Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Snow and Celebration

It is hard to believe that the time has come to say goodbye to our 'home away from home.' The 25th of May brought the return of Summit Team 2 back to basecamp. Everyone from that team, including my good friend Chris Macklin (aka Grizzly Adams) from England, who made it to the South Col summited on May 23!

Russell Brice and Himalayan Experience Ltd put 58 people on top of the world this season. That number included 20 clients (David Taite in early May, 10 from Team 1 and 9 from Team 2), guides, sherpas, and film crew. Ellen Miller and her sherpa were also successsful in reaching the summit of Lhotse. All in all an amazing accomplishment to say the least.

Our exact departure from BC for the 3-day trek down the valley to Lukla has been a bit uncertain as we received 1 meter (just over 3 feet) of snow in the past 24 hours (see photo). The early part of the monsoon has arrived here in the Khumbu. Yet Russell informed us during his farewell speech today that the 40 head of yak he ordered to carry our gear will be here tomorrow (5/27) and that the weather will likely break overnight. So off we go tomorrow (unless Mother Nature says otherwise during the night) with daypacks towards Pengboche for the night. The following day will find us headed towards the busy village of Namche Bazaar. The 29th means we will finally end up in Lukla and if the weather cooperates (historically speaking, getting stuck here for days is possible, not to mention having to help shovel off the runway by hand!) we'll fly back to Kathmandu the morning of the 30th. From there some leave for home as early as the next day (like me) while others will remain for a few days to a week or more.

Celebrating the expedition's success started after lunch today and in fact is still going on within the Tiger Dome/White Pod as I lay here in the comfort and warmth of my sleeping bag while the wind outside my tent continues to blow snow around. A lot of emotions today. Happy because of the success we had on the mountain, not to mention there were no injuries and everyone walked away with all their fingers and toes intact. Sad because we go our separate ways in just days.

I cannot thank Russell Brice and Himalayan Experience enough for making my dream come true. I also want to again thank Alpharma Animal Health for its support and commitment to this "Quest for Success." Finally, I want to thank my family for allowing me to be gone for so long and for keeping the faith. I miss you and love you and will be home very soon now!

To those of you that have followed my dispatches and to those who have emailed, a very BIG thank you. Your words of encouragement as well as congratulations have meant so much to me. Once back home please feel free to contact me at my normal (i.e. non-mountain email) email address: lancesfox@gmail.com Namaste one last time from Himalayan Experience BC here at the foot of mighty Mount Everest.

May your dreams come true and God bless you!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More From "On High"

5300m Himex BC - Since posting the success of standing at the top of the world and getting back down safely to BC I have received a lot of congratulatory emails. Thank you for taking the time to write. Unfortunately it sounds like at least some of you found that that at least one of the photos I posted did not show up.

All pictures are important to me yet the one that means a lot to me that may have failed is my father's ashes spreading into the heaven above Mt. Everest.Because my father was a great man whom I was privileged to know and learn from for the first 16 years of my life. I have decided to repost today with that picture along with a couple more new ones from atop the highest point on our planet. I hope they display properly!

After much needed rest last night the sun is shining today, May 24, 2009. A sunny Sunday morning here in the Himalayas. I'd like to think God may have ordered up such a beautiful day for my fellow teammates to descend from the South Col to Camp 2 today. The sun also means recharging batteries via solar power and doing much needed laundry. Yes, wearing the same clothes for a week means they start to walk on their own!

That's all for now from BC. I will dispatch again soon. Namaste!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Summit Success!

5300 m - Just after 9 o'clock in the morning Kathmandu time on the 21st of May, 2009 I stepped onto the planet's highest point, not able to go any higher.

I realize all of you have been patiently waiting to hear whether my dream became reality and I thank you for your enthusiasm. Not dispatching for the past week has been hard, but now that I am safely back in basecamp I am thrilled to share my excitement.

Out of 11 climbers on Summit Team 1, nine of us reached the top of the world on the morning of May 21, 2009. One of our Norwegian friends (Thomas) fell ill prior to ascending the Lhotse face and had to abandon his summit bid. He has recovered here in BC.

