April 25, 2019
After having my hopes up about moving, I have to admit I was a bit down in the dumps when we didn’t. I didn’t sleep well and decided to take Mark’s advice and pretend it was a vacation and just sleep in. So I laid in bed rather than going to breakfast. I figured the boys would appreciate a bit of time without a female being around anyway.
The momentum of my laziness carried throughout the rest of my day. I am almost embarrassed to say that I never put my leg on up until dinner time. On one hand, for good reason — to rest my leg for the brutal ice fall in the morning, but on the other, I just really couldn’t be bothered to do anything. I guess my mind and body needed to be lethargic.
The new plan is to be up and moving by 1230 AM, followed by breakfast and hitting the ice fall route as fast as possible to beat the crowds.
April 26, 2019
12 AM: It didn’t take much for my alarm to wake me up. I went through the motions of my daily morning routine. I certainly didn’t feel well rested, actually I was dragging myself through everything. Rob turned up with some hot water bottles for my leg around 1230. The boys must have been in the same funk that I was. No one was moving quickly.
1 AM: I finished breakfast — porridge and black coffee, then threw my leg on and began tinkering with my harness and swapping out my walking foot for a crampon foot. My sass level was pretty high as I was dishing out a tiny bit of attitude about us not leaving as early as discussed and my residual limb already getting cold. The last thing we need to do is hit the trail with my leg already being cold because I will not be able to generate the heat to prevent frost bite.
2 AM: Finally on the move. We said we wanted to be the first on the trail, but were soon passed by the ENTIRE Indian Army. At least if they were going to move quickly, I wouldn’t have to worry about too much congestion near the features. We hit the edge of the ice fall and I threw on my other crampon and continued to move. I asked Christopher to put on his crampons there that way when the other boys (Rob and a porter) had to stop at the official crampon point, someone could continue to stay on the move with me.
3 AM: We hit the first ladder, scaled it with a breeze, and approached the nearby second ladder. I was hot. Are you shitting me? I’ve stressed so much about keeping my leg warm that it hadn’t really crossed my mind what I would do should my leg start sweating off in the dark and freezing temperatures. I grabbed on to the second ladder, and let it go seconds later. It didn’t feel right. I needed to take my leg off completely and start over with a dry liner. Out here, I’ve got to trust my gut. When my leg feels like it’s on securely, I move with a different sort of confidence and I needed that right now.
The vertical ladders don’t seem to bother me much, I just scoot right up them. We heard the ice break and shortly after off to our right we saw the Earth shift and an avalanche rumbled. It’s a strange feeling being trapped with no where to go in the ice fall and just watching the rock and powder blast blow everywhere. I appreciated when one of our porters (who I call P Diddy because I can’t say or spell his name), calmly reached out to me and grabbed my hand to kneel down behind a huge chunk of ice. Oddly enough, my feet were glued in place as I just watched in awe with no where to go as I could hear Rob off in the distance calling out, “We’re good. We’re good. Just going to take powder blast.” Life was definitely in slow motion and in the calm in the middle of the storm.
For the next several hours we threw our bodies over features, attempted to dodge climber traffic, jugged our way up fixed lines, and teetered our way over the rungs of horizontal ladders. I watched as completely able bodied people took an uncomfortable amount of time on the ladders and was shocked to be informed that most of the clients were taught to use crampons and jumars out here. That just doesn’t seem right.
We stumbled into a few people who were not so happy to see me slowly maneuvering my way through extremely narrow terrain because it makes using my SideStix impossible. However, most of the people — Sherpas and foreigners alike — cheered me on. Honestly, it brought tears to my eyes. I was so flattered by the amount of people who actually knew my story and were in my corner.
We bumped into Dawa Sherpa who is out here with National Geographic and she stopped me on the trail. She is the first official IMGA female Sherpa — and all around badass. I was honored as she embraced me in one of the best hugs I’ve ever received and told me, “Safe climbing, I’m inspired.” The fact that she wanted a picture with me sent a surge of pride over me.
