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Prayer flags above Dingboche. Lhotse and Island Peak in the background.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Trek for recovery recap

We've been back in Kathmandu for three days now but finding enough time to write this has been tough. 

Our little team enjoyed a great flight via helicopter from Kathmandu to Lukla on October 21 to start our trek. We chose a helicopter as the airport in Lukla has the dubious distinction of being the world's most dangerous commercial airport. Helis are safer at this particular airport and also tend to fly in "iffy" weather while the planes are all grounded. This made it more likely for us to stay on schedule.

Each day we would walk a little higher, taking care to not go too high too fast and risk having altitude sickness problems. We first reached reasonably high altitudes when we crossed the 17,600' high Renjo La (pass). It took a little huffing and puffing but everyone made it without any real problems and the views we were rewarded with were phenomenal. This picture shows Soni touching the top of Mt Everest.

I have learned over the years to expect little unscripted magic moments in Nepal and we were certainly blessed with one on this day. We had walked down from the top of the Renjo La for about ten minutes when we were greeted by Galgen Sherpa, the father of my friend Tenzing Sherpa in Gokyo. He and another guy had walked two hours up the pass and brought us a delicious hot lunch plus tea, Coke and dessert. The food was wonderful but the gesture of friendship was even better.

                             Sange enjoying some tea courtesy of Galgen Sherpa.

                                   Gokyo lake

The following morning found most of the team marveling at the views of Everest, Nupste, Lhotse (4th highest in the world), Makalu (5th highest) and Cho Oyu (6th highest) under cloudless skies when we climbed the nearby Gokyo Ri.

Our next big effort was to cross the Cho La (pass) at 17,800'. It had snowed the previous day so things were a little tougher than normal but everyone put in the effort it took and we soon found ourselves in the tiny village of Dzongla drying out wet shoes and socks. The next day we walked to Gorak Shep at 17,000' and settled into the Bhudda Lodge. We had great weather in the afternoon for the first time on the trip so we took advantage of it and quickly hiked up Kalla Patthar (18,300') and were blessed with an amazing scene as the sun set on Everest and Nuptse, turning them golden. 

The following morning we walked up to the Everest Base Camp at 17,500' and stepped briefly into the infamous Khumbu icefall. From there we retreated several miles down the valley to the village of Lobuche to spend the night.

The next morning we hiked right past the Lobuche East base camp and moved directly to Camp 1. Here we did some skills lessons on Himalayan climbing using fixed lines, rappelling and crampons. We finally went to bed around 6:30 in anticipation of a 3:00 am wakeup time. Opinions differ on the elevation of Lobuche East, but it is somewhere between 20,100' and 20,200' high.

Sange and Pasang Ongchu teaching the finer points of fixed line travel

Our early morning start was cold but we were comfortable in our warm clothing and boots. After a hearty breakfast, we left around 4:20 am. The going was quite steep at times and it took the group about six hours to reach the summit. We were blessed with absolutely perfect weather. The sky was a deep blue, there was no wind and the temps warmed up dramatically as we climbed. The views from the summit of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Makalu and all the other lesser peaks are some of the finest you will see anywhere in the world.

    Everest is the peak in the middle with the clouds on its right side

   More views from the summit

We enjoyed a long visit on the summit and then retreated down to Camp 1. Here we ate a little, drank some tea, packed up our belongings and then walked down for another 90 minutes to the teahouse at Lobuche. We were very tired but felt very satisfied with our efforts and with the day.

It was mostly downhill from here and we spent three days walking back to Lukla.

                                         Saying goodbye to Mingma Sherpa at the fake Starbucks in Lukla

Since our return to "normal" life in Kathmandu we have been eating a lot of great food, basking in the warmth of the lower altitude, sleeping in a little, and enjoying the reliving of our adventures. I think everyone is in agreement with me when I say that the scenery and adventure was more than we could possibly expect (even after being here many times) but what really impresses me every time is the wonderful people of Nepal. 2015 has been a particularly difficult year, starting with the 7.8 earthquake on April 25, the many aftershocks culminating with a 7.3 quake on May 12 and now the fuel embargo that India has imposed on Nepal for not doing what it wants with their internal affairs. The country has been truly brought to its knees as people have virtually no gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel or cooking gas. Tourism is drastically down, their fragile economy is being harmed and people can't move around like they normally do and yet everywhere you go you see smiling faces and people laughing and enjoying their lives. The Nepalese people are truly amazing and I love being with them!

We owe a special debt of gratitude to Sange Sherpa, a good friend of mine who joined us to help me lead the trip. His cheerful face and quiet strength were always a welcome sight. Assisting him was Mingma Sherpa who was our porter, carrying a group gear bag with overflow clothing and equipment. He may have begun as a porter but quickly became a valued member of our little team and we all felt saddened to say goodbye to him in Lukla. Thanks are also due to Biri, our cook on Lobuche East and his small crew of helpers. They established our camp for us prior to our arrival and fed us very well. 

Passing Ongchu Sherpa and Sange Sherpa put in the fixed ropes for us on Lobuche East, without which we would not have been able to summit. Passing Ongchu is one of a very small handful of UIAGA certified Sherpa guides in the world and his strength and skills are beyond amazing. Climbing with these two gentlemen is like playing basketball on your driveway with Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. They are incredibly overqualified for the job, but it is so reassuring to have them along to help us wannabes. 

Thank you for reading along with us,


Friday, November 6, 2015

What a view!

Top of Lobuche

Monjo to Lukla

November 6, 2015

We put in a pretty long day yesterday and slept in Monjo where we enjoyed our best (virtually only) shower in almost two weeks. This morning we left about 9 a.m. and were in Lukla about 1:30 p.m. in spite of making two stops for snacks and drinks. We had a couple of very pleasant hours in the fake Starbucks and will be having dinner soon.

We fly early Saturday morning for Kathmandu and will enjoy a big brunch (and a real shower...that's from Soni, via text message) at the Hyatt.

It has been a very nice trek with outstanding scenery and incredible people.


Fabulous Panorama, Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal

Trek for Recovery Update

Hello Everyone,

Robert had quite a bit of difficulty with the internet so the summary that follows is a couple of days old.  The emails finally came in, so here is your update.

From Robert:

"We had a nice walk to Gorak Shep and then six of the team climbed Kala Patthar to enjoy unbelievable views of Everest and the surrounding peaks. The mountains were glowing in the setting sun.  I think it was the prettiest I've ever seen that view.

The next morning we walked up to Everest Base Camp in warm weather and cloudless skies.   It was another spectacular morning in the Khumbu.  We then hiked down to Lobuche.

On the 2nd we trekked up to Lobuche High Camp and settled in.  We did a quick class on fixed line climbing and rappelling, ate an early dinner, and were in bed by 6:30 p.m.

We got up in the cold at 3 a.m., ate breakfast, and were climbing by 4:20 a.m. We dealt with a few problems and eventually summited after about six hours of hard work. The route was much steeper than I'd experienced five years ago.

We made it back down to camp around 2 p.m. packed up and down climbed to Lobuche, eventually arriving about 5 p.m. Everyone did very well but we are all quite tired.  We are also dealing with a cold going through the team.

Today we plan to descend as far as we can towards Lukla.  I think we will get to Deboche, our first time below tree line about two weeks."

Robert did call but the reception was so poor that I was not able to understand very much.  I am sure we will hear more when the team arrives at Lukla.

Thanks again for your thoughts and prayers.
Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Lobuche Success

November 3, 2015

Hello Everyone,

I received a short text from Soni this morning.  The team has summitted Lobuche and are all at the teahouse getting some well deserved shut eye.  I am pretty sure there will be some news tonight (their tomorrow) with plenty of details.

Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers for the Trek for Recovery Team.

Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

Saturday, October 31, 2015


October 31

Robert texted me that the Trek for Recovery team is safe in Gorak Shep. The text came in at 4 A.M. CDT so they arrived at approximately 3:45 P.M. Kathmandu time.

There was a significant amount of snow falling the last time I spoke to Robert on Wednesday, CDT.  He decided that they would not cross the Cho La (Pass) until the weather was better.  They waited it out at the lodge they had overnighted in.

The team should arrive at Everest Base Camp on November 1.

Thanks for your prayers and thoughts,
Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE USA

Monday, October 26, 2015

Himalayan Photo Op

Hello from our trekking team
October 26, 2015

Renjo La (pass)

October 26

On Sunday we walked from Thame (the boyhood home of Tenzing Norway) to the tiny village of Lungden.  Our luck on finding good overnight accommodations has been continuing although we didn't get a shower. We were in awe with the incredible mountain scenery.  After eating a wonderful dinner, Steve and I took some long exposure photos of the moonlit Himalaya.  Steve's shots are professional quality.

This morning, Monday, we left early for the long trek over the Renjo La to get to Gokyo.  Lungden is at 14,500' and the top of the pass is 17,700'. Our little team was on fire and we summitted in 4 to 4 1/2 hours when it typically takes6 hours to make the ascent.  We rested twice on the way up and again on top where we spent an hour marveling at the world class views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Makalu, and dozens of smaller and less commonly known peaks.  Smaller is relative here as most of the little mountains are above 20,000'!

We descended for about 15 minutes when we were greeted by my friends from the beautiful Namste Lodge and Fitzroy Lodge in Gokoyo.  They had climbed for probably 2 -3 hours to bring us an amazing lunch of tea, mango juice, coke, water, curried buffalo, spicy potatoes, sandwiches and cookies. This was an incredibly kind gesture and the food was super delicious.

Tonight we are staying with my friend Tenzing and he's doting on us like we are royalty.  It was a fantastic day!

Robert Kay

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Kathmandu to Lukla to Namche Bazaar to Thame

October 24, 2015

The team all arrived safely in Kathmandu where we enjoyed several days of sightseeing, shopping and eating some great meals.  On Monday we took a trip around Kathmandu in a van and saw all the important sighs. Most importantly we had a very informative and moving tour of the Tiny Hands facility.  We learned a lot about the magnitude of the sex trafficking in Nepal, how it happens and how Tiny Hands is trying to stop it.  This is truly a heartbreaking tragedy for Nepal's beautiful young girls. Please strongly consider sending some money to Tiny Hands International and rest assured that they are good stewards of your donation.  On average, $100 will save an innocent girl's life.

On Wednesday we flew by helicopter to Lukla, the world's most dangerous commercial airport. The helicopter ride is my way of minimizing this danger, plus it is a very exciting way to travel. After a big breakfast, we walked about 2 1/2 hours to Phakding and stayed in a nice lodge with attached bathrooms and showers.

We got up early on Thursday and headed to Namche Bazaar.  There is a relentless hill leading into Namche and I thought it best to climb it before the sun warmed things up too much. Everyone did super well and we arrived ahead of the normal allotted time. We stayed in the beautiful Panorama Lodge and reveled in luxury, sleeping in beds with sheets and blankets, but the nicest part was the electric heating pad under the bottom sheet.  Things got so toasty that we were throwing our thick blankets aside.  The family who owns the lodge treated us like royalty.

Friday morning saw us walking less than ten minutes out onto a small hilltop for truly world class views of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam.  The skies were cloud free and it was just gorgeous.  Next up was a leisurely four hour walk to the villages of Khumjung and Khunde.  We visited the Hillary school and the medical clinic and true to our eating trek we had a nice lunch.  Finally, we visited the weekly bazaar and had some treats from the Namche bakery.

On Saturday we walked about 3 1/2 hours to Thame where we have again found a nice lodge with great rooms.  Continuing the patten set by our team, everyone arrived in significantly less time than normal.  Most have taken another hot shower and are spending the afternoon reading and relaxing.

Everyone is healthy and happy and we are really enjoying our adventure.

Robert Kay

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tiny Hands International fundraiser trek to Everest Base Camp

Earlier this year I decided it only made sense for me to combine a few passions into one project. Our family strongly supports Tiny Hands International with their mission of stopping the sex trafficking of young Nepali girls to India, the Middle East and other places around the world. This practice is absolutely barbaric and a normal person with any sense of right and wrong is incapable of understanding how such a thing can ever happen, let alone in the 21st century. For more information on this horrible crime please go to

To make a long story short, Patty and I decided I should lead a trek to Everest base camp and since I will pay my own travel expenses and not charge for my time there will be a profit and this money will go to Tiny Hands. After a lot of promoting, organizing, traveling and general hard work this dream is about to launch. In fact, we are to be picked up at our hotel at 5 tomorrow morning and our group of seven will fly to Lukla and begin our trek.

All our team members arrived throughout the previous week and we have been enjoying learning about each other and seeing all the sights of Kathmandu. We've eaten some great meals, met incredible people and learned a lot more of what Tiny Hands is doing to stop this atrocity.

I will do my best to keep up the blogging as we progress to base camp via a less commonly used path.

As always, thank you for following along.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Finally finished climbing all of Colorado's 14,000' peaks

I climbed Mt Evans in September, 1979 when I used to live in Lakewood, Colorado and then Quandary Peak in 2007. After that I started focusing on climbing all 58 of Colorado's 14ers but being exiled to Lincoln, Nebraska added a degree of difficulty to this idea. I would climb a few each year but there never seemed to be enough time. I realized last year that I could probably complete "The List" this year but then a shoulder surgery in May and another small surgery the end of July almost derailed my plans. 

I decided to gamble a little on the typically nice September weather and booked a flight to Grand Junction with a friend of mine who is new to all this climbing nonsense. We laid out a schedule, were blessed with amazing weather and things went 100% to the plan. We flew out on Monday the 7th, and on Tuesday we summited Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre, Wednesday found us on San Luis, Thursday we made it up Handies and Friday we did the El Diente to Mount Wilson traverse. Prior to this my friend had only climbed Longs Peak so I was quite impressed with his stamina and determination, especially considering he's 60 and lives in Lincoln. 

That left us with Sneffels. We were a little tired after Friday so we slept in on Saturday and whistled up Sneffels that afternoon under a beautiful cloudless sky with no wind. As I approached the top I realized I was not quite emotionally prepared to finish. I seriously contemplated stopping a few feet short of the summit so I wouldn't fully complete the list. Ultimately I decided that was silly and took the final steps. I was left feeling pleased to achieve this goal but also a little sad that this journey is over with. I suppose I will move on to the Centennials (highest 100 peaks in Colorado) and also re-climb many of the 14ers.

This isn't about saving lives; it is just enjoying being outside in the mountains and challenging yourself at times. Colorado has such a wide range of mountains to climb. Some are easy walk ups while a few are pretty challenging (at least for my level of skills) and a bunch are somewhere in between.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

50 State Highpoint Success!!

I summited Mt McKinley, aka Denali, on June 8, 2009 and then climbed Rainier on September 14 of the same year. It dawned on me that I'd climbed the hardest of the 50 state highpoints plus one of the more difficult ones, so why not do them all? With this goal in mind I started checking them off in between other trips, work obligations and family time.

I did about 35ish of them with Brian Jackson, a friend of mine from work, and we had a lot of fun. The rest I did with other friends or by myself. This project gave us a great excuse to see all of the USA including a lot of places that I otherwise would never have visited.

The irony here is that my initial goal was Everest which evolved into the Seven Summits. I then added all 58 of Colorado's 14,000'+ peaks and finally the 50 state highpoints. I'm close to finishing the Colorado peaks with only nine remaining. I plan on completing them next summer and hope to make Handies Peak my final peak so Patty and the kids will come with me. It is a relatively short and easy climb but is in a beautiful and more remote part of Colorado.

