Firstly, I want to wish everyone reading a belated happy Easter and also to thank you for your very generous donations so far – as collectively, we have just broken $23k raised for the American Kidney Fund! Still very much hoping to hit the final target of $25k before this climb is all over, so if anyone is reading this and still thinking of donating please click here.
My last update was from our first arrival to EBC. Since then, all the trekkers have returned home, including Stef – and while I loved having her here, and it was great she saw where I am climbing and who I am climbing with, thereby removing some doubts for her (I think!) – I have to admit our parting proved far harder than I expected and left me quite lonely and introspective for a few days.
That said, we climbers had a specific job to do – i.e. complete our first acclimatization rotation and summit Lobuche peak @ ~20,000 feet. With that in mind, we said farewell to the trekkers at Lobuche village and returned back to Lobuche BC as they headed back down the valley to Pheriche and closer to home.
We got settled into BC @ ~15,500 feet Thursday eve and Friday we moved up to high camp @ ~17,000 feet with a view to heading up very early Saturday AM and summit. 3AM Saturday came and as my alarm went off, I felt all the usual urges in the dark of the tent to stay in my sleeping bag and not go anywhere – but resisted and was happy enough once we got out of our bags and pulled on our boots. As with many things, that first motion to break the inertia is critical.
We headed out in light snow and made our way up about 500 feet before having to turn around due to what would have been treacherous conditions coming back down due to very slippy rock slabs covered with fresh powder and a lack of fixed ropes to prevent a bad slip and fall for someone. We decided to turn around and try again on Sunday with the Sherpas putting in some additional fixed lines in the mean time to support our revised plan.
The rest of Saturday (i.e. from about 8am on) was spent lounging in our tents (in my case reading and sleeping) as it was too cold to sit outside and we had no actual work to do. This is where (I believe) mountaineering is often won or lost – as it can be where you gain much needed rest – or – where your mind can wander to places it best not. Thankfully at this early stage of the expedition it was more the former – but was also a good first taste of the waiting game that is inevitable on an expedition of this length.
3AM Sunday arrived and we repeated the same preparation and departure process. This time, the weather was a little windy but overall fine for our ascent. As I looked below on a rest break I could see a few lights following us up the mountainside. We made the summit around 9AM in more difficult conditions than expected but a welcome relief from sitting in our tents, and a good first test of our skills with fixed ropes and crampons. And the view that rewarded us at the top was worth the effort. You could see the whole Khumbu valley and a veritable who’s who of Himalayan peaks – with Everest looming a whole 9,000 feet higher still – and the inevitable question… given the effort to top out on Lobuche, how the hell am I going to make it all the way to the top of Everest? One day at a time, as my guides remind me. I did what I had to do today.
As an aside – and to comment not just on this summit but Everest also – none of this would be possible without our Sherpa companions – I think a better term might be “babysitters”. These guys are strong as bulls and so incredibly humble – it is simply an honor to climb with them. On this day, my Sherpa was Mingma Tenzing, who powered his way to the summit and I merely followed in his wake. This guy is only 30 years old, has summited Everest 9 times, and his first summit was when he was 16! In the US, this guy would have his own line of sneakers – in the Khumbu valley, he is nothing unusual. When not guiding me, Mingma was also part of the crew feeding us before and after our climbs! You never met a more humble super-hero in your life. Even in my brief time with him, I learned a lot from this man.
Summit made, we all returned to high camp and shortly after, back down to base camp to get some rest, where I noticed I’m already getting the first signs of a good set of raccoon eyes! Yesterday (Monday) we made the return trek to EBC, which will be our base going forward until the expedition is over. There is a welcome finality to this – it has taken three full weeks since the expedition started to today – and we are finally facing the mountain – and our first real challenge – the Khumbu Icefall.
A minor health note – I have a small chest cough which is a result from the cold air during our summit morning on Lobuche, but seems to be receding and is a far cry from the possible GI issues that all too frequently ravage climbers en route to EBC.
Today was our first real rest day in some time and has so far comprised of breakfast, shower, shave (both well needed!!), moving into my “home” tent for the next 5+ weeks, a little laundry and now some blogging. Again, I have to admit that I found the last few days hard emotionally and even at this early stage, feel somewhat daunted at the length and magnitude of the task ahead – so this rest day to recharge came just at the right time.
I am also reminded from my comments at the top as to why I am here. Yes – to pursue a dream and climb a mountain. But also to honor Dad, and indeed the many folks suffering presently from kidney disease – brave folks like Steve Winfree and his wife Heather that I met in D.C. while advocating for the AKF. I am going through some discomfort and apprehension right now – but I brought all this on myself, and it is part and parcel of trying to climb this mountain. Through no fault of their own, Steve & Heather have had a daily mountain to climb coping with his kidney disease – for years. I take strength from their strength and remind myself to “buck up” as Dad would say. I also need to remember to enjoy this adventure for the incredible journey it is… while sitting at the puja ceremony a few days back when we were last at EBC I was left thinking how incredibly lucky we all were to share in this adventure of a lifetime… I need to constantly remind myself of that – and, at the risk of being corny, hopefully this blog gives you some small insight into that also.
Anyway, nap-time calling so I am going to check out for now. We practice on ladders tomorrow – where hopefully my time spent in NH practicing with CJ should hold me in good stead – and a day or two later we hit the icefall for the first time, after which I will report back.
All the best,