Blood Doping in Puck Land 5/29/2007
I’m back in the rink playing hockey. I’ve got three games a week on the go this summer. I worried how hard my first game might feel but quickly realized that I must still have some extra hemoglobin on board. I expected to be quickly out of breath given the pace of the game but fortunately, due to my altitude induced blood doping, I’ve been able to keep up to the play this week. It’s good to be back worshipping the puck.
When I tripped over the blue line-I thought, “now I’m in a different kind of icefall.” I was also aware of a freedom-the freedom to be injured…kinda of a funny freedom but I know there was such a pressure all last year not to get hurt while playing or to try to recover from injuries quickly so as to not have much time off from training.
Back to BOW 5/27/2007
Having landed from London at 2:00 am, there was an email in my in-box from Lucy at 9:00 am. She organizes “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” (BOW) workshops here in Newfoundland and Labrador. She was desperate for someone to teach the hiking and backpacking workshop the next weekend. Literally just getting my feet on the ground, I said I would let her know by the end of the day. “How can I say no to Lucy?” I thought.
BOW is a program that teaches introductory outdoor skills to women. This year is the 10th anniversary of BOW in Newfoundland and Labrador and I remember, at last year’s workshop, being sad I would miss the big occasion. As I have a bit of a media profile here now, when the women heard I was coming to lead the backpacking workshop, there were a little worried and intimidated about how hard I would make them hike.
They had no idea that, these days, I’ve been doing more napping than hiking. Along with leading the workshop, Lucy invited me to do an Everest presentation. I whittled down my pictures from 900 to 300 but didn’t really sort out what I would say. I let the group know that I was only home a week so they’d be getting a raw, unpolished version.
People who hadn’t seen me in a year were startled by the amount of weight loss since they last one. One friend remarked about how much muscle mass I had lost. When my body is ready, I’ll start building it up again. When asked how I am these days, my current answer is about 65-70% of normal. I see my doc this week for the big check-up.
I started off showing the film my friend Greg made last January to give the audience some sense of my training and intention in climbing Everest and then let the pictures run and just said whatever came to mind or heart. The audience asked thoughtful questions throughout. I was very moved by the standing ovation at the end of the presentation. It was amazing to see the Khumbu icefall on the big screen and see the women’s reaction to it.
Having explained that I had mortgaged the house to make the climb possible, the women jumped up after the presentation to reduce my inventory of expedition T-shirts and carabiners tremendously. I was also awarded the proceeds from the 50-50 draw and signed many autographs for the participants’ children. Their support was very touching.
We have a tradition at BOW of doing Tarot readings after the day’s activities are done. A year ago, when I asked the question of whether the money would come through for the expedition, the cards seemed to lead in the direction that it would. Now 12 months later, I can see that it came though enough to make it possible to go and I will work to retire the rest of the debt in coming months by doing more presentations about the experience. I’ll be curious to see where this year’s cards lead.
Settling In and Planting Seeds 5/24/2007
Okay, I would be lying if I told you I hadn’t been surfing around looking for other mountains to climb. Bolivia seems to be calling me at the moment. Maybe the North Pole. Maybe another try at the Big E. It’s part of my transition process-to look for what the next adventure seeds there are to plant.
Just browsing though. Just looking. Surfing. Like a kid with the Sears Wish Book in November. Flashing through the colorful pages of options. Making a list. No decisions. Just watching where I’m been led. What my google search terms are.
Resting. As I walk around Quidi Vidi Lake, where I usually run, I notice how deep the fatigue is. It’s time to honour the exhaustion with rest. Recovery. Rebuild the reserve. Enjoy moving slow. Enjoy life without a yellow pad of to do lists and training goals. See two movies in the theatre in three nights. Haven’t done that in years.
Prayer flags at basecamp which will be coming down in the next day or two as the camp is dismantled. Prayer flags at basecamp which will be coming down in the next day or two as the camp is dismantled.
Look at photos. Notice the hard edges of the Everest experience are already being softened by a tenderness. A tenderness that allows some thoughts of trying again. Some day. Some way. No hurry. It will be there. Start teasing out the lessons from the mountain. Share them with myself and others. New lessons each day.
Go slow. Breathe.
Convocate. Celebrate. Wear my academic regalia. The students at my university graduate this week. The end of an era for them and me. Lots of hard work all round. Mountains both figurative and literal. Climb high. Study low. Valleys. Mountain tops. We go forth. Again. After. Before. Up. Down. Reach beyond our grasp.
It appears Shrek III has me in quite the mood.
I continue to feel a bit better each day and a bit stronger each day. I think about 65% of feeling healthy.
Hoping for Paul 5/22/2007
I’m sitting here in my favorite chair hitting the refresh button over and over again hoping to see news of Paul’s summit bid. Paul was instrumental in me being able to send updates from Everest. I followed his climb last year and have been following it again closely since I returned to Canada.
I hope the winds stay down and he’s having a good climb. All body parts are crossed and I’m glancing frequently at the prayer flags I have hung around the house. I’m sending out blessings and energy for a safe climb and return.
My last teammate summitted last night. In the end it seems like seven of us had to turn our backs to the mountain at some point in the process and 15 summitted (plus all the sherpas for a total of 37 summits this year for IMG). Folks are starting to trek down and they are beginning to dismantle basecamp.
The cook shelter at Camp One. You can see the big crevasses that we had to end run as we made our way towards Camp Two. The Lhotse Face is in the background. The cook shelter at Camp One. You can see the big crevasses that we had to end run as we made our way towards Camp Two. The Lhotse Face is in the background.
I did a newspaper interview today that will be published in the Telegram either tomorrow or Thursday and spent several hours seeing colleagues and sharing stories from the mountain. Having had more chance to speak aloud about the experience, I’m already feeling more articulate. Felt physically some better today but I’m starting to grasp how much muscle mass I lost on the mountain. I went out to get some new pants for a corporate presentation I’m doing on Thursday and the new ones were 3 or 6 sizes smaller depending on how one is supposed to count those things. 🙂
“The 24” 5/21/2007
It’s the “May Two Four” here even though it’s May 21. It’s the May long weekend called Victoria Day in other parts of Canada, in honour of Queen Victoria’s birth but here it’s “The 24.” Usually you can bank on it being raining for sure and snowing at least. Today, however, is gently warm with a grey blue overcast. The city is quiet because most businesses are closed for the long weekend that launches summer in this province.
Many are off at cabins or visiting family members. To reconnect with the amazing place I live, I took a stroll down Duckworth Street, one of two parallel roads that form the core of downtown. Off Duckworth, rise hills that I frequently walked up carrying a heavy pack as part of training. Each residential street sprouts the colorful saltbox houses that cuddle so close together they appeared joined as one. I take in the familiar sights as I ramble along.
I realize that the pots haven’t banged in awhile so I head up to Moo Moo’s ice cream for a long weekend treat. The bovine decorated shop that makes it’s own creamy treats in flavours like “Newfie Fog,” “Turtle Cheesecake,” and “Green-Eyed Chocolate Monster” sits atop a confused conglomerated configuration of streets known as Rawlin’s Cross. I step into the store and realize I’m not the only one who’se had this idea as the line was long to make the big choice between all of the offerings.
A young man is just ahead of me in line. He says, “Have you gone on your trip yet?” I answered, “I’m just back.” He tells me I spoke at his school and that I told the story of how when I was first training for Denali, I hadn’t been a runner. I started of running one minute and walking one minute for 20 minutes. Eight months later, I ran my first half marathon. He said there was something in that story that touched him as he’d always gotten down on himself about not being a runner. After the presentation, he began running with a more compassionate view and he told me that he’s lost 30 pounds, is running 8 kilometers a day, and has committed to running the Tely Ten (the premiere running event of the summer-a 10 mile race).
I thanked him for telling me of his journey and congratulated him on taking on his own Everest. It was a good day to hear a story of some impact the climb had beyond my sphere.
Four more of my teammates summitted last night and the last few are trying tonight. They have been blessed with good weather and I hope it continues for all the remaining climbers who wish to attempt the summit.
A doc friend gave a listen to my cough and the good news is we think it is viral and will pass. I was worried that I hadn’t totally cleared the bronchitis infection while in Nepal so that was good news. My sleeping hours have returned to this time zone and I will continue to work with my “post partum” Everest time. I knew from past climbs that there would be a period of challenge when returning home.
Transition has always been one of my challenges and even though I gave myself so much practice with it the past two years, I knew this one was good to be a doozey-because the experience was so big. Not only am I leaving the mountain, I am leaving the 18 months of preparing for the mountain behind. The “Road to Everest” was as full and intense as my mountain experience.