Theoretically I am also close to finishing the Seven Summits with only (I use that word very loosely!) Everest remaining. I am planning on tackling it for the fourth time in the spring of 2016 if you count this year as an attempt. (I do, as far as the money and preparation go, but never actually stepped foot on the mountain). So, my "afterthought" goal is done but the original quest remains elusive.

My final highpoint was Hawaii. I didn't want to make it anticlimactic by simply driving up in a car so I rode my bicycle up it, beginning literally at sea level with my tire in the ocean. This ride is considered to be the hardest road bicycle ride in the world as it gains 13,800' in only 44 miles. There is a 4.7 mile stretch of unpaved road above 9,200' that proved too much for a road bike with skinny tires so I walked that portion of the ride. I also walked about one mile of the final three as it got too steep to ride efficiently. I did a lot of zigzagging up the final few miles when the grade was averaging between 10% and 20% with no relief ever. Brian provided much needed support with food and drinks every hour.

The 50 state highpoints range from driveups like Florida, Iowa and Ohio where you can almost reach out the car window to touch the highpoint to short walks under an hour to long hard days like California where you hike 22 miles RT and climb 6,100'. There are even harder days like Utah in the winter on skis which was 33 miles and left me with blisters so bad that I couldn't wear shoes for a week. 

Then there are the multi day climbs like Montana. I first tried it with my friend Jeff Roe over three very hard days in 2012. We came within 200' of the summit but deep snow and fading daylight forced our retreat. I came back 14 months later and summited in ideal conditions. Gannet Peak in the Wind River Range of Wyoming took five days and was stunningly beautiful. It is the most remote peak in the Lower 48. The biggest dangers besides the actual day on the glaciated peak are swarms of ravenous mosquitos and potential interactions with grizzly bears (which we thankfully never saw).

Perhaps the most surprising peak was Humphreys Peak in Arizona. I went there in early October, 2010 expecting to summit in shorts and t-shirt but was forced back by terrible weather with near-continuous lightning, strong winds and heavy snow. A freak storm hit the area and even had tornadoes with it, one of which knocked a train over! I came back in January, 2013 and summited in gorgeous weather.

Denali was easily the toughest, requiring 21 days. We endured a seven day blizzard at 11,000' and a five day storm at 14,000'. Our summit day was very stormy until we were on the final stretch to the summit when the clouds all parted and we were left with bluebird skies but very cold temps. Every member of the team hauled about 150 pounds of gear, clothing, food and fuel as you never know how long a Denali climb will take. About 50 of those pounds are in your backpack, the rest in a cheapo $10 children's toboggan from Walmart which you tow behind you.

I feel blessed to live in such a wonderful country with all these fun varieties of terrain and adventure. I'm blessed to have a family who tolerates my madness. I'm blessed to have good friends to join me on these climbs (Brian Jackson, Mike Marsh, Jeff Roe, John Golob and Shaun). And, I'm blessed to have a great place to come home to at the end of every adventure. 

As another famous climber/blogger always says, "Climb on."


Here are two short videos about this adventure.

50 State Highoints

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Feelings about Everest and basement-bloggers

My Thoughts and Feelings

I have been repeatedly asked how I feel about the accident, the two main Sherpa responses to it and the cancellation of the climbing season. I'm only human and so I obviously have my own thoughts and emotions about this. But a large part of me says that I really don't matter much in all of this. I never want to allow my disappointment to ever be compared with the bigger picture; the tragic loss of 16 people.

However, since I can't seem to escape the questions, here goes. I didn't know any of the killed or injured men so to a certain extent I'm not personally affected by what happened. Although it's not a perfect analogy, it is a little like witnessing a bad traffic accident involving people you don't know. You are upset and disturbed. You feel sorrow. But it doesn't hit you in the same way as it would if the victims were family or close friends.  This is not in any way meant to diminish the loss; I'm just not as personally affected as those who were their family and friends.

When it comes to my thoughts on the Sherpa response, things grow more complicated. My fear is that anything I say will be purposely misinterpreted by the 40-year-old haters hiding in their mother's basement as they blog away in their underwear with atrocious spelling and grammar. The Sherpa community has traditionally been very close knit but seems to now be fracturing which makes sense given the influence of outsiders and technology. The "old school" Sherpa such as our team tend to be stoic while some of the younger guys are quite vocal and perhaps more media savvy.

It appears that many, but not all, of these younger guys were significantly influenced by the Maoists (communists) during Nepal's civil war. The Maoists probably had some reasonable grievances, as the Sherpa certainly do, but they lost all credibility when they resorted to violence and extortion (which continues just a little, even to this day). Most at base camp that I spoke with felt the Sherpa demands made sense until they demanded that everyone join their cause and physically threatened anyone who opposed their ideas. Might does not make right. Beating somebody up (or threatening their wife and kids) doesn't prove the merits of your case. In fact it does just the opposite. I lost all respect for those particular individuals once the intimidation began.  They became typical "union thugs", or perhaps more like mafioso demanding "protection" money.

But more important than this, they also have financially damaged many many families. If dad doesn't get his paycheck, little Johnny can't attend his quality school. Food can even become an issue. Progress towards a secure future reverses. There will be a lot of unnecessary hardship for these families. I know one of the demands was for the teams to pay all the wages as if the staff had worked the full season, but how do you force a private company to do this in a country that has a barely functioning government staffed by corrupt bureaucrats? Many of the reputable foreign guide companies will likely do this, but some won't or can't, and the abusive, low-budget Nepalese operators certainly won't pay more than they must. And all the climbers simply lose their money - $20,000 to $100,000 depending on who they climb with.

Finally, how am I processing the cancel of my own climb? I've told a few people that I feel a little like a spouse who was cheated on. I have put so much effort and emotion into this project. I began climbing and training in earnest eight years ago so I would be ready in every regard. I dream about Everest daily. I train extremely hard at the gym six days per week, have traveled to all seven continents to gain skills and experience in climbing, neglected many important family events, spent a significant amount of money and been away from home and work for months at a time. I have fallen in love with Nepal, her people and especially the Sherpa. I was as prepared for this climb as I knew how to be. After three weeks of trekking and acclimatizing at high altitudes with the associated cold, boredom, hard work and occasional loneliness we were finally ready to start climbing and suddenly everything was on hold and then canceled. Something far bigger than a mere dream slipped away.

What about the future? I am unable and unwilling to go next year because my beautiful older daughter graduates from university then. I also am not confident enough that the situation has stabilized. I expect to try again in 2016 (my fourth attempt, if you can count this year as an attempt) provided things go very smoothly in 2015. I trust this time will prove successful as a fifth attempt seems a bit much.

Everest Myths

Lastly, I'd like to address some of the untrue things said about climbing Everest by the aforementioned basement-bloggers. First, in spite of what the cadres of uninformed and inexperienced people (who have never seen the Himalaya in person) say, climbing Everest is not easy and never will be. It is long, cold, dangerous, extremely physically demanding and mentally exhausting. The Sherpa may carry our tents, oxygen bottles and other equipment for us but they certainly never carry their clients anywhere except possibly down in a rescue situation. Can Western climbers summit without Sherpa help? For 99.99% of us, the answer is an emphatic "no". But in truth virtually no one has ever climbed this peak without the help of a giant team. Beginning with Mallory and company in 1921 through to Hillary in 1953 up to this year, there have always been huge numbers of people all cooperating and doing their part to get a minority of the team to the top.

What about the accusation of bucket-list, super-wealthy, middle-aged white guys ticking something off their list for bragging rights with no concern for the virtuous Sherpa dying around them to make this possible? I suppose that guy exists, but in three expeditions to Everest, three other Nepal climbs and virtually an entire year in the country during the course of 12 trips here, I've never met him. To a man, everyone I've met has nothing but respect and admiration for the Sherpa members of their team and for the Sherpa people they meet all along the trek and climb. We care deeply about these wonderful people and typically leave thinking of them as brothers and equals. Nobody I've ever met wants anyone injured, let alone killed for their dreams.

