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Friday, May 16, 2014

Thanks for the memories - Onto a new objective EVEREST 2015!

I sit here in my kitchen, battling some stomach bug that fights on after 10 days, and think about what lies in store for me over the next 10 months.  Here is a picture of the current suspect:
Amoebic Dysentery
I'll get over it soon (I hope) but I am really excited about what lies ahead.

Climb on!

My resolve to climb on Everest remains and I plan to climb in Nepal in 2015 barring any unforeseeable snag with our permits.  Today, I want to thank all of you who supported me over the past year.  Without your words of encouragement, I would have had a harder road to travel.  Each of you contributed in your own way and I thank you all for your support.

Thanks to my family, I can

I want to devote my post today to my family.  My wife Kathy accepted a tremendous burden when she married me many years ago.  That burden continues today as I embark on one adventure after another.  She supports me throughout all my crazy ideas - often defending my actions to those who cannot fathom why a husband would go gallivanting off to the nether regions of the world.  I love her because she sees nothing crazy about my craziness.  She thinks my adventures are sane.  It is a wonder we have a functioning household with two crazy people running it.  Well, actually, we let our dogs run the house.  Kathy, thank you for all you have done for me and plan to do for/with me in the future.

My son Patrick supported me in his own way by helping Kathy while I was away.  He asked questions about my preparation and devoted himself to working out and training for his upcoming years in high school.  Patrick is a teenager and, true to teenager form he remained quietly supportive and hopefully not terribly embarrassed by his old man.  During my preparation, he would accompany me on runs - even when he didn't want to run.  Now, he runs on his own without any prompting.  You see, this training thing is contagious - kinda like an amoeba but a more healthy contagion.  Patrick, I thank you for all your good-natured support and look forward to climbing with you soon.

Thanks to my brother who took time out of his medical practice and time away from his family to come support me before I left.  He has always been a great supporter from my early days in triathlons when he bought me equipment I sorely needed to today when he offers me medical advice.  I know I would not be as prepared without his help and that preparation just makes me more confident to focus on what matters most - the climb.  Thanks Sean for all your help and continued support.

Thanks to my dad who supported me even though he was the one who required support.  He is probably too proud to admit it but he needs some support at times.  While I was gone, he had a few accidents and my family decided to shield me from the grim news.  I placed a call to him while I was in Thukla to see if he were still planning on coming to Nepal.  The cascade of events that hit him hit me too.  Glad he was OK but I was disappointed that he could not come out and enjoy the trek.  Regardless of his trials, he always remained positive on the phone and supported me before, during, and after my climb.  

The rest of my family from my in-laws to my huge family of cousins, aunts, and uncles were all cheering me on.  I want to thank them all but plan to do so in person.  My next stop on the post-expedition recovery is to head out to Manassas, VA to party with the clan, show pictures, and tell stories - some true and others extremely embellished.  Later this summer, we head out to the pacific NW to see the rest of my family and do a little summer climbing.

I thank you all for reading my ongoing story.  Please stay tuned for more updates as I now prepare for Everest 2015.  My wife, son and I will climb Aconcagua in December 2014 so I am really looking forward to that adventure.  We also plan to climb Rainier in August when we visit family.  Come join us if you are in the area.  If all goes well, we might have Sam Chappatte and Brendan Madden join our trip to Aconcagua- right guys?  I'll plan the expedition, you guys just get to Mendoza, Argentina.  As Alan Arnette (climbing K2 this year for Alzheimer's charity) fondly says....climb on!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Recap Day 5 and onward: The day the expedition ended and things I learned along the way

Transitioning back to normal life takes time and yesterday was one of those days that I just needed the time to recover.  My stomach is not faring well so I slept and worked on my house.  Today, I am back to new so I continue on with my expedition recaps.