My dear friend and terrific tentmate Stuart Carder elected to stop at the south summit of Everest, the second highest point on our planet. I admire his wisdom in making that decision but that is what smart mountaineering is about, listening to your gut. I cannot thank Stuart enough for lending me his shoulder prior to the start of our summit bid from the South Col (Camp 4 perched just under 8000 meters or 26,000') as climbing Everest involves a mixed bag of emotions. Nevertheless we shared the joy of both the South Summit and Summit, respectively.

As I type this dispatch the afternoon of May 23 here in Nepal, we have learned that all of Summit Team 2 have successfully summited today and are now back at Camp 4 resting. They still have 2 days to descend to BC so we will keep them in our prayers as the climb is obviously not over.

Unfortunately the only person from Team 2 who could not make a summit bid was my friend Jim Holliday. Similar to Thomas, Jim was suddenly struck with illness prior to ascending the Lhotse face a second time. He has recovered completely here in BC which we are grateful for.

As you can imagine I took numerous photos, at least when I was in a safe position to do so. My website can only accept 3 per dispatch so I've chosen 3 for your viewing pleasure. Not sure if I should call The Guiness Book of World Records (haha) but I'd like to think the first photo might represent the world's highest cheese wedge!? Okay, I couldn't help but cram one of Wisconsin's pride and joy into my pack. The look on the sherpas' faces who were on the summit with me when I pulled it out of the stuff sack was priceless.

Onto more serious matters. My sherpa, Tashi Tshering perfectly captured a wonderful moment for me on camera. I realize that for the web the resolution size is reduced but if you look closely, you can see my father's ashes being carried by the jet stream winds atop Mt. Everest. Truly a glorious moment for me to honor my late father. While crying at that moment seems reasonable, the chilly temps meant every drop of liquid outside the body instantly froze so I held the tears back. Still, a moment I will cherish forever.

And last but not least, this trip would not have been possible without the generous support of my employer and sponsor, Alpharma Animal Health. It was with a lot of pride that I held up the logo of this terrific company at the top of the world. The "Quest for Success" was completed on a beautiful day. Winds were mild, the temperature at the summit was somewhere between -10 to -20 F, and the sky was a brilliant blue.

I wish I could not only share all the photos with you now, but also the images that are forever burned in my memory. Like climbing between what is called "the balcony" and the South Summit on a moderate pitch and snow blown ridge when the sun first rises. Or the lightning show we witnessed far to the east while the moon and stars hovered above us during the 6-hour night time portion of our summit climb.

While we wait for our remaining teammates we will start the process of packing and preparing for the 3-day trek back to Lukla where we'll catch flights to Kathmandu, hopefully on the 30th. From there we will say goodbye and go our separate ways. I hope to dispatch a couple more times before that time.

I would again like to thank my family, friends, colleagues, and even those of you who took the time to write whom I don't know for all the wonderful words of encouragement. Every word meant a lot as they helped me to push myself to the top of the world and get back down safely. And in case you were wondering, the last week meant another 6 lbs so the grand total weight loss program here at Everest for me? 24 pounds Yep, looking forward to those cheeseburgers, pizzas, and ice cream desserts! :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Time to Go: No Place But UP!

5300m - HimEx BC - The time has come to leave the comforts and relative warmth of BC on our 5 day journey to the top of the world where the summit temperature will likely be around -10 to -20 degrees F. We have been split into two teams, separated by two days climbing and I was fortunate enough to be selected for the first summit team. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. Due to the fact that there are some 500+ westerners here in the Khumbu (add to that sherpa staff, etc.), all with the same goal, I cannot divulge the exact date of our departure from BC. All I can say is VERY SOON! We want to protect our teams' success while avoiding 'traffic jams' up high (Russell receives accurate weather reports, exclusive to HimEx to insure we have the best possible summit window).

I thought I would share with you now some facts about climbing Everest. Since the first successful summit of Mt. Everest in 1953, there have been less then 3,000 individual summits (about 50:50 westerner to Sherpa) prior to the 2009 climbing season. There have been some individuals to have summited multiple times (Ex. Ed Viesturs has 6 under his belt prior to 2009, Dave Hahn, another legendary American mountaineer has 10, the most by any westerner) so total summits sits just under 5,000.