What about the disparity of income and net worth? Of course it exists, but prior to Westerners climbing in Nepal it was far worse than today. Hillary's porters in 1953 were paid 1/8 of a Rupee per day and 1 Rupee per day for work above about 22,000'. Today the porters get 2,000 to 4,000 Rupees per day and climbing Sherpa who work above Base Camp earn 8,000 to 12,000 or more Rupees per day whether they are actually climbing or just resting in camp. (95 Rupees are worth about $1 as of today) Of course there has been some inflation, but the point remains that climbing and trekking has been very good for the earnings of almost all Sherpa people. Climbing has lifted the average Sherpa family from subsistence farming to being among the wealthiest of all the Nepalese. They own nice tea houses, travel the world, put their kids into good private schools, are becoming airline pilots and doctors and enjoy world-wide fame. Do they earn enough? No, but reducing or eliminating Western climbers and Western guide companies will only hurt them. For all of the naysayers decrying the money situation, how many of them have lifted a finger or given even a dime to help the Sherpa people or any other poor person in the world's 150+ Third World countries?

How rich are Everest climbers? How rich is your neighbor because that's who is climbing Everest. Some are quite wealthy and pay their own way. Others borrow the money or sell their car or house to finance their dream. Should they spend this money helping the poor vs climbing Everest? Perhaps, but what is very seldom talked about is how much these same people spend and do to help others. But this is the case for any expenditure. Should you forgo a new car or a bigger house, a nice restaurant meal or a new pair of shoes you don't truly need so you can give all that money to others? If we are going to be honest, we are all selfish to a degree.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings!

Monday, April 28, 2014

A summary of my 2014 Everest attempt

I am back safely in Kathmandu after a very trying, tragic and complicated trip to Everest. 

Before I explain all the ins and outs, I want to give this tragedy the respect and perspective it deserves. Fourteen wonderful Sherpa, one Tamang and one Gurung were killed. (To clarify, Sherpa is a people group just like Navajo or Apache and not a job description. Tamangs and Gurungs are additional people groups from Nepal.) In total, there are 16 human beings who don't get to go home to their families. There are wives who are now widows and children now orphans. An incalculable number of birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and family celebrations will have a hole in them. These were dedicated men who got out of their sleeping bags in the middle of a very cold night, shouldered their heavy loads and struggled through the thin air to support their families. This is the worst single disaster ever on Everest and the entire climbing community mourns this terrible loss.

Now the details as I understand them to be. Our Altitude Junkies team flew from Kathmandu to the village of Lukla on the morning of April 3. We were excited to start what we hoped would be the biggest adventure of our lives. We trekked first to Phakding and then to Namche Bazaar. After two nights there to acclimatize just a little, the rest of the team used the traditional route to Everest Base Camp while Scott Bigelow and I took a lesser used route up the Gokyo valley and over the 17,800' high Cho La (La is Sherpa for pass). We had a fantastic time seeing truly world-class scenery and enjoying many hours with the famously hospitable Sherpa people. We eventually rejoined the team at Everest Base Camp on April 12. Scott then left for his own adventure, successfully climbing Lobuche East in a team of two - he and his Sherpa guide. Lobuche is about 150' lower than Mt McKinley and this was Scott's second climb in his life. I'm impressed! 

Meanwhile, our team settled into life at EBC. This means waiting until about 7:40 am for the sun to hit your tent before daring to crawl out of your sleeping bag, breakfast at 8, a two to four hour hike to maintain fitness and accelerate acclimatizing, lunch at 1, happy hour at 4 and dinner at 6 before crawling into your tent for 12 hours of lonely cold darkness. This doesn't sound like much fun as I write it from our hotel in Kathmandu but believe me when I say that it is actually pretty good. Of course, a great team, great leadership (Phil Crampton), fantastic Sherpas and magnificent scenery all help things along.

Phil decided that we would take a trip into the Khumbu Icefall on April 18. We were to deliberately leave late so that we wouldn't be in the way of the Sherpas carrying loads. We began the 35 minute walk from our camp at the low end of EBC to the high end where you enter the Icefall at 6:30 am and intended to go as far as the first ladders before returning for lunch. At about 6:45 am I heard a roaring noise and looked up to see an avalanche coming off the west shoulder of Everest and directly into the Icefall. I knew this could be a bad situation but had no idea how bad it would become, or quite why.

I have since been told that there was a large crevasse that needed two ladders to descend into. From there the route crossed the bottom and used three more ladders to climb up the other side. My understanding is that two of these ladders were damaged, forcing a bottleneck of Sherpa to form while they waited for replacements to arrive. It was at this worst possible moment that part of the hanging glacier on Everest's west shoulder broke free and roared through this area like a runaway train.

There were both clients and Sherpa below the impact zone and several of these people were wounded. Those capable of walking made their way down and some appeared to be in shock as they retreated. Meanwhile, those in the immediate vicinity who escaped relatively unharmed began to search for their comrades and dig them out of the suffocating ice and snow. In addition many others from base camp mobilized as fast as possible and raced up into the carnage bringing rescue and first aid equipment. Phil plus six of our Sherpa were among those who raced up to the scene and did all they could to help the injured.

We spent many hours watching as people placed their own lives in danger to do all they could to rescue the fallen and also watching helicopters fly between the accident site and EBC, first with the wounded and eventually with the deceased. Base Camp became a very somber place as we slowly realized the enormous scope of the tragedy.

But then things started to change. Grief turned to anger for a vocal minority of mostly younger Sherpa and by the end of the day we watched a mob form and start to parade through EBC demanding that all the other Sherpa join them in their demands. Eventually they drew up a list of 13 demands and presented them to the Nepali government. Most of the demands were quite reasonable and in fact were already being met by the more responsible guiding companies such as our own Altitude Junkies. These demands were for things like helicopter rescue, medical and life insurance, etc. The grievances became unreasonable (in my opinion) when they demanded that no one be allowed back on the mountain. Everyone agreed that any Sherpa staff member who decided he was unwilling to climb should be free to make this decision without any repercussions. The problem was that many of the Sherpa, and 100% of the Altitude Junkies Sherpa staff, still wanted to climb but they and their families were directly threatened and intimidated into not doing so. We rapidly went from a scene of mourning to a union vs management feeling.

Phil Crampton and Russell Brice (of the Himex team) chartered a helicopter at their own expense - $12,000 - and flew to Kathmandu for an emergency meeting with the Ministry of Tourism, the governmental department that controls everything to do with Everest, along with several other important players. These officials looked Phil and Russell in the eye and told them that they had agreed to every demand made by the Sherpa and would fly to EBC to tell them so. They were to bring a document to this effect with them and have an official signing and then require everyone to get back to work. The delegation appeared as promised the following day but reneged on every agreement, saying that they would negotiate things at the end of the season. This was the beginning of the end for 2014. 

Various smaller teams began withdrawing one by one and then International Mountain Guides, one of the biggies, decided to cancel. I am friends with their head guides and spoke with them about it and they said they feared for their Sherpa's safety and I believe they meant not only safety from more accidents but also from retaliation from the mob threats. It quickly became obvious that the minority had won by threatening the safety of the families of any Sherpa who dared challenge them. 

Our team held out hope for a week but finally realized we could not continue. We packed our gear, walked four hours downhill to the village of Pheriche and after a brief delay, caught helis to Kathmandu. Phil stayed behind with our dedicated and brave Sherpa staff to pack everything up and wait for porters and yaks to carry our camp back down the mountain. We are hoping that he will be able to leave camp by tomorrow (April 29).

