We wake up and it’s snowing. It doesn’t feel too cold on the inside of the tent from our bodies warming it up through the night. And the funny thing is, I’m sleeping better than I’ve ever slept. But there’s still this darn cough. When we go for breakfast in the mess tent, we discover that the Americans have decided to leave. Greg is too sick to climb anymore and Herman’s worn out from his lingering cold that he gave to Greg. With Herman gone, I’ll be on my own on the Lobuche base camp for the next two to three days staying with only the Sherpas while Rob, Jason, Will and Tim acclimatize by staying at a higher camp at night. If I go back down with the Americans, then that means I won’t make it to Everest Base Camp. It’s a hard decision, but I think because of my health, I’ll leave with the Americans and trek down to Namche Bazaar and spend the next four days there while I wait for Rob to complete his summit. My whole reason for coming was to experience what it would be like first hand to be at this altitude (I’m almost at the same altitude as Everest Base Camp), sleep at night in blizzard conditions, and research the Bon Po religion by meeting first hand a Bon Po Priest. I’ve arranged to visit monasteries on the way down and I’ve set up meetings with a Bon Po Priest in Kathmandu.
After breakfast, I say goodbye to everyone who is staying and I begin to trek down with the Americans. Neema follows close behind me. The trails are covered in snow and slippery as we pass through a steep part of the trek. Just as I think to myself, “Don’t slip!”, I slip. I fall on my butt and start sliding straight down the side of the ravine and suddenly I’m lifted up into the air and plunked back onto the trail. Neema has grabbed the top hand strap of my knapsack and lifted me back up onto the trail as if I was a four-year-old. Did I mention how strong these Sherpas are?
The Americans are to trek with me to Namche bazaar, then they are to continue to Lukla to fly out. But when we reach Periche, they decide to try and evacuate by helicopter to Kathmandu. They have Neema phone to see if he can arrange it. Finally he does and they have to pool their money. It will cost them close to $4,000.00. It would be cheaper if they were injured in a life and death emergency, but as Greg says, if it’s just “bye bye, see you later” kind of ride, they pay the price.
I’m trekking down on my own now with Besee’s uncle who doesn’t speak English. Neema will catch up to me, but he has stayed back to make sure the Americans get on the helicopter. Besee’s Uncle and I communicate by using our hands. When we get to the Sherpas graveyard, he starts to unwind binder twine from around his shoes; he’s been using the twine for grip on the slippery slopes. Then I realize he’s been wearing worn shoes through the snow and he had no gloves this whole way down. And here I was complaining about the cold! It reminds me how little they have, some porters don’t even have winter coats when they carry loads to base camp. They just can’t afford it making the equivalent to $10 US a day… when they have work. Tim is very good at giving donated clothes to as many porters as he can. I’ve brought a down coat from Canada to donate to the cause; luckily many porters are my size at only 5’2”.
I can’t make it down in one day to Namche Bazaar, so I’ve had to sleep overnight at Panboche. Neema has stayed overnight in another lodge and takes me this morning to the monastery. Neema is Buddhist so he pays $5 US to light five candles and I do the same. Before we leave, they take a blanket off a glass cabinet where the head and hand of a Yeti is preserved. The darkened, almost black skin, is still on the head and hand, and the head has red hair on it. The head is positioned face down in the cabinet so that I only see the top half. I’m not allowed to take pictures. Later someone tells me that it’s just an ape head and hand, but the hand has long skinny fingers, much longer than a tall man’s fingers, and they seem much too fine for an ape. And what’s with the red hair? It is eerie, and sort of looks human.
After the monastery, Besee’s uncle and I trek down on our own because Neema has to return to the Lobuche Base Camp to help the team summit Lobuche. We go so fast compared to trekking up. But every once and a while, we hit valleys and have to trek up and out of them.
I think I’m so much stronger and faster, but then I meet a three-year-old and his older 12-year-old sister, and they leave me in the dust. Even the yaks laden down with supplies still pass us.
We have trekked for 6 hours to make it to Namche Bazaar and I pay Besee’s Uncle plus a tip. I give him my ski gloves and he seems overjoyed, pressing his hands together several times and bowing. The gloves have holes in them, but Besee’s Uncle acts as if they are Gucci. Puts a whole new perspective on clothes.
The first thing I do when I make it to Namche Bazaar is check into my room. Neema has phoned ahead to reserve one… not that there would have been any problem just showing up to get one. It’s simple math: no tourists equal lots of accommodation. The second thing I do is have a blessed, heavenly hot shower. They have a five-minute rule for the showers. I break it.
I don’t hear anything from Rob for a few days, when finally some Canadians show up from Canmore Alberta. They begin talking about the Canadians and Australian they met who tried to climb the true summit of Lobuche East when they did, but one of the Canadian became too sick from the high altitude to make it to the summit and they had to go back down. I then learn that it’s our group, but they don’t know the name of the man who got sick.
Finally I get an email from Rob, and he gives his account of what happened:
“Our summit attempt on Lobuche (20200 ft) had lots of challenges. We had 2 days of snow while in base camp… there was only 3 of us left plus Tim, expedition leader for the climb, and the weather wasn't looking good. We were to do 2 more days of acclimatization climbs and a rest day before we went to high camp (17500 ft ) and then make our summit attempt . Due to the weather Tim thought we should make a summit attempt right away from base camp. Skip the acclimatization days and the high camp and go for it right from base camp. We would start at 11 pm and climb through the night reaching the summit the next day about 8 am climbing from 16200 ft to 20200 ft in the process. However, we would need to take the high altitude medication Diamox to help us with acclimatization. We did not have our climbing Sherpa with us since he was taking Patty and the Americans down from basecamp to Namche . We had some dinner, caught a few hours rest, then geared up, put on our headlamps and started out at 11 pm sharp. The first 1 1/2 hours went well, climbing 1000 ft vertical up a steep scree slope with a pretty well defined path. It started to snow early in to the climb but we stayed on schedule. We switched from hiking boots to climbing boots and put on our climbing harness when we got to the high camp. (17200 ft ). We started up the next section of the mountain, which had a lot of steep slab rock. The new snow made the slab rock super slippery ... but we were able to make our way up due to a lot of fixed rope put in place by 2 other teams. We used our climbing gear to ascend the fixed rope (jumar device) for the next 3 1/2 hours. It was extremely challenging and physically exhausting. We were approaching the ridge-line (19200 ft) where we would need to put on our crampons and use our ice axe to ascend the final 1200 vertical feet on a steep glacier. It was still snowing, dark and one of our team members started to throw up! It was the classic high mountain scenario. Do we leave him and continue for the summit and pick him up on the way back down (which would take 4 hours) or do we get him back down the mountain right away before he developed High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Needless to say... we had to get him off the mountain. I watched the sunrise from the ridge line at 19200 ft and looked up at the 20000 ft summit feeling like we were so close and knowing I would likely not get another shot at it. I also knew that our friend was more important than the summit. It took us another 5 hours to get him down. But I'm pleased to say he is now fine and trekking back down the Khumbu valley with us to Namche. It was quite an adventure, lots of learning, and physically demanding. I slept well in my tent at basecamp that night.”
Over the next several days, Rob eventually trekked to Everest base camp (17500 ft elevation) and climbed Kala Patar (18500 ft). He sent me pictures of of Everest, Lohtse and Pumari.