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Week of 4.17.09

David's Journal from India: Day 8
Part II

Tapovan Meadow, Afternoon
Doing Some Boulders

A blanket has dropped over the Tapovan meadow. Practically swimming now through the mist about a half mile still from the campsite I hear either a Himalayan raven or a human bellow something that's close to "Hellooo." What it turns out to be is part of a team who braved further altitude gains to check out the Meru glacier which, along with the Gangotri, had formed this meadow.

My colleagues descend, all smiling with the success of their mission. They found some clear blue ice. Instead of roping down into a crevasse, as first planned, they were able to walk in horizontally to get a good gander. Still, Conrad is worried about the general condition of the glacier and is disturbed to see no snow across much of Meru's north face. Five years ago, there was snow, he says. He would know, at that time he had been on an expedition to tackle that peak but had been stopped short by weather.

My colleague, NOW Executive Producer John Siceloff, is especially pleased to be back. He is a stronger climber than me (which is why I spent the day in the sun talking to the lady from the cave) but at about eight hundred vertical feet short of Destination Ice, John realized that if he was going to have the energy to make it back, he needed to chill out in a bivouac he constructed out of a mylar space blanket. He must have been, to use a well-worn phrase in a precise manner, a happy camper to see Conrad and cameraman Thom return for him a couple of hours later.

NOW Executive Producer John Siceloff sets up a bivouac at 16,500 feet.
NOW Executive Producer John Siceloff sets up a bivouac at 16,500 feet.
Over tea at our base camp tent, Conrad shares some of the perfect water he collected in his bottle from ice high up the approach to Meru. The water is "smooth but not naïve," to Conrad's critical palate. Yes, I get his joke that naïve is Evian spelled backwards.

It emerges that my buddy John has cracked off the tips of two of his hiking poles while negotiating rocks. Conrad earnestly tells him the bits of hollow aluminum can be recycled into fine wind chimes, if he wanted to start a new business.

Thom Pollard and Conrad Anker take in the view of Meru peak.
Thom Pollard and Conrad Anker take in the view of Meru peak.
Thom and John are completely wiped out by their high altitude, nine hour trek. I am wiped out just thinking about it. Conrad, on the other hand, has the energy to go what is called "bouldering." We venture back out into the mist along with one of our expedition's young porters on our tail. The glacier has deposited a scattering of granite rocks as big as two- and three-car garages at the side of the meadow. Conrad ties his wedding ring onto the tassels of his pouch full of chalk dust for his fingers. He then slips on a set of ballet-like bouldering shoes and starts doing the Spiderman thing up the vertical faces of a bunch of the big rocks, even though the mist and fog has made the boulders slimy. Even though we are at more than 14,000 feet and he's just come down from most of the day at nearly 17,000 feet. The Nepali boy is mesmerized. "Sacred place like this," Conrad says, "can't come this far and not do some boulders." I agree that not doing boulders would just be sacrilege.

Visit "On Thin Ice" to watch the hour-long NOW on PBS special and learn more about global warming.
*Note: All photographs by John Siceloff unless otherwise credited.

Next week: Read Day 9: "An Icy Dip"