Ah, back in Kathmandu, where we’ve traded the stale, yak dung-scented air of the lodges along the trail for the heavy, smoggy air of this congested capital! Yes, we are back “home,” Into Thick Air, back down at 4400 feet, after more than three weeks in the mountains.
Hello everyone! I am happy to report the expedition was a great success, at least from the trekkers’ point of view. Of the 16 in our group, 13 made it to Everest Base Camp (17,500 feet), six made it to the summit of Kala Pattar (18,500 feet) and the same six of us made it about halfway up thru the Khumbu Ice Fall (18,300 feet). Two were helicopter evacuated from the mountain; one got sick and had to wait at 16,000 feet for the rest of us to return. I wish I could report similar success at the summit, but as of this moment, no one has made it to the pinnacle of Everest yet this year.
There is tremendous competition among the 25 different expeditions in Base Camp, with lots of intrigue, misinformation and espionage. There’s also plenty of cooperation and mutual support. But the bottom line is, the unusually heavy snows this season have bogged down one team after another, and no one has been able to break through to the top yet. Our summit team, comprised of Mountain Madness boss Christine Boskoff, the legendary Peter Habeler, and Nazir Sabir, have been turned back from the summit THREE times now, after being at Camp 4, the highest camp on the mountain. Chris and Peter continue to climb without oxygen and still aren’t giving up. Nazir is using bottled O2 and seems less optimistic. Some teams are already packing up and making plans for next year. Others still want to be the first to summit in the year 2000! And of course, there seems to be great pressure among the commercial expeditions to get their millennium-climbing clients to the top.
There was a terrible avalanche the other day at Camp 3 (23,000 feet) that buried the Russians in their tent. They had to be dug out and rescued. They’re all fine, but one of them lost all his gear, and had to come down the mountain with just what he had on his back at the time of the slide. You should have seen him staggering down thru the Ice Fall! Absolutely miserable. I got the feeling they weren’t going back up…Come to think of it, they were from Georgia, the former Soviet Republic, where they all eat lots of yogurt and live forever, so these guys should be just fine…It feels good to be back in civilization, eating pizza and drinking Coke. I took my first real shower in a month and shaved. Tonight we go out for a celebratory dinner, to toast our triumph and what has truly been the adventure of a lifetime.
We flew back here today aboard a 20-seat twin-engine Otter that took off from a steeply pitched, downhill, gravel runway that simply ended at the edge of a cliff at 9300 feet, where the pilot had to either get the thing up in the air or kiss us all goodbye! It felt more like a roller coaster ride than a takeoff. Since we survived…it was a blast! The harrowing part will quickly fade from memory…but the incomparable view of the majestic Himalayas as we said an airborne goodbye will not… That is all for now. This may be my last email before I head home Friday morning. I hope to send news of a successful summit bid, but the news from those still remaining at Base Camp is bleak. Would that they could share the joy we trekkers feel! Talk to you or see you all real soon…
Climbers Summiting Everest Left and Right
Date: Wednesday, May 17, 2000, 4:58 AM
One final email word from Kathmandu before I go off and have a hot oil massage, part of my continuing recovery from a month on the trail…I am happy to report that people are summiting Everest right and left all of a sudden, now that the weather has cleared and the route at the top is finally fixed…After Monday’s near-summit by Ang Dorje Sherpa and the Adventure Consultants team from New Zealand, there was a veritable logjam at the top Tuesday, with four different teams summiting!
There remains dispute and confusion over who was the first to summit in the year 2000, but the Russians, Spanish and Brits all claim to be first at the moment. It will all be sorted out soon enough. The Koreans made it also, and of course several Nepalese. Early today, Nazir Sabir of the Mountain Madness team made the top, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer climber! One of the sweetest men I have ever met, Nazir is a former Pakistani cabinet minister who just started climbing a few years ago and is a tremendous success. Summiting with him was Ben Webster, one of the Canadians on the Mountain Madness climbing permit. Ben’s teammate Claude didn’t make it, apparently. Chris and Peter, the leaders of our Mountain Madness summit team, came back down to Base Camp yesterday after Peter had some lung trouble (remember, they are doing a pure climb, which means no oxygen) but now are heading back up. Chris aims to summit by Friday morning. Peter may end up hanging back and not summiting this time, but since he was the first person to summit Everest without O2 (back in 1978 with fellow legend Reinhold Messner) he really has nothing to prove!
Others are summiting today, as well, too many to sort out at the moment, but after weeks of being stranded by heavy snow and doubting if anyone would conquer Everest to celebrate the millennium…it’s a parade to the top! A regular Sherpa conga line at 29,035 feet! Congratulations to all…signing off from Nepal…and love to my friends and family….and I should be back on US soil Friday night!
Postcard from the Top of the World
Date: May 18, 2000
Mostly sunny today across the kingdom, but there’s an overturned yak on the Dalia Lama Highway… Okay, so I recycled last…. [Unreadable.] Having an extraordinary time in a stunning country. I hope everyone’s enjoying the emails. By the time you receive this, we should be plodding to Everest. This is a dazzling land – I only hope the trek isn’t as grueling as everyone keeps saying… Take care!