It’s a bit like I’m perched over one of those big crevasses in the icefall. I’m on the ladder looking down into a large abyss. I’m actually quite safe on the ladder but it is dizzying to look down into all that space. One of my favorite sayings is “This too shall pass.” I know that one day soon I will wake up and I’ll be off the ladder and on the other side of the crevasse. Until then, I will clip into various literal and metaphorical safety lines, place my crampons carefully, and move from rung to rung with intention and care.
Thanks for your support and thoughtfulness as I share the coming home part of my Everest experience.
Transition Blues 5/20/2007
Up early again-though now I have shifted from 3 AM to 5 AM. I have heard that it takes a day per hour of jet lag to truly catch up so I have a few more days to go. Yesterday and this morning I haven’t felt so great. I seem to have developed a phantom random productive cough and the nausea has paid a return visit so time to get it together for my doctor here to give me a good going over!
Six more of my teammates summitted last night. I think the last wave may be trying tonight. Glad to know they made it up and down safely.
I did an interview on NTV news yesterday that will air tonight and perhaps tomorrow night as well. I met the reporter on the top of Signal Hill. It was my first trip up there since I returned and I found looking out at the city and ocean really put me a reflective state. The memories of hours and hours of training came flooding in especially if I looked east towards Everest. I could almost “see” Everest in the distant clouds as I struggled to find the words to answer the reporter’s questions.
I still feel so inarticulate in speaking of the experience since I’m really just beginning to give it voice. Although I wrote of it daily, I think speech and writing must come from different parts of my brain and access different parts of the climb. Those of you who can watch NTV can let me know how the interview went, as I don’t have a TV.
I’m into the part of the transition that is much less fun. The sparkle of returning has been replaced by the tarnish of sorting out living back in the “regular” world. I locked myself out of the house. My car mirror got kicked in. I have a “noisy line” which makes it sound like water is running in the house all the time. The car battery was dead. And no one bangs pots to tell me it’s time to eat, so I forget to.
In many ways, life on Everest was so simple and easy. Sleep. Walk uphill. Eat when Pemba knocks the pots. Read. Sleep. Repeat. Life “on the outside” at the moment seems much more complex and difficult. Funny how perspective changes. Once again, I think I am charged with going slow-“bistante, bistante” as the sherpas would say, “slowly, slowly!” Remembering to breathe. Remembering that everything is impermanent including transition. Quite soon, I will be ensconced in life here again.
I Will Paint it Shorter Next Time 5/19/2007
I was talking to my niece Rayne on the phone yesterday. She will turn five in June the day before I turn 42. As you know she had painted me an amazing picture of Mount Everest before I went.
At some point in the conversation, she said “You only climbed to Camp Two.” I answered, “Yes, sometimes we don’t get to go as high as we wanted.” After pondering for a minute, she replied, “Did you see the picture I painted for you on your website?” I said, “Yes.” After a few more moments where she was obviously mulling something over in her mind, she decided, “Maybe next time I will paint it shorter so you can get to the top.” Once again, she melted me.
Scott mentioned wanting to see a few more pictures from the climb. I am happy to oblige. I had tried to send this one off the mountain but had ended up reposting the other one of me on the ladder. This is my favorite image of me on the ladder. I was climbing so well that day, feeling good, and we cruised down through the icefall. So I’ll be sure to post some new images each day since I no longer have to pray that the union between cable, sat phone, and PDA is maintained.
Four of my teammates summited last night. One had to turn around. Another decided to return to basecamp since his health did not allow him to complete the climb. I imagine basecamp is awash in a multitide of feelings. Still waiting for confirmation that the summit climbers have returned safely to Camp Four.
Have a good day,
Home Again, Home Again Jiggidy Jig 5/18/2007
Howdy from the Rock!
It’s good to be home and I’m working hard to get on this time zone-so far unsuccessfully. I’ve woken both mornings way early so have been operating on little sleep.
From the moment I stepped out of the customs hall at 2:00 am into the arms of waiting friends, I have been receiving a wonderful welcome back to the rock! Thanks so much to Judy, Marie, Matt, Eva, Janine, Bill, Don, and M the Limerick Queen for hanging in so long at the airport. Your presence there meant so much! I haven’t even begun to unpack those big bags because it’s been far more fun to visit friends and colleagues to catch up after being gone two months.
This morning, during a radio interview, the host asked me which I thought would be harder to recover from: the failed climb or the giardia. I was quick to point out that I don’t view the climb as a failure. From the very beginning, I was very intentional in not tying “success” to the summit. I designed the climb’s logo with the Newfoundland flag on the 007 rather than the top to remind me (and everyone else) that “it wasn’t only about the top.” Of course, there is still much disappointment about not getting a chance to try for the summit, but “failed” isn’t one of the words I use to describe my Everest experience.
Some of my teammates are climbing towards the summit as I type this. My thoughts and prayers are with them for a good climb and a safe return. You can track their progress at http://www.mountainguides.com I wish I was climbing with them but console myself knowing that when and if I am ready, I will go back to Everest with more confidence, experience, and knowledge that I gained from being there this spring.
I have started uploading my pictures to my computer-what amazing memories are contained in each image. I don’t think I ever wrote about the sense that I had, that going through the Khumbu Icefall changes you-or at least it changed me. It marks the convocation between Everest trekker and Everest climber.
Today, looking at the pictures Mingma and I took of the icefall, that feeling was confirmed. The baptism of those terrifying beautiful icy hours changed me from someone who dreamed of climbing Everest to someone who had climbed on Everest; from someone who 22 months ago could hardly speak the dream aloud to someone who shared the climb with thousands of kids and adults around the world.
Giardia and bronchitis cannot steal that change or those moments. They cannot take away the glory of traversing the Western Cwm. They cannot thieve away staring up the Lhotse Face to a summit that is so close and so far at the same time. They cannot alter a communion with people around the world who shared my dream and the hardships of living it out. They merely kept me from climbing as high as I wanted.
As I transition home and share stories, I am beginning to speak aloud (rather than write) of my Everest experience and already, that process has helped me begin to understand it in new ways. I know it will be a tapestry that I unwind from the loom of my spirit and soul for the rest of my life. How I view its weave and pattern looks different today than last week, will look different next year from right now, and I have no idea yet, of what I will weave next.
It is Hard to Leave Kathmandu 5/16/2007
Hello from London. Only one more flight to go!
After a night of restlessness and fitful sleep, it was a relief when
the alarm went off at 4:15. I dragged my huge duffles down the stairs
quietly (quite a feat!) and loaded them in the car Raj had hired. The
trip to the airport was swift as only vegetable sellers and joggers
We ended up at the airport too early and so stood beside the dusty road
drinking tea in the dark until the guard let us past. The first of six
queues had already formed. It was a swirly mass of humanity: tourists
with big bags and carts, a family or two, and seemingly hundreds of
Nepali migrants heading to the middle east to work. We stood unmoving
for about 30 minutes then the crush began and people pushed towards the
entrance. Carts got relegated to the bag as the lightly packed
migrants charged forward.
Finally I get through to the front and throw my bags through x-ray and
submit to my first of three pat-down searches. Given women were
outnumbered at the airport 10 to 1, I often made good progress at these
stations since they used same sex security people for the task. Line
up for departure tax was next. Then line up to pay Qatar Airlines too
much to take my extra bag. Then queue for immigration. Metal
detector. Another line for hand luggage x-ray and inspection.
The last queue was hardest. For many of the migrants, this was their
first experience in an airport. The last “line-up” was for the bus to
the plane. As they opened the doors a crack, the crowd crushed forward
not seeming to understand that our seats were reserved on the
plane-this was not like a bus. I was pushed and shoved and almost
picked up off my feet by the mass of humanity flowing through the small
One last pat down search and I took by seat on the plane. Suddenly and
unexpectedly, I was hit with a rash of emotions. I was sad to be
leaving Nepal. I was grieving leaving the mountains as summits were
beginning to happen. I was angry and frustrated by the airport
experience. I was tired from no sleep. Given some privacy, I’m sure I
could have had a big cry. Indeed, I sat with wave after wave of
emotion-like a stormy sea crashing up against the Cape Spear shore.
Then I settled. Into the seat I had worked so hard to get. Into travel
mode of patience and bardo. Into beginning the transition home and out
of the Everest experience. Into post Everest life. Whatever that
holds. Lots of couch time to be sure. A few more movies. Lots more
talks to kids. Adults too! Back to teaching and research. Stir clear
of the gym for awhile. Rest and recovery. Reflection. Conversation.
