Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Back To Kathmandu

It's hard to believe how many miles we've travelled and the change in temperature and elevation since we last left you four days ago at Everest Base Camp. In a nutshell we hiked from EBC at 17,500 feet back down to Gorak Shep, partway up 18,450 foot Kala Pattar for some great photos of Everest, then down to Pheriche (site of the Himalayan Rescue Association hi-altitude medical clinic) hiking as snow fell upon us until we reached Pangboche for the night. After a needed rest we continued on retracing our steps to Tengboche, Namche Bazaar, and eventually to Lukla at 9,350 feet where we celebrated our journey of approximately 85 miles by foot through spectacular Himalayan scenery and culturally rich experiences.

Along the way we also met some great people such as Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Charley Linville who lost his leg in Afghanistan but is back in action in a big way thanks to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. A small world and fortuitous encounter indeed!

One of the many rewarding aspects of this adventure has been the team's participation in our "Higher Education" curriculum throughout the trip. Thought-provoking questions and discussion topics have given each member of our team an opportunity to "Take a Step Back" (see - Step #10) and reflect upon values, life purpose, and both short and long-term goals. Being with an incredible group such as ours in an amazing outdoor setting like the Solukhumbu Valley, and away from the typical distractions of home and office, has fostered a wonderful environment for introspection, sharing, and growth. I am pleased to report that our Everest Executive Challenge has not only helped to achieve personal breakthroughs and memories of an adventure that will last a lifetime, we have also proudly made an impact through our fundraising efforts for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Thank you all for following along and for your support!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Everest Base Camp!

We made it to Base Camp! Today was a stunningly scenic hike from Lobuche along the moraine of the Khumbu Glacier with views of Pumori, Nuptse, and Everest towering above us. After a better part of the day we finally set foot onto the Khumbu Glacier and arrived at the colorful pile of prayer flags marking the entrance to Base Camp.  

It is here that climbing teams perform a Puja Ceremony to ask for permission and blessings from the gods to climb the mountain. This ritual is typically quite elaborate and it must be performed by a Lama. A trekking team like ours would normally not have an opportunity to participate in a Puja at Base Camp, but since we have Dawa (our very own Lama) leading our group, we made special arrangements for a private Puja Ceremony for the Everest Executive Challenge team. It was yet another spiritual treat that none of us will soon forget.

Since we are not climbing, this Puja was an opportunity for us to pay our respects as a memorial service of sorts to the 16 Sherpas who lost their lives here eight days ago.  It was also a time for us to remember Heidi Kloos. 

The best way to do this is to re-post our April 17, 2010 blog entry as this was meaningful news four years ago, and still today a relevant description of Base Camp and an important memory to honor a wonderful woman lost doing something she loved.  

Base Camp & Tribute to Heidi Kloos

We have two exciting developments to share with you. First of all, we made it to Base Camp! Over the past few days we progressed to the village of Lobuche and then through Gorak Shep and on to Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. Arriving in this tent city built atop a moving glacier is a fascinating site. We estimate that there are about 200 climbers here who will attempt the summit plus 300-400 Sherpas and support staff. The magnitude of our expedition's camp, food & supplies, communications equipment, tents, and staff of 20 Sherpas will take your breath away. And believe us just walking around or bending over to tie your shoes at this altitude will leave you gasping for air!

The second major development we have for you is the anticipated arrival of the 23 members of our Everybody to Everest group in to Kathmandu within a few hours. This wonderful & supportive group of friends & family will soon be following the path we just hiked from Lukla all the way up here to meet us at Base Camp.

Unfortunately their guide, Heidi Kloos will not be accompanying them on this once-in-a-lifetime journey. Heidi was very much looking forward to meeting the Everybody to Everest team and leading them through their Himalayan adventure. Quite tragically Heidi was killed in an avalanche near her home in Colorado just a few weeks ago. However, Heidi will be guiding the Everybody to Everest team from above as they make their way to Base Camp and enjoy the majestic beauty of the Himalayas in her honor.

