Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Kathmandu Legend

I had the pleasure to meet one of the great Everest Kathmandu legends today. Jim and I were sitting in his room talking when he received a phone call that Miss Elizabeth Hawley was downstairs wanting to speak to him. Miss Hawley's worked for Reuters as a reporter and started chronicling Himalayan climbs, especially Everest climbs, in the early 60s. She was a very close personal friend of Sir Edmund Hillary, and many legendary climbers. Every Everest summiter must meet with her and be questioned about their climb before it will verified in the record books. She's now 91 years old and still gets around Kathmandu in her 1962 light blue VW bug - although, today she has a driver.

We both immediately went down to greet her. Her first comment to Jim was "that sure is one mountain you've got." She proceeded to ask Jim about our expeditions and even had a few questions for me.  I've known about her for years. The last time I was in Kathmandu I saw her business card sitting on a coffee table in my hotel lobby and I had wished I had taken it for a keepsake. It was much better to actually meet her in person.

I was impressed with her attention to details and her intense stare when she asked a question. She listened very closely to what you were saying and usually had a follow up question or comment to add. She and Jim have known each other for decades and you could tell she had genuine affection for him. Given all that has happened on this trip, it was a nice way to cap the trip off before leaving today.

Barbara and I are now in Delhi, India waiting for our 2:35 am flight to London. We're both looking forward to being home soon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Few Pictures

Barbara the Buddhist

Me and Jetha

The Trek


The Trek

In Namche Bazar

Mohan the Big Boss

Sherab, Lakpa, Rita, her son, Mohan, and Us

The Funniest Monks in the Khumbu

Beer and Puja

Barbara, Martin, and Scott at Puja

Karma and Jetha - Two Generations

Barbara on Top of Lobuche

Nima Tashi Pointing to Everest

The Whole Team

Jim, Steve, Me, Martin, Nima Tashi, and Barbara

The Ice Fall

The Khumbu Rules

Ancient Moni Stones

A Himalayan Vulture or Big Bird

On The Way Home

The Return Home

After three long days of walking thirty-five miles and one flight we have arrived back in Kathmandu. It's much warmer here now. We were both exhausted from the journey and hungry, so we immediately showered and went to have two vegan pizzas and then napped the afternoon away.

The trek though the Khumbu was bittersweet. The last three days walking down the valley were difficult. Emotionally, I was done and my heart just wasn't into it. We are still very sad for the loss of so many lives on the mountain and also sad the climb did not continue.

There appears to be many reasons and much speculation as to why the Sherpa decided to not continue this year. Was it respect for the dead climbers, superstition, maoist threats, or family pressure? In the end, I suspect, it was all of those and more.  I'll trust our Sherpas when they told us they weren't being threatened. My gut tells me they simply just did not wish to continue after the accident. Our head Sherpa, Nima Tashi, told Barbara that his wife walked up from their home and took his crampons, ice axe, and harness from him so he couldn't climb. What a powerful statement. I'll never forget Nima grabbing his pack and running into the Ice Fall to check on his family members. I was with him part of the way and he kept repeating out loud, "everything okay, everything okay, everything okay." This strong brave man was trying to comfort me as he feared the worst. His tears when he came back to camp with the good news for his family gave me  a good idea early on what impact this would have on our climb. My tears come every time I recall this moment.

I had many conversations with Sherpa since the accident and they all feel sad the season ended the way it did, and although they are reluctant to say it, I believe in the end most of them just didn't feel it was right to continue this year. They are extremely loyal to their expedition leaders and don't want to disappoint them. They would have continued if asked. Jim didn't pressure our Sherpa to continue and he left it to Nima Tashi to make the final decision.

The Khumbu valley is a close knit community and in some ways it was their 9/11. Of course, it wasn't a terrorist attack, but the loss of so many lives, so quickly, overwhelmed this valley. One teahouse owner told me he could hear two different families crying all night on both sides of his house after they each heard the news that they had lost family members in the accident.

There has been much talk or rumors of threats and tension between foreign climbers and Sherpas. I never once saw any of this tension or felt threatened. The hardest part was trying to express our mutual grief for each other's losses given the barriers of language and cultural differences. Even though their loss was on a much greater scale, many Sherpa felt the need to say they were sorry that my climb did not continue. It is a culture that doesn't like to disappoint and respects the efforts us climbers make to come here.