Until the seeds of adventure and sowed into fertile soil. When the time
comes, I will know what is next and I will nurture the next dream into
Last Tango in Kathmandu 5/15/2007
It’s a day of “lasts.” I had my last outdoor breakfast at the New Orlean’s Café, my last sushi at the Momotarou, and paid my last visit to my favorite bakery. In each place, I bade farewell to the folks who’ve been dishing me up my recovery diet.
I’ve been mostly visiting Asia in my culinary choices: Thai, Japan, and India: variations on rice and veggies. I still have no appetite for protein.
My packs are bagged. My shoes repaired and the last few stitches placed on some new shirts as I type. One last meal out with Raj and his family to thank them for their hospitality and one last sleep, and the journey home begins.
I fly from Kathmandu to Doha, Qatar and then onto London and then St. John’s. My layovers are two and four hours so they shouldn’t be too hard to bear-I’ve had lots of patience practice of late 🙂
I had a hot shower today. My hotel room only has hot water when it is sunny. At Everest basecamp, it only made sense to have a shower when it was sun had warmed up the shower tent. My bathing regime has been dictated by the weather for the past two months. I was thinking wouldn’t it be interesting if more of our daily routines were shaped by natural rhythms even in urban settings.
I spent some time today catching up with various Everest expeditions. I anticipate as I travel home, talk with friends and family and the media, I’ll be revisiting and reflecting on my Everest experience. I look forward to sharing those with you and to seeing how the rest of the Everest climbing season unfolds.
Thanks for coming along on the Kathmandu portion of this multi-faceted adventure.
Touches of Thamel 5/14/2007
Tashi Delek Amigos,
That’s a Tibetan greeting in honour of eating Mexican food at a Tibetan restaurant. My time in Thamel is winding down so I thought I would share a few things that caught my eye today.
I was up before many. Steel shutters lined the streets while I searched for breakfast. Street children remained curled like fetuses on concrete wombs. Their naked calloused feet tell of the miles they walk in search of daily survival. Their tattered filthy clothes cling to them like old friends. I slip quietly by feeling a tender-hearted sadness for these boys and the many others forced to the mean streets each day.
I sit in Raj’s office. The marketing signs in the window frame the old man perfectly. He is a singing bowl seller. His face seems caved in by his years. He caresses a brass bowl in his weathered hand and strikes it with a mallet to start the vibration. To nurture notes, he lovingly runs the handle of the striker around the rim. He hears the music. He hopes the riveting note will draw someone with money in. No one appears to hear. Pedestrian traffic, motorcycles, and a few cars weave between him and me in the rutted, broken street. No one stops to listen. He plays another bowl. I am sad again.
I decide to get brave and get a haircut. Never has someone cut so long and removed so little hair from my head. I choose a place that has a colorful brochure figuring they must cater to many Westerners. I drop in and ask how much for a haircut. The rate is reasonable and I say “Sign me up I gotta clean up this mop before heading home.” The haircutter is busy giving a Thai massage so I’ll have to wait. “No problem,” I reply, “Time is something I have lots of at the moment.”
At some point, the nice young man looks over at me and asks what I want done to my hair. I explain that I just need it trimmed up nice and neat. He says that the hair dresser is only used to long hair-that short hair is tricky-and she will have to see my hair before committing to cut it.
I try to explain that I’m not fussy-that a mountaineering team member once hacked it off with a Swiss Army knife-and that I would be fine with whatever happened. The woman arrives and agrees to shorten my hair. It seems like she is quite frightened by my wavy locks so I try to give her many positive looks. Turns out she trimmed less than a centimeter off but it must have been a big change because I got cat calls from men all day.
When they were giving out persistence, I was at the head of the line. Bargaining skill, however, I must have missed that line altogether. In cultures where prices are not fixed, I flounder. My shyness streak comes out and I prefer to look from afar. Sometimes I can get into the mood and make a game out of it and form a relationship with a vendor that makes the process work for me. Some of the folks I purchased from today I purchased from each visit to Kathmandu-that makes it fun too!
Sounds like weather’s got everyone hanging at basecamp waiting for the window. Today for the first time, I took the stairs to my room two at a time. My strength is returning. It’s taken almost 10 days at lower elevation to begin to get stronger. I wonder how long it would have taken at high elevation?
Health Update 5/13/2007
Howdy from Thamel,
Some folks have been asking about my health. I haven’t vomited now in a week. I can now tolerate a much wider grouping of foods. I can’t tell if I’m gaining weight yet-I must be. There is still a “hole in my middle” and I cannot believe how small my legs are (for me). At high altitudes, much of weight loss is due to muscle wasting and I can see some of those effects on my body.
I still have transitory nausea and am still not eating nearly as much as I usually do. My energy seems to go off and on like a faucet in Kathamndu. Some days I have lots of spunk, other days hardly any. There isn’t any pattern to it so when energy allows, I explore. When it doesn’t, I read or watch movies.
I’m still counting the days until I am able to return home but I have found my “Kathmandu Legs” and have settled into Thamel. I revel in eating breakfast outside every morning and have been intentionally choosing outdoor restaurants since it’s likely to be much colder and stormier back home on the Rock.
Thanks for your continued interest and support.
I don’t often really know what I am getting myself into. The first river I rowed in a raft on was the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. My first Himalayan mountain was Everest. So, I wasn’t surprised this morning when the trip “south” of town was actually up in the hills and quite a bus ride.
Krishna, Raj’s brother, picked me up at 6:30 am so we could beat the bus crowds. At the bus park, we found a direct to Pharping, but there were no seats left. “No problem,” I said since I didn’t think we were going far. In Nepal, you don’t need to travel far for it to take awhile.
It being Saturday, many of the folks in the bus were headed to their home villages or to the same place we were going. The bus tout kept encouraging us to fit more and more folks in the bus. Eventually, I was propped up between Krishna and another man in an intimacy that elsewhere would be reserved for partners. I could not move my feet and was hanging on to the two bars hanging from the ceiling.
The road was not wide enough to let two vehicles pass while moving so the bus jerked forward then stopped frequently. On each hairpin turn, we were clipped by our own exhaust in a noxious game of diesel fume tag.
We arrived after about 90 minutes and I didn’t trust my legs to move me through the throng to the bus door. We’d given the bus folks something to talk about as it’s not that common that Western folks ride local buses. Many eyes stared at me during the whole trip and I was glad, as usual, to have the experience of being a visible minority.
Pharping is one of the places in Nepal where Buddhism and Hinduism come together. We first visited a Buddhist enclave of monasteries built there because Padmasambava meditated in a cave. As is often the case, the enclave was built on a hill. As we climbed the stairs between the various prayer halls, the monks got older as we got higher.
The first temple was dedicated to both Green Tara (Buddhist) and Ganesh (Hindu). Here, the novice monks’ voices broke and they sounded like they were chanting “out of tune.” Two other temples shared deities as well in a cooperative juxtaposition that, I think, is rare in religion.
The enclave was silent except for the “monastic music” vibrating from the prayer halls. I was once again enthralled by the monks’ deep throated chants punctuated by cymbals and horns. One older monk invited us to see a temple that had 1000 statues of Buddha and 1000 statues of a chorten lining the inner walls.
We headed next to Dakshinkali, a Hindu temple 2 kilometers down the road. Here is where the crowds were heading. The atmosphere was respectfully festive-somewhat of a cross between the sacred and county fair.
Leading down to the temple were stalls selling food, children’s trinkets, flower leis, and animals to sacrifice. Kali, is a Hindu goddess that is appeased by blood. During a fall festival, many animals are sacrificed to insure Kali’s thirst for blood (so she won’t need to cause car accidents etc.).
I learned today that if an individual or family is in trouble, they can appease Kali any day by making a sacrifice at this particular temple (which is dedicated to Kali and these kind of sacrifices). Depending on a person’s caste, they would choose to kill a chicken, pigeon, goat, or buffalo. Vegetarians can sacrifice a coconut.
The line to get into the temple to perform the ritual was probably over a 1000 deep and folks waited 2-3 hours in line to get into the temple. Given we weren’t participating, we could go in the exit to observe.
The temple is near a river so the animals feet are bathed in the river (this is so the animal will allow itself to be slaughtered). The person wishing to appease Kali can kill the animal him or herself or pay a person in the temple to do it. There are butchers just outside the temple to attend to the carcasses of larger animals and birds are butchered at home.
