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..