We were on Lobuche getting ready to climb further when we all decided we needed more information about Everest.  The information would help us plan the next few weeks.  Bear in mind, we had no idea what was taking place at EBC.  Since we were removed from the insanity, our information pipeline was via phone.  Dan made several calls to the expedition leaders he knew and heard definitive news from several that Everest was effectively closed.  Sherpa were being threatened if they climbed and our Sherpa - even though most wanted to climb - were not safe from these threats.  We all agreed that putting our guys at risk above and beyond the risks of mountaineering was not acceptable.  Dan kept pressing forward trying to figure out more about the remaining expeditions.  The news broke on 4/25 that our expedition was over.  Our last hope that the large Seven Summits expedition group - an expedition with over 100 Sherpa - would remain on the hill was ruled out by one call to the leader.  We needed these other Sherpa to help fix ropes above Camp 2.  The leader of Seven Summits said the icefall was too dangerous and his Sherpa were being threatened.  Our reliance on other teams meant that their decision was our decision.  It hit me there that our climb was over.  My climb on Everest would end before I had the opportunity to step onto the mountain.

When the news finally sunk in, I was totally deflated and even angered by the events.  How could so few affect so many?  I am not talking about the Sherpa who lost their lives but rather the militant group who threatened our peaceful Sherpa pals.  Why did these few men get to dictate the climb this year?  Many of you may not appreciate the gravity of that day and decision but I feel it today.  I am in no way rich.  Yes, I have more money than most people in the US but I work very hard - almost all weekends - and save so I can do these adventures.  The money loss stings.  I was able to do exactly what trekkers to EBC were allowed to do but I paid 10 times the rate for a trek.  The government and expedition leaders got paid their full share and I felt the situation required a different, more equitable share in the loss.  We paid for oxygen bottles at $500/bottle, food that would be stored for next year, Sherpa who stood in camp with us, and leaders who went home early.  Why were we left to foot the bill for all those goods and services?  The whole deal just stunk and I was angered just thinking about how much money I wasted.

Those feelings subsided over time but only because I was in the same boat with others.  Misery - at least my misery - loves company.  I was surrounded by good people who had prepared for the climb just like I prepared for it.  We all felt the sting.  For some, this year would be their last year due to funding.  I knew I could work some extra hours, avoid eating out much, and limit my discretionary spending.  Those steps might help me afford another permit and expedition fee next year or the year after.  Others may not be so fortunate.  I also have some research funding so that will help me get back on the hill.  

The loss forced us all to seek out other options.  Some in our expedition tried to get permits to climb from Tibet while others considered climbing without Sherpa support.  The latter was not really an option.   We knew that the icefall doctors would eventually take down the route - effectively stranding any climber above the icefall and forcing them to find a safe route through a maze of seracs and crevasses.  I knew both were non-options for me.  The Chinese government already denied my visa request earlier this year; they had no reason to grant one now that I was desperate.  Plus, I would need to pony up a huge sum of cash to get a visa, a climbing permit, transportation to Tibet, and then catch up with the rest of the SummitClimb group.  My friends Alex and Sam were pursuing the Tibet option but eventually they and all the rest of the Everest climbers were denied.  In fact, the Chinese government stopped issuing visas for all climbs in Tibet.   It was a strange move and just as unpredictable as they had proven to be over the past few months.  I was resigned to the fact that my climbing in Nepal ended with my summit on Lobuche.  It was a bittersweet moment where my emotions really came out.  While the rest of our team celebrated, I looked out at Everest and the surrounding peaks and wondered what if we could continue.  Those thoughts would drive me mad so I decided to celebrate with the rest and put my anger aside for more productive thoughts.

Another thing that kept me sane was the simple realization that I did everything I could do to control the outcome.  The climb ended not because I was unprepared but rather for circumstances that were beyond my control.  I took stock of my preparation and felt really good about both my fitness and acclimatization.  This year, I figured, would be a test run of my preparation and I felt I passed the test without question.  I was fit.  I was strong.  I was healthy.  All of these aspects were under my control and I was ready to climb.  Things could not have been better from that perspective.  I also learned some things that will help me better prepare for next year.  Here they are in no particular order:

