ESSAY: Life at Everest ABC Brent Okita - Basecamp Tue, April 03, 2001 10:20AM
Our first cycle up the mountain is done. With one exception, we are all back down at Basecamp, resting and relaxing, with the route to the North Col established. The notable exception is my good friend Dave Hahn, who remains at Advanced Basecamp (ABC) with the second half of our Sherpa team. Today marks his ninth day up high, with a couple more days still to come.
Our group of six main searchers, Dave, Andy, Tap, Jake, John and myself, have proceeded at a slightly accelerated acclimatization schedule. All being climbers and guides with much high altitude experience, we set off with the first Yak 'trains' ferrying supplies to ABC at 21,300' from our Base at 17,000'. With Andy, Dave and Tap heading out on the 25th, and Jake, John and I going the 27th, our arrival at ABC was met with a harsh reality check in terms of the altitude.
The sleeplessness and headaches that are so common in the groups of folks we guide in the high mountains back home struck us hard here. It was between mouthfuls of humble pie that we would tell each other at breakfast just how poorly we fared the night before. Then to add insult to injury, watching our all star Sherpa team climbing as though at sea level helped us realize just what our limits at this point in the game would really be. At this early juncture our ambitions centered on acclimatizing. And with time we have. Following a trip or two to the North Col, we were all feeling decent, and our nights passed with ever greater ease.
Although life at altitude does get easier with time, living at ABC has been by no means fun. Particularly this year, it has been continuously cold and windy. It is the cold, coupled with the dry air, that seem to exacerbate the deep, hacking cough that comes with simply breathing. In an attempt to calm the irritation of the lungs, we all try breathing through things like dust masks, neck gaiters or bandanas. Anything to warm and moisten the air going to our lungs.
Unfortunately, the reality of struggling to get enough air into our bodies while draping a cloth over your mouth and nose, can be troublesome. And then there is nighttime. Besides the hammering of the tent walls and the locomotive howling of the wind at the Col, you're always reminded that while sleeping, you're one heck of a moisture exhaust system. Left with a fragile stucco of exhaled moisture, flash frozen to the walls and ceiling of the tent, every little movement brings a shower of ice finding its way through the cracks of your down nest of your sleeping bag. But that's life at ABC. For now, I'm comfortably ensconced in the warmth and thick air of Basecamp. Irritated lungs from up high have recovered and deep sleep is easily had. Correspondences are made and plans for the upper mountain are laid. Soon enough we'll be back, climbing the mountain, doing what we love to do. Only sometimes we do love to wax and whine of the discomforts of climbing big mountains. But what a small price to pay to pursue our ambitions here on Everest.