People can light butter lamps in the temple in similar practice to Buddhists and Hindus seem to ring bells in the temple in ways not unlike spinning a prayer wheel.
We rode back to Kathmandu with a few ex-chickens. For once, I felt reasonably safe in a Nepali bus ~~because I knew Kali had received as much blood as she wished on this particular day. There were still a few drop-offs that caught my eye and my breath though, especially knowing there had been two fatal bus accidents in the previous two days.
The ride back was even slower because the roads were more crowded. I was a bit wiped out by the travel but it was very good to get out of town and see the amazing juxtaposition of Hinduism and Buddhism.
This Everest-007 Update is made possible through the generous support of AppleCore Interactive, http://www.applecore.ca
Rum Doodling 5/12/2007
When climbing Everest, sometimes motivation can change moment to moment. I heard more than one climber mention the Rum Doodle at basecamp. The Rum Doodle is both an imaginary mountain at 40000.5 feet and a Kathmandu restaurant icon.
Everest summitters eat free at the Rum Doodle for life. Given my bad luck, I thought I might have to forego the free meal this time round. An acquaintance from Minnesota, just back from guiding a group to Everest basecamp looked me up and asked me to join her group for dinner.
I suggested the Rum Doodle not knowing Anne would pick up the tab. The Rum Doodle’s walls and ceilings are covered with “yeti feet.” Each 12 inch foot details an expedition or trek. There are also spaces on the wall where Everest summitters sign their names. The place gives off a sense of history and the food is pretty good to boot.
I appreciated the bathroom signs: one door was labeled “For those who sit,” and the other “For those who stand.” Some of the women in the group had trouble choosing since they’d just spent a few weeks squatting. 🙂
Today was the first day I felt ready to check-in on my expedition mates and other Everest climbers. Enough time and emotion had passed that my curiousity won out. Internet is slow here these days but I can get the gist of what’s happening on the mountain. I guess there was a summit attempt last night turned back by high winds. I think I may know some how those folks feel.
Thanks to all who let me know you enjoyed the Kathmandu piece.
This Everest-007 Update is made possible through the generous support of AppleCore Interactive, http://www.applecore.ca
Kathmandu Kaleidoscope 5/11/2007
They killed the lights at 6. “Oh yeah,” I remember, rotating brown-outs. It must be Thamel’s turn for the early evening shift. Fortunately, I ate already as I need to hurry back to my room before it is totally engulfed by darkness, to find my headlamp.
Sitting here in the dark, I pay attention to the notes of humanity coming together into a cacophony of night. Someone is sawing by hand. An impeccable rhythm. A large dog barks, his jowls seemingly vibrating up to the fourth floor. Horns bleat. And honk. And thrill.
The saw goes back and forth again after a pause. Its beat is punctuated by the staccato lowering of the metal protection gates over storefronts. Some stay open making light with their own mini generators singing like cicadas. Others call it a night.
Beep. Beep. Honk. Drivers make their way home over darkened streets. Suddenly with a deep rumble, the hotel starts its massive generator and all the other sounds must now compete for my ears. Voices combine with a bicycle bell. Air hissing overrides a few other dogs’ efforts. It will be awhile before the night settles enough to let me sleep, but I now have light which makes the night music harder to hear.
Eight hours later, I awake. The birds are singing like this is the only time they will be heard. Mourning doves coo. Song birds sing. The first horn. The first motorcycle. Wheels are beginning to wake. The chaotic din begins to rise from the quiet as the sun tracks higher in the sky.
The huge dog starts in again. Nothing gets by him. His friends try to keep up in an effort that call only be called Western. Dog eat dog. Only one can be top dog. Voices join the fray. Metal gates denounce their employment in rapid succession.
Another Kathmandu day has begun.
This Everest-007 Update is made possible through the generous support of AppleCore Interactive, http://www.applecore.ca
I am Coming Home in Less Than a Week 5/10/2007
After my morning pilgrimage to Durbar Marg, I got the same woman-though she was more helpful today. Toronto replied and for a relatively small upgrade fee, I have a seat on an airplane. Perhaps, I will have it bronzed 🙂 I leave here the morning of May 16th and arrive in St. John’s after midnight on May 17 on Flight 831 Air Canada from Heathrow (arrives 0045).
I was hoping for something a little sooner of course but I’m lighter with an ending in sight-though still so weary. Maybe what I am doing here is building up the strength to come home. I appreciate all your words of support and ideas of how to spend the time. I’ll brainstorm with Raj to see what’s possible given time and energy. I actually have spent a fair amount of time in Kathmandu between this and other visits.
I’ve been writing a piece about the sounds of Kathmandu which I will post later today.
Abandon All Hope of Fruition 5/9/2007
Sitting in my new “down scale” hotel room. This one costs about 10% of yesterday’s (just in case I am in Kathmandu a really long time). It’s a bit mustier, has hot water only when the sun shines, and most importantly, has a movie channel.
I have watched more movies in the past 24 hours than the past 18 months. Raj had his wife take me over to Qatar Airlines in Durbar Marg-about a 20 minute walk from Thamel. They had no sign out front of their office, but we deciphered the puzzle and took a number.
The middle woman seemed quite helpful, but I drew the one to her right. She kept saying, “no seats in May or June” no matter what question I asked her. She sent a message to Toronto asking about how much to upgrade my seat since there might be a slightly better chance of getting a seat in a higher class. I’m supposed to check back tomorrow.
I asked her about buying a ticket. She said, “no seats.” I asked her about stand-by, she said “no seats but you are welcome to try.” So…I’m working hard on my Buddhist slogan of the day: Abandon all hope of going home.
I checked the internet today and Qatar did have one seat on Sunday in business class-maybe it will still be there tomorrow after Toronto gives the word, she says abandoning hope. 🙂
I’ll see what they say tomorrow and then perhaps drag my huge duffles to the airport to try stand-by. She said the Doha to London leg might also be tricky so even if I manage a KTM to Doha flight, they might not let me on. Maybe I’ll trek back to basecamp 🙂
I spent the afternoon wondering around Thamel aimlessly until I ran out of steam and wilted about 3 (which probably precludes trekking back to basecamp). I think that’s very much a legacy of the giardia. I’m slowly introducing food groups and trying to build back strength. It feels like I’ve been in Kathmandu for a month even though it’s just a day and a half. Funny how time works.
Once I truly abandon hope and surrender to being here a long time, Raj will hook me up and help me get into exploration mode but until then, I’ll just hangout here for a few more days in recovery mode.
Thanks for hanging with me.
This Everest-007 Update is made possible through the generous support of AppleCore Interactive, http://www.applecore.ca
Rapid Change Artist 5/8/2007
I awoke in a mountain village having heard nothing louder than an avalanche for nearly two months. A quick flight later, I am jarred and frayed and battered by the chaos of Kathmandu.
Yesterday, I wondered if I would ever get out of Lukla and today, I wonder what the heck I am doing here. The crushing part of the day was when the person who picked us up from the domestic terminal said international flights were booked solid for weeks.
That was a complication I hadn’t anticipated. The news was hard to hear because all I want is to be home surrounded by friends. I don’t really have the energy to play tourist.
I don’t know if my audioblog posted to the site. I’m a bit embarrassed by it as it was raw and unfiltered-shortly after learning I might not be able to get home for awhile. Not sure why I would be embarassed now-it’s not like I have been holding back much. 🙂
After a few hours rest, I walked over to Thamel trying to let the noise, crowds, and pollution wash over me like spindrift. Lunch at the Momotarou, my favorite Sushi place, helped (Miso soup cures all).
Spend the afternoon with Raj, my Nepali friend. He gave me some advice about airlines and I will visit the office of Qatar airlines tomorrow once I have my ticket in hand. Raj and I found me a much cheaper place to move to tomorrow called the Blue Diamond-it’s on the outskirts of Thamel.
As I walked back to the Hotel Tibet in Lazimpat, I realized I had already settled in a bit. My tourist survival strategies were kicking in-I had toilet paper in one pocket and small rupees in the other.
I crossed Kantipath-a major street-in the same way you cross the Khumbu Icefall, in the company of Nepalis. I “catch a lift” by walking along side other pedestrains, since the “horizontal” seracs come fast and furious and merely crossing the street is a potentially lethal proposition.
I bought some new reading material and am trying to surrender to being here much longer than I wish…though who knows…maybe my seat will come in. Anyone out there got connections with Qatar Airlines? 🙂
From a simple life in a tent to a chaotic urban city, I am in transition once again. The guys sent down the rose one of the cooks had drawn with well wishes. It’s hard to imagine some of them being back freezing at Camp Two while I swelter in KTM. Was I really just climbing Everest?
