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What a Difference a Day Makes
Posted on May 30, 2009

Everest Dispatch #90
May 30, 2009
Kathmandu

By Dave Hahn

What a difference a day or two can make. The First Ascent team walked out of Namche and down through the farms and fields of Phak Ding the other morning. In short order, we’d gone from snow, ice and rock to wheat, barley, and happy little kids in school uniforms crowding the trails.

Erica Dohring and I took the standard six hours to cover the walk from Namche to Lukla under mostly cloudy skies. Compared to the Lhotse Face or the Khumbu Icefall, the stroll to Lukla is not terribly difficult … but sure enough, it ends with uphill just when most tired Everest enthusiasts would prefer for it to be downhill. Through good luck, we didn’t get a downpour until we were in the Lukla suburbs and heading for the inn.

Our gang was assembled in a spacious and warm dining room, already shuffling cards and drinking tea and settling in for the “airstrip hang” that begins and ends so many of the climbs we frequent. That is the point at which you’ve done all that you can do with your legs and it is now up to weather and pilots to figure out the rest. I believe our team was ready for the hang to take days since the post-cyclone pattern seemed a lot like pre-monsoon already (translation: clouds giving way to clouds). Pilots in these mountainous regions are known to favor visibility, and smart passengers don’t quibble with that preference.

We whiled away the afternoon, looking out on the rainy strip of tarmac without much angst over schedules … it being our belief that the team duffels were still buried in basecamp snowbanks anyway and that onward travel without some change in that status was going to be limited. Lam Babu burst the duffel-induced-lassitude around dinner when he announced that he’d received word from Tendi that all of the loads had actually left basecamp as of that very afternoon.

We went to sleep in Lukla once more believing that it was possible to get a little lucky on weather. And sure enough, yesterday morning came around sparkly and clear … so much so that during breakfast we watched four planes buzz in and out on the tilted strip.

Lukla airport is something similar to a sinking aircraft carrier. There is just room enough for a short-takeoff-and-landing plane to touch down at the lowest end at full speed, flying upward … reverse prop pitch in a rush of air and noise …. Jam down the speed to nothing and then quickly taxi into a little corner at the top of the apron so as to get the heck out of the way of the next plane. The aircraft tend to land and takeoff in waves of three and four at a time, every two hours or so (allowing a Kathmandu roundtrip), and our scheduled flight was to be part of the second round.

Clouds showed up and gathered on the peaks and began to fill the valleys … but not enough to spoil our day. Our flight went off without a hitch or a hiccup, and by 11 a.m. we were checking into hotels in big and dusty Kathmandu.

Haircuts, shaves, neck massages, showers, Internet, taxi-rides, telephones, televisions … it all came flooding back, just like that. At least a version of it all came back … Kathmandu amenities are not exactly the modern comforts that we are spoiled with at home, but they are very welcome, nonetheless.

We won’t actually head for the international airports without the aforementioned duffels, and those—we hope—are on animal backs approaching the Lukla outskirts right now … but then they are subject to the same delays as people (cargo planes don’t do any better in mountain-filled clouds). In any case, we expect to be on bigger (less weather-dependent) airplanes in a few days’ time, winging it over the Pacific. The climb is over. The team still has a few fun get-togethers, including a big dinner with the Sherpa staff this evening, but for the most part now, we go back to being on our own.

There is souvenir shopping and tourism (yesterday happened to be the 56th anniversary of Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary’s summit … there were festivities and observances), but then there is also just plain easy hotel lounging. We’ve all got tons of catching up to do on current events and email. Personally I don’t mind the slow pace of waiting for duffels … it isn’t simply that the past 10 weeks of Everest climbing were hectic and charged with danger and the fear of failure, it is usually the 10 weeks before that as well, when Everest hangs in the future and must be constantly and vigorously prepared for. By contrast, this after-Everest-and-before-home-limbo period is quiet and slow-paced. The monkey is off the back for a little while … the rat has been fed, etc. etc.