  1. Plan my own meals:  I like to prepare my own meals and plan out menus.  Doing this over the years taught me that I have tastes that change as I go higher on a mountain.  Eating by someone else's plan/menu did not sit well with me.  I guess I like to control everything and a guided expedition takes away some of that control.  Next year, I intend to plan my own expedition meals.  Nutrition on a mountain is essential to staying strong and ready for the hard climbing ahead.  The longer I ate the expedition food, the less I felt like eating.  I had a good appetite so that wasn't the problem; I just could not tolerate the same flavors/foods.  My tastes change and I know how they change as I acclimatize.  Sweets become less appealing to me and I prefer salty foods with varying spices.  I knew this going into the expedition and figured my tastes would change out of necessity.  Well, I was wrong.  My tastes are predictable to me and I intend to meet them with my own menu.
  2. Climb with like-minded, well-prepared climbers:  I prefer to climb with strong(er) climbers and Everest ought to demand that only the strong show up to climb.  The popular media like to talk about the weak climbers - and there are some - but the reality is that most people I met at EBC and before were well-seasoned climbers.  Some climbers had really impressive resumes while even the weakest climbers had incredible athletic backgrounds.  Most were rugged and ready for the challenge.  Still, when I signed up for an expedition, I figured my expedition mates would all be equally fit and ready to climb independently.  In fact, I quietly hoped that I would not stand out much from the others.  My expectations were not exactly met and, in retrospect, they might have been unrealistic.  Next year, I plan to climb with people I know who are strong and well-prepared.  Sam and Alex fit the bill from this year.  They are young and experienced climbers and we immediately hit it off while trekking into EBC.  I look forward to climbing with them next year.  They have a great attitude about climbing and neither show any signs of fatigue...ever.
  3. Bring all my snacks from Kathmandu:  Everything costs money on Everest and those costs escalate as you ascend the Khumbu valley.  Sam Chappatte and I wanted to collect some data on the cost of simple items such as Coke, toilet paper, and water but we ran out of time and opportunities.  We figured that for each 100 meters gained, you could expect a significant price increase for all three items.  In some cases, the prices rose to usury levels.  Consider one case where my friend Neal Kushwaha and I enjoyed (in total) two bowls of noodle soup, two small bottles of Coke, and a can of sour cream and onion Pringles.  How much do you think we paid for this tantalizing spread in Gorak Shep (the last bit of civilization before EBC)?  $24.  Yep, we paid a mint for a small snack.  Next year, I intend to hire a porter to bring up these snacks.  The porter plus the original price would add up to peanuts.  Heck, we might even sell some in EBC to those who failed to prepare for the price gouging.
  4. Focus on acclimatization and lower-body strength:  If I find my workout time constrained by work or fatigue, I intend to focus more on acclimatization and lower-body strength.  Cardiovascular fitness is a given for me but if I had anything I would change it would be bulking up my legs a bit so when I do lose weight - an inevitable situation on the mountain - I will have some muscle mass to spare in my legs.  My upper body can be twigs for the purposes of climbing.  I rarely use my hands in mountaineering but I do use my upper body in skiing.  Everest has no skiing or at least none I could see unless you wanted a really good rock ski workout session.  Thus, I plan to decrease my time doing upper body strength and focus on my core and lower-body strength.  Also, when pressed, I will forgo any cardio training for straight hypoxic training or even mix in the intermittent hypoxic maximum intensity (IHMI) sessions to build cardio fitness at altitude.  Like I said above, I was very happy with my performance on the mountain; I just want to prepare for the future by learning from the past.
  5. Get healthy before leaving:  I left for Nepal with a nagging sinus infection.  Typically, I avoid antibiotics for these things and eventually they go away.  The hypoxic training probably reduced my body's ability to fight off the infection so I left with it and climbed with it throughout the entire time I was away.  I finally resorted to antibiotics after failing to kill it with my own immune system the preceding 8 weeks.  Yeah, I was stubborn.  Next year, I load up on anything that kills these beasties before I take off.  I want to start healthy.  There are plenty of opportunities to get sick on the hill.
So I end with these points and I intend to carry forward with the positives.  No sense dwelling on the past.  From this day forward, you will read what I am doing to prepare for next year.  Tomorrow, I intend to thank many of you for all your support.  If you are in the area, come by for a pint on Friday afternoons.  I should be at the Auld Shebeen from about 4pm until 7pm most Fridays.  If not, I will be floating around at our local pool.  Come by for drinks there too.  I bring a cooler with wine, beer, and snacks to share.  Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow with more positive news.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Recap Day 4 - 4/23 - The rumors swirl, climbers get conflicting reports, and the media circus begins

I take up where I left off last time with five days post-avalanche.  Note, I fixed the dates in my post titles to reflect the real days.  In my haste, I put in sequential dates but the days did not follow linearly.  The fourth day of my recap lands on 4/23 - the date that many people finally figured out that the climbing season was over.

