Newsletter 110 April 2006
Himalayan Experience Base Camp
Most everyone arrived in Kathmandu on the 30th of March and assembled at the Hotel Tibet. From there everyone was introduced during an early evening get together. Then we packed our gear into barrels which were then loaded onto trucks and driven to base camp. Most everyone did a bit of sightseeing in Kathmandu on the 31st. Others went to the Thamal section and bought last minute equipment while some just relaxed. Air pollution and air borne pathogens are acute in Kathmandu, there fore you try and limit your exposure to the street scene. Many people still picked up respiratory infections and intestinal viruses while we were there and are just now fully recovered. On the night of the 31st we all enjoyed a group dinner at Kilroy's where the stories and wine flowed equally.
This year at the get together, the Discovery Channel crew out numbered the guides and climbers. A few of them work for Tigress Productions while the majority are independent experts contracted in their field of expertise such as sound, editing, video, etc. They are a diverse group and very interesting. Many of them have amazing stories of travel and adventure from Antarctica to Africa, filming wildlife from Penguins to Great White Sharks. Jake the sound man, played keyboards for the rock group "Echo and the Bunnymen". They are doing their best to keep up with the climbers and to document the everyday activities of base camp so far. There will be three high altitude camera persons attempting to document our summit push. The famous Mark Whetu and Ken Sauls will go to the summit while Jen will remain at Camp Four 8300 meters to document us leaving on the summit push. Then returning to Camp Four and descending from there. To see more bios on the Discovery Channel Team, go to www.tigressproductions.co.uk or the blog site at tigresseverest.blogspot.com for daily updates and another perspective of the Expedition.
Although there are eleven climbers that are to join the team, only eight of us are at BC so far.
Tim, Terry and Brett from the USA. Mark, Wayne (cowboy) from New Zealand. Bob from Australia. Max from Lebanon and Mogens or "Mons" from Denmark. The two Swiss climbers are scheduled to arrive at ABC sometime in late April. They are climbing in the Khumbu region of Nepal in the meantime. The French climber under went emergency kidney surgery to remove a tumour and is scheduled to arrive in a week or two depending upon his state of recovery.
The guides include Bill Crouse from the USA going for his 5th summit. Mark Woodward (Woodie) from New Zealand going for his 3rd summit and Shawn Hutson, a Brit, living in Chamonix, attempting his 1st summit of Everest. All very qualified and most importantly, witty and fun gentlemen.
The trip from Kathmandu to BC went great. We flew from Kathmandu to Lhasa, Tibet on the 1st of April. The flight took us just to the east of Mt Everest. As we flew over we could see the 100 to 150 mph jet-stream winds buffeting the summit. We were flying at 33,000 ft which is just 4,000 ft above the summit of Everest. It is a giant amongst giants. From both sides of the plane we could see six of the fourteen worlds highest peaks that are all over 8000 meters or 26,250 ft. Everest is very intimidating and there was a tremendous amount of excitement and apprehension as many viewed it for the first time. ( A meter is 3.28 feet. A kilometre is 0.60 of a mile. Just a handy dandy conversion table for all of you).
We landed in Lhasa and then arrived at the Himalayan Hotel. Great place to stay. While in Lhasa the group visited the many monasteries famous to Tibet including the Portola which is home to the Dalia Lama. Lhasa is at 12,500 feet and was the first step to our slow acclimatization process that Russell is famous for. We stayed there two nights. Lhasa is an old Tibetan town now completely surrounded by modern urban sprawl that was built by the Chinese. The Tibetans in Lhasa are now out numbered by the Chinese by at least a 3:1 ratio.
On April 3rd we set off via bus for the city of Zegatse at 13,500 feet where we would stay for one night. There is a new paved road on this route, and what took eight to ten hours in the past now takes only four. Most of the travel was through a beautiful river gorge.
April 4th we continued on our journey to the city of Zegar or "New Tingri". We stayed there at 14,500 feet for two nights. While there we enjoyed excellent Chinese food and played pool on the world's most uneven outdoor pool tables. One of the highlights of our approach to BC (base camp) was our 1000 foot vertical hike up the side of a hill that contained both a monastery and ruins of an ancient fortress built by the Tibetans hundreds of years ago to protect themselves from invading warlords and "Huns" from distant Mongolia. The views from atop are amazing and provided us with some of our first unobstructed views of Cho Oyo, Everest, and Makalu.
We left early on the morning of April 6th for our final approach to BC. During this four hour ride we arrived atop the famous "Nang Pala Pass" at 17,500 feet. Here we were treated to incredible views of Shishapangma, Cho Oyo, Everest, and Makalu. It was at this pass, that the British Expedition of 1921 first attained a clear view of Everest. It is documented in a famous photograph that shows some of the expedition members looking through telescopes as they try and determine a feasible approach to the then unclimbed and unvisited mountain. Everest or "Chomolonga", mother goddess of the world, as the Tibetans call it, was then and still is considered to be a holy mountain. Before the British Expedition of 1921 no one had ever set foot upon it.
We arrived at BC shortly before noon and were greeted by Russ, Whetu and the many Tibetans and Sherpas that comprise the staff here at BC. We were given a fantastic meal served by Himalayan Experience long-time cook and Base Camp boss, Lachu.