Thanks for being there through it all,
Elevation: 2886 Meters
Elevation Gain: 400 Meters
Elevation Loss: 1000 Meters
Weather: Hot and sweaty then afternoon showers
Lojong Slogan of the Day: Don’t seek other’s pain as the limbs of your own happiness.
Today, plywood went by. And glass. And plastic pipe. And corrugated roofing. Coke. Beer. Noodle soup. Carried by men using woven baskets and tamp straps. A few women. Too many children. The Khumbu supply chain was in full swing as I imagine the mass of spring climbers and trekkers have depleted the supplies up the hill. I silently thanked each one as they went by for carrying my food and supplies up.
We met one of Mingma’s former clients today. They summitted together. He is headed up to Island Peak and basecamp. They have a deep friendship and fun to see them together a few weeks earlier than imagined. One of his client’s travelling companions, asked the inevitable question, “Will you climb Everest again?”
Anticipating this question, I took my first opportunity to try out my answer.
Will you climb Everest again?
The easy answer: Yes.
The short answer: No.
The real answer: How can I know right now?
Mingma has dropped me off in Lukla and is hustling to catch up with his former client. We walked fast again which gave him the daylight to make a return trip in one day.
We passed the “Everest Summitteers” Lodge and a sign for the “Everest Summitteers Association.” Each reminder sends a serac cleaving from my heart – though I remind myself that even if I stayed 100% healthy, I’d still have had only a 20-45% chance of standing on the summit. Lots of self-talk and soothing to that effect today and steering myself clear of all the second guessing my mind wanted to get into.
In the spirit of David Letterman, I ‘ve tried to come up with the “Top Ten” Great Benefits of Coming off Everest Early…I’m not sure I should give up my day job to write for the show, but here is the best one I came up with:
I don’t have to renew my Nepali visa and so I save $50 USD 🙂
(of course, I’m grateful for my safety, fingers and toes, being home for significant events, etc.-I’m just trying to find the humour in the situation).
I haven’t learned about my flight scene for tomorrow, but I’m trying to remain flexible in case it takes several days to get out.
S.T.O.L. stands for “Short Take off and Landing” which describes many of the air strips in Nepal. They are sloped up to slow landing planes and sloped down to propel taking off planes. They are an exciting, terrifying place to fly in/out of. So, I’m hoping for good weather and a boring flight.
Tom & Audrey-I did get your emails. Sorry I didn’t acknowledge them. I loved hearing from you.
Rayne & Xander-I would love to visit you on the way home, but my ticket takes me over the Atlantic rather than Pacific. Once I’m home and better, we’ll make plans for a visit to my favourite niece and nephew. Xanderman-I hope your hand heals fast.
Michael B.-Thanks for your candour. I look forward to talking more.
Anne-As a long time fan of yours, I appreciate you writing. I know you know how it feels.
Mary M-Thanks for sharing your journeys with me.
KW-There were so many cumulonimbus clouds today I thought we might have a thunderstorm but then it cleared. How was the sea kayaking?
WP-glad you are feeling better…it sucks to chuck to matter where you are.
Nancy-you are in my thoughts. Say hi to Ericka for me.
Lorraine-Thanks for your words and perspectives. See you on the rock.
And to the many of you who’ve written and I haven’t thanked specially…THANK YOU! Your words are a gift and are much appreciated.
Men are from Nuptse, Women are from Lhotse 5/7/2007
Like the aftershock tremors that ripple through after an earthquake, I awoke this morning feeling a bit better and couldn’t help myself from running through a scenario. Pangboche today, Loboche tomorrow, EBC the day after that rest. Go up.
Then the undulations stopped and reality set in. My duffles are somewhere in Namche, I’m not strong enough even if I feel better, and that door is shut for now. Grief’s like that – you have to accept the loss over and over again.
It’s different to see women in greater numbers again. In high altitude mountaineering, about 10 percent of climbers are women. I’m used to being outnumbered. On Denali, it was 12 to 2; Elbrus 11 to 1; Aconcagua was a rare treat – there were 3 women.
On my Everest team, there were 22 summit climbers. I was the only woman. At some point, I realized that if you included all of the staff, I was outnumbered 60 or so to 1. Given that men and women often process their experiences differently, sometimes I felt lonely on the mountain.
There were also covert and overt mechanisms of competition and sizing each other up (totally understandable on the world’s highest mountain – just wearing sometimes).
I was angry only once on the entire trip. One of my teammates asked his personal sherpa if the sherpas preferred working with male or female clients. He replied that they liked male clients better because “they were stronger.” I didn’t say anything out loud because he was mirroring many cultures’ beliefs, but I sure wanted to prove him wrong.
I remember one boy writing to me asking me to please summit because his sister didn’t believe I could and he wanted to prove her wrong. I guess his sister was right this time 🙂
After millenia, gender relations are still pretty complicated…time to walk downhill.
Heading Downhill 5/6/2007
Location: Namche Bazaar
Elevation: 3440 Meters
Elevation Gain: 1000 Meters
Elevation Loss: 1600 Meters
Weather: Mostly sunny
The high altitude world is one of white, blue, and shades of grey. Whenever I come down from that stark world, I feel as though I am getting my senses back.
Today as we dropped in elevation, many colours and textures joined the palette. Trees. Leafy things. Thorny things. Flowers. Blooms. Brilliant pink, yummy purple, subdued lavender, powder brown, lime green, spruce green, narrow green, squashed green…lots of living plants adorned the trail. Birds sang. Rivers shouted.
Everest’s summit was visible today when we got near Namche. I turned and said good-bye, perhaps abiento would have been more appropriate. I was almost glad when we turned the corner and I couldn’t see the mountain any longer.
The last time we came through here was 40 days ago. We camped out in front of the lodge I am staying in. It’s actually not nearly as nice inside as we all thought last time we were here. Though the shower sure is-nothing like near scalding water in great quantities to wash what ails ya down the drain.
The nausea is still there, though now flows like an undercurrent rather than raging torrent scouring the creek bed. Meals are sticking around today, though nothing is appealing to eat. The hills were not quite so taxing today as my acclimatization is finally overcoming the overall weakness and fatigue.
I most often immerse myself wherever I am, but I now find my thoughts wandering to home. Out of every decision comes gains and losses. Yesterday I so acutely felt the losses and today, I celebrate that I will be home for three major events in the lives of family and friends that I was going to miss.
I’m hoping to be able to actually fly out of Lukla on the 8th because I am actually quite tired of entertaining myself. My books and cards are in my duffle and I don’t have enough battery power on my PDA to play games. I could use a bit of distraction 🙂
I hope you are all doing well. Your outpouring of support and understanding is pivotal and appreciated and remembered with each step downhill.
This Everest-007 Update is made possible through the generous support of AppleCore Interactive, http://www.applecore.ca
A Letter to My Everest Support Team 5/5/2007
Elevation: 3840 Meters
Elevation Loss: 360 Meters
Weather: Didn’t really notice
When I threw up breakfast once again, I ventured over to the clinic to check my weight again. I was down another five pounds and feeling poorly. I felt the confusion part temporarily and made the decision to come down.
I packed my bag cautiously to see if the clarity would stick around. It didn’t seem possible to heal at this altitude given there was not much left on the menu to eat (once I’d chucked something, I found it hard to eat it again and given I’d been chucking for awhile-there were not many options left).
The hope voice had quieted to where I couldn’t hear it anymore and the reality of not being at my best was staring me nakedly in the face. Mount Everest deserves my best, no-in reality, it demands my best. Though I’m sure I could have gotten enough better to drag myself back up to EBC, I finally admitted to myself that I wouldn’t have the amount of reserve I would need to feel comfortable and confident going back high on the mountain.
I count on that reserve to combat bad weather, extreme altitude, and steep slopes. I feel as though the illnesses I have faced over the past month, have peeled the layers of reserve and resiliency down to my very core, like shedding the outer layers of an onion.
For me, persistence is my lifeblood. I am a survivor. I can get through anything. For me, this morning in turning my back on trying for the summit, I climbed a bigger Everest than the snow and ice covered mount in front of me.
I said for once, it was okay to stop. It was okay not to push to the absolute outer limits of my being. It was okay to go home to heal and come back to climb Everest another day. It was okay to do all of this and hold my head up high for having given this effort almost everything I had. All of this new territory was stepping out on a ladder spanning a crevasse bigger than any I saw in the Khumbu.