With the advent of commercial expeditions, fixed ropes, and sherpa support the risk of dying on Everest is now less than 1.5% for every successful summit. Certainly a vital fact not to be overlooked.

A recap of our route (see the map on my site) here on the Nepalese or South side: From basecamp at ~17,500' (5300m) we will ascend to Camp 2 at 6400m or ~21,000' on Day 1, a climb of roughly 3600 vertical feet passing through the Khumbu Icefall and Western Cwm (pronounced coom) once again. We will rest here on Day 2. Day 3 will find us working our way up the final glaciel moraine above Camp 2 to the steep and icy Lhotse Face on our way to Camp 3 at ~7300 meters or roughly 24,000 feet. Higher than any point in the world outside the Himalayas.

Unlike the first time, we will sleep at Camp 3 on a low level of supplemental oxygen. This will not only help us stay a bit warmer but should help us sleep better, giving us more strength for the next day. Maintaining the use of a slightly higher level of oxygen for climbing, we will leave Camp 3 and travel into uncharted territory for many of us.

The route will take us across the Geneva Spur and the Yellow Band as we make our way to our high camp, Camp 4 located on the South Col at ~8000 meters or around 26,000 feet. This is the start of what's known as the 'death zone.' It is not a phrase that should condone fear. Rather, it is the height at which the body literally starts to deteriorate no matter what, even with supplemental oxygen . That is why we will keep our stay above 8000 meters to a minimum.

Our summit attempt will start under the stars late on the night of day 4/morning of day 5. Perhaps a 10-12 hour summit day with the majority of that travelling into the vertical world by headlamp. And if Sagarmatha (aka Chomolungma or "Mother Goddess of the World" on the Tibetan side) invites us, God blesses us, our bodies allow us, and our minds stay focused, we will stand at the top of the world at 8,850 meters or 29,035' sometime early on day 5. Success means not being able to climb any higher. This, after having scaled 3550 meters (~11,700') or what amounts to just over 2 vertical miles above BC! Back to Camp 4 for the night before descending to Camp 2 for our final night on the route down to BC. A total of 7 days roundtrip.

Obviously there is no guarantee of success as many have tried and many have failed. I am with one of, if not the best expedition on the mountain in my opinion.

Pictured with me are some of my teammates whom I will be travelling with on our voyage toward the heavens above. I am proud to climb with them, to know them, and to call them my friends (left to right): Moises Nava from Playa, Mexico, myself, Stuart Carder from Oxfordshire, England (will also be my tentmate), and John Black of Johannesburg, South Africa.

I am disappointed that I will not be climbing to the summit with my new friends Chris Macklin and Jim Holliday, among others on the Himex team too of course. During our first trip up the mountain together Chris suffered frostbite on the tip of one finger due to his glove liner getting accidentally torn. The medical staff has been treating it and felt it would be best to allow it to heal for a couple more days, hence Chris will be on the second summit team. He is a gifted athlete and strong climber and I know he will do well up high. I have affectionately nicknamed him "Grizz" after the actor/character Grizzly Adams. From the picture attached you will see why. He has been growing his 'face mane' since Kathmandu and will keep it until he retuns home to show off to his mates there.

I am also including a photo of me with my sherpa, Tashi Tshering as he will assist me as needed on our journey to the top of the world. All of us were introduced today to the sherpa who will accompany us on this climb up the mountain.

What is also exciting for Team 1 is that Phurba Tashi will once again attempt to summit, going for number 16. Even though he will be paired with one of my teammates, Chris Dovell of England, it will still be an honor to climb on the same team with him even if all I see is his backside from afar (he is amazingly fast)!

The last bit of trivia I have for you is more of an answer to a question I have fielded several times via email recently. Yes, I have lost weight since my arrival here in the Khumbu region of Nepal. A lot of us are in the same boat so to say, with much variation of course. How much? Just a little over 8 kg or 18 pounds to date. A little more to lose yet I'm afraid. Sadly, high altitude means losing muscle first verses fat as the body is more efficient at catabolizing protein at these heights.

