain. That cost to pay IFMGA Certified guides a western salary and all their expenses adds up. Also, we have to carry a bit more of our own things. Some companies will place sleeping bags in the high camp tents, so people can arrive and have everything ready for sleeping; I will have to carry my own (surprisingly heavy) sleeping bag. Little things like that requires people employed to carry things up and down the mountain, which adds up quickly. There are other minor things too that add up.

I must say that from my experience it’s better to go on a non-guided trip such as this. It means the quality of people signing up is higher, and you’re expected to do more on your own, giving a better feeling of satisfaction at the end. Of course, there is a fine line before the support the group gives is not enough. Other companies charge even less, but give you even less. It may go unnoticed if everything goes according to plan, but if something goes wrong these groups seek help from the ones more prepared (because they are more financed). I think summitclimb finds a nice balance right where it should be in terms of support.

I guess the whole concept of the commercialization of Everest is a debatable one, but I would like to think that companies offering non-guided support are the ones doing it right, as long as they screen their applicants enough to make sure people are qualified to be on the mountain. Companies that rely on their guides to help people up the mountain are introducing people into circumstances where they cannot help themselves, and that’s where trouble can begin, for them and for everyone else on the mountain stuck because of a traffic jam or asked to help someone who should not be there.

Here’s to hoping that our group goes up and down the mountain with little fanfare or media attention, as that always follows people that get into trouble.

posted by Wiktor at 12:52  

Monday, February 1, 2010

I hate to complain but…

So my last post was just one big complaint. I realized that as I was writing it, and hesitated about 5 times before actually hitting ‘publish’. I hate complaining. I rarely complain. I always look for the silver lining on the cloud, for how I can make the best of any situation. And I think it takes a bit of that to be able to climb high altitudes, to be able to enjoy the fresh air and the beautiful views and the relaxed people, rather than focus on the shortness of breath and the monochromatic rock-snow landscape and the lack of luxuries. However, in the interest of sharing as much as I can about what I go through as I prepare for and attempt Everest, I feel it’s best to share those bad moments and bad thoughts as much as the good. It would be a little too easy just to publish the good.

To those ladies that I have explained what high altitude mountaineering is about, several have drawn similarities between it and childbirth: you go through a lot of pain and during that pain you swear you will never do it again, but once you’re done and you look back at the result of all that pain, you barely remember the pain, in fact you start planning the next one. So it’s easy for me to just wait a few days after I go through some tough moments and forget about them, but in my attempt to share what it’s like to prepare for and attempt Everest I will try and capture all those negatives as well as positives. So please, when I complain, now or in the future, take it all with a grain of salt, appreciate it for what it is, and know I’ll get over it.

Concerning my last post, I have already decided that I’m going to focus less on the weight lifting side, start doing more body weight exercises to keep the muscle I’ve built; also I’ll start walking with weight on my back to get the muscles I’ve built used to working the way I’ll need to use them on the mountain. So I already have a bit of a solution in mind.

Hopefully I’ll post some more updates soon on my other preparation activities. All the best!

posted by Wiktor at 5:37  

Friday, December 18, 2009

World Peak for World Vision launch

Today I am launching a campaign through which I hope to raise money for the charity World Vision by attempting to climb the world’s tallest mountain, Mt. Everest. It’s called World Peak for World Vision, and my goal is to raise money for two projects in the developing world. Have a look at the website at www.worldpeak.ca, and if you are able to donate please do. Or simply pass this message along to others who may be interested or may want to donate.

The plan is to train for the next few months, and in the spring head to Kathmandu and start my climb. I will be writing on this blog a bit more regularly to keep people informed and share what it’s like to be training for and then trying to climb the world’s tallest mountain. If you want to stay informed you can subscribe to the RSS or sign up for email updates (top right corner from main page).

Thanks very much for your support and feel free to drop me a line anytime with any questions or comments!

Site Snapshot

posted by Wiktor at 5:48  

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Looking Back at Cho Oyu

Now that I’m back in Calgary I have some time to write down things I wanted to pass along before. One of the things I found interesting was the type of people that were in our group, to maybe illustrate how diverse we were, let me list the professions of all the clients attempting the summit: Lawyer, Farmer, Engineer, Military man, Ex-Bouncer, Diving Instructor, School Teacher, Trainer/Public Speaker, Unemployed.

