After a phone call from Helen Wilton, base camp manager for the Adventure Consultants 1993 Everest expedition, I made the decision to spend some time at Base Camp with the Kiwis this year. There would be many people I knew from prior trips, and the idea of being there without the stress of climbing was most intriguing. After checking the logistics out with Rob Hall, it seemed the perfect opportunity to spend time in a place I love, with people I greatly admire and to enjoy the energy of Everest without having to climb. A week after Helen had planted the seed, I decided to go.
Following are parts of my journal from this trip. Entries in parentheses were added later for clarity.
4/16 7:30 pm. En route, Kimpo Airport, Seoul, Korea
Burning eyes, puffy feet, flat hair, foggy brain. Seoul from the air is not so different from a western city. Only as you get closer to the ground are the architectural differences more apparent. The western influence is spreading more and more. I wonder what changes I will see in Nepal? It is amazing to be going for the 4th time. To have so much history with such an exotic place. I have traveled the path between Pheriche and Base Camp 10 times. I have been through the Icefall 6 times. It is marvelous to be in an exotic place again even if it’s only an airport. I am blessed.
4/17 Bangkok – Kathmandu
1:30 am Amari Hotel, Bangkok. Getting off the plane in this exotic city and know where I’m going. Having it look familiar. Knowing I have to put my duffles on the cart lengthwise or they won’t fit into the elevator to the hotel. Familiarity on the other side of the world. Very cool! Not a bad trip at all. Ended up in the widow seat and was able to sleep some. Tomorrow Nepal. The internal kids are awake and excited while the rest of us will try to sleep. We shall see. Thanks, God for allowing this to happen.
2:45 pm Garuda Hotel, Kathmandu.
On my little porch at the Garuda. My heart is very full. Clear, hot, breezy, busy, crowded, dirty, alive, foreign, familiar, friendly, welcoming. Easy transition. Deepak Lama is very organized. The big surprise is Guy Cotter, my “crush” from the 1993 expedition with the Kiwis. Too good to be true. I am so excited to be here! They’ll pick me up at 5:45 in the morning. It can’t come too soon. Oh, thank you Spirit, God, Buddha, Ganesha, Grandmother, Grandfather, and thank you again.
Day 1 Kathmandu – Namche Bazaar
5:30 am Waiting in the lobby. Packed and ready. Ready. Ready. Many thoughts about heading out of Namche tomorrow. Patience, Margo. Stay in today. i don’t want to be in such a hurry to get to EBC (Everest Base Camp) that I miss any of the experience of the walk in. This is not just about being at EBC. It is being here – wherever here is right now. I will walk in on my own. The other gear will go straight to EBC. Gear fear again this morning. Too much of this, not enough clothes. It happens every time. Sitting on my little porch at 4:30 this AM. Almost full moon, city quiet with the exception of a rooster crowing every now and then. Marvelously peaceful. My heart is full this morning and everyone is excited.
6:30 am Waiting room at airport. They are working on the airport. Much dust in the air, blown up from India, which made the sun dark orange as it rose this morning. Looking out the window toward the runway, into the sun, it’s like a curtain of fog through which the sky is barely discernible from the ground. The silhouette of a tree is ghostly, ethereal.
10:30 Khumbu Hotel, Namche Bazaar Many mixed thoughts. It was very clear coming down from Shyangboche that my pack is way too heavy for me to carry up. So I will use a porter. Message was too clear to ignore. Legs shaky by the time I got here. I don’t like admitting that I am that out of shape. And I am. The second thing is that I would prefer to be with someone rather than by myself. It is my preference to share things most of the time, especially places that are special to me. I will acclimatize here for a couple of days before moving up.
10 pm Have just had a lovely evening chatting with a couple of American kids from Prescott College. Outdoor philosophy, 12-step philosophy, climbing philosophy, life stuff. 2 kids on a path to themselves through the outdoors. Very unexpected and enjoyable. Tonight I feel comfy in my bag in this little room, in Namche Bazaar. Wonderful view of Everest from the chopper on the way in. It made me smile. With a tad of bittersweet mixed in. I will never be up there. And I wanted to be so badly. Ah, well… Changes. And the ones happening in my life are indeed wonderful. Less strong physically and more content spiritually and emotionally. A worthwhile trade.
Day 2 Namche Bazaar – Thame – Namche
7:15 am. Glass of coffee, journal in hand. Sounds like home yet feels and looks so different. It is a glorious morning. Cloudless here. Had a good and toasty warm sleep. The renovations PK made last year are good ones. Many more private rooms, all with lights, halls are lit, toilets are lit, though no renovation can dispel the smell of an outhouse. Got up to pee in the middle of the night and dropped my pee bottle. Absolute worst nightmare! And better on a wooden floor than in a tent. It is near dry now with no discernible odor. A bit of a secret giggle. I will walk to Thame today, slowly steadily, one step at a time.
11:45 I have no idea if I am still on track to Thame. Wonderful spot by bridge over powerfully loud cascades. White and gray birds soaring above. Haven’t seen anyone in a while. Found the joy this morning, of being here. Of walking in the beauty. A sense of Jonathan sharing the Khumbu with me, 20 years later.
1:30 Lying in the sun by a stream, airing my feet in the breeze. Breeze in the trees, water over the rocks, birds singing. Prayer flags flying above the log bridge that crosses the stream. The village kids all showed up running, giggling and splashing in the water. My soul is singing. Peaceful, happy, content, relaxed.
3:30 Home again at the Khumbu Tired, and feeling good. Encounter with 3 mountain sheep of some sort. Dall sheep? Wonderful. There was an arrow in the trail that took me much higher than I needed to be and out of my way but there were these sheep. It was perfect. An enlivening walk. Energy good, family and spirits present, me present. Walking at a comfortable pace, turning around when it felt right, shooting photos, the sounds of nature on the way out, John Denver coming back. I just plain and simple feel good! (There is a purple smiley face drawn in the journal at this point.)
Day 3 Namche Bazaar – Pheriche
7 am Khumbu Hotel, Namche. Another brilliant day. I look forward to moving up. Slept pretty well, feel good. Guy Williams from the Pik Lenin trip showed up last night. He’s part of the Hoffman team and his duffle of gear is lost so he’s here buying stuff. What a surprise. Conversation about what is happening at Base Camp, with the different expeditions. Politics, permit issues, leader disputes, O2 concerns. Ah, the intrigue of Everest!
2 pm Ama Dablam Garden, Deboche. Hot when we left Namche. Now it is snowing. This place has also been totally remodeled inside. Mingma is no longer here, and still it has fond memories for me. 3 nights with Parry and Vern; the walk out with Ken; Lunch with him, Keith and Frank and them leaving for Namche in a snowstorm. Have just heard they are back: Frank for his 4th shot, Keith on Lhotse. Unbelievable! It’s going to be like old home week.
What a nice walk it’s been, Kaji, my porter, is sweet. He’s 17, and I told him I was old enough to be his grandmother. The name has stuck. I’m very glad I made the choice to use a porter. It definitely makes the trip more pleasant. It felt good to be walking. No pressure, no time crunch, nothing to prove. I very much like wearing the persona of a climber, at least an ex-climber. The mystique without the pressure. I don’t mind being done. Not at all. That sense seems to be strengthened here. I was afraid it would go the other way. Many gifts already.