We awoke and had our usual breakfast fare along with an alert from our expedition leader that today we would head out of EBC to go acclimatize on another peak.  That peak, we knew, was Lobuche and featured a nice approach through the Khumbu valley.  We retraced our steps to Gorak Shep and then eventually the town of Lobuche where we stayed the night.  Before our departure, several of us posted an update on the SummitClimb website and Facebook page.  That update included an annotated picture of icefall along with approximate locations of the slide.  
Edited picture taken by me and annotated by Sam Chappatte.

While taking and editing the picture, I realized the slide took place far to the left of the icefall.  Dan mentioned that there were various rumors that the route through the icefall was known to be dangerous this year.  Several expedition leaders apparently questioned the safety of the route and even suggested alternatives.  We had no confirmation of those rumors but it certainly seemed rather odd that the icefall doctors would run the route so close to an area that constantly slides.  I'm no Everest expert but I know a fair bit about the backcountry and avalanche terrain.  Nobody in their right mind plans routes under unstable terrain - no matter what hill the route sits upon.  Please note I am not blaming anyone; I am merely pointing out the discussion that took place at this time.  We all wondered why the route was placed in such a dangerous area.  Dan and I carefully worded the SummitClimb update to reflect the uncertainty that surrounded the route.  

We wrote:
"We have been studying more about what caused the tragedy in the icefall on 18 May, which, it is now stated, took the lives of 16 Sherpas at 6:40 am. It seems that the ice which buried the Sherpas originated from the West Ridge of Everest, which looms far above the Khumbu icefall on the left side as the viewer faces it from below, to the right and above the Lho La. The location of the event can be seen approximately 1200 metres / 4000 feet as "the crow flies" from our location at base camp.  There exists an enourmous hanging glacier which clings to the face of the West Ridge, and on the morning of Friday, 18 April, a piece of this hanging glacier "calved" away from the main glacier, tumbling at high speed down the steep face, shattering into many ice pieces and burying the victims in its awful wake. Some people have said that if the climbing route were located more toward the center of the Khumbu icefall, rather than being on the left side, beneath the hanging glacier, then perhaps there might be less chance of climbers travelling within the trajectory of such calving events. Moving the route to the center of the icefall, however, introduces other risks.  Thus, the route always involves some form of risk balance.  While route changes posssibly could save lives, of course "hindsight is 20/20" and no amount of conjecturing will bring back the sad loss of our dear friends."  Copied directly from the SummitClimb website

Those discussions lead many of us to believe that the icefall doctors would re-route the icefall to a more safer area and climbing would begin soon enough.  Dan kept reminding us that they were not going to close the mountain.  I admit, he was persuasive because I thought closing a mountain sounded preposterous so I kept a positive outlook on the climb.  In accord with our shared outlook, we pressed on with our acclimatization schedule.  The previous day included hikes up to Pumori ABC and ample rest to adequately recover between these hikes.  Today, we left of Lobuche with the idea that climbing Everest was still on.  

Meanwhile in EBC, the tensions among all climbers - Sherpa and Westerners alike - built throughout the days.  The same happy folks were no longer smiling.  You could cut the tension in the air during some chats.  We had no hard feelings toward one another but we all felt odd about the situation.  Everyone had skin in this game.  Well, I say everyone but the reality is that only the Sherpa and the paying climbers had skin; the expedition leaders and the Nepali government made their money already.  Regardless of the outcome, they get paid.  We - the Sherpa and climbers - get short-changed.  That situation made us all uneasy.  We all wanted to climb but the ramifications for climbing this year seemed too dear.

We heard rumors that a small Sherpa faction threatened any Sherpa who entered the icefall.  Those threats were never substantiated but they sure gained momentum.  Our leader went so far as to detail the threat issued to our Sirdar (head Sherpa) should we proceed with our climb.  The threat was graphic enough to make us all worry about the climb now.  Teams were pulling out in droves.  First Alpine Ascents and then IMG pulled out; Himex and Seven Summits held on to the bitter end.  The big guys were falling and we held out hope that some of the larger, more experienced and equipped teams would remain.  We were too small to rely on our Sherpa to fix ropes above the icefall.  Our Everest climbing hopes were tied to others now; we had to wait and see what happened.

