Monday, May 16, 2016


I've just descended to basecamp at 4600m from 5700m on Dhaulagiri. We went up on a summit push yesterday and I managed to keep up with some of the Sherpa all the way to camp 1 (of 3) but I pushed too hard in the heat. I could list losing half of my gear, blisters, significant muscle and weight loss, that 80% of the fixed lines from BC to C1 have been swept by avalanche, a persistent cough that rattles my ribs and back but those things are part of every summit push on an 8000m peak in some way or another. When I found a guide in Yosemite Valley to teach me how to climb big walls, he told me he takes most trad, rock climbers new to big-wall up the Washington Column because it has a huge ledge to sleep on and a positive angle all the way up but when he saw I'd climbed Everest, he offered up the Leaning Tower as my first overnighter on a big wall. A completely overhanging slab of granite with a very small bivy half way up. He said, "you know how to suffer;" a high complement from a big wall expert. High altitude mountaineering is many things at different times. It is cooperation, planning, strength, endurance, rehearsal, safety systems, technology but it almost always requires suffering. One doesn't get up high on a mountain and then decide they're too tired, sick, scared, cold or injured to quit. You just keep moving, carefully, no matter how much you want to stop, or you lose the game. Of the excuses I listed above, the simple reason I turned around was I had used up my willingness to suffer and still be able to make good decisions while on Annapurna. I'd hit my personal tolerance for risk. I'd never attempted back to back 8000m peaks but since Dhaulagiri was right across the valley from Annapurna, it seemed like a nice plan B or bonus peak that Chris and Lakpa were planning on anyway. Chris and Lakpa are truly bad-ass to continue up. Of the 21 people that made a summit push on the 15th, yesterday, all turned back. Lakpa had the same respiratory problems I had after getting sick at high altitude. The Spanish team, our friends, are now less than half their size after Annapurna took its toll and the remaining are burnt out after 75+ days of expedition so they aren't even going above base camp before flying out. Still Chris and Lakpa go up! I'll monitor the radios and forecasts from here and report their status on my sat beacon site.

And if I still have a job (I didn't expect Annapurna to take more than my sabbatical time), I look forward to dissecting some of the other cool technology I've seen up here. The British joint military expedition have heart rate/blood O2 sat chips implanted in their chests, an ARM powered quad-copter they've used to film the route above 7000m and more weather forecasting technology and tracking systems than I've ever seen on a mountain before. And be warned, we're past my 1 month absence threshold required before hugging co-workers and I miss you all. Even you Brits that hate hugs.

I have now summited Everest, K2 and Annapurna, 3 of the deadliest, most written about mountains in the world, each on my first try. I'm not sure that has been done. I owe so much to the teams that helped me climb each. I'm still an amateur here, a mountain tourist but I understand the wisdom, experience and morale those teams shared to contribute to all of our success. If you'll allow some chest-puffery; I'm the 17th American to summit K2 and the 5th (6th or 7th?) to summit Annapurna but I know I have a lot to learn and look forward to the chance to climb with friends and the greatest climbing masters of our time. So, thanks to my brilliant friends that taught me the best climbers have the wisdom to recognize when to turn around. The connections we form while climbing and traveling together makes us family. The support I get from all of you in 160 character chunks (and occasional photos of my niece learning to walk) fill me with more joy and gratitude than I could ever express. The months spent in tents, on glaciers without modern conveniences is a welcome reboot of perspective and privilege. Well, except for the riding around in helicopters part. I may not have a shower, microwave, full internet, clothes washer or even a toilet but I have 360° cameras and satellite beacons and GPS watches and a tiny solar panel to keep it all alive, record and share the journey. I look forward to sharing more when I get home in a week or two. Thank you for indulging this silliness and watching my "what I did for my summer vacation" videos. I miss and love you all.

1 comment: said...

We are all proud of you Matt and can't wait to hear more about your adventures when you return safely home.