People who’ve shown up along the way:
Howard and Hanneman: the 2 American kids from Prescott. Interesting, eager to grow, open to ideas and philosophies not familiar to them.
Ramji: Indian woman from Bombay trekking on her own, carrying much of her own food and medicine and generously sharing it.
The Australian couple so exhausted after hauling huge packs up the Namche hill, they both fell asleep in the dining room.
Dad and daughter: trekking together, he sounding very conservative, her with a diamond stud in her nose, yet seeming quite comfortable with one another.
Delethe: Student in International Training here for 4 months, living with a family and researching the effects of electricity on the people of the Khumbu. I will look forward to reading her findings!
Perry Bristoll: Garrison ’73! (my high school) Still in touch with Nancy Dick, my high school hockey coach, who I sent a note to. Such a small world.
Brent Bishop: just here on his way up the hill to see his mom. Summitted Everest with Scott Fisher last year. Climbing on Todd’s Everest permit with Keith and several others.
The people I meet on these journeys are as much a part of them as the place and the mountains.
Day 4 Himalayan Lodge, Pheriche
12:30 Another great walk. Slept for 9 hours last night! Less than 3 hours to here. I can’t say Im sorry to have a rest day tomorrow. I haven’t done this kind of hiking in a while. My legs will like the day off.
Deboche to Pheriche is Ama Dablam day. It is in view the whole way, and it’s marvelous to watch it as the light and angles change and the clouds move in and out. The trail follows the Dudh Kosi, high above it until it turns to Pheriche. It is a marvelous walk. Everest is in sight most of the way as well, fronted by the phenomenal Nuptse Wall. The wind was howling on top, huge plume out to the North. So fierce looking. My heart is full and singing.
4 pm Wonderful conversation with Portuguese man named Willy. Traveling on his own in many out of the way places. Talking about sneaking up Everest. I told him I would not say anything and also discouraged him as much as I could. He has a marvelous passion for life. David Breashears was here briefly. Nice to see him. Handsome, pleasant man. I’m sure he didn’t remember me, and was most pleasant in the connection. He is here doing some IMAX filming.
Stopped by the Himalayan Rescue Association, such life savers in ’92, to pick up my letter from Helen. They talk to EBC every night at 6, so I will go back and hopefully talk to Jan and/or Helen. Guy has just showed up, and I will share my room with him. That’s a nice treat.
Day 5 Himalayan Lodge, Pheriche
8 am Another brilliant morning. Guy is off to EBC. Talked with Jan on the radio last night. She was as pleased to hear my voice as I was hers. I just love being here. Despite the cold and the wind, I just love it. Walked out the door this morning to crystal clear skies, bright sunshine, great mountains all around. I wish that my mind’s eye was a tape i could play back when I get home. I am not a great observer or describer. I remember feelings easier. Yet I would like to be able to bring this beauty and how it feels to me, to everyone. Such joy at a heart level. It was underlined speaking with Willy yesterday. He understood that the gifts of climbing far surpassed the summits.
I do love how people react to the fact that I am staying at Base Camp for several weeks, know many of the climbers and have been on Everest myself. Climbing has been a big part of my life, of who I am in a way, and I like how people respond to it. The difference between now and 2 years ago is that I know and like who I am beyond the climbing and the training. Because I’m OK with being a middle-aged, averagely fit woman, content and excited about my life today, I can take great pride and joy in what I have done as a climber without the fear of who am I now that I’m not doing that anymore. That shift shines with bright clarity here in the place where I have been a climber and am no longer one. I am very blessed.
(The next section refers to the Daily family from Aspen, Colorado. Several weeks before this trip, my friend Kathy Daily and her 2 sons Tanner and Shea, were killed when a boulder fell on their car. Art, father and husband, walked away unharmed.)
10:30 am The chorten above Dingboche. (Derived from ancient burial mounds, a chorten is a spiritual monument usually containing relics of some kind. Chorten is a Tibetan word, commonly interchanged with stupa, the Sanskrit version.) I have left the photo of Art and Tanner under a small rock on the chorten. As I was walking over here from the top of the ridge, a small brown hawk appeared soaring on the wind. John Denver singing about “the freedom I feel when I fly.” Tanner’s spirit so strong in the hawk, soaring, playing free. His spirit is strong here. Oh, Art, I wish you could feel him the wa that I do. “Tell Dad I love him.” It is a marvelous place for him to be playing. Lhotse, Lhotse Shar, Island Peak, Ama Dablam, Kangtega, Thamserku, Taweche. Enjoy, Tanner.
I feel my own grief very strongly. For my friend Ted especially. I miss his physical presence on the planet. And Gary (Ball). His spirit is strong here. Smiling face in his brown trekking hat. Surrounding us all is the best friend of all , the God who makes all this possible. Who allows me to feel the grief and the love at the same time. Below is the bigger chorten where I was so filled with emotion and Jonathan’s presence in 1989. It will always be Jonathan’s chorten for me. Yes, there is grief here, and so much life as well. Men and yaks are plowing a field below me for spring planting. It is indeed life. To you, Tanner. And Gary and Mother. And Kathy and Shea and Ted. Jonathan and Rob and chip and Michael P. Johnny Knowles. God, they are all here together. It takes my breath away. So much love. And freedom. And peace.
6:15 pm Returned about 2:30 to find Helen in my room. What a lovely surprise! We have been chatting nonstop every since. Trying to cover 2 years in an afternoon. Such fun. God only knows what the Sherpa think. Guy in my room last night and Helen tonight.
Day 6 Pheriche – Lobuche
8:30 am Lazy morning as we have a radio sched at 9 about the missing Korean rope. It is so nice to have a bunkmate, especially one who I enjoy so much. Many giggles last night. And remembering Gary. I have so badly wanted to talk with someone who knew him and felt the same way about him I did. Humor, sadness, grief – the whole gamut. Rob, Jan, Veikka, Guy, Helen, how they all felt and dealt with it. The memorial services. Good to have the information. Helen said that on the way in the clients were saying that Rob wants to make people’s dreams come true. It is true. Skip comes from the same kind of place. I want to facilitate people in making their own dreams come true. And in know that the fulfillment comes from going.
Day 7 Lobuche – Everest Base Camp
We are here! 4 hours walking time. I feel great, energy good, lungs doing great. Quite wonderful walk up. Simply brilliant morning. Several inches of snow last night and crystal clear this morning. Started walking at 6:45 after a very nice night with the lodge to ourselves. No trekkers. Cold and crisp for 5 minutes, then the sun was up and it was quite hot. Also exquisitely beautiful. Felt a bit slow the first hour. We stopped for water, and I went much better. Moving strongly, very happy to be moving to Base Camp. On my way home. That’s how it felt. 1 hour, 40 minutes to Gorak Shep, then half hour relaxing in the sun, drinking, talking with people, talking on the radio to Jan at EBC and Kami at Camp II. Women’s International Everest Expedition!
