Peak Freak Expeditions - Island Peak - Dispatch 2002
My "Challenge of the Year" for 2002 was to climb a Himalayan trekking peak. Nelson-based Peak Freak Expeditions, run by Tim & Becky Rippel, was organizing a climb of Island Peak (Imja Tse), which is about 8km/5 miles south of Mt. Everest, but, at 6189m/20305ft, about 2700m/9000ft lower. Seven people from Canada joined the climb or the trek to that locality. The following account was mainly written by participant Heather Compton, with smaller contributions by Carol Knudsen, Fari Ordubadi and Norman Thyer, as indicated. Estimates of the steepness of the slope, leading to the ridge of Island Peak, vary. My estimate is 30 to 60 degrees; Tim Rippel's is 65 to 70. A slope of 60 degrees can seem pretty close to vertical when you are on it! At latitude 50 degrees, the midday sun at midsummer and the full moon at midwinter are still less than 70deg above the horizon.
The Cast of Characters
Carol and I left Calgary on the last possible flight on Sunday, October 13th and arrived in Vancouver at 9PM. We had to wait until almost 3AM on the 14th before we could catch our flight to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong we would catch a flight to Bangkok and then change flights again for the last leg to Kathmandu.
We met Fari, Mehran Ramsey, Aman Nouri, Jill, Norman and Tim about midnight in Vancouver. First impressions are always interesting and I remember seeing Norman and thinking "well if he can do it so can I". Shows how much I knew - about my own capacity AND Norman's! Mehran, Fari and Aman all had (concerned) family there to see them off and Tim was helpful in soothing everyone's worries. They also had enormous matching duffels and backpacks! Tim looked like the quintessential mountain man, casual, rugged and fit. He has a boyish enthusiasm that is catching! Both Carol and I were pleased that Jill was along; it was nice to have another woman in the mix.
October 16, 2002
Subject: Arrival in Nepal
Yikes...what a trip. It took us 32 hours total travel time to arrive in Kathmandu...lots of time sitting in airports waiting for connecting flights. On arrival we struggled to get our luggage and then carts to put it on. We piled into a mini-van to take us to our hotel - the Nirvana Garden in the Thamel district. Our rooms were "spartan" but apparently are the lap of luxury compared to what we are about to experience.
We went out to dinner last night to a restaurant and we all nearly fell asleep in our soup. I enjoyed delicious stuffed eggplant. I'm pleased to say that so far the food is better than I expected - endless dhal bat and other Nepalese delicacies like endless eggs and boiled potatoes will greet us soon enough!
We woke this morning to dogs barking and the city coming alive at 5 AM and what an amazing city. Horns blaring, incense in the air, amazing colours, dogs that feel they own the city (everyone feeds the strays as they embody a death god and no one wants them to die at their house) and, of course, the ever present cows. There is electricity and vitality in the air. Pedicabs, bicycles, scooters holding a whole family (the woman on back riding "side-saddle" and a child, or two, riding in front of Dad), cars; garbage and an ocean of people all wrestle for space on the roads. Garbage is just left in the street but between the beggars, dogs, and cows, it is pretty picked over. Efficient recycling!
We had a tour with Sangitta this morning but it doesn't begin to cover the sights.
We have arrived in the middle of the festival of Dasain. Once a year a family will sacrifice a cow, a goat and a chicken. This is the only time a Hindu will eat meat and the sacrifice is shared among the extended family. For about 2 weeks everyone visits family, wears their "Sunday best" and visits the temple and the "Living Goddess" to be blessed. We were told that 80% of the population is Hindu, about 12% Buddhist and 8% Muslim. The women have scarlet dye down the parts in their hair, everyone has a red marking or tika on their forehead (the mark of a blessing) and both sexes had flowers in their hair.
Sangitta took us through the streets to Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square, home to many temples, the old Royal Palace and the home of the "Living Goddess". Tourists are not allowed to see or visit the Living Goddess; she is selected when she is four years old and must relinquish her role when she begins to menstruate or "bleeds" as they believe blood is "unclean". She isn't allowed to play in the courtyard as she may fall and scrape a knee and the site caretaker and his family look her after. Apparently when her role is over it is difficult for a Living Goddess to find a husband as previous husbands have come to a bad end from being married to such a powerful woman!
Jill had a bit of a scare put into her when a very colourfully dressed "holy man" in the open square asked her to take his picture and then came after her demanding rupees!
We hopped into two cabs for a trip to the Swayambhunath Stupa or Monkey Temple (so called because of all the monkeys that have the run of the place).
After our morning tour we were off to track down the equipment for the Island Peak portion of our trip...plastic climbing boots, ice axes, down jackets. I think about 100 expeditions have been in those boots before me!
Our group includes three close friends originally from Iran who now make their home in Vancouver, Mehran, Fari and Aman. Mehran will be posting pictures and news releases on his company's website. The address is www.unisoft.net. If you look under news releases there is currently one that talks about the Unisoft team going to Nepal that has pictures of Island Peak.
We also have Jill, a nurse from Rossland BC and a 70+ year old, Norman who is also from BC. Norman "recycles" and "reuses" and some of his equipment could be in a museum somewhere. I remember how excited the University of Alberta costume collection was to receive my parents' vintage tennis and ski equipment! In contrast, the three Vancouver gents dropped several "ritchie units" to quote Dennis (thousand dollar bills for the uninitiated), on the best of the best...no rental boots for them!
