These are the emails I posted to my reflector while climbing Everest in April and May of 2009. I did not post these to my blog because I didn't think I'd get much time to write (and I didn't) and I didn't consider them relevant to more public consumption but am now doing so for posterity. My brother and I left southern California on March 29th, 2009. After a few bad weather days in Kathmandu, we flew up to Lukla and started our 40 mile trek to Everest's South Col Base Camp. My emails home begin after the trek in and we got the com tent up and running. Most of these messages were typed late at night at base camp (BC) on my little laptop, kept charged by the light of day in my two month home away from home, a little yellow tent under a most impressive banner of stars. The warm glow of the screen was not usually enough to keep my fingers from freezing up as I tucked in to my sleeping bag and the days activities usually left me in an exhausted but appreciative state for where I was and the wonderful people I was climbing with. I remember those days and people fondly and will so for as long as my wires and gears mesh.
Wed, Apr 15, 2009 at 4:17 AM
subject EBC day 2
Greetings from Everest base camp at 5,350m (17,500') in Nepal where the air is clean but there isn't much of it. Todd and I arrived yesterday after battling some illness lower in the Khumbu Valley to find that more than half of base camp has been hit with various colds, resistant GI and respiratory infections. Illness at this altitude is normal but the season opened with a record setting number of visits to the base camp clinic. The good news is I'm feeling strong again and we're likely to set a record for cleanliness at our own camp now that nearly every climber and local staff member has been hit.
As most of you know, I'm climbing with the Alpine Ascents team. A team with a record of safety, environmental responsibility and, if you believe Outside Magazine, relative luxury. We have our own cook staff turning out great meals here at base camp and as you can now tell, our communications tent is up and running. Upon setting up today, I noticed 21 emails waiting for me (I won the record). I haven't gotten a turn on the base camp computer yet but when I send this message, I'll download the love and try to respond over the next few busy days. It is a great moral booster to get news from friends and family. As I type this, Todd and I finished setting up my solar panel, stabilizing my little tent against wind and he is now browsing short wave radio channels for world news. Our "showers" should come online tomorrow and as our lead guide Vern is fond of saying, we'll "Shower once a week whether you need it or not." AAI has picked a camp at the far north end of the Khumbu glacial moraine as usual. We call this the 'high rent' district because we are far from the trekkers, massive unguided camps like Russel Brice and the Discovery Channel, and most importantly, close to the ice falls. Not to be snobby, we like the view. Our base camp is divided in to three sections, the cook tent, dining tent, and com tent in the middle; the lower section nicknamed "The Manhood" because it it populated by the younger men and guides and the top of the hill called "Sunrise Village" with the older men and women on our team. Since Todd and I got in a day late and asked ahead of time for a room with a view, I'm the kid in the retirement community. They gave me the gate code and our activities director, Lori, invited us to 7AM calisthenics. Kathy nicknamed me "Pool Boy". A base camp nickname I'll happily take considering the others so far.
On the clear days, it is horribly hot out and the sunblock is used liberally, at night, it gets well below freezing as expected. The huge temperature shifts cause the glacier we are camped on to crack and moan and the hills around us are constantly reminding us where we are by dumping ice and rock hundreds of feet down and only 100 meters from camp. Like cracking thunder, it is a both eerie and exciting sound track to live and fall to sleep by.
Today we practiced walking on ladder bridges and reviewed various climbing knots and hitches in camp. Tomorrow we'll move in to the ice falls a bit to practice and review on the moving ice. Friday, we'll have our puja ceremony to bless our expedition. This involves burning juniper in camp, stringing up prayer flags and making offerings to the mountain. After this, we'll be cleared to move through the ice falls to camp 1 for more acclimitizaion (building red blood cells to absorb what little oxygen there is).
As this electronic epistle turns in to a novel and the smell of dinner wafts through the cold, dry air; I'll sign off and wish you all love and peace. Send positive thoughts to Todd as he begins his trek down the valley tomorrow.
