storm over everestA David Breashears Film

Doug Pierson

Doug PiersonAge: 37

Home: Seattle, Wash.

Education:
M.B.A. The College of William & Mary
B.A. Ohio Wesleyan University

Career and Hobbies: Previously with IBM Global Business Services
Left in December to train full-time for Everest summit attempt.

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve- Lieutenant Colonel
Two tours in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Deep-water scuba certified Divemaster

Oil painter and photographer

Sigma Chi Fraternity

"Renaissance Man" according to family and friends

Climbing Experience Highlights:
Seattle Mountain Rescue
Mount Whitney (three times)
Mount McKinley/Denali
San Gorgonio
San Jacinto
Mount Rainier (three times per year)
Mount Fuji (two winter ascents)
Mount Olympus (30-hour speed climb)
Mount Baker
Mount Adams (five times)
Mount Saint Helens
Mount Hood (four times)

Mountain Madness LogoDoug is climbing this year with Mountain Madness. Our thanks for their help making this blog possible.


In the lead-up to the May broadcast of Storm Over Everest, FRONTLINE takes you to Nepal to follow climber Doug Pierson on his first attempt to summit Everest. Pierson's journey will take him on the same route climbed by the teams caught in the 1996 storm.

Doug's May 27th Post -- Expedition Ends in Kathmandu

By Doug Pierson on June 11, 2008 9:59 AM | Comments (1)
Woke up at 3:15 AM to a knock-knock-knock on the door, and we were out of bed like a shot with the goal being Lukla in time for a morning flight back to Kathmandu.  Given the sketchy weather over the last few afternoons, we didn't want to leave anything to chance.  We packed, I threw half a roll of athletic tape onto my feet and after a quick team breakfast, off we went.  dsc02820.jpgThe entire team headed off together from Namche with the streets quiet and completely dark, shrouded only in gentle glow of the occasional street lamp. 

After no time, we were at the outskirts of town, headed down to the valley floor.  Close to 1,000 feet separates Namche from the Dudh Kosi River, so we took our time, walking carefully on the gravelly and rocky path that became slippery with dew after a little while.  Finally, the team made the river as dawn was breaking and encountered our first river crossing of the day.

Over the next several hours, the trail crossed over the Dudh Kosi River at least five times and meandered through villages as life again began to slowly emerge from the closed up shops and sleeping roosters that we passed.

dsc02838.jpgFinally, after close to three hours we arrived back at the site of our very first night on the trip -- Phakding.  Looking much different now from when we first stayed here, the hotel was awash in green leaves, blooming flowers and open patios overflowing with lawn chairs and umbrellas.  How different it looks now, and how glad we are to finally be back, passing through on our way home.  

dsc02847.jpgThe final leg was finally upon us, and we all knew it.  And to drive that point home, we passed a last sign as we were about to leave town:  "Way to Lukla."  Almost there.

Within 30 minutes, we started to see signs of how close we actually were -- finer, more complex houses made with finer supplies, actual cinder blocks, and store upon store selling various sundries.

Unfortunately for us though, the last portion of the out trek -- the trail leading from Phakding to Lukla -- is largely uphill and steep at several points.  How wonderful.  I thought of this last particular leg leading to Lukla to be one last little insult before wrapping up.  Great.  dsc02851.jpg80 kilometers of out trek, descending from 17,500 feet and then the last several kilometers have to be uphill. Give me a break -- how frustrating.  Up, up, up we wind.  From the river floor, it must have been close to another 500 or 600 vertical feet back up to Lukla, and along the way we then began to see the flights taking off as the morning flights began to arrive and depart.  Man, we better not miss our plane out.

Within one kilometer of the city limits, we also began to pass trekkers from the planes that had just arrived.  How nice they smell!  How clean they are!  How funny the expressions that they give us -- almost as if we were homeless guys on a street corner.  Then again, we probably look like a homeless guy on a street corner, so fair enough.  They would zip by in the opposite direction, all new trekking gear, clothes that look like they just pulled the sales tag off, with an uncomfortable glance thrown our direction.  Oh well, we are on our way HOME!  Assuming we are just a bunch of ratty trekkers, I chuckle and keep on moving since they have no idea of the adventure we have just been on.

And then we are there -- Lukla.  Finally!  We drag ourselves to the airport departures area and relax for a few minutes.  Our plane -- the last one of the day -- is about to arrive and take us to Kathmandu.  Only Willie, myself and Bridey have made it on time to make the flight -- the rest of the team is spread too far along the trail and well back from Lukla, so when the plane does arrive and boarding kicks off, they aren't even in the city yet.  Their flight, they will learn, will come tomorrow.  

dsc02857.jpgWhile at the airport, we had two amusing experiences and thought that at least it was comical that we couldn't get out of town without more stories.  One was that despite the helicopter ride to Lukla, Francisco and Lhakpa weren't able to get a flight out yesterday thanks to crappy weather.  So they had departed Lukla earlier that morning, meaning that the helicopter ride had actually only saved them about three hours.  Then, as we were about to head into the departures terminal for our flight, I remembered that I still had a knife attached to my pack.  Asking one of the representatives at the airport about it, he said "give it to me" and then ten minutes later, after security and inside the secured part of the airport he reappeared and gave me my knife back.  I quickly threw it in my pocket but thought for a second about how that was the very first time I had ever been given a knife right before boarding a plane.  

Off we shot down the runway.  The plane took about five seconds to gain speed thanks to light weight and a downhill angled runway and before we knew it, buildings, the river, trees, and farms were all below us.  The plane was loaded to the gills with Sherpa, climbing gear and the three of us, so our flight attendant must have been going out of her mind about the smell.

After 45 minutes of flying between ridges, valleys and then in what can only be compared to a combat landing, we were wheels down at Kathmandu International Airport.  We were home!  We taxied, and then finally stopped.  When the propellers feathered down and a desperate flight attendant quickly opened the rear door for fresh air, we all gave a whoop and clapped.  We were back, in almost the same parking spot as the one that we were in at the beginning of our odyssey.

dsc02859.jpgNow safe, we grabbed our bags, gave an enormous smile to each other, and once again began to move forward.  Because while one adventure had just completed, another one was about to begin.  It's all about looking ahead, understanding that while the past makes you who you are, the future is what defines an individual through challenge and optimism.



Doug's May 26th Post -- Pheriche Back to Namche Bazaar

By Doug Pierson on June 11, 2008 9:43 AM | Comments (0)
After sleeping away the night in the first bed I have seen in two months, I wake up to the thumping, high-pitched mechanical whining of a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter whizzing 300 meters by my window.  Whoa.  I guess the flights are going today, no?  Francisco and Lhakpa are targeting a 7:30 AM flight out, so while I stagger to my feet and begin the daily chore of waking up, those two are out of bed like a shot and packed up within minutes.  And who can blame them?  If I were flying out from here, I'd be motivated too. 

dsc02759.jpgNot to say that I'm not motivated to get out of dodge, but knowing that we still have roughly 40 kilometers of an 80 kilometer trek left ahead of us it's not really the same thing.  Our goal is to be back on the trail at 8:30 AM with the ultimate goal of Bridey, Willie, me, G-Man, Lhakpa, Jetta and Lhakpa today ending up in Namche Bazaar.  Tendi, of course, left with the HAPE-stricken porter at 1:00 in the morning and is well down the trail already.  And do I have a story for you in a little bit about that one.

dsc02761.jpgOff we went, like a shot.  Right past the hotel, we pass a stainless steel monument to fallen Everest climbers, updated through last year's season.  Lhakpa's father is on there too.  He died in 1982 during a West Ridge expedition when an avalanche came off the LoLa Face.  So is Danuru's oldest brother. And there's Scott Fischer's name, along with Rob Hall, now famous from the '96 disaster. Very few people in this valley haven't been touched by tragedy in some way, shape or form so putting the monument here in Pheriche is highly appropriate.

The trail between Pheriche and Namche.  Oy!  It's amazing how your brain softens memories over time, glossing over rougher experiences to the point where you only remember the good times.  Tame trail?  Slow, gentle grade?  Not a chance.  But fortunately for us, almost every yak train save our own was headed in the opposite direction -- looking for Base Camp work, likely.

dsc02764.jpgWe passed oodles of porters too, but again, almost all save our own were heading in the opposite direction.  This is the danger that caught our porter, where he raced up from the lower valley in just two days because he wanted the work.  Taking time getting in to Base Camp, the porters gently acclimatize with western climbers over ten days to build up to the altitude.  When left to their own devices, many don't even realize that hurrying up the trail to get work bringing supplies down from Base Camp make them susceptible to HAPE and HACE.  For our porters though, most are ok and continue down the trail, happy to have the work and carrying enormous loads of our gear.

dsc02768.jpgAfter several hours of up and down, Willie and I learn that Tendi made it as far as Thyangboche with the one unfortunate kid who we treated for HAPE last night.  Thyangboche!  That's a four-hour trek from Pheriche in the daytime, with daypack.  Tendi made it with a 140-pound kid on his back.  Willie and I get the news and turn on the jets, leaving the rest of the team strung along the trail to catch up.  Up, down.  Up, down.  The trail snakes down through the valley, linking up with the Dudh Kosi River and finally making contact with rhododendron trees in full bloom.  If we weren't so interested in getting to Tendi, we would be at a light clip, trying to enjoy ourselves and suck in the green scenery.  How long it has been since we saw green!  It truly is beautiful.  dsc02778.jpgThere is one ridiculous hill between the river and Thyangboche, which I swear I hate but push through, finally emerging at the monastery.