The day ended for us after a long hike to the town of Lobuche where we were able to unwind and talk about the past few days.  We crashed there and slept while the world talked about us (in general sense).  Not all of the talk was positive.  We - the climbers - were portrayed as exploiters of the poor Sherpa.  I had no clue about the actual media circus but I got a hint of it over conversations with my family.  Headlines such as "The Disposable Man: A Western History of Sherpas on Everest" became reblogged and cited as gospel.  My family members restrained themselves as they read comment section after comment section portraying us climbers as "rich" and "unfit."  Sure, there are people on every mountain who probably do not belong; perhaps Everest has a higher proportion just because of the challenge.  Regardless, the media and the public commentary turned a difficult situation into a much worse situation for us all.  

My bid to climb Everest officially ended the next day 4/24.  I will recap that day in its entirety tomorrow.  Tonight, I get to sit down with my friend Scott Sehon.  He plans to record our interview and post it to his website.  Stay tuned for the next installment and expect an update with Scott's podcast site tomorrow.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Recaps start again tomorrow: Today, I thank my mom and Olivia for sustaining hope

There is plenty of time to discuss Everest but only once per year do we focus on moms.  Today, I shove Everest aside for mom.

Last night I attended the Olivia Constants Foundation fundraising event in Annapolis and I was reminded why Olivia and her cause are so important to me - hope.  It is Mother's Day today and I want to reciprocate the message of hope by honoring the mothers I knew and know.  

What better place to start than with my mother.  My mother always supported me and gave me the opportunity to achieve whatever I desired.  Yeah, my dad was there too but it is not his day today; he can wait until June.  I thank her today even though she cannot be here to read this message.  If we all took a little time to thank those who supported us and gave us hope, I think many of life's struggles would soon evaporate.  Here are my mother's day thanks.....

Thanks mom

My mother was a hard-worker who raised two kids, climbed the corporate ladder, and tolerated a family life unsuitable for anyone.  You see, she had three boys to deal with and one was a grown up!  We did as we pleased and she seemed to tolerate it and, at times, found the lighter side in our shenanigans.  There was no malice in our actions; we were just boys.  She was not a victim but rather she found ways to deal with a less-than-good situation at home.  She smiled, sang out loud, and filled the room with happiness and optimism. She gave me hope that things would be better no matter how down I felt.  I miss her dearly. 

Thanks mom for being so happy
Thanks for your kindness
Thanks for loving me unconditionally
Thanks for remaining positive
Thanks for the little tunes you hummed in the morning
Thanks for making the little things matter so much
Thanks for supporting all my interests
.... for getting up at 4am to make me egg sandwiches before swim practice
.... for the morning lifts to practice in the summer
.... for driving me to endless triathlons
Thanks for always slipping in a few extra bills so I could eat more later
Thanks for offering frank and honest advice
Thanks for pushing me to be better
Thanks for forgiving my transgressions - no matter how severe
Thanks for giving me hope when things seemed hopeless
Thanks for fighting to see the next day

Thanks mom.  I wish you were here to read this.

There is plenty more to tell about Everest this year so stay tuned for Monday's installment.  Go thank your mom today.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Recap Day 3 - 4/22 - The day the tragedy began....

Greetings again.  I take up where I left off yesterday with day 3.  Please note that I omit names in these stories until I get the individual's OK to post them.  Do not expect dirt on anyone.  I am telling my story and I intend to write from my perspective and to protect the rights of individuals - public personalities excluded.  If you are a person who thinks you were mentioned in one of my posts and would like recognition, please contact me and I will change the pronouns to the first person.  Thanks...and read on.

Disagreement

The day began with our usual breakfast fare followed by a call to arms.  Dan Mazur notified us that a mandatory meeting for all climbers, guides, and Sherpa would be held at 9am outside the S.P.C.C. (Sagarmatha Polution Control Committee) tent.  The meeting - we were told - was focused on honoring our fallen climbers.  Sure enough, it looked like a wake at first with incense filling the air, chants coming from inside the tent, and people gathering around in silence.  
As you can see from the picture above, the EBC inhabitants gladly followed orders and came out en masse.  I suspect there were 400 people attending the ceremony.