And although yes, this allowing for my humanity, my frailty is a summit in itself, it still hurts incredibly. Grief is like glacier run-off. At times in the hot sun, it runs like torrents that threaten to overwhelm and at other times, the glacier freezes hard and nothing is felt in the frigid night.
I walked from Pheriche to Pangboche often overhwhelmed by the torrents. I was an anonymous trekker hiding behind my shades and I could allow the wild water of grief to spill over whenever it rose beyond the spillways of my eyes.
Eighteen months of energy, effort, excitement, focus, and dreams were coming to an end in the moments of those downhill footsteps. Suddenly, there was a vacuum-a large black hole-I was no longer preparing to be or being an Everest climber.
Into this void, churned the waves of grief like rancid yak butter. This grief had been hanging around the interstitial edges of my being since leaving EBC and now it had full permission to come into being since the final decision had finally been made.
In Pangboche, I found Mingma (he’d told me to find him there if I decided to come down). We talked to basecamp via Camp Two and made the arrangements for my bags and flights. We used the radio at Ang Pasang’s place-he’s the expedition sirdar. As we left his house, Pasang’s wife placed a kata scarf around my neck to signify good luck in leaving, and the glacier dam that was holding my tears in place almost burst.
I won’t cry in public so I choked the grief back into place for much of the rest of the day as I sat in Mingma’s in-laws place and then at Mingma’s place in Phortse.
I actually thought I was going to Namche today. When I contacted Mingma that all changed and he will accompany me down to Lukla. Though it was hard not to let the tears fall all afternoon, there was some comfort in walking with Mingma, his wife and son from Pangboche to Phortse.
Now, in my room at the lodge, writing to you, I am free once again to allow the sun to strike the glacier of my heart and allow the grief to move downhill, like I. I am okay. I just hurt. I will hurt for awhile as I bring this chapter of my life to a different close than I anticipated.
I’d rehearsed being felled by weather. By bad snow or ice conditions. But I forgot to anticipate being sick. New territory. Lots of learning in being where I haven’t been before.
Today as I watched Mingma’s children play, I was relieved to be heading home to Rayne and Xander. In that moment of watching the children, I knew I had made a good decision. I am willing to take risks to climb mountains but not foolish ones. My health is more important than any summit. I’ve got too many young people rooting for me to throw caution to the wind. Everest will be there whenever my dreams take me onto her slopes next, if and when.
So, I have a few things to ask of you-my Everest support team. Please stay with me as I journey home. I will continue to blog and reflect and share my experiences as I head downhill and to home. Please share your experiences of times you’ve given your heart to your dreams and had a different ending that you wished for-share the lessons that have come from these moments. Please remind me that I have indeed achieved my mission and should not allow one ounce of shame to cloud my perspective of that. And finally, welcome me to lower ground with open arms and open ears, I’ll have many stories to tell.
Thank you all for being here as I’ve undertaken this most public of personal journeys. Your presence and words and thoughts have been gifts every step of the way. Thank you.
Logistics: Tomorrow to Namche, May 7th to Lukla, May 8th to KTM pending weather…not sure when flying home yet.
This Everest-007 Update is made possible through the generous support of AppleCore Interactive, http://www.applecore.ca
To Family and Friends of Michael 5/5/2007
To Michael’s Family and Friends,
I wanted to thank each and everyone of you for taking the time to write and express your thoughts and feelings about Michael’s Inukshuk. Your words struck a deep chord with me each time I received them.
The morning I spent with Michael’s spirit, building the inukshuk, was one of the most “right and profound” moments of the entire expedition for me. As I said, I hoped Michael’s spirit would help me to “do the thing I think I cannot do”, though at the time, I had no idea what that might be. Really-in my mind’s eye, I pictured the traverse from the South Summit.
Today, his spirit helped me to do what I thought impossible a few days ago. I’ve chosen, in the name of health, to end my Everest expedition. I know there may have been times when Michael pushed too hard or too far on his body in sports.
Today, I listened to his spirit and will come back to Everest again when I am healthy enough and with enough reserve to face the mighty challenges Everest presents.
Again, thank you for writing and letting me know that you appreciated and were moved by my gesture of remembrance. It meant so much to hear from you.
To My Everest Teammates 5/5/2007
My Everest Teammates,
I imagine on this day where I have made one of the hardest decisions of my life, you are at or are heading towards basecamp, with only your summit rotation left to go.
Most of you were up the mountain, when I was hit for the second time with another illness. I had planned and hoped to be up at Camp Two with all of you. Sunday night, after ten days of “morning sickness,” I threw up much of the night before I was to head up the icefall with Jean and Nat.
The diagnosis…giardia. I spent three days at basecamp trying to beat it and then a few days at Pheriche. Today, having lost 25 pounds, still vomiting in the morning, and realizing that I didn’t have much physical reserve left, I made the decision to go home to heal.
Having been to Camp Three, you all know how much Everest takes out of you. I respect Everest too much to risk mine and my sherpa’s lives by going up without enough reserve and resiliency. Everest will still be there when I am healthy and ready again.
In Buddhism, we speak of Boddhisattivas. Boddhisativas delay their enlightenment until all beings are enlightened. Though I doubt it works this way, I hope I can be the Boddhisativa of Illness for the team. I hope that “I took it for the team”- that none of you comes down with anything that prevents your summit bid.
Rest well and deep my friends. Draw on your courage and strength as you make your last passage up and down Everest. Take good care of each other and your sherpas. Make good decisions. Be safe. Enjoy these moments you’ve worked so hard for. May you all reach your summit.
Please take a piece of me with you as you venture up again. Know that I am cheering for you every step of the way.
Mark, Jangbu and the Whole Sherpa Staff-thank you so much for all your hard work and diligence. You are a well-oiled machine.
With respect and gratitude,
Finding Perspective 5/4/2007
Elevation: 4200 Meters
Elevation Gain: 883 Meters
Elevation Loss: 883 Meters
Weather: Tolkien Like
Quote of the Day: We have little time; therefore, we must proceed very slowly. (Chinese proverb)
In the early morning, snuggled in my sleeping bag after ten hours of quality sleep, all things are possible: curing cancer, world peace, climbing Everest. Nearing the top of Nagartsang Peak, when I’m dragging steps from deep within, cracks appear in the morning’s veneer of optimism.
One thing that sea kayaking has taught me is that my perception of the sea state depends entirely on if I want to paddle or not. At 5:00 am in the morning, when I feel a bit lazy, the ocean waves seem too big to paddle. At 3:00 pm the same day, when I’ve been on the beach all day and want to get off, those same exact waves seem to be waning and paddlable.
So, it is my job over the next few days to know that my perception and perspective is highly changeable, influenced, and impermanent. I can look for trends, seek “objective” measures, and perhaps find the Lama in Pangboche. 🙂
Ken and many others have suggested trying to keep things in perspective. For me, perspective is the lens in which we perceive our world. Every once in awhile we get to glimpse and acknowledge that lens.
For me as I descend, I am once again aware of the ways in which altitude affects how I perceive. If you have never been to altitude, I will try to illustrate how it can influence things.
First, it is a bit like the frog in the pot that is heated to boiling. You don’t notice the changes until you descend.
For me, altitude (like hormones) is a grand magnifier. I don’t exactly understand how it works, but it seems like altitude (or its accompanying hypoxia) magnifies emotions, temperatures, conflicts, hopes and dreams. I can marvel in Pheriche at how intense life in EBC is/was. When I’m there, I forget that lens is in place and take is all so seriously.
Of course, Buddhism has taught me that we all have a lens of perception no matter what altitude we exist at-perhaps what I am trying to say is that lens is thicker or has cataracts at altitude.
Besides being a magnifier, life at altitude is often harsh and uncomfortable. It takes extra energy and focus to do daily activities. I also noticed yesterday, as we descended that my physical coordination got better and better. Altitude affects our ability to think and to problem-solve. The higher you go, the more challenge to push an oxygen-starved brain through its paces.
All of this becomes clearer, when the frog gets out of the hot water for a time. When I trained this year on the Go2Altitude machine, I had the experience of going from sea level to 4500 meters instantly. When I came off the machine after an hour, it was much easier to observe the altitude-induced impairment.
So…all of this is to say, if I sound like a blubbering fool, some of it is altitude and knowing this, is why I turn to good friends for their perspectives as I make my way through challenging decisions. We carry radios high on the mountain for the same reason, so we can draw on the less-influenced thinking of basecamp when we are up high.
