Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Local on Everest, well, almost

Local climber (and bank auditor) David Lien is attempting Mt. Everest from the north side (China). He's sending e-mail updates when he can. Here is the latest:

Hi, All. We arrived in Camp 1/Base Camp (BC-17,056 ft.) on 18 April with dark grey skies above along with falling snow being whipped up by strong wind gusts, and without having yet seen Mount Everest. However, during the evening of our second day in BC the weather started to change. Although I had no knowledge of the local weather forecast, I climbed the snow-covered ridge above camp in hopes of sighting Everest if the system was on its way out. It was.

I watched in awe as the clouds cleared, revealing a monstrous and breathtaking scene: 29,035 ft. Mt. Everest covered with a fresh layer of snow and with a snow plume stretching out for possibly a mile whirling off its summit. The brawl of the wind and snow had given way to a breathless, exhausted peace. To quote Edward Abbey, the mountain glittered under the sun with that harsh perfection characteristic of God’s early work. That single moment has already made this expedition a complete success for me. All the rest will just be icing on the cake.

As described by Matt Dickinson in "The Other Side of Everest": “From the south, Everest is shy and elusive…Crowded as it is, by Nuptse and Lhotse, you have to climb right into the Western Cwm, above Base Camp, before the Southwest Face is truly revealed. Even from Kala Pattar, the famous Everest viewpoint for trekkers, only a frustrating potion of the mountain is visible.”

“From the north, Everest does not hide behind any veil, it reveals itself in all its glory with no preamble or guile. It just sits there alone, proud and magnificent, a pyramid of rock, sculpted by the most power forces on earth over millions of years. No other peak encroaches on it - none would dare. It effortlessly fills what seems to be half of the horizon. The view from where we stood left no room for any doubt at all: This was the ultimate mountain.”

Soon, a few others from camp joined me and we watched the changing panorama in the late afternoon light as though Everest was a physical addiction we couldn’t turn away from. After maybe 30 minutes, the sun dropped below the surrounding mountains, decreasing the temperature by 5-10 degrees almost instantly, and sending us scurrying back down to BC and into our tents. Due to the number of climbers in our expedition, we have divided up into two groups.

On 22 April, our group started the climb from BC/Camp 1 (17,056 ft.) up to Intermediate Base Camp (IBC)/Camp 2 (19,024 ft.) along the Rongbuk Glacier and East Rongbuk Glacier. After spending one night in IBC, we continued up to Advanced Base Camp (ABC)/Camp 3 (20,992 ft.), covering a distance of about 10 miles from BC to ABC. ABC is higher than North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley, and the highest altitude most of us have ever “slept” at, if you can call what we experienced sleep. Sleep is increasingly difficult the higher up you go, for a number of reasons: altitude headaches, loss of appetite/upset stomachs, irregularity (diarrhea), and cold. In the worst cases, cerebral edema (brain swelling) or pulmonary edema (lungs fill with fluid) occur. Several of our expedition members had to be assisted down from either ABC or IBC with the early signs of these two potentially deadly reactions to altitude.

So far, I am doing well overall and have experienced only mild, short-term altitude headaches and overnight upset stomachs. However, the first night at ABC was a difficult one for all of us. At times like that, as you spend entire nights awake, feeling the uncomfortable impacts of the altitude and occasionally making late night dashes for the bathroom (if you can call it that) with bouts of diarrhea, you sometimes questions what you’re doing up so high, so far from home.

Although I climb mountains for many reasons, as JFK said about going to the moon, we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. And I have found that nothing truly good or pure in life comes easy. Aiming high and hard work are prerequisites for living a good and decent life, and for endeavoring to make a difference rather than just existing. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life; I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Having said all that, we obviously have some very difficult days and weeks ahead. One of our expedition’s climbers, who was also here last year, captured the essence of what lies ahead when he said above IBC/Camp 3, “it’s about the suffering.”

Tomorrow we will leave BC for IBC, then ABC, and after spending two nights there move up to Camp 4 (22,960 ft.). It’s above ABC/Camp 3 where the real “suffering” and danger begins here on the north side of Mt. Everest. After one night of what is certain to be a cold and uncomfortable night at Camp 4, we will descend back down to BC and rest before repeating the entire process again, but moving up through the lower camps faster and then above Camp 4.

My next update should come on Monday or Tuesday, after we return from Camp 4. Step by step, David Edward Abbey: “The high forest has its charms, but I think I love most the timberline regions. The taiga, the tundra, and the tarn. Here the trees are few and scattered, growing close to the earth. The world opens out and one begins to understand what we’re doing here.”

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