April 17, 2009
subject EBC dispatch
Greetings again from the Khumbu. I'm still recovering from a nasty cold but still marveling at the life, the night sky and the grandeur of this place surrounding our little tent city. You might have noticed on today's cybercast we had our puja ceremony to ask permission from the mountain to climb her. After offerings, chants, blessing of equipment and burning of juniper, the offerings were devoured (at least the beer was) and the Sherpa tried to teach us a few circle dances; tried being the optimal word. We also taught them auspicious western dances like the Hokey Pokey and Hora. Our camp looks beautiful now with seven long, colorful strands of prayer flags radiating from our alter over all of our tents.
After than our entire team volunteered to go help build a helipad near the medical clinic for emergency use. I'm not sure when the Discovery program airs but a couple of their crew volunteered too so there might be a shot of me at the head of a human conveyor belt pitching rocks and leveling the platform. You'd be surprised how many engineers we have up here. One of our team members pointed out that chain gangs are now rare in the states but we paid good money for this exercise. Here's to hoping we never use our new helipad. Creative manual labor, lots of interesting folks, constant chaos under a constant monolith; life is good.
Now as I type this from my little yellow tent under a beautiful banner of heavenly bodies, with the cracking and sparking of rockfall from the nearby slopes, I'll bid you goodnight. Not because I want to but because my naked fingers in the cold air are losing the battle with this tiny keyboard and my solar panel kept getting dusted with snow today.
Much love to you all and thanks for the emails,
April 17, 2009
April 20th 2009
EBC update 3
How'dy campers. Today was yet another acclimatization day on the hill. We designed an overly dramatic obstacle course and used our summit mittens to negotiate the ropes and anchors with various climbing and safety gear. It is a lot like running a 400m sprint then trying to set the dial on your watch wearing oven mitts. We also set up a few traditional ice climbs just for fun. After showing off, Vern challenged me to climb an 85 degree wall without axes. He was very encouraging but I don't think he expected me to pull it off. I think I'll be on the Red team now. I'd also like to mention Kay, on her 4th summit attempt at the age of 60 swings an ice ax like a pro and climbs faster than some of the 30 somethings on this team.
Tomorrow, we start up the main route in the falls for a bit more practice and acclimatization and the following day, Red team will start its push to camps 1 and 2. Two days later, Blue team will follow. The staggering has less to do with skill and speed than simple logistics of having 18 climbers. Staggered, we need half the tents and fuel at any given camp. The whole up and back trip from base camp should take 5 days. We're all eager to get some real altitude (7000m) and a change of scenery. Though, after living in this tent for a week, I'm not sure I need a house anymore. I washed my socks and undies in a bowl of warm water, I have my laptop, my iPods, a guitar, a nice view, a comfy place to sleep and of course, a pee bottle. What more does one really need? Ok, there is THAT...
After a week at base camp: we've stopped turning our heads when a thunderous roar echos through camp, our makeshift helipad has been used once to pick up climber with HACE, talking about fresh fruit constitutes talking dirty, all questions relating to solar power and sat phones are referred to yours truly, 9pm is not too early for bed and some people are willing to throw a card game for bed time, a warm washcloth before dinner counts as a shower, no team member is above saying “That's what she said”, I'm already thinking of the meals and beers I want when I get home (it is too early for that), farting at the dinner table is completely appropriate (pv=nrt).
