Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Post Everest Recap: Part #1 (of 3) - The "Approach"

Over the next few days, I plan to provide a complete update of my climb along with pictures and some commentary.  The first part covers what I call the approach or rather what lead up to summit day; the second part I intend to have a complete recount of summit day; and finally the third part has a potpourri of material that addresses my post-climb thoughts, some drama, and a fair bit of commentary.  So, sit back and enjoy the recap.

Part #1 - The "Approach"

Every climb involves some hassles at the start; Everest is no exception.  My climb really began several years ago and I know most readers are familiar with my failed attempts to climb Everest in 2014 and 2015 - none due to my own (in)ability but to circumstances beyond my control.  Those "failures" lead me to train smarter leading up to Everest this year and I really felt prepared.  This year I managed to stay healthy for all the weeks leading up to my departure as well as during my time in Kathmandu.  Most climbers struggle with illnesses before, during or after their time in that what has become known as Dustmandu; I didn't struggle at all this year and for that I was thrilled.  Illness early on in a climb means your body works harder to both acclimatize and heal.  Several climbers on our team developed colds and found shaking them to be a huge hassle for the first few weeks. 

Patrick (L) and Brendan (R) enjoying our arrival to CBC

Our tents - side-by-side - at CBC.  Note the nice smooth surface....but the duvets made life pretty enjoyable on that surface.  NOTE TO SELF:  always climb with a huge duvet.  

A Healthy Approach  Staying healthy and focusing on acclimatization was key to our early success.  All those hours in the hypoxic tent really paid off!  We arrived at Chinese Basecamp or CBC (5200m or 17000 feet) feeling great after several delays in Kathmandu and during the drive from Nepal into Tibet.  I really felt as if I were at sea level still - no headache, no fatigue, intact appetite, and a strong desire to go higher.  Despite feeling good, I wanted to take it easy.  Brendan Madden (my climbing partner) and I both felt great.  We were almost giddy over the fact that the acclimatization at home worked as well as it did.  Our aim, however, was to take it easy.  We had no urge to rush through the acclimatization hikes or push ourselves to exhaustion.  So, we took it easy.  Brendan actually kept us both in check.  He stopped frequently to take photos and video - often insisting to stop for meals rather than push on and only drink fluids during our hikes.  I owe most of my relaxed approach to his ability to relax the pace and enjoy the great outdoors; most of you who know me would know that I don't really relax well.  Thanks Brendan for keeping me in check.

Our "relaxing" time at CBC lasted several days before we headed up to Advanced Base Camp or ABC (6400m or 21000 feet).  During that time in CBC, we mostly slept, ate, walked around camp, and waited patiently for our rotations to begin.  Several people appeared to struggle with the altitude but none so much that their struggles delayed them or the team.  Overall, we had a strong group.  Once our rest period was over, we headed up the rocky moraine to Interim Basecamp (IBC; 5800m or 19000 feet) on one day and then ABC the following day. 

Supporting my brother's practice


Living large as CBC

Yak attack!  The yak traffic was pretty crazy at times.

Olivia and I were getting some prayer time at CBC with Everest in the background.  
The Long Trek  The two-day trek to ABC is a monotonous endeavor that only leaves people feeling exhausted, bored, or both.  Honestly, I barely tolerated the treks.  If it were not for music at high volume I would have gone mad.  The treks from CBC to IBC (10km) and IBC to ABC (another 10km) - yes, tons of letters - were monotonous to say the least.  We did that trek 3 times (up and back).  Below are a few shots of the terrain.  You might think that it is quite spectacular but after staring at the same terrain for 5 hours or rather after staring one foot in front of each step for 5 hours we became quite numb to the entire experience.  The rocky terrain required constant vigilance.  Avert your eyes for one step and that next step would be a kicked rock, turned ankle, or fall off a steep slope.  Not much to see either except...well, gorgeous mountains and tons of scree.  The mountains never got old but the scree?  Let's just say I am happy I never have to do those treks again.  Ever.