One of the best moments of the trip for me, other than the summit, was when we were leaving for the summit. Coming out of my tent to a sky full of stars that almost lit the way, walking in the absolutely still air to the path, then starting my journey up with my headlamp lighting the way, oxygen on my face and flowing, giving me the life and energy that I need. It was a very cool experience that made me smile, though it was full of many unknowns: first time on oxygen, first time on this path, and the unknown of what the night’s hard work will bring.

Summit day for me was very long. At about 1:34 am I started my stop watch, and stopped it seven hours and six minutes later on the summit. About 50 minutes I spent on the summit, and then it took me 3h10m to get back down to Camp 3 where the day started. Here some people rested, laid in the tents, made some water. I still had half a liter of water left of the two liters I started with, so I just spent 50 minutes packing all my stuff, and continued down to Camp 2. From Camp 3 to Camp 2 took me 30 minutes (compare that with 4h15m on the way up!) as it is a pretty short distance, plus I slid down half the way on my bum! Reason being was I still had my down suit on and I started getting hot, so rather than stop on the semi-steep slope and start undressing, I decided to slide the rest of the way down! Best idea I ever had!

Packing the rest of my stuff at Camp 2 took an hour, after which I was the first one to set off for Camp 1. This part of the trip took two and a half hours, at which point the walking part of my day was over.

Add all that up and it means in 16 hours of hard work, breathing some of the driest air possible, I drank less than two liters of water. (For comparison, when resting at ABC I would easily drink 5 or 6+ liters of water in a day.) What this means is that upon reaching Camp 1 was the point where I had lost the most weight. My estimate is about 10% of my body weight, so 20 lbs or 9 kilos (most others on the trip estimated similar percentages). I would say 5 pounds of that came back with simply hydrating over the next few days. Another 5 came back after eating big back in Kathmandu. The other 10 I am still missing and working at getting back, and since most of that is probably muscle it will take some time.

It was nice to get back to Kathmandu where there are enough places that serve western food that you can really get whatever you may want. After losing as much weight as we had, everyone eats quite big on every meal. For me, a lover of food, it is one of the fun parts of mountaineering! I remember one breakfast I had a big plate of eggs, beans, cheese and salsa, prepared as Huevos Rancheros. Then I had dessert of apple pie with ice cream. Dessert after breakfast! It was absolutely lovely.

Now I’m back in Calgary and I am slowly trying to get back into the groove here. But it’s tough. For some reason I feel a little bit weird here. People ask me about my trip and I have a hard time just talking about my trip, there’s so much to say. Then they ask what’s next, while honestly I’m just trying to let this trip sink in, which I don’t think has happened yet. But I’m sure after a couple of weeks it’ll all be back to normal, as is always the case with life, so I’m not too worried.

That’s about all I wanted to get off my mind. I posted some more pictures, bigger than Facebook allows, you can find them here. Take care!

posted by Wiktor at 5:27  

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mountain Climbing Brain Damage

Another break from Aconcagua reporting, here is an article I found interesting on high-altitude mountaineering and brain damage. I will admit I was not too surprised by it as I’ve met many people that have mentioned this, however it’s interesting to see that it can be scientifically verified.

A new study of professional mountain climbers shows that high-altitude climbing causes a subtle loss of brain cells and motor function.
On scans, the climbers showed a reduction in both white and gray matter in various parts of the brain.
Six of the nine climbers had lower than average scores on the Digit Symbol test, which measures executive functions. Three out of nine scored lower than average on memory tests, while four scored below average on a visual-motor function test. The study authors noted that the results “are most likely to be due to progressive, subtle brain insults caused by repeated high-altitude exposure.”

To see the full article click here.

posted by Wiktor at 18:15  

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Aconcagua: The High Camps

Once we reached base camp we had a day of rest, and we used it to go visit the camp doctor. Everybody that wants to ascend to the summit needs to see this doctor, who will measure your pulse, blood pressure, listen to your breathing, and all that needs to be done to make sure you are acclimatizing well. This doctor has the power to tell you that you are not allowed to go any further, and there were people that had to stay longer at base camp before they were allowed to continue (and even some that made it no further at all).

Going higher after base camp involves staying at two “high” camps before reaching the summit. The idea was to reach each camp with some gear, dump it, and then go back down to sleep, before going back up and staying for good. This “climb high sleep low” idea is a good way to acclimatize to altitude.

Looking back at base camp on the way to Camp 1.

This first picture is looking back at base camp on the way to camp 1. While it’s a pretty big place considering how much effort it takes to get things there, it is dwarfed by the surrounding mountains once you go up a little higher.

