Essay: Knee Injured in Late Night Rescue Jake Norton - Basecamp Tue, May 15, 2001 5:50AM
I am not sure if it was audible or simply tangible; nonetheless, it was dubiously memorable: a sudden "POP!" in my knee joint, followed immediately by a blinding flash of pain. Fortunately, it was not enough pain to make me collapse, for that would have sent my precious cargo -- a Chinese glaciologist named Gao -- crashing with me into the surrounding boulders.
"Change!" I yelled, signalling the others that I needed a replacement to carry the load for the next segment. Chuldum, a characteristically scrawny yet unbelievably strong Tibetan, was there immediately and was soon scurrying down the trail with our awkward, 160 pound human backpack.
"What was that?" I wondered, as I picked my way down the East Rongphu Glacier. Had I blown a ligament? Torn cartilage? Or did I simply tweak something inside the knee causing sharp pain, but no lasting effects. No sense in wondering at this point; we had several miles to go before we got our patient safely to Basecamp, and that was the priority. Besides, the knee would only tell me with sufficient time what had happened.
Over my 15 years of climbing, I have learned there is only one truism in the mountains: nothing is certain. A bluebird day turns stormy just as quickly as a storm breaks top reveal clear skies; a drop of bad water or bite of tainted food transitions fine health into miserable sickness; previous strength at altitude reverts to exhaustion with one night's bad sleep. This situation proved it yet again. Tap Richards, John Race, and I had started off from Basecamp on the morning of May 7th for our summit bids. I looked forward to climbing with Tap, my long time friend and climbing companion. We had turned around together in 1999 high on the Northeast Ridge, and looked forward to standing on top together this time around. But fate had other plans...
In the days following the rescue, my knee was stiff and sore, any movement causing a sharp, nagging pain. But, I was determined to give it another shot, and try once again to make a summit bid. On the 10th, Tap, Brent, Jason, Heidi, and I set off again for ABC. I figured I could make it to ABC and reevaluate the situation there. If my knee felt good, I would push onward; if not, I would take the conservative track and throw in the towel. Yet again, plans changed...By Intermediate Camp at 19,000 feet, it was evident that my knee was not up to snuff. Uphills caused a steady, grinding pain, and downhill was next to impossible. With a sinking heart, I turned around and walked back to Basecamp in a sticky, pre-monsoon snow.
On the one hand, it is hard for me to contain my disappointment at this turn of events. This is my second expedition to Everest; I have spent over four months on the mountain, and again will return without the summit under my belt. But, part of me (and luckily the stronger voice within) has been able to wax philisophically about this twist of fate. The summit of Everest is but another summit, and my personal climbing ideal has always been to fixate not on the top, but rather to enjoy the thrills and challenges of climbing encountered along the way. I had some great experiences on the mountain this year, enjoyed spectacular climbing in the company of wonderful partners and friends, and, if I feel I really need the summit...Well, I figure it'll be around for a while...
NOTE: We just got a visit from Ho and Lee, two of the Chinese glaciologists. They reported that Gao is still in Shigatse at the hospital, but is doing very well, ambulatory and talking.