The Khumbu Valley is changing and I'm sure this year will change it even more. Yes, there does appear to be a younger and better educated generation of Sherpas that want progress, change, and aren't willing to cater to foreign climbers quite as much as their fathers and grandfathers have. That's the pain of progress and not unlike what many cultures have gone through.

Even with all that has happened this year this valley is still an amazing place with many kind compassionate people. There is a spirit here that is unlike anywhere else in the world.

There have been many great moments from this trip. Very funny moments too. As I mentioned before, Barbara and I had some of the funniest interactions with four Buddhist monks at dinner one night over cake, ketchup, and salt. Another involved a young boy, who I called big boss, who worked in a teahouse where we stayed for several nights. This kid was from a very poor family and the teahouse owner took him in and gave him a job. His smile and pride in working brightened the entire room every time he was present. The owner wanted to send him to school, but he said he'd had nine years and that was enough. He called me big boss too. His English was okay, but not great, and one night after a coke got spilled on the table I was trying to tell him that it was sticky and we needed something to wipe it up. He was confused, and told the teahouse owner that big boss (me) needed a stick. Barbara and I are still laughing about that one. Yet another moment was the sweet dog that followed Barbara and me home from the middle of Namche Bazar one night. He made his way over a wall, into the lodge, up two flights of stairs, and sat outside our door. We kept opening the door to see if he was still there and there he was. We promised each other we'd take him home if he was still there in the morning. Unfortunately he had moved on. Our team members, trekkers, and support crew also were some of the finest people I've ever had the pleasure to spend time with. The banter and laughter was infectious. Danny's stories about Martin, Steve, Barbara, and me were quite entertaining. We walked down and out of the Khumbu valley with Karma, the son of Jetha, our first Nepal trekking guide in 2007. Karma is every bit as special has his father and it was a pleasure to get to know him. These moments and many more are what I'll take away from this climb.

Will I come back for another try again? Probably not. I can accept the risks of mountaineering for myself, but to ask others to take more of the risk for my benefit is now painfully more difficult - even if it is how they choose to make their living. Climbing Mt. Everest on the backs of these fine people does not feel like a prize worth obtaining to me now. Maybe these thoughts will change with time. I just don't know yet. It's very raw, emotional, and confusing for me on many levels.

Barbara and I will spend a few days here in Kathmandu visiting with new and old friends before heading home and just celebrating life!

This was an adventure beyond what I could ever have imagined and it sure as hell Embraced All Things Funky.

I'd like to thank everyone for their kind words and encouragement these past few weeks. Believe me they mattered and helped  tremendously.

Over and Out

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Sherpa Decision

We had great news this morning when we heard that Barbara and Nima Tashi summited Loboche. They did it in fine style too summiting in about 5 hours from high camp. We expect them back later today. I'm very pleased and proud of Barbara. She accomplished her goal of climbing over 20,000. She's a strong woman.

This afternoon there was a large Puja and memorial service for the lost Sherpa with all of the teams in Base Camp participating. It was a fitting and moving ceremony. Towards the end of the gathering it became more of a political rally to support the reasons many of the Sherpa had gone on strike until the Nepalese government meets their demands for the climbers that were killed or injured in the Ice Fall accident. In the end it became clear that no matter what happens with the Sherpa's demands on the Nepalese government the Everest climbing season is now over. The Sherpa do not want to go into the Ice Fall again this season out of respect to the ones they lost. They are too sad and have suffered too much this time to continue.

To the lost and injured Sherpa's my heart goes out to them and their families. To the Sherpa who have decided not to continue this season, again in my heart, I can understand their difficult decision and pain. We've heard the accident scene is a living nightmare. Getting the bodies out of the ice was messy. How could anyone that witnessed this scene not be traumatized.  

I hope everyone that has been effected by this tragedy both Sherpa and and us foreigners can move forward and learn something from it. I know I will.