15 minutes out of Gorak Shep we reached the memorial rock where Gary’s Mani Stone had been added to the others. Helen and Kaji went on after a few minutes, leaving me time by myself. Tears. Gary, Ted, the Dailys. I put the photo of Shea and Tanner in front of Gary’s rock and got this clear picture of Gary walking away with one of the boys holding each of his hands. I can think of no one better to teach their spirits about adventure. I walked on with a full heart.
Day 8 Everest Base Camp
8:30 am Bed coffee has been served, and I am sitting just inside the tent looking up at the Icefall. It is magnificent, as always. The snow and ice formations on Nuptse and the West Shoulder seem more dramatic than before. I don’t know if that’s reality or that I am seeing them with different eyes. I will shoot lots of slides from here. I am still astounded that I feel so well. Virtually no effects from the altitude aside from the small headache at Namche. I am profoundly grateful. I think my body knows that my heart is at home here, so it feels good also.
11 Clean and moisturized! Lovely hot shower. Amazing to have this luxury available here. Chhongba works so hard to provide us with luxuries like the shower and very good food. He just brought in fresh orange sections! Big mountain expeditions, especially here on Everest, would be so very different without the Sherpa crews, both on the mountain and in camp. The loads they carry and the work they do on the mountain is truly extraordinary. I thanked them every day, in some way or other, when I was climbing here and watch in awe as the Sherpa climbers make daily trips through the Icefall and above, humping gear, fixing ropes, setting up camps. And here at Base Camp, the comfort level is just astounding. Often better food than I cook at home! I cannot sing their praises enough. Plus the fact they are delightful people, by nature happy, optimistic, accepting. We are so blessed to have them.
It is still a gorgeous day though the wind is beginning to blow up above. Only a slight breeze down here. I love looking up at the Icefall knowing I don’t have to go through it! It is absolute confirmation that I am done with big mountains. I watched Guy Johnson and a Sherpa go up this morning with no sense of yearning and lots of contentment at just being here. It is a perfect closure to the climbing. Pride, gratitude, pleasure, fulfillment in what I have done, and a sense of completion that is very satisfying. Huge joy at being here cheering the climbers on and having lots of fun with the girls down here at Base Camp. I couldn’t have scripted it better.
Sitting in my Thermalounger in the sun watching the clouds form above the Icefall. A gorak (kind of raven) soaring on the wind, black silhouette stark against the jumbled whites of the Icefall. I feel full, nothing that needs doing, nowhere that needs going.
Day 9 EBC
Noon. Sitting on a rock outside the mess tent watching slow descenders in the Icefall. Veikka and Mike Groom are down. So good to see them. They both Summitted Everest in 1993, Veikka with Rob and Mike with Tashi Tenzing’s 50th Anniversary climb) They have their High Camp in at III on their way to the Lhotse summit, having spent only 4 nights on the mountain with no Sherpa support. Spectacular strength. “And silly,” said Mike. I don’t know about that. I do know about the strong part!
Later. Chantal (Mauduit, who was with us on the ’93 trip and did not summit) is down, torn ACL and all. From Camp II to III in 3 1/2 hours yesterday, still very fast despite her brace. Courageous as ever, effusive as ever, pleased to see me as I am her. We all feel good about her summit chances. Doug is down. He is feeling better, gut pretty good, lips healing, good spirits. I am so glad to be a part of all this as an observer and cheerleader. Camaraderie, beauty, old friends, climbing energy, spirit presence, family here. I do not have words for how I feel. I am so very comfortable here in this place that is so alien to most people. And with this small community of people who travel around the world climbing big mountains.
Day 10 EBC
9 am Camp is quiet this morning. Climbers are tired, sleeping, resting. In the front door of our tent, backed by the sun, watching the wind above blow tendrils of snow up off the ridges. Chuffs and goraks soaring by. Chantal on her way to the loo. Sherpa on the radio to Camp II. 4 going up to IV today so all gear and camps will be in place by the end of the day. Now we wait for the weather. For the wind to stop. Another average day at Everest Base Camp.
Day 11 EBC
10 am Breakfasted, coffee-ed, having a little quiet time in the tent. A tad windy this morning but again crystal clear. Sherpa were down shortly after 8. Lobsang carried 12 O2 bottles and came down in 2 hours, 20 minutes. Astounding! Much humor in the dining tent last night. Rob could easily be a comedian. Fun chat with Guy as well. Spent a couple hours yesterday chatting with Ed (Viesturs, Paula (now Viesturs), and Guy. I feel very welcome and included because of who I am not what I have done. My climbing introduced me to this place and these people. Who I am is what makes me welcome.
Many birds in camp. Goraks, chuffs, several varieties of Little Brown Birds, and one variety whose color is like a female cardinal. The different songs are a nice change from the harsh cry of the goraks. Ed is hanging up his laundry, Mariola walking back from the loo, Rob meeting with the Sherpa, Guy resting. Todd’s (Todd Burleson, leader of my ’92 expedition) people are due down today though I have seen only 1 person in the Icefall. Now Ed is on the loo and Guy, waiting not so patiently, is launching stones at the tarp roof. Life at Base Camp.
The beauty and scale of the rock, ice and snow surrounding us continues to fill me with awe and gratitude at being here. So few people get to experience this. So few people have the courage to follow their hearts at this level. I am grateful and proud to be one of them and to know my purpose on the planet is to facilitate others to follow their own.
1 pm Gyeljin did a marvelous puja to bless a Zee stone for Doug, Chantal’s photo of the Dalai Lama, and a tsungdi (red string necklace) for me with a little packet of barley blessed by the Dalai Lama. (The puja, a spiritual ceremony in which the Sherpa pay homage to the gods, in this case the mountain deity, is the starting point for all Everest expeditions. The Sherpa will not begin climbing before the puja is celebrated. This puja was a special one performed to bless these objects which had arrived after the initial ceremony.)It was Ang Tsering, Rob’s sirdar (head Sherpa), who thought to include me, and I was very touched. Geyeljin’s rocking chanting of ancient Buddhist prayers written on old, old parchment, throwing rice, burning incense, burning juniper, dowsing one another with barley flour, laughter. Touching, funny, adding even more to my sense of belonging.
Day 12 EBC
Noon. No one would believe this. I am sitting on my thermalounger at 17,500 feet, looking up at the Khumbu Icefall – in shorts and a T-shirt. It just makes me laugh, inside and out. The midday stream of melting glacier ice is trickling – more running – by our tent, goraks flying overhead and Sherpa loudly playing Parachu, the dice game which I have watched several times and have no clue how to play. I only know the rules are complicated, and the game is played with great hooting and passionate involvement. And usually some chang (Nepali/Tibetan beer)!
Last evening Veikka, Mike, and all of Bob Hoffman’s guys came by bearing gifts of food and beer, and we had a great party. Climbing Everest is definitely not all serious! At least not with the Kiwis. Western dancing, Nepali dancing, Sherpa dancing, singing, and laughter. We even had Reinhold, our oldest member and probably most conservative, dancing on the table for a bit. A welcome lightening of the tension that is building as the climbers await their summit push which, weather permitting, will be in 2 days.