You get a week long reprieve from my emails but the cybercasts will continue up the hill with us. Keep the tech news, western conference results and general personal updates coming. I miss ya'll. Be good people. And as Vern says, “There are three rules to mountain climbing: Look good, act cool and safety third”
Love and peace,
April 20th 2009
April 26th 2009
Back in EBC
Greetings to all intelligent life and climbers too. Red team is back at base camp and enjoying the finer things in life; clean socks, clean underwear, sleeping bags that don't smell like feet and the luxury of oxygen. Four days ago we made our first trip through the ice falls to camp 1 leaving at 4AM and arriving just after 10AM. Vern told us we were a strong group to make the first trip 3 hours shorter than normal first trips. I quickly pointed out he was the jerk setting the pace. We spent the last few nights at camp 2, circa 7000m (21,000'). They say there is a lot less air up there and while trying to walk up to the Nuptse headwall yesterday, I'd believe it. The problem is, the jet stream shifted back over our little mountain yesterday and that air certainly made itself known. For those not familiar with climbing in the Hymalias, there are two short periods in the year where the jet stream that blasts the high range with 100+mph winds get pushed north by the monsoonal season in India. The month of May is generally the safest time to climb high during the relative calm. Some of you smart folks may note that it is not yet May. Fortunately, most of our camp survived the night. A testimony to our overbuilding of tent anchors even for our calm, first night at that camp. Our one casualty was the tall, narrow, blue tent that serves one critical but unglamorous purpose. It was quickly rebuilt in the morning by our coffee drinkers. Other camps did not fare so well. We saw several dining and cook tents destroyed on our hike down this morning. A numbingly cold, windy hike indeed. We were lucky to have super guide and sherpa, Lakpa, make us breakfast after sending down our camp 2 sherpa cook with HAPE and making two trips to camp 1 and 2 for both teams. We wish our friends on the Blue team the best of luck as they move up from camp 1 today. The winds are supposed to die down over the next few days... supposed to. We will see them in two days when they join us in the oxygen rich base camp at 5,850m to recover.
Yesterday, we took a stroll up to the head of the Khumbu glacier, the Nuptse face. This is where the gentle rise of the glacier meets a giant bergshrund and the steep head wall below Nuptse leading to camp 3, the yellow band (ancient sea floor rock) and the South Col of Everest. We had spectacular views of our goals for the next 25 days including Sagarmatha herself at 8,850m. We were also treated to our first game of “dodge rock”. It is similar to dodge-ball but when a climber in the yellow band kicked down a few basketball size rocks several thousand feet above us, we didn't try to catch them. Luckily, we were tuned to the sound of 250mph debris from a few days before when Lotse kicked down a few rocks a safe distance from our path. The sound, as some of you know, is a high pitch buzz much like a bullet ricochet hum for a few seconds followed by a soft, undramatic, thud. Vern heard the sound for a solid 3 seconds before yelling rock and Mike yelled for everyone to look up. There is little sense in ducking under a helmet or pack on such steep inclines; your best protection is to watch what is coming at you and get out of the way. Not to over dramatize but I've never seen a dozen, high altitude climbers in massive boots, plunge step down a glacier so fast. I imagine it looks a lot like a herd of drunken elephants chasing the last peanut on earth around an ice rink. Vern suggested we and other groups rope up the right side of the headwall this year to camp 3 and avoid the sherpa fixed lines under the yellow band. There is very little snow on the upper route this year so it is wise to avoid this area.
Today we made great time to camp 1 with many social visits along the way including a quick chat with Ed Vistures and some of his guides and famous photographers on the “1st Ascents” team on their way up. Ed, like Vern, is a climbing legend and we're lucky to have him on the mountain with us this year. We made it past camp 1 and through the ice falls before noon with little more incident than a few giant blocks of ice popping and moaning and a cursing German gal who learned that you can still slip on steep ice when arm wrapping a rope if you're not using all points of your crampons. One of our climbers, Adam, wants to count the number of clip and unclip moves we make with our safety gear in the never ending labyrinth of ice, ropes and ladders spanning crevasses. Our guess is somewhere over 1,000 moves. Our wonderful base camp cook, Gopul, made a huge lunch but most of our team's appetites weren't up to it after a windy, sleepless night (props to Doc for the low dose Ambien). We will all sleep well tonight at base camp. I'll fire off this novella and download the waiting emails from you all and mend a few items of clothing. An undramatic but much welcome ending to a busy few days.
Love and peace,
April 26th 2009
I too have asked the mountain, but from here, to provide beauty and success
in your endeavor. I'm not hoping you will become beautiful, but that
wouldn't hurt either. It is good to see the pictures and know you are in
good hands-at least, the Sherpa seems to know something about what he is
leading you into, and the weather is going to be really good for a few
The last Buddha I blessed with coin and a flower didn't prevent some Chinese
guy from stealing my camera, so, I am going to trust the Nepalese mountain
and the Sherpa instead.