Saturday, October 19, 2002
Subject: The Trek Begins
We were up and loaded into the minivan by 5:30 AM on Thursday in order to catch the flight to Lukla. Pandemonium at the airport as everyone attempts to push his or her luggage and bodies through a single doorway in order to stand and wait on the other side! Somehow we end up jammed into a 16 seat Twin Otter from Yeti Airlines. The flight lasts about 45 minutes. A traditionally dressed "hostess" handed a tray around with candies to suck on and wads of cotton batten to stuff in our ears - what service! No talking is possible but the scenery is how I imagine Tolkein's middle earth. Tree covered hills; small farms that create a patchwork quilt of green, gold and brown fields the size of postage stamps. Low stone walls to mark property ownership and wisps of clouds creating a low-lying mist.
Pilots landing at Lukla need to be very precise, the short landing strip ends in a mountain! We stopped at a teahouse for breakfast and then we were off, leaving the last motorized vehicle behind. With Aman in the lead and Jill and I following close behind we promptly lose the rest of the group and have to backtrack to find them. My first sight of a zokyok - a cross between a cow and a yak. Yaks can't survive at altitudes under 11,000 feet. We will have porters carrying our duffels to at least that level.
Our first day is a short trek to Phakding at 8600 feet to stay at Tshering, part of the Nameste Lodge. We arrived about 3PM and the big challenge was to stay wake until bedtime. Tim decided the best way to do that was to keep us busy in knot school. The lodge was simple but clean. An outside water pipe for washing and a "squat" toilet with water bucket for cleaning up. As our trip progresses we will come to know that this is the equivalent of the Hyatt!
An early start as we are headed up to Namche Bazaar, a gain from 8600 to 11,300 feet. Armed soldiers greet us as we cross into Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park. We cross many suspension bridges built with volunteer help and materials provided by the Swiss. The hill leading up to Namche is difficult (a guide book calls it "heart break hill") - certainly because it is steep but also because of the gain in elevation.
A wilderness experience this is not...the trails represent the only highways in this country so we share the trail with yaks, porters and other tourists. This is a higher traffic area so sneaking off the trail is difficult. I begin to understand the value of a trekking skirt, at least they provide for a degree of modesty.
We will have tomorrow for an acclimatization trek and come back to Namche for the night before continuing on
What an extraordinary country! I must confess to facing some real moral dilemmas. Are tourists good for the economy and environment of Nepal and do we benefit them through our economic contributions to "progress" or are we the biggest problem with our North American expectations for hot showers and bottled water? In a place like Namche there is no running water yet here I am sending e-mail across the globe! Many lodge owners are proudest of their satellite dishes...and their children start at 5 to porter loads that would break the backs of most of us!
Today is market day in Namche. Vendors sell meat, butter, eggs, chickens and all manner of soap, shoes, sugar and rice. We were awake and down the hill to the village to see the market before it packs up at 2. We stopped at the bakery for donuts and cappuccino! The altitude does wonderful things to baked goods. Jill, Carol and I stopped to buy prayer flags so I could get them blessed at the monastery in Tengboche. As we turned to leave two monks stopped beside us and Tim asked them to bless the flags - perfect!
We headed off to Kunde and the home of Ang Nima for lunch. His home is very simple. Usually livestock (yaks) live on the "main" floor with the family above. Ang Nima had built rooms for trekkers on the main floor. Upstairs was a large dining and kitchen area where the family sleeps at night. They had some beautiful large copper pots with brass prayers around the rim, which Tim tells us are a show of status. The bathroom was a small raised stone shed with a hole in the floor, set away from the house. They mix leaves and human waste and spread it in the fields as fertilizer. Apparently about 80% of the Nepalese are subsistence level farmers. They moisten yak dung and flatten it into patties that they set out on the stone walls to dry and use the dung as fuel to heat their homes. Those same hands are making our meals! Ang Nima's wife gave each of us a kata (white silk scarf) as we left her home. The guidebook says that these ceremonial scarves are offered to high lamas, relatives, friends, guests and the gods as a gesture of respect. The mani prayer and eight auspicious symbols are woven into it.
Just outside the house was a tent of Tibetans. They are treated a bit like the gypsies are in Europe - nomadic outcasts without the same status as the Nepali's. There is no mistaking a Tibetan, very strong faces, a tuft of red hair and turquoise in their ears.
After lunch we continued on to Khumjung where Sir Edmond Hillary's foundation has funded a school complex. These two villages are where many of the Sherpa's live. Much of the path through this area is "paved" like a Roman road. When the monsoon comes the area is just gumbo so this is to improve travel.
The pace today was very slow - the objective is not to raise the heart rate and simply to get used to the higher elevation. Our elevation gain today was about 1200 feet (Kunde 12,530). The objective is to gain a maximum of 1500 feet per day for best acclimatization. Each day we will add more elevation...slowly.
I am most struck with the way their religion seems to be woven into the fibre of their lives. The mani stones, prayer flags, prayer poles and prayer wheels are everywhere. I'm loving every minute of it...OK I lied - the bathroom experiences are everything (and less) than Patty said and I've become very possessive of my toilet paper!