Heidi was actively involved with the Telluride Adaptive Ski Program helping disabled individuals learn to ski with specialized equipment - equipment that frequently is funded by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. It was no coincidence that Mountain Trip selected Heidi to lead our group that is raising funds for CAF. In memory of Heidi Kloos we would like to honor something she believed in so strongly, and dedicate every additional donation made to CAF in her name. Upon our return from Everest we will send a letter to Heidi's family acknowledging any donations you are kind enough to make. Even if you have already contributed to CAF please consider an additional contribution of any amount at all as a symbolic gesture to an individual with a passion for helping others, but who is no longer able to do so.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Life in Lobuche at 16,000 feet

Namaste from the Everest Executive Challenge team from our current location at Lobuche ex route to Base Camp. Other than Tom and Adnen taking care of business on their satellite phones, we have been without cellular or data connection with the rest of the world for the last three days. ...which actually turned out to be a pleasant respite.

After our last report, we waived goodbye to the monks at the Tengboche Monastery and headed upwards with our kata scarfs in our backpacks and special blessings from the Lama in our souls. Our destination was the quaint Sherpa village of Dingboche at 14,250 feet. After apprx. six hours of hiking our team arrived at the Snow Lion Lodge in varied degrees of exhaustion and relief that the following day would be a rest and acclimatization day. Denise and I greeted Mingma (the proprietor of the lodge) with an enthusiastic and warm hug that was reciprocated with an equal amount of excitement on her part. It had been four years since we last saw Mingma and spent Mother's Day with her in Dingboche as our "stand-in" mom during our two months away from home. So needless to say she took extra special care of our team during our two day stay, which included needed showers for most of us.

As we got settled in at the Snow Lion we learned of some concerning news about one of the guests. Apparently a Czech trekker went out for a day hike by himself four days prior and never returned. He left all of his belongings behind including his stove, sleeping bag, phone, and wallet with identification and money. By the time we arrived the Nepalese government and park officials organized search parties and were going through his backpack and personal items looking for clues to his possible whereabouts and family contact information.

Our second night at Dingboche included a storm that left several inches of fresh snow, transforming the landscape with a beautiful blanket of white illuminated by the sunlight of clear skies in the morning.

In other local news we learned that the Prime Minister of Nepal flew to Base Camp by helicopter for a big meeting yesterday. He was discussing with expedition leaders and head Sherpas the current situation on the mountain post avalanche and the debate to resume climbing or not. We're not sure what the media back home may or may not be reporting about this, but we just learned that climbing from Nepal is officially over for the season. We suspected this was going to be the case as we have certainly seen plenty of climbers and expedition gear heading down the trail from Base Camp as we are heading up. All of our team is doing well, John and Mark are reaching new personal high altitudes each day, and we are all very excited for our hike to Base Camp tomorrow morning. We have a special treat for our team that we will share with you next time we are able....

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Luck of the Lama

Today was a very special day for our team and one that we will all likely remember for the rest of our lives. Before starting our hike from Namche in the morning we made a stop at the Sherpa museum to see climbing artifacts and photos chronicling the history of the "Tigers of the Snow" dating back to the early 1930's. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa is the most celebrated of the "Tigers" after becoming the first to successfully summit Mt. Everest along with Edmund Hillary in 1953.

After lunch and a consistently steep hike up apprx. 2,000 vertical feet from the Dudh Kosi river, we arrived at Tengboche, the site of our most memorable experience referenced earlier. Among his many other accolades, our guide Dawa Gyaljen Sherpa, mentioned in previous posts, also happens to be a full-fledged Buddhist Lama. For those of you who have already read "Steps to the Summit" you may recall in Chapter 8 - "Is There a Lama in the House?", Dawa was also the Sirdar (or head Sherpa) in charge of our 2010 climbing expedition. Yes, this is the same Dawa (with 6 Everest summits under his belt plus many more summits of other 8,000 meter peaks) leading our current trek, and we are extremely privileged that he was available to lead our team.

Anyhow back to Tengboche, where we are now, it is the site of the largest Buddhist monastery in the entire Solukhumbu region. Dawa made special arrangements with the head Lama of the Tengboche Monastery for a personal and exceptional blessing. By the way, this Lama is third in rank (by title) to the Dalai Lama, so his blessings are the real deal. After various formalities one by one, each member of our team approached the Lama and bowed down presenting a ceremonial kata scarf. After a series of spiritual chantings the silk katas were placed around each of our necks and we were officially blessed. All of us walked out of the monastery feeling incredibly lucky and privileged ...and perhaps a bit closer to "enlightenment" we have that going for us.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Progress Towards Everest Base Camp

Greetings from the bustling Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar at 11,300 feet. We arrived here yesterday on Easter Day after an all-day hike gaining approximately 3,000 vertical feet in altitude from the village of Phakding.  The day before was our exciting landing at Lukla on the 1,500 foot long airstrip carved into a mountainside at a 12° slope. Although we had some turbulence and crosswinds on the approach, the air was calm during touchdown making for a smooth landing.