Best wishes and stay warm. I was so glad to learn that peanut butter was a
great food for trekking. Now I don't have to apologize anymore for taking
it with me..
Thanks for the email DT!
Ah, the mountain is providing much beauty but it is being a bit gassy of late. Watching the big spires around us casting beams of light through the crystallized moisture in the surrounding air is quite beautiful. Never mind the wind shakes the tent so violently at night that I can't smell my tent mates bad gas. I never thought I'd prefer bad smells in a confined space. Things have calmed down a bit today and we now have the home office emailing sat photos our little corner of the world.
I'm sure wishing me beauty doesn't hurt either but even with my 8000 calorie diet, I'm starting to thin out and look like one of those super models on the picture box. I don't think that was the 'beauty' either of us was hoping for.
The Sherpa people are incredible. Lakpa, the gentlemen you saw the video, is climbing double time to keep up with both teams. He also cooks and manages all of our sherpa staff. He also recently became the first Sherpa to climb the 7 summits and now lives in Seattle. I think we can learn the most from him but he is very quiet and humble. Maybe that is the part I need to learn.
Never apologize for your peanut butter; unless you are keeping it your pockets. I find people look at you funny when you dip you cookies or toast in your pocket for that extra kick of protein and fat. Speaking of which, it is almost tea time. I have to mix some PB with my hot cocoa.
EBC Update 5
Hello world. It is another 'rest' day at EBC. The Red team took its normal stroll past the south end of the camp to boulder in the moraine followed by the strenuous hike to the bakery tent and the Croatian women's team camp. They can't get enough of Dr. Tom but we're pretty sure it is because they can bench press him. The trekkers get jealous as climbers run by on the loose rock and snow without breaking a sweat to greet friends in other camps as they barely hobble by clinging to hiking polls. The forecast for the next 4 days is light snow so I'm charging my little laptop while our sun will allow. We leave for camp 3 starting on May 1st. Red team will move up to camp 1 for a night, camp 2 for two nights and finally camp 3 for a night before heading down. Since this trip is for acclimatization, we will not be using supplemental oxygen at camp 3 like we will on our summit push. The air is between one half and one third as dense as it is at sea level and the camp is literally hacked in to the side of the steep, icy headwall of the Lotse Face. Rest will not come easily. Heck, brushing our teeth will not come easily. I'm looking forward to breaking in the heavy suit though. It feels like I'm being wrapped in a giant teddy bear. I'm also happy about the snow since it means the winds will likely be below 10kts and the temperature will be stable. We can tolerate cold or hot but when the temps fluctuate wildly in the ice falls because of wind and reflective white ice we suffer since we don't stop and change layers in the critical sections. I'll also be hauling the big camera through the falls this time and am excited to shoot the mountain and people. With less air, the day time sky is darker and clearer. The night sky reveals more stars than pretty much anywhere else on earth.
I spent the better part of Monday checking equipment and helping Vern McGuiver a more comfortable oxygen mask out of a surgical mask and our conventional O2 system. He looks like a droid out of the old Star Wars movies and sounds like Darth Vader when wearing it. I think he gets a kick out of that though. After this trip, we will drop down the valley to enjoy the thick air for a week, then go for the summit push. It's hard to believe Todd and I flew out exactly one month ago.
They are setting up a slackline over our 'pool' right now so I'm going to go play and make more red blood cells.
I hope you are all safe, well and warm wherever you are in the world. I sincerely appreciate hearing from you all on the odd days I get time to download messages off the camp's laptop. I'm looking forward to body surfing, climbing, cycling and beer-ing with as many of you as possible when I'm done here.
MD EBC 6
Wed, May 6, 2009
Greetings ladies and, well, I don't know any gentlemen. I've returned from camp 3 to so many wonderful emails! Thank you kindly. Hearing about adventures back home helps transport us to warmer places when we need the odd distraction. I'll respond to as many as I can before the battery runs out or my fingers stop responding (snow at BC again) now that I've completed the mundane tasks of the weekly shower, shave, laundry, mending and eating.
