On May 20, 2012

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  • Back from the Final Warm-Up…

    Everest, Expeditions Comments (10)

    Many people have thought I was crazy for wanting to ski down from the summit of Everest. My standard response has always been that I am much more coordinated on my skis than on my feet. For example, when I was pregnant I skied until about 7 months with never a single fall or problem. However, as soon as I would take my skis and boots off, put on tennis shoes and turn around to walk, I would trip over the dog and go sprawling on the pavement.

    Well, apparently my inability to walk like a normal person is no different on Everest. A few days ago, as we were finishing our final rotation on the mountain, it became evident that skiing was not going to happen. Sam, Kris and I decided to bring our gear down and focus just on climbing. Sam and I skied from Camp 2 to Camp 1, across crevasses, ice and changing snow conditions, carrying our skis over ladders spanning gaping holes, all without incident.

    But as soon as I get to the “safety” of Base Camp, I manage to severely sprain my ankle walking back to my tent from another camp. Seriously?!?! While I spent the entire night freaking out that I’d ruined my chances to summit Everest, I am thankful that is not the case. It looks like we have about a week at base camp before the weather gives us our summit window. My ankle seems to be holding steady and with lots of ice, compression socks and rest, I think I’ll still be able to pull it off. As Conrad says- Hold fast! Patience, patience, patience. I’m just in awe of my ability to take something very hard and make it a lot harder.

    I’m keeping this post short but many things have happened in the past week so I will write again soon. As always thanks for all the support from everyone and keep your fingers crossed that I can get my foot in my boot in 6 days time!!

    Hilaree at Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face. Dry conditions meant bringing our skis back down to BC.

    Emily Harrington taking her cognitive test for the Mayo clinic.

    Phil Henderson finishing his VO2 max test. The doctors are checking his pulse and oxygen absorption.

    One of the Mayo clinic doctors explains how to use the device that will be hooked to our chest.

    Travis Courthaus getting his first rock sample from the Yellow Band, the beginning of a massive effort to sample the entire upper part of Mt. Everest for the first time.

    On May 15, 2012

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  • More from Basecamp

    Everest, Expeditions Comments (11)

    I’ve finally had a chance to read everyone’s comments and I just want to say thank you for all the support. We have now been at Basecamp a little over a week and it seems as though we will need to do one more rotation up the ice fall before our summit push. Our whole team will go up together tomorrow morning to Camp 2. The next day we will push to Camp 3 at 7100m to spend the night. On our 3rd day, we will climb as close to the South Col as we can and then descend, taking another night at Camp 2 on the way down. At least that is the plan; we will see how it goes.

    As a team, we are all coming back together. Our morale took a big hit while at Basecamp due to losing a great teammate in Cory. Next we heard that Himex was pulling the plug because they thought the mountain was too dangerous. Fortunately, we now know Cory is healthy and, as far as the mountain goes, it has been snowing and the wind has abated. The Sherpas were able to fix ropes to the south col and said that the rock fall has subsided considerably. I am so encouraged by the improved conditions that I am even bringing my ski boots to Camp 2 to join my skis. Maybe they will see some turns on the Lhotse face after all.

    We’ve had some pretty incredible diversions at Basecamp. We each went through a round of testing with five doctors from the Mayo Clinic. Mostly, they are trying to collect data on lung perfusion and pulmonary artery pressure as it relates to altitude and physical duress. Their hope is to use the data they collect from our group to find correlations to early onset of heart disease in their patients at the clinic. It’s pretty amazing to be hooked up to an ultrasound machine at 5200 meters. In addition, we will be wearing some very high-tech machinery as we climb that will measure everything from caloric output to oxygen saturation. One of the devices, smaller than any smartphone, will be taking as many as 4000 measurements per second of a variety of heart and lung functions. Crazy!

    I’m off to pack but will be down in a few days and will post again with our progress. Happy birthday to Boogy.

    On May 9, 2012

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  • Everest Craziness

    Everest, Expeditions Comments (4)

    We have all made it down from our second rotation. This time, Kris, Sam and I managed to get our skis to Camp 2, although it seems pretty silly given the lack of snow. I am trying to stay positive about our chances to ski but we are desperate for precipitation.  In fact, the conditions are so dry right now that even just climbing Everest will be very challenging and dangerous. Our group is more prepared to climb the blue ice that is currently the Lhotse face but, the main problem, is that the ice is full of rocks and the wind and the other climbers are all causing severe amounts of rock fall.

    But I am jumping ahead. Let me back up a bit. The last week on this mountain has been a little crazy. Right before we left BC for Camp 2 there was a major serac avalanche in the icefall. It happened at 2 pm and, somehow, the Sherpas knew it was going to happen. They refused to descend under the serac and waited at Camp 1 for the majority of the day. Once it fell, they came down. It was massive and it completely changed the walk through the ice. I feel safer going through there as the serac is no longer hanging over our heads.

