Chomolungma Musings – 5.28.2012

Home sweet home airport…

I arrived home early Sunday AM (Denver time) after a quick helicopter-aided departure from base camp to Kathmandu followed by the looong flights home.  I had time to contemplate, process, and digest (excepting that chicken-like dish they served in-flight) many things on the 15-hour flight from Delhi to Newark, thanks in part to United leaving the interrogation-style reading lights blasting the entire way and the rhythm-less 4-year-old that sat behind me working on his far-distant futbol or field-goal kicking career (and clearly with his current rhythmic skills professional dancing seems to be out of the question for him).  Regardless, I was thinking of the 5-ish stages of grief, which include (with apologies to Doc Reilly since I took his Psych 101 class over 20 years ago):  denial, anger, hunger, sleepiness, need a haircut/shave, depression, still more hunger, acceptance, and need a shower.  Something like that.  As I said, it’s been a while.  But, I’m home now (very gratefully), have finally slept (a little bit anyway) and am lingering somewhere between “more hunger” and “needs another shower” at this point.  I think this shows great progress though in only a few short days, but, again, I’m no expert…

Life does move on though, doesn’t it?  The team has all summited, returned safely to base camp and now are drinking their way down the Khumbu Valley.  I can almost hear the celebration from here.  I just hope there’s enough San Miguel on hand to keep this team properly hydrated on their descent (a key, yet often overlooked, component of descending any big mountain successfully — my own descent was diminished by the Flagyl still in my system (violent side-effects when combined with alcohol) that prevented me from drowning my sorrows appropriately on the way down… life can truly be cruel at times).  Regardless, the fact that all remaining team members stood on top and made the safe descent to base camp in remarkable time is a testament, again, to the strength of the team and each individual on it, the good conditions on the mountain, the (what sounded like) pristine weather they had on summit day, the quality of the support and decision-making of IMG throughout a tumultuous season, the unbelievable strength and character of the Sherpa team, and a collective will to endure what was a very tough Everest season.  Truly impressive.  My hat’s off (pay no attention to the current mullet, though, thank you)!

The reality is that Everest is a very unique mountain that requires a lot of mental fortitude and physical toughness to climb.  It draws us to it because of not only what it is (the world’s tallest peak) but also because of what it stands for (a way to measure ourselves in extreme conditions in an extreme environment for months at a time).  To that end, I think I got out of Everest what I needed to… for the most part.  All except the fun climbing and the big, only truly unobstructed view on earth (ok, admittedly, there’s a bit left on the table), but the reality is that after nearly 30 years of climbing I’ve turned around on more peaks than I’ve summited.  Often times, conditions, weather, personal conditioning, health, injury, etc. force a hasty retreat and that’s simply a part of climbing and sticking around.  As the expression goes:  “There are bold climbers and old climbers, but few bold, old climbers.”  This retreat is a bit unique in that it was on one of the most iconic peaks in the world (if not the most iconic) and was caused by a health issue at just the exact wrong moment in time, which forced 2-months of effort to be for naught.  But, this very thing happens all the time to all sorts of climbers (many/most of whom are much more accomplished than I) on all varieties of mountains (large and small).  C’est la vie.

The bottom line is that my passion for climbing and adventure has not subsided in the least as a result of this disappointment (sorry Mom).  In fact, this trip may have reinvigorated it and certainly refocused it on objectives that have been on my list for years (some of which have been on the list for much longer than Everest ever was).  Ama Dablam (unbelievably beautiful, and to have finally seen that one in person…), Cerro Torre & Fitzroy in Patagonia, Mt. Shinn & Tyree in Antarctica, Mt. Cook, the Matterhorn, the Eiger, Mt. Kenya all come to mind and none take 2-months away to attempt.  In the immediate future, I’m going to do the Casual Route on Long’s Peak and likely a few others, hopefully in preparation for routes up El Cap and Half Dome in Yosemite later this year.  I have always wanted to experience big wall climbing and hope to take full advantage of some of the time I will have this summer to do so.

