Archive for May, 2009

Out of Gas Out of Time

I awoke at midnight on the 18th – something felt “funny”.  I was groggy and not conscious enough to care to find out what awoke me so I went back to a more fit full sleep.  I was soon awakened again and now clear enough to know that it was the prayer flags over my tent.  I have heard these flags for weeks now and had grown accustom to their flutter.  During the frigid nights they actually freeze to the top of my tent so hearing them in the middle of the night was what finally really woke me.  But the flags weren’t flying in their usual direction but 180 degrees due north and this wasn’t a light flutter but a battering northerly wind that rocked the tent walls and caused the tent floor to billow.  We were due to awaken at 3 am. and begin our climb through the ice fall at 4.  Due to the incredible hazard and ever changing conditions it is best to be out of the ice before the full on sun hits it.  But with the new wind direction I knew things would be different.  I could hear plenty of falling rock and cracking ice.  We had been warned that monsoon season was beginning around June 1 but expected earlier this season.  There had been no snow the past season and we had been clobbered by a three day storm while down in Pengbouche – now with the new wind direction signaled the changes due to come.

We accessed the winds at 4 and although strong many teams were now heading up so we opted to proceed with our summit attempt.  In the early morning light Brooke, Dawa Tenzing and I began to climb.  I felt great at camp, strong and comfortable in my gear, properly dressed for the conditions and ready.  But then as we headed higher I noticed something “funny”.  My right arm felt like a dead weight and all too soon my left leg refused to cooperate, it too felt weighted and heavy.  Still I figured I just needed to warm up – get my breathing at 18,000 feet in sync and after my usual half hour warm-up I would settle down.  Plus this was the beginning of our summit push rotation so just like the gun going off at the marathon, nerves certainly come into play.  But I didn’t settle down and now my legs felt heavy to lift and disjointed at the hips.  The ice falls are incredibly dangerous-speed and precise footing a must and here I am feeling clumsy and weak.  I kept trying to figure this out and finally put my pole away and concentrated on my balance.  My fists were tightly clenched as I kept trying to force myself mentally to something, someplace else – anything but this feeling of loss of bodily control.  But I was slowing down – so slow and leaden it wasn’t my decision much longer. Brooke asked if I was okay. I asked that we climb a little higher.  A section of the ice above us broke off and with a rush of noise and wind, ice and snow showered down onto us.  When I turned Brooke was covering her head and I was grasping Dawa’a hand.  We regained our footing and continued higher.  Guess that ice fall was the answer I needed – I was moving too slowly through this treacherous area and in my stubbornness I was putting two other lives at risk.  The Sherpa are very wary of entering the ice falls preferring to limit their exposure-as we have been warned it is “Russian Roulette”.   Many will arrive at base camp and decide the odds are too high and not even attempt the mountain.  I knew all this but since climbing this was my fifth venture through.  I also now knew that not ten days earlier a Sherpa had been killed and is still missing somewhere in the vast expanse of ice.  This was now all playing in my head and my eventual decision to turn back.  I also knew we had only 4 perhaps 5 days to summit before the predicted bad weather arrived – a very small ‘window’ of opportunity and I was now not strong enough to be in a postion high enough on the mountain to make a summit bid.  There is mush strategizing that comes into play on Everest – if a day late or a camp too low will greatly effect the outcome…..

Today as I complete this blog it is now May 24.  Word from the mountain is that the number of summits this year were far less and that the impending weather did indeed arrive.  The winds are high and conditions are deteriorating.  Most of the climbers are now safely down and the mountain will officially ‘close’ within the next few days.  My utmost awe and congratulations to those who did summit – I now know what it takes and how incredibly difficult it is to stick with it for months in such harsh conditions.  You are indeed rock stars!!! This is a mounatain like no other and reaching the top will forever change your lives.

I still second guess my decsion to turn back from my summit attempt yet I have promised so many that I would turn when I felt the risk was too high.  Still I don’t come away with defeat but even richer as my foundation to educate the children of Sherpa killed in climbing falls and to send potential climbing Sherpa to the Khumbu climbing school has now taken hold.  I have much work ahead as I link the children of the Donald Mckay School with the Khumbu Valley through education and the understanding of challenge – challenges we all face everyday. 

For those of us living with MS, as I have said for eleven years, the summit is not important, we all have our mountain – it is what we choose to do with it that is our challenge!   So rememeber…”Come climb with me!”

Thank you to Teva for this incredible opportunity to continue to encourage all of us with MS to climb their own mountain – and to Everest I think I will see you again in the future.

With love and appreciation to the thousands who have visited my web sight and cheered me on…

Climb On!


No Summit for Wendy…

After a long and thoughtful decision-making process with Wendy and her guide team, it’s been decided that she cannot attempt the Everest summit again.  There are really two core factors at play: weather and health.

Rather than the usual 2 weeks of clear weather that allows teams a reasonable time frame to ascend to the summit, this year’s window was divided by a nasty storm.  Only very strong climbers can make it from base camp to the summit in a very short window.  Unfortunately between Wendy’s MS symptoms, a bout of the flu, long waits for acclimatization and weather, and fatigue… it was decided that Wendy’s expedition cannot safely continue the climb.  She is completely out of gas!  At the pace the team was moving up the mountain, they simply would not have been able to reach the summit before the next wave of storms closes Everest for the year.  In addition, a physician who examined Wendy on the mountain recommended that she not try again for the summit.  It’s a short window to find success on Everest, and the team just did not have the lucky breaks to get to the top this time.

