Essay: Home Sweet Home in the Eureka at C6 Andy Politz - Basecamp Thu, May 03, 2001 4:50AM
It is often that we get questions of just what life is like at the highest camp, on the highest mountain on the planet. Having recently returned from said place, with it's memory fresh in my mind, I'm hoping to illuminate those below to the fascinations of life above.
On the first search effort, Tap Richards, Dave Hahn and myself spent three days and three nights at the 27,000-foot camp. Before you ever spend your first night there, one is affronted with plenty of stories of hallucinations, gasping to gather enough oxygen to sustain life, winds blowing tents and their occupants to leeward and stoves that work better when the tent door is opened to let in more oxygen molecules.
Shelter can be lightweight, strong or roomy. The tent designer gets to pick two. For this trip, Eureka generously offered to build the tent of our dreams. For a bunch of climbers, that is like regular people who are getting "This Old House" to come in and remodel their house beyond their wildest dreams. Like Steve and Norm talking to the homeowner, there was plenty of patient listening to pie in the sky of roomy, standing headroom, bombproof structures with skylights, infloor heating and a swimming pool out back.
As we were coerced into reality, we did well to take a few lessons from the Three Little Pigs. Our absolute requirement was stability and strength. In no way, did we want any Big Bad Wolf huffin' and puffin' and blowing our house down. It had to be easy to pitch- to keep the BBW from sneaking up on us unawares. We wanted a nice fireplace (for the stewpot), but Kurt Heisler (at Eureka) told us it would be too heavy, slow to pitch and the cost overrun of getting a masonry contractor to work up there, in those conditions, would be exorbitant.
We ended up with a home that we have NO concern of it flattening into a pile of sticks. The BBW can huff and puff all he wants, until he can tune in with the jet stream and we are secure in it's little haven of peacefulness inside.
Speaking of inside, a high tent, allowing headroom will require too much work to set up and will be flattened into your face in high winds. We hoped for a tent nearly as low and streamlined as a formula one racecar. Since volume equates to weakness, in this situation, we are in various stages of making peace with compromise.
Living in a small space, as every small boat sailor knows, requires one to pick your partners carefully. The mariner's maxim bodes well here. 'When contemplating crew members, imagine living with them for six weeks, in your bathroom.' Only slightly different, in the mountains, I've found it best to imagine myself one of a newborn litter of puppies. Flopping on top of each other is fair game. The feet are only off limits in the area of two body parts.
The stove, constantly running, must be protected by open space. The last thing we want is a hole burnt in our down suits, or down bags. Duct tape is hard to stick to nylon fabric when it's covered with frost.
Tap and I were sharing a tent at camp 6. His occasional leg cramp was accompanied by a flying Bruce Lee quality kick outward. Obviously, it would be dangerous to be within a certain degree of arc, or range of the kick. Being somewhat experienced at this game, we know the subtle hazards of our endeavor, be it snow quality, rock stability, long term exposure to altitude or muscle spasm.
Our staying power at this altitude is closely related to how much we can consume, be it food or oxygen. The longer we want to stay up here, the more calories we must take in. The more oxygen needed to digest it. Of course, I found my self with various recipes of beef stew -- a very high oxygen diet from the hours of 8PM to 10PM. Tap would be plugging along on some oriental noodles, digestible with very low blood oxygen levels. We ran the hose off an O2 bottle and to a tee fitting, so we each would get half of the air. I would generally sleep like a baby on my high digestive flow of O2. Should I however notice the slightest level of discomfort, I would quietly clamp Tap's O2 supply, diverting more than half the flow to me, insuring a warm comfortable night on my half of the system. He didn't need it anyway, having eaten a meal so high in carbohydrates.
One has to be aware of what's going on around him. I figure I'm just helping Tap stay on top of things.