Lobuche Bound

Everyone has been supportive of my decision. It is a weird dynamic at play among a group of climbers in a situation like this. You can not make a stronger statement than to pull out of an expedition. Granted there are people who show up every year at BC, take one look at the ice fall and go home. My team mates know that I already have a history on this giant rock and have been about as high as you can go without actually summiting. I have gotten some bad news from home and I have family reasons to leave that have nothing to do with the mountain. It is just additional confirmation I am doing what I need to do. I still try not to get pulled into discussions about the mountain and all my reasoning. We are all unguided and although we may seek advice ultimately every climber will need to decide for himself. It is self evident that although others on my team may be increasing doubtful about continuing they (with one exception who leaves tomorrow) have not reached the place in their thinking I have.

Personally I feel better about my decision all the time. I’m kind of embarrassed it took me so long. Sometimes it is hard to see the glacier for the snow. We have had five fatalities this year already. Five! If NASCAR had five fatalities in four weeks there wouldn’t be enough pickup truck windows for all the memorials. I am increasingly concerned the numbers aren’t working either. The winds look like we might get an opportunity to get the ropes to the summit fixed by the 12th. However after that the winds increase again until the 18th or 19th. That means a very tentative summit window the 20th -21st. That is getting very close to the end of the season. Usually by the 25th the weather is getting unstable and it has already been very warm and unstable this year. Every day after the 25th is a gift – if you consider the increased risk of being crushed by tons of snow and ice a gift. In 2009 the monsoon started the day after we came down from C4 – the 24th – and it snowed five feet in the next three days.

I am going to hike to Lobuche today. It is about four hours at “no hurry, chicken curry” speed. Which is the only speed I intend to go without a runaway yak chasing me. Since I have never seen a yak run I think am good. Tomorrow I am going to get a helicopter from Lobuche to Lukla. With any luck I can catch a flight out to KTM the same morning and maybe catch a flight home tomorrow night. Today helicopters are almost as common in the Khumbu as cell phones. In 2006 they were only for emergencies and all flew from KTM. Flying from KTM is a pretty long flight and that made it quite expensive to get one unless you really were sick. Now several of the helicopter companies keep their helicopters in Lukla. It is only about a 10 or 12 minute flight from Lukla to Lobuche. In the middle are Pheriche and Namche. The helicopters have become like taxis – extremely expensive taxis to be sure. They run up and down the Khumbu valley all morning shuttling climbers and hikers up and down the the lower Khumbu region.

I packed all my stuff in about 30 minutes in two duffel bags. They weigh about 80 lbs together I guess. One porter grabs them both, ties them together and fixes them to a strap he runs over his forehead. It makes me hurt to watch. Yet this is a “lite” load. I saw some porters carrying pipe once and I had to ask – 100 kilos each (that is 220 lbs). They would go a 100 feet and rest then another 100 feet – all day long. I bet there isn’t a NFL player that could do what one of these guys do and all for about $6 a day. I sent my porter packing, so to speak.

Just as I get ready to pull out some acquaintances drop by to visit. We share a cup of tea and I learn they are pulling out in the next few days as well. Several of these folks have climbed Everest before. They have been discussing trying to climb another Himalayan giant that doesn’t have some of the “challenges” Everest has this year before they go home. They are already acclimatized but I sense it is mostly just idle chatter. When another climber walks in the mess tent every one goes quiet until a new subject is mentioned. It is really strange that the one subject on most peoples’ mind is also the one that people tend to avoid the most.

Three and half hours later and a cloud of dust and I am in Lobuche. It finally seems real – this season is over, for me anyway. Now I am just anxious to get home.