Friday, May 19, 2017

Cerveza por favor

Chris, as always, covered this quite eloquently. I don't need to add more about the logistics above C4 on Kangchanjuna. There are no profound revelations to be gleaned but strap in folks, I'm dining alone at a favorite little Tibetan spot in Kathmandu with a tall beer and waxing poetical. First, I have a favorite little Tibetan restaurant in Kathmandu. How cool is that? I've stood atop countless mountains in hundreds of ranges. After 5 trips to the Hymalian range, this was my first failure to attain the set goal, yet we still stood above 8000m and did something incredible. When it was clear we were given bad information about planning and shared resources, high from our perch on the last day of low winds my poorly oxygenated brain raced. We just made it this far from C2 in under 24 hours, sick, without sleep or much food; surely we can pull rope from below or find old rope in the rock section of the route. Then *ding*, this is how people get books written about them; benighted above 8000m. I'm currently on a team of the best and the brightest. They have rescued and recovered others and recounted the tails. I won't do what "Donny Don't" does. Turning around is a surprisingly simple calculus.

Climbing has let me share drinks and stories with some of the greatest adventurers of our time. It has forced lessons in situational awareness while traveling, medicine and physiology while caring for self and others, strength and humility, generosity and reciprocity, ego and death. We break language, economic, gender and social barriers; all without plumbing or even the basics on the hierarchy of needs at times. I won't pretend to have some great perspective on life but I can tell you a lot of the noise fades away when, in the cold, silent, vast, beauty of your surroundings can be summarized by grunt and a laugh. The thin line between safety and comfort is there to be pushed; by technology and mindfulness, by brute force of will and ego, by human fragility and creativity. And as much as this curmudgeon would love to stagnate in front of a screen for a good while; there are friends and family, technology and science conferences, pets and new projects (boy, do I want to build an electric skateboard for Burning Man), food and music to cherish. Then, when we've become too comfortable and start to lose the perspective this deprivation has wrought, the right people will assemble in the right place and time and we will collectively stare up at another hill and hatch a plan... Some will be selfish, some will have learned an expensive lesson, and some of us will just be in it for the stories to share at cocktail hour and the helicopter rides. I will be there with my toys, ready to learn, solve problems and climb until suffering and contentment become one and the same.

I appreciate the tireless efforts of friends at work that supported me with technology and time.
I appreciate the friends that inspire adventure and build their business and dreams on appreciating life under the big blue dome.
I appreciate all of the weird, wonderful and kind short messages sent to my sat beacon. Someday, you're all going to get published...

360° Photos at Camp 4 and about 8000m on the Southwest route (interactive Google Photos viewer)

Just hop over the crevasse (looking south at ridge that boarders Bengali India and Nepal)

Not all that glitters at 7200m...

View from a tent at 7300m, almost sunset (then setting out at 10:30pm for summit)

Finally looking down a Janu just after sunrise (with a few of the other big ones way in the distance)

I can see my tent from here... (8000m on Kanch looking down at C4)

"Nearly Dinner Time, come in and wash up", near C2 after summit push

Growing with every step... into a yeti.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kanchenjunga Camp 3 rotation

Chris Burke and I have completed a rotation up to our camp 3 at 6900m. The whole trip took 6 days because of a few nights pinned down at camp 2 by high winds and heavy snow. It is a bit of a gamble staying up that high for so long because the human body and immune system weaken pretty rapidly in the low oxygen environment but we felt strong and pushed through and now feel much more acclimatized. We also managed to cache most of our heavy gear and supplies at camp 3 in the processes so our summit push should start a bit easier. The route to camp 3 included a couple of exciting 1m+ crevasse jumps along the winding maze between even larger crevasses and one solid ice wall. We're not sure when our summit window will be as the current forecasts call for quite a bit of snow but we've heard that our neighbors to the west on Lotse and Everest are expecting a May 16th weather window. Kanchenjunga summits tend to be a few days behind Everest as the jetstream moves north. I'll report in as we learn more. 

The deli-copter made it in today in a small gap in the snow storm to pick up an injured Italian expedition cameraman and brought in supplies including fresh veg and toys! My lovely colleauges managed to deliver a pocket sized drone that is packed with acoustic and stereoscopic vision sensors and really cool computer vision systems to allow for amazingly stable, autonomous flight. Thanks to everyone who's contributed to OpenCV ARM, NEON and Mali optimizations. Aside from just being an amazing camera platform to shoot the beautiful rugged terrain with, it is also small and light enough to carry in a backpack and orders of magnitude less expensive than using a manned helicopter or tasking a satellite for updated images of the route. Those that remember our expedition on Annapurna last year might recall that we have a difficult time finding a route through the winding seracs, crevasses and towering ice blocks between camp 2 and 3. It took several dead-end attempts in the falls to find safe passage. We even hiked up the mountain across from Annapurna with a telescope to see if we could spot a clean route from a distance. Our camp 3 is situated under a similar ice block (see photos below) and the trip up to camp 4 looks like it will involve descending in to a giant crevasse and climbing up the other side (Ascent of Rumdoodle style). I'm hoping to pre-scout some better lines in real time from relative safety behind my smart phone screen. This type of technology is already being used to inspect infrastructure from bridges to power lines to buildings, even deliver packages. I expect we'll see much more of this autonomous, inexpensive ARM powered technology doing everything from improving safety in dangerous environments to making and sharing art.

Tonight is the full moon which means today is Buddha's birthday. We woke to several camps playing chants and all of the Sherpa are in high spirits today, playing card games, burning juniper and playing on the giant boulders around camp. It is a fun atmosphere with fresh snow on the ground and dozens of prayer flags criss-crossing our camp, floating on the wind. I celebrated by taking my first 'shower' in two weeks and doing laundry while it was snowing. Ahhh, the glamorous life of base camp. 

Lakpa building furniture and melting snow at our C1 just before the "down jacket" (first sunlight) hit our tents.

Giant ice blocks above lower Camp 3

Nearly full moon night lights up the mountains around base camp as a sea of clouds floats up the valley

360° photo of lower C3 under construction. (Best viewed interactively using Google Photos on a smartphone, VR headset or desktop)

You can follow our progress and send me short messages via my sat beacon:
@why_mutate_dup on Twitter and FB

Thanks to @ARMCommunity for the support and technology that drives my training, safety, communications and photography; all with a couple of tiny solar panels. I can't wait to get to an unmetered internet connection to share video and full res photos!

Thanks for weather forecasting support and adventure inspiration. 

Thank you all, friends and family, for the kind electronic epistles of support, bits of news from the real world and overwhelming kindness. They are much needed, appreciated and entirely undeserved.