So, it's with a heavy, but healthy heart, that I now need to start packing to go home in a few days. After all the training, planning, and worries of back trouble, knee trouble, and heart issues I never thought this would end my climb. I sure wish things were different because I feel very strong after going to 19,000 feet yesterday. My legs feel strong, my lungs feel strong, and the team we have was perfect for a successful climb. Mentally, I'd have to say that since the accident, and being in limbo about wherever or not we'd get a chance to climb these last five days, has worn on me some. It's hard to keep your eyes on the prize when so many have lost their lives and have been permanently injured. It is what it is…

I do know that Steve, Martin, Jeff, Jim, Scott, Nima, Jetha, Barbara, the rest of our Sherpa staff, and I, are all very disappointed and sad. This team was a perfect mix of personalities and I have grown to really respect and admire all these fine folks. I could not have picked a better group people to attempt this climb with and do hope to climb something with them again in the future.

After many years of dreaming about this climb and finally being so close, I will be coming home forever changed. Many thoughts are forming and will be for days, weeks, months, and probably years. I'm lucky to have Barbara with me and we will have a joyful walk out of this majestic Khumbu region once again together. Will we come back…only time will tell.

Namaste my friends.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Another Day At Base Camp

The sun was out this morning and warmed things. Maybe even the mood is starting to shift some too, but no decisions have been made yet as to if and when climbing will resume. Many of the Sherpa have gone home or to the memorial services that will be taking place in the various villages where the climbers lived. The American Alpine Club has set up a fund for the families of the deceased climbers. Here's the link if you'd like to donate link

Today the Sherpa had a large meeting to discuss the situation. It's not really clear yet what was decided at the meeting. The decision to continue climbing is in their hands since they will do the brunt of the work and take more of the risk. It would be hard to have it end early, but I will respect and support whatever decision they make. 

We have been staying busy, eating, drinking tea, eating again, talking, drinking tea, talking some more, and preparing some technical gear if the climbing does continue. 

It was decided that Barbara will go with Nima Tashi and one other to climb Loboche tomorrow and than come back to base camp. I like this because Nima has summited Everest over 11 times and also because he is a very kind and caring man and will take great care of Barbara. She's strong and will do well on the climb. I also like that's she's coming back to Base Camp for a few days before starting her trek home. 

Martin, Steve, Jeff, Scott, Jim, and I, and the rest of our Sherpa crew, will hang out in Base Camp waiting for news on our climb, doing an acclimatization hike, and looking forward to hearing news about Barbara's climb.

Hope all is well where you are.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Post Accident

It was a gray and snowy today at Base Camp. Fitting for the somber mood in camps today. A few recovery flights were flown to bring more bodies down to Base Camp. Not something I find interesting to watch. It's just damn awful. Some teams lost more than others in the accident and everyone is sorting it out. Many of the Sherpa have gone home for a few days. There will be some meetings tomorrow, but no one is quite sure what they will be about. Barbara and I took a hike today to stretch our legs. She will need to leave in a few days and that will be very difficult for me. Really not much to report today. We're hanging in there waiting to see what comes next.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ice Fall Accident Update

Today has been a very sad day here in Base Camp. Casualties will be higher than what's been reported on the news. No doubt it will be the biggest disaster in Everest history. All day we have watched the rescues and the bodies being recovered.

Again all our team is safe, but there was a tense moment when we were not sure where some of our Sherpa team members were when the avalanche hit. Nima Tashi our head Sherpa Sirdar immediately packed a pack and took off into the Ice Fall to check on our guys. Two were his family members. One was his son and one was his son in law. Thankfully he returned with news that our team members were safe.

Tragic, sad, and very tough day for all, but especially for our Sherpa team members as they knew many of the ones killed today. 

Hard to say what will happen here in the next several days. All climbing will halt until more searching for the missing and recoveries are completed. We've heard reports that maybe even the season will be closed for climbing. My thoughts are mixed. On one hand is it ethical to continue to ask these fine Sherpa team members to risk their lives for my benefit. On the other hand it is the way they make their living and I guess it is up to them to decide what happens next. If the season is shut down early they will be hurt financially. Only time will tell how it all plays out. 

Emotionally it's been a hard day watching the activities and knowing it could have been our whole team in the Ice Fall today.

Peace to all.