Today we trek to Tengboche at 12,530 feet. We stopped first at the Sherpa Cultural Centre in Namche for a tour. We saw a typical Sherpa home and a photo display of the Sherpas who have worked on and/or summitted Everest - including the women. There was also a photography display of Sherpa life that was beautiful by Lhakpa Sonam. He became deaf at an early age and handicaps are difficult to accept in Sherpa culture - it is amazing what he has accomplished!
We spend most of the morning walking downhill and the afternoon going uphill into Tengboche. Carol and Jill aren't feeling well so the trip has been a difficult grind for them.
The scenery today included a rhododendron forest, a Canadian funded tree farm and firs and pines and junipers getting larger as we get higher. The forest here is predominately fir. Also saw some water powered prayer wheels and many more monks the closer we got to Tengoboche. It is getting dark and overcast as we arrive and Tengoboche seems very desolate and our accommodation less than stellar. Dinner and a fresh look in the morning.
Up early to take in a ceremony at the monastery. Intense colour everywhere, drums, chanting, bells, horns, incense in the air, beautiful textiles, painted walls and ceilings, rich carpets - what a complete sensory experience! The front row were the older monks, solemn, serious with all the singing and chanting and bell parts of the ritual. In the back row were all the younger monks and they were like kids everywhere - visiting, whispering, and giggling! I wore the katas given to me by Kerry and Ang Nima's wife. The experience felt like a blessing!
Unfortunately Jill is not doing well and will not continue with us this morning. Dawa Narua will stay with her while the rest of us move on to Dingboche at 14,000 feet.
The walk began in rhododendron forest and we passed a nunnery - not nearly as impressive as the monastery! We end the day in very barren territory - we see only shrubs and rocks and a gorge with a river below. The temperature also drops.
In the lodge this evening two American doctors in training ask us to participate in a study on altitude sickness. They do a "before" pulse and SaO2 measure and will take an "after" at higher altitude.
A later start today as we will spend a second night in Dingboche. We left at 9:30 AM to climb Nang Kharga - about 16,000 feet (5000 m) with an elevation gain of 2100 vertical feet. A dusty, rocky trail ending with a rock scramble at the top. Mehran is not feeling well but with determination he makes it to the top. We stayed about an hour and had lunch...and gummi bears courtesy of Fari. The views from the top were amazing - almost 360 degrees of peaks, including our first views of Island Peak. What amazing peaks - they dwarf anything we have at home.
We are off to Loboche, 16,300 feet. As we pass Dugla and before we get to Loboche we climb Memorial Hill. A moving display of cairns, memorials and prayer flags to honour climbers and sherpas that have died in the surrounding mountains. Loboche itself seems like a wasteland. The teahouse here is very unattractive, chilly and overcrowded. It is the last stop before Gorak Shep, which takes expeditions into Everest Base Camp. Both Loboche and Gorak Shep are not permanent settlements; it is too cold up here so they are only open for the trekking season.
Off to Gorak Shep and up Kala Pattar - our second summit. We are up at 4 AM and I have been up all night, unable to sleep at the higher elevation. I'm in such grim shape that Ang Nima takes my daypack. It is also very cold. We start off in down jackets, using our headlamps to see the way. We stop for tea at Gorak Shep before heading up the mountain. It is all I can do to put one foot in front of the other and I experience no exhilaration at the top. It's very cold and windy and we stop only long enough for photos and the view. We overlook the base camp at Everest - a cold and empty wasteland of ice and also PuMori where there are tents in readiness for an expedition. This has felt like an enormous effort and as I look around towering giants that seem to mock our accomplishment surround us.
At these higher elevations I'm wearing everything I brought to bed at night. Long johns - top and bottom, heavy fleece jacket and pants, toque, socks and gloves. I even take two water bottles filled with boiling water and by the time they cool I'm wearing my down jacket. A beach holiday is looking like a splendid idea!
We started out for Gorak Shep at 5:30 AM. Tim's alarm clock did not wake him up, so I could sleep longer! We used our flashlights for the first 45 minutes. Arrived in Gorak Shep after 2 hours and stayed only for a quick warm drink. We were on top of Kala Pattar around 10:30 AM and stayed until roughly quarter past eleven. View was great, weather was clear and a bit windy. I think I caught cold there. Later that day Carol's Advil cold and sinus helped me back to normal. We returned to Gorak Shep for our noodle soup lunch and headed back to Lobuche to pack and go down to Duglha. That was 11 hours of walking! Everybody was tired, but happy to be done. Mehran was not feeling good but pushed himself hard... I slept - with lots of people this time! - in a dormitory, as there was no room available. It turned out to be fine.
Friday, Oct 25th
A short walk down to Dingboche for the luxury of a recovery day. After we clean up and have a rest and do some laundry we all start to feel almost human. I have made my decision to return to Namche and wait there with Jill for the team's return from Island Peak.