Day 13 EBC
10 am My body is beginning to show the wear and tear of being here. Pretty good coughing during dinner with accompanying soreness in my chest. Using the inhaler quieted it down. It does seem to me asthma related in some way even though I have never been diagnosed with true asthma. Well, there is exercise induced asthma, perhaps this is altitude induced! Nose is bloody from the dryness. Energy lowering. It’s good to walk on the glacier each day, meandering with a camera in hand. The tension is definitely high in camp today. Doug was up early and can’t stop pacing. Reinhold awake at 3:30. Abelardo quieter than usual. The weather has been magnificent the last 3 days. Definitely summit days. It does seem to have turned. They will go up tomorrow morning barring any unexpected problems. I am so glad it’s not me! I remember so clearly the tension in my head the day before we went up. The warring words and thoughts, “I am strong enough. You’ll never make it. I want this so badly. It’s going to be sooooo cold. You’ll be miserable. I can do this. Are you crazy? It will be too hard. What if there’s a storm? What if the tent blows away? What if I fall? What if… What if… What if…” back and forth wearing me out mentally before we even started climbing. And I loved it all at the same time. And today I like the support role better. I finger the barley tied to my tsungdi and experience, yet again, how blessed I am.
It is easy down here to forget how dangerous this mountain is. My prayers are first for safety, secondly for the summit. I can see Ed organizing gear in his tent while Paula walks with Elina, Veikka’s girlfriend. I wonder what is going through the climbers’ heads, especially Guy who is so quiet in his tent behind ours. A chat with Chantal about the heart and spirit of climbing and gave her the guardian angel pin that went to the summit with Jan in ’93. We connect in a lovely way.
Day 14 5/1 EBC
1:30 pm Up at 2:30 am to see the climbers off at 3 for the final push to the summit. Slept little up until then, my tension almost as high as some of the climbers. Abelardo and Burt both very quiet. Reinhold relaced and ready. Doug raring to go. Mariola subdued and slow to get going. Ed and Guy off for a day’s work. Lovely, almost ghostly images of each climber throwing rice and breathing the juniper smoke from the fire Ang Tsering had fed at the Puja place in the darkness of the night sky lit only by the almost unimaginable brightness of the stars and planets. We had a highly unusual thunder and lightning storm that brought a couple inches of snow around 10, and by 3 it was crystal clear once again. And relatively warm. Back in the bag by 3:20 until the 5:00 wake-up for chantal and Rob. Just light outside, with a candle and some incense burning in the mess tent.
The radio crackled around 5:30, and we heard that Reinhold had hurt his arm and was on the way back down with Guy. Rob went directly up to meet them, moving incredibly on those long legs, to bring Reinhold down and let Guy catch up the others. Chantal left at 5:45 with prayers and good wishes from Helen and me. Jan, Helen, Ang Tsering, Chhongba, and I watched the slow descent of the injured climber, and I returned to my tent so that Reinhold wouldn’t feel gawked at. He so hates being fussed over. When I returned to the mess tent several hours later, I found him with his left arm splinted and in a sling. It seems likely he has fractured his elbow in some way, and it seems a very long shot that he will get back on the mountain. We are all hugely disappointed for him, and despite Rob’s declaration that Shit Happens, none of us are yet able to be that pragmatic about it. Jan, especially, is finding it hard to take. She is very fond of Reinhold, and Rob had given him a 90% chance of becoming, at 67, the oldest man to climb Everest. It seems that dream is gone, at least for this year. The energy in camp is down and dropped even lower when we heard that Doug is not going well. All will get to II, though, and we’ll see what tomorrow’s rest day will bring. Burt, the slowest on many days, led the pack ll the way to II, so anything is possible!
So many of my feelings from ’92 and ’93 came back around Reinhold. It is impossible for me not to compare the 2 situations. I hurt for him. My pain is done, and the feelings are remembered rather than felt. Apparently he slipped on one of the sections without ropes. He tried to use his ski pole, it broke, and he slid into a 10-foot crevasse, banging his elbow hard. The words used are “just plain bad luck.” It is not easy to see Jan and Rob and Helen so affected. We are each of us following solitary pursuits this afternoon. It is fitting. Rob will go up tomorrow regardless of Reinhold’s condition. I put Reinhold and all the climbers on the mountain in God’s hands and pray for the safe return of those above.
Day 15 EBC
8:15 am The singing of the birds up here, which begins at about 5:30, is not so different than at home. There were always goraks and chuffs, and now the many little ones and their light songs and chirps bring a homeyness to this place that is at once so bleak and so magnificent. Our guys are all at II and will rest today for the push starting tomorrow. Rob left at 5:30 and is already past I. He ran into Will from Pheriche at I who carried a huge load up to I yesterday and is returning for more food today. Apparently both LO’s (Liaison Officers, Nepali officials required to be with each expedition to see the “rules” are followed) saw him yesterday, told him it was illegal for him to climb and let it go at that. We will tell all 3 today that he is coming down, and to watch for him. Part of me admires his chutzpah at chasing this giant dream. A bigger part, however, is angry about what the consequences might be. The odds are certainly high that he will get into trouble up high and need help. We shall see.
I have acquired a full blown head cold so will not go up Kala Patar today. Rest, read, puzzle, chat. The common activities for those who wait here at Base Camp. I asked Reinhold yesterday how his spirits were. He answered that it’s not his personality to get very upset, and that he is a little down. He is a sweet, kind man, and I am deeply disappointed for him. Perhaps next year… I send energizing waves up to II for our folks there. Chantal especially. We all have good feelings for her this year. 7 is lucky. I would so love for her to get up. Ed has a “Clean & Sober” bumper sticker to take up; Rob, Barb’s black opal; and Guy the photo of the Dailys to leave on the summit. When I asked him to take it up, he said he’d be honored. He is a good man.
7:15 It’s a gorgeous night. The clouds cleared about 6:45, and the vision of the West Shoulder and Nuptse against the darkening sky was exquisite. It is a good omen for Veikka and Mike who left at 4 and were above the jumar pitch at 6. Very fast. Elina is nervous. She and Helen will stay in the Communications Tent to do radio stuff with Finland with they summit Lhotse. It’s exciting. Take care of them, Spirit. Bring them home safely, hopefully from the summit. God speed.
Day 17 EBC
10:15 am The team was held at II by the wind yesterday, and we had a delightful day with the day before’s tension gone. Watching the accompanied-by-Sherpa descent of Willy and his interaction with the LO’s. They have taken away his watch, camera and film, and plastic boots as he has no documents with him. The LO’s plan is that he’ll go down to Dingboche today, get his papers and come back up tomorrow. We’re all pretty sure he’ll bolt from Dingboche. At any rate, no hard has been done, and no one wants him in any real trouble. Just not on the mountain.
Fun conversation with all after lunch. 3 pm aerobics in the mess tent with Reinhold watching and taking part when he could. It’s just a ludicrous concept to do aerobics at 17,500 feet. Don’t know if the altitude or the laughter made us more breathless. The Sherpa kept peeking in and giggling at us, not a clue what to make of these crazy western women. Dinner by candlelight with campfire singing with John Denver and dancing to Finnish music provided by Elina. Lovely, nostalgic after dinner chat about the games we all played as kids. A fun kind of day.