Certainly, in the end, this “failure” does not define me.  I’m neither diminished nor enhanced as a result of this experience.  It simply will seep slowly into my being and the collection of experiences that have accumulated into the person I am today and who I will become tomorrow.  No more, no less.  As I awoke this morning (laying diagonally and decadently across my king-sized bed), walked to the fridge to grab a Odwalla GoMega-Berries drink and took a hot a shower, I realized that I have a terrific life with much to be thankful for and much to look forward to.  I will proceed from here, I hope, with humility, grace, generosity and possibly the occasional touch of class.  Try to hold me to those standards if you will.  Goodness knows, I could use the help.

Finally, I’ll close (thankfully, I know) with a line I was reminded of last night by a beautiful, young Brazilian lass that I wrote in a letter to friends over 15 years ago, which stated:

May this note find you in both good spirits and good health.  As always, please remember to take care of yourselves and each other, pass along any stories of good fortune, and upon occasion allow yourself the luxury of being the big yellow lab in the car window cruising down life’s highway simply feeling the wind blow through your hair.

May the wind find its way through your hair (thinning or not) often and when you need it most!  All my best…

Summits – 5.26.2012


The team all made the summit according to a quick call I received from IMG and they’re already posting the summit team on the website.  I wish them all my best and quick, safe descent.  Well deserved!  The summit team includes 26 in all:

  1. Mr. Shannon Bruce Dailey, USA
  2. Mr. Michael Joseph Moniz, USA
  3. Ms. Heidi Sand, GERMANY
  4. Mr. Kumaran S/O Rasappan, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE
  5. Mr. Lars Sune Haugen, NORWAY
  6. Mr. Vadim Prudnikovs, LATVIA
  7. Ms. Olga Kotova, LATVIA
  8. Mr. Maximilien Peter Bunce, USA
  9. Mr. Robert Allen Berger Jr., USA
  10. Mr. James Emory Field IV, USA
  11. Mr. Craig Lewis Hanneman, USA
  12. Mr. David Israel Pastor Refizo, MEXICO
  13. Sanduk Dorji Tamang, Pangboche
  14. Da Rita Sherpa, Phortse
  15. Chhewang Lendu Sherpa, Phortse
  16. Mingma Tenzing Sherpa, Phortse
  17. Phunuru Sherpa, Phortse
  18. Nuru Gyalzen Sherpa, Phortse
  19. Danuru Sherpa, Phortse
  20. Dawa Finjhok Sherpa, Dolkha
  21. Phutashi Sherpa, Pangboche
  22. Mingma Chhiring Sherpa, Phortse
  23. Phurba Ongyal Sherpa, Pangboche
  24. Ang Karma Sherpa, Phortse
  25. Karma Dorji Sherpa, Phortse
  26. Ang Chhiring (Kami) Sherpa, Pangboche


At least I can report some great news.  This is from the IMG website:

The first IMG climbers are reaching the summit now, and the rest are not too far back. Conditions are excellent. The eastern sky is just starting to get some color. It’s going to be a fantastic sunrise up there this morning. We’ll post the complete summit list once everyone gets up there, and we have a chance to send the list to the Ministry of Tourism (which gets notified first, per the regulations).

I have absolute confidence in the team’s ability and fortitude and expect that they’ll all summit and descend safely.  And then in the next day or so find themselves celebrating in the relative safety of Everest Base Camp.  I will continue watching with an eagle’s eye until that very scenario plays out.

Also, as I wrote in response to so many nice notes/comments from yesterday:  Thank you for all of the very nice comments. I’m extremely lucky to have such a great group of friends/family/supporters. It means the world to me and certainly makes coming home all the sweeter and the disappointment easier to digest. I’ll certainly recover from this and turn the page (likely, much sooner than later, especially with your help) and move on to new adventures (whatever form they may take).

Mountaineering: The Art of Suffering – 5.25.2012

Mountaineering certainly deserves its nickname.  After 10 months of planning and training and 2 months of living on the mountain to put myself in position, it all ended 4 hours before we were to depart Camp II (21,500′) for Camp III (24,000′) on our final push to the summit.  The disappointment is indescribable.