What started out as a nice homage to our fallen brothers quickly turned into a series of speeches by those ill-suited for the task.  One guy got up and forgot what he was going to say.  Yes, he forgot.  I guess the altitude and emotions mixed to form a potent amnestic agent.  Enough sarcasm....at least for now.  The speakers went up almost apologetically and many even said "I'm not a politician; I'm a climber" practically verbatim and on cue.  Each one admitted their weaknesses in the area of politics and then went on to describe the tragedy for what it was - a tragedy.  Many made impassioned pleas for welfare of the Sherpa and their families.  These pleas made sense to me but I had no clue how they related to mourning these 16 Sherpa.  Additionally, throughout the nearly 5-hour long "meeting," not one word was spoken about any of the individuals who perished.  The speakers slowly chipped away at other problems that had nothing to do with these poor souls.  We heard impassioned pleas for the government to "do something." One expedition leader even went so far as to tell the crowd he intended to go down to Kathmandu and demand the Ministry (i.e., the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation) make some changes.  I wondered why on earth would any of these things matter to the dead.  We were at a wake, weren't we?  I guess not.  

The meeting kept pace - speaker after speaker came up to add their 2 cents to this already confusing tangle of events.  Eventually, a slick-haired gentleman with large sunglasses stood before the crowd and announced that climbing should cease on Everest this year until the government meet their demands.  He then went on to read, recount, describe, and decree about 18 demands that had nothing to do with the 16 lives lost.  Well, perhaps that is a stretch.  The demands were for more money and support for the Sherpa.  Some of that money would be slated for the fallen 16 but most seemed for future years and expeditions.  

From my perspective, the real tragedy took place on 4/20 and not on 4/18.  Yes, 16 lives were lost on the latter date but today, the people standing before me turned a wake into a political opportunity.  I was saddened by the day's events - not because I could sense the end of my expedition but rather because I heard loud and clear the voice of a small (and I mean small) minority of the Sherpa who decided that their fellow countrymen were not worth mourning.  Instead, they found opportunity in their deaths and they would seize that opportunity by political grandstanding during a wake.  The few who spoke for the many turned today into a story about them - not about the Sherpa who died two days ago.  What made the day even sadder for me was that most of the outspoken even went so far as to admit that they would climb if the government met their demands.  Sheesh!  So, I guess they had a price for their sorrow.   Truly a sad day.

We all left the meeting with mixed emotions.  For most of us, we could sense something wrong with the crowd.  I kept my hopes up for a quick resolution.  Dan Mazur - our trusted leader - kept us optimistic by saying they were not going to close the mountain.  I agreed with his outlook and kept my spirits up by reading my book, avoiding endless conversation about the events, and focusing on more positive things.  It was obvious that our team felt the tension and it was starting to affect our group.

Staying positive was not easy.  We had divisions within our own ranks.  Some Sherpa wanted to climb while others were not sure or even said they preferred not to climb.  We expedition members held no prejudice against any who chose not to climb.  Afterall, climbing is dangerous and the Sherpa were free to choose their options.  The Sherpa had been paid in advance for their services - not in full but they received their base pay without any summit bonuses or tips from climbers.  These latter amounts almost double their pay for the expedition so the Sherpa would leave a fair sum on the table should they choose not to climb.  Climbers would forfeit all their expedition fees.  For many, that total would exceed $40,000 (US) and would set back many for years to come should they decided to come back for another try.  Staying positive in light of these financial ramifications tested us all.

We also felt the interpersonal strain among our expedition team mates.  Some felt it was wise to pack up and leave given these recent events while others wanted to stick it out and see what transpired.  I came to climb and I had two months to make my attempt.  Thus, I had no intention of packing it in early.  I prepared for over 5 years, saved my money, and worked diligently to setup this climb.  Leaving early without stepping onto the hill seemed preposterous.  I would have none of it.....or so I thought.  

Friday, May 9, 2014

Recap Day 2 - 4/19 to 4/21 - the days of uncertainty begin

I feel as if I am writing some epic about a non-climb but I think the slow buildup and tension are necessary to communicate what we all experienced on the hill.  So sit back, pour yourself a pleasurable beverage and read on....

