Archive for April, 2008

So I Hear It’s Your Birthday

I write this from Kathmandu.  We arrived yesterday via a helicopter rescue from the Khumbu glacier just below Everest base camp.

To fully understand why it is I am here and where I just came from… at 16,500 foot elevation there is nothing.  Rock, ice and yaks.  The yaks are everywhere and the Sherpa use the dung as fuel for their fires.  The air is permeated with the smoke and dust from this fuel source.  We wear cloths over our nose and mouth and I believe hacking, spewing and nose picking to be the number one pastime in Nepal.

Somewhere along the climb I experienced a sharp pain in my lower right side.  True to form I ignored it.  A few days later it was more pronounced so I took a pain pill.  Upon reaching 16,500 it was difficult to stand up and now we became concerned.  We hiked to the village of Penboche to seek the advice of the Himalayan rescue mission where a doctor diagnosed me with possible appendicitis and recommended immediate rescue from the mountain.  The remoteness of the region, and the lack of sanitation or any medical facilities other than a hut surrounded by yak, made this not the best place to find oneself with appendicitis.  A helicopter was dispatched and flew me to Kathmandu and an awaiting ambulance.  I spent the last 24 hours in the Kathmandu hospital on an IV under the care of a Pakistani surgeon who was more than willing to operate.  I am now “out” of the hospital and will be returning to the US as soon as I am “released” from the hospital.  They have kept my passport, visa and Blue Cross and Blue Shield card (not sure why but I think they think I am a US official)

I have to admit I would rather climb Everest backwards and blindfolded than go through what I just experienced the last 24 hours.  I found the hospital frightening to say the least.  Not speaking Nepalese or Hindi (as this was a Hindu hospital to which I was taken) and not knowing what I was being administered nor what they wanted to do was extreme.

I am now happily at a cyber cafe where the Internet is a mere 25 rupees per hour compared to the 30 per minute at 14,000 feet, and am awaiting my trip back to the US.  Oh yea, after I “get released” from the hospital.

The good news!!!  Brooke and I return August 24 to climb Cho Oyu.  I am even leaving all my climbing gear here – although I am taking my appendix home with me.  Guess we were supposed to climb that mountain after all!

As always, the universe truly does provide, and I am ever so grateful that I have once again been so very well provided for.  The Khumbu Valley is magic and the Sherpa who live there are an amazing, warm and wonderful people.  I can’t wait to be with them again.

To Dawa Tenzing my high altitude Sherpa, Dawa Gelising Sherpa our base camp and overall project manager, Nema Sherpa, along with the 20 other Sherpa… you took incredible care of me and I know you will continue to see me through my mission.  I look forward to returning to you in August to experience Cho Oyu and beyond.

On April 24th I celebrated my birthday.  Nothing unusual about this annual event except that the Buddhist religion does not recognise birthdays, so this is something very unfamiliar to our Sherpa.  True to form, Dawa baked me a chocolate cake (remember no electricity, no oven), but there it was a chocolate cake complete with a candle and a huge bottle of Johnny Walker Red!!!  My very best birthday yet with all these Sherpas happily singing something that kind of sort of sounded like “happy birthday to you.”

Another lesson learned was what it really means to be a climber in some of the remotest places in the world.  It’s never the summit that counts – ultimately, it is how you come out after a dangerous and possibly life threatening situation.

Happy Birthday to me… Cho Oyu, I’m ready for you!

Climb On!

Wendy

Labor of Love

Writing from the highest cyber cafe in the world…  Cost = 30 cents per minute!  Arrived in Dingboche yesterday.  Today we rest again to gain strength and acclimatize.  Tomorrow’s trek will be long and hard with an elevation gain of 2000 feet.  There are many climbers down here from Everest Base Camp as they also use this trek to gain strength and prepare for the climb ahead.  I write this from beneath the shadow of a gorgeous peak, Ama Dablam, it dominates the horizon.

All is well.  I am feeling great.  No adverse affects due to the thinning air.  This email is a labor of love because just getting here took half an hour of climbing.  But isn’t technology great?

All my love …. Namaste.

Climb On!

Namche Bazaar, Nepal

I love waking up in my tent.  The sounds of this village coming alive stir the senses.  Roosters crowing, someone calling their goats, the yak bells chiming and the tapping of the stone cutters already busy at work.  (It takes three years to build a house here.)

This will be the last email until we return to Namche after our climb in about a month.  Mentally I am trying to prepare myself.  I am already filthy as the countryside is pretty dirty and everything sticks to us.  But I have to let that go.  Today we head for Teng Boche then onward toward Everest base camp where we hope to arrive in a week.  From there on to Barunste.