As I write this though, my thoughts are first and foremost with my climbing teammates who are right now resting at the South Col (Camp IV – 26,300′), wrought with nervous anticipation as they prepare for their summit attempts tonight that will begin around 9pm Nepal time.  I wish them all the best and they will be in my thoughts and prayers until they are all down safely in base camp on 5/27 or 5/28.  They are an exceptionally strong team and if the forecast holds there is a very good chance all of them will stand on the top of the world at some point the morning of 5/26.  I am sorry that I won’t be there to enjoy the view with them and congratulate them in person on their exceptional achievement.

Upon departing base camp on 5/22, I made quick work of the Khumbu Icefall and the Western Cwm and arrived at Camp II in only 5 1/2 hours, well ahead of the pack.  I felt great and as bulletproof at that point as I had the entire expedition.  Since the whole team was moving together (for once on the trip due to illnesses, etc. on previous rotations), I had my first tent-mate of the expedition that night, who’s a long-time climbing partner and good friend, Dave.  Unfortunately, Dave succumbed that evening to a violent GI infection (vomiting, etc.) that had been making its way around base camp and our team over the previous week to ten days.  This, unfortunately, cost him his summit bid, and his bad luck also became mine as I succumbed exactly 24 hours after he did.  I’ve bounced back quickly from the other setbacks encountered on this expedition, but I fell ill at 11pm on 5/23 (my birthday no less), which was only 4 hours prior to the team’s departure to Camp III.  Despite trying everything (literally – Cipro, Z-Pack, Flagyl, Immodium, etc.), there was no way I could depart with the team.  This means I missed my summit attempt by 12-24 hours, and if I had succumbed even a day earlier I would likely be resting at the South Col right now with the team.

At that point, reality and disappointment began to set in, but I wasn’t ready to give up.  I even discussed and had the green light, based on my strong performance thus far and track record of quick recoveries, to attempt an epic move from Camp II (21,500′) at 12:30am on 5/25 straight to Camp IV (26,300′) to rejoin the team just in time to rest for 8-10 hours before pushing on to the summit.  This would have required a herculean effort (about the equivalent energy-wise of summiting Everest on back-to-back days with 8-10 hours of rest in between), and in the end I didn’t have nearly enough energy to attempt this, after fighting the GI infection for only 24 hours, without putting me and others in jeopardy.  So, there was only one call to make and that was to head down to base camp.  Unfortunately, there’s no solace in that, even though it was the right/only decision.  Absolutely devastating…

I’ve typically had the ability to power through things on expeditions.  Prior to Kilimanjaro in 2010, I had a collapsed lung from a soccer game that sidelined me for a month and therefore only had 2-3 weeks to prepare/train.  That’s a mountain that will permit that though.  Coming off the summit of Carstensz Pyramid in Papua in 2011, I had an infection of the Pleura (lining of the lung), which we thought might be a life-threatening Pulmonary Embolism, but with no chance of rescue in the middle of the Papuan jungle/highlands I had to hike out ~40 miles with it and it was the only time in my life that I thought I might die.  Everest, though, is a mountain that you cannot simply suck-it-up and do it, as unfortunately the 10 deaths (hopefully the tally goes no higher) this year on the mountain attest to.  So, after 4 GI infections, a frost-nipped nose (no permanent damage), an upper-respiratory infection, ~25 lbs of weight loss, and countless other small ailments (all in 8 weeks), it’s time to retreat home to friends and family.

The hardest part is that after all the time and effort, I never really got to challenge the upper mountain and do the truly exhilarating climbing that it has to offer (the Southeast Ridge, South Summit, Hillary Step, etc.).  With the support resources we had in place, the exceptionally strong team, the great weather window (if the forecast indeed holds), and how strong I was feeling prior to falling ill, I believe that I would have had a great chance at “running out of earth.”  Timing is everything though… in order to summit Everest you need the stars to align for your one shot at the top when all of the resources are in place and the weather looks good.  The stars in this case are a good weather window, good/passable conditions, individual health and the right physiology for high altitude.  It appears that I had 3 of the 4, which isn’t enough.  It just wasn’t meant to be for me, I suppose, and it hurts.  I gave it all I had and it simply wasn’t enough in this toughest of Everest seasons.

