April 21

It is Saturday morning in the Khumbu. Took a long hike yesterday afternoon. We stumbled on the raised grave of a climber from Kazakhstan who died on Everest a couple of days after we came down from our summit push in 2009. It was somewhat hidden and I am not sure the authorities even know it is there. At some point some one has placed a small granite headstone which is how we recognized the climber. This group of climbers had planed a very unrealistic attempt to climb the three mountains that make up the Everest Massif in one season without O2. They were extremely strong climbers who had great success on other peaks but anyone could see they were taking terrible chances. We came down because of a bad weather forecast and they went up. The day after we go back to BC it began to snow and snowed five feet in three days. They got trapped up high and instead of waiting it out they attempted to down climb in the storm and were hit by an avalanche. I thought two were killed but I do not remember. It is surprising they found either of them to bury or repatriate.

So many of the accidents on Everest are preventable. Even now I hear the impatience of people around me to start up. I understand and feel the same way – maybe more so. I already have the sit around BC t-shirt. Our team will have its’ Puja tomorrow. The Puja is a Buddhist blessing of all the expedition members. The Sherpas have built a very elaborate altar like structure. They have hired a monk who will come up tomorrow and spend several hours reading chants out of this prayer book. The altar will be covered with climbing gear, statues made out of butter, bags of flour and rice, Pringles, candy, sodas, wine and beer. Every now and then the monk will throw rice in the air and all the Sherpas will reciprocate. At the end everybody throws flour at every one else and the party begins. The drinking and dancing will go on long into the night. That is purely a Sherpa party. When morning comes the camp (at least for the Sherpa) goes dry for the rest of the expedition. Alcoholism is a real problem among the Sherpa. In 2009 a Sherpa porter died at BC from drinking rubbing alcohol.

In any case the Sherpa will not sleep on the mountain until after the Puja so the real climbing that can’t be done up and down in one day doesn’t begin until after the Puja. Different expeditions have their Pujas at different times. You can tell who has been Puja-ised because that is when the prayer flags are put up over the camp.

Unfortunately there are preliminary reports of a strong cyclone moving in from India the 23rd through the 26th with the potential for extreme winds and heavy snows. I have heard people make scary comments about it not being that bad, forecast not being that accurate, still moving up, etc. etc. Until you have experienced one of these storms it is hard to imagine their fury. If the forecasts hold I will probably head down valley to a tea house to ride it out. There is no danger at BC but getting up every hour and donning cold weather gear to clear snow off your tent so it want collapse on you loses its attraction after a few hours. Patience and discipline can be some of the rarest commodities on a big mountain. Keeping your opinions to your self is another.