Fari: I had a good sleep last night. Today is an easy day from Duglha to Dingboche about 1.5 hours. We arrived around 10:00 AM and I had my first face-cloth bath wash in my room. I smell! I am going to sleep with Mehran tonight! Aman and Norman want to have a symphony together. Mehran is better today but weak as our Bobby does not eat well. My pulse rates (regularly around 60 in Vancouver) for the last 4 days were 106, 95, 107 and 85 - all over the place, and oxygen in blood 85, 84, 80 and 87.
Saturday, Oct 26th
Carol: After Heather's sadly received departure for lower ground, Norman, Fari, Mehran, Aman and I went onwards for the assault on Island Peak. It involved a good day of trekking, mostly on flat, winding trails and along dusty ridges. We were moving up in elevation, but very gradually. Remarkably I felt stronger and stronger as I worked my way up the valley. Later in the afternoon Ang Nima and I arrived at Base Camp of Island Peak (16,000+ ft.). There was a large dome tent where everyone could congregate, and where the kitchen was set up as well. There were also several 2-person sleeping tents, some of which ended up with only one occupant due to group shrinkage! We even got our own personal toilet tent with a newly dug hole - no misses and no smell, which was a wonderful treat considering some of the toilets we had experienced up to this point. We were reunited with Ang Karsang (what an awesome cook - he actually trained in Switzerland for 6 months!) and also with Lakpa Geldon. The rest of the group trickled in one at a time after the final approach up a steep hill. Mehran was not feeling at all well by this time and crashed immediately in his tent. I was amazed to see that Fari really was not trying to trick all of us - Ang Karsang was busy making sushi as part of that night's dinner! Shortly after everyone arrived, warm drinks appeared and a plate of wonderful snacks was offered - crackers with fresh cucumber slices, New Zealand cheese, topped with a fresh tomato slice and a bit of salt - yummy! Too bad Tim, Norman and I had to eat them all - everyone else was asleep!
Once the sun had gone down, the cold started to creep up on us. Everyone assembled in the big dome for dinner except Mehran - too exhausted. Many layers were necessary including bottom layer, fleece layers, down jacket, toque, mitts - in the case of Aman, a balaclava as well; and in my case, down hood over my toque, three pairs of wool sox, two pairs of mitts, and a gortex jacket wrapped around my legs which already had 3 layers on them! Only Tim seemed fine with minimal layering.
Dinner was amazing - fabulous tomato soup with garlic croutons (and popcorn of course), a mixture of baked ham and pineapple, fresh coleslaw, baby herbed potatoes, Ang Karsang's super sushi, just to name a few items - and last but certainly not least, homemade Pumpkin pie. You'd think that would keep everyone fueled enough to stay warm through the night - alas, I went to bed with two hot water bottles (thanks to a generous donation from Fari) and all of my clothes on, including mitts, togue and down jacket with hood up, and was unpleased to report I was still chilled. Early in the morning it snowed inside the tents, which is basically what wakes you up!
Fari: Heather has decided to go back to Namche. I like her good judgement but I will miss her. When I had a fever in Tengboche, she was checking my health every couple of hours. We said good-bye to her and had a long walk to Chhukung for lunch. Mehran looks weaker and is now coughing. I suggested to Tim that Mehran and I stay there. However after more discussion we decided that he may like the food better in Island Peak (IP) base camp. We arrived in IP around 4:00 PM? and tonight I will sleep by myself! Our camp was in higher elevation compared with other groups and we had a nice setting with a big tent for cooking and eating. Nobody believed me about sushi and yes we had it that night. Food was much different and better there, thanks to Ang Karson!
Norman: From Dingboche to Island Peak base camp was a typical full-day hike. Chukhung, at the halfway point, had a couple of tea-houses catering to trekkers who went there for an acclimatization hike. There was even a satellite telephone facility, which Fari used to call home on our way out. Beyond Chukhung, the country was mainly moraines from former glaciers, and at one point we followed the ridge of one.
Arriving at the base of Island Peak, we entered a narrow gully, with the slope of Island Peak on our left, and found there at least two other base-camps set up. Then we noticed someone on the slope to our right, calling to us "This way". So we went that way, and discovered our own base camp set up on the flat top of a knoll. There were several two-man (or two-person?) tents set up for sleeping, plus a large dome-shaped cook-tent, and a toilet tent with better facilities than many of the tea-houses, all set up on sandy soil which provided a comfortable base for sleeping pads. Inside the cook-tent, a hearth of stones supported kerosene stoves on which excellent meals were prepared. Sushi was on the menu for our first meal, and there were various choices of drinks, including fruit-flavoured ones and cinnamon-flavoured tea.
Sunday, Oct 27th
Carol: Breakfast this morning was no less amazing than dinner was the night before - French toast, regular toast with peanut butter and jam, museli with hot milk, hard boiled eggs, cereal, porridge, fresh oranges, etc. etc. etc. - eaten outside in the sun sitting on foam pads - and you wouldn't believe the view!
Today would be a day of training. The wind was brisk and Tim was concerned about trying to summit with high winds up top. He opted to stay in Base Camp for the day and see what the next day brought. The extra day might be of benefit to Mehran too, as a summit attempt on this day would be a stretch for him. His night was less than stellar. He had pretty much decided that if he did not feel better by the next morning he would head down to lower elevation. Fari, Norman, Aman and I spent the morning training with Tim with harnesses, ropes, ascenders, carabiners, etc. at Base Camp. By afternoon the wind had come up quite a bit and I retreated, quite frozen, to my tent and sleeping bag to escape the cold. By this time I had totally plugged & aching sinuses and a pretty unhealthy sounding cough that wasn't going away. Fari and Aman worked on other climbing skills throughout the afternoon. That episode left even Tim chilled - we actually saw him shivering!