The Indian Army, who I mentioned passing us earlier, has caught a lot of sideline grief from me and my team. At base camp, they are settled just above us. They love their celebrations, chants, dancing, and PT — at all hours of the night keeping all of their surrounding neighbors with their paper thin walls wide awake. While in base camp, I was bitter with them, but on the trail they redeemed themselves. At least half of them passed me on their way down and shook my hand, rendered a salute, said congratulations, or clapped — in turn making me feel bad for mumbling under my breath beforehand.
8 AM: The sun came up and instantly made me miserable. Every inch of me was covered in sweat. My helmet pissed me off as it trapped the heat on my head and under my buff. The first three quarters of the trail was fixed lines that was jumar worthy making it a breeze, but the moment I wasn’t able to use my tools or my SideStix as I normally would, my right leg and I slowed way down. Pain and heat is a shit combination for me; my frustrations get to me and I begin to beat myself up mentally.
11 AM: We finally got within a visual distance of camp one and at that point I was just running my mouth to continue making light of the situation to distract myself. To be surrounded by snow and ice, and still hotter than being in the Sahara is an absolute mind game. Battling the heat in conjunction with trying to force your body to move in the altitude makes any task a struggle. Christopher and I threw our bodies down near the first neon green tent where two Sherpas were resting. Watching the people ahead of us and behind us fight to put one foot in front of the other made me feel a little bit better.
I threw my leg off to dry off the sweat and cool it down some with the snow. It’s almost as though you can feel the sun’s rays pierce every pore of your skin. It’s ruthless. Even when you aren’t moving, your body is drenched. A young Indian woman came up to me and expressed her excitement in bumping into me and shared another amputee woman’s story. I think one of the most powerful elements of me being out here is that the outdoors can be everyone and anyone’s passion.
1230 PM: After dragging my feet and body through the now slush and over the last couple of rolling hills into our camp one, I dropped everything. We did it. Slow (really freaking slow) and steady through the ice fall and the home stretch and we made it, safe and exhausted. Even managing to situate my tent, unpack my sleeping bag, and strip my layers was a chore. To Hell with my sleeping mat and system, I laid on the floor of my tent on top of the snow to cool my body down, put my head on a compression sack full of layers, and passed out.
Rob told me I snored through the afternoon and I believe it. The last time I felt this wrecked was after my Aconcagua summit and I was dead to the world. Rizzo, an 18 year old Kashmiri guy, made his way in to camp a few hours after us. It was no secret that he wasn’t feeling well. We could hear him coughing and puking; not a good sign for only being at camp one.
6 PM: Eventually it was time for dinner. P Diddy threw us bags of MREs and we rummaged through them. Most of the items were well over a year expired. Funny on one hand, nerve wracking on the other. It was a matter of choosing unsanitary or what is out of date apparently. Nothing warm or rotten appealed to my overheated body, but I forced food down.
April 27, 2019
At 2 AM the winds started to scream shaking the entire tent, and I wondered what it would actually take to break a tent pole off of these knock off North Face tents that are so popular in Nepal. Rather than it strike a sense of fear or give me a chill with the cold, I found solace in the terrorizing winds. It’s quite nice being in this tent by myself — I have very little gear, just the necessities, so it makes for ample leg room especially for a woman on one leg.
Come 630 AM, I heard familiar voices. For a bit I thought it was our British and Kenyan counterparts, then I listened some more. God dangit, it was Scotty! He caught up to us and what are the odds that his tent would be directly behind mine!? If you read my Denali blog, then you’ll remember Scotty. He’s a Royal Marine who was injured overseas. He and I walked a thousand miles across the UK to raise awareness and fundraise for the nonprofit Walking With The Wounded in 2015 and now I can’t escape him in the mountains. I heard him bump into Rob and ask where I was. Just like on Denali when he was camped directly below us, I found comfort in Scotty screaming, “Oyyyy KRRRUSTYY!”
Scotty visited for a bit — it was a great start to my day hearing how it was all going for them. A familiar face on the mountain is always a good feeling. Suffering together, followed by sharing stories and laughs is the best way to strengthen a friendship and to pass the time. If you asked me in 2015 if I’d see Scotty at least once a year, I’d think it were impossible. But I am so thankful it’s worked out the way that it has — especially with it being out here in the mountains.