We find Tendi and the porter over by the helicopter pad at the end of town and hear a crazy tale of pitch black trails, drunken Sherpas and life-saving that leave us in awe once again of Tendi's strength.  Wearing no socks and borrowing a headlamp, Tendi had used a burlap strap fashioned into a seat/head strap for the porter who was completely immobile.  He left Pheriche at 1:00 AM and walked the narrow path up and down with the porter throwing up and coughing up on him.  Finally, he reached Dingboche several hours later, which is roughly 1,000 feet lower.  The porter hadn't shown any signs of improvement and the town medical clinic was closed so on Tendi went, bumping into two drunk Sherpas who hassled him for money and were curious about why he was carrying this kid on his back.  Tendi asked them for help, which they refused to do, so he continued on.  The trail wound up and up, finally emerging at Thyangboche where Tendi found help, including a western climber who used a dexamethasone injection to bring the porter back from the brink.  Now close to daylight, the porter started showing signs of improvement and the decision was made to use a helicopter to get him down to a hospital in Kathmandu quickly.  While the porter continued to improve over the next few hours and actually looked fine by the time we arrived, Tendi's efforts to carry the porter on his back through the night had undoubtedly saved his life.

While we waited for the helicopter to arrive, we learned that Lhakpa and Francisco hadn't been picked up yet, but their ride was soon coming.  And that it did.  Finally, we heard the whirring of helicopter blades and a white Air Dynasty bird came in on final approach for Thyangboche.  When the help touched down, I was standing next to G-Man and we both looked inside.  Lhakpa and Francisco!  dsc02785.jpgWillie brought the now grinning porter over to the helicopter and put him inside while Tendi tried to see if he could scam a ride -- his reward for the night's efforts.  Sorry Charlie, we are at capacity.  Tendi smiled and was fine with it, which I wouldn't have been if I were looking forward to a helicopter ride instead of 40-kilometer walk.  As the bird lifted up and pointed it's nose toward Lukla, I related to Tendi how many times in the Marines and Seattle Mountain Rescue I have been expecting a helicopter egress and then found myself using black Cadillacs to hoof it out.  

dsc02791.jpgThe rest of us set back out on the trail for Namche Bazaar -- close enough now, but still an ungodly distance away thanks to this ridiculous 1000-foot downclimb to the forest and river followed immediately by a 1000-foot upclimb back to almost the exact same altitude we were at an hour earlier.  Once we made the top of the ridge again, I looked at Tendi, equally out of breath, and said, "I bet you are happy you missed that helicopter ride now, aren't you?"  Dripping sweat, he just rolled his eyes and moved on.  It was miserable, and the way I found myself getting through it was by saying over and over to myself that I'll never have to do this trail again.

I did pass one sign along this particular stretch of trail that caught my attention though.  Wildlife conservation takes on such an important tone in this part of the world, where Bengali Tiger, One Horned Rhino and other endangered species are being poached to the point of extinction.  The Snow Leopard is one of the rarest and most endangered cats in the world and looks absolutely beautiful from every photo I have seen.  They even dedicate an entire segment to it in the BBC documentary "Blue Planet."  But here in the Nepali Himalayas, it appears to take second billing to the Musk Deer, as seen in this sign where someone penned in a piece on the rare cat with a Sharpie.

dsc02797.jpgFinally, we pulled into Namche for the night.  Woo hoo!  Back!  Namche!  It's warmer now, there is much more green, and it has a much more relaxed tone than just eight weeks ago.  But it's Namche, and it means we are one night away from Kathmandu.  

dsc02800.jpgWe pulled into our hotel for the night, and I recalled that this city was the last place I found a mirror on my outbound leg.  Remembering this, I went into the bathroom of the hotel, found a mirror and took a picture of what closely resembles a Raggedy Andy doll.  

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Doug's May 25th Post -- Farewell to Everest Base Camp

By Doug Pierson on June 2, 2008 3:50 PM | Comments (1)
Time to say goodbye to Base Camp but not before a quick trip over to Altitude Junkies, an adjoining camp.  Why?  Because Mark, my good friend from Denali, is there!  I learned this yesterday.  YESTERDAY!  Yep, 200 meters away from me the entire trip and just the day before we trek out I learn about it via Bridey, who did a name game and then informed me of the coincidence.  Crazy.  So, Francisco and I walked over to see him, say hi, have some coffee and catch up, albeit for just a few minutes.  Then it's back over to our camp to finish packing and prepare for the out trek.  

dsc02730.jpgYak trains arrive, porters show, and we begin to pile things up into yak, porter, and self-carry.

And then I realize I lost my little iPod Shuffle somewhere in the jumble of glacier rocks.  Great.  Seriously, now??  Come on, that's ridiculous, but true.  My suspicion is that when Tendi went to go break down my tent he accidentally knocked it off the solar charger where I was trying to give it one last charge before we stepped off.  I saw part of it happen, but never looked closely at it and was more caught up in getting out of town.  I went to go grab all of my gear, and it was gone.  Nice.

dsc02728.jpgWhile we continue to pack, the Mexican team comes over to wish us well, and we take one last picture with them.  These guys are great!  What awesome people -- it was fun spending time with them.

So, we ended up grabbing one last picture of the collected team.

dsc02732.jpgTendi went over to disassemble the Puja -- if there's one sure-fire sign that the expedition is over, there it is -- the Puja coming down. We all received one length of the prayer flags, which is a great memento and is truly special to all of us.

Then it was time -- I lit my good luck Cohiba that I have been saving since the beginning of this trip and slowly strolled out of Base Camp for the last time.  I met Bridey, Willie and Francisco at the edge of camp -- they waited for me as I searched for my iPod in vain -- and off we went -- past yak trains, past trekkers, past porters.  Down, down, out, out.  We hit Gorak Shep in no time, stopping for tea for a bit, relaxed as could ever be possible.  While there, we saw our pack trains keeping up with us as all of our bags went meandering by on the backs of yaks.

dsc02738.jpgAt Gorak Shep, we also passed Carlos, a Spanish climber who had issues on Lhotse and doesn't climb with oxygen.  He and his teammate were waiting for a helicopter flight at the Gorak Shep helo pad and he's still looking completely out of it -- or at least that's his personality.  After a bit, we were off like a shot.  Down, past Lukla.  Past the eerie Chultin Park, home to all the memorials of fallen climbers in the Everest Region.

DSC02744.JPGPast that weird little restaurant at the bottom of the hill before Chultin Park, around the corner and dropping again into the valley that leads one to Pheriche.  Once we hit the valley floor, we saw green for the first time!  Talk about a friendly and welcoming sight!  It definitely brought a smile to my face.

dsc02756.jpgIn Pheriche, our lodge -- the White Yak -- is the nicest lodge we have stayed at, both in and out treks.  It's ridiculous.  Willie met me at the entrance and as we checked in, he gave me the Mount Everest room.  It's as close to a suite as you can imagine after a tent for two months.  It's a corner room, and even has two windows!!  And an actual bed!  Talk about luxury.  It's warm in here, too.

When we all caught up, we ate like starving people -- almost 3,000 feet lower than Base camp, your appetite is definitely back.  We all sat around a heater, talked, and laughed.  Everyone was there- literally everyone.  Jetta, Super Mila, G-Man, Tendi, you name it.  It was awesome.  So, we talked and then it was time for bed- in a real bed.  I still can't get over that.  A bed!  I was out like a light in about 3 seconds.  

BANG BANG BANG BANG KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!!!!

My door opens.  It's 1:00 AM.  "Willie!  Willie!"
"It's Doug."
"Oh!"  
KNOCK KNOCK -- across the hall, Willie is woken up -- Lhakpa and Tendi are telling him that one of our porters, the last one (some took FOREVER to get to us tonight) has HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema).  Whaaatttt?  Seriously?  Willie and I spring out of bed and find him, several buildings down the trail.  It's definitely HAPE.  We run back to the hotel and dig through bags, looking for anything we can find to help.  Bridey has Diamox -- used for avoiding AMS and helping with things like this.  So we give the pills to Tendi, administer one and force water on the kid, totally out of it.  Then Tendi piggybacks the kid, and takes off down the trail for Dingboche and trees -- maybe 1000 feet lower.  The amazing thing to me is that even after all we have been through that Tendi has the strength to essentially backpack a 120-pound human for several miles and hours in the middle of the night, down narrow trails up and down hilltops.

Man, I tell you what.  Not a day goes by where I don't recognize what a great team we have and how well we work together.  I also recognize that we aren't out of the woods yet, and we still have a long way to go before we don't have to worry about even things like HAPE.  Even here, people are still falling victim if they aren't taking all the proper steps.






Doug's May 24th Post -- Final Day in Base Camp

By Doug Pierson on June 2, 2008 3:20 PM | Comments (0)
Wake up and began packing, packing, packing, packing, packing. It's amazing to see how quickly you can tear down camp and get ready to go when driven by incentive.  The goal is for us all to hike out as a group -- members, Sherpas, cook staff.  One whole group, one team start to finish.  When we get to Lukla, our plan is to get the entire team onto one airplane but in the interim, we'll be pressing through the length of the 80 kilometer trail from Base camp to Lukla to stay in the same hotels, etc.  

Francisco's parents have been in Kathmandu since the 20th, so he's been investigating helicopter flights to save time, but man are they expensive.  As in, they can cost as much as $5600 for three people.  Not this guy.  That's too expensive when I have feet that still move underneath me. So as for the rest of the team we'll be hoofing it.  

All day, we packed.  Our gear, team gear, comm equipment, cooking equipment.  It all was packed up by the collective team, one piece at a time.  

dsc02727.jpgThat night, we treated the team to a special meal -- we (Bridey, me, Francisco, Willie) cooked the Sherpas and cook team dinner, kicking them out of their tents and setting the table for them in the community shelter.  We put out a deli plate, a giant vat of Thai chili, rice, and threw in a DVD for them to watch while eating.  Somewhere, Sherpas unearthed two cases of beer to pass out.  It was all great fun, even if they were extremely uneasy with us in the cook tent unattended.  At least five times, we caught one or two peeking in to see what was happening and verify that we weren't about to burn down the tent.  