That evening went quickly - it started with another fabulous dinner (which included fresh salad and fresh fruit among other fabulous delights) and was followed shortly by everyone escaping to their tents and sleeping bags. Staying warm and getting enough sleep to rise in good shape for the trek to High Camp the next day (weather permitting) were the prime concerns. And besides, sitting in the dome tent seemed to aid that ever-present coldness seep deeper into your body (and mind!) It was pretty quiet in the dome that night - and there were some pretty long faces. My knees and hips ached miserably throughout the night from the hard, cold ground. I don't think anyone actually slept very well that night, although the snoring coming from the big dome could be heard all the way down the valley I think - so someone slept o.k.!
Fari: Last night was cold and everything froze including my pee bottle! Had a fairly good sleep in my sleeping bag, which is intolerably warm at lower elevations. Today is rest day at our base camp. We decided not to attempt the high camp for two reasons: 1) wind is blowing fast and furious at top of IP and, 2) more time for Mehran to recover. Tim trained us in the essentials for fixed rope and Carol, Norman, Aman and I practiced for couple of hours. You need your down jacket and plastic boots all the time at this elevation. Mehran started his antibiotic and decided to go down. I had to arm wrestle with Aman to go down with Mehran, however Aman argued that he had to go as he is the brother-in-law!? Later on Tim's suggestion ended up the discussion. Dear Aman, I will get even one day!
Norman: The next morning, October 27, at first we had not decided whether to go to high camp that day, but in view of the preparation required, we decided not to go up till the following day. Foam pads were brought out of the cook-tent, and we had breakfast in the sunshine. Later, a fixed rope was set up and Tim instructed us on the use of ascender and carabiner on it. He also taught the Vancouver contingent some techniques of rock-climbing, in preparation for their future endeavours.
Monday , Oct 28th
Carol: Early morning brought sunshine and good weather on the top, and unfortunately an even sicker Mehran. The decision was made amongst the Iranian contingent that Mehran and Aman would head down to lower elevation, meeting up with the rest of the group after their summit attempt of Island Peak. Norman, Fari and I, along with Tim, Ang Karsang and Lakpa Geldon, headed for High Camp after an amazing lunch of scrambled eggs, baked beans, fresh fruit and other great edibles. We traveled extra-light - only the necessities we would need for the climb. No excess baggage - no extra weight! It was a rocky, dusty trek with a fairly good wind blowing as we neared the camp. In the early afternoon Tim, Norman, Fari and I arrived at High Camp (18,700 ft.) where Ang Nima and Lakpa Geldon had already set up tents. Our camp was set up quite a bit higher than the other climbers' camps. We were on a rock ledge about half way up from where our starting point would be. It was also much more sheltered from the wind than the other camps, thankfully. Tim, Fari and I spent most of the afternoon searching for quartz crystals in the surrounding rocks - or should I say skidding around on the rocks in our mountaineering boots? Norman took a tent rest. Lakpa Geldon had been looking around the rocks before we arrived and definitely won first prize in the crystal department! It was early to bed with soup and noodles in our stomachs.
Fari: Mehran and Aman left today for Pangboche to join Heather and Jill in Namche. Hope he will recover. We left for high camp around 11:00 AM. Distance between high camp and base camp was not that much, but you reach almost 5800 meters, highest I have been before. After settling down, Tim, Carol and I went out to find crystals. Ang Nima and Lhakpa found a bunch in half an hour, but we could only find a couple of crystals. City people! Some of the rocks on top look huge and unstable. We went to bed around 6:00 PM. Ok. Yes, I slept with Carol.
Norman: Mehran was still not feeling well, and on the morning of October 28, he decided to return to Namche. Aman insisted on accompanying him, having promised to stay with him. The porters (who managed to remain inconspicuous almost to the point of invisibility most of the time!) took three 2-man tents up to high camp. The rest of us had a lunch where each of our plates was virtually a mini-smorgasbord, with scrambled egg, beans and several other delicacies, then in early afternoon did the 2-3 hour hike up a trail to the area where our high camp was on a ledge above two other camps, a rocky and less attractive location than base-camp, and where some of us hunted for quartz crystals.
Tuesday , Oct 29th
Carol: Summit day arrived at 2:30 a.m. after almost no sleep that night. It was a cold night too. Headaches were a pretty common complaint, as was nausea. Also, it was difficult to sleep when you kept waking up gasping for air! We had a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal and geared up with helmets, harnesses, carabiners, etc. We then headed off in the dark to climb the rocks, with only headlamps for light, for the next couple of hours. It was amazing that Ang Nima could possibly find the way! I was just as happy that I couldn't see anything - you can't be afraid to climb what you can't see! There were some very BIG steps and some very NARROW ledges - yuk. Luckily there was some moonlight - especially for Fari, whose head lamp died after about one hour! Shortly after daybreak, we arrived at the snow line, where we donned crampons and ice axes. Everyone was roped together and we headed across the part-rock, part-snow ridge - the first of the ridges. Once off that little connector, it was a long, slow trudge on relatively flat terrain that ascended gradually. Movement was slow and tiring. It seemed like it would be forever before we got anywhere. But talk about amazing scenery! Pure white snow fields as far as the eye could see, jagged peaks, immense blue glaciers - something you only see in climbing books. Eventually, we reached the bottom of the 200 metre fixed rope section. It was time to take off the down - gortex was enough insulation - the sun was blazing and we were about to go up 200 metres of fixed rope starting at about a 70 to 75 degree slope and ending up at about an 85 degree slope at the top!
