This story will continue to develop on the website, written in segments, it will expand with time. Never will the whole story appear. The whole story will be completed as a book, which I am sure will take me a long time to write.
Flying at 30,000’ over the vast frozen wastelands of Siberia, it looks so remote yet beautiful all at the same time. With such extreme cold and vast barren sheets of ice, I find this terrain tremendously intriguing, as I contemplate on our upcoming adventure. We are on the way to climb Mount Everest; it is still hard to believe that this is all real!I will be gone for 2 ½ months, but I still feel like it is just another weeklong adventure. Soon though, it will become a reality, and not just the whirlwind idea that has brought seven people together for the adventure of their lives! The extreme stress caused from living in such a hostile environment, along with the constant danger from mountain hazards, and with political unrest in a totally different culture, affected each member of the expedition differently. Unfortunately, much of this team member’s frustration made its way into the newspaper and on the internet, further driving a wedge into the team, and causing a separation of the team members. My whole focus on Everest was climbing the mountain, and I did not waiver from that goal. There were times when I was so angry with people that I would just go off on my own, even if it was just into the tent, and calm myself down. My mantra was, "you are here to climb the mountain, stay focused, do not loose control," and the rest is history.
April 19, 2004
Feeling sick at 21,000 feet in advanced base camp, and getting worse as time goes on, the back entrance of my VE-25 tent has become a vomatorium. Talking with George, he suggests that I descend back down to base camp. I agree, but I am afraid to go alone feeling this sick, and the weather has been quite unsettled with frequent snow squalls covering the trail.
Could I get lost? Lhapka sends Bhata, one of the cook’s helpers with me. It turns out that Bhata needed to descend to base camp, to assist another Sherpa who was sick, to cook for Carolyn who had returned to base camp while Michael moved up to advanced base camp without her, leaving her alone to descend to base camp.
Dave & Lapka on the way to Camp 3
After I had made my decision to descend with Bhata, George asked the rest of the team if anyone else was having trouble up at this altitude for the first time and would like to descend. Dave Watson and Dan Lockner both decided to join me on the descent to base camp, which was a good idea because they were both feeling the effects of being at an altitude of 21,000 feet for the first time. They should have made this decision for themselves instead of waiting for me, or they might have waited until it was to late, a very dangerous mistake at high altitude. This extra camp, allows you more time to acclimatize in the 3000 feet of elevation gain over a 13 ½-mile climb. Of course, we had no idea what happened to the tent. Was it stolen by the Tibetans after being left unattended, or being the same type and color of the majority of the other tents at interim camp, was never located? What we do know is that our expedition has limited resources, so if you need extra tents and to be treated like many of the clients in the large commercial expedition, you must pay more money. We are a low-budget climbing expedition no guides, just climbers at 1/3 the cost of most major commercial guided expeditions, so if you cannot travel with the team you must make your own sacrifices to travel on your own.We exchange satellite phone numbers in hope that better communication would prevent future logistical problems. Dave and Dan are getting worse, so we exchange good-byes and continue our descent at a slower pace as Michael and his Sherpa disappear into the snowstorm as they climb up to advanced base camp. Dan is going the slowest, so I ask him if he would like Bhata the cook’s helper to carry his pack. He refuses, which I find confusing and dangerous to the group! I ask Dan twice more as he continues to fall behind, and I receive the same answer, no! We finally arrive at interim camp, where, upon arrival, Dave announces that he wants to stay here and descend no further. More complications for a day that is already getting shorter guaranteeing that we will not reach base camp until well after dark. This has Bhata, the cooks’ helper worried. At the interim camp, I run into the Greek expedition with whom I have made friends. We have met them at every stop along our journey to base camp. They have even asked me to help them get the Greek flag to the summit of Mount Everest. They agree to help Dan and Dave for the night even though their equipment has not arrived yet by Yak. They promise me that Dave and Dan can at least sleep in the cook tent for the night. Dave has brought gear to bivy, pad, down pants, and a warm jacket. Dan has a down jacket and fleece pants, which will keep him warm in a tent. I need to continue down, because with altitude sickness, a descent of 3000 feet is the best cure. Our base camp is three thousand feet lower than advanced base camp, even though the distance is thirteen and one half miles. The cook’s helper also needs to continue the descent, there is another Sherpa sick at our base camp and Carolyn is all by herself. While finalizing arrangements for Dave and Dan to stay overnight at interim camp, I meet Kim, the doctor that is supporting the Greek expedition. He is British from the UK, speaks English, and agrees to help my friends. I am much relieved, because my head is spinning, torn between the decision to descend for my own health, or stay and assist my friends. I invited Dave Watson to come along on this expedition, his first time in the Himalayas and now I am considering leaving him alone, sick, with strangers at 19,000 feet. The Greek expedition also offers space to Bhata and me to stay the night, but I do not have bivouac gear and Bhata is going on alone if I do not join him.
I feel the need for my health, and the cook’s safety, that we must continue on to base camp. Bhata was going to go anyway, and as it was getting dark, I thought that being a team in the dark was better than being alone, and by leaving, we were placing less of a burden on the Greeks by asking them to help two people instead of four. After briefing Kim, and giving him the vitals, Bhata and I continued our descent to base camp.