The team left for III early this morning and then turned because of the winds on the face. So we continue to wait, planning how to keep our day filled with activities such as walking down the glacier, solving world peace, straightening out the situations in Bosnia and Rwanda, and redesigning the road system in Seattle. Minor undertakings.
Ang Tsering believes we need 3 or 4 inches of snow for this wind to quiet down. I fear he is right. The clouds above the Cwm (the high valley above the Icefall) are being shredded by the force of the wind. The changing shapes are lovely to watch, and their meaning is frustrating. I send positive thoughts for tomorrow. The weather and the climbers are in Spirit’s hands. Huge avalanche off Nuptse just now. Beautiful. Only a very slight breeze down here, and I can hear the freight train roar coming from the Shoulder. The Winds of Everest. Reinhold just walked by, and we talked about the majesty of this place. Indeed. The wind is picking up down here, and it is clouding up quickly down valley. Weather and tension do no alter the fact that there is no place I’d rather be.
Day 18 EBC
10:15 am Awoke to Jan’s loud, “Yo!” echoing off the Lho La (a La is a mountain pass). Peeked out to see a perfect day above. No clouds, no wind. Veikka, at 10, said the weather was perfect. It bodes well. We are all high energy down here. They need only 2 more days like this. The one sad piece is that Mariola has abandoned the climb without even an effort to get to III. She will come down with Nima Kancha and wants to go to Pheriche today which is not possible. She has been homesick from the get go, and it seems as if she has not the motivation to keep on. Rob and Jan are very disappointed. Rob has gone out of his way for her in several ways, and it’s hard to watch her just give up which is what it looks like. It is so incredible to be on the Face on a day like today. I don’t want to judge her, and I cannot help but think that a week, 6 months, 6 years down the road she will have regrets and wonder what if… I hope not. It certainly brings back my own situations. Different? I believe so. Yet I cannot totally let go of the doubts that my decision was about not being mentally strong enough rather than about my lungs. I don’t believe that’ s true, and the doubts do pop up when we talk about Mariola. And in my gut I know that my decision was the right one. It is hard for all of us to understand turning around on a day like today. I am on my Thermarest with sleeves rolled up. Paul and Elina are out in T-shirts and shorts. I feel Gary’s energy strongly.
The joy I feel in being here does not negate the stress involved in living here. They have been here 6 weeks, and it is a focused, intense purpose that brings them here. Yes, we bring humor to it, and it doesn’t change the underlying intensity. Relieve it temporarily, yes. Change it, no. Yesterday’s giggles: aerobics, John Denver sing-along with Reinhold, choreographing the welcoming dance for the gang as they come out of the Icefall, Bob Hoffman’s story of hi ’92 Everest trip. I find Jan and Rob to be truly exceptional people, both as individuals and as a couple. Supportive, forgiving, bright, caring, real. A joy.
5:30 Social afternoon in the mess tent. Bob Hoffman, Jan’s friends Ron and Sue, Keith and Brent. Chatting, visiting, hot drinks. Turns out Sue taught skiing with Tony Roids who was a housemate of mine one winter in Aspen. Mariola is down, and she indeed has a cough. It’s clear she is done for whatever reason and will head to Pheriche tomorrow. The weather continues to be fine. Please, God, only 2 more days!
Day 19 EBC
10:30 It is a perfect day. No wind, no clouds anywhere, even down valley. Veikka and Mike should be nearing the Lhotse summit, and our guys are moving from III to the South Col. It seems in good form. We had a scare when Tom Stick came over and announced that someone had fallen down the Lhotse Face. Period. No further info about who or where on the Face it had happened. Near panic here, of course. Burt was our first thought. Elina, in tears, afraid it was Veikka. I came in on the tail and and only heard Tom talking about the victim. Turns out it was a cook boy of Todd’s carrying a load between II and III. He had fallen into a crevasse a week ago. What in God’s name is a cook boy doing carrying a load between II and III??? I choose to hope there is more that we don’t know. We will probably never know the whole truth.
The Icefall is empty. All are above. Mariola just left for Pheriche. She is indeed ill which, in a way, we were all glad to see. It would have been hard to take if it had simply been homesickness or giving up. Keep them safe, God. As Jan said, we’ve had too many surprises already. I have especially strong hopes for Chantal and Ken Kamler to reach the summit. They are each special to me. And the bottom line is that everyone get down safely. The waiting is hard. We are past the being silly stage. The fall has made us all nervous, and we each pass the time in our own ways. I write; Helen and Jan are over talking with Erin; Elina sits looking up the hill with jiggly feet; Paula sits with her. Time passes slowly.
Day 20 EBC
10:15 am Our team left for the summit just before midnight last night. So much happened yesterday. Moods were all over the place. The cookboy (or climbing Sherpa?) died. Turns out he had carried a load to III and was descending, no t clipped in, not far below III when he fell and slid past all the ascending members and guides into the bergschrund. I can’t imagine what that would have been like. Certainly a lesson in the ultimate consequences of not clipping in. And the source for some horrendous nightmares. I spent time with Erin in the afternoon. She is down here, the only Westerner in Todd’s camp with 4 Sherpa, and Todd is not great about communication. This is her first death. It is tough at any time, and especially the first. I’ve not had one on my own team. It has to just make it bigger. It hit all of us hard. Jan said last night that she couldn’t comprehend the idea of getting up and going to work as normal and simply not existing at the end of the day. It is a difficult one to grab hold of.
I can see Todd and the 5 Sherpa bringing the sled down through the Icefall.
12:10 More and more radio activity. All members on the South Summit. There is much excitement here as we get very broken calls from out own people and clear second hand communication from the Hoffman group. My heart is so with Chantal. From III and the North side come reports the wind is rising. From Hoffman’s, no. Up, down, up, down. I asked Reinhold if it is hard for him to hear the reports. He said, “Yes, very hard.” in a voice that sounded close to tears. It has brought my strong sadness at my ended dream very much up, and I am sitting on a rock a little away from everyone, crying. It’s so big when it comes up. I wanted to stand on the top of this mountain so very badly. And it was not to be. It’s not about regrets or what could I have done differently. It is simply about that it was not to be. I will feel it now and have it done so I can experience the joy when our guys, and especially Chantal, reach the summit. Could I have done it if I had stayed healthy? I still choose ‘yes’ for the answer. I hope Reinhold will come back. He would have been with them. What a marvelous dilemma to have at age 68: to choose between running the 100th Boston Marathon or climbing Mt. Everest. He is an inspiration as well as a marvelous man.
Todd and the Sherpa slowly continue working their way down with the sled, and it feels very similar to ’93. The sadness of the cookboy’s death juxtaposed against our nearing joy, and the discovery of Lobsang’s body only 2 hours before our guys reached the bottom of the Icefall. It is part of what climbing is about: those 2 great opposite, joy and grief.