After a quick stop for snacks of nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars, we were off to climb the snow cliff. I was now very unhappy that I could see what I was actually doing - it was a LONG way up - and a LONG way down. Looking up you could only see the bottom of the boots of the person in front of you. Looking down you could only see a little colored dot - the top of the helmet of the person below you. Many stops were made - the air was scary thin - and nausea was coming and going. We did get to jump over those two little crevasses though - very small but very cool! As we ascended further and further, basically if you looked straight ahead all you saw was a vertical snow wall inches from your face. It was a constant never-ending rhythm of thrusting ice axe, sliding ascender, slamming of right foot then left foot into the snow wall, over and over again. After what seemed like forever, we were finally all at the top of the fixed ropes. And it was back into down jackets - there was a strong cold wind up there.
From here it was on to the next ridge. Very up hill and quite narrow in spots. And, oh, that awful wind! There were three more small steep hills to climb. After some time (who knows how much? - you completely lose all track of time up there) (thank goodness for Tim - he seemed to have time, and everything else, under control), we came to the last steep slope which was about 50 metres with fixed ropes. With Ang Nima in the lead, then me, Fari, Norman and Tim, I stopped dead.....Oh no, not more ropes! Only with prodding and tugging from Ang Nima did I go any further. And thank goodness I did - very shortly after the roped section was the summit, which wasn't visible from the bottom! As each of the group plodded up the last little bit to the summit it was interesting that there didn't seem to be any great feeling of elation or a huge adrenaline rush, or anything like that - there was definitely a feeling of thankfulness to be there and mild happiness at the thought of no further climbing, but no one was jumping up and down and carrying on as if they had just won the lottery. (- Only the Japanese guy who happened to be there at the same time - he was obviously ecstatic, in fact it looked like he might actually kangaroo off the side he was so happy!)
The summit experience was a quick experience - "take the damn pictures and let's get going" was the consensus! Tim was adept at getting all of the various corporate banners out and getting the job done as quickly as possible. A few personal pictures too, and then we were off for the descent. We stayed roped as we trudged down the ridge to the first fixed ropes. Funny how the trudging was much quicker going down! I was about as thrilled going down the ropes as I was going up - I almost missed the landing at the bottom of the first 50 metre ropes and had to do a quick sideways shuffle to get to the landing and avoid going over the cliff - not easy for someone afraid of heights! Then it was down the next two hills and the ridge to the top of the 200 metre fixed ropes. Norman and Fari took off in fine mountain climber fashion. Then Tim lowered me down, and then belayed me, with Ang Nima taking up the rear. The only real hitch was when I almost lowered myself right into the ice hole - with Tim laughingly cajoling me to move around it sideways ------ easy for him to say, he wasn't the one dangling from the end of the rope!! You'd think that going down would be a snap - well, not the case - everyone was still panting and sweating at the bottom of the wall. I was very happy when I was finally off that wall! (In fact, happier than the moment I reached the summit!) Then came the slow slogging across the snow fields to where the snow meets the rocks - not all that difficult, and certainly much quicker than going up, but after 8 or 9 hours of working hard in thin air, everyone was pretty tired. Finally, skidding and stumbling across the final ridge (part snow, part rock) on our crampons (crampons don't hold very well on rock!) we reached the rocks. And who should happen to be there waiting with a large thermos of hot lemon? Why, Ang Nima's son! As we sat down to remove crampons and harnesses, we sipped on hot lemon and marveled at how Ang Nima's 17-year-old son had climbed the rocks in one hour (in running shoes) to meet us with hot lemon!
It was time to descend through the rocks - actually much easier when going down and in full daylight! Once we passed high camp, where everything had been cleaned up by Lakpa Geldon and moved down the mountain, the terrain flattened out a bit and it was a matter of stumbling through rocks and dust for what seemed like days. It was a long, tiring trek back to Base Camp. By this point we were running on empty - not much food was consumed that day, and also not much intake of fluid. Concentrating on the tasks at hand tends to make you forget about food or drink. I, for one, dragged my butt up the last hill to Base Camp (the only "up" part is right at the end, of course!) and immediately fell head first into my tent, unable to move. It had been a long 12-hour day with little to eat or drink. It was some time before everyone had the energy to change clothing and relocate to the dome. And even then, movement was slow and only what was absolutely necessary was attempted. Dinner was fabulous, but everyone was so bagged that it was merely a ritual to eat it (mushroom soup, pasta with tomato sauce, fresh salad, fresh fruit, and much more) - sort of wasted on our bunch (but still much appreciated). And I just couldn't warm up! Probably lack of hydration and food made everyone cold and sluggish, not to mention that most of us had already lost weight just getting to this point on the map.