It was a perfect way to close out the evening and the expedition, and they loved it just as much as we did.

Doug's May 23rd Post -- Camp Two Back to Base Camp

By Doug Pierson on June 2, 2008 2:50 PM | Comments (0)
Time to wake up!  CLANG, CLANG, LOUD TALK, LOUD TALK.  Wtf!?  Some jack-ass Sherpa from another camp who must have grown up in the Bronx comes blowing into our camp talking as if he's in Yankee Stadium.  I try politely at first to ask him to keep it down since I know that at 6:00 AM, I'm not the only one sleeping.  This rapidly erodes after the fifth time of me asking to me yelling at the top of my lungs that if he doesn't f-ing keep it down, I'm coming out of the tent, and he won't like where it goes from there.  He gets the point, although grudgingly. Hey, all spirituality of the mountain aside, if you want to talk like you are in New York, you get to hear responses like you are in New York.  He scoots off.  Super Mila is irritated at his friend and apologizes to me endlessly about how he acted.  Some guy from Kathmandu, he explains.  You know, big city, doesn't know better.  Kathmandu isn't what I consider big city, but I feel for him on how his friend acted.  Everyone is now up anyway.  Cripes sake.  Let's make the best of it and get outta here.

dsc02713.jpgWe spend roughly three or four hours breaking camp.  The goal here being to get everything out of Camp Two so that no one has to go back up and pick it up as we "clean" the mountain.

This includes cook tents, stoves, food, personal gear, and even, yes, garbage.  Despite the mountain of trash that we found initially, and even the second mountain that emerged from the snow as the sun beat down on the camp, we are hauling out our trash.  I wish I could say the same for every other team, but we did.  My conscience is clean about how we left Camp Two.

Over time, the camp began to resemble nothing more than a few overloaded packs and a jumble of rocks -- we were almost ready.  I think my pack weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 pounds and Willie's must have weighed over 100 -- easily.  It was so heavy that we had to pull him up onto his feet.  

In order to haul everything from Camp Two, we set up a series of drag bags -- items wrapped up in burlap and canvas that we can pull behind ourselves via ropes.  I ask aloud about why things aren't stored in secure boxes and storage containers at Camp Two so that next year this system doesn't have to be repeated, but the answer is that the weather can be so severe up here that it just wouldn't work.  Ok, well at least I asked.  

dsc02718.jpgMy drag bag is filled with garbage.  Yep, there's that garbage again.  70 pounds of gear on my back, and I'm dragging this stupid trash bag through the snow behind me to Camp One.  Hey, what can you do?  I could be sitting in a cubicle I guess.

I'm confident Willie wants to bring it down, but also equally confident that once it makes it to Camp One and a Sherpa has to haul it down to Base Camp from there that it's going to end up in a bottomless crevasse when he's not looking.  Hell, en route to Base Camp?  I think it crossed my mind at every crevasse ladder.  Ugh.  But haul on I did, and tried my best to keep up with Willie and Francisco through what turned into a driving snowstorm.

And talk about a challenge.  Yee cats.  I already hate those aluminum ladders, some of which can be notorious.  This trip I have heard story after story about ladders flipping unexpectedly on people, people falling off the side of one, people dangling from safety ropes for two whole hours before someone happened along and found them.  Now add to the equation two things -- tons of snow falling, making the trail all but obscured except if you stop every two steps to see where the trail leads you as you navigate the crevasse-infested Western Cwm.  And a 40-pound trash bag.  

So here I am, taking my time on the ladders, one step at a time.  Left hand on my trekking pole, right hand holding this stupid trash bag which is still tied to me, AND the ladder guide rope.  Ladder is all bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, snow falls off the bottom of my crampons as loose flakes blow by me in the driving storm.  I can't believe I did all that for the sanctity and purity of Sagarmartha National Park.  Some climber about 100 years from now hopefully will appreciate it.

We pull into Camp One, which is essentially under four feet of drift snow now from when we first arrived.  Tents are still there, but it looks like a high Himalayan equivalent of a Wild West Ghost Town.  No one is using this camp other than to transit through.  We dump our drag bags and try to probe for crevasse while regaining the trail out of Camp One, through the Icefall and down to Base Camp.

From Camp One, it was absolutely slow going -- ultimately, it had to be.  Heavy, driving snow and wind stayed with us for at least 600 vertical feet of our down climb through the Icefall.  Down, down, down we climbed -- through the upper Icefall, past Crazy Ladder 4, 3, 2 and then finally 1.  Through the Soccer Field, and then the Popcorn Field.  We heard two enormous avalanches calve off of LoLa Face, but it was too cloudy and snowy to see anything so we all just flinched and then relaxed when we realized we weren't in jeopardy.  

dsc02710.jpgThen we hit the waves at the end of the Icefall, and it was only then that we realized that we were safe -- we were almost at Base Camp.  Seven hours after leaving Camp Two, we staggered in, weak smiles and extremely tired backs.  We made it -- "home."  That night, Francisco and I reminisced about our two months here.  Willie came in, exhausted smile and sunburned face to tell us that we are leaving in two days.  The boys in the kitchen cooked us a celebration cake, Bridey gave us all hugs in congratulations, and we were able to finally release.

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Doug's May 22nd Post -- South Col to Camp Two

By Doug Pierson on June 2, 2008 2:33 PM | Comments (0)

Surreal day on many fronts.  We woke up this morning at 4:30 AM to a crystal clear day — very much like yesterday, so we immediately wish well those pushing for their own summit.  I’m still sucking oxygen like a champ when word trickles in on casualties last night — most as a result of the morning of the 21st. We were all shocked into silence.* I think we all knew something was going to happen and was brewing as far back as when the Chinese pressured the Nepalese into not letting climbers acclimatize until after their blessed torch, but we all know about their interest in human rights so big shocker there. Burden has to be placed on the climbers themselves too though. So this morning, as we prepared to egress Camp Four, Willie tried to assist where possible with the survivors. 

Up at Camp Four, life is rugged and dealing with death takes on a bit of a macabre tone. Placed in a sleeping bag and then tent, the body of someone who manages to be lucky enough to make it to Camp Four before passing is essentially prepared for the massive labor and financially astronomical cost of getting it back down to Base Camp.  Sherpas won’t touch bodies of climbers, so it’s a western effort.  And then there it sits, all wrapped up with climbers then walking in and around the bundle without paying it a second glance after a while.  That’s life at the South Col, where everyone up here knows the score.  Everyone is also here for a reason, so as shitty a deal as it is for those who paid the ultimate price, everyone has an immense amount invested at the point where they arrive at Camp Four and are still going to take their shot.  And in a way, even if it takes a season to get the body down, at least their fate will not be that of Scott Fisher or one of several others who died halfway to the Balcony and who everyone now passes within feet of the trail.

south-col-cook.jpgprepping-to-head-out.jpgAnyway.  The guys prepared breakfast for us, and then we struck camp, ready to head out.

Another team approached Willie about another critically ill team member who had survived the night somehow but still suffered from snow blindness, and needed to get down in elevation for his HAPE (high-altitude pulmonary edema) condition to improve.  Last night, this is one of the climbers who we offered up some of our extra oxygen to in order to try and help his condition, which it clearly had.  Willie treated the climber, wrapped his eyes, and prepared him for the long trip out without the use of his eyes. 

In all seriousness, I can’t think of many places I would rather not be when I lost the use of my eyes.  Getting down from South Col, the Geneva Spur, the Yellow Band and then thousands of feet of the Lhotse Face.  That would be horrible.

dsc02704.jpgSo it was up to Tendi, Danuru, Francisco and I to get ourselves down to Camp Two — so off we went. 

We approached the Geneva Spur, headed down and within a short time were down off the Geneva Spur, and over the Yellow Band. 

dsc02699.jpgdsc02707.jpgdsc02709.jpgFor some reason, the Lhotse Face seemed to take much longer than I remembered it, and to make matters better, it started snowing. We passed team after team on their way up and while we wished them luck, I had to wonder where all these people were coming from.  That, and with the weather deteriorating, would they get their shot?  I hope the answer to that second question is a yes, but the weather around here is so squirrely that it can be tricky when estimates are made.

By the time we were below Camp Three, all of us were flat-out exhausted.  Everyone was carrying heavy loads, Danuru’s crampon kicked out on him, and we were still a bit wiped from yesterday’s summit effort.  The snow kept coming down, even harder than before.  Wind kicked up a little, and then, as I rounded one corner, I saw a familiar face — Super Mila.  This guy is incredible.  Absolutely incredible.  He knows from last year when he summited how tired everyone is, so what does he do?  Most Sherpas and cook staff will wait at the base of the Lhotse Face with drinks for their team.  Super Mila doesn’t do that — he climbs almost 400 vertical feet up the face itself to bring us drinks.  He’s absolutely amazing.  At the time I think I was in love with him.  Francisco, Tendi, and Danuru express the same sentiment — it was that awesome to see him and that awesome a gesture.  What a guy.

*Editor’s Note: When Doug woke up on the morning of the 22nd, there were rumors at the South Col that four climbers had died.  In the end, however, only one climber died, and two others were rescued. The climber who died was a veteran Himalayan climber attempting the summit without supplemental oxygen.  Though he made the summit, he ran into trouble on the descent.  Another climber, presumably suffering from HACE — high-altitude cerebral edema, refused to turn back from the summit and spent the night of the 21st camped above the Balcony.  The morning of the 22nd this climber was rescued.  A third climber, who according to reports was climbing extremely slowly, was left behind on his descent due to his slow progress.  He was also rescued on the morning of the 22nd.  In total, the early reports indicate that 77 climbers reached the summit on May 21.


