Thursday, March 17, 2016

Life at Annapurna Base Camp


We managed to duck the clouds and wind and fly in from Jomsom to Annapurna's north base camp. Since a few people have asked, this isn't a camp that is trekked to anymore even though it isn't far from the famed Annapurna Circuit. My climbing partners, Chris and Lakpa, had to hike out last year because the earthquake in Nepal made for an unexpected shortage of helicopters. As their food began to run low, they elected to 'walk' to a nearby valley. It was obvious why, when porters attempted to ferry loads between Tato Pani and this base camp, quite a few gear bags were lost. The terrain is snowy and steep. If something is dropped, it does not come to rest until a few thousand feet below. We attempted to be conscious of the weight of the helicopter loads, especially in the thin air, but this is still the nicest base camp I've ever had the pleasure of settling in to for a month or so. We're not on a moving, melting glacier that will require constant tent platform maintenance like we were on K2 and Everest. And there is beer. We have a great dinning tent and personal tents we can stand up in, designed by Lakpa; what a luxury! As I write this, the sound system in our dinning tent is thumping away and Chris is setting up the satellite modem to check weather forecasts and send out her first blog.

Chris has her Australian and New Zealand flags flying. I have my ARM flag and solar panel is fixed to my tent, gear is sorted and ready for our first trip to camp 1 and 2 but first we acclimatize to BC. Base camp is about 14,000' and while the air is relatively thick here compared to Everest base camp (17,000') it still takes a while for our bodies to make enough red blood cells to feel strong. I've taken a few hikes around the area to get my heart racing and it doesn't take much. For Lakpa Timba and me, this is our first time here so we hiked up a high ridge to get a better vantage point on our route. We could see as high as where our camp 3 will go, just above a steep wall of blue ice. We've acquired a few colds and are recovering but expect not to make a carry up higher for at least another day or two. I'm optimistic a cool, new 360° camera arranged for by my amazing colleagues might arrive on a heli before we even make our first move. 

Besides our expedition leader, Lakpa, our other climbing Sherpa: Pemma, Lakpa Timba and Oong Dorji (I've probably butchered the spelling) have very accomplished climbing resumes. They are, as most Sherpa, incredibly humble, strong, smart, graceful and polite. The other teams at base camp are a veritable who's whom of the high altitude mountaineering world. Many I met in Pakistan two years ago on K2 or our trek out from their various peaks and other climbers I've heard of in books, gear sponsorships and mountaineering blogs. It is very humbling to be amongst them and yet, I have no sense of egocentrism as we make introductions around camp. We feel optimistic about our cooperation fixing lines and sharing camps up higher. Some days, I wonder why I'd ever put myself through this stress of leaving loved ones to live in a tent on an exposed, unforgiving hillside for a couple of months. Then, I look out of my tent in the morning I see the most beautiful, spectacular hanging glaciers and towering rock walls, thrust up from the ocean floors millions of years ago. I meet the brilliant people that are called to this alter to gain perspective and test their will and I think, why don't we do this as much as possible? It is a lovely break from the daily stresses and grooves we wear in to our lives. We all have our releases. This one makes me teary eyed often, feel greater exhaustion and greater sense of accomplishment than just about anything I've done. It is part engineering, part athleticism, part survival, part cooperation across many cultures and many, many hours left with our own thoughts as we proceed up, together, to touch the sky. I want to thank my lovely friends and family for their support. As distant as we all are in time and space, I feel connected to my loved ones. I can't imagine what early climbers and explorers felt as they left home for years on end with almost no contact. Today is my new, baby nieces first birthday. I'm sad not to be there but was blessed to be able to text my family and receive many kind notes back. 

Our ride to base camp.

The view from my tent door this morning. Annapurna I actual summit is just behind the the highest rocky point. This would not be a good summit day…

And since Chris is a more thoughtful writer than me, check in on her blog periodically:
And check in on us when we're making interesting moves on the mountain or message me from:

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