Still, I have informed my wife that I will seek 3 food items upon my arrival back to the States: a large american cheeseburger with golden fries and a Coke, a Jolly Roger's (a great pizzeria in my home town of New London, Wisconsin) bacon cheeseburger pizza with thick crust, and finally a peanut buster parfait from our local Dairy Queen (ice cream parlor) for dessert! Yuuuum!

Okay, at some point I'll have to put some muscle back on, ha ha!

It is quite possible that my next dispatch won't be until I get back to the safety of BC. I have to mull this over but will apologize in advance if that ends up being the case. I will take my satellite phone and pda up with me, but the latter may only go as far as Camp 2 this time. I'm sure you will understand as my focus needs to be on the climb itself. We will also have limited time at Camps 3 and 4, not to mention the fact that feeling less than 100% is likely (i.e. exhaustion, lack of appetite, etc.).

To paraphrase a qoute Ed Viesturs once said, "The summit is optional, getting down safely is mandatory." Obviously I will dispatch again when I am down safely, regardless of whether or not I summit (but hopefully with photos from the highest point on our planet!). Please bare with me on this as I know there are a lot of people tracking the dispatches, all of whom will be eager for news of our teams' progress. Let me see how things go and how I feel as I will try to do my best for you.One last thing that I would like to say before I depart on my vertical journey is actually for the children/young adults (including my incredible son Jordan and beautiful daughter Bailee) who read this: Dream Big, Pursue Your Passion, Smile Often and Laugh A Lot! Life is short so live it to the fullest..

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Work and Play

5300m Himex BC - Recently I have fielded several emails asking, "what do you do to pass the time?" or "do you train while you wait?" To answer the first question a lot of us read books, some play cards, movies are shown inside the Tiger Dome/White Pod or some of us utilize our ipods for movies and music. One can only clean and reorganize his or her tent so much. Then there is the need to keep clean as we typically shower or "bird bathe" once per week. We are approaching week #2 of rest here in BC. Most of the guys that were growing beards started shaving them off recently. My buddy Chris Macklin is the exception as he his starting to look like Grizzly Adams! (I'll have to get a photo soon).

It has been fun bonding with certain individuals here in camp. My buddy Jim Holliday of Pittsburgh decided to shave his Santa Clause beard today so we had our picture taken together (see photo). As you can see, we ironically own the same sherpa hat, each of us having purchased them at the local REI store, respectively. Turns out Jim is at least 50% Polish like me so it has been fun trading Polish words and phrases.

I also asked Big Boss (Russell Brice's nickname) for a photo but on one condition: that we have another one taken after I get back from my summit attempt only then he has to wear my cheese wedge hat! He kindly laughed and agreed yet right after the photo today he put me to work with the ice pick to help him level one of the ice mounds in front of our dining tents. Makes me wonder what I'll have to do after the cheese wedge photo?! :)

So we really don't "train" down low but rather rest and recuperate, maybe taking short walks to either traditional Everest BC or even an hour walk down to Gorak Shep (local village that offers internet access). It looks like we will be in BC until the 15th/16th as the ideal summit window may open up shortly thereafter. Not too long now and we'll be climbing into the heavens once again. Each day the excitement grows...

Friday, May 8, 2009

O2 Day

5300m Himex BC - Today was "Oxygen Debriefing" day led by our terrific expedition leader Russell Brice. Within the comforts of the Tiger Dome, Russell overviewed the parts of the oxygen delivery system, how to assemble, as well as provided a nice plan for its use while high on the mountain.

Even though our summit window is at least a week or more away (?), it was great to spend the time now reviewing the use of oxygen, a critical element that will no doubt help us feel warmer and stronger as we ascend above 8000 meters on summit day.

Only a select few have been able to summit Mt. Everest without oxygen. Oxygen does not guarantee the summit, but it does increase the odds of success.