This morning here in Namche we hiked approximately 1,300 vertical feet above the village in order to aid in our acclimatization to the altitude, and also to get our first views of the mighty Mt. Everest!  Fortunately the skies were clear and we were able to fully appreciate the impressive grandeur and majesty of the peak and the other Himalayan giants such as Nuptse and Ama Dablam.  Seeing the highest mountain in the world in person for the first time was truly an awe inspiring experience (and a bucket list item) for all of the members of our team. It was just exciting for me and Denise, especially while pondering the concept that the last time we were here four years ago we were actually standing on the summit of this great peak.

Given the enormous tragedy of Friday's avalanche that killed at least 14 and likely 16 Sherpas, it still remains uncertain whether climbing from the south side will resume this year or not. This is a very difficult dilemma and an emotionally charge debate. There is no clear-cut answer to the decision to halt climbing out of respect for the fallen Sherpas or to continue because perhaps that's what they would have wanted the rest to do? There was a big meeting at base camp today and our guide Dawa, as a board member for the Nepal Mountaineering Association, attended a separate meeting here in Namche in attempt to come to a resolution. We're not sure what the media back home has been saying about the situation, as many times their facts are inaccurate, so if you're interested in reading a detailed account from an excellent authority please take a look at Alan Arnette's blog post from today:

Signing off for now, all is good with the team and tomorrow we head to Tengboche.

Friday, April 18, 2014

News from Nepal

Our second day here in Kathmandu greeted us with some tragic news in the morning. We learned there was a terrible avalanche that came down from Everest's West Shoulder in between Camp 1 and the top of the Khumbu Icefall. Our guide Dawa Gyaljen Sherpa happens to be on the board of the Nepal Mountaineering Association so he was an important part of the communications chain as reports began flowing in about how many people were involved in the avalanche. At first we heard 5 Sherpas were killed, and as the news came in throughout the day we learned that 13 Sherpas were killed and 3 were still missing. This is an unprecedented tragedy on Everest with so many killed in one devastating event.

While Dawa and Nabin managed the flood of calls, we got out of their hair and toured some of the famous temples of Kathmandu. First was the Swayambhunath or Monkey Temple, followed by the Boudhanath, the largest and most significant Buddhist monument in the world. It was fitting for us to visit these immensely spiritual sites while our minds were still absorbing the fact that so many Sherpas had just lost their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and loved ones.

At 5:00 am tomorrow local time, we will begin making our way up to Lukla where we will begin our trek towards Everest Base Camp. This will be an exciting flight as it always is landing at an airstrip that the History Channel named #1 on the list of the 10 Most Extreme Airports in the world. Along with the fun & thrill of the adventure, there will also be a somber tone in the air as we get closer to the region where this morning's tragic avalanche occurred. Please be assured however that there will be no avalanche danger whatsoever along the trekking route we will be traveling. It may be a few days until we are able to post again but will update you on the progress of our Everest Executive Challenge as the journey continues....

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Greetings to You From Kathmandu

The Everest Executive Challenge is underway and our team of John Parmentier, Mark Short, Tom Adcock, Adnen Chaabane, and Denise & I all made it safely to the other side of the globe to Kathmandu.  We weren't entirely sure if Tom and Adnen would make it as they elected to fly Malaysian Airlines, but after several connections and 30 hours of flight time, they emerged from the Tribhuvan Airport arrival terminal with big smiles and a Nepal stamp in their passport.

After getting settled at the historic Yak & Yeti Hotel (which was a bit like a homecoming for me and Denise as we have stayed here on our two prior trips to Kathmandu) we had a brief team meeting and then ventured out to the Thamel District:

Walking the streets of Kathmandu is always an interesting experience with so many new sights, sounds, and smells for the mind to assimilate simultaneously.  It's also a bit of an adventure, especially crossing Durbar Marg Street.  It's somewhat like the old video game Frogger, for any of you who might appreciate that reference.  We all made it across successfully and are back at the hotel getting ready for dinner (Nepal is 12 hours and 45 minutes ahead of U.S. Pacific time) and we are looking forward to touring some of the famous Buddhist Temples tomorrow and then re-packing our bags for our flight to Lukla to begin our trek on Saturday.  Stay tuned for more updates...