A few hours later, I heard Sam and the rest of our climbing counterparts arrive. They made great time, but the heat still worked them over too. I was happy to see most of them smiling as I peeked out of my tent. The sun turned my obnoxious yellow shelter in to a slow cooker so I opened the front and back vestibules to get a cross wind. The bright blue sky stung my eyes and the cold breeze across my face gave me a chill. This really might be the life. I wiggled down into my sleeping bag for a mid day nap and listened to our team and the others carry on situating their tents.
I overheard Jay (don’t call him Jamie, no one does but me apparently), the guide for the other group, chatting with Mark and Tom. Mark had been hacking up all sorts of lovely stuff since stepping foot in camp. Mark ultimately made the very respectable, though tough I’m sure, decision to go down in order to get healthy and not run the risk of infecting everyone else. He had already not been feeling well and was isolating himself down low, but it was easy to see that the higher altitude was doing him no favors. I can’t imagine that cutting loose from the team and turning around is easy. He’s a good man for being able to make that call.
Next, I heard Jay kneel down to the tent to the left of mine and start chatting with Rizzo. Jay was making the executive (and again respectable) decision for Rizzo to join Mark and head down. Altitude is not the place to heal. He certainly did not take it as well as Mark did and made a couple of excuses — but the reality is to summit, you need to be healthy. If you aren’t healthy you’re also a risk to everyone on the mountain.
My heart broke for both of the guys. While spinning here doesn’t jeopardize a summit later, it could mean them having to wait for a different weather window to begin their ascent and summit bid. The rule of thumb is you can’t approach a summit bid without having had an acclimatization rotation where you touch camp three. I am in strong faith they will be fine, but there’s also a piece of me that can’t help but worry.
I am counting my blessings of Christopher, Rob, and I all feeling 100%. Being at camp one is bizarre — it actually reminds me of being at 11,000 ft camp on Denali. Like you’re not in Talkeetna, Alaska any more, but we’re still not on the mountain. We’re definitely not in base camp any more, but it still doesn’t feel like we’re ascending Everest.
April 28, 2019
I flailed around all night fighting the holes that my warm body has melted in the snow beneath me. One day, I may also find a sleeping pad that my off balance body won’t slide off of. Without fail, my right side being heavier than my left will pull me one way off of the comfort of the inflatable mat. My back ached, but I was thankful that I wasn’t dealing with any muscle fatigue or pain.
I listened to Rob and Christopher start to pack their bags in prep to carry gear to camp two. Normally, I would feel bad not participating in a carry, but with them both being well over six feet and having strides at least twice mine, it didn’t phase me this time. They battled cold canisters and P Diddy to get hot water for a quick snack before moving. I could hear the Chinese team positioned somewhere behind us fumbling their way through their equipment, presumably for a move to camp two. Most of them had to have their guides put on their harnesses and crampons for them — they’re basically just a walking team of liability.
Rob and Christopher stepped off around 530 and I nodded off. Slowly, the rest of the boys woke up and I could hear them discussing yesterday’s events and going through how everyone felt. I have prime real estate to hear all the juicy gossip of camp one. As I was washing my liner out the back of my tent around 8 AM, I saw Christopher and waved. It only took them an hour and a half up to camp two, and thirty five minutes back. Rob popped in to let me know that the route and terrain from camp one to camp two would be easy for me — so much so that it would be hard for Christopher and Rob to keep up with me. Now, I was excited. I love the times when I can put my head down and just grind it out.
Noon quickly approached, which was surprising as the minutes acted like slugs on a sunny day. I could hear Christopher say with a laugh to Rob, “You’re an asshole,” then take a few steps over to my tent with a disgusting, sweat stained hat full of almonds that we were saving to snack on at camp two. Rob shouted back, “Well, there’s no food so I had to open them.” Clearly no one was excited for the expired MREs especially in the middle of the heat of the day. I looked at Christopher and said, “You may be the bigger asshole for offering me those out of your hat.” At least after nearly a month together, we’ve all still maintained our sense of humor.
Quote of the day goes to Rob with, “I’m like a yak at a Puja.” Happy Birthday Rob Gowler.