There has been a lot said about the economic differences between Western climbers and the Sherpa who make an Everest climb possible. This event has also proven for everyone beyond any doubt that it is the supernaturally strong Sherpa people who make an Everest climb possible for the rest of us mere mortals. I don't want to get into editorializing things at this time but rather just report the facts as I believe them to be. I do want to go on the record as saying that I love to climb with our Sherpa staff, that I appreciate and respect them as highly as I possibly can, and believe they should be treated and paid not as equals, but as our betters. There is a small, vocal, media-savvy group that has caused this situation to escalate out of control, the guide companies and their local agencies know who they are and most, if not all of them will find themselves unemployed in the years to come. This is a classic case of the 1% making the 99% look bad.

The big question really is what sort of effect will all of this have on Nepal's future and in particular, will people return in significant numbers to climb Everest next year? There is a huge ripple effect from all of this that wasn't well thought out. If climbers fail to try Everest next year there will be the immediate loss of income for the climbing Sherpa, but also for porters, yak herders, tea house owners and even charities as so many come here to climb but leave wanting to help the gentle Nepalese people. There is only one biggest mountain in the world, Nepal has it and now her reputation has been harmed. The tragedy just compounds.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lukla Layover

Hello Friends and Family,

Well, there has been a change in plans. Robert and the Altitude Junkies team walked down to Pheriche where they were transported by helicopter to Lukla.  The heli Robert flew on was needed for some other transport so Robert and 5 of his fellow Junkies are spending the night in lovely Lukla. The airport there is backed up with the mass exodus from EBC.  Normally teams trickle out as their climbs end which is manageable. The closure of Mt. Everest for climbing is obviously the cause of the delay in Lukla.

The six remaining team members will travel via helicopter to Kathmandu tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. Nepal time from the Hilary-Tenzing Airport.  (That's the airport with the short runway that goes uphill for landing and has a steep drop off with an immediate left hand turn for take-off.)  I am very thankful that Phil (Altitude Junkies team leader/owner) arranged for helicopter flights in and out of that airport.  Thanks Phil!

Robert is in good spirits. This delay is fine with him as there was a nice curry dinner waiting to be eaten in the comfort of warmer weather, a much higher oxygen level and a roof overhead. The delay will allow him another night of mountain quietness and beauty.  Obviously, Robert didn't want the dinner to get cold so our conversation ended with the ring of the dinner bell therefore my information for you is limited.

Just to give you an idea of the elevation change as Robert travels down the mountain  I have complied a short list tracking Robert's route from EBC to Kathmandu.

EBC           17,598 feet or 5364 meters
Pheriche     13,910 feet or 4240 meters
Lukla            9,324 feet or 2842 meters
Kathmandu   4,600 feet or 1400 meters

Comparing these elevations to those of The Rocky Mountains in our neighboring State of Colorado was fun so I thought you might enjoy my interest in comparing these two.

EBC would be in the clouds and traffic lane of some of the smaller jets that fly over the Rockies.

Pheriche would be located 490 feet or 149.35 meters from the top the highest peak in Colorado, Mt. Elbert (elevation 14,400 feet or 4401meters).  Alpine village is an understatement.

Lukla and Copper Mountain Village (elevation 9,712 feet or 2960.22 meters) are close enough to the same elevation that Robert should feel right at home there. We often ski at Copper.

Kathmandu is a little bit lower than Denver, Colorado (elevation 5,280 feet or 1609.35 meters) but not as low in elevation as our hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska (1,176 feet or 358 meters). We are blessed to be in flyover country where the air is fine and oxygen loaded.

Robert will soon complete this journey up to the clouds and no doubt has much to think through.  I am sure he will share his journal as soon as he is settled in Kathmandu. There are many details we are all anxious to hear.

It will be good to have Robert back home early and at a more reasonable elevation.  When that will be has not been determined at this time. Robert already has many requests that are pulling him home and also those that would keep him in Nepal a bit longer.  I think airline schedules will be one of the determining factors as his plan for the near future unfolds.

Thanks for traveling with me.  Most likely the next post will be from Robert, unless of course, there is another change in plans.

Best to all of you,
Patty Kay
Lincoln,  NE

Friday, April 25, 2014

Goin' back to Kathmandu

Hello fellow arm chair travelers,

Robert has made his plans and packed his bags. He has or will soon walk the 5 or 6 hours down the mountain from EBC to the helicopter site at Pheriche.  He will have a (awesome/scenic) flight back to the capitol city of Nepal, Kathmandu and then a (always interesting) ride from the airport to the Hotel Courtyard where I am sure he will be warmly greeted by our friends, Pujan and Michelle, owners of this quiet oasis in Thamel. Robert will be able to unwind from his travels with a clean and quiet room and a warm shower (Heaven or close to it.)  The grill will most likely be fired up with steaks and chicken on the menu. I am sure there will be a lively conversation and a friendly atmosphere, a most welcome change from the past week of stress, sorrow and disappointment.

Ruth Kay,  Robert's Mom is finishing her packing after rescheduling her flights and will arrive in Kathmandu on Wednesday April 30.  Together, she and Robert will visit our extended family before she is off to Perth, Australia to visit family and friends there.

Robert has not scheduled his return to Nebraska.  I am sure he will have to wait a week or more for his gear bags to arrive from EBC. With the shortage of Sherpa staff, this could be longer.

Our son Chris said that, when on the phone with his Dad, people from National Geographic were arriving at EBC by helicopter and that yaks were bringing up, (did I hear him right) 20,000 lbs. of camera equipment and gear. Robert told Chris that they may be interviewing him. Cool.

There is not much else to report from here but you might want to check out for more details on the Everest closure.

Thanks for your interest,
Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

Thursday, April 24, 2014

CANCELLED: Everest Closed for the Season

Hello Everyone,

As many of you suspected, the Mt. Everest climbing season is over.  I just got off the phone with Robert.  He had finished spending several hours with the Sherpa in respect and sympathy for their loss of family and friends and is now beginning to pack and arrange for helicopter transport out of EBC.

Robert is extremely disappointed but is moving forward quickly now that the decision has been made.  He is organizing and packing his gear, doing the same for a fellow climber who is not at EBC (medical emergency), and getting out.

"It is cold and miserable and there isn't a reason to be here longer."

It will take at least a week for his climbing gear bags to reach Kathmandu.  He will only take essentials on the helicopter and hopes to leave tomorrow. We will have a full report after he returns to Kathmandu. Right now he just wants to get out of a very unpleasant situation.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers,
Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fluid Emotions at Everest Base Camp

I have received several calls from Robert over the past few days.  Emotions at EBC are very unsettled. Robert has asked that I wait for another 48 hours or so before commenting on the fate of this climbing season on Everest as it is difficult to say what is rumor and what is fact right now.

Any tragedy of this magnitude causes grief to set in with feelings that run the gambit from extreme sadness, to anger, to quiet reflection, remorse, and back through those strong feelings again. Anyone who has been through a sudden tragic loss knows those emotions seem to strike randomly and without warning.  Reaction to loss and tragedy is unique to the individual, therefore, the unexpected is the norm right now at EBC as individuals and groups works through the grieving process.  Some will move quickly through and others will linger for a very long time. There is no formula, no right or wrong for working through a loss, it is just the way it is. The healing has begun by the sharing of grief among the Sherpa, their families and the climbing groups, but how long it will take only God knows for sure.

We send our condolences to the Sherpa families, friends, colleagues, employers and others effected by this loss as we continue to pray for healing and peace for all those effected by the tragedy in the Khumbu.

Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Robert's Text Messages from IceFall Event

Robert is at Everest Base Camp.  He sent several text messages which I am now forwarding to you. 3:58 A.M. Saturday CST (Saturday afternoon in Nepal)

Robert:  I can't efficiently get an email out so I'll text.  The confirmed fatality count is 17 Sherpa and many more injured.  The injuries range from cuts and bruises to broken limbs and internal injuries.  There is a glacier hanging above the icefall on the west shoulder of Everest and part of it broke off about 6:45 A.M. Friday.