5:30 One hour below South Summit at 10:10, such joy; 12:10 on South Summit, late and still OK. Delay cuz of need to fix ropes between South Summit and Hilary Step; 12:45 still on South Summit. Radio comms nonexistent or unintelligible. 1:00-ish we hear Guy trying to reach Rob, “Rob? Rob? Robo… Rob?” No panic in his voice and clear Rob couldn’t hear him. Then Kami asked Guy what was happening, and Guy said, “Stand by.” It is easy to say not to worry because we can only speculate about what’s going on. But… not so easy to do. We each dealt with the tension in our own way, as before. I went out to a rock and prayed for the safety of all and meditated a little. Perhaps a half hour later, perhaps not so long, the call came that all are OK, and all are turning around. It took too long to fix the ropes, and it wa just too late to be safe. Relief that they’re OK. Huge disappointment about turning back, especially for Chantal. So far the tally is one death and no summits with much emotions. Hoffman’s second team left III at 9 am and were only at the yellow band at 2. That’s not much more than halfway. I hope they have the good sense not to go for the summit tonight. Mike and Veikka are exhausted at II after summitting Lhotse, and last I heard were set on heading down at 4. Mike has a black patch about a centimeter down one thumb and most others are white. Doesn’t look good for him to go to Makalu as they had planned. We don’t know what will happen in the next few days. I cannot believe that Chantal will not want another go. I imagine it will all be discussed tomorrow at II.
Took a lovely walk to the foot of the Icefall with Run and Sue. Just what I needed. Nice walk, lovely light, good photos. It was perfect.
I cannot say enough about the Sherpa who are working with Rob. Chhongba and Ang Tsering are the most visible to me, and Kami the most heard, and the quality of both personality and work is truly exceptional.
Mike and Veikka summitted Lhotse at 12:30 am yesterday having left Camp III at 9 pm, and returned to III, exhausted at 6:45 pm. Amazing!
11:35 pm I have no idea how to talk about the rest of the day. Hearing Chantal was very weak at the South Summit. Then hearing she had collapsed and was being carried from 4 pm on. All second hand from Hoffman’s team. Waiting, waiting, waiting, hearing rumors, wondering. No direct communication to our own team, not knowing what was happening. Watching Jan begin to disintegrate. Then pull herself together phenomenally because she had to be professional as did we all. Praying that Chantal not die. I think we were all afraid she was dead or dying. No word for so long. Then bits and pieces, sounding better. Coherent, speaking. Then we finally heard her voice on the radio. Exhausted, very weak, and making sense. They, in essence, did a rescue from the South Summit because she could not walk unassisted. There is a chance she has a blood clot on the leg with the brace. If so she’ll have to be carried down so the clot doesn’t throw a piece to her lungs.
Everyone is safe at the Col (Camp IV) now. Almost a 24-hour day, very windy and cold the last few hours. So long. And in the middle of it all Hoffman’s guys are also slow coming down, and there is no trace of Sherm and Apa for a very long time. His guys from III were not all there by dark. Guy and Marc were lost above the Geneva Spur, out of oxygen, in the dark. Tom had come over at 2 asking how far it was to the Col from the yellow band. The quickest of the 4 took almost 5 hours. Jan told them another 4-5 hours at that rate, yet they chose to go on. Jerry Price came down from II on his own with a huge pack and took what sounds like 8 hours to get to the top of the jumar pitch. He was considered most likely dead until Mike and Veikka found him at the top of the jumar pitch. They called us, and Nima Kancha and Gyeljin went up to help. They are heroes. Mike and Veikka saved Jerry’s life, as did the Sherpa. We figure he’ll be back about 12:30 am. Unbelievably stupid choices made today. At any rate all but Jerry are now where they are supposed to be, and he is close.
It has been a very odd several days. As Jan says, no more surprises, please. Lots of prayers. My own emotions have been appropriately on hold this evening, as Jan had requested. We needed to be able to do what was necessary as staff for those above. And when I first heard about Chantal, I had to be alone and cry for a bit. The thought of her dying just hit so hard. Too many deaths. Too much grief. It came out in tears and a lashing out at bob Hoffman that was inappropriate and for which I made an appropriate amends. I am exhausted, as are we all, and glad this day is over.
Day 21 EBC
10:30 am The team was leaving the Col at 9:30 this morning. Chantal is mobile as far as we know which is great news. Heard this morning that Lobsang Zhangbu summitted yesterday! He and Guy were at the foot of the Hilary Step and guy had responsibilities as a guide but Lobsang did not, so up he went. His third summit without O2 at 23. He is astoundingly strong and a stud to boot with earring and long hair! Good on him! There is speculation about whether or not there will be another push. This morning Rob said he didn’t think so, and things could change as they move down. We shall see.
10:52 Chantal is at III, all but 2 are there. Only about 2 hours, so that’s very good. Obviously Chantal is walking and moving pretty well. Good news.
12:15 So. I am sitting up in my “palace” with clouds and gropple all around. It is not an easy day here. With the crisis past and everyone well on their way to II, the disappointment is heavy. Jan particularly. She was chatting with Rob, and his disappointment is very big, of course. They have used virtually all the oxygen getting people to the South Summit, so a second attempt seems out of the question. The clients required higher flow rates than was expected. As Jan said, it is a miracle that someone like Burt made it that high. The decision was made to turn around before Chantal hit the wall. She was not the reason they didn’t summit. I’m glad of that. A rescue off the summit ridge could easily have had much worse results. That’s 2 rescues and several assisted descents for her. Is there a message here?! Ah, sweet Chantal. (Sadly, Chantal Mauduit died was killed by an avalanche on Dhauligiri in 1998.)
Talking with Veikka about his Lhotse climb. It sounds absolutely horrific. They both looked so totally wasted when they came in last night. Mike’s feet are so painful he cannot walk today. (Mike lost the front third of both feet to frostbite on Kangchenjunga in 1987.) Not frostbitten though, which is fortunate. And the thumb is superficial. He can hardly afford to lose anything else. Couloir was all soft rock covered with snow. Loose, falling, with wind howling up it, blowing snow up their noses and into their eyes. So cold they couldn’t stop to eat or drink. No photos, nothing. Except standing on the summit of the world’s 4th highest mountain. Told Veikka I admired his ability to push the limits so far. I couldn’t do it. I pushed my limits in the mountains as far as was appropriate. And the Universe was kind to me on my climbs. Except for Vinson, there were never any problems like happened yesterday. Never even any God awful weather that couldn’t be sat out.
Yesterday really brought home to me how much the mountains and God smiled on my climbing. I came here partly to have fun and partly to bring a closure to my circle of climbing. I was looking for a gentle, spiritual closure, many pieces of which I have had. Yesterday, however, the door was slammed shut and the lock turned. I knew I was done climbing before I came here. That knowledge has simply been driven to a deeper level in a harsh way. It still amazes me that all the different pieces were resolved with no one dying above the col. I don’t know how anyone could have been a part of it and not believe in some sort of Higher Power. Yes, each person did incredible footwork, and even with that the outcomes could have been so different.
Day 22 EBC
8:15 am There is nothing so wonderful as bed tea in a tent looking down on Base C amp and the Khumbu Valley. It’s partly cloudy, the team is probably on its way down, the big stove in the Sherpa kitchen is purring like a giant kitten, The Sherpa are sitting on the bench in front of the kitchen, Ang Tsering is puttering with the Comms tent. Nescafe never tasted so good!
