Whoaaaaaa I haven’t had interwebs in a lonnnnng time and I’ve been in the Himalaya trying to climb a mountain and time has sort of just entered this bizarre state where I’m not sure how long I’ve been gone or what day it is (seriously I really don’t know what day it is). We’ve been living at 15,000 feet attempting to climb Ama Dablam, a 22,493 ft peak in the Khumbu Valley of Nepal. It’s a stunning peak, and one that I’ve wanted to climb since 2011 when I first visited Nepal to teach at the Khumbu Climbing Center. I’m climbing with Adrian’s company Alpenglow Expeditions, but sort of on my own since he’s guiding a private group and my climbing partner bailed to go to Thailand a few days ago – HA! I miss you Jenny! I hope you and Scott are enjoying some beach time!!!!!
I’ve had quite the journey so far – complete with a mild episode of HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) that developed right when I arrived at basecamp. I woke up on the first night gasping and coughing and feeling like my lungs weren’t allowing me to breathe deep enough. Monica (Alpenglow’s expedition doctor) listened to my chest the next morning and tested my oxygen sats and concluded that my left lung was showing signs of fluid production. I could feel it in there, a foreign rattling every time I tried to take in air, the noise a straw makes when you’re trying to suck the very last drops of tequila out of your fishbowl margarita – the latter experience is disappointing but the former is just plain shitty.
When going to higher altitudes, the blood vessels in the lungs increase in pressure in response to lower oxygen levels in the air, but sometimes the pressure increases too much and fluid starts to leak out into the lungs. We all know that there’s only supposed to be air in the lungs, and when fluid starts to build up in there, the lungs don’t work right, and really bad things can happen, including losing the ability to breathe properly; which is really important, maybe the most important function for sustaining life. So yeah, that’s what HAPE is. Bummer for me.
All good though, Moni fixed me right up with a nice cocktail of drugs (including three days of Viagra) and I was back to normal in no time. After 4 days, Jenny, Monica, and I ventured to Yak camp (18,000 ft) and spent the night. We gossiped like teenage girls about boys and other random facts of life until we sort of fell asleep. I woke up feeling like Hell because my temples felt like they were in a vice grip and my heart was beating too fast, but I knew from experience on Everest last year that my body was just going through all the relatively normal shitty suffering that accompanies high altitudes. Jenny and I said goodbye to Moni the next morning and continued to torture ourselves with another 1000 feet of elevation gain to camp 1, where we essentially stopped eating and sleeping for the next 48 hours due to light headedness and nausea. I also tweaked my neck trying to sleep upright to lessen my headache and resorted to sleeping with my neck on my Nalgene bottle the rest of the time to ease the pain. Despite the misery, we tagged camp 2 (20,000) on day 2 and struggled through another endless night of cold and wind at camp 1 before heading back to basecamp on the morning after our third night up high. That’s when Jenny started asked about what Thailand was like. I couldn’t lie, I told her that it was an incredibly euphoric paradise of sun, warmth, and comfort; because after what we had just gone through it sounded like a slice of heaven. To be fair, Jenny’s time was running out and no team had yet summitted so relaxing on the beach with her husband seemed like the best plan anyway. They departed for Kathmandu the next day and should be sipping smooth tequila drinks on the beach as we speak.
The state of Ama Dablam this year is quite the conundrum – the cyclone that ripped through the Bay of Bengal in mid-October transformed into a massive winter storm by the time it reached the Himalaya and dumped an exorbitant amount of snow on the mountains and valleys. Ama Dablam basecamp, which is usually a picturesque grassy meadow, was covered in 3ft of snow when we arrived and there was nearly 10 ft of snow up higher on the mountain. Consistently cold temperatures and wind in the weeks following the storm meant that not only did the snow not melt up high, but it formed rather unstable conditions for climbing. We’ve heard rumors that the notorious “Mushroom Ridge” is covered with waist-deep “sugar snow” and a double cornice – making the climbing dangerous and the opportunity for fixing the route virtually impossible due to the lack of solid snow to place anchors. However, no one from our team has been up that high to see for ourselves. Adrian and the boys are currently at Camp 1 and I’ll head up to meet them tomorrow. Adrian will go have a look for himself the day after to see if climbing higher is possible for us. He has summitted the mountain 12 times, and never had a season without a summit, but there is always a first for everything and if conditions do not favor a safe climb for our team, we’ll just have to leave it for another season.
The big mountains are not places to be heros, but rather to practice rationality, respect for nature, and careful decision making. We are mere visitors here, and if the mountain has decided to take a rest from having visitors this season then we’ll gladly go ahead and respect that. I’ve had an amazing trip so far and enjoyed (nearly) every moment in this place. My wifi is failing me and I have to pack to head up the mountain tomorrow so I’ll leave it at that for now. More updates when I return in a few days! xxxxx