Russ then collected all the climbers and guides and made a very sad announcement. On April 4, 2006 at 11:40 PM, Tuk Bahadur Thapa Masar, age 32, died from complications due to HAPE or high altitude pulmonary edema. HAPE is a danger that all people risk when working and living at extreme altitude. Fluid builds in the lungs causing the person to suffocate due to the inability of the lungs to absorb oxygen. Tuk Bahadur was from the Solo Khumbu region of Nepal and was on his first expedition. He was found to be a very hard worker and had assisted in fixing lines to the North Col at 23,000 ft or 7000 meters. After his second accent to the North Col, Tuk Bahadur felt ill and the decision was made for him to make a rapid decent back to BC at 17,500 ft. Once at BC his condition improved however he suddenly was afflicted by acute HAPE and died.
This hit Russ and the others very hard. It especially was difficult on Russ because he considers all of his staff as family and takes their safety and well being very seriously. Russ displays the same integrity for his clients. Russ was very emotional and grief stricken as he explained that Whetu and he arrived at BC on the morning of April 5th only to hear that the young man had passed away. Russ then made arrangements for a proper service and Tuk Bahadaur was cremated just south of base camp in the glacier moraine of the Rombok Glacier. News of Mr Masar's death was withheld until proper notification was made with his family. It should be noted that Mr Masar was fully insured through his employment with Russell and that his family will receive his full salary plus numerous death benefits. Russ is one of the only expedition leaders that provide insurance and death benefits for his Tibetan and Nepalese staff.
This is the first accident or fatality in Russell's 30 years of professional guiding. Since 1994 Russ has managed 22 Himalayan expeditions to 8000 meter peaks. He has placed 237 people on the summits of 8,00 meter peaks including 137 on the summit of Mt Everest, more than any other expedition leader. Safety is key when operating at such extreme altitudes and Russ's record is impeccable. It is due to his diligence to safety for clients and staff that puts Russ above the rest.
Our camp is very organised and consists of individual sleeping tents, dining tents, showers, and enclosed bathroom tents. Russ sets up camp early so we end up getting the prime real estate for BC. So good that the Indian Army and Korean expeditions have encroached upon our camp within a few yards. There is plenty of room for which these camps could have set up yet they are now within rock throwing distance of us. The Indian expedition is very interesting. They practice group yoga and breathing exercises every morning. One of the exercises basically is to raise your hands above your head and laugh at the top of your lungs. This is hilarious to watch and we all form an audience. The rivalry between the Indians and the British empire here at BC has now caused a scheduled Cricket match between the two expeditions.
Russ is taking on the responsibility of fixing the lines up the entire route on Everest this year. His Sherpas will climb Everest many times in the next several weeks as they secure over 8500 meters of rope that all climbers will attach a safety line to as they ascend and decent the mountain. This is an enormous logistical task that Russ has taken on. Without fixed lines no one safely goes up or down the hill. Russ has assumed all costs of achieving this endeavour and expects nothing in return because he knows that it will ultimately determine the success of this expedition. In a joint meeting of all the expedition leaders yesterday, most of the leaders initiated and promised to reimburse Russ for the fixing and use of the lines up Everest. The agreed fee is $100 for every client that uses the ropes, a huge bargain! Russ continues to maintain the respect of almost all of the other leaders and has a good working relationship with them. Russ's time and experience on Everest is closely watched and copied by other expeditions.
Yesterday we went for a short hike to help in the acclimatisation process. We wondered up the moraine for an hour. Woodie tried to skip a stone across one of the frozen lakes and was very successful, in fact he almost wiped out Whetu who was filming on the other side of the lake. Bill lead us to the edge of the moraine where we stood in front of a 12 foot drop off. Woodie showed us his acrobatic expertise as he jumped freefall down onto the slope, regaining his footing and ending up down the 150 foot embankment in grand style. Cowboy was next and looked great doing the same as Woodie. Then some other unnamed person followed suit but with much less style, which resulted in torn climbing pants and a bruised ego. Those were my favorite pants. Felt good to get out and stretch the legs.
Irene arrived in BC. She will attempt to trek to Advanced Base Camp 21,500 ft. She leaves on Wednesday for the two day journey up the East Rongbuk for 22 kilometres or 13 miles. Good luck Irene.
The climbers are scheduled to leave for ABC on Saturday. Once there we will then start our climbs up and down north side of Everest in order to properly acclimatize. We hope to reach camp three at 7900 meters before we head back down to BC to rest and wait for a weather opportunity to begin our summit push six to seven weeks from now.
Russ's Sherpas so far have established fixed lines as far as camp two at 7500 meters. The Sherpas have also established Interim camp at 19,500 feet, half way to ABC where we will spend one night on our way to ABC. From ABC, Russ will set up four progressively higher camps on the mountain. Camp one or the North Col at 7000 meters or 23,000 ft. Camp two at 7500 meters or 24,500 ft. Camp three at 7900 meters or 26,000 ft. Then the final camp at 8300 meters or 27,500 feet. The higher two camps will be only used for the final summit push and are supplied with oxygen and sleeping bags in addition to stoves for melting ice and snow for fluids.
So for now we take it slowly, remain healthy and pass the time by reading, hiking, playing cards and listening to music. I brought a couple of Frisbees, two baseball gloves and a football to help pass the time. Funny...not hardly anyone up here knows how to throw a football? Mons threw the Frisbee the other day and it caught the wind and flew for about 1000 meters!
Lunch bell just rang, so until next time.