Sleep was difficult the past two nights because of the incessant dog barking.  There are packs of them everywhere, and it seems when one would start he would get everyone going.  After complaining, we found out that the dogs carry on when there are animals about.  Okay… that makes sense, but there are animals everywhere.  Ah, but these aren’t just any animals.  This is Nepal and there are snow leopards and tigers!  So, after some reflection I’m kind of loving those noisy dogs now!

P.S. Today is marathon Monday.  To Maida and Mike – have a wonderful run.  I am with you every single mile.  Because for me it all started on that marathon route!  Wings on your heels you two!!

Namaste!

Climb On!

CBS Sunday Morning Feature Delayed!

Just a quick note that the story that was going to be on CBS Sunday Morning today was bumped.  We’ll be posting the new air date to the website as soon as we have more information.  Thanks to all of you for your continuing support and thoughts!

Namaste

I woke up this morning feeling homesick and melancholy, but I’m trying to practice the Buddhist philosophy and enjoy where I am at in this moment.

I’ve been really frustrated at the inability to use the satellite phone and send emails.  Connections are always poor and it’s really difficult to get anything to work properly.  I am having a funny experience today while visiting the Internet cafe.  There are ‘dzo’ everywhere (an animal that is a yak/cow hybrid), and as I am writing this blog a dzo is sticking it’s head through the window and watching all the activity inside.

We are staying another 24 hours here to allow our bodies time to adjust to the higher altitude and thinner air.  Just walking to the Internet cafe today was exhausting.  We are being attended to by an incredible team of Sherpa: Dawa (lead Sherpa and head cook) and Dawa Tenzig (high altitude Sherpa who never leaves our side).  As I sit in my tent in the evening I can hear them playing a card game with noises like I’ve never heard before – shouting and slapping.  Dawa prepares us rice, potatoes, daldaut and something called momo (like dumplings).  Everything is prepared without electricity and running water.  We are so grateful for them.  Next we are going about 5 hours north and we will be visiting the Teng Boche monastery which is the right hand monastery to the Dalai Lama.

We are still in Namche Bazaar, a vertical village at 11,500 feet in altitude perched precariously on the side of the Himalayas. The entire world passes from village to village on winding dirt roads.  As we have traveled from Lukla over the past 2 days the terrain has grown far more vertical and we are now just above the timber line.  It is dry and dusty and very primitive.  Heat is from yak dung burned in stoves.  The people are wonderful smiling, happy, courageous and go out of their way to make us feel welcome and comfortable.  This is the Sherpa’s region and an amazing place to all of us!

When I first saw Everest I just stood and stared for what felt like ten minutes. I noticed my legs were shaking.  I pummeled JJ with questions.  I memorized the names of the mountains surrounding her, all of which I had heard before, Llhoste, Nupste (excuse my spelling on all of these as I don’t have my English map with me), Ama Dablam, there they all were.  But it was Goddess Mother of Earth that spoke the loudest.  She is magnificent and beuatiful.  The ski is crystal clear, and the summit clouds spin off to the south since the jet stream is postioned right over her just now.  Climbers will wait on the mountain’s lower flanks until the jet stream moves 100 miles away and then make their attempt at the summit before the monsoon season begins.  It’s all about waiting.  And for me I will wait another year – and for that I am grateful.  Just being here and climbing the 17,600 feet to base camp is providing me with much needed mental preparation.

All along our journey we have experienced the flutter of prayer flags.  Just before we climb Barunste we will have our own prayer ceremony called a Punja (again excuse my spelling) and the prayer flags are already packed amoungst our gear.  It is a very special ceremony I am anxious to see and experience.  I am a guest of the Sherpa, but I feel so blessed to be with them and I know I couldn’t be in more capable hands.

Climb On!

Trek To Everest Base Camp

We flew from Katmandu to Lukla, a tiny mountain village very high in the Himalaya.  So high that the run way is on the side of a mountain and points uphill.  We flew in on “Yeti Airlines”  in a tiny plane.  When you see the runway it is a nail biter.  Once off the plane our gear is assembled and sorted and the trek begins.  The countryside is spectacular.  Tiny hamlets all in stone.  No roads only a foot path that winds all over the mountains from village to village.  This is the main and only infrastructure and all forms of commerce pass by.  Yaks, native people with baskets on their heads, kids and many trekkers heading to various places in the Himalaya.  We stopped at many a tea house for a break and socializing with the proprietors.  Everything is neat and tidy and amazingly built and maintained.  Remember all this is still accomplished as it was hundreds of years ago.  There is no running water or electricity only an occasional generator.  These are the true Sherpa who left Tibet and now live in the Khumbu valley.  This “highway” connects their villages but they are not connected to the outside world except for the climbers.

