Pangboche [13,200ft] Ama Dablam Base Camp [15,510ft]
Apr 22, 2002
My first night at altitude, I'm going much higher, and I'm already not sleeping well. In Namche, I would wake up a couple of times in the night to take a piss. At Tengboche, I woke up at least 4 times to rush off to the toilet. I'm assured that this is a good sign that I am acclimatizing. I'm a bit unconvinced. Unless I get a good night sleep sometime soon I'll probably get sick and possibly unable to continue the climb.
This morning proceeds well though. Last year I was living in Italy for a while. I took a weekend trip to Switzerland and a train to the top of Mt. Jungfrau. At almost 13,000 feet it is one of the tallest mountains in Europe. This morning I hiked up to the base camp of Ama Dablam. 15,500 feet and that's only the bottom of the mountain. That gives some idea of the scale of the Himalayas. At 22,600 feet Ama Dablam is far higher than anywhere in Europe, but not particularly high for Nepal. What makes it impressive is it's distinctive two peaks and the fact that it sits by itself. Everest at 29,000 feet doesn't look that impressive as it is hidden behind a wall of 25,000 foot mountains. Ama Dablam looks very imposing towering over you.
There is no view of Ama Dablam from base camp when I get there. The clouds have rolled in. Not a problem though, I should have great views from the other side when I get to Chukung. Two sets of tents are sitting at the foot of a glacier. I drop by the first tents and am greeted by an Englishman. His group has just abandoned their attempt and are on the way down the mountain. They made it within a few hundred feet of summit and then were stopped by snow. The climber tells me "We're happy with the result. It's a tough mountain and we didn't lose any climbers or toes."
Then I wander over to the German tents. They politely offer me some tea. I find out that I had a couple of misconceptions. First of all Hans isn't climbing today. He's "climbing sometime this week". Secondly, I had somehow assumed that "live TV coverage" meant ESPN or some equivalent. Instead, it seems that they have a 5 minute spot each day on the German Morning Show and I got to watch it being filmed. The host is running around bubbling with far too much energy. It's typical very light morning show content. The host runs into the cooking tent and asks in English "What's for lunch today?" "Momos.... Mmmmmm." Then he rushes over to Hans the climber for a quick interview. I can only imagine what was said.
"Hans, what are the chances of a climb today?"
"Well, not so good Bob, the weather isn't so good"
Camera pans to show huge black clouds encircling the entire mountain
"That's too bad Hans, all of our watchers back home are very much looking forward to seeing you make this climb"
"Well I'm thrilled about making the climb and thrilled to be doing it for all the watchers of WXYZ TV"
"Bob here with Hans somebody, famous climber, signing off for today. Back to you Wendy or Cindy or something"
I had planned on spending two hours at base camp. The more time spent about 15,000 feet the better I'll sleep at 13,000. 45 minutes after arriving, dark clouds start blowing up the hill. That's the hill that I need to go down so I decide it's time to leave. I rush down into the wind and clouds. Visibility is terrible, I have some trouble finding the path and it starts to lightly snow. The snow is actually being blown upwards and right into my face. I quickly throw on more weather gear. When I arrived at base camp, I'd wisely changed from my always damp t-shirt into a dry long underwear top. I'm already wearing a windbreaker and gloves. On the way down the hill, I swap my safari style sun hat for a polar cap and pull my jacket hood over that. Then I put on my "glacier glasses" for the very first time. Big round sunglasses with leather hoods on the sides. They are very much only cool over 13,000 feet. This proves to be enough protection and I arrive at the bottom of the hill feeling warm and strong.
The weather at the bottom is much better. There is an American trekking group camped there and they also invite me in for tea. I hang out for an hour or so swapping travel stories. Suddenly I feel a chill. I realize that it's 2:30 and I have only had a few snickers bars for lunch. I need food. I rush the 20 minutes back to my guesthouse, but a bad headache has already set in. I arrive in the dining room to find 3 Buddhist monks chanting and keeping the beat by pounding a spoon on the wooden table. Maybe sometimes a nice cultural experience, but it's a horror with a bad headache and they continued chanting for 3 hours. I immediately down two liters of frigid water. I must have been dehydrated too. Unfortunately, my body doesn't have the energy to warm itself and heat the water in my stomach. I'm left shivering. Either the headache or the cold later leaves me a bit nauseous. In general I'm a bit of a mess. Eventually, after 4 liters of water, 2 bowls of porridge and a plate of noodles I recover. Lesson learned. I must be more careful and more preemptive in terms of getting food and water into my system.