Doug's May 21st Post -- Descent from the Summit

By Doug Pierson on June 2, 2008 10:13 AM | Comments (0)
We take pictures, smile, high-five and celebrate.  In addition to us all making the top, our small team has a much higher success rate than much larger teams.  

Then it's time to go, and picture time is behind us.  What Willie tells us later is that he and another guide have stationed a Sherpa at the South Summit with a radio.  As the mobs of climbers are ascending higher and higher, they know what sort of window we have before the Hillary Step turns into a massive traffic jam.  So, we head down.  Slowly, slowly.  As we approached the Hillary Step, the numbers started arriving and at one point Willie threw some old ropes apart and found a mini notch, right on the step itself.  If you could call it a cave then great, but it was just the right size for two people and Francisco and I found ourselves huddled in this little cave for about 15 minutes while we watched climber after climber pop his head up and look at us with a surprised look when they saw us sitting there. 

doug_nearing_hillary_step.jpgFinally, we saw an opening and took it -- hand over handing down the step, onto the SE Ridge and painstakingly across the narrow footholds with nothing between us and Camp Two but air.  All four of us thought about how great it would be to have a parachute to get to Camp Two from there instead of have to go through everything we would have to in order to get back down there.  

view_summit_ridge_s_summit.jpgFinally we gain the South Summit, passing a Swiss climber without oxygen who looks literally blue. From the South Summit, the sun is now in full strength and climbers are arriving in large numbers -- many who look happy to be there, although not trapped in the snail pace queue that has developed.  Many who should not be there -- well above either their climbing capabilities or physical limitations.  Snow blindness will become an issue today for several people, and several others that need even more extreme medical attention.  Thank two groups for this:  the Chinese, for forcing Nepal under a photo op to keep climbers from properly acclimatizing, and the climbers themselves, for developing "Summit Fever" and ignoring either their own bodies or those around them when ignoring warning signs.

south_summit_view.jpg From the South Summit, it's a long, long way down to Camp Four, and we begin our slow and deliberate down climb.  

By the time we make the Balcony, we are tired, hot, and our feet are on fire.  But we make the slow, steady progress that allows us to take a breather here for a few minutes before continuing on.  Ahh.

From the Balcony, we descend down through the rocky, icy scree above the triangle face.  The team continues on, down, down, down until making the ice shelf, where we are met by Danuru!  He showed up with juice and oxygen for us, which was a super-amazing effort, and we were all so glad to see him.  I think by the time I walked up to him I had so little energy that I just plopped down in the snow and imitated a rag doll. But having something to drink and relax after a long night and morning with one of our own was rewarding and gave us the energy to make the final push down to camp where we were still hours ahead of other teams who had made their attempts last night.
 
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Chilling out in our tent, Tendi and I fell asleep in minutes and stayed that way for most of the afternoon.  Danuru checked in from time to time to see if we needed anything but for the most part we just needed sleep, and our tent was the perfect home away from home. 

As for the whole team?  Tomorrow we make for Camp Two at a minimum.  But for now?  Time to relax and relish what we accomplished today, a day that 20 or 30 years from now we will be able to look back and tell stories about.  And, it reminds me of that quote from Mara, the Jagged Globe Guide who said, "You don't just go climb Everest.  You earn it."

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Doug's May 20th-21st Post -- Summit!

By Doug Pierson on May 27, 2008 6:30 PM | Comments (5)
Summit-pinnacle.jpgWillie was running around like a man on a mission, trying desperately to rally the troops. Danuru, Tendi and I had a few other ideas, like cramming down one last snack and hydrating like crazy before we stepped off. Willie tried to pull a Dad on us, fast-forwarding his clock by 15 minutes. To me, that was funny because when he'd say "It's eight, we need to go!" I'd immediately look at my watch and at one point asked him if his watch was set fast. Which I knew it wasn't.

Finally, the three of us emerged from our tent to start gearing up and saw why Willie was stressed. Tents lit up everywhere, climbers already gearing up. Headlamps twinkled all over Camp Four.

Willie had already made it clear across the South Col at all the major teams that he planned on departing at 8:00 PM with the intent of moving forward to complete rope fixing that remained to be done from a major terrain feature known as the South Rock Step up to the summit. No small task, given that rope needed to be hauled in addition to fixed along loose snow and crumbly rock on steep faces. This job would go all the way through the South Summit, along the summit ridge, past the Hillary Step and up to the summit itself. Willie has done this job over the last two years and is fully comfortable doing the job again this year -- now if only he can get some help. Lots of "ohh, I can't spare anybody right now" or "how about this compromise? I'll bring 100 meters of rope with me when I follow you up a few hours later." Ridiculous. Danuru Sherpa from IMG was the exception, an extremely strong Sherpa being more or less volunteered that he was going to help out with the Mountain Madness fixing team of Willie and Tendi.

So because of all this drama unfolding up at 26,100 feet, most major teams understood the concept of a fixing team taking a little while once underway. Because of that, they would depart the South Col to move up the Ice Shelf one hour later than our team would. However, there exists on Everest something akin to Freeloaders. These groups pay bargain basement prices to come climb here, typically run without Sherpas, and will poke around to gain whatever benefit they can without having to pay for it. We saw one of these Freeloaders at Camp Three, looking for an unoccupied tent to crash and sleep in when the owners who hauled it up the Lhotse Face were elsewhere. Easier that way, right? No need to haul a tent up that crazy face.

We also saw two Freeloaders ascending up the Ice Shelf from Camp Four last night, who must have heard "rope fixing team leaving at 8, everyone else is leaving at 9," and decided that they were jump in front of the train. Sorry, Charlie. Willie came up on these two, gave them a nice sunburn and they fell back -- I'm sure feeling a little foolish at being called on their actions.

Oxygen regulators we are using have the following flow-meter settings: .5, 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4. While there are .5 and 1.5 settings used when crashed in the tent, you can also set for half settings between 2 and 4 liters/ minute, with 4 being the highest setting. Most people were using 2.5 as their climb setting, but I prefer 3 because I'm bigger than the average bear and because after using my regulator for a few days I know that it isn't calibrated properly and administers a lower dose. So, 2.5 on my regulator is closer to 2.2.

And so this little game of back and forth ensues. I set for three, then Tendi sees three and drops it back to 2.5. I quietly turn it back up, and Danuru looks half an hour later and drops it back again. In the mean time, my climbing speed zig zags back and forth as I feel like I can breathe, and then can't again. As we set off from Camp Four and onto the Ice Shelf I had set three and was feeling great with lots of speed. This didn't matter though, because as usual Willie is off like a shot up the Triangle Face and through the rock bands below the Balcony.

The entire team was doing well and moving at a fast pace, making our first objective and doing so quickly enough that Willie told us that we needed to slow down and then adjusted my air flow. Oh, great. Right before the hardest part of tonight's climb. He warned us to put on mitts because it was about to get cold. Quite literally ten minutes later, the wind kicked up and snow blew everywhere. Talk about timing.

At the Balcony, the route angles sharply and follows a loose snow ridgeline up and around in a gentle yet steep arc. Where that arc meets the south rock step it turns downright nasty. Loose snow with no traction, hiding crumbly rocks on an extremely steep angle. The snow chute that leads up to the South Summit must be close to 1000 feet in elevation all portions told, and some portions of the rock, snow and ice trail are definitely near vertical. I looked up at Willie, only visible thanks to his reflectors as he roped up the trail.

Francisco and I wondered aloud this brief and muffled conversation through our masks: "Dude, how are we going to get up this thing?" "I do not know. But more importantly, how are we going to get down?" "I have no idea. Can you turn me back up to three?"

Your lungs are aching, even with the oxygen. Willie and Danuru (IMG, not ours) continue to rope and climb higher. Unexpectedly, Danuru (ours) falls out of the climb with stomach pains. And then there were four. Wow, what an amazing turn of events. Tendi then becomes a full-fledged oxygen bottle porter for the team and slows way down. "Hey, put it to three, that'll help you out," someone yells. "Doug, come here and let me see your regulator". Dammit.

So at 28,000 feet our summit push team now consists of: Willie, Francisco, Me, Tendi.

Oh well, drive on, drive on. At one point as Francisco and I scrambled up one particularly nasty stretch of rock in the pitch black, we again started a muffled conversation about how we were going to get down, after all. I have to admit, that lingering question stayed with me throughout the south rock step portion of the climb. But. Onward and upward we went. Higher and higher. The full moon was out and cast its bluish ghostly hue over everything. It was so bright that you could clearly make out Camp Two, not to mention hundreds of mountain tops now far below. It was truly beautiful. I'd show you a picture of it, but my camera doesn't take night shots very well (or more realistically I don't know how to work it's new-fangled settings).

Occasionally, we would get a gust of wind, but for the most part the sky stayed deathly still. At one point, high on the loose snow ramp leading up to the South Summit I even heard another guide radioing Willie from the Balcony, at that point 500 feet down. I don't mean I heard the radio chatter, I mean I heard the guide talk, and then a split second later heard the radio come through Willie's radio 100 feet up the slope. You could hear the "clink" of jumars clicking home, the chalkboard "screech" of crampons on rock and the mechanical Darth Vader noise of regulators pressing oxygen, now back at a rate of three liters/minute thanks to a plea to Francisco which thankfully worked.

Oh, and speaking of which. Try taking off your regulator for a second if you want to know just how high you truly are. Tom L. who works on the 787 at Boeing will know, since he has to make jets fly at this altitude. Yeesh. Immediately after taking one breath at this altitude you become dizzy, tired, and slump over.

Up and up we went. At times when using my headlamp to spot Willie, I'd be looking at his reflectors and straight up to stars. It was beautiful, exhilarating, exhausting and vertical all wrapped into one experience. Around 4:00 AM, I looked off to the east and to faint glow of sunrise appeared. We had already "made" the South Summit -- success! Actually, it appeared before we really expected it and were thrilled to take a break. We knew from discussion that from there, it was only about another hour and a half to the actual summit, so it was a wonderful feeling to know we were so close. It was also here that I think it truly sunk in -- we were going to make it.

