Essay: The Backside of Glory John Race - Basecamp Sat, May 05, 2001 4:30AM
Many folks back home imagine climbing Everest to be a series of good views, moments of glory, and team members sitting around slapping each other on the back as they overcome one obstacle after another. This could not be farther from the reality of this place. I have often told people that a Himalayan Expedition is 98% planning, packing, drudgery, and hard work. If you are lucky, the remaining 2% includes the high points. This year I have not been so lucky and have surrendered the remaining 2% to the drudgery category. I somehow managed to spend the entire month of April in some form of physical disrepair. In 12 years of expedition climbing I have never managed such a long stretch of "downtime."
People that don't climb are quick to conclude that being laid low is inherently a bad thing. It is certainly boring at times, and can be a bit of a hassle, but in the grand scheme of things it strikes me as something that is eventually bound to happen to climbers in these parts. I would have hoped that my body had decided to rebel on a less high profile expedtion, or at a point that would have interfered less with my goal of searching high on Everest, but I have come to realize that it often does not work that way. On past expeditions I have managed to glide through in good health while other team members are laid out by every variety of malady. As a result I tried to work my way through this season with the "big picture" in mind.
As I lay in my tent with sore throat and lungs I focused on Craig John's 1998 ascent of the same route. He spent the entire month of April so sick that he was sent to a lower elevation to recover and then returned to summit powerfully, reaching the summit early in the day with enough reserve strength to downclimb all the way to Advanced Base Camp. Despite his illness his summit bid ended up being stronger than just about any I had heard of. His ascent stood as one example of what I could yet accomplish if I played my cards right and resisted the temptation to join my friends on the search.
My ten days at ABC were spent with a constant ear on the radio. I managed to relay messages between basecamp and the teams near the Col that could not talk directly to basecamp. I organized Sherpa loads, kept track of what equipment was at what camps, cleaned the various storage tents, administered first-aid to a few Sherpas, negotiated the sharing of costs and fixed lines with some of the other teams on the mountain, and basically kept things moving at our highest base camp. I was partially motivated to help the team, but also heavily motivated just to keep moving for the sake of avoiding depression and boredom. There is no question that what I did supported the team. I did not come to Everest to be the basecamp manager, but it turned out that that was the best way I could support the team this April.
ABC is a fairly cold place with only about 10 hours of sun each day. Our first radio call is at 7am and our second is at 6pm, with the time outside these hours dominated by temperatures in around 10°F. The one advantage of the place is that it is at 21,000, an altitude high enough to give me a good chance to acclimate.
Highlights of my stay included visits to the South Australian Camp where we played a game called Mafia, which had been taught to me by James Moore of Orion Expeditions, A river rafting outfit in Seattle, WA, watched various DVD movies on a laptop computer, and indulged in some of the best espresso coffee outside Seattle.
So here I am in early May, relatively healthy, well acclimated, and sitting with a chance to climb the highest mountain in the world. Jake, Tap, and I are scheduled to leave camp on May 6 and could be in position as early as May 11. There are more important things than climbing Mt. Everest. These things will be in the back of my mind for the next two weeks, but my focus will be on pushing as hard as I can in one big effort to pull all those nights of bad sleep, coughing, and sore throats, into what matters on these trips, making the summit quickly and safely and then making it back down to celebrate. I could not have better partners than Jake and Tap, and the example of Craig John is paving the way to the top.