My last view of Dave and Dan was them sitting on the slope at the edge of interim camp with their down jackets on and the doctor walking over to talk with them. I felt terrible, still with those mixed feelings about the decisions that I was making about leaving my friends and team members behind. In the mountains, you need to make some tough decisions, and I felt that I had done the best that I could for them, and that it was now time to take care of my own health. Continuing our descent, we had no sooner crossed over the next ridge of the moraine, when we came upon the reason that the yak teams of the Greek expedition had not arrived at interim camp. One of the Yaks had broken through the ice, fallen into a small glacial pond and drowned! This delayed all the teams, as many of the Tibetan porters rushed to help pull the Yak from the frozen water, but it was too late. The remaining porters keep the rest of the Yak train in line, while the rescuers, who had pulled the drowned Yak from the water removed its load and redistributed it among the other Yaks for that team. I have never felt such an outpouring of emotion from both man and beast. The remaining Yaks appeared terrified, and saddened by the loss of a comrade, I have never witnessed such emotion in an animal!The Tibetan porters were all crying and very distressed by the death of the Yak. This display of emotion was something I never expected, especially after seeing how they sometimes treated these animals, by throwing rocks at them, hitting them with sticks, and screaming at them to move along.As we move past, my emotions begin to overflow with the feelings of guilt at having left my friends sick at the interim camp even if they were in the capable hands of the Greek expedition’s doctor. Over the next rise, Bhata asks if he could carry my pack. He has sensed what I was going through, and knowing I was sick, realized I was going too slow to make it to base camp before dark. I had brought a headlamp just in case this would happen; I was determined to make it to base camp that night! When I find myself in these conditions, I turn on the magic power of my love for my wife Linda, and with that power, I know that I will make it safely back to base camp that night. I give my pack to Bhata and we pick up the pace. This guy is awesome, he is less than five feet tall and now is carrying two packs, leading the way and being able to set a pace faster than I can follow. We develop a bond between us as we rapidly descend towards base camp. We are both getting tired, and share the last of my water, which he is carrying. We stop at the top of any of the highest rises in the moraine. I share the last of my candies with Bhata and take a few pictures to get a longer rest. Several Tibetan porters pass us asking to carry the extra pack for money, but Bhata refuses. He tells them that he is my friend and working for me. Asian Trekking should take pride in having such dedicated people working for them. I notice that Bhata is also getting quite fatigued, so I ask for my pack back, he refuses. As we stumble along, I begin to think of what I will do if Bhata collapses from exhaustion, the options are not good. We have no bivy gear, could I carry him, no, would anyone find us before dawn, or could I go and get help and leave him, I doubt it! Over the next rise, in the distance, we see lights from the tents at base camp. Our resolve picks up at this sight, the pace quickens, and we know that we will safely make it to base camp tonight. We arrive at base camp well after dark, and I am exhausted. I take my pack from Bhata, thank him, say hello to Carolyn, and collapse in my tent. Carolyn graciously makes me a cup of tea and brings it to me in the tent. After a few sips, I an able to tell her what has happened and inform her that Michael should be safe at advanced base camp. Bhata prepares me a dinner of franks and beans, back at home, I would have turned up my nose to this meal, but tonight it is delicious and I savor every bite. Carolyn and I talk for a while exchanging, information, but I soon start to drift off, so I head to my tent for a good nights rest, hoping to see Dave and Dan around noon time the next day. We started our descent to base camp in a snowstorm, moving at a dangerously slow pace considering the distance we needed to cover. After about one and a half hours of descent, we ran into Michael’s Sherpa with his pack on the way up to advanced base camp. He stopped and rested as we all waited for Michael, who arrived five minutes later. Without considering why three team members were descending, he started ranting and raving about where his tent was at the interim camp, which was located about halfway between base camp and advanced base camp.
April 20, 2004
It is now the afternoon of the 20th, and Dave and Dan have not arrived in base camp. I become more concerned about my decision to leave them at interim camp with another expedition. Did they have trouble continuing with the descent, or did the doctor make them rest for another day? I hope for their sake that they did not decide to go back up to advanced base camp, that decision could prove to be fatal. We all must make some tough choices in the mountains, maybe not all good ones, but in the end, it all comes down to your own will to live and survive. Each person can only help his or her partners until their own life is in jeopardy. It is these decisions, which make us survivors or statistics. Where are those guys?
May 12, 2004
Anne is going down to base camp today; she has contracted some sort of upper-respiratory infection. I will walk down with her for a ways, partly for training, and partly to make sure she is OK descending on her own, it is a long way to go by yourself.Anne will carry her own pack and walk the 13 and one-half miles to base camp. This is a good sign of her determination to climb, considering that under the same circum- stances, Michael and Carolyn hired three Tibetan porters to carry their gear down with them the day before when they both were feeling ill. I leave Anne at the Changtse base camp, about a 400-meter descent from Everest advanced base camp. We say a few words to each other, hug, and then part ways. I want Anne to be with us on the mountain, and I tell her this. I really hope she recovers quickly and rejoins the team. As I watch Ann descend towards base camp, I build a small cairn, with a prayer flag on top, for her good luck with a speedy recovery. It was a beautiful walk, blue skies, no wind, people, or yaks! A very peaceful and quiet experience, allowing me time to reflect on all the things that have happened to the expedition since we arrived at Everest base camp, and our future goals for the summit of Mount Everest. The hike back up to advanced base camp kicked my butt! I descended a little too far and paid the price for that descent. I feel really fit, but this altitude is working me hard. Exhausted, I stumble back into advanced base camp, wondering if it was such a good idea to descend, I am developing a bit of a cough myself. The cooks prepare me a great lunch of potatoes, tomatoes, and apple pie, but this was still not enough to ward off the upper-respiratory infection that is coming on. I will start on antibiotics tonight before bed.