Yesterday (4/18) left us worried.  We began the day all happy and smiles and ended it with dread.  What happened in the icefall yesterday?  We had no clue.  The rumors swirled throughout camp and nobody seemed to have a clue what happened.  My fellow climbers and I decided to go to the source.  What source?  Why who else than my dear friend John Carney.  John is one of the most upbeat guys I know.  His expedition with Himalayan Expeditions (aka Himex) in 2012 was called off due to a Sherpa's death.  Was John disheartened?  Hardly.  He decided to dedicate himself to another year and this year was the year.  John decided to climb with Alpine Ascents (AAI) this year and the reason he was our best source was because AAI were at the heart of the event.  It was John who I was worried about last night and I figured if I could find him, I would have some comfort in knowing he was OK and I knew John would know the scoop on the previous day's events.  Here is what we found out....
John Carney....great guy and eternal optimist.

  • Alpine Ascents lost 5 Sherpa during the slide.  Their loss along with the location in EBC relegated them to command central for the rescue operation.  Throughout the day, John sat with his expedition mates following the events closely.  
  • John thought the expedition was over given their situation and he said so without reservation.  Right John?  He said the loss was devastating for his team and he did not see how their remaining Sherpa nor the expedition leaders would be willing to risk any more lives.
  • Despite the setback, John remained upbeat and realistic about the situation.  I could not believe his level-headed nature given his past cancelled expedition.  He impressed me to no end just by his calmness and demeanor.  I learned from this observation that if I'm in a bind, I wouldn't mind being in a bind with John.  What a cool customer!
  • We learned that 16 Sherpa were confirmed dead and 3-5 Sherpa were evacuated via helicopter to either Pheriche or KTM.  In all cases, the surviving Sherpa were going to live but we had no idea the extent of their injuries.
  • No other climbers were exposed to the slide but some were ready to enter the icefall.  The details of this final point remain somewhat spotty.  Some people apparently were going into the icefall (after 6am!?!) and might have been pulled out or pulled to safety.  I cannot confirm any accounts so I left this fact as "none" were in the icefall.
These points seemed pretty indisputable at this time and we thought the rest of the expeditions would press on with their climbs despite the huge loss of life in one day.  We all just felt that the rest of the climbers would rally support for the fallen and offer anything to them we could.  News of fund raising efforts hit EBC mid-morning and we all saw this as a good sign that the families of the Sherpa would be taken care of financially.

Just before dinner, I asked our group about their outlook.  I'm a data analyst so I asked them how probable did they think an Everest climb was this year.  Here were the eight (of ten) responses from those on our Everest summit permit (.50, .50, .60, .70, .90, .95, .97, .98).  As you can see, there was quite a spread.  We all had something to gain/lose in this endeavor and yet we seemed to remain fairly optimistic.  That optimism would not change for some of us until we gathered more information. 

More information

One person from our expedition - a person who was not scheduled to summit Everest but rather to climb to 8000m - attended a meeting of expedition leaders in place of our delayed leader Dan Mazur.  Our representative came back with pictures and stories that painted a gloomy picture of the climbing situation.  He reported that there were many things discussed but most prominent were that the parties disagreed on climbing and, more importantly, disagreed on compensation for the fallen Sherpa.  It seems as if the seeds of discontent were sown during this meeting and thereafter.  Our representative merely acted as our earpiece; he offered nothing from our leader's perspective because Dan was still down the hill attended to trekking stragglers.  The bottom line was that there seemed to be a great deal of disagreement among the expedition leaders and Sherpa about how to move forward.  That disagreement, we read, as just disagreement and nothing else.  How wrong we were....

On a more positive note....

We were able to host our Canadian trekking brothers at basecamp.  The events from the previous day occupied all the officials so we were able to give our pals a glimpse of EBC.  They were ecstatic and we were too - just the chance to see these guys again and see how excited they were to be in camp made our days.  Here is a classic photo of our brothers:


Stay tuned for the next day when we learn of more unrest and observe it first-hand.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Recap from 4/18 onward....Day 1 of many

Greetings Everest enthusiasts.   I am home now and slowly recovering from some strange stomach bug I contracted between Kathmandu and home.  All is well enough for me to sit for about an hour.  Here are my observations from the days leading up to our climb's cancellation.  I begin with April 18th - the day of the avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas.

We began the day in Lobuche where our group had a lovely time playing cards (hearts for those who care) and Bananagrams before heading off to EBC.  Below is a picture from bottom left clockwise is Alex, Sam, Scott, me, "Lobby" and Liam.  We had great fun and laughed a ton while playing.  For the record, Alex was the hearts champ for the climb.  Next year, we start over from scratch, right Sam?
If you do not know Bananagrams, I strongly encourage you to check it out.  As you can see from the picture above, we had a ton of fun.