Tragedy Strikes – 5.21.2012

Sadly, Nepali officials report that there are four confirmed deaths high on Everest from the 5/19-20 summit push with an additional three confirmed missing.  The majority of these appear to have occurred during the latter stages of this weather window as conditions deteriorated in the early morning hours of 5/20.  This is a very sad turn of events and my sincere condolences go out to the families of the deceased climbers.  This is very sobering news, to say the least, especially as we depart base camp for the upper mountain.  These are in addition to the four previous Sherpa deaths that have occurred thus far this season, making this indeed a very sad and tragic season on Everest.

This most recent tragedy appears to have been the worst since the tragic events of 1996 that we all know all too well.  Certainly, now that this news has hit the blogs, it will be a matter of days, if not hours, before the mainstream media begins its frenzy over this and analyzes the “whys” and “hows” and opines endlessly on the merits of climbing the world’s tallest rock.  I just wanted to prepare those of you closest to me that will undoubtedly be asked innumerable questions on this situation over the next week or so.

The reality of my situation is that I’m climbing with a very strong team and with the undisputed best organization on the mountain with the best logistics and safety nets in place.  Our weather window of 5/26 looks excellent, which is a huge determining factor, and we will continually assess ourselves, the conditions, and the weather with each step we take upward.  Of course there are never any guarantees, but I have the utmost confidence in my team, my support and my abilities, so it is with this confidence that I head off for my summit attempt in roughly 12 hours.

IMG’s site (link in the previous blog post below) will be the best source for information on my team’s progress over the next 6-7 days, while Alan Arnette’s blog (links to his website in below posts as well) will be the best source for information on any of the other developments on the mountain.

I will post about my experience on the upper mountain upon my return next week at some point.  In the meantime, my best to everyone.  The adventure continues.

Esse Quam Videri – 5.20.2012

The time is finally here.  We will depart for Camp II from Base Camp around 3am on Tuesday, 5/22, with an eye toward summiting on Saturday, 5/26 (happiest of birthday wishes, Pop).  The rotation should be six days in duration if all goes according to plan, so I should return safely to Base Camp on 5/27, or 5/28 at the latest.  I will not have any means of communication during this time so please refer to the IMG site for updates on our progress.

It is an invigorating time here, as we finalize preparations, filled with equal parts excitement and anxiety.  Despite the questions, concerns, and doubts over the past several months, my determination has never wavered.  Now it is finally time to climb and to measure myself against this mountain.  I am healthy and feel as strong as I have in some time, so I intend to give it my all and let it all unfold in due time.

Thank you to all of you for your support and many words of encouragement.  It means more than you can know.  Also, thank you to my always supportive family.  I have the greatest parents in the world and the best big brother anyone could ever ask for and an incredible sister-in-law and nephew as well.  Finally, thank you to my incredibly supportive and understanding and beautiful girlfriend.  I miss and love all of you and couldn’t do this without your unwavering support.  I look forward to reuniting with all of you very soon.

As I’ve signed all of my letters for years…  Esse Quam Videri!  I hope that our paths soon cross and that until then yours is the good life.  May this note find you in good spirits and good health.  As always, take care of yourselves and each other, live each day to the fullest, share a laugh with friends and strangers alike, and most importantly…  Keep Smilin’!

Off to the top of the world,


The Waiting Is The Hardest Part – 5.19.2012

Contemplating Everest

Contemplating Everest

The length and duration of this expedition definitely wears you down.  Living in a tent at 17,400′ for weeks and weeks on end (and counting), eating the same types of food over and over and over again (Spam anyone?), crawling in your cold, solitary tent night after night around 7pm and passing countless hours as thoughts drift to home is mentally exhausting.  Missing friends, my beautiful girlfriend, family, good food, a warm, comfy bed, a toilet, a real shower, running water, soft drinks, beer, walking to the refrigerator and choosing something to drink or eat at will, warm weather, etc., all weigh considerably.