9:30 pm What a lovely day! Back in my palace with snow pattering on the tent. Sherpa chatting in the Sherpa kitchen. Zippers closing against the snow. Spent a couple hours greeting people at the foot of the Icefall with Ang Tsering, Gyeljin and Karma. Doug is so very disappointed. Hoping that I made a little difference talking about what he did accomplish being much more important than what he didn’t . (Doug is Doug Hansen who died so publicly on Everest in 1996) So many stories. PV’s courage. Ice Axe Hoffman. Guy calmly sidestepping an avalanche off a knife edge ridge. Doug’s strength being used up when they turned around. Abelardo behaving basically like an infant after they turned around, unable to do anything on his own. Both Doug and Burt were climbing on 4 liters above III. “Should” they have been turned around earlier? “Should” a climber be allowed to continue if he/she needs 4 liters of oxygen to climb above Camp III? The biggest danger of commercial trips is unqualified clients getting in over their heads. It’s a tough line to call. Certainly not a static one. Mental attitude doesn’t show up on a resume. At any rate, everyone from both the Hoffman group and ours is down safely and relatively soundly.
Day 23 EBC
3:30 pm Helen and I have made the decision to go to Gokyo from here, with Kami coming with us to go over the Cho La. I’m excited about that and also a bit nervous. I have carried a pack very little in the last 2 years. It will be a grunt, for sure. I am not overly sad about leaving tomorrow, and yet I know if anyone decides to go back up for a second attempt, I would not be sad to stay. It’s been a wonderful stay. High mountains are done and closed, and so many other adventures beckon.
11:55 pm It is an incredibly magical night. Half moon shining; bright, bright stars; marvelous shadows and light on the West Shoulder and Nuptse. Big avalanche off the Lho La. A marvelous farewell from the mountain. It is a perfect summit night with no one on the Col. I like that there’s no one there. It makes the farewell just me and the mountain. I salute you, Chomolungma, Sagarmatha, Mother Goddess of the Earth.
Helen and Lobsang are putting Chantal to bed next door. She is happily intoxicated and blabbering about feeling like a flying bird watching the silver moon. It was a wonderful party. Much dancing – Western, Nepali, Sherpa. Everyone involved except Burt and Abelardo who left before dinner was over. Reinhold grinned for 3 hours straight! All danced in one big circle around the table. Wonderful joining of cultures. So much laughter. Pure joy. A marvelous last evening.
Day 24 EBC – Pheriche
8:50 Farewell for real. It’s a gorgeous day for the walk down. I’m sitting on a rock looking at the Icefall – one more time. It is so different than when I arrived; the repeated melting and freezing has changed its landscape dramatically. A final goodbye to such an important stage of my life. I leave it willingly and yet with some sadness. I have no sense that I will never return here. And it will be different. I do feel at home here at the foot of this tallest of all mountains.
Oh, Jonathan, how do I thank you for opening my heart to all of this, so long ago. I know it isn’t ending, only changing, and I still feel sad. I am almost loathe to leave. And it is time. I will say my goodbyes, take a final photo and walk away from this place that is so special to me.
3:30 The top of the Dugla Hill Under the highest cairn on the highest rock to the right of the trail. I leave you here with love, Kathy and Tanner and Shea, and send your spirits sailing on the wind. I’ll join you here one day.
Day 25 Pheriche – Namaste Lodge, Phortse
Well, Gokyo is out. Yesterday’s ankle tweak has turned into a knee issue. The ankle held up pretty well but the knee deteriorated badly. Going downhill was a bit tweaky right out of Pheriche. Still manageable by Pangboche, and from there on, it got much worse. Foolish to go up at that point as there is no reason to think it will get better if I continue to walk on it. I will send Pemba, my porter, up to Ang Tsering’s with a message tomorrow, and there are a couple of American guys here who are going to Gokyo and will take a message for Helen. I will rest tomorrow as to start out with my knee as painful as it was when I arrived here would make the descent near impossible. It’s avery sharp pain when I release the weight off my right leg on the downhill, and even walking on the flat was painful. There are lots and lots of big ups and downs from here to Khumjung so a rest day seems appropriate. I am disappointed not to get to Gokyo. This is the 3rd time it has been on the itinerary and not come to fruition. This is not how I would have chosen to end this trip. And it is what is. I breathe into the place of acceptance and trust that it is all in perfect Divine order, even if I don’t like it!
Pemba Dika, my Sherpani porter, is very sweet. She is the daughter of Ang Rita from the Pheriche clinic and comes highly recommended. Ang Tsering and Kami told her I was a good person. She said so, too. I am pleased to know the Sherpa feel that way. I am such fondness and respect for them, especially Ang Tsering and Chhongba who I have gotten to know a good bit.
Up at 5:15 this AM, expecting the chopper to pick the rest of the team up shortly thereafter, and as is so common here, waiting, waiting, waiting. Gave me more time with folks, and it was sad for me to see them finally onto the chopper. I don’t know when I’ll see the Kiwis and Finns again, and I am fond of them. Not even a chance to say goodbye to Guy and just a wave to Rob as things happened so fast once the chopper landed. The end. The window in the door being closed, and nothing to look through anymore.
Day 26 Phortse
8:40 am The other 4 trekkers have left, and I sit here on my own for the purpose of resting my knee for tomorrow. Upper respiratory stuff is talkin’ again. No place to sit outside here, and I feel a bit stuck. Okay, Margo, flip it around. The sun is out, and there’s a lovely, little hill not far away where I can take an easy stroll. I can’t change what is, and I can change how I look at it.
The walk here yesterday was not just about pain. We stopped at Namka’s lodge in Pangboche and had a nice visit with im and his wife. Such marvelous humor! His wife is Pemba’s mother’s sister. I guess that means that Namka and Ang Rita are married to sisters. This lodge in Phortse belongs to Ang Dorje’s sister and her husband is Lakpa Dorje who Pete Athans speak of with such fondness. It is close knit around here.
The walk from Pangboche here is majestically beautiful as well as fairly difficult walking. The trail rises up from Pangboche, traversing actually and with many steep ups and downs. We were above Thyangboche, looking down on the gompa (monastery) from the other side of the river, as we passed it. Really lovely. We traversed very steep hillsides, in and out, following the terrain, several sightings of what Pema called Bran, some sort of mountain sheep, like I saw above Namche all those days ago. And much of the beauty was blurred with the pain of my knee. Breathing in and out to deal with what was, with much of my focus on how I walked in order to avoid the most acutely painful positions.
There are clouds down valley and over the ridge in the Khumbu. Here, it is clear and warm and breezy. I wonder what it’s like up high. I wonder if anyone summitted yesterday. The clouds are moving up. I will walk a bit before the sun leaves.