Emil and myself taking a break; notice the boots we are wearing, these weigh about 1.5 kg EACH BOOT!

Climbing to these high camps is much different than the type of hiking I am used to in Canada. In Canada I usually only go on day trips, travel light, and go up and down pretty quickly. Here we are carrying much more weight (both on our backs and in the gear we are wearing), we walk slowly, taking small yet determined steps, focusing on breathing, etc. In the above picture you can see Emil and myself taking a break; my pack was so heavy that every time we stopped and I took it off, I felt like I could flap my arms and fly away! Also notice the boots we are wearing, these weigh about 1.5 kg EACH BOOT!

Me resting beside some penitentes, by far the most interesting feature I have seen on any mountain.

The above picture shows me resting beside some penitentes, by far the most interesting feature I have seen on any mountain. Basically it’s what look like upside-down icicles, but are right in the snow we walk through. The picture below shows a whole mountain side full of penitentes, and we had to make our route right through it. Having to blaze a new trail through these things would be very difficult and time-consuming, but luckily there was already a trail we could follow.

A whole mountain side full of penitentes.

Below you can see me among these penitentes as we are descending to base camp after having dumped some stuff at camp 1. And yes, those are flip-flops I have strapped to my backpack, I was using them as high as camp 1 to give the old feet a break from closed shoes!

Me among the penitentes as we are descending to base camp.

Camp 1, 5000m. It is staying at this camp that made me appreciate all the things I took for granted at base camp. I guess this would be a good time to introduce the ‘human waste strategy’ that the parks has in place.

Camp 1 with the little line of tents, and where the person in red is heading up is where the 'bathroom' is.

In all the camps below camp 1 there have always been outhouses, and the waste from them was flown out by helicopter to make sure it doesn’t start building up inside the park. I must admit that it’s good to know the money I paid for my permit is going toward things like that. At the first stop Las Lenas they even had porcelain toilets that flushed! But that is a long way down from camp 1… Anyways, as part of the permitting process, everyone receives two bags that they need to later return, or get fined. One is for garbage, the other one is for ‘number two’. So, once at camp one and above, going to the bathroom for number two involves squatting over a plastic bag. Now I will not get into too much detail but just imagine trying to go when there is heavy wind threatening to blow the bag away.

Just to comment on the picture above, what you see is camp 1 with the little line of tents, and where the person in red (who happens to be Kerry from our expedition) is heading up is where the ‘bathroom’ is. You will have to take my word for it that it is one of the most beautiful views from a bathroom that I have ever seen!

We did have some adventures at camp 1, mainly involving waking up to a tent that had flooded overnight and then frozen, and I had to use my ice axe to pick out my bag that had been left just outside overnight.

Looking up to more or less where camp 2 should be, at the top of the saddle and then a little to the left.

On to camp 2. The picture above shows the view looking up to more or less where camp 2 should be, at the top of the saddle and then a little to the left, behind those two jagged teeth sticking up. Above those we can see the Polish glacier, which is an alternate route, more direct but also much more technical, longer, and pretty much only for those hard to the core.

The process of going up the mountain at these higher elevations

The next picture above does a great job showing the process of going up the mountain at these higher elevations. Notice how small my steps are, just one foot right in front of the other. Head down, not really looking at the view, just concentrating on walking, on breathing, on moving forward. In the back on the right you can see camp 1 in the background, which once again does not get appreciated until reaching the one higher.

Three days worth of walking are all visible in this picture

On this next picture above we can see about three days worth of walking. The valley in the background was the last day of hiking to get to base camp. Then there’s the walk from base camp to camp one, of which we only see camp one in the background. Then there’s the route we’re on right now, from camp one to camp two, with the trail clearly visible.

Camp 2!

Finally, camp 2! We reached it for the first time on January 15, 2009, just to drop some stuff off, and the second time a day later, to stay as long as necessary to make the summit. You can see the snow line going up and to the right, this is the route for the summit attempt. Or there’s the alternate route on the left, straight up the Polish glacier, but I did not see one single person try to go up that way in all the time we spent at camp 2.

A little clowning around at Camp 2.

And finally just a little clowning around at camp 2, enjoying the view that was once again better than at the previous camp. Already I felt like it was the top of the world, but there was still over 1000 vertical meters to go.