    Needless to say, we all trucked through there the next morning, before new ropes were put in to re-designate the trail. Climbing over the massive chunks of ice was disconcerting, for sure. We all still made it to Camp 2 in good time with good weather. Of course, I left earlier than everyone else and got to camp first only to find that our tent at Camp 2 had blown away. Total bummer. Fortunately our camp cook had collected the tent and everything inside was intact, just a bit tumbled around.

    The next day was supposed to be a rest day. I was visiting a friend at a camp just below us and we were commenting on how many people were coming from Camp 1 to Camp 2; it must have been nearly 100 people. Fifteen minutes later the biggest avalanche I have ever seen dropped off the Nuptse face and crashed over the trail, filling the entire valley in a huge cloud of snow. Thinking there must be dozens of people injured and worse, Kris, Cory and I ran down to the scene. When the smoke cleared, by some miracle beyond my understanding, only one person was missing. An Indian woman and one Sherpa had been bruised a bit, but one other Sherpa was missing. Just as we were roping up to start a search, a group of rescuers closer to camp 1 found the Sherpa in a crevasse. He was injured but alive; the group rescued him and a helicopter picked him up a few hours later and took him to Kathmandu.

    The next day was our first foray onto the Lhotse face. As with everyday, it was very windy but sunny. The walk to bergschrund was very mellow and helped us all work out some kinks in our climbing setup. Once on the face it was front pointing on blue ice with crampons for nearly the entire 500m to Camp 3. The fixed lines were in but the up and down lines were set close to each other and the rock fall was pretty bad. Sam, Emily, Kris, Dawa and I all made it to Camp 3 unscathed. It was great acclimatizing. The way down was fun but treacherous: Sam fell in a crevasse, just a little one and on a rope so not a big deal. I took a rock on the shoulder and another piece of ice caught me on the face, but all in all we were in one piece when we got back to Camp 2 around 12:30 in the afternoon.

    Conrad and Cory were just getting to camp at the same time. They were coming back from exploring the start of the west ridge route. Cory was obviously in duress. At this point, everything happened very fast. Mark went to IMG’s camp to see if they had a pulse oximetry and, instead, he came back with two doctors. Cory was having difficulty breathing combined with a very high respiratory rate. I’m not going to go into the details as I’m sure there is plenty to read about already on this subject. In the end, Cory was brought down to BC with Mark and Andy from our group and about 6 Sherpas from our group, as well as as IMG.

    Fortunately, all of Cory’s tests have come back positive and he seems to be doing great. The original thought was that he had a pulmonary embolism. He won’t be returning to climb with our group and we will miss him. His energy and humor went  a long way to keeping us all motivated and entertained. It’s more important for him to just make sure he is healthy and come back another time.

    Soooooooooo…… The next day we tried to climb to Camp 3 again in hopes of spending the night. The wind was gusting to probably 70 miles per hour and Kris and I were at the base of the Lhotse face when we decided to call it and turn around. The wind was so strong it was blowing rocks down the face right out of the ice. That day two people were injured from rock fall so I think we made the right choice. We switched out our packs at Camp 2, broke down our tents so they wouldn’t blow away this time, and headed to BC.

    Alas, two days we have been at BC. The Mayo Clinic is here with a crazy amount of research equipment and it’s been very cool. I will save this for another blog, however, as this present blog is ridiculously long! Thanks to everyone for all your comments and support!

    Kris Erickson balancing the summit of Everest from Camp 3

    Dawa and I at Camp 3

    My shrine in the vestibule of my tent at Base Camp

    Sam Elias getting used to his down suit at Camp 3

    On May 4, 2012

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  • Keeping Busy

    Everest, Expeditions Comments (7)

    It’s hard keeping morale up on a trip as long as Everest. We’ve been doing all kinds of things to keep ourselves entertained. For example, I have personally moved my tent 3 times now. This may not sound like a big deal but it takes hours of moving rocks and hauling dirt to carve a platform out of the gnarly glacial moraine that we are camping on. I like to think that I started living in the “city”, then moved to the suburbs of camp and have now gone full country.

    I’m now a bit removed from our main camp but I’ve got lake front property. The unsettling part is that at night the ice under my tent cracks and settles and it’s really loud and really disturbing.  Guess I can’t have it all.

    Yesterday, 4 of us went and trounced around in the icefall and managed to get our skis up to the football field, a spot just below camp 1 but before the truly scary part of the icefall. Today we are resting and tomorrow we are going to camp 2. In theory, we will be up there for a week and will, hopefully, climb as high as 8000m. After this round, we will be ready for the summit push. I am crossing my fingers for snow because at the moment, it looks impossible to ski the mountain.  Time will tell.

    Thanks to everyone for keeping tabs on me and for all the words of encouragement.

    Conrad and Kris in the icefall

    One of the icefall doctors descending with part of a ladder that was trashed by a search fall

    Sam taking a break in the icefall with his skis

    Our team of three skiers, Kris, Sam and I leaving our skis at the football field

    Cory fixing a section of prayer flags that were knocked down by the wind at Basecamp

    On April 26, 2012

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