From the South Summit, very little remains as far as obstacles for the true summit -- a traverse along this crazy ridge that you put a foot down on and to the left you can look between your legs straight down to Camp Two (SE Ridge), and then the famed Hillary Step. The weather wasn't just cooperating, it was turning into what we knew was going to be a downright beautiful morning. It was also here that my camera decided that it would start allowing me to take pictures. Happy day, happy day. Looking to the west, where the full moon still graced the horizon, this is what the view looked like:

South-Summit-at-dawn.jpgAs the sun slowly crept up, all sorts of oranges, reds and yellows began to hit the tips of the summit ridge. Given how high we were compared to every other point on earth, we were the first to see the sun and watch the rays dance on the rocks and ice. Completely windless, we quickly switched oxygen bottles for the final push and then set out along a ridgeline that only six other people had walked on this year.

Hillary-Step.jpgAfter about 20 minutes, we reached the last, final technical part of our climb: the Hillary Step. I have read about this 40-foot rocky outcrop, seen pictures of it, and wanted to climb it for years. To see it with my own eyes -- wow. Let's just say that this particular formation of rock and ice has been something I have looked forward to, but have known all along that in order for me to climb on it, I'd have to put in some serious effort just to get there. Oh, man do you have to put in serious effort. And so, here we are, walking up on the Hillary Step with relative ease and quite quickly. It all happened so quickly -- there it is, here we are, here we go, we are climbing it now.


Personally, I can't say that I found the Hillary Step to be all that difficult, but understand that it's quite different today from what Sir Ed and Tenzing Norgay found 55 years ago. Then, it was an unclimbed obstacle. Today there are so many ropes dangling down it from past seasons that when you grab them collectively it feels like a ship anchor rope. But I don't want to take away from the experience, which I found pretty damn cool. It's about 40 feet high for sure.

 
Everest-South-Ridge.jpg When you are about to get onto the Step you look to your left and see down to Camp Two, to your right there is a single foothold -- that's it. Miss that, and it's an express ride to Tibet. You essentially grab hold of the five or seven ropes that dangle down the almost vertical face and wedge one foot in between the rock and snow. There are about 15 footholds that lead you up to a series of rocks that you have to wiggle through until you arrive at one that you have to do this weird squat/hop to navigate around and over. Now try that with crampons on and that 8,000-foot drop inches away. That definitely gets your blood going. Then -- poof -- you cut around a corner to ascend up a snow ramp, and congratulations, you have just navigated the Hillary Step.


I have to say, going up the Hillary Step is great because there's a natural flow to ascending, and when we were going up there were only like five of us even in that general vicinity on the mountain. But on the way down the place was a mob scene and we had to wait for ten people to keep popping their head through the rock before we were able to hand-over-hand our way back down the Step. From this little notch where Francisco and I were waiting, it looked like a 29,000-foot game of Whack-a-Mole the way they kept popping up.

Next stop, the summit.  Once you complete the Hillary Step, we were golden.  It's about a 20 minute, 300 vertical foot trek to the top from there, mostly along a gentle slope composed of ice and scree (loose small rocks).

Fixing lines the entire way, Willie had beat us to the summit by roughly 40 minutes. So to him, this is what it looked like as the three of us approached the summit carefully and happily:

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 Willie: 21 May, 06:05- his eighth Mt Everest summit Tendi, Doug & Francisco: 21 May, 06:45- our first Mt Everest summit, Tendi's sixth There are hardly any clouds, zero wind and a warm, nourishing sun. It couldn't be any more perfect and you can see forever. Words can't describe the feelings of happiness and exhilaration at reaching this goal after so many months of effort and teamwork.

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Doug's May 20th Post -- Camp Three to the South Col

By Doug Pierson on May 27, 2008 6:20 PM | Comments (0)
Early, early! Here we go. Camp Three to Camp Four. Setting out at 7:00 AM, we woke a 5:00, packed like mad and set off. Oh. My. God. We had on our masks and were pumping the Os, unlike 60% of the other climbers setting off for the South Col. Why is beyond me. It was like we were wearing Nitrous Oxide masks -- we easily and with almost zero effort blew past almost every other climber.

climb_up_camp_three.jpgJumping out of Camp Three, we were immediately faced with a large queue of climbers navigating a vertical section which many were struggling with. In minutes, we were at the front of the line and had cleared the mini step. I love this stuff! Why others refuse to wear it out of Camp Three is beyond me, but our intent is to move as quickly to the South Col as possible, providing us with adequate time to rest up before tonight's summit push. I have no argument with that.

Beyond Camp Three, we passed most remaining climbers on the smooth upper reaches of the Lhotse Face -- saying "excuse me, pardon me, excuse me, pardon me" almost every few minutes. It was ridiculous. And I loved it.  

Camp Three is only half way up the face itself, and there are still several hundred feet to ascend once past the camp boundary until you hit a traverse over to the Yellow Band, a line of rotten and quite spongy rock that as I learned, isn't something that I enjoyed working my way through and over. Short bursts of vertical coupled with rock that screeched and slipped underneath your crampons found me cursing yet again from time to time. Backlogs at trickier sections also weren't that easy to deal with when five Sherpas tugged on the rope behind you while the guy NOT on oxygen three in front of you grappled and shook the rope in front of you. Hurry up, dude. Get going, my crampon is slipping on rock three inches under loose snow. Yee cats.

approach_yellow_band.jpg Once over the Yellow Band, you enter this snow bowl that has a high camp for teams climbing Lhotse to your right, and a trail that slowly winds it's way around and over to a rock wall known as the Geneva Spur. Willie told me that in more common years this spur is covered in snow and ice, making the trail easier to navigate. For us though? Almost pure rock. This trail reminded me in some ways of some of the upper regions of Mount Whitney Main Trail, and at the very end is a vertical section that is essentially the crux of the trek beyond the Yellow Band.

geneva_spur_two.jpgNo, I didn't like the end of the Geneva Spur. And to make it even better, most people ditched their crampons at the base of the spur to use boot soles for traction. Willie, ever the perfectionist and wanting us to be prepared for a rocky summit push made us keep our crampons on. That screechy nails on a chalkboard noise was pretty common if you were around us, but we still had on our oxygen so we did fairly whiz through this portion of the trail.

Once you top out on the Geneva Spur, you walk around the corner for a 15-minute traverse at 26,000 feet and - poof -- Camp Four. With oxygen, our trip, continuing up the 60-degree Lhotse Face, scrambling over the rotten rock of the Yellow Band, and moving up and over the Geneva Spur to finally end up at Camp Four took us roughly six hours.


 

camp_four.jpgPulling into Camp Four, it struck me as amazing that here, in this barren, rock-strewn wasteland nestled in between Everest and Lhotse, that a mini-community could exist and thrive. Granted, it only happens for a few weeks in May each year. But you'd never know it based on the volume of crap strewn between the rocks. And man, is there stuff everywhere. Gas canisters, spent oxygen bottles, food wrappers, pieces of shredded tents. Even dex (dexamethasone) injectors.  

It's almost as bad as Camp Two. But while Camp Two trash is food and a million other pieces of junk, this trash takes on the unmistakable form of climber trash.

We plodded along to our tents, fully aware that unlike other tents or campsites, this is only for the short term. And thank God for that. At 26,100 feet, Camp Four sits above something called The Death Zone -- a zone roughly about 26,000 feet that above which, your body starts to break down and literally consume itself. Yum. Now that's good eatin'!

But the way the Camp Four / South Col camp is designed to work for us, we are only short timers here -- the goal being to get here, suck it up, suck down the Os, eat a ton, drink like a fish, get some sleep, and then step off on our summit climb in a few hours.

Francisco and Willie take a tent as usual, and this time I'm paired up with Danuru and Tendi, which works out great, and we have tons of fun passing the time. Lhakpa would normally have ended up with the Sherpas in a tent, but his chest started acting up yesterday and he had to head back down to Base Camp to have it looked at by the HRA clinic. Sad for him, and for us -- we will miss him on this climb, he is such an integral part of this team for sure.

As the day passed to afternoon, we tried to get some shut-eye and eat some food, but Willie didn't have that luxury. He has agreed to take on the tough job of roping the fixed lines all the way from The Balcony -- a prominent terrain feature on our summit push -- to the summit. As a result, he has been scrambling around, talking with other team leads to get assistance. Not surprisingly, while many teams are more than happy to use the fixed lines that Willie sets up, not many are willing to help roger up Sherpas to help, or equipment to make his life easier. The one exception is a super Sherpa named Danuru from IMG that agrees to help out.

Day passes to night, and we prepare for our final push as a promising sign -- a beautiful nightfall above the clouds passes. Only a few hours now.

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Doug's May 19th Post -- Camp Two to Camp Three

By Doug Pierson on May 27, 2008 6:10 PM | Comments (0)
Super Mila was at our tents at 5 on the nose, smiling and with hot tea. Time to get going, the final push is upon us. Willie checked, and the weather reports all seem to agree that the 21st is going to be a good day. Those that balked are out of luck for one more day, but we are poised and with Willie's long experience with this mountain he has a bit of intuition on what patterns will do. Himalayan weatherman. Why is it that in Seattle the weather guy can't predict the afternoon's weather but here Willie can peer several days out? Weird.

After weeks and weeks of questions, uncertainty, that damn Chinese torch and now weather -- it comes down to this. Even last night, the Big Question was the weather. Go down to Base? Keep going up? Even before Willie made the call our collective vote was and has always been to press on.

So here we are, and press on we will.