The hard part is simply sitting idle and waiting.  If we were climbing and moving closer to our objective then the time would certainly pass faster and easier.  Waiting around base camp is a much tougher endeavor.  Today, 100s of climbers are making their way to the summit in the short 5/19 window and finding success.  This is both reassuring and demoralizing.  We don’t know when our window will arrive and what it will hold in store for us if/when it finally materializes…

Much of what lies ahead is completely unknown.  How will my body perform above 24,000′?  Will my physiology hold up?  Will I have any strength left after deteriorating at altitude for the past 6+ weeks?  Can I stay healthy over this next week to even put myself in position and have the chance to go for the summit?  What will conditions be like up there when it’s our time?  Will the icefall hold-up through the “heat” of late May and allow us safe passage?  What the hell am I doing here?!?

All of these questions, doubts, concerns weigh equally if not more than the tug of home, and all of the additional days at base camp don’t help.  As I lay in bed each night and listen to the avalanches crash down off Nuptse and Pumori all around our base camp, I can’t help but wonder if one of those has my name on it in the days that are to come.  These moments of self-doubt and introspection are inevitable on an expedition this long, but certainly grow exponentially while sitting idle.  This is the mental test that is Everest.  Physically, it is as demanding a climb as there is, but mentally it wears you down in ways that other mountains and other expeditions typically do not.  At least not to the same degree.

I fully expect to be pushed physically as I never have before in the next week or so.  More than any other mountain I have climbed.  More than any other physical endeavor to which I’ve dared to subject myself.  Despite all of the health issues I’ve had to push through on this trip, the mental strain of the undertaking at hand, and the physical challenges that I am sure are ahead of me, I feel that I remain up to the challenge.  I can only hope that the next weather window provides us a reasonable opportunity, the conditions on the mountain remain stable enough to allow us safe passage and that my body and mind are equal to the challenge.  Wish me luck…  I’m going to need it.

And We Wait – 5.17.2012

The rope-fixing team started from Camp II, pushed through the South Col and starting fixing the route to the summit last night.  The winds died down as forecasted and progress has been good.  They will likely return to the South Col soon and finish fixing the route to the summit on Friday, 5/18.  There are many teams nipping at their heels as it is anticipated that there are over 200 climbers waiting at Camps II & III that will try to summit on 5/18 and 5/19.  It should be fairly chaotic, but we wish them all well as none of us would ever wish a fellow climber any ill will, and also because the more success that is had this weekend the fewer climbers that will be left on the mountain when we make our attempt.  This will make our summit attempt safer and more enjoyable (at least theoretically — only time will tell).  Alan Arnette has a good blog entry on this today:

So, here at base camp we continue to wait.  The next really good weather window appears to be 5/25-28, so the earliest we’re likely to leave base camp for the upper mountain is 5/21 unless the forecast changes greatly in the next couple of days.  My best guess is that we’ll depart on 5/21 and try to summit on 5/25.

The schedule would look like:  move to Camp II (21,300′) on 5/21 from Base Camp (17,400′), rest at Camp II on 5/22, move to Camp III (24,000′) on 5/23, move to Camp IV/South Col (26,300′) on 5/24 and arrive there by ~11am, depart for the summit (29,035′) around 9pm on 5/24 arriving at the summit early in the AM (preferably after sunrise — around 5am) on 5/25 and descend all the way to Camp II, and then descend to Base Camp early on 5/26 arriving by 7 or 8am.  After that, we all head for home as quickly as possible…

Yesterday, we passed the time by hiking to Pumori upper Camp I (21,000’+) to stretch the legs and maintain our acclimatization.  It was a nice morning and the views are spectacular (pictures posted in the blog entry below from my first trip up there).  There are terrific views of the Khumbu icefall, Western Cwm, Lhotse Face, South Col, the Southeast Ridge and upper portion of Everest.  It is awe-inspiring and provides the opportunity to ponder what lies ahead for us.  There’s a lot of work left to do!

