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!

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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 trish@wendybooker.net.

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!

Trish

* 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!

Trish

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!

Wendy

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,

Trish

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!

Trish

World MS Day – May 27th!

Just a quick note to remind everyone that May 27th is World MS Day.  Individuals from over 100 countries are participating – and it’s very timely that Wendy’s Everest climb is occurring right around the date of the first annual World MS Day!

World MS Day will unite individuals, groups and organizations in the global MS movement.  It will provide them with an opportunity to participate in events and activities that will raise awareness of MS as a global issue and raise funds to support the work of the movement, including MS research.

You can sign up to join the global movement by registering as an individual, organization or researcher and by registering your World MS Day event on the World MS Day map.

Down In The Valley….

Conventional wisdom dictates that we now head even lower in altitude. Time to head ‘down valley’ where the Sherpa tell us the “oxygen is better.” So tomorrow morning Brooke and I will leave base camp and head for Debouche -a pleasant teahouse in the green trees and pastures of the lower valley. This seems so strange to me after 5 weeks in the snow and ice. Debouche is a 6-8 hour descent from base camp. We will spend three days there soaking up the thicker air and warm sunshine. Then we will clamber back up to base camp, which will take two days to reach. Imagine 6 to 8 hours down, two days back up. Kind of gives you an idea of what the pitch and altitude gain is like. Now I think of myself as a house cat that does not want to go out on a rainy afternoon. Do you have that mental picture? Claws out and I am being dragged by my tail!! Ah the ongoing search for good air to breath. It is amazing the effect on one’s body after prolonged exposure to thin air. We do have a tentative schedule for climbing the upper mountain upon our return from the lower valley but so many variables come into play it is impossible to accurately predict a possible summit push. At the moment the jet stream continues to hammer the upper mountain so no one is progressing much past advanced base camp except for the brave and invincible Sherpa. And as I learned you can’t hang out at 22,000 feet for very long if you are a whitie.

But yesterday word did arrive at camp that 5 Sherpa had reached the summit – now the race begins! Will the first official team to reach the top be Russell Brice’s “Discovery Channel” team? Or International Mountain Guides’ “Discovery Channel” team? Or Rainier Mountaineering’s “First Ascent” clothing line sponsored and filmed by Eddie Bauer called “First Ascent” so of course they would want to reach the summit first? For us mere climbers this makes for interesting speculation and viewing. Stay tuned as they say! I find it all very entertaining as you see camera crews and egos all over the place. I’m glad Brooke and I are a small obscure team. We plan to avoid all the hype and just keep our heads down and dig in – but ultimately Mother Nature will make the call.  

Yesterday I had the unexpected pleasure to be able to read all of your wonderful comments everyone has sent since I began this mission 6 weeks ago. For once I am speechless!!! It is rare to get an internet connection for more than a few minutes so you can imagine my joy to not only blog but to get unlimited time to read. My profound gratitude and heartfelt thanks for all of your encouragement and kind words. I hang onto every word and when the pangs of self doubt (which happens more than I want to admit) I draw upon the words so many of you have taken the time to send to me. A million thank you’s!!! You will carry me far!

Climb On!

Back To Base

Have you ever played the game “Sorry”? You know, when a game piece lands on this certain place on the game board and gets to slide and any piece in its way is sent back to base? Well guess what? Although not sent back out of spite or punishment but because this is Everest and this is how she is climbed. Since April 29 when we left EBC first spending one night at Camp 1 and four nights at Advanced Base Camp we are now happily back at base camp. This is all part of the process and we are now down here to regain our strength, recharge and renew our engines possibly even going down lower in the valley before we begin the big push upward once again.