It may be time to go back and read up on the Everest experiences of the teams that surrounded us for the past season … or to peruse even our own accounts (now that it all can be put in some perspective). Such study and reflection may give us closure … or possibly aggravation, one never knows … but it will be time to wrap up our thoughts on Everest 2009 in any case. We’ve all got other mountains—of one sort or another—to climb in the near future.

My hope is that in sharing our trip via text, photos and video, we’ve given an honest and entertaining glimpse of a place and experience that enthralls us. Having accomplished our personal goals of challenging a big, dangerous, and magnificent mountain while keeping safe and coming down as friends, I also hope that we’ve succeeded in our “business” of demonstrating conclusively that Eddie Bauer is back in the expedition game … to stay.

Thanks very much for following the trip through to its end and for the many thoughtful and friendly comments that have been passed our way.

Author: - Saturday, May 30th, 2009
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  1. liquidsky

    Dave,

    Well, many thanks to you for the articulate perspective. I enjoyed your posts tremendously and have to now track down some of your articles and books. I’m looking at 2010 and hoping you are going to do a Denali trip. Again, great job with Erica and I’m going to send my kids your way when they are old enough.

    -g

  2. Jack

    Thank you Dave
    The posts were fantastic. I looked forward to the new posts everyday along with the great pictures and videos. I found everything so insightfull and I hope you do this again with other trips.

  3. T-Dawg

    Thanks for keeping us “Clipped in,” Dave. Your posts, in conjunction with the awesome photos and videos made it, for me anyway, feel like we were right there with you guys. It was also really cool of you all to take the time and answer some of our questions. Keeping logged in with you all has motivated me to be more active and want to get outside. I don’t know if I will ever summit any major peaks, but you have inspired me to be able to believe if you are dedicated enough and work hard, anything is possible.

  4. doverpro

    Put my vote in for keeping this blog going with periodic updates of post climb events, talks, presentations, and marketing shows. It’s nice to see all this technology at work.

    Thanks for ride.

  5. hsnaith

    Thanks so much for keeping us all on the edges of our seats as we followed you every step up and down the mountain! It was awesome! I really looked forward to the daily blog – you gave us a real sense of what it’s like to climb, not just physically, but also psychologically. Happy travels until next year…

  6. MCS

    Good Posts, Dave. Iam an arm chair Mountaineering buff keen on the history of all 14 8000m peak climbs.I admire the decision taken by that young lady to turn back. Hoping to see you next year, friend .

  7. Grizmtn

    Best “book” I’ve read in a long time. Thanks so much for sharing not only the challenge but your reflections on local life, history, safe climbing, teamwork, etc.` It gave a lot to think about in a very positive manner even for those of use that will probably never challenge Everest. Though if I would I could not think of a better group to learn from than this expedition.

  8. amyengler

    Thanks so much for all of your thoughtful, descriptive & exciting posts! I looked forward to reading your updates every step of the way. Can’t wait to follow the Eddie Bauer/First Ascent team in the future.
    Congratulations to everyone!

  9. ktown69

    Thanks for all the great posts and congrats on the summit and return. I didn’t follow from the very beginning so I have a question. Where did you stay in Kathmandu? Just wondering…I know hotels have blossomed there, and I haven’t been there in six years.
    Thanks. I hope I can see your response. I know lots of comments are coming in…

  10. DD

    Don’t need a day to day event list of what everyone is doing now, but if everyone that was on the journey could give a thought or two or just a word that would summarize your historic climb now with some time behind you, that would be very cool.
    I know there are some out there jonesing for an update…

    Dave, it seems that this climb was bitter sweet. Was this the most difficult climb you have ever taken on? It seems that there was a deeper journey than the mountain itself. I would imagine that is with everyone.

    Again, thanks to everyone involved in helping all of us be a part of it.


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