Apr 29, 2010, 1:30pm
It’s only a few hours since I sent away Tasia, sitting in the sun room writing. Kuran, the lodge service boy, came up: “Your friend is here.” I walked into the dining room and was shocked to see Jeff, one of my teammates, sitting there! “I’m going home.” Everyone had a tough time at camp 2. Other than going through the same physical pain, Jeff is also torn emotionally. With a sweet wife and two lovely kids at home, Jeff decided it’s more than he can bear. It felt like a joke to me that I’m just sitting here in Pheriche sending away one teammate after another. It’s sad to see another teammate leaving.
In a sense, the serious climb hasn’t even started yet (we haven’t even touched Lhotse face yet), but we (and every team) have been quickly losing climbers for various reasons. Some have said that going through Khumbu icefall is the ultimate Russian Roulette game for mountaineers. But here we see a different Russian Roulette game before we even start climbing. Everest has been so trivialized by various movies, but here I intimately feel it’s a survivor’s game on a daily basis. Everest tests us from all dimensions. We often say, “one step at a time.” Here, each step is hard. There’s a voice trying to tell you “quit” at each step. We need to be resilient in many dimensions, but it’s also a balance between many forces. Some of them you can’t fight against.
Why is Everest so hard?
There are many challenges other than the simple high altitude AMS threat:
- Physical Challenge: The approach to Everest is long, and the technique required is more complicated than other hiking mountains— climbing through Khumbu icefall, climbing Lhotse face, and climbing Hilary step at extreme high altitude are all very
- Physical Pain: There are so many health hazards along the way; every day you need to not only bear the pain of breathing the thin air and any possible AMS symptoms such as headache, but also fight against the pain of cough, nose stuffed with bloody secretions all the time (we constantly need to clean it, every few minutes, then it’s stuffed again in another minute), throat irritated by dry air all the time. Your immune system is weakened, so any little sickness at sea level is magnified 100 times at altitude. It’s painful to fight health problems at
- Tiredness: Each climbing day is long, and you are tired from climbing; the altitude and the uncomfortable camping conditions make it hard to sleep, and your own cough would interrupt rest. Tired and unable to sleep!
- Demanding schedule: Every climbing day is equivalent to a summit day on other mountains. Every climbing day is alpine start (get up in middle of night and start in dark). You have to make so many mini-summit days during the whole climb, it’s
- Uncomfortable climbing climate: The temperature on glaciers alternates between freezing cold and furnace-hot You can never dress perfectly. It’s painful to be tortured by bone-chilling wind one second, then cooked inside a 100F furnace the next second.
- Fear: The unknown risk from icefall or avalanche is there all the time, you just don’t know when it happens. The fearful feeling deters and weakens a lot of people. Not to mention Lhotse face and other hurdles high up on the
- Psychological pressure: Not just “what happens if I fail” kind of pressure from yourself or others, which most climbers have learned to deal with after having climbed so many mountains. Here, this is a very demanding mountain. You see other climbers stronger than you, faster than you, and the peer pressure from competition can make you doubt your own capability or potential, make you worry about yourself. Here everyone climbs on their own schedule: some choose to rest more days, and some choose to skip certain camps, so we will all end our summit on different dates. How do you feel when you are trying to focus on your summit push while others are celebrating and packing up to go?
- Option to quit: The approach to the mountain is long, and every step is hard. But it’s not so hard to quit! You can leave on a helicopter in a day, you can hike out in two or three days. You can be back in a nice hotel in KTM or your hometown in just a matter of days. Why suffer from the sickness, pain, fear, cold, risk of AMS and avalanche? You see people around you keep on leaving, and some are actually stronger than you. Should I suffer or should I go? Why should I suffer? The easiness to quit may contribute to more
- Emotional lure of home: Cozy home, warm family, loved ones are missing you. The expedition is so long. It has been a month already, yet we haven’t even started on Lhotse face yet! Summit is still weeks away and you never know the condition this It’s a torture to be torn emotionally.
- Every step is so hard: There are so many forces against you. You may arrive here with gear missing/forgotten or damaged in transportation. You easily fall sick. Nothing is comfortable here. You don’t sleep well, not enough nutritious food to compensate your big energy expense every Weather is never perfect. You feel you’re not trained enough, you never feel good/strong enough. It’s important to steer negative thoughts away; don’t be overly fixed on cause/condition or the so-called “sense.”
It’s important to focus on positive thinking. Yes, there are many forces against you. You need to be resilient! Climbing Everest is 90% mental. True, there are certain forces you can fight against, but don’t give up too easily! Make your best effort, consider all possible alternatives, think thoroughly of your decision. It’s a balance of all forces!