Brendan leading the way to IBC.  The path looks like this...for 10km. 
Are we there yet?  Nope.  Ugh!


IBC.  A wee bit of yak poo to contend with here.

Martin (L) and Brendan (R) point the way to ABC.  Here we go!

ABC.  Finally get a full view of Everest.
Hypoxico Training Benefits  Each time we ascended the trek route, I felt better.  Rotation 1 was a slow ascent and I lost my appetite when I reached IBC.  Once at ABC on that rotation, I felt better and started eating again as normal.  Rotation 2 was a breeze.  We got up through the trek in far less time and we made sure to drink more.  I felt as good as gold at both IBC and ABC.  The final trek was a walk at sea level.  I kid you not.  So despite acclimatizing at home, I still gained a huge amount of acclimatization during the rotations.  A note of caution to those who think simply sleeping in a hypoxic tent at home is sufficient to avoid these acclimatization rotations....you are dead wrong!  Take your time acclimatizing on the mountain.  I found the hypoxic tent at home preserved my strength for later rotations.  While others were using precious energy (and muscle mass) acclimatizing on the mountain, Brendan and I were staying pretty solid.  Neither of us lost much weight on those first two rotations and we were very strong for the summit push.  Again, the hypoxic tent is no substitute for acclimatization rotations but I am sure most people using the tents at home will find their strength and endurance remain far longer than those who simply acclimatize on the mountain.

The Team  Our SummitClimb team really came together throughout these approach days.  We felt a growing kinship as we toiled away for hours waiting, eating, sleeping, chatting, and playing cards.  Our team discussed everything from gun control to wealth (re)distribution and many topics in between.  Sure, we talked about climbing but after a bit, there is only so much climbing talk to go around.  Politics, sex, drugs, rock 'n roll, and all other nonsensical discussions filled our inactive days.  We made the most of it and by doing so we grew as a team.  In total, there were 10 climbers:  two from the UK (David, our expedition leader and Dom), two from the US (Brendan and me), two from Australia (Jon and Grant), a Swede (Magnus), a German (Martin - also a co-leader), a German/Paraguayan (Franz), and a Finn (Heikki).  Together, we made up quite an array of international climbers with all sorts of experience.  From top to bottom, our team was quite strong.  Two members - Jon (AUS) and Martin (GER) - were close to completing their "7 Summits" while others of us had climbed many common peaks.  One bloke - Grant (AUS) - was the fittest of us all.  He was a machine in all respects of the word.  Grant completed a portion of the Iditarod (by foot), Barkley's marathon, Badwater, and such - just to name a few.  For each leg, Grant easily buried the rest of us by time and speed.  I figured he had enough experience in all sorts of conditions to monitor his own progress so I never asked if he thought pressing so hard early on was a good idea.  I respect people's own insights and leave them alone.  Still, Grant was a beast.  He blazed the treks for us well ahead and often with the biggest damn pack.  Pound for pound, Grant carried the most weight at the fastest pace.  I did worry at times that his pace was unsustainable but he proved otherwise.  Again, together, we made for a formidable crew where it seemed possible for all to summit provided conditions and circumstances permitted.  Grant leading the charge and our three tall me - David, Martin, and Jon coming up close behind.  Brendan and I were just hanging back for summit day.  We knew we would have our time to shine.  Early on, we held bad.  As I said before, it was Brendan who held us both back.  He is a man with self-control.  Me, self-controlled?  Not really.

The Long Approach  The approach lasted from April 6th when I arrived in Kathmandu until May 13th when our summit push began.  Those seven weeks consisted of mostly acclimatization and waiting.  In total, we trekked up the 20km path to ABC twice, climbed to the North Col twice, and spent fewer than 24 hours above ABC.  Yep, I told you this was the approach.  Almost no climbing on the glacier and a ton of waiting around.  Now that you have a good idea what we did to prepare for the climb, I will provide details of the actual climb in Part #2.  Stay tuned.