12:00 Back from a lovely walk up the hill amongst the rhododendrons. The incredible rhododendrons. They are trees, not bushes, forests of them. Hillsides covered in the color of the blossoms: red, pink, white. I’ve seen nothing like it anywhere else. The ridge ends in a kind of promontory where they are mining stone blocks for building. I can see Tyangboche, the river far below and the bridge that crosses it, what I believe to be the Everest View Hotel, the sharp uphill track up from the river which we will take tomorrow. It’s cloudy, and the wind has picked up so I am inside. Was struck at the top of the hill by the harshness of this mountainous part of Nepal. The Everest View looks to be a couple of miles as the crow flies. I don’t know how many miles and vertical feet it will take us to get there. Certainly many more than that. It is a harsh, beautiful country and an even harsher life.
The 4 kids of this lodge, I would guess 6, 5, 3, 2, are playing like any other kids – teasing, chasing, spitting water at each other, crying to Mom. The biggest difference is how dirty they are and that they are always snotnosed. Mom is at the market in Namche, and Auntie seems a little taken aback by it all. the 5-year-old just whacked the 3-year-old over the head with a metal cup and got a whack on his bottom for it. Not so different from anywhere else! The kids have come over to watch me write, and the 6-year-old has written the alphabet in the back of the journal. Fun to communicate with signs and laughter and pencil.
Day 27 Phortse – Shyangboche
7:20 am The world has disappeared. It rained last night, and we are in the clouds with visibility down to about 10 feet. Not cold, and it will be damp and slippery walking. The 2 older kids are being tutored in the corner. Inside today cuz of the weather. Today we walk to Shyangboche, the airfield above Namche, get some information and decide where to sleep. I lean toward the relative civilization of Namche, and it is a steep downhill at the end of the day. We shall see what my knee says.
5 pm Khumbala Lodge, Shyangboche I am ready to go home. My knee made the choice to stay up here, and the rest of me doesn’t much like it. Nothing available to eat, no one around and nowhere to get anything to eat without going down the hill. I am grumpy. I hold the vision of the weather being good and he chopper coming in the morning. I was done when I started down from Phortse this morning, and I’m having a hard time being present with the fact that I’m not done. Oh Mommy Take Me Home. Writing helps, as always.
There’s a big gorak on a huge rock outside my window. A tired, dirty uncared for gray mare with a lovely lilting bell around her neck and a black foal glued to her hip just walked by. Yaks coming up the hill from Namche, their presence foretold by clanking yak bells and hooting, whistling drivers.
This is definitely not how I had planned the end of the trip, and I have already received the gift of not going to Gokyo. The walk from Phortse to Khumjung was truly magical and mystical. Very long steep down to the river from Phortse, through a mist that blanketed everything with a soft gray. Rhododendron trees everywhere with blossoms from white to deep, deep pink. Other trees with peeling bark and moss hanging from them. Green and alive. A myriad of birds singing all around us. Pemba Diki and I both exclaiming at the beauty. 25 minutes down, then across a lovely stone and wood bridge and just as steeply up for an hour again, surrounded by trees and plants and rhododendrons and birds. The cliff-like drop to the river was hidden by the mist which every now and then rose a little to give us a glimpse of the rushing glacier water far below and the long fall that awaited a misstep. Stone stairs, rough hewn, some loose, led us upward. The mist also hid our goal, and it truly was about putting one foot in front of the other until we got there, having no clue how long that would be. Really marvelous. The beauty of the walk down to the river made my knee bearable and the uphill wasn’t a problem. Once we started the mostly downhill traverse towards Khumjung, it got very sore and even smooth terrain didn’t ease it. Had I gone up to Gokyo, the trip back down would have been truly awful. Clearly an appropriate decision.
I am booked on a flight in the morning, Pemba Diki has been paid and gone to visit her grandmother in Khumjung, dinner is in the works, (the lodgekeeper finally arrived back from wherever she had been), and writing has once again brought me to my center.
Day 28 Shyangboche – Namche Bazaar
10:45 am Well, here we sit. It rained most of the night, was clear at 5, fogged in at 6, then cleared slowly Chopper arrived about 8:30 but they sent it to Base Camp for Jerry Williams and PV, both of whom had apparently deteriorated. Then the weather closed in, and it bypassed us on the way down. Doesn’t look good for later as the weather seems to be settling. The good news is that Brent Bishop was on the same flight so at least i have company.
12:15 Khumbu Lodge, Namche Flight canceled, so here we are. Not so bad. Book to read, Fanta, it’s very warm in the restaurant, the food is good. It’s quiet in town, the season is mostly over, and the number of trekkers low. This is a much nicer way to end this trip than alone in an abandoned teahouse, as I was last night. You just never know what will happen!
Day 29 Namche Bazaar – Shyangboche – Kathmandu
8:45 am Sitting next to the runway with Brent, PV, Jerry, and Guy watching the clouds move up the valleys. The chopper is late, and it’s looking like it’s a toss-up at best weather-wise. The guys are telling stories of the mountains when I believe I hear a chopper. And now going away. What will happen?
8 pm Garuda Hotel, Kathmandu, with a full belly and a clean body. What a comedy at Shyangboche. Many Nepali and Sherpa trying to push a huge helicopter out of the way that had been stranded on the runway. 6 circles in the air before ours lands. Afternoon eatathon with Guy, PV, Jerry. Theirs not mine. I am here for 2 full days, plenty of time for more details and wandering in Kathmandu.
Day 31 Thursday, May 18 Hotel Manang, Kathmandu
Breakfast with Brent who is good company. We will be on the same flight tomorrow. I will be glad to be on the way home. It’s time. My knee has kept me pretty much hotel-bound so I’m very ready to go. Had a chance to talk with Ken Kamler yesterday as he had brought Wally Berg done. Wally had a big fall and has a head injury that has him very confused. He is such a strong man. It’s hard to see him like this. it was him in the BC chopper that passed us by at Shyangboche, along with Keith, Frank, Al, and Ken, all from Todd’s team. Wally fell off a ladder when a rope anchor pulled out and fell 50 feet into a crevasse. He’s lucky to be alive. Bad concussion, broken arm, 30-odd stitches in his forehead. He’s been just out of it since he flew out, just lying there. Al called to let us know last night that he seemed to have turned the corner which was good to hear. The danger of the mountains does not bypass even the strongest and most experienced. A marvelous breakfast with Mike Groom yesterday. Spotted him accidentally, and we chatted for an hour and a half. I like and respect him a great deal. I had expected this trip to move me farther away from the climbing community. In a way, I feel more a part of it because I am not climbing, not a client; my focus is different and people speak more freely. Have had more experience with the guiding side of the trip this time.
Friday, May 19 Kathmandu Airport
Noon So. The trip home has begun. The trip did indeed close the door on climbing, and it has brought me further into the community. Mike Groom, Brent Bishop, people I can call friend who are at a level of climbing to which I had not before had a connection. It’s an interesting thing to move further away from the activity and closer to the community.
2:30 As we head west, the Khumbu is full of big monsoon-type clouds, and all we can see is Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse; Cho Oyu; Makalu. The big ones. The Col is visible and about 1/3 of the Lhotse Face. I figure Rob, Veikka, and Ed are just getting to the bottom of Makalu. This view is the perfect farewell, not all the Himal, just the big ones. Goodbye for now.