Newsletter 524 April 2001
Chocolate cake and hard work are more reliable than luck
Almost all of us, including two "trekkers," have climbed to the North Col, the site of our Camp 1. This climb can be pretty tough: over 600 meters (2000 ft) of altitude is gained by using a series of fixed lines up the steep headwall. The terrain definitely keeps your attention, more than a dozen crevasses are crossed, steep sections exceed 50 degrees, and the single line of ropes, is clogged in places by climbers heading up or down against the flow of traffic.
Climbing to the North Col is another major step in the physical and psychological battle for the summit. If you can't make it, or do so after a bitter struggle, you're left with well deserved doubts. Are you fit enough, are you acclimatized, is your heart really into it?
Having been on Everest for nearly three weeks, there are plenty of signs of teams crumbling and individuals struggling. Within hours of arriving we rushed to save one Sherpa's life: he had been stuffed into a Gamow bag (a hyperbaric chamber) and his friends stopped pumping fresh air into the air tight balloon. Suffering from asphyxiation, his panic spread to the group. One of the Sherpas ran into our tent and we followed him to the scene. We depressurized the chamber and soon learned that he was suffering from a stomach bug, not from the altitude. He was lucky to be alive. The mis diagnosis was compounded by this group of Sherpas, supporting a well funded team, having been sent to base camp without any medical supplies. The Gamow bag, even though it was almost used as a weapon, had been borrowed.
The fiascos continue with a climber on a commercial expedition suffering from Cerebral Edema for five days, before his guides sought the services of an Australian doctor. This commercial expedition had none of the commonly carried medications, and their Gamow bag failed. The Australian doctor organized an evac, taking two days to get the climber back to base camp. One of that expedition's members came by to complain that her two private Sherpas are involved in the rescue and now her schedule is all messed up.
Then there is the story of the European climber driving into base camp on oxygen and that same vehicle being used to evacuate two other climbers (who happened to be suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness) from that team, leaving the oxygen sucking climber sitting on a propane tank, surrounded by duffles, but seemingly helpless.
All of these stories, and I'm holding my tongue, leave me wondering what lies and misinformation people tell themselves. Everest is a big, dangerous mountain. It attracts fools, even more powerfully than it attracts skilled, motivated and talented climbers. It will be interesting to see the dramas unfold this year. Sad, but predictable.
Of course no one is immortal and luck can not be carried in a backpack, but it is obvious, as one looks around, that some teams are prepared and some aren't. (In fact just minutes ago a team reported that they were running low on food, barely half way through the expedition.) Tents, too old or cheap, have already been destroyed by the daily winds at Camp 1. And among the greatest acts of stupidity are the three teams (one a well funded clean up expedition) that are camped in the ABC water supply. I'm sure that the view from the toilet seat, of the babbling brook, is just delightful.
We are among the prepared, and it is paying off. Almost all of our team members have climbed to Camp 1, seizing that objective and benefitting from the psychological and physical boost that comes from reaching that goal. We are all healthy. All of our high altitude gear is now at or above Camp 1. Two members are now camped there, and all of the Sherpas are heading up tomorrow to set up Camps 2, 3 and 4. If the weather co-operates, all of the climbers should have camped up high and hopefully touched Camp 3 (7900 m), within a week's time.
The prevailing theme of self inflicted misery, that is sprinkled through ABC, has actually contributed to our feeling of well being. You can sense it as even our "trekkers" passed climbers on the ropes to the North Col (only a single Sherpa passed them). And who wouldn't be fired up by Marco Siffredi, our snow boarder in residence, as we watched him carving turns down the headwall from the North Col.
We are ready to go, climbing Everest by putting one foot in front of the other, and drowning out the tales of hunger and misfortune by chomping on a nice peice of fresh baked chocolate cake.