Their highest point attained was the base of Lhotse Face and they are now down below base camp trekking out to Lukla.  Wendy hopes to be back in Kathmandu by the 25th.

When I spoke with Wendy this morning she was in good spirits.  While she would like to have succeeded, of course, not summiting was always a distinct possibility.  Only 20% of first-timers summit Everest on their first attempt.  This was a particularly difficult year to make it to the top due to the erratic weather patterns and crowding on the South Col (the north face of Everest was closed by China causing most climbers to switch to the South Col).

Wendy is proud of her team, pleased with her performance and is looking forward to coming home and working hard to use the Everest experience to promote her sponsors and advance the MS cause.  In spite of not summiting, the climb truly was successful in that Wendy has proved that people with MS can accomplish amazing things!

I’m expecting Wendy to be back in Boston around May 28th if the trek out goes smoothly.  Please feel free to forward specific questions via comments or email to

Thanks, everyone, for watching Wendy’s progress and cheering her on.  She’ll have a personal blog update complete with stories coming soon.

Climb on!


* A note on Wendy’s ‘MS symptoms’… Above 20-22,000 feet her MS symptoms start flaring up. Numbness, dizziness, vision problems, etc. that she experiences from time to time seem to get worse above a certain altitude. The problem was pronounced on the Everest climb, and I think Wendy will talk to her neurologist about it when she gets home to see if there is some reason for the escalating symptoms that we can address.

Short Documentary Video on Wendy’s Mission

For those of you following Wendy’s Everest climb who haven’t heard her entire story… here it is!

Back at Base Camp!

Wendy called yesterday to report that the weather on Everest has cleared and the team is back at Base Camp.  They are planning to continue climbing today and the first successful summit attempts are expected around the 21st.

She said that she is still feeling great.  The physical exertion is tough, but they are going to focus on gaining as much ground as possible these next few days and hope the great weather holds.  The expedition continues to have issues with satellite connections, so cross your fingers that Wendy will be able to blog again in person very soon.

Wendy said yet again how much she appreciates everyone’s thoughts and support. The team is just hoping to make a lot of progress and see how far they get.

Climb on!


Working 9 to 5

Pengboche 13,200 ft.

The air-what’s with this air?  I can breathe. I can climb a hill and not feel like the life has been sucked out of me.  Its warm and there is green stuff growing along the trail occasionally marked with pink flowers. puppies and month old yaks-it is spring down here in the lower Khumbu.  Up at base camp it is still cold and frozen.

Okay the above is what my journal entry of May 9 said.  All that is a long time ago and the brief spring weather was quickly replaced by snow and ice not only at base but all along the lower valley as well.  What was to be a few days of r+r turned into 6 days of hunkering down deep in my sleeping bag with a book and a deck of cards.  I have much to report but am now at a cyber cafe in Dingboche where we just stopped for the night on our way back to Everest base camp.

I called this blog entry 9 to 5 because when we left base, along with practically everyone else at camp, all the Sherpa headed for their villages.  To them this is just another season on the mountain and they took our time lower  in the valley to commute to home.  The route could be I-95 or 128 N for all the traffic heading down and all the Sherpa anxious for a few days of vacation.

Back to work soon enough as we will assemble at base camp within the next few days.  Time and conditions will decide what happens next!

More later when time and computer conditions allow.

Climb On!


Playing the Waiting Game

Wendy's Recovery Teahouse in Debouche, Nepal

Wendy's Recovery Teahouse in Debouche, Nepal

When the team came down to the valley, they were hoping to only be off the mountain for 3 days, but here we are at 5 days and counting!  The endless waiting is mentally exhausting and who knows when the weather will clear.

Wendy reports that the conditions are really horrible and even in the valley they are experiencing a severe snow storm.  Outside communications and satellite connections have been rare due to the weather conditions.  We had hoped that communication would improve at the lower elevations, but no such luck thanks to the storm!

Wendy is diong well.  She said that a few climbers had decided to leave Everest without trying for the summit, but her expedition is sticking it out and hoping that they will be able to make an attempt by the end of May as planned.  This weather delay will push summit dates back, and we are no longer planning for a possible early summit and homecoming.

Wendy thinks about all of you all the time.  Please know that your support, encouragement, belief and inspiring words mean the world to her!

Climb on,


Still ‘Down in the Valley’…

Hi Wendy Fans!

I just talked to Wendy briefly this morning.  Our phone connection was crummy and her computer access is down for now, so you’ll have to wait another day or two for a personal post from Wendy.

The team is still down below Base Camp off the mountain.  Apparently the weather on Everest is horrible right now and Base Camp is a ghost town!  High winds and storms are keeping all the climbers down in the valley to wait for the skies to clear.  5 Sherpa did make it to the summit successfully before these weather issues prevented any further attempts, so hopefully some other groups can try for the summit soon.

Cross your fingers that things settle down and the team can head back up the mountain.  Wendy is doing really well and I was sure to wish her a very happy Mother’s Day from all of us who are cheering her on.

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.