We hiked down through the ice falls from camp 1 today, our pit stop from camp 3, under 3 hours. An extremely cold morning (and the plan of 10AM breakfast at BC) prompted us to move with grace and speed. Ok, just speed. The route, as usual, had changed from our last trip but we made quick work of the new ropes and massive, moving, overhanging ice blocks.
Camp 3 to camp 2 was also journeyed in just under 3 hours where we changed out of our heavy gear but the real story was the trip up. Camp 3 is a small perch, carved out of the ice on the side of the Lotse headwall. An hour past camp 2, the slow rise of the valley becomes bordered by the summits of Nuptse, Lotse and Everest and the “easy” route goes up fixed lines just south of the Geneva spur. We cross a large-ish bergshrund that is constantly showered by ice and the occasional piece of dropped gear from climbers above (ironically, we dodged a helmet this time) and headed up the steep wall. Since real-estate is man made, out team chooses to terrace tent platforms at the very highest section to maximize acclimatization. It took us a full hour to reach our perch after reaching the lowest camp. A total of 8 hours from camp 2. That last hour took us to nearly 24,000' and we took about 3 breaths between each step. Once there, we remained clipped in to safety lines to within feet of our tents and in our tents we stayed. Watch for video of Adam demonstrating proper fixed line safety. That little camp marks the highest I've ever climbed and slept. I use the term “slept” loosely. Most of us managed a couple of hours though. We stress our bodies to produce more blood cells to absorb what little oxygen is left up there. Every little task like taking off boots or packing a sleeping bag leaves you breathing hard and feeling the cold bite of the air. On our summit push, at camp 3, we will breath a very low flow of pure oxygen through what looks suspiciously like a rubber painters mask from very high pressure, Russian O2 bottles (Russian because other countries have safety standards that prevent bottles from being filled to such high pressure). Sleep should come much more easily then. We remain on varying flows of O2 beyond camp 3 because at camp 4 and higher, the lack of O2 makes it impossible for most human bodies to produce more tissue cells than are dying off; hence the overly dramatic term “death zone”. One of our super-star climbing sherpa did summit today. He was up past camp 4 inspecting the route and it was such a good day he helped a team member from IMG tag the top of our world!
To answer the many questions of, “So dummy (thanks Mom), you've been gone nearly a month and a half, any idea when you're going to wrap this up?”. Now we head down valley to the low, low, altitude of 12,000'. Our bodies will heal in the oxygen rich environment (near the Tengboche monastery for those of you that have been in the neighborhood). We have been given an unlimited budget to eat as much as we can at the lodges to regain some weight (at least the fat part of what we've lost). We should be back at BC by the 13th or 14th. If all goes well with weather and health on the hike (no hangnails, noogies, purple nurples or other such debilitating injuries), we will start our summit push around the 15th and our earliest summit date for Red team is the 19th with weather as our most unpredictable factor. Don't be too surprised if this stretches on till June though.
Word of Nepal's PM's resignation has had little impact on base camp and its liaison officers. Kathmandu's infrastructure can only get better so we're all wishing the locals well.
I hear tail of tea time so I'll wrap this 6th novel up and join the other 8 boys of Red team for cheese and biscuits (it sounds civilized till you realized we are 9 stinky boys, far from our mothers with our lead guide still up hill with the other team, yeah, it is that bad and worse =).
Until next time. Much love and peace to you all.
Heading back up
May 13, 2009
Our time is very limited on the comm resources as we move back up the valley so I'll apologize now for not being able to respond to each of you individually. I've been reading everyone's well wishes and updates from the home front though and appreciate them very much. Today we finally left Deboche and hiked through the snow back up above the tree line. If you haven't been following the cybercasts, our short drop back to low altitude turned in to a long waiting game with the weather. The entire area was blanked in several feet of snow. We can't make any good predictions about the jet stream high on the mountain right now but the snow melted enough and we're pushing back up to base camp. If the night is kind, we will move back in to our humble dwellings on the glacier tomorrow. Then we wait. When the jet stream clears we'll start our 5 day ascent.
