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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13 Responses to “Back To Base”


  1. 1 Della May 5, 2009 at 11:47 am

    WOW. I never liked the game Sorry. I always lost. But there is no losing with what you are doing Wendy. Resting is key. And to have the lasting memorable experience of climbing those fabulous routes again is just too cool for words. You are too cool for words. Rest well and climb strong.

    Della

  2. 2 Carol May 5, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Wendall,

    O.k, so remember when you ran your first marathon with little ole me. When we got to heartbreak hill, I was done, but you pushed me on. You wouldn’t let me stop. You are the one with all the stamina in the world. You are the most determined women I know. You and Brooke are doing all the right things. It’s all part of the journey.

    I send you both my love and “good vibes” as you carry on. One must sometimes wait for what is good in the world!

    xoxo

    PC

  3. 3 MR. CLEERE's CLASS May 5, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    HI Wendy! How are you? We are always thinking about you. Did you know we are doing a penny drive for the girl that lost her father? We are almost to the half of a HUGE jar that is full of pennies that everyone in the class is putting pennies in. Everybody misses you! Good luck and climb on!!!

    Jeyme and Darcy, Mr. Cleere’s class (Ms. Duke’s class says hi too!)

    Hi to Brooke and everybody! We saw our prayer flags in the picture at Base Camp!!!

  4. 4 bobtheisen May 5, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Hi Wendy

    You are such an inspiration to me & others. I am lucky to know you. Y’all are doing the right thing.

    I am sort of going through the same thing of taking one step forward & 2 back. I am also seeing the summit but I am not there yet but like you, I will get there.

    Wishing you the best as always

    Bob

  5. 5 lisa May 5, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    did you know SORRY! was my favborite childhood board game? My Dad and I spent hours playing. I still have it. We can play when you get back-after you shower.

    much love
    xoxo
    Lisa

  6. 6 Mom ...Says May 5, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Brooke,

    JUST BE SAFE…….

    Glad you are being cautious and taking your time, the mountain isn’t going anywhere….Wendy is in good hands, I’m so proud of you both….YOU NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE ME….You are in my thoughts and prayers every step of the way….

    All my love & best wishes to you both,

    Mom

  7. 7 Jen May 5, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    After reading your post, I am reminded of a quote from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet: “Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” Know that all of your daily challenges (mental/physical) are teaching you lessons that will deepen your understanding about yourself. 🙂
    “Niagra Falls” of good vibes to keep your good health and tenacity are flowing straight to you!
    Love Trainer Jen

  8. 8 Karen and Paul May 5, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Wendy
    Karen and Paul here.
    We bumped into you in the ice fall
    We are back in KTM after our climb, great times it was.
    We are soooo pulling for you.
    Don’t ever quit!!

    Karen and Paul

  9. 9 Wendy Drake May 5, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Hi Wen!
    Four Days at 21k! Awesome. Have you started singing songs yet?

    My favorite is the Wendy Booker ski-lift version of AquaLung…Renamed “Strong Lungs”

    Here are some revised lyrics:

    Sitting on a rock shelf…
    Eyeing prayer flags with good intent.
    Snot running down my nose
    Frozen fingers smearing stinky clothes.
    Drying in the cold sun
    Watching as the Sherpa hike not run.
    Feeling like a lead weight
    Gathering strength to support my mountain climb!

    OOOHHHH give me strong lungs!!!
    Strong lungs my friend
    don’t start away uneasy
    you poor old sod, you see, it’s only me.

    Climb on Wen!!

    xxoo,
    Wendy and Sadie Girl

  10. 10 Charlotte May 5, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Wendy: smile at Chomolungma and she will return your smile. Remember: returning (in one piece) is mandatory. The mountain will wait for you. Every day is a wonderful day. Fondly, Charlotte

  11. 11 Sheryl May 6, 2009 at 1:48 am

    OK Wendy, take the time to regroup, and by all means please shower! But when the time comes to resume the journey upward, as my close friend, Larry the cable guy says, “GET ‘ER DONE!”
    Oh, and by the way, the Red Sox beat the Yankees in their new home last night and are working on whuppin’ them tonight too–and to boot at tonight’s game my nephew proposed to his girlfriend at the bottom of the 5th–she said yes! Hope you have your ball cap on under your fish chicks hat (or on top!)
    Stay strong, you can do this!!!
    PLF,
    Sheryl 😉

  12. 12 Chris May 6, 2009 at 3:29 am

    Got your message. Glad things are moving along. Keep on keepin’ on.

    Chris

  13. 13 Jen May 6, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    LOVE LOVE LOVE Drake’s revised lyrics of Aqualung, LOL.


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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.


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