Today was a six hour climb to Namche Bizaar.  This is considered the big city!  They even have an Internet cafe!  About an hour before arriving I had my very first glimpse of Everest…..amazing and absolutely enormous.  The wind was high on the top but I was able to see the south col and Lhotse and Nupste on either side although considerably lower.  It is magnificent and she took my breath away.  Brooke and I just looked at her then at each other then back at her.

The conditions in Namche are not as inviting as they were our first night on the trail.  Here everything is a hike and a steep on at that.  It will take me most of a half hour to return to our tent as it is uphill from here.  The village is truly built on the very steep side of the mountain.  All along our travels commencing in Lukla we have been greeted by the Buddhist prayer flags. Along the way huge boulders are inscribed with Buddhist prayers hand carved in the rocks centuries ago.  We must always pass to the left.  Anytime there is a monument or a pray flag or bells, which we ring as we pass for those are the sound of our prayers going up to the heavens, we must pass to the left.  I love that part of the climb.

This will be all for today.  There is a good deal of political tension and satellite phones and communications are being confiscated.  We have heard that at Everest Base camp no satellite phones or computers are being allowed.  They are critical for the climbers and safety for high altitude rescues.  The Sherpa are also not being permitted on the mountain.  They are the ones who put in and maintain all the fixed ropes and routes so this too will make  climbing just now very dangerous if not impossible.  Word is that the Chinese are now putting pressure on Nepal until after the torch goes up the mountain sometime in May.  Glad we are not making an attempt to climb this year although we have already had to change our schedule.

More to follow.

Climb On!

Congratualtions, You Are Over Fifty!

My first twenty four hours in Kathmandu.  Words once again escape me, and to describe all that I have experienced in this short a time is also going to be hard.  I can describe my emotional state in one word…. intense.  The dirt, heat, sanitation (or lack thereof) population, sights, sounds, color and mainly the squalor.  Traffic like I have never witnessed.  No rules just drivers sharing the road with rickshaws, bicycles, cars, buses, cows and millions of people.  And these roads are tiny even walking is frightening.  I was unable to take many photos yesterday (I am writing this in the dark as the electricity goes out daily all over the city.  The computer is on a generator.) Blackouts are frequent. But taking a picture was more than I could do. I had to first try to absorb all that I was seeing.  I have now been around the world, the number of countries I could not say but I can say I have never seen anything like this.  The air is filled with dust and smoke.  The smoke is from the funeral fires where the Hindus cremate their people out in the open.  They stand in homage until the fire is small, several hours. Then the ashes are swept into the river where bathing, drinking, swimming and general livelihood takes place.  Our eyes burn, we take shallow breaths so as not to cough from all that is undoubtedly airborne.  Tiny children beg but we have been told by the government not to give anything to them, it is very difficult to even pass and not acknowledge.  Both Brooke and I slipped money to a frail lady, funny how we both gave to the same woman.  There was something about her that touched us both. The streets are teaming and I feel like I am back in a time zone to which I have never been.  Leper’s, cripples and car horns.  The nose and push of humanity is everywhere.  When we finally find an enclave into which we can stop and rest we are exhausted.

But despite my western eyes taking in this very strange world, to the Nepalese this isn’t strange at all.  It is I who am the strange one.  I inquired of our Sherpa, Kharma Babu what the life expectancy is.  As you may imagine it isn’t very old.  Few people over fifty anywhere.  I would say the average age of the people I see out on the streets is 20 – 30.  How sad I tell Kharma.  “Oh no,” he tells me, “it is not so sad.  It is a wonderful thing to be old.”  I lament my age and upcoming birthday.  Ah but by Nepal philosophy we look at the young and say “ah ha, we have made it, we survived the 20’s, 30’s.  Congratulations, you are over fifty – and by Nepal standards this is far better than being young!”

I wasn’t too happy about my birthday next week although celebrating it at Everest Base camp is pretty exciting.  Now I’m thinking I may really like this over fifty thing because I too survived my youth and that’s not really a bad thing now is it?

Tomorrow we fly to Lukla and begin our trek to Everest base camp then on to Baruntse.  Our itinerary changes by the moment because of the Nepal elections and the Chinese army also at Everest Base camp both on the north and south side.  No satellite phones allowed, not computers and no Sherpa allowed (they are Tibetans) so we are adjusting as we go and will plan accordingly.  We rely on the Sherpa for our safety and progress through the Himalaya so we will see what tomorrow brings.  We are registered to climb in Nepal so from there the adventure begins.