It was pretty much straight to bed after dinner - and definitely what felt like the coldest night of all. No one slept very well (except for that bugger Tim, of course!).
Fari: Could not sleep at all last night. Higher elevation, cold weather and noise from avalanches were not comforting. We woke up 2:00 am and changed to full gear. After a quick breakfast we started (~ 3:30 am). My headlamp died after one hour, however we had partial moonlight. After two hours walking on a rocky trail, about sunrise, we were on the glacier. We put our crampons and roped together at this time. From distance you could see beautiful crevasses. Another couple of hours we reached a slope,where you have to use 200 meter fixed rope. Slope gradually increased as we went up to almost 85 degrees on the last 30 meters , with average slope around 70 degrees. I was really exhausted. Climbing to the top we walked on a ridge and passed three mini peaks, one with a help of another 50 meters fixed rope. Around 10:30 (?) we were on the top. Suddenly you feel lots of energy. Weather was great with slight wind. We took pictures with banners and those paper banners Carol made for us in Dingboche. Soon we head back down. At the end of glacier, Nima Tsering was waiting for us with hot lemon! We were back to the IP base camp by 4:00 pm. What a day!
Norman: Starting from high camp at 3.30am the next day, the summit of Island Peak was now within reach. Ang Nima had been there before, and he led us up a rocky trail in the dark. It was daylight when we reached the snow. There, we put on crampons and roped up to cross a glacier with few, if any, signs of crevasses. However, it's the crevasses you can't see that are the most dangerous.
There was a steep snow slope to ascend to reach the ridge of Island Peak, and there was already a fixed rope in place. so we put to use our knowledge gained two days before. Once on the ridge, we traversed it to a final steep snow pitch with a fixed rope, and then we were on top.
Most of the time on top seemed to be occupied with photographing various corporate banners. Now we had to get down somehow. I had with me a "figure-8" device for rappelling, so I used that to descend the fixed ropes. The rest of the descent went well, somewhat faster than the ascent, of course, being downhill. We found the high camp had already been dismantled, and we continued right to base-camp, arriving there at 3.30pm, feeling somewhat tired after a 12-hour stretch on the mountain.
Wednesday , Oct 30th Carol: I was up early in the morning to the unwelcome chorus of yak bells - it seemed like they were right inside my tent! We had to pack everything up (damn duffels!), and trek out of Base Camp, retracing steps, and heading for Pangboche to stay the night. It was a long day and everyone was very quiet - it was a day of inner reflection. It was nice that we arrived with the sun still up. We sat around, half awake/half asleep, in a warm sunny teahouse until the sun went down. It was a great teahouse - clean - and it had large, brightly painted bedrooms. Then we had a pretty standard teahouse dinner in the warmth of a yak dung stove which didn't leak (and chang for Tim - we still weren't ready for that - well maybe just a small taste). That was followed by some lively conversation with some American kids, Kat and Jason, including a very energetic critique of the famous and decidedly putrid "Into Thin Air". Then it was off to bed for much-needed sleep and recuperation. Everyone slept VERY well that night.
Fari: Last night, probably was the coldest night. With three layers of pants my tights were chilly. We left the IP base camp for Pangboche. It is a quite day and most of the time we were silent, thinking. My mini disc came handy for this part of the trek. I had a stomach ache all day long. In Pangboche, one of the porters did not feel good. Tim and I diagnosed a wide range of symptoms and cured the poor guy with dozen of medications!
Norman: We had a really cold night there. A water bottle froze solid, I couldn't get the lid off my thermos, and even the contents of my pee-bottle started to freeze, despite occasional additions of warm fluid. I wanted to photograph the cooks and hearth inside the cook-tent, but I couldn't get my camera moving, even though it doesn't use a battery. Fortunately Mehran has a picture of them. And fortunately there was enough sunshine to thaw things out before we left.
After breakfast, camp was rapidly packed up, and the yaks licked up what food had been spilt on the hearth. We had 4 days to get to Lukla.
Thursday , Oct 31st Carol: We were up early again the next morning and off on what felt like another long trekking day (except that down is waaaaaay better than up), ending in Namche Bazar to be reunited with Heather, Mehran and Aman - what a delight! (Almost as delightful as that long-awaited shower!!) It was at this point that the whole Island Peak event hit home. This was when we could think about what had transpired. When I started telling it to others, describing it to our group, answering questions - that was when I felt accomplishment and even elation! It felt so great to be in Namche too - it was an upper just to be there (the drug-like effect of a drop in elevation was likely partly responsible!) And, of course, the beauty of the whole thing was ....."it was all down hill from here"!!!!!!
Fari: Last night's sleep was great. We had our own room and sleeping in lower elevation helps. We started early for Namche. Now we are chatting once in a while and looking forward to a shower. In Namche we joined Heather, Mehran and Aman. They all looked fine. That was great news for me. Unfortunately Jill has left early due to poor health. Later we found that she is fine in Kathmandu. Now I can sleep better, this time with Tim!
...and meanwhile, a series of e-mails bring us to the last leg of the trip.