With seven days of rest and illness vibrating inside me, I knew I couldn’t just sit still today. I felt better enough to try out one of my “tests.” Actually I shouldn’t call them tests since that implies failure-instead perhaps “information gathering experiences.”
I set out for Nagartsang Peak which overlooks Pheriche and Dingboche. It houses the gompa I visited the last time I was here. This time I wanted to go for the top and see how my body did. I am still sorting through all my perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that passed through on the 2.5 hour climb to the top. I also want to see how I do post climb as well.
Climbing to where you can climb no higher is a special experience no matter how high the peak is. I love being on Signal Hill at the Ladies Lookout, knowing there is no higher than that 150 meters, and I loved summiting Nagartsang at 5083 meters. Both are good for gaining new perspective.
As I hiked back down into Pheriche, I had a funny, ironic thought. In 2002, I spent 2 months trekking in Nepal. I had to take medication for three illnesses. Guess which? Bronchitis, giardia, and gastritis from drinking too much Nepali tea. This time I have at least avoided the gastritis :-).
Mingma dropped by this morning from Pangboche. He has a bad toothache. So, we’re quite the couple-neither of us is enjoying eating. 🙂 He’ll go down to Namche to have it fixed. While I do my best to find food that sounds appealing. I splurged and had a “Mars Momo” with lunch-basically a Mars Bar wrapped in dough and lightly fried. Anything to get the calories in. The nausea is much more transitory today and I’m liking getting my sense of humour back-it helps with perspective.
Erika & Taylor-I found the wonderful healing token in the envelope-thanks so much.
M Limerick-I love your limericks-they brighten my day and make me smile.
Colin-you always have a “quantoid” view 🙂 With your numbers influence, I figured out that Camp Two is 75% of the way up Everest!. Thanks for your perspective-always helpful. Hugs to you and Mavis. When does the London to YYT flight start?
Buddy-looking for some cumulonimbus action since those clouds got left out the other day when the code was missing. Say hi to Maine for me.
Nancy-thanks for being there all the way from GFW. I appreciate it.
Scott-glad you liked yesterday’s post-it was a big day.
Mountains of Tears and Punctuation 5/3/2007
Elevation: 4200 Meters
Elevation Loss: 1100 Meters
Weather: Hot and sunny to cold and windy
My body is cruel. This morning when I awoke, she lifted the veil of illness and allowed some oxygen to kindle the flame of hope. I felt terrific. Awesome. Strong. In that moment, I didn’t feel like I needed to go down. I started to scheme-maybe if I did Pumori basecamp today and rested tomorrow, I could be ready to go up the Big Hill on Saturday.
Given the experience of the other morning, I didn’t exactly trust my body either. I got out of the the tent and sat on a rock, staring up at the icefall. Hoping the answer could be found in its icy folds. The morning sun was already hot-a fabulous dawn to the day.
I didn’t want to go down. I didn’t want to pack. I was at a loss to understand my experience except for perhaps my friend Vera rubbing the amethyst crystal she got to cure me of nausea, worked.
I went to the dining tent and had some cheerios and a hot drink. Then my belly stirred-not as bad as usual-but bad enough to remind me of why I had made the decision to go down yesterday. Though I felt pretty good.
I became a high altitude yo-yo once again. Go. Don’t go. Stay. Go. I’m better. I’m not better. Go. Stay.
I managed some hard boiled eggs and cheerios. I was convinced I would keep them because there was no lactose in site. If I kept breakfast, maybe I could stay. Small rumbles but breakfast took.
I did notice my quads felt like rubber as I walked around camp and they felt empty of energy. I should go down-rubber quads don’t get up Everest safely. I noticed my pants were slipping down…then noticed I could drop them down all the way without undoing the waist or fly. I should go down.
I go to my tent to pack. It’s different this time. I don’t know if I’ll be back to this nylon cocoon that has been my home for a month. Everything must go in bags-just in case. I don’t want to pack. After each item, I stop and tear up. I stop and ask myself if I want/need to go down.
Each piece brings the same question. It takes much longer to pack than usual. I don’t want to go. It’s easier to lie here in an high altitude stupor and just hope that things will get better. Another thing goes in the pack. I cry.
Finally, everything has found a stuff sack home. Some goes with me. Most stays ready to be in a duffle for transport. I am so full of emotion I can hardly breathe the thin air-it’s like the feelings have expanded in my chest filling my air sacks with an intensity that’s hard to live through.
I’d promised the docs I would let them know what was on the go. I leave my pack with Mingma and scramble over towards the clinic. A path I know well…to my best friends in basecamp. As I traverse the stepping stones over the glacial lake, the BBC guys say my buddies are over at another expedition’s camp-they’ll be gone for 30 minutes.
In some ways, I am grateful for if I’d seen their caring faces, I’m sure mountains of tears would finally have avalanched from my eyes. I asked the BBC folks to tell the docs I’d gone down to rest even though, in most moments this morning, I didn’t want to go.
I choked out good-byes to the folks in basecamp and Mingma and I were on our way. A familiar trail. We’d walked this way for this reason before. I feel weak. I feel the pariah. I don’t want to go (have I mentioned that?)
The punctuation, in some ways, is what makes it hardest to go. Is this a comma in my Everest experience? A period? An exclamation point? An ellipsis?For the first hours I walk, my mind is as busy as a mosquito in early summer trying to sort out the grammar of my life. I play through scenarios. I feel for clues. I watch my intuition. I write dispatches for each variety of punctuation. Every once in awhile, I would break through the grammatical discourse and remind myself that I cannot know right now. So perhaps the best answer for now is the ellipsis…
Mingma and I almost ran down the hill. I’m not sure what was moving him so fast-perhaps it was only “sherpa speed”. For me, at times I felt like I was trying to outpace my emotions. If I walked fast enough, I could outrun the grief that was boring a hole in my chest like an ice screw in the icefall.
It felt good to move. Movement always helps me process. At some point, I realized my mind had given over to the present moment. I’d given up the grammar lesson and was paying attention to where each footstep went.
We blew through Loboche because my intuition told me that’s where I got giardia. We stopped in Dugla-there I met Mingma’s brother, Pemba who was leading a trek to EBC. I also met Mingma’s cousin who owned the lodge. Everyone clucked in empathy at my plight (and perhaps Mingma’s).
We arrived in Pheriche in four hours-shaving 30 minutes off of last time. It was a bit like coming home and Nuru the innkeeper has welcomed me back warmly. The downhill hike had me feeling strong and confident. The few uphill sections had me on rubber legs and stretching lungs.
So, I suspect some of my information gathering in the next days will be seeing how my body handles a near-by trekking peak. For to return to basecamp, means I must be strong enough to go uphill for six hours at a stretch with few breaks. I’ll have to test my body to see if the giardia has robbed me of that ability for the long term or if I can nurse that back here at a lower elevation.
So, I’m here. In fact, I’m grateful for by body’s cruelty. The walk down today was relatively pleasant-if I had had to do it over the past three days, it would have been so awful because I felt so poorly. I’m truly happy to feel somewhat better-it just made the decision to come down twice as hard and twice as complicated.
A small novel today. A big day. An Everest sort of day-making the hard call, facing the mountain of feelings about it, and being willing to stay in limbo as I seek more information and deeper healing at 4200 meters.
I was handed a stack of snail mail as I left EBC. Seems like whenever I go down, the mail arrives. I’m really the only one who gets mail 🙂
Erika & Taylor-Thanks so much for the pictures and your letter. Erika-I like your room. Taylor-you did a great job with the printing. Flat Stanley says hello. He’s been a bit quiet lately-he’s been a bit worried about me. For sure, I’ll do my best to bring Flat Stanley back to your school.
Ann-thanks for your letter. Congrats on finding your Everest and making it happen! You’re brave and courageous.
Jenna, Arlene, and Mike-thanks for your notes as well-thanks for eating some Vanilla Dips and thinking of me.
Karen-two of yours got through-Canada and stars-one mailed April 17 took the speed route. Lots of stratus clouds today.
Moyra-So lovely to hear from my Buddhist buddy-thanks for writing.
BPT-the path of bodhi…I’m doing my best.
Jim & Monica-Nice to hear from you-say hi to Aunty Hilde for me (and all the family out your way).
Ann-Please say hi to your daughter for me. I’m glad she enjoyed the presentation I did at her school.
Roy-Thanks for the confirmation and the pre-welcome back to the rock.
Thanks to all others who wrote. I can hardly express how your words encourage, inspire, and comfort me.