We were on the trail that winds through camp (it's about 3/4 mile from one end to the other).  I heard the glacier ice break loose and watched it fall into the icefall. Immediately knew we had a big problem.  We saw people coming down and they looked quite shocked.  At the same time rescuers headed up, including Phil and six of our Sherpa.  Unfortunately very little could be done as the victims were all buried deeply.

Helicopters arrived after about two hours and took the injured down to base camp in several trips.  They began carrying the dead using a long line.  Base camp became a very somber place.  Rumors were flying around and no one know for certain what was true or not.  Our team joined the Sherpa in their tent after dinner to show our support and respect.  We were there for several hours.

Things seem a bit more normal today. Although many of the other team's Sherpa have gone home for a few days, our guys are staying here.  Phil says the place is safer now that the weak portion has fallen and I think he is right.  We will likely only have one rotation (into the ice fall) instead of the two that were originally scheduled which will  further lower our risk.

It is difficult to type a coherent longer message on this cheap phone plus my fingers are freezing so please resend the texts and copy them into the blog.

Patty: No worries.  I will do that.  Glad the icefall is now more stable.  I have been replying to many texts and emails from people sending encouragement and prayers.  Please pass along our condolences and tell everyone that there is a large group of folks praying for all of you.

Robert:  Thank you.  it was a terrible day but things will get better, and already are except for the very cold afternoon.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Robert and Altitude Junkies Team All Safe

Robert just called to say there was a terrible accident at EBC and that their team is unharmed.
The mountain is in a state of confusion now so Robert asked that I not post any of the rumors floating around.  He just wanted us to know that they are safe.

The Sherpas & Misc Ramblings

Our phone conversation this morning was a rambling one.  Robert talked about the walk down to Gorak Shep to see if the internet was working. It wasn't so he ate some momos and then did another walk up Kala Patthar (18,514'). Since he was doing a lot of traveling in the area I asked about the trash on the mountain. He replied, " It's clean. Everywhere on the mountain is clean."     

He told me he is feeling "strong & fit" which has been the norm this trip. His appetite is good and so is the food. He talked about Australian steaks that were so tender that they could be cut with a fork.  At one point he interrupted himself... "There is a sherpa out there in flip flops!"  (Robert had all of his cold weather gear is really cold at EBC right now.)   "The Sherpas are amazing.  "They are so tough, insanely tough. The Sherpa team carry loads of 35 pounds from EBC up to Camp 2 and then come back down...all in one long 14 hour day." (EBC is at 17,500 feet and Camp 2 is at 21,000 feet in elevation.) The Sherpas make these trips to prepare the higher camps and to bring in supplies ahead of time.

Tomorrow the team will take a hike up to the ice fall.  It's about 3 hours up and 2 hours back down.  Some of the team haven't had the opportunity to experience the ice fall area so the trip was planned with them in mind.

Hopefully the internet will be working again soon.  Robert will be able to give us many more details then.

Thanks for following!

Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Everest Base Camp

Hello Everyone,

Robert was able to call from EBC this morning. The cell phone provider (NCell) has restored service.  The internet is expected to be working tomorrow. (That's Nepal maybe, maybe not.) We have not spoken since April 6 but have kept in touch through email which are in the previous post. The internet went down and then there was nothing to report to you until this morning.

The weather at base camp is very cold.  Robert took a 5 hour hike today. He is well and fit so that is good.  His friend Scott left EBC last Saturday with his Sherpa guide, Ghumbu to climb Lobeshe East. Robert said he thinks Scott should be back down and hopes to receive a report from Scott soon.

I am hoping for a full report of the last week via email. As soon as I have it I will post here to keep you up to date on Robert's Quest for Everest.

Thanks for arm chair traveling with me.  It is nice to have the company.

:)Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

Brian The Miracle Worker Everest 2014


Brian Jackson figured out how I can access the main blog so I will now recap Robert's progress from the time of his last posting in Kathmandu. Thanks Brian. Your are the best. (I will no longer post to the  Everest 2014ClimbWithStar City2 blog.)

April 2

Robert left Kathmandu after visiting with extended family and friends.  He landed by helicopter in Luka.  This is much safer than flying in a fixed wing plane.  He was very enthusiastic about the helicopter transport and the fantastic scenery along the way.

April 8

"We have just arrived in Gokyo after a nice walk from Maccherma.  It is about 15,700' in elevation so it's high but not that big of a deal.  The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. There are huge peaks all around us plus a nice lake (ice covered at the moment). We are staying at the very nice Namaste Lodge and they have pretty good wifi.

Tomorrow we plan to walk up Gokyo Ri, the big hill next to Gokyo where we should have some amazing view of Cho Oyu, Everest and maybe Makalu.  We will likely take an extra night here so Scott can acclimatize a bit more."  (Scott is Robert's friend from Lincoln who will travel to base camp with Robert as part of his first trip to Nepal.)

April 9

"Today we took it easy.  We went for a short walk, chatted with some British medical students volunteering in this valley, ate a lot, and I did some work on my office computer. The internet is painfully slow. Tomorrow we are going up Gokyo Ri assuming the weather is good and then we move to the village of Dragnag.  We plan to cross Cho La the following day, again weather permitting.

Scott is feeling much better and I'm hungry all the time so that's a good sign.  We have a nice room here with corner windows.  The staff is very attentive and the food is good.  For lunch today I had chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese plus gravy and rice.  I then ate momos (Nepali potstickers) with homemade cili sauce that was hot and tasty."

April 10

"We had a great day today.  In the morning we climbed Gokyo Ri and enjoyed phenomenal views of Cho Oyu, Changtse, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Makalu, Cholatse and Ama Dablam plus dozens of other amazing peaks that I cannot name.  It's a good day when you can see four of the world's six highest peaks at the same time.  I only needed 1:16 to climb Gokyo Ri while the normal time is 2 - 3 hours.

We had lunch at the Namaste Gokyo Lodge and they gave us kata scarves when we left.  We then crossed a big glacier and are in Dragnag at the Cho La Resort Hotel.  We plan to cross the pass tomorrow.  It will be a tough day - 9 or more hours.  I feel strong but my shoulders are sore from my pack.  It's quite cold tonight and is snowing."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A hard day on my climb

Last Wednesday was one of the harder days of my climb and I was still in Nebraska. What? That's the day Patty and Caelen took me to the airport and I said goodbye for 10 weeks. I never enjoy that part of the climb and this time was no better. 

My flight took me from Omaha to Chicago to Abu Dhabi where I had an 18 hour layover (my choice). I enjoyed a nice sleep there and in the morning I walked for a couple of hours along the waterfront and also in the city. That afternoon (Friday by now) I flew to Kathamandu and went to the hotel. After a good night's sleep I awoke feeling ready to go. I gathered up our 8 kids plus some other friends and we went to the Hyatt for a nice lunch and an afternoon of swimming. Everyone had a fantastic time together. I love being with all of them.

Sunday through Tuesday have been a whirlwind of activities - last minute shopping (mostly foods), enjoying my favorite restaurants, seeing old friends, etc. One of the highlights was greeting Scott at the airport on Monday morning and showing him "my" town. He landed at 7 am and in spite of having virtually no sleep for 36+ hours, we hit the ground running. We ran all around Kathmandu and then in the afternoon were joined by another team member and went to see my kids for a couple of hours. Afterwards we went to one of the famous Bhuddist stupas (Bhodanath Stupa) and then enjoyed a great dinner. I don't know how Scott didn't fall asleep a dozen times!

On Tuesday we finished up our errands and then were required to meet with the Ministry of Tourism for a briefing on the new rules relating to garbage on the mountain. Finally we had a very nice group dinner and I finished packing my two oversized duffel bags and went to bed. 