Today, we are preparing all of our gear for the final push which includes packing meals for Camps III & IV, reviewing oxygen systems, documenting high-altitude meds (who has what and where) in case they’re needed at any point, etc.  We’re on a hurry-up-and-wait protocol now and will be ready to head-up in a moment’s notice for our summit bids.  Let’s hope it’s sooner than later, as we’re all eager to get moving, but likely it will be in another 3-4 days.  I’ll let you know when I know…

Back to Base Camp – 5.14.2012

Click for slideshowAfter a nice 5-day respite in Pangboche (13,000′), where all cuts, blisters and ailments healed exceptionally quickly after not healing at all at higher elevations, we headed back toward base camp yesterday and arrived there today after an overnight stop in Thukla (15,000′).  While in Pangboche, we ate copious amounts of food, rested, stayed at one of our climbing Sherpa’s lodge where his wife cooked tons of food for us, witnessed/participated in their big annual harvest celebration, and received additional blessings from Lama Geshi for our upcoming summit attempt.  It was a great reprieve and nice to regain some strength for the summit push.

I stopped at Gorak Shep today on the way back to base camp and was finally able to upload some photos.  Click on the picture above for some photos over the past month.  I also gave a quick call to Mom from the trail, but she wasn’t home.  Regardless, Happy Mother’s Day!  Love you.  Thanks for all your love and support.

The fixed lines from the South Col to the summit may be set on the 17th or 18th.  Many teams are lining up for a summit attempt on the 19th, including IMG’s guided/Hybrid team.  My team will wait this one out as it’s usually chaos up there for the first summit window with everyone going for it at once.  We’ll let some of that craziness clear in front of us and hope for another window soon thereafter.  With Himex and the eager beavers out of the way, we’ll hopefully have a less crazy/crowded summit day.  Time will tell.  At this point, the earliest we’ll leave for the summit appears to be the 17th, which would put us on the summit on the 21st in a perfect world.  No guarantees yet, so stay tuned…

R&R in Pangboche – 5.10.2012

I headed down valley for 5+ hours yesterday through some late-day rain with Remza, Mike Moniz ( is his blog), Jef, and Bruce.  We could feel the strength returning to our depleted bodies as we descended from the heights of Camp III (23,300’) to the relatively thick and abundant air of Pangboche (13,500’).  It’s amazing how the body adapts, as Pangboche now feels like sea level and I practically can run straight up hills with 40+ lbs on my back without losing my breath.  If only it felt this way at 23,000+ feet…

The ravages of altitude are insidious though.  As I took a shower at our teahouse last night and got a glimpse in the mirror of what is left of my body… it’s shocking.  I’ve lost at least 15-20 lbs already, I would guess, and have nearly no fat and dramatically less muscle mass compared to 4-6 weeks ago.  I’ve had this happen on many climbing trips/expeditions before, but never to this level.   The summit push, which will burn ~30,000 calories cumulatively (over 5-7 days), will make this atrophy even more pronounced.  I had read, and therefore somewhat expected, that I could lose 20%+ of my body weight on Everest and that is playing out to be true. I could be back to my early high school playing weight (down to 135 lbs from 168 lbs) when I broke my knee at age 15, before it’s all said and done, which is a terrifying thought.  Although, the thought of putting all of that weight back on over the summer is pretty appealing, I must admit.

So, we’re eating a ton and trying to put some muscle back on over these next few days to get ready for the summit push.  I must have eaten 5,000 calories (if not more) at dinner last night alone and look forward to doing more of the same over the next few days before heading back up to base camp.

The good news is that as I write this post our incredibly strong team of Sherpa are heading up to the South Col to establish Camp IV and start fixing the route to the summit.  We certainly could not do this trip without their exceptional persistence and assistance.  The time to go for the summit is nearly here… we’ll arrive back in base camp on Sunday, 5/15, and possibly leave for the summit rotation as early as Tuesday, 5/17, if conditions/weather permit.  If that schedule were to hold, we could summit on 5/21, but there are many factors that will dictate that timing as we get closer to departing base camp for the upper mountain and the summit… stay tuned.