So let me tell you what lies above our 17,400 foot base. Just outside of base camp we are faced with the Khumbu ice. I have written much about this, as it is extremely interesting although a difficult ascent and descent as you clamber quite literally up and over enormous chunks of ice. Ropes have been anchored into the thick ice and we use our entire ‘toolbox’, crampons, ice axe, ascenders, and carabineers. I have crossed so many ladders by now that I have lost count but I now have taken to accessing the crevasses as I go over them. Once instructed to only look ahead, not down! I am now comfortable enough with my footing to actually take a quick peek. I desperately want to take a picture midway across a ladder of my two feet and the black abyss below….haven’t had the nerve to even stop long enough to take that photo. But I can now look down and give a verbal assessment of the crevasse below. To me they fall into two categories “It’s gonna hurt!” or “Only minor bodily injury.” I by now have crossed crevasses that would swallow a Volkswagon – yeah, that’s a “It’s gonna hurt!” But we are roped and clipped and I am assured that other than scaring the bejesus out of you – you would manage your way out.

It takes over eight hours of this fun and frolic to finally reach Camp 1 at 19,000 feet. This camp was established just for us ‘whities’ as the Sherpa don’t need to stop this soon in their ascent. We spent only one night here Brooke, Dawa Tenzing Sherpa and myself all happily huddled in a tent. Dawa did the cooking which was pretty good….left over pizza! I’m certain the Sherpa aren’t too familiar with pizza (Even though our base camp cook does a great Himalayan version.) but leftovers? Totally unheard of. The same pizza again? I explained to Dawa what leftovers really are. Not sure he was 100% convinced. From Camp 1 early the next morning we left for Camp 2 otherwise known as Advanced Base Camp. One of the more difficult tasks of mountaineering is getting up before the sun and to start walking. Arising is a tent coated both inside and out with ice is particularly unpleasant. Putting your pants, gloves, heavy coat, and boots into your sleeping bag to warm up is just plain nasty. We sleep with our hats on since often our heads are exposed during the night and I am certain I look both comical and pathetic sitting hunched over and cold waiting for my clothes to defrost.

But the flip side to this misery is almost worse. Climbing in the full sun. By 8 am. as we ascend to Camp 2 we feel like slabs of bacon. Now the multiple layers of clothing are stripped off, massive amounts of sun block applied and each step made that much harder due to the relentless heat. Yes, mountain climbing is a lesson in severe contrasts. The atmosphere is far thinner so exposed skin burns easily and quickly. Eyes must be protected as the sun bounces off the ice and snow and can burn the retina (I am told this is incredibly painful so we carry multiple pair of goggles and sun glasses) and lips must be repeatedly coated with sunblock. There I was lax and am now paying the consequence. At this point it is a good thing we don’t see too many people as neither Brooke nor I are particularly attractive. Did I mention that bathing is now but a distant memory?

Camp 2 was a cruel joke. We could see it shortly after leaving Camp 1 and were elated that we were in for an easy day and our pain and suffering minimized. Ah but distance is deceiving on a mountain the size of Everest and we spent the next 5 hours making our way to camp. To add to the experience we saw what lies ahead….the Lhotse Face, an 8 hour ascent to Camp 3 perched on the side of the mountain. But Camp 3 has a perk! Oxygen awaits!

We remained at Advanced Base Camp for 4 nights but at 21,000 feet energy wanes and altitude takes its toll. There is little to be gained from just hanging out, either go up or come back down. The weather higher up was not good and the route has yet to be established to the summit so on the fifth day we returned to base camp. And compared to the upper mountain this is nirvana!!!! To think only a week ago I thought EBC was primitive, unsanitary and pure depravation. This afternoon I sit and write this in wonderfully thicker air. I can walk without sucking air, okay maybe every three steps not every step anyway. I have my duffle full of sweet reminders of home and I had a bucket bath to splash around in so I am marginally cleaner.

We rest and languish, eat, drink (okay no alcohol I’m already dizzy from lack of “Os”) and prepare mentally for what now will be out push for the summit over the next two weeks. I am intimidated by the sheer magnitude of the mountain having caught a glimpse of the last 8000 feet. Robert reminds me that I am at war and to continue to look at the climb this way. But for today we are back in our comfortable encampment saving the battle for another day.

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.