On a different note, my brother Chris sent me an email after reading yesterday's dispatch about Christophe's dog Leopold. It turns out that he and his wife Abby's dog Cassie is recovering at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine (my alma mater) after having open chest surgery to remove and drain what sounds like an aggressive infection. Dr. Dale Bjorling, one of my former professors at the school is leading the case so Cassie is certainly in great hands. That being said however, I would kindly ask that you include Cassie in your prayers please.

Thanks again to everyone who has sent me emails over the past days and weeks. Your kind words have been inspirational as we prepare ourselves both physically and mentally for the tough days that lie just around the corner.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Goodbyes and Prayers

5300m Himex BC - Another emotional day here in basecamp as we said goodbye to a couple more members of our climbing family.

Gilad Stern headed back to South Africa to rejoin his wife Michelle whom actually had visited our BC as a member of our first group of trekkers several weeks ago when we first arrived here in the Khumbu. A wonderful couple as I wish Gillard a safe journey home as his intellect and straightforward thinking will be missed.

My climbing and tentmate from our first trip up the mountain, Eugene Constant of France, also headed home to his family today. Eugene and I labeled ourselves "the dads" on our team. I admire his decision to return home early to his family. I immensely enjoyed our conversations while on the mountain and will miss him very much. My best to Eugene and his family.

Lastly, I learned last night that my friend and teammate Christophe Vandaele's dog Leopold is fighting for his life back in NYC. A 7-year old Weimereiner, he recently collapsed and had to have emergency surgery to remove a benign tumor discovered near his heart. As a veterinarian I have a lot of compassion for animals and I know how much Leopold means to Christophe. Leopold is his family, just like my dogs are part of my family and yours are part of your family. Christophe shared with me his life story and how he has been living the American dream for the past 15 years after arriving in NYC from Belgium with no money in his pocket. Today he is a very successful businessman. I was humbled to listen and am honored to know him. It will be fun to look him up the next time I am in NYC. I can see the love he has for his companion Leopold and by this dispatch I am asking for your prayers for Leopold's timely recovery.Back to resting!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Waiting on the Weather

5300m Himex BC - It was with a lot of joy being able to welcome 'home' several of my new friends as they returned safely from high on the mountain today. Several more, including my Japanese teammates are due into camp tomorrow. It was great to greet each one of them as they strolled into BC this morning.

Pictured is me hugging "Big Jim" Holliday of Pittsburgh as well as having a little fun with Stuart Carder of England. And last but not least we all cheered for David Tait after his successsful summit of the highest mountain in the world yesterday, May 5, 2009. Accompanying David were multiple Sherpas, including Phurba Tashi, his 15th successsful summit.

The good news is that the ropes are fixed to the top. We now have to be patient for the ideal weather window. Some other teams are heading up the mountain now yet we may not see our first team ascend for several days if not a week or more. Unless something changes significantly in the next week my next dispatch may be delayed a bit. Time to rest, read, draw, throw the football, and maybe even have a brew or two. Hard days are just ahead so please stay tuned. Remember, patience is a virtue (yes, I am reminding myself of that as well).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Back to BC, Meeting an Icon

5300m Himex Everest BC - I am lying here back in my BC tent safe and sound after descending this morning from Camp 2 through the Khumbu Icefall. This time we traveled through the danger zone in full light, stopping for brief moments to snap photos (see what one of the vertical multi-ladder crossings looks like). I was traveling with teammates Valerio Massimo and Chris Macklin and as we exited the icefall a couple of avalanches let loose, one of which "dusted" a few of our teammates moments behind us. Whew!!

After removing the crampons and drinking some water I was off on my next mission: to meet Ed Viesturs. I saw Ed descending the glacier just below the Lhotse face when we were on our way up. No place or time for a greeting. This time however I was very lucky to find him in his RMI/First Ascent tent. What an extremely nice man. What most people know is that he was the first American to summit all fourteen 8000 meter+ peaks without oxygen. What some do not know is that Ed is a Midwest US "boy" from Illinois and actually earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree prior to becoming a professional mountaineer. No, I am no professional mountaineer but like Ed am from the US Midwest and still carry my D.V.M. degree. Ed graciously agreed to a couple photos (see one attached). Beyond getting through the icefall safely (now 50% done) this was the highlight of my day for sure.