More to follow.

Climb On!

“I Won’t Lie…..”

Ever since returning from Antarctica my life has been in the fast lane.  I feel like I am passing everything by at the speed of sound.  No time to smell the roses or the coffee.  I have been east, west, north and south and now finally I found a spare twenty four hours to call my own.  How did I get so lucky?  My flight to Nepal via Los Angeles was cancelled earlier today.  Suddenly I was ahead of schedule and there was nothing I could do about it except enjoy this extra time.

 

My apartment is dust free, mirrors shining, beds changed.  I sorted mail, email, laundry, went to the gym and read through my old journals.  I am still in my workout clothes; my hair is knotted on top of my head and the best part?  Everyone thinks I am winging my way across the globe when in actuality I am holed up in my spotless apartment. 

 

This brief respite is in direct contrast to the week I have experienced leading up to this unexpected breather.  The CBS Sunday morning feature filmed back in January swept me up in a wave of requests for dates, facts and a history lesson on the seven summits.  I smile to myself as I write a long explanation to CBS national network on the ‘true’ seventh summit.  I proudly shot back emails listing my accomplished summits, dates and summit photos.  Then the ultimate request….photos from my ‘previous’ pre-MS life.  I was diagnosed in 1998 any photo prior to that was going to be a baby book entry.  I tried to give excuses.  I had no time to go and search out old pictures.  I think they are in my mother’s garage.  Maybe I left them in Massachusetts.  But in the end, despite the nuisance the request was, I knew I had to locate some photos.  After all we have come this far why stop now?  So begrudgingly I went out to the storage unit and dug through boxes of stuff.  I vowed at least a dozen times to go through it all when I return from the Himalaya and sort it, clean it or pitch it.  Finally I located what I hope were suitable pictures of a much younger me in leotard, tights and those famous ‘80’s legwarmers teaching Jazzercise!

 

Jazzercise!  As many have heard me say when I travel across the country speaking, anyone can change their life.  Imagine my point of reference.  Soccer Mom, interior decorator and I took Jazzercise!  Tomorrow I head for the Himalayas to prepare mind and body for next year.  Everest 2009.  I won’t lie.  I’m a bit wigged out on this one.  When I started this journey a mere six years ago, I had no idea how quickly I would stand beneath the Goddess Mother of Earth….the Big Kahuna, the Big E.  I won’t lie.  Part of me is excited to finally breathe in all that is Everest and return to Boulder ready to train harder than ever.  Part of me wonders if there is still a Jazzercise class nearby.  I won’t lie.  When I clipped onto my first climbing rope my life was irrevocably and blessedly changed.  I won’t lie.  The journey has been difficult, reflective and often very lonely.  But the journey has been like nothing else I could ever have imagined in my life.

 

I won’t lie.  I have relished every second of this my new life.  My fourth grader’s class picture hangs from my backpack; their smiling faces will carry me as the load becomes heavy.  Life is a magical mystery tour and I intend to travel its twisted trail, pay it forward and meet it head on.

 

I won’t lie.  The seed for this blog entry was placed in my head two days ago on a busy street corner.  A homeless man held up a handmade cardboard sign “I won’t lie….it’s for beer.”

 

I have had a smile on my face ever since.  Perhaps he really needed the money for beer or perhaps he just wanted to make the passing world smile.  But either way he was being totally honest with us and himself.

 

I won’t lie.  I want to be that way too.

 

I will return to the US in seven weeks with a new respect and appreciation for the mountains and for my mission – to challenge myself and encourage others to go out and climb their own mountain…..the view is incredible.

 

Climb On!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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About Wendy Booker

In June of 1998, this 55 year old mother of three was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS after experiencing balance problems, blurred vision and numbness on her left side. When first diagnosed, Wendy was devastated. But it took very little time for her to transform anguish into inspiration. She immediately turned her hobby of casual running into a continuous pursuit and has now completed nine marathons.

Mountain climbing became the next conquest. Wendy learned about a team of mountain climbers with Multiple Sclerosis who were attempting to climb Mt. McKinley (Denali) in Alaska. With no previous climbing experience, she dedicated a year to hard training and set off with them in 2002. Although weather conditions prohibited the team from completing, Wendy attempted the summit again in 2004 on her own and she succeeded!

The feeling of accomplishment she experienced propelled her next aspiration: to climb the highest mountain on each continent. Just five years later, Wendy Booker has successfully reached the top of six of The Seven Summits – Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. McKinley, Mt. Elbrus, Mt. Aconcagua, Mt. Vinson Massif and Mt. Kosciuszko. Mt. Everest, the highest mountain on earth, still awaits for 2010.