Despite the weather, we are in good spirits and eating well. Our team is down to eleven climbers (one team) now. Unfortunately, three of our climbers went back to Kathmandu. Our climber with HAPE recovered nearly immediately upon his return to the lower elevations. Our climber with frost bitten fingers is expected to make a full recovery over the next few weeks if he treats them well. Our climber with the muscle injury is trekking back to Lukla today and doing well.
I miss my friends and family. I wish you all well with your great adventures from race car driving to marathons on all seven continents. I can't wait to catch up with everyone soon!
Much love from the Khumbu. Namaste,
May 17, 2009
Greetings family and friends. A quick apology for duplicate, late or lost emails. The satellites were not cooperating on our drop back. We've reached a tipping point here at Everest base camp. Many of our team, myself included, have picked up a nasty cold on our drop back to recover and fatten up. We've spent an extra day at base camp to try and mend but the jet stream, which isn't entirely off the mountain even now, is threatening to bring its full fury to bare on out little rocky summit sometime around the 24th of May. We've decided to put ourself in position for our summit push and will climb up to camp 2 tomorrow very early in the morning. We will watch the weather from there. Winds anywhere over 40mph will keep us put. Our target summit date could be the morning of the 23rd (give or take a day). If the weather pattern shifts unexpectedly, we will remain at camp 2 for as long as a week to wait it out so this will be my last personal email for a while. The cybercasts will continue and increase in frequency on our summit push.
Everyone here is excited, apprehensive, and after nearly two months away, eager to come home or at least to a warm beach nearby. Those that are sick are especially worried about there ability to recover above 20k'. I'll call special attention to Kay, up here for her 4th time, also coming down with the cold. Please send her positive thoughts, mojo, prayers or whatever your personal philosophy calls for. I want to see her summit more than anyone on this team including myself.
Summit or no, I'm thrilled to be here. This experience so far has given me more than I ever expected. Sick or not, I know this is more a battle of will and mind than fitness now. I thank you all for your kind words of support and helping getting here. Everyone on this email list has contributed in some form and I can't thank you all enough.
Much love and peace to you all,
Fri, May 22, 2009 at 9:48 PM (PDT) From Todd Du Puy to list:
Success on the Top of the World
He's not out of the woods yet, but I just want to let you all know, if you
aren't following the cybercast, that Matthew tagged the summit of Mt.
Everest tonight! Saturday morning Nepal time between 10-11am!
I am so happy for him and the others that successfully made it. If I do get
a phone call from him, I'll pass along what I learn, but it's too windy and
cold for them to stop long until they're back at South Col camp and the
priority will be to rest first when they arrive there.
From the AAI website...
May 23, 2009 - More Summits!!!
Ok, here¹s the rest of our summit results. I already reported that Lakpa,
Kay and Chewang Nima, Stephen Coney and Mingma, Frank Slachman and Dawa
Nuru, and Lori and Tsering Dorjee were the first ones to reach the summit of
Everest this morning. Since then the following members and guides reached
the top: Garrett, Michael Horst, Adam, Tom, Phil, Matt, and Michael Morales.
Sherpas accompanying them were Thapkee (his second summit this season), Fura
Kancha, Pa-Rita, Ang Sona, and Dawa Tsheri. This makes a total of 11
westerners and 10 sherpas. Congratulations to everyone. There are also a
couple of names missing from this list. Vern was not feeling well and turned
around and headed back to the South Col. Jeffrey James (JJ) made it to the
South Summit, but turned around there. Both Chris and Frank H. also turned
around along with their sherpas, Dorjee and Ang Passang. I'm still waiting
for updates on how everyone is doing. The guides will be calling in from
several locations as they head down. And of course I¹ll let you know when
everyone is safe back at the South Col.
Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers, keep them coming until they're all