Gearing up, I added to my pack all of my summit trinkets and flags, dumped out excess weight items that I knew I wouldn't need over the next few days. Filled up my Nalgene bottles and gave my Camp Two tent one last glance before heading to the cook tent with all of my gear. I'll be seeing that tent in about three days, all things going according to plan, and -- knock on wood -- in three days, hopefully things are completely different. Sap, sap, sap. It's a tent, dude. Just zip the fly and get on with it.

lower_lhotse_face.jpgAt 6:30 AM, we set out, immediately crossing paths with The Fuzzies, who must have heard our plan and aligned themselves with our schedule. The questionable weather has bumped several teams, but several more are still going. I kept pace with several of the Swiss team who are also targeting the 21st for a summit push. Willie and Francisco are right behind me, and in relatively quick time we made the base of the Lhotse Face, clipping into the fixed lines with our jumars and beginning the lung busting and deliberate push up to Camp Three at 24,500 feet.  

Moving higher and higher, we found two things: that the last week's worth of use as an ant trail had much improved the Lhotse Face footholds -- even in sections of blue ice. We also found that our acclimatization trip a few days ago had even made this leg of the trip manageable. All seemed to be going well and we were ascending quickly until this biting, shrieking, howling wind came blasting in from the South Col and made mincemeat out of us. We did everything we could short of curse loudly. But even if we did, I doubt that anyone who was within earshot could hear us because their ears were probably frozen.

Then again, it did have one positive effect -- it got us going pretty fast in a hurry-the-hell-up-I'm-freezing sort of way. Hands knotted inside of gloves when not using the jumar, we made it up to Camp Three in a little over four hours -- two full hours faster than our first attempt.

Diving into tents and bags, we slowly warmed. After some time, I went over to Willie and Francisco's tent and we whiled away the afternoon telling stories, eating snacks and sucking down the Os in order to regenerate and familiarize ourselves with the equipment we'd be using for the next several days.

willie_camp_three.jpgCamp Three is quite literally perched halfway up the Lhotse Face so there's no getting out of your tent and walking around -- it's just too risky to be casual about it. Even transit from one tent of ours to another -- facing back-to-back -- is enough to freak you out when looking straight down the Lhotse Face and into the clouds.

camp_three_look_to_camp_two.jpgOur tents are almost hung on the face and there are several rows of them aligned with snow and ice buttresses that adjoin where the trail winds along the face. Some crevasses dot the campgrounds and several portions of the trail that snake upwards through camp are almost literally vertical. The ledge that the tents are placed on are about three feet wider than the tents, which are anchored with stakes and oodles of meters of rope which splay everywhere. You trip just going from the back of one tent to the other, making you strongly consider clipping onto some random rope just to move between tents. Then at the end where the tents meet the trail there's a single rope that connects with the fixed lines. Think of it as the Lhotse Face equivalent of an interstate on ramp. And beyond that? Just a slick face and a 2,000-foot fall. It's truly one of the most unique "campsites" that I have ever experienced.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow's exciting just thinking about it. I'm intrigued by how tonight's sleep goes, because we sleep on oxygen tonight, all night. Just from our brief toying with these masks and tanks today, I'm in love. Man, this stuff's great! All of a sudden, you have energy again. You feel warm. Awake. Sharp. So tonight, we place our flow regulators on 0.5 liters/minute. Hey. That's 0.5 liters/minute more than I would normally have up here. Flow regulators ramp up to four liters/minute but from what I understand, our standard will be 2.5 liters/minute. Francisco has a new system that he bought and makes him look like Darth Vader. All night, we went back and forth: "Luuukkkeee -- I am your fathooorrrrrr". The rest of us are using some Soviet MiG fighter jobbies. Hey, they do the trick, alright? And just as long as they get us those Os, I don't care what it looks like.

Kathmandu to Lukla to Phakding
By Doug Pierson on March 31, 2008 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

Wake up call came at 4:20 this morning, and we were all downstairs at 5:00 AM with bags, checking out of the Yak & Yeti. The whole process from that point forward moved like a well-oiled machine: transfer to the airport in no time thanks to little traffic on the roads, Willie knowing all the right people to speed our way through the check-in line and ensure that all of our bags made it along with us. “Remember to take all of your batteries out of your carry-on luggage and check them through.” Five minutes later while being frisked and doing a bag check, I am asked “Do you have any batteries?” Willie has been through this so many times that he was even able to chat it up with the airport security as we prepare to board what appears to be the first flight of the day out of the Kathmandu Domestic Terminal. Tired and all with bloodshot eyes, we were truly excited to finally be on our way.

The little twin-engine Otter was jam-packed with climbers and trekkers to the point where we all felt like sardines. I laughed when I realized that we actually had a flight attendant to service the plane — it’s only like a 30-minute flight to Lukla. Seriously? She crawled over us as she moved to the back of the plane on her single pass through the cabin, offering a wicker plate of hard candy and cotton for our ears if so desired. Then the plane taxied onto the runway and seconds later leapt skyward, pointing toward a faint ridgeline looming over Kathmandu.

After a few minutes, peaks became visible, then entire mountains, and soon the pilots literally started to thread the needle by flying not above ridges and valleys, but in them. I looked out the cockpit window at one point and noticed another plane about a half mile in front of us that we were following. The way the plane banked left, then right, up, down, left and right again it almost appeared like we were dogfighting. Pretty cool for sure.

A few minutes later we were approaching Lukla and got our first view of Everest. The view was marred by the scratched up plexiglass windows and spinning propellers, but you can still make out the distinct profile. It was pretty exciting to see.

Lukla is a remote town and the trailhead to Everest Base Camp. Here, the plane literally lands uphill — there’s no margin for error and once the plane is on final approach we are committed, I learned thanks to Joe, who happens to be a pilot. I’m glad he saved this little gem of information for after we landed. As soon as we land, we get kicked off, our bags are thrown onto the tarmac, and before we even get the chance to step aside a waiting line of passengers is already boarding. The whole five minutes this occurs, props are still spinning, and the pilots are dialing in on their flight plan back to Kathmandu. The plane turns back around, points back downhill and then - poof - it’s gone.

Lukla is great — loaded with little guest houses, restaurants and “hotels.” We grabbed breakfast while our bags were being assigned to various porters for the trek to Base Camp.

I need to tell these two stories: at one point I walk outside to my bag to collect my batteries, trekking poles and knife. Some girl in her early twenties is hovering over it, so as I’m walking away I mention that I feel bad that she’s carrying the thing around, but at least it’s just to a waiting yak or something. “Oh, no — that girl is carrying your bag all the way up to our stopping point today.” What? I felt bad, so I ran back outside to take some more weight out of my trek bag and offer her the straps, telling her that she can use them as shoulder straps of sorts. “Oh, she doesn’t need those — she’ll use a burlap strap around her head”. Yeah. I thought I felt bad before. Hearing that? Now I truly know what feeling bad is all about. Then they started passing us on the trail like we were driving an electric car on the Autobahn. The crazy part is that it wasn’t even just my bag. The load consisted of my bag, another bag, some expedition equipment, water, and more.

The other story comes in a bit more comical. Before leaving Lukla I realize that my Camelbak has sprung a leak. GREAT. What perfect timing. What the heck am I going to do now I wonder? Twenty yards down the trail, I pass mini shoppette after mini shoppette. Some have daypacks and miscellaneous climbing gear. After passing the second store, I casually ask one of the owners in what I assumed was a long shot move if they have a Camelbak, pointing at my water hose. The owner points at a brand new Camelbak dangling on a chain at the front of his store “Like this?” You have got to be kidding me. Yep, like that. Total hook-up.

Over the next few hours we slowly and patiently wind our way higher, following a well-worn trail past bunk house after restaurant. Willie knows about half the owners on this leg of the trip, so I laugh as we enter one store after another where he knows legions of locals. It’s great, too — they are all amazingly friendly and kind, offering us sodas, prayer scarves and a place to sit and catch up. While not in one of these shops, we continue onward and pass over rickety wire bridges and around yaks that are meandering in front of their shepherds.

There are tons of trekkers too — from all parts of the world I’m guessing based on the languages I hear and clothes they are wearing. Since the intent of this leg of the trip is to build on acclimatization, we don’t push it too hard and are at our destination around noon and in time for a nap,some french fries with ketchup — this is a specific menu item. If I see it tomorrow I’ll take a picture of all the different french fry options in this part of the world.

A local band of Maoists swung through, flags a wavin’. But true to form, they all left us alone. Just hung a few flags here and there, then on their way to canvas the neighborhood. Just like Kathmandu, they are literally everywhere.

Tomorrow we depart early and will press on to Namche Bazaar.


Leaving Kathmandu for Base Camp
By Doug Pierson on March 30, 2008 6:26 PM | Comments (0)
Got together with the team for dinner and to lay out our plan, which involves a degree of uncertainty surrounding the permits and taking an aggressive strategy to get ahead of the mobs.

Uncertainty because rumors continue to persist in the Nepal climbing permit category, although our trip leader Willie Benegas is so well known and has summited so many times that we actually received a phone call yesterday from the person in the Nepalese Government who does the issuing. He's supposed to follow up on that today and learn more, although the word on the street is that we will be able to proceed in some fashion.

Aggressive strategy because the Nepalese Government is now being inundated with permit requests from teams that initially were going to go via China, received the Heisman thanks to the Torch Relay, and are now scrambling to try and go via Nepal. One team (Altitude Junkies) magically appeared yesterday even though I know their initial plan was to route via Tibet. All of these teams are running a huge crapshoot because of Base Camp and route capacity among the chances that Nepal may just not issue them a permit after all. Our team is well ahead in the queue for permits given our original plan and Willie's contacts. "I know a guy..."