Heading For Thicker Air II 5/2/2007
Deja Vu. Just wanted to give you a quick update. I’m headed down to Pheriche again tomorrow. Turns out that I can go see how the thicker air is treating me before making the BIG decision.
If I decide I’m not strong or well enough to come back up and try again, the folks up here will throw things in my duffles and send them down after me. I think the change of scenery and descent should help with my clarity.
Thanks to all for your support and concern.
Deb-Thanks for your words-they are right on. I’ll descend and listen to my heart.
Don-Thanks for your perspective.
Eric & Isabel-You’re awesome! I’ll be pretty hungry whenever it is I get home.
Lorraine-The big flag is up at Camp Two waiting for me. Thanks for letting me know it’s OK if I don’t get back there.
How Far Down To Go 5/2/2007
This is a shot that Mingma took in the icefall. I just saw it for the first time yesterday. I love it!
Location: South Everest Basecamp
Elevation: 5300 Meters
Elevation Gain: 0 Meters
Weather: Way sunny now snowing
I woke up feeling awful again and sat teary through breakfast. I hardly ate anything and then promptly made my usual morning deposit. It became clear that I’m not going to kick whatever this thing is in basecamp.
Our trip leader dropped by with the suggestion that I go down to recover and that not all hope was lost in terms of timing and rotations. I said I would drop by the clinic, then make a decision.
Ola, one of the clinic docs, was kind enough to listen as I tried to sort my way through all of the feelings, options and logistics. It was she, a few weeks back, who suggested I go down to recover from the cough.
Basically, I’m swirling around in indecision about how far down to go. Having had so little nutrition in my system over the past several days, I can hardly imagine walking to the icefall, let alone climbing it. So, this tells me, I should perhaps stop the climb since my reserves are so low.
On the other hand, I know how much a visit to Periche a few weeks ago, gave me new strength and health. I go back and forth. Back and forth.
I don’t want to give up too early or easily and I don’t want to be stupid and push beyond my body or mind’s limits.
I did learn this morning that giardia can cause lactose intolerance and I have been eating some yogurt to try to support my GI system…so I may have been shooting myself in the foot. The docs sent me to my tent with some probiotic capsules and something else to try to settle my belly. They both agreed that it is time to go down.
So, I will go down tomorrow…the question remains how far? I still don’t have the answer. I want to talk logistics with our leader…Can I go down and see what happens? If I don’t get better or don’t want to come back up, can I be reunited with my gear without coming back to basecamp? Or should I make a hard and fast decision right here and right now?
Our greatest weakness is our greatest challenge and making this kind of go/no go decision is one of the hardest things I ever do. I think I want there to be a “right” answer and there never really is.
I’m reminded of a haiku I wrote as an adolescent:
I seek the answers to the questions
When I accept that there are no answers
I will know the answer.
So-stay tuned for as Paul Harvey says, “The Rest of the Story.”
KW-the cumulus clouds are rolling in.
Mom & Dad-thanks for the update-I don’t seem to be having much luck with health on this climb. Don’t worry though-I’m taking good care.
Ann and Graham-thanks for being such regular cheerleaders.
Shanda-thanks for sharing your EBC experience. The hypoxia plus cold plus exertion really can take the pounds off.
Katherine-That’s fabulous about your thesis-wahoo! Thanks for your perspective on the kids. It’s helpful.
Emilie-Thanks for your kind words. I often think back to running one minute and walking one minute. Two years of training have seen me come along way and you were there at the beginning!
Mary & Jen-hope all is well with you! See you soon (no matter what I decide!)
Wasting Away in Basecampville 5/1/2007
Location: Where Else?
Elevation: 5300 Meters
Elevation Gain: Nada
Weather: Super amazing
Quote of the Day: Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence. Helen Keller (Thanks Howard)
When I stepped out of the dining tent last night, the glacier was bathed in translucent moonlight from the almost full orb. The air was crisp and clean, almost pregnant. I stopped to instill the moment in my mind. “There’s change a foot,” I thought.
I awoke at 4:00 am to bootsteps outside my tent. A few of the guys were heading up. I’d slept solidly for hours and took stock. I felt great. Strong. Clear. Optimistic. Hopeful. Not queasy.
I thought to myself, “I wonder if I can go up with them?” “I wonder if Mingma would mind being awakened?” I thought, “Wow, I feel like myself” for the first time in weeks. My mind ran away with the hope and lots of scenarios sprung forth. Again, cooler judgment reigned and I spent the hours before breakfast reading and nylon ceiling watching.
At about 7, a wave of nausea came in and drenched the hope and optimism in a flooding moment. I hung with it, praying it would pass quickly since I’d felt so well a few hours back. I tried some breakfast and realized too late that I should have had my last Gravol on board.
Once again, I decorated the glacier with breakfast. Fortunately, it’s rocky cover provides good camouflage for my modern art installations. I felt immediately better as before, but then the nausea built again like waves pounding a rocky shore. With each break, I found the hope buried in the white foaming lather than licks a busy shore.
Once the clinic was open, I walked over to secure some more Gravol. The BBC is in basecamp filming a second season of Basecamp ER so they asked to capture my consultation on film. There in living color, for everyone in the UK to witness, is me describing the history of my upchucking. The docs unleashed a new theory about high altitude stomach sphincter relaxation and said “keep taking your giardia meds; they’ll kick in soon.”
I visited for awhile (it’s not like I had anywhere else to be) and then headed back to my tent. We had an early lunch (no art so far) and I’ve spent the afternoon in a Gravol-infested stupor. It’s sedative effect seems more pronounced today but for now, that’s better than the alternative.
Sitting here in the relative comfort of basecamp clawing through my mind’s haze, I see there is really no rush to make a decision about anything. It’s been a long week in basecamp. I’ve finished every book available, I’ve played 134 games of solitaire, wished for 20 vanilla dips, and have rationed out life between feeding gongs and my not so pretty “dispatches.”
I vacillate between thinking there is lots of time to recover and do a pre-summit rotation and noticing that May has struck and the mountain was summitted yesterday by five sherpas from the North side.
I need about a week for my second rotation, a week to rest, and then a week to try for the top. Of course, that schedule is subject to keeping three meals a day in my belly, gaining some weight, and cooperative weather.
This morning in my optimistic state, I wondered about aiming for experiences that might support a second attempt if the summit dream stays alive when I am back in the low country: experiences such as the Lhotse Face, setting a new elevation record, or using oxygen. This afternoon I recognize I may not recover enough to allow even these.
So, all of this is to say…I’m hanging. I’m in limbo. I’m in the bardo. Those of you that know me well know that this is both a comfortable spot (I am a Myers Briggs “P” after all) and a spot I despise. I see no harm in waiting a few days to see what the meds do or don’t do (other than losing a few more pounds) so I’m hanging with the uncertainty: riding the waves of nausea, hope, optimism, frustration, and drug-inspired stupor. I sleep. I drink. I pee. I eat. I hum songs from the Eagles. I devour your emails of support, care, and love.
Thanks to all who remind me why, in my logo, the Newfoundland flag is on the 007 rather than the top of the mountain. This journey has been about daring to dream and inspiring others to dream. I’ve done my best to make it about learning from each step, pushing myself outside of comfort, and not about a destination. So, I appreciate your words reminding me of that intention and of you reflecting the accomplishment of being here in the first place.
Many thanks to all for following along and sending such wonderful words of encouragement and support.
Leslie-Thanks for writing. I hope you get your jacket away from Steve on occasion.
Jennifer-Lovely to have words from the prairie. Fond memories of dinner at Basho.
Hunter-I’ve thought of you so often on this climb-Denali really was the foundation of this experience.
Joyce-I’m so glad that my gesture of remembrance was so well received. I am graced with Michael’s heart and spirit here as I struggle to make my way.
Marie-Lovely to hear from you. I’ve often wondered if the snowblower was worth it? 🙂
BJ-Sounds fabulous in your part of the world-please say hi to T and L and JM for me.
Sylvia-Can’t wait to tie your pantlegs in knots. Thanks for being there.
Roger and Ken-thanks for sharing your stories-it helps to know others have gone through similar things.
Trudy-welcome back. Glad to have your words.
KW-I wonder when the first cumulonimbus clouds of summer will roll in your way. I think your ticket is changeable 🙂 Won’t it be interesting to see how life evolves. Thanks for Sue’s perspective as well.
BPT-I’m really practising whichever of the two occurs, be patient. Tomorrow, I’m being grateful to everyone including nausea. Tell M to drop me a line.