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Himalaya Climb

I took a six month trip around the world at the turn of the millennium and wrote mass emails every so often – this one is about my climb of the 20,000 foot Himalayan mountain named Island Peak or “Imjatse” as it is known in Nepalese.

 

Hello again, here’s my Island peak story as promised.
I wanted to break it up because a) I didn’t feel like
writing any more, and b) I didn’t want it to get cut
off for being too long.  If that last one bored you I
think this one is a little better.  Also, I apologize
for the obnoxious mass e-mail…

Anyways, back to my original story on trekking and
climbing  (trekking is simply hiking, it’s just called
trekking in Asia).  We flew into Lukla, a short nasty
runway that slopes up sharply and deadends abruptly in
a mountainside.  We cut about seven days off our trek
doing this.  We trekked about four hours the first day
and four more the second, to get to Namche Bazaar
(12,000 feet), the last civilization to speak of on
the trip.  There we waited (a little nervously) for
our guide, who we’d already given $100.  We took a
rest day, and he actually showed up on time, so we
rented the remainder of our gear (down jacket, plastic
mountaineering boots, ice axes, jumars, harnesses,
figure 8’s) and headed out to Tengboche the next
morning.  We checked out the monastery and the
chanting and freezing (no heat in the temple) monks.
The next day we headed to Dingboche, took a rest day
and went on to Everest base camp.  We spent the night
at a nearby lodge, experienced the joys of altitude
sickness
, and climbed 18,000 foot Kala Patthar the
next day.  Beautiful views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse
and some others.  Then we headed back to Dingboche,
took another long boring day to rest by the yak-dung
stove, and headed up a different valley to Changboche,
the last lodge before the climb.

Trekking in the Himalayas near Everest base camp

Trekking in the Himalayas near Everest base camp

We originally planned to go from Changboche to base
camp, about 4 hours, then the next day to high camp
(only one hour), then summit on the third day.  We
thought we were tough and also thought we’d be bored
sitting around at high camp for a whole day, so we
persuaded our guide to let us skip base camp.  He said
that was fine.  So we went straight to high
camp(18,000 feet), each carrying around 25-30 kilos,
which I think is around 50-60 pounds, about a five
hour trip.  We roped our tent down very seriously and
I spent the night listening to the wind howl and
watching the tent flap violently above me.  Maybe 15
minutes of sleep.  The alarm went off about 2:30, I
woke our faithful Sherpa after about 15 minutes, and
he started melting snow and making tea and porridge.
Around 4:30 we finally headed out into the darkness
and up the rocky “trail”.  Scott had to turn back due
to severe altitude sickness plus a cold plus diahrrea,
so the guide and I continued on.  After about two
hours we reached the beginning of the glacier.  With
much effort I got my crampons, gaiters, and harness
on, and my guide crunched confidently in front of me
out onto the glacier.  I reluctantly followed,
freezing, as the sun finally gloriously rose over the
eastern peaks, including Makalu.  We made our way over
a thin section of the glacier with steep drops on both
sides and I remember thinking “You’ve got to be
kidding me.”  There were huge cracks in the ice and it
rose crazily 100’s of feet in the air all around us.
What if Mingmar fell in a crevasse?  Could I stop him
singlehandedly?  And then what?  What if I fell?
Would he catch ME?  And why wouldn’t this glacier move
with me on it?  A giant crevasse open up right beneath
me?  It was way more than I had bargained for.  I was
so scared I nearly wet my pants out of sheer apathy –
who cared if I wet my pants?  Not me certainly.  But I
pulled myself together.  We continued on, into a
section with two huge ice towers on either side, and
Mingmar hesitated.  We were roped together, he was
about 30 feet in front of me.  I said, “hey it’s no
problem if we turn around!”  He abruptly turned and
said ok.  Not good.  But we were to search for another
route.  The route he had taken the previous October
was now apparently unpassable to us because of a giant
crevasse.  As we looked for another route, my crampon
began to fall off, which scared me even more.  We
couldn’t find another route that looked satisfactory
to either one of us, and I finally persuaded him to
turn back.  It wasn’t really persuading, it was more
pleading.  So we turned around and headed back to the
lodge, but we left the high camp set up, as Mingmar
had talked me into trying again.  We arrived back at
the lodge at around three in the afternoon, a very
long day.  I was through, and had it set up for
Mingmar and the lodge owner to go get the tent and
bring it back.  After a few hours rest I felt a lot
better, and Mingmar and I decided to go for it again.
This was after much discussion of glaciers, snow,
crevasses, etc, and they convinced me it was a pretty
safe time of year, all things considered.