All things moving ahead, we will still be flying to Lukla soon to place ourselves a few days ahead of the other teams getting up to Everest Base. From what I hear, no one has yet started laying fixed lines through the Khumbu Icefall so we agreed that if it comes down to it, our team will begin to do that in order to get as high as possible before the blackout window of May 1-10 hits.

Gear check today along with any last minute gear purchases in Thamel District of Kathmandu, an area where you can pick up just about anything (like, oh, say, the two bottles of sun block that security in Bangkok snagged from you at the metal detector) and is loaded heavy with mountaineering stores. I walked right by North Face and Mountain Hardwear stores too -- looked to be brand new too.

Though I learned last night at dinner from Willie and another teammate (Joe) who has been to base camp twice and made it up to Camp One about three years ago that the trail to Base Camp (in storied and mythical places like Namche Bazaar) is loaded with stores where you can pick up oodles of gear. Seriously! So much for that that image I had in my head of a bunch of Sherpas with their yaks in tow meandering through two or three buildings and an occasional temple nestled among remote windswept plains. Huh. In some ways I was surprised to hear that sort of thing and in others I can't wait for this trip to get going more than I did before.

The Trip is Still On
By Doug Pierson on March 29, 2008 7:17 PM | Comments (0)
So the trip is still a go. I made it clear to Willie, our trip leader, that I’m all in favor of going for it. As long as we are safe, it’s fine by me. He feels the same way.

The other piece of good news is that we — may — look to climbing on Nuptse in order to acclimatize if the Nepalese don’t start coming around. Willie told me that the International Climbing Community (or whatever. I’ll just affectionately call them the ICC for this blog and create a new acronym because if there’s one thing the world needs, it’s another acronym) is in heated discussions with the Nepalese government, going as far as to threaten a trip to World Court. Hey, I’m all about that class action suit. It’s not like they didn’t wait until the 11th hour to send out their decree — and what a doozy it is, by the way. No one beyond Base Camp until after 10 May? That’s just flat out ridiculous. So there’s some optimism that the Nepalese sanctions might be relaxed in order to make this an easier pill to swallow. But hey, how flat-out awesome would it be if we were able to hit Nuptse in addition to Everest? Schwing schwing! I’m actually pretty jazzed about that option.

Lastly, Willie mentioned that if for some reason this doesn’t go the way we expect, long shots don’t pan out and the trip is canceled, we’ll be worked into a later date climb where it wouldn’t be all lost. So now I can breathe again about that, because thinking about waving bye-bye to all that moola was a pretty scary thing.

So he did mention that I’ll have to do a good job in hiding my laptop though, because he thinks that there’s some restriction on sending dispatches back. So I’ll have to be creative about it to say the least — just prepare for some blackouts if for some reason there is a decree and we have to abide by it.

North Side of Everest Closed
By Doug Pierson on March 28, 2008 7:22 PM | Comments (0)

Interesting news came out today dealing with the North Route, which reaches the summit of Everest from a base camp on the Tibet side of the mountain. The Chinese have decided to effectively close off their side of Everest this spring to any climb teams other than the Olympic Torch team.

Their reasoning for this? Free Tibet protesters, who they fear will be out in force to protest the Chinese presence at base camp and all the way up the slopes to the absolute summit. They are so concerned about protesters apparently, that they sent an impassioned plea to the Nepalis to do the exact same thing that they are doing. Apparently, the Chinese also received snow in the Himalaya this winter, which has caused great concern in Beijing. It’s all a matter of safety, you see.

Sure.

Forgive me for being a cynic, but I don’t buy one microsecond of that BS. Let’s see. Hmm…. oh, that’s right, the torch. How great would it be if you were a Chinese national, to see a mob of Chinese mountaineers on top of Everest, torch waving with the Olympic flame proudly shooting forth. No one else in sight, just the Chinese, on top of Everest broadcast for the world to witness. No Dutch, Americans, Brits, or Japanese in the background, stealing their moment. They own half the mountain, so who is going to stop them from shutting down their half? It’s all about the photo op, right? And better yet, if they can pressure the Nepalis into going along for the ride all the better.

And the whole protester deal. If (knock on wood) I do make the summit, I’m going to have about one ounce of energy that I’d consider dedicating to a protest. After I yawned a few times, sucked down five more inhales of oxygen and sat like an exhausted statue for 10 minutes — maybe then, if I was lucky I’d gin up enough energy for a muted, breathless “Free Tibet” before going right back to the oxygen as the world closes in around me.

For quite some time it has been clear that this would be a unique season for the North Side thanks to the way the Chinese view the Olympic Torch Relay. Last season, several articles were dedicated to the Chinese government and conduct of the Chinese team who did a dry run to see what they needed to do in order to make the actual torch relay happen. A whole bunch of teams were essentially bumped from camps and trails all the way up the mountain. In order to make way for the team the Chinese team would essentially walk into camp and say “all this area is now our camp site.” Teams that were already there were bumped, and teams that rolled in afterwards were given the “Sorry Charlie” speech. Don’t like the raw deal? Take it up with Beijing. Larger teams like HimEx were okay thanks to a larger and regular presence as well as experience in dealing with some of the team veterans. But smaller and newer teams found it difficult to stake a claim. And that was just for a dry run.

Fortunately — for now — the Chinese peer pressure tactic hasn’t rubbed off on the Nepalese, who actually need the climbing permit money and view it as a credible source of income. The word I heard (which you should throw as much credibility behind as if I were giving you explicit instructions as how to build a time machine) is that the Nepalese will as a courtesy allow a Chinese window up top, but draw the line there and won’t forego the entire season. Good news for us, not so good news for the 300-odd people who are now suffering heart attacks because their trip was just canceled on the north side.
*archive posting- we'll catch up to Doug in Nepal soon

Packing for Everest
By Doug Pierson on March 28, 2008 4:03 PM | Comments (0)

Packing packing packing packing. It looks like a big giant gear bomb went off in my loft. I have small gear, medium gear, large gear. Common gear, specialized gear, unique gear. Some gear I look at and wonder what I’ll ever do with it again after this trip, some gear I’m excited to try out on a more common mountain like Rainier. Quite literally, it comes in all shapes, colors and sizes and a good portion of my floor space is covered with equipment. I guess the closest comparison I can give is to liken the experience to packing for a deployment. I’m about 99% of the way there on shopping though, which is really good because I seriously don’t know how I’m going to fit it into two bags for transport to Nepal as I bounce through a few cities en route.

I’m only allowed two pounds of “specialty foods”— as in a favorite snack, which for me are hands down Sour Patch Kids — more or less Gummy Bears with a tart/sugary coating. They happen to be the best quick energy trail food developed by man. Two pounds? Right. I know that the second I pull my two-pound bag of Sour Patch Kids out there will be 15 cupped hands waving around in front of me. This is if the bag doesn’t vanish before I even get there. Besides, if these bags are being hauled on the backs of burros to Base Camp, I’m not at all feeling guilty about going over my “two-pound weight limit” while I am short all the approved camera equipment on the list. My point & shoot Cybershot is perfect and more than makes up for the six extra pounds of Sour Patch Kids that I have hidden in boots, etc.
*archive posting- we'll catch up to Doug in Nepal soon

Welcome to our Everest Blog
By Doug Pierson on March 27, 2008 10:02 AM | Comments (1)

*A note from the Co-producer*

As we here at FRONTLINE prepare for the broadcast of Storm Over Everest on May 13th on PBS, we wanted to bring to our viewers a taste of the excitement, anticipation and hard work that goes into an Everest summit attempt.  We found a climber willing to share his experiences with us and with you.  Doug Pierson is a lifelong adventurer, traveler and climber who made a promise to himself while on his second tour of duty in Iraq that he would find a way to attempt Everest if he returned safely from Iraq.   Learn more about what got Doug into climbing and follow along as he updates us from Nepal with cutting-edge equipment.

When I first spoke with Doug about this undertaking in February, the stakes were about the same as every year on Everest: nothing is a given and anything can happen.  Between then and now, however, the Chinese government raised the stakes by closing the north side of the mountain.  The North Route to the summit, which begins at a base camp in Tibet, has been closed because a team of Chinese climbers plans to carry the Olympic torch up to the summit of Everest as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. While this was very late and bad news for climbing teams scheduled to climb the north side of the mountain, Doug and other climbers scheduled to climb the South Route from Nepal hoped that this closure would not affect their summit plans.  However, the Chinese pressured the Nepalese government to close their side of the mountain.  For a number of weeks, it was unclear what Nepal would do. 

First it seemed that Nepal would simply limit access to the mountain for a window of time to allow the Chinese team to summit on an empty mountain from Tibet.  Then it seemed that Nepal would follow the Chinese lead and close the mountain until May 10.  Though that may not seem like a big deal, given that a majority of summits traditionally take place between May 10 and May 31, not allowing climbers on the mountain earlier would have denied climbers a chance to properly acclimatize.

Climbing Everest is not a weekend or weeklong endeavor. By the time a summit attempt is made, climbers have been on the mountain for weeks preparing their bodies for the lack of oxygen high on the mountain.   Climbers climb from Base Camp to Camp One, then return to Base.  Then Base Camp to Camp Two and back down.  Then Base Camp to Camp Three and back down before finally climbing to Camp Four on the way to the summit.

Closing the mountain until May 10 would mean that climbers would have to climb on other nearby mountains, such as Nuptse, to acclimatize.  In addition, with no one allowed on the mountain to set up the ladders across crevasses in the Ice Fall and camps higher on the mountain, there would be none of the usual infrastructure necessary for a successful summit attempt.  When Doug left the U.S., the Nepalese government had still not made a clear decision and had not yet issued any permits to the teams scheduled to attempt Everest this year.