Today I am playing tour guide and will be taking several of the team to see some of the sights and then I will spend the afternoon with my kids again. 

We leave early tomorrow morning for Lukla and then our trek begins. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The third time's the charm (hopefully!)

I've been planning my third attempt on Everest beginning about 10 seconds after I turned around from my summit bid last year. Near obsession will do that to you. I am now 14 days away from leaving for Kathmandu to try again and couldn't be more excited to go. Our expedition last year was from the Tibetan side of the mountain which I found to be much colder and harder than the Nepalese side. It is windier, the shade lingers over your camp for more hours, the mix of rock and ice means you are frequently climbing with the wrong things on your feet (crampons on rock or no crampons on snow), good food is harder to get and rescue is all but impossible as the Chinese won't allow helicopters near the mountain. I decided that I would only try Everest again from the Nepal side but Phil (Crampton, owner of Altitude Junkies) was more or less committed to going via Tibet again in 2014. Phil and I had long conversations, he consulted with his Sherpa team, I cajoled and he eventually decided to shift his 2014 climb to the Nepal side. I was very grateful for this as Phil is hands down my first choice for a guide and guiding company. I like him, his wife, their Sherpa staff, their higher quality food, the attitude, the freedom he grants, the standards he insists upon and his choice of clients.
For 12 months now I have been researching and fussing over the smallest equipment details, meeting with two different trainers at our gym, studying different ideas for high altitude food, reading accounts of previous climbs and thinking and dreaming about Everest. I will admit that I'm more than a little OCD about this thing. I love Everest and climbing in Nepal but I don't want to fail a third time because I missed some subtle problem with my preparation. I failed to summit in 2013 largely due to extremely cold hands and feet that were well on their way to being frostbitten. (My toes tingled for three weeks after the climb) With this in mind, I've bought the latest-greatest boots two sizes larger than I normally wear so I have room for thicker socks plus a little foot swelling. I tracked down spare batteries for my boot warmers. I found insulating insoles made from a material developed by NASA. I have heated glove liners and better mittens. A very talented friend is enlarging my ascender (a handle-like device that attaches to the ropes for safety and to help you climb) so that the bigger glove combination can fit into it. I have saved 20 ounces by buying a new backpack, 32 ounces by bringing a 0 degree sleeping bag vs my normal -40 degree bag (a plan that may result in some uncomfortable nights at Camps 3 and 4 but it is hard to sleep there anyway). Short of quitting all work and family obligations and moving to Colorado to train all day at higher altitudes, I don't know what else to do to increase my chances.
I fly to Kathmandu via Abu Dhabi and will enjoy five full days there before we go to Lukla. During this time I will be hanging out with our 8 kids there, visiting old friends and enjoying the sights and culture of the world's funnest city (others may disagree with this assessment). From Lukla, our group with trek over two days to Namche Bazaar, the biggest village on the hike to base camp. It's located at 11,500' so most groups will spend an extra night or two here to acclimatize before going higher. At this point I become a contrarian and will leave the group which will be traveling on the traditional route to base camp. I've been up this route twice and descended on it once and want to see some different scenery so I will be using a less-traveled route and get there via Gokyo and the Cho La (pass), rejoining the group in Lubuche or possibly even at base camp.
Scott, an orthopedic surgeon friend from here in Lincoln will be joining me for the trek to base camp which will be fun. This is his first visit to Nepal and he's in for a real treat. He also plans to climb Lobuche, a 20,000' peak on his way from base camp back down to Lukla.
Patty will be updating my blog more than me as it is difficult to get internet at base camp. 
You can also find info about our team at here and very detailed info about all the teams, drama, weather, etc at
Alan Arnette runs the most respected and thorough Everest website. Read this article  he wrote recently to get an idea of what it's like to leave your family to climb.
I will miss everyone but am super excited to try again at fulfilling my long time dream.

This is the view that awaits me at Camp 3.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Expedition summary

I am a little late in writing so I'll offer my apologies as a way of starting this update. After I left base camp and returned to Kathmandu life seemed to really accelerate. My Mom had flown to Kathmandu to welcome the conquering hero; unfortunately I was neither. We've had a great time here in Kathmandu doing some sightseeing, visiting all my favorite restaurants, introducing her to my many local friends and most importantly spending time with the eight kids who make up my Nepali family.

For the most part life is very slow on a high mountain expedition. This is due to the need to acclimatize, a process that cannot be hurried. This requires weeks of sitting around eating, resting and going for day climbs up nearby mountains. I try to be an "active rester". It's a balancing act between the need to stay fit and really encourage your body to acclimatize vs not overtaxing yourself and getting worn down or even sick. Base Camp is at 17,000' and Advanced Base Camp is at 21,000'. At these extreme elevations you heal very slowly so you can't really allow yourself to get sick. At home I don't even think about getting sick and I'm not particularly fussy but at BC and ABC I get a little paranoid. Most days at BC I would hike 1,000' to 3,000' vertical feet up the mountain next to camp and return in time for lunch. The views were beautiful and it would get me working pretty hard in the thin air.

Acclimatizing is an amazing thing. When I first arrived at BC I found going for a walk on flat ground would leave me quite short of breath. After a few weeks of adjustment I could climb almost as fast as I could in Colorado a mile or more lower in elevation. Initially it's hard to eat and sleep but this also changes with time. Our bodies are absolutely amazing machines!

All this idle time changes when the summit push begins and you find yourself going day and night. A lot of big mountain climbing is done at night, and for some very good reasons. First, you need to consider the weather. If a few hours after you start climbing the weather changes for the worse, a night start gives you lots of daylight to deal with the problem. Second, more falls occur on the way down and they tend to have higher consequences than a fall on your way up. (Think falling down a staircase compared with falling up a staircase). This makes descending in daylight quite critical vs doing it in the dark after a long day. Finally, big mountains, by their very size, require very long days. You're better off doing the end of an exhausting day in the light.

Our first trip to ABC was on April 21/22. Due to the elevation and distance it was split into two days with an overnight at Interim Base Camp. IBC is a horrible place at 19,000'. There are yaks everywhere and every one of them is leaving a deposit. Phil told us to spend every moment of our time there inside our tent to minimize the odds of getting sick. I complied quite happily. We carried on to ABC the following morning and I took a little over nine hours for the total trip. We spent six nights at ABC and then returned to BC to recover as most of us found life there very hard. I couldn't eat much at all until the last two days and sleeping was very hard. It's also a cold and boring place.

After enjoying BC for 13 days we returned to ABC. This second trip took me 7 1/2 hours and was made in one day instead of two, more proof of the benefits of acclimatizing. Two days later (May 13) we thought we were heading off to the summit and climbed to the North Col at 23,000'. This was my favorite part of the climb. It's very scenic, all snow and ice, steep enough to require some skill and caution and to make it interesting while still feeling quite safe. The elevation is high but I could manage it quite well. We were carrying a lot of gear so this slowed us down and then the weather fell apart towards the top with cold temps, high winds and snow. Nine of our party of ten clients made it there.

The next morning was beautiful until Phil announced that he'd tricked us into this rotation because he wanted us to all sleep on the Col (a Welsh word for "pass") before our real summit push. GROAN!! We left most of our gear in a tent and returned to ABC.

Back at ABC we closely watched the daily forecast and finally everyone agreed to a predicted weather window. Our real climb to the summit began on May 18. With a lot less to carry, my trip to Camp 1 on the North Col went much faster. I shared a tent with Ed, an Englishman with whom I'd climbed in Indonesia last year, and Sangee Sherpa my fantastic Sherpa guide. We were quite cramped and I was very hot all night as I volunteered for the worst spot in the tent (the middle guy).

After a fitful sleep we packed up and headed for Camp 2. I quickly decided my load was too heavy and returned to the tent to drop what I could. My pack was still heavy but I had no choice so I plodded up quite slowly. I spend a large amount of time choosing the lightest gear I can find but you need so much stuff at high elevations that your pack still ends up very heavy.