Make sure to stay tuned for the next installment, as we push to the summit…

posted by Wiktor at 20:28  

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Aconcagua: Base Camp and Hanging Around

After three straight days of hiking (covered in my previous post) we reached base camp, which you can see in the picture below. When we first got here, I had a headache, was tired from all the hiking, a little bit hungry, and really needed a rest to get used to the altitude. So at first base camp was not an ideal place to be; walking around and doing anything was slow and required lots of effort. In the end, after coming down to be BACK here, it was such a luxurious place when compared to the higher camps (more on that in the next post).

Base Camp - Plaza Argentina

Below is our more ‘permanent’ tent that we used for a kitchen and dining center, and also as the place to hang out, listen to music, chat about the latest news and events (among other things: discussions about Obama when we realized he would get sworn in while we were somewhere on the mountain).

Dining Tent

A lot of time on the mountain was spent idle, just sitting around and letting our bodies acclimatize to the conditions. Below you can see me just hanging around in our tent, on my way in or out.

Hanging Out

So what did we do during this idle time? I seem to get asked that question a lot. Well for one, we slept a lot, which was 10+ hours, or from dusk til dawn on most days for me, and for everybody else I am quite sure; one of the main reasons for that was that once the sun set you did not want to be outside your sleeping bag. Also later on when I had nothing else to do I thought: “what a better way to kill time than to sleep late into the day?” And also, how often in life do I get to REALLY sleep as much as I want? 🙂

I also had some books to read, and John Grisham’s books definitely are a good way to pass the time. Below you can see Emil hanging out with his music, and the books beside him are mine, one a Grisham and the other being Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.

Emil and his Music

I also had my iPod with me, which was great for chilling out, however with it I learned one of the first things about altitude: hard drives do not work at altitude. At about base camp my (hard drive based) iPod worked sporadically, and Ryan our guide confirmed that it happens to most ipods, and that if I try to use it at even higher elevations I could damage it for good. So, it stayed at base camp, and for my next high-altitude expedition I will look into flash-based models.

This might be a good time to bring up the other things I learned first hand about life at altitude:

– I had really vivid, realistic, not-enjoyable dreams. That was not too fun, and apparently it’s not all that uncommon either. They did go away once I acclimatized, and then came back once we went higher.

– People have a lot more gas at altitude, and trust me I experienced that first hand. I won’t get into the details here but there were some funny (and also some not-funny) stories about that.

– Loss of appetite. I had heard about this, but didn’t realize the effects of it until the trip was over. At higher altitudes you don’t eat much, partly because the food is not that good or interesting, partly because you have had that same type of food every day for a week already, partly because you’re busy hiking or just living. And I didn’t think too much of it at the time, after all there were some days that we just sat around and rested, so if I’m not hungry that means I couldn’t possibly be burning that many calories! Then once I got down and took my first shower (after 15 days on the mountain without a shower, my personal best!!) I realized how much weight I had lost, as washing and feeling my stomach I realized that for the first time in my life I had lost the ‘spare tire’ around my waist and could feel all my muscles! (Lesson: if you want to lose weight go climb a mountain for a few weeks. Results guaranteed.)

Day Hike from Base Camp

One of the days at base camp we took a little hike away from the normal routes of where we came from and where we were going. That was just to keep our legs active, as days of rest can yield some tight muscles when it comes time to need them. Below you can see me enjoying some of the topography of the area around base camp.

Day Hike from Base Camp

Another way to pass the time was to sit in the tent and relax, maybe drink some tea, which we did a lot of in the higher camps where we did not have our dining tent, and our sleeping tents were all the shelter we had.

Relaxing in the Tent

I also made sure to pray every day, as I have learned that mental strength is more of what gets a person to the top than physical strength. I would say a Rosary every day, and on some tough days of walking I would find myself praying as I’m going up, taking my mind off the burden at hand.

Nothing to do...

By the end of the summit push, when I had read all my books, my iPod was waiting at base camp, the weather outside was too bad to go and talk to people, I would just lay in my sleeping bag and do absolutely nothing. I think there was one day like that, when I can remember looking at my watch, thinking “I have about 8 hours left before I go to sleep with absolutely nothing to do”, and I literally spent that day laying there and just thinking, the first day of my life in a VERY long time where I did absolutely nothing, because there was absolutely nothing to do.

Alright, now that I’ve filled your head with what our idle time looked like, stay tuned for my next entry, when I’ll talk about the trips from base camp to the high camps.

posted by Wiktor at 20:17  
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