The Mountain that Wouldn’t Go

April 12, 2015

Earlier in the season, when all the big Everest expeditions were coming through Pheriche, the owner of an unnamed expedition company offered me the invitation to join his guides and clients climbing Lobuche East “anytime between April 12th and 20th.” Despite my efforts to secure a more specifics, I was merely assured, “show up at our base camp at Lobuche, and the guides will take care of the rest.

Not wanting to pass on this opportunity to get onto one of Nepal’s “trekking peaks”, I arranged with Katie and Renee to take off a few days during this time to try my hand at this peak. My hope was to be able to climb both Lobuche East, and Island Peak, two 6,000m peaks in the Khumbu region.  I have ascended to 5,500m twice in preparation for these bigger mountains.  Island is scheduled for May, so this was the perfect time to climb Lobuche East.  So I left on the morning of April 12, with plans to meet up with the group at their base camp that evening, hike to high camp the next day, and then summit the third. It was all going to be great!

Prayer Flags over Thokla pass

Prayer Flags over Thokla pass

I love taking pictures of these prayer flags....

I love taking pictures of these prayer flags….

Well I had good reason to be a bit worried about the specifics, or lack thereof.

I arrived at base camp in the mid-afternoon with cloudy weather closing in. I asked the Nepali’s around where the guides were, and they told me “they’re all up at high camp.”

Oh.

So I used their radio to speak with the expedition company owner, who was currently at Everest Base Camp. At first he didn’t remember me (great!), but then said, “Oh, well just go up to the high camp and you can meet up with them there.”

At this point I had already gained 700m in elevation. At the HRA we teach that in altitude, you shouldn’t gain more than 500m elevation per day, and here I was preparing to climb higher. Well at least I’ve been acclimatized to Pheriche’s elevation for several weeks.

There was one westerner, a Sherpa and a porter who were preparing to leave base camp for the trek to high camp. It was very clear to me that if I didn’t leave with them, there’d be no way for me to get to high camp that night. No way was I going to walk into a cloud to find a camp on the side of a mountain I’ve never seen before.

A call came in from the guides on Lobuche. They had no knowledge of me, and were not excited to have me joining their expedition. Further, they told me that the sleeping bag and mattress I’d been promised were not actually there. Thankfully I’d brought my own, not trusting the vague promises I’d heard. I’d hoped to dump some weight before starting up the mountain, but this means that I’d be carrying my full bag of equipment up to high camp.

The group heading up the mountain was equally as unhappy about me being there. This is a great way to start an expedition, feeling that you are totally unwanted!

The trail was tricky, intermixed among rock fields. At one point, a rope had been strung because the trail was rocky and icy. Exciting, but a bit unnerving.

A sketchy section of icy boulders that required a rope for safety.

A sketchy section of icy boulders that required a rope for safety.

As five o’clock rolls around, it begins to snow, and twilight sets in. I gain a ridge, and there are about a dozen tents marking. The camp is at 5,200m, a full 1,000m above Pheriche!

Arriving at high camp, 5,200m.

Arriving at high camp, 5,200m.

The group has been kind enough to let me stay in their gear tent. I set up my sleeping bag and mat, and share a stove with the team doctor, Tracy, who works at Vail Valley Medical Center. We spend some time discussing doctors we both know.

Night sets in early. The plan is to be ready by 7 to climb to the top of the mountain. I snuggle into my sleeping bag wearing all the clothes I own! Inside my Mountain Hardware 0-degree sleeping bag I wear a long underwear top, a Patagonia sun-shirt, a lightweight Patagonia Down sweater, and my heavy synthetic Rab jacket. On the bottom, I’m wearing midweight long underwear, trekking pants, and Gore-Tex pants.

Still I’m freezing!

After the obligate getting up three times to pee overnight (I forgot to pack a pee bottle), the dull light of dawn starts appearing. It is snowing. Hard. It snows at least 1-1.5 feet overnight.

The camp the next morning.  My tent was the green one.

The camp the next morning, buried in snow. My tent was the green one.

Me at the high camp.

Me at the Lobuche East high camp.

The call goes out: we’re going to hang tight and see what the weather does before deciding to go up the mountain. By 8 am, it is decided to down climb back to basecamp. No shot at Lobuche East this time.  A snowfall this big is too much a risk of avalanche.

Downclimbing in the snow.  Stuff avalanches were going off all around us.

Downclimbing in the snow. Stuff avalanches were going off all around us.

Last night’s rock scramble has become a snow route today. Stuff avalanches are falling all around us.  Difficult but fun down climbing leads us back to basecamp, where tea, ginger cookies, and a meal of French Fries with an egg (a new culinary favorite!) awaits.

Downclimbing in the snow.

Downclimbing in the snow.

The icy rope section the next morning.  This time going down.

The icy rope section the next morning. This time going down.

I didn’t make it up to Lobuche East, and at first I felt a bit like the redheaded stepchild no one wanted, but as I got to know the group, I still had fun in the end.

I made it back to the HRA clinic in time to celebrate the Nepali New Year. Nepal does its best to assert its uniqueness from the rest of the world (thus being 15 minutes off the rest of the world in time), and according to their calendars, April 12 is New Years Eve, and the year is 2072! To celebrate, we bought some beers, which tasted really good after two days of heavy hiking, and Jeet and Tan bought rakshi, the local moonshine, which was remarkably smooth and basically tasted like water.

While the trip wasn’t the one I wanted, it was fun to camp out in a snowstorm, and to celebrate New Years with friends. The next time I ring in the year 2072, I will be 91 years old….

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2 Responses to “The Mountain that Wouldn’t Go”

  1. Bonnie hankinson said

    WOW again, Andy!! You are a brave survivor! Time to go on the
    Show…and you would be a big winner! My days seem so boring.
    Keep up the safe adventures…..XO

  2. Andrew said

    Interesting you should say that, Bonnie. The blonde nurse, Haley, currently on Survivor used to work as an ER nurse at St. V’s when I was in residency.

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