After traveling a bit in Asia en route to Nepal, Doug met members of his team in Kathmandu on March 25.  The situation now seems more promising. The Nepalese government has distributed at least a few preliminary permits, which seems to indicate that access to the mountain will only be restricted from May 1 - May 10.  Which doesn't change the fact that when it comes to Everest nothing is a given and anything can happen, but at least now it looks like there's a chance Doug will be able to set foot on Everest.

We hope you will enjoy getting to know Doug and following along on his challenge.

Callie Taintor Wiser
Co-producer, Storm Over Everest

Why I Climb
By Doug Pierson on March 27, 2008 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

The days have been ticking by, the hours and hours in the gym becoming almost routine. Thirty minutes of bike here; thirty minutes of treadmill there. It almost became mundane until yesterday when I looked at a calendar and was shocked into the realization that I have about five weeks until I’m flying east. Five weeks! Yee cats. That gave me a new sense of urgency and immediately went back to the gym.

Interestingly enough (and maybe the reason I took a look at the calendar), yesterday my good friend Pam Vitaz asked me a simple question: “Why do you climb, Doug?” How many climbers have been asked that question? More importantly, how many have had a reasonable answer? Countless explorers and adventurers over the centuries have been compelled to leave the warm bounds of hearth and home to head afield. Why? It’s truly one of those questions that elicit deep thought in some, casual brush-off in others.

Some examples to The Question: George Mallory — “Because it is there.” Sir Edmund Hillary — “Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it.” John Muir — “Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain tops are within reach.”

My favorite quote — which is more a Golden Rule of climbing — comes from Ed Viesturs — “It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.” (until recently I credited this to a guy I climbed McKinley with!)

Spiritually, it makes me feel closer than ever to my grandparents, Sampson (my old Saint Bernard) and God. Hokey, I know. But when you are in an environment where something as simple as a sunrise can make you stop for no reason other than to revel in the majesty of the moment, it is profound. Looking out from thousands of feet above the sleepy day-to-day of cities, highways, town, and the welcoming warmth of our planet — how can you not believe that there is a God? Honestly, it’s just plain that simple.

To me, climbing is more a passion than a challenge. Simply put, I love it. Just you and the mountain, challenging your skills in a place where you have to rely wholly on yourself and in many cases on your teammates. It forms a bond among members rarely seen outside of this environment. It makes you push yourself in ways you didn’t know you were capable of being pushed. You invest more than just time and money — you invest your dedication and spirit in an endeavor not guaranteed. I have always firmly believed that the mountain isn’t going anywhere, and if conditions aren’t right? Turn around. I have done it time and time again, to climb another day, and this mountain will be no different in that respect. But even though being smart about it means you turn around, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel good about not making the top. Sometimes you feel sad, sometimes you feel frustrated. But every time — every last time — that I have turned around, I have still felt a sense of reward about being able to make it under my own power and via my own skills to a place where few have tread.

My Path to Everest
By Doug Pierson on March 27, 2008 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

I was introduced to climbing by my godfather, who started taking me to climb rock faces and eventually cliffs when I was about 10 years old. My godfather was the type of teacher who if I got halfway up a cliff and yelled down that I couldn’t go any farther, he’d yell right back, “Okay, but if you aren’t going to keep climbing then we’re going to practice falling.” I would take another look at the rock and keep climbing. I learned a lot from him — both techniques of climbing and love for the feeling of being outdoors with friends. Sometimes we made it up a route, sometimes we didn’t. It didn’t really matter that much. Just being there together was enough.

I got into mountaineering later in life. As an active duty marine stationed in southern California in the early ’90s, I started going to the mountains with my buddies. We’d climb San Jacinto and San Gorgonio at the entrance to the Palm Desert outside Palm Springs. We climbed — or I should probably say hiked — Mount Whitney, which is the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Eventually I found myself really wanting to be out in the mountains challenging myself on higher and more technical climbs.

I had hoped to climb Mount McKinley in 1996, but plans to climb with a friend didn’t pan out that year. I was sent to Iraq for a tour of duty in 2004 and while I was over there, I made a promise to myself that I’d attempt McKinley if I made it back to the states safely. After returning to the states, I was talking to a friend in Seattle, Christine Boskoff, the outgoing, personable and high-octane owner of Mountain Madness climbing guide service. While we were catching up, I expressed frustration at once again seeing another season slide by without the chance to pull together a viable team to go for McKinley, which I still had in my sights. She mentioned that Mountain Madness had scheduled trips, and actually had slots available if I was interested.

It took me a few days to deliberate (a guide service?! Come on) but then recognized the opportunity before me and seized on it. What a great trip. I found myself with a highly professional, extremely strong team that was focused and well prepared. Typical summit assaults of McKinley take up to 21 days round trip. We made the summit in nine days, and were back off the mountain in 11 days with six of the original 10 making the top. I was psyched about how my body performed at altitude.

On my second tour of duty in Iraq, I promised myself an even bigger challenge. I made a promise to myself that if I made it back with all my fingers and toes, I’d figure out a way to test myself on Everest. I’d been interested in Everest since the MacGillivray-Freeman IMAX movie on Everest was released, which represented the first time an IMAX camera had ever been taken to the top to bring stunning images from the top of the world on a beautiful, windless day. While watching that movie, I thought that the traditional route — the South Col Route via Nepal, would be the eventual route that I would most like to take if and when I was ever given an opportunity to climb to 29,035 feet. Of course, living in the ranks of starving college students surviving on ramen noodles, that sort of goal seemed unrealistic. So Everest remained for years just an elusive dream, something that seemed attainable but not with much serious thought or effort attached.

But in October 2000 that all changed. I took a trip from Japan to Kathmandu for a week-long vacation with the girl I was with at the time, and while in Nepal we took a mountain flight where you actually see Mount Everest up close and in person. Slipping skyward from the runway, it only took a few seconds before the plane had gained enough altitude to leave the lowland clouds behind and see giant Himalayan monsters unfold in front of us. As our tiny plane climbed higher and higher, the air thinned considerably and the temperature dropped so that you could see your breath inside the cabin. The tiny windows frosted over and I could feel adrenaline surging through my veins. Climbing and banking right, a line of 8,000 meter mountains line up off the left wing for a plane load of awestruck passengers to peek out at, staring with unblinking dinner plate-sized eyes. One at a time, legendary peaks roll by until there before you is the tallest one of them all. Unquestionably Everest, the pilot offers for people to come up front where a small part of the frosted over cockpit window has been wiped away. Cramped and leaning to stare in wonder, the summit seems literally meters away from the plane and it is incredibly easy to make out fine details of snow, ice and rock contours. After a few lazy turns the plane noses southeast and drops quickly back toward the mists of Kathmandu Valley, where the air is heavy with oxygen and bathed in subtropical warmth. And then it’s over. One and a half hours after having breakfast, you are seated back in the same restaurant having tea, unsure of exactly how you could quite possibly communicate to everyone seated around you about what you just experienced. And seriously, how do you? Especially given all the stories of yesteryear where mammoth expeditions spent months slogging through leech-infested forests with backbreaking loads of climbing equipment — just to reach a point on the mountain where they could position themselves within striking distance? Here we sat, taking 1 1/2 hours to have breakfast, fly to the summit, snap a few pictures, and then make it back to the safe confines of the hotel. Surreal, but definitely tantalizing. In that brief encounter, a serious long-range goal was born.

After returning from my second tour of duty in Iraq, I started the conversation up with my friends at Mountain Madness. I spoke to Chris about her upcoming trip to China. On November 1, 2006, I returned to IBM and was eventually placed on a U.S. Coast Guard job working in Elizabeth City, NC. As I flew back and forth across the country from Seattle to NC, I happened to glance at the front page of USA Today sometime in December and my gaze stopped at a quick one sentence quip at the top: “Hope withers for climbers lost in China”. As soon as I returned home I did an Internet search, and learned that the same day I had traded e-mails with Chris in China was the last day she had been heard from. Over the next few weeks I learned that she and Charlie (her climbing partner) had pushed into unclimbed territory in China and were swept away in an avalanche on unclimbed Genyen Peak. She lived as she passed, in unique settings living her dream with people celebrating her and leaving behind one hell of a legacy.

In the wake of that tragedy, Mark Gunlogson, the president of Mountain Madness and no slouch in his mountaineering experiences himself, continued to talk with me about climbing opportunities as time wore on. Inevitably, Everest came up. We spoke about it and then spoke about it some more. Other climbs and opportunities arose, and when we talked about a USMC climb to Aconcagua, he kindly offered to assist with logistics support for that trip and even offered to assist with Seattle Mountain Rescue however he could. He mentioned that the 2008 Everest climb would include another hard-charging team of strong climbers led by Willie Benegas, an Everest veteran with six summits under his belt and a tremendous amount of experience. The story goes that in 2007, he climbed to the top with his team, safely returning and then turned around with another teammate and made the summit a second time. After working with Mark and ensuring that everything was going to work out timing wise, I committed to joining the Mountain Madness team and take on the Nepal-side South Col Route. I quit my job in December and started to get ready.

So now the difficult part begins. Preparation, training, and coordination. Long hours in the gym, trips to REI and Feathered Friends, and calls dealing with sponsorships. Three months may seem like a long time depending on where you are (3 months in Iraq was not a right around the corner timeline), but in planning and preparing for this event, it will be over in the blink of an eye and then I’ll find myself on a plane crossing the international date line en route to Nepal. I’m extremely pleased with all the support and encouragement I have received from friends and family, and haven’t even bothered to think about know-it-alls who think that the South Col route isn’t that tough, or pish-posh the use of Mountain Madness to get to the top. In response to those people, go slay your own dragons and grow a set so you can speak from experience. As for me, I’m pretty damn psyched to take on my next adventure and am truly amazed at how the stars came into alignment for this, in the manner that they did. To me, this is more about me climbing for those who can’t; seeing things that others may never have the chance to; and in a small manner, this is an adventure for all of us to celebrate and experience together.