Our day began peacefully and without much fanfare.  The porters brought our bags within eyesight so we had no stress and could casually stroll to EBC via Gorah Shep.  We all felt a bit of sadness because our trekking buddies would soon depart for their descent while we pushed on to EBC.  Our Canadian brothers provided us with loads of laughs and I know many of us wished they could continue on.  Their trek ended in Gorak Shep because the Ministry of Tourism decried a ban on all non-climbers from EBC.  Typical years on Everest allowed trekkers into camp but this year would be different.  Boy oh boy, it was different all right.

When we arrived in Gorak Shep, we heard that an avalanche struck the icefall - a typical occurrence during this time of year and day but what was atypical was that climbers were caught in the slide.  We had no other details other than something bad happened.  Our Canadian trekkers said goodbye and headed off to Kala Pattar for the Everest views while we headed out toward EBC with little more knowledge of the day's events.

At the formal "entrance" to EBC, we heard from various sources that the avalanche was quite severe and that there might have been as many as 100 climbers in the icefall at the time of the event.  We had no other details but these "word of mouth" tidbits and we pressed on to our camp located roughly 30 minutes from the opening of EBC.  Once there, we noticed that our camp sat adjacent to the mid-EBC helicopter pad.  There was a flurry of activity with helicopters landing and taking off throughout the day.  Still, we remained completely ignorant of the situation.  I grew more and more worried as the day progressed because I knew several climbers who got to EBC many days ago.  If their expedition teams were keeping to a typical acclimatization schedule, many of them would be in the icefall that day.

I felt physically great at this point but mentally I was really worried for my friends.  It was too late to wander around EBC because we got there late so I opted to get some rest and try to find my friends in the morning.  I chatted with Kathy (my awesome wife) that night and told her about my concerns.  She was worried too because That night was a fitful sleep with constant tossing and turning - attributable to not knowing the whereabouts of my friends.

So day 1 started with all smiles and ended in worry.  I continue my recap tomorrow...stay tuned.

Before I begin my story, check out the pictures....

Here they are in sequential order.  I will sort, cull, rename, and caption those I wish to keep.  For now, enjoy the unedited and unabridged version of my pictures.

CLICK HERE

Glad to be home.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Where shall I begin? How about from the beginning....

Hello all.  I am writing you from Doha, Qatar where I finally have stable internet access.  The past few weeks proved a bit more challenging than expected.  I am not referring to the physical challenge but rather to the challenge to my patience and sanity.  Over the course of the next few days, I intend to provide a fuller perspective on the Everest Nepal expedition than I could previously.  Part of my delay stemmed from internet problems but another part came from my reluctance to post anything before I thought carefully through the situation.  A rash response would not adequately characterize the situation so I felt a brief silence would settle things down.  Also, the entire situation remains unsettled and, until some decisions come from the Nepal Ministry of Tourism (and Aviation....etc.), there is little to report about the future of Everest mountaineering from the Nepal side.

I do want to express my gratitude to all of you who support my efforts to climb, swim, ski, and sail.  Thank you all for looking at the charitable organizations that I support and thanks for supporting them if you chose to do so.  Thanks to Dan Mazur and Summit Climb for hanging in there and trying to wring out every last bit of climbing we could get from the experience.  Dan remained positive throughout the entire frenzied affair and I thank him from the bottom of my heart for his great attitude.  Thanks to Sam, Alex, Michael, Carlos and Christy for making our retreat memorable.  The friendships I gained during our trip made up for the loss we all experienced.  Our descent through the Khumbu valley reinforced that friendship and I thank all of you for making it a worthwhile journey.  Finally, thanks to all the expedition leaders like Tim Rippel who offered us some guidance in our search for planning for next year.  Yes, next year; I'm going back.  Never deterred! 

I welcome all in the Fairfax area to come join me for a pint this Friday afternoon at the Auld Shebeen. 

Expect more soon. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Heading Home

Hi all,

This is Kat posting for Pat -- it's a wrap! Pat's coming home on Tuesday. After meeting and climbing with fantastic people, experiencing amazing mountain views, and surviving the runaway yaks, he will have some great stories to tell. Some may even be posted here. By him. Not me. :)

Over and out.