October 27, 2002
Subject: I'm Back In Namche Bazaar
It is just the 27 so I'm back early with good news and not so good news. We were all successful with our summit of both Nang Kharga (16,500ft) and Kala Pattar (19...something) but the rest of the group carried on without me to Island Peak. At Loboche...our last sleep before carrying on to Pattar I couldn't sleep a wink and hadn't eaten much for several meals, both common challenges when dealing with altitude. I do have tenacity! We summitted and came back past Loboche to Dughla...the day was 12 hours long. By that point I was literally stumbling with exhaustion and to add insult to injury couldn't sleep that night either as I was up all night with "the trots" brought on by the fatigue. Having spent most of the day seeing not much more than the boots of the person in front of me I figured this was no holiday. We had a slow day at lower elevation the following day and I had a chance to consider my options...and decided I would return to Namche to wait for the others while they tried Island Peak. Not an easy decision but the trip back down to Namche was scenic and slow with my own porter who didn't speak a word of English but had obviously firm instructions on where I was to have tea, lunch and sleep as he sternly refused to move if I went in a direction he didn't approve of. Good thing given how directionally challenged I can be!
Oxygen has become my drug of choice!! As we descended I felt stronger and more invincible, causing me to question the Island Peak decision (only a little)...I got over it as I enjoyed a doughnut and cappo at the bakery this afternoon. Jill... the nurse, had to leave us earlier in the trip at Tengboche. I'm hoping to meet up with her in the next day or so in Namche. Patty please call Jeff Knudsen and tell him Carol is strong and well and is planning his (and her) future summits of Ama Dablam and Pumori!
October 29, 2002
Subject: News Update from Nepal
I am still waiting in Namche for the rest of the group to arrive. Yesterday I took a trek to Thami - home of another monastery and a great example of a relatively untouched Sherpa village. It is normally an overnight trip, especially for someone not yet acclimatized but I headed out at 7:30am and hoofed it to return by 4. I practically had the trail to myself - it isn't as popular a trail with tourists...just the yaks and me! It is a safe country to travel alone in and at no time did I feel unsafe. On my return back to the lodge, Mehran and Aman had arrived! Mehran had been very sick at Base Camp for Island Peak and had to go on antibiotics. He turned back and Aman was worried enough to want to see him safely back to Namche.
Also Jill...who had to quit earlier was evacuated by helicopter to the hospital in Kathmandu. Haven't seen or talked to her so don't know how unwell she is, I was given the news by the fellow at the lodge who called in the helicopter. That leaves Norm, Carol and Fari to attempt the summit. The guys tell me Carol was in good shape and that base camp was SOOOOO cold they also perished...even the contents of their pee bottles froze...yikes (what female can handle peeing in a bottle anyway?).
November 4, 2002
Subject: Last News Before My Return
The charms of Namche Bazaar began to wear a little thin before the rest of the group rejoined me there. Carol, Fari and Norman all successfully summited Island Peak and Norman is officially the oldest person to do so at 73!
At Namche are a bakery, good coffee, and three bookstores (with possibly a total of 100 titles) and "hot showers" which consist of a bucket of warm water poured through a spigot. I have been wearing a toque, socks and long johns to bed virtually since I landed at Lukla! Carol tells me conditions were unbearably cold at base camp and higher. When the team reassembled we had a two-day trek back to our flight from Lukla and arrived in Kathmandu yesterday. A shower was first on the priority list, then some shopping. The Dipawali festival or "festival of lights" is on now, and they drape the doors of their homes with marigold garlands and at night light candles and strings of lights in order to welcome the goddess of wealth into their homes.
We had dinner in Kathmandu at a climber's restaurant called Rum Doodle's and hanging all over the walls and ceiling are "feet" that various expeditions have decorated and signed. They range from a teacher's trek to Tengboche to all the "name" climbers trips to Everest. We filled out one for our trip too!
Today we toured Bhaktapur - the ancient city of devotees. A world Heritage site and home of some amazing carved wooden doorways and windows. We also went to Pashupatinath where Hindus are cremated. There were several cremations in progress and it seemed to me a shocking intrusion on what in our culture is a much more private process. I was fascinated and horrified at the same time. The skull makes a sound like a rifle or firecracker when the heat of the fire bursts it. The most pious Hindus wish to be brought to this site before they are dead as cremation must take place within 24 hours of death. There is a "dying house" manned by volunteer doctors and when the devotee dies they are carted out to the site. Firewood must be purchased. They are unwrapped from all garments and the clothing is thrown into the river. The oldest son, dressed in white, parades around the corpse three times and then it is laid naked on the pyre and the show begins. All the tourists and curious are lined up just across the river as interested observers. When the "main event" is complete all the ashes are also swept into the Bagmati River (which eventually joins the Ganges).
Tonight is our farewell dinner at a Nepalese restaurant that features a traditional meal and native dancers and music. Should be interesting.
We fly out of Kathmandu to Bangkok early tomorrow; I will spend a night in Bangkok and then return to Calgary on Wednesday. It has been an amazing experience but I'm ready to come home and don't want to eat another egg or dal bhat!!
Special thanks to Peak Freaks for a trip of a lifetime!
HIMALAYAN HIGH ALTITUDE SPECIALISTS since 1983