We climbed back up to high camp the next afternoon,
four hours, and spent the night.  We had water this
time, so didn’t have to melt snow, and got out of the
tent and climbing around 3:45 am.  This time we had
two Japanese guys and their Sherpa about an hour
behind us, they were going from base camp to the
summit.  We reached the glacier about and hour earlier
than the previous day.  The wind was howling and I was
quickly freezing cold.  I had unwisely left my down
jacket about a half-hour into the journey as it seemed
so heavy.  It was far too cold to think about taking
our gloves off and putting on our crampons.  Mingmar
and I huddled like I’d rather not describe behind a
little pile of rocks waiting forever for the sun to
appear.  It was excruciating.  The sun finally creeped
its way down the glacier to warm us after an hour or
so.  By that time the Japanese had joined up with us.
We went first, back the same route we had previously
tried, I don’t know why, but the crevasse was
amazingly still there.  Mingmar shouted it was
unpassable to the Japanese guy’s Sherpa, and he found
a route.  It involved going back down the glacier a
ways.  This glacier was probably 300 feet thick and
was flowing off a 1500 foot cliff at one spot.  A 300
foot sliver of ice was partially cracked off, ready to
fall down the cliff, held on by maybe it’s bottom
third.  The Sherpa jumped onto the bottom of this 3
foot wide sliver of ice about to fall 1500 feet down a
cliff, and began climbing up it.  His clients
followed.  My Sherpa followed.  Very reluctantly I
followed, generously offering Mingmar the option of
turning around.  He would hear nothing of it.  So I
stepped out onto the hanging piece of ice and I
climbed, hunched over, concentrating fiercely on
digging my crampons and ice axe in at every step.  I
got to the top, where it was connected to the next
section of glacier and saw another crevasse and sheet
of snow/ice.  I was finished.  I told Mingmar I wanted
to go home and I was serious.  “Just little further
then we turn around.  You just did hard part.”  Ok, he
was right.  But just a little farther.  Jumping
another crevasse, I made it to the top of the snow
slab and saw a giant ice field, maybe a kilometer
across, with a hundred yard, 80 degree wall at the
other end.  What was this?  I was mentally finished.
And thirsty.  My water bottle had frozen solid during
our interminable wait for the sun.  But he told me I
had just finished the hard part.  Just a little
further and we would turn around.  OK.  Just a little
further.  We got to the base of the wall.  There was
of course a huge crevasse at the base of the wall we
would have to jump.  He and the other guide decided we
didn’t need to have fixed ropes.  The original plan
was for him to climb up, fix a rope, and I would
attach myself to this rope and safely climb up.
Whatever, I could do it without a rope.  I was so
close.  We just needed to hurry and get back before
the sun got too high and sterted melting the glacier
and it started moving.  That was all I could think
about.  So, I worked my way up this wall, to the
ridge, which of course was only about two feet wide,
with a huge drop on the other side.  There I sat.
After a while it turned out we only had another 50
feet or so along this ridge to go, the actual summit
was unattainable due to a huge crevasse.  50 more feet
and I was at the recognized summit.  I took a photo or
two, and then insisted we get down.  Mingmar finally
agreed.  I was convinced I was going to die on the way
down.  I prayed my brains out as we went, counting off
each crevase and giant obstacle as I went.  Going down
the sliver of ice was much more difficult than going
up.  After an eternity, we made it to the relative
safety of the rock.  And after about 6 more hours of
hiking, where I had to stop and lay on my back every 5
or 10 minutes to rest, we made it back to the lodge at
around 3:30.  I forced down some food and passed out
until 7 the next morning.

And that’s my story.  I don’t think high altitude
mountaineering is going to play a big part in my
future.  Crevasses and glaciers scare the crap out of
me.

We hurried back to Lukla and flew out to Kathmandu and
our first showers in 18 days.  We went on a rafting
trip, Scott went back to Africa, and I enjoyed the
next week or so with different friends I had made
along the way.  They had a crazy full moon festival
where the whole town was armed with water balloons and
paint powder they rubbed all over each other’s and our
faces, which we participated in wholeheartedly.

And here I am in southern Thailand.  Looking forward
to hearing from you!

Tom

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