We also said goodbye today to another team member, Jon Hansen of Wisconsin. Jon and I traveled to Everest together with the hope of standing on the summit together yet Jon has been having difficulty acclimatizing. Having only climbed Lobuche once to just under the summit and recently turning around after reaching Camp 1 above the icefall, Jon's earlier physical ailments have taken its toll on him mentally so he decided it was not his time to climb Everest. We wish him a safe return back to the states.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

First Trip up Everest

7300 m Camp 3 Lhotse Face - The past 30 hours has taken us from Camp 2 at ~6400 meters to Camp 3 high on the Lhotse face, ~7300 m, and back down again to Camp 2. A vertical climb of close to 3,000 feet! A mild headache at that elevation was no surprise. Nor was the fatigue as we crawled into our tents so carefully perched on an ice shelf created by our wonderful sherpas. Unfortunately the weather brought in snow showers and gusty winds throughout the afternoon and evening so I was only able to take this one photo from the tent vestibule during a short weather break (you can see Everest's south summit tantalizingly close yet so far away, along with the well known Geneva Spur or rocky ridge with the yellow band to the right).

After intermittent sleep, mainly due the fact that gravity kept sucking me into my wonderful tent partner Eugene Constant, and not so much due to the minor headache and/or flapping tent walls, we once again strapped on the harnesses over our downsuits, tightened the crampons over our high altitude boots, and set off down the fixed ropes leading us towards Camp 2. At times we were in white-out conditions, along with the occasional bottleneck of climbers either coming up the fixed lines or sherpas wanting to pass on the way down. For a brief moment while standing near an anchor I was able to take a picture to give you a sense of what climbing the Lhotse face was like. Let's just say I am glad to be typing this dispatch on my pda vs. still arm wrapping or rappelling down the face at 45 degrees or greater at times.

I carry my Father's ashes with me everyday along with some other personal effects from family and friends. I also carry an Alpharma Animal Health flag so thought an additional photo would be appropriate to post (note the south summit high above) Tomorrow our team will descend all the way to Everest BC for much needed rest. Some of Team 2 will be on their way up the Lhotse face to Camp 3.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Camp 2 Everest 6400 Meters

6400 m Camp 2 Everest - After a chilly 6 a.m. start out Camp 1 yesterday we arrived at Camp 2 around 8:30-9:00 a.m. This camp is perched to the side of the glacier streaming off of the Lhotse face (see photo of the face and with good eyes, due to the web size display, you can see Camp 3 another 1000 meters (~3300 ') higher perched along the hanging ice field just to the right of center). That is where my team is headed tomorrow (May 2) for one night.

I'm happy to report that team 2 (The Yeti Team) made it safely through the Khumbu icefall today and are now settled in to Camp 1 for the night. We will cross paths with them here at Camp 2 the night of the 3rd as we rest before descending to BC and they head up the Lhotse face.

Another spectacular aspect of where Camp 2 sits is that we can look up and see the plume off Everest's summit and also get a great look at the south summit and distinctive yellow band of rock high on the mountain. Please see the photo which shows the south summit just right of center and the small snow plume blowing off our ultimate goal, 2450 meters above us.

Tomorrow will prove to be one of the most difficult days yet as our bodies will crave for more oxygen, something that will become less and less, as we put one foot in front of the other. 6-7-8 steps, pause and breath, repeat. The climb tomorrow will likely take 5-7 hours and some, if not all of us, will be greated with headaches, nausea, and pure exhaustion. Fun, fun! So today's rest day has been very welcomed. In fact, the film crew for The Discovery Channel asked several of us to practice wearing a chest-mounted camera. See the photo as we used this time to blow off some steam vs. staring at the hard work ahead, that being the Lhotse face and a night a Camp 3. What's the saying? "No pain, no gain." Living the dream is reality now for sure and I hope to dispatch more about this dream/reality after a successsful "run" up to Camp 3 and all the way back to BC for much needed rest (oh yeah, a shower and shave too).

Namaste from Camp 2 Everest!