One of the culprits was my food selection. I find it hard to eat when I'm very high up on the mountain so I brought a good selection of things in hopes that I could find something palatable. Chief among these was my Mom's fruit cake. I realize that fruit cake is very low on most people's list but Mom makes a great one and it is very dense and loaded with calories which is exactly what I needed. I ended up becoming a good resource for several other members of our team because they hadn't brought enough food due to some misunderstandings.

The climb to C2 takes you up a very long snow-covered ridge with one false summit after another. After the endless snow ramp finally does end, you then climb on rock and scree (similar to gravel) for several more hundred feet to the tents. I know climbing a few hundred feet sounds like a five- or ten-minute proposition but at these heights people tend to move at about 300 to 400 feet per hour. Walking the length of a car can take five minutes.

Our tents were on tiny, sloping bits of platforms built by stacking rocks. They were too small for the tents so all the tents looked they were collapsing. I was helped to my tent by the ever-kind and strong Sangee. He took my boots off for me, melted snow and just looked after me. The winds picked up during the night and I realized we wouldn't be leaving as scheduled for C3 so I turned off my oxygen to conserve it.

Sure enough, the next morning Phil put us on hold so we spent an unscheduled day sitting in our tents. This is when my extra food became quite valuable and I was happy to share it with my teammates. Sangee and I chatted much of the day and listened to music on my iPod. In the afternoon he disappeared with another Sherpa and they made more platforms and put up more tents. We'd been using a contracted tent and now more climbers were coming so we needed to vacate our home. One of our team decided he'd had enough during this unplanned and unwanted rest day and returned to ABC.

The winds died down during our second night and we packed up in the cold early morning and I started for C3 while Sangee took our tent down and stashed it in his enormous backpack. My feet were painfully cold and I held out hope that they'd warm up with movement. I was wrong. After about 30 minutes I knew I was in trouble so I sought permission from another group to use one of their tents and try to warm my feet.

Ang Gelu Sherpa, who was a personal Sherpa for Margaret, was nearby and offered to help me. I put my feet inside his down suit under his arms and this helped quite a lot. Not too much later, Sangee arrived on scene and relieved Ang Gelu. He rubbed my feet for a long time, put them inside his coat and was so helpful and kind. I seem to always be surrounded by amazing Sherpas. We eventually succeeded in warming my feet up, but I was in real danger of serious frostbite for quite a while. I then made a fatal error. My boots have heated insoles with a remote control. I turned them on for about ten minutes just to make certain I'd be okay. I remembered to turn them off, or so I thought.

The climb to C3 was longer than it should have been for two reasons. First, we'd camped lower at C2 than normal because others had used our traditional tent sites. Second, I just had a tough day. I needed 11 1/2 hours counting my foot-warming time to get to C3. I was so tired that Sangee, together with Kami Neru (aka Mad Dog) Sherpa, came down a fair distance to help me and another of our team who was struggling.

I suspect that I might not have made it to the tent had they not come so I was very happy to have the help. Sangee took all my gear and swapped oxygen bottles with me, allowing me to go to a higher oxygen flow rate than my depleted bottle could deliver. We climbed for two more hours to the tents. Along the way we had to step around Namgyal Sherpa, aged 35 and a friend of Phil's and our Sherpa team. He died descending from the summit a few days prior, likely from a heart condition. It was a very sad and sobering moment.

It started to blow and snow as I arrived in the camp at 6:30. I was exhausted and very cold. The ever helpful and kind Sangee took my crampons and boots off and helped me into the tent. I sat down and vomited. He melted more snow, I drank and ate and then Markus and I agreed to delay our summit departure until midnight so we could recover a bit more from the day's efforts.

It was a very cold and uncomfortable evening. Camp 3 is perched on a steep slope - think a black diamond ski slope in steepness. I sat cross-legged sliding down against the downhill wall of the tent. I could lie down on my back, but needed to keep my legs crossed due to the narrowness and steepness. My feet again got very cold. It was during this time that I discovered I had not fully turned off my electric insoles some 12 hours earlier and now my only batteries were essentially depleted. This would eventually cost me my summit.

I did as much as I could to warm my feet but they were still very cold and putting them into frozen boots certainly didn't help matters. Eventually I emerged from our tent a little after midnight and Sangee helped me with my crampons. I had some chemical handwarmers but they're not very effective up high since they need oxygen. Markus and I started our summit bid at 12:25 am.

My hands were cold but I was slowly making some progress in warming them as I climbed. However I was rapidly losing control of my feet. I suffered a little frostbite when I skied Manaslu (26,781') 18 months ago so I know exactly what it feels like. I began thinking about the famous Everest climber George Mallory. He once said that he'd be willing to lose a toe to frostbite to gain the summit. I decided that 1.) You don't get to decide which toe and I'd likely lose all of them and 2.) I wasn't willing to make such a bargain with the devil. After 45 minutes of doing my best to warm my tender feet I decided I had no options left and I must return right now to my tent.

I made my announcement to Sangee, Markus and Kami Neru. Markus said he was having the same problems so we all turned around and scrambled back to C3. I reached the tent at 1:22 am, my summit bid over with for 2013. Mortals such as me simply don't have enough strength to linger too long up high and make a second attempt. I gave everything I had to give and a second attempt would fail if I was lucky, or likely end with me remaining up there for all time.

I was extremely disappointed but life is much bigger than even the world's biggest mountain. I have so much to live for and be grateful for. I'm blessed with a wonderful, caring wife, three amazing kids, mother, brother (and family), lifelong friends, the world's freest and best country and a huge, growing family in Nepal (currently eight kids). I love my home, business, community, church and just being in mountains all around the world. There are very few people on earth that have been blessed like I have. I have no regrets, but do plan to try again to achieve my Everest dream next year.

I left C3 a little after 8 am as I waited for the sun to hit my tent before leaving. Once again my feet were super cold but between the sun and my movement they eventually warmed up. It got very windy descending to C2 but then the wind almost stopped a bit lower as I moved off the rock and onto the long snow ramp that leads to C1. I went from freezing to boiling in my down suit in only a few minutes. It seems to be hard to be comfortable on this mountain!

Once I reached C1 I took my down suit off and put on normal softshell pants and jacket. I drank, ate, repacked all my gear and set off for ABC. There are lots of steep sections and I took things safely and rappelled them instead of just doing a hand wrap (a technique that involves wrapping the rope around your hands to control your speed going down steep sections). I finally reached ABC after about eight hours of effort. I was extremely dehydrated and drank eight cups of tea that evening yet never needed to use the bathroom.

The following morning I, along with three other team members, walked 6 1/2 hours down to BC. I took a sorely needed bucket bath, packed my gear, ate and drank gallons of water and Fanta and had a great night's sleep. The following morning seven of us loaded into two Toyota LandCruisers and drove to Xangmu on the Nepal border. We crossed into Nepal the following morning and were at the Hotel Courtyard by 2:30 pm. It was wonderful to be home!

I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the Herculean efforts of the three summiting members of our team. Ole Nielsen, Margaret Watroba and Edita Nichols all summited with Phil and seven of the Sherpas the same day that I turned back. You can read more details at:
Margaret enjoyed her second summit of Everest in four attempts. Ole isn't actually human. He descended from C3 all the way to BC in one epic day. He's also run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents and swum the Straits of Gibraltar. He is currently considering repeating the marathon project again but doing two per day for a total of 14 in a week on all seven continents.That's beyond comprehension.

Our team of Sherpas were amazing (an overused but accurate descriptor). They are highly skilled, always smiling and happy, strong beyond my ability to understand and a joy to be around. Phil runs the finest expedition on Everest and now my challenge is to convince him to do the South side next year.