May 1, 2019
Today we were supposed to move to crampon point beneath the Lhotse face. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it made absolutely no sense to do so. The only route that was made out thus far was through an obnoxious amount of scree and terrain that was going to do nothing, but cause my residual limb damage. And at this altitude, nothing will heal. There is no point in doing this specific hike multiple times.
I sat down at the dining table with all of the boys (Brits included) and expressed my concerns. To my surprise, I didn’t have to put up a fight. For some reason, everyone has been so concerned with altitude, and has paid little mind as to what is going to be best for my limb health. The reality is, if we aren’t taking care of and being proactive about my leg, we won’t have to worry about altitude because we wont be going any higher anyway. After some discussion, we decided that we would just continue dialing in my systems and shoot for camp three tomorrow morning. Even though I still feel like going to camp three is a waste for me outside of a summit rotation due to the risk not being worth the potential return, I am content that at least I was heard out thus far.
I sorted out my crampon foot and 8000 meter boot with crampon height and played around to make sure I wasn’t going to feel the same pains that I did on our movement in to camp two. I threw on my neoprene hip belt for use on the fixed lines — on one hand I am excited for the tertiary means of suspension (the last thing I want to do is lose my leg on the Lhotse face), but I am also really concerned for how it restricts my range of motion. Later, I put on my summit suit to try out ways of swapping out my leg and making adjustments under such a ridiculous amount of down and clothing. Then, we threw on my harness over it to make it even more interesting and to simulate what we will be dealing with up high.
Three of the British team arrived back at camp a little before lunchtime. Pete, Sam, and Tom gave me the rundown on the maneuvers to camp three. They agreed that the scree section to the fixed lines was going to give me Hell, but that once I was on the lines it would be a breeze. I am pretty excited for the fixed lines and Lhotse face so I hope they are right.
I slept most of the day away in hopes of staying horizontal to prep my leg for what it is going to go through tomorrow. I prepped my gear and made sure I had the appropriate kit packed up in case the winds from tropical storm Fani decide to terrorize us on the lines. I overheard Greg from IMG on the radio with Rob saying that it was meant to be a cold one, so even though I hated the idea of it, I threw on another base layer for my lower half. I really hope this move goes well. I need to hit a high point because at this point, I have been pretty disappointed with how I have been performing.
After dinner, I shoved my prosthetic down in to my bag (Lord, how I hate that) and made myself as comfortable as possible. Just as I started to nod off, I heard the Earth give way again. Avalanches don’t seem to phase me as I hear them — but this one was close. I wish I could describe the feeling, but as I heard the rock and ice tumble all I could do was lay in my tent and wrap my arms around my head. We were lucky as the debris all landed 400 meters from our camp. I could hear the boys unzip their tents and start asking around if everyone was okay. Just like in my helicopter crash, I wasn’t afraid of any impact. I just thought to myself, “Shit, this is going to hurt.”
May 2, 2019
My alarm came early at 2:45 AM. We were planning to make our move at 4 AM, but nothing ever goes according to plan so I decided to wake up early and just slowly find my groove. To my surprise, I actually felt really good, unlike most other mornings when our move time is this early. I rummaged around my bag throwing my boot and leg liner on, still keeping my eyes closed, semi fighting the next steps. The hardest part of any morning out here is leaving the comfort of your warm (in my case, -40 degree) sleeping bag. I could hear the Sherpas all starting to move around, specifically Sange singing.
Come 330 AM, Christopher was at my tent door grabbing my water bottles to fill with hot water. I left the bottles in my leg for 15 minutes just to make sure the carbon fiber wasn’t going to freeze my leg. I felt well rested and made sure to eat extra porridge because, again, I didn’t want any repeat feelings of the camp one to camp two move. I pulled my leg out of my bag and made an attempt to stand and put the leg on — let the frustrations begin. There was no way in Hell that even my short self was going to be able to do it comfortably. I shook my head and just passed my leg outside to the boys, clearly defeating the purpose of me sleeping with the leg if it was just going to start cold anyway.
I laid back and pulled on my black hard shell pants that have seen better days by now and zipped up the annoying wrap around zipper of my Scarpa 8000 meter boot. I tried to shake it off as I pulled myself outside (making it look like the tent was giving birth to me I’m sure) and grabbed my leg to put it on. The harness went on easy and I was ready to go. The original plan was for Christopher and Rob to go out last night and find a route around camp, sure there would be crevasses, but we would be roped up and far more efficient. Sange talked the boys out of it assuring them he had a good route.
Sange did NOT have a good route. Up until this point, Sange hadn’t done any movements up the mountain with us; we really only saw him on the trek in so he was not familiar on what terrain I would crush, and what terrain would crush me. This was his reality check. For most of the steep and sloppy terrain, Sange short roped me to avoid any falls and to give a boost if I needed it. Every step, my crampon foot slipped, jarred my hip, and jammed the end of my femur in to my socket. I was already a little tall on my prosthetic side as I didn’t want to wear a crampon on my boot side while going over rocks, so my socket was cutting in to my groin. It was a recipe for disaster. On repeat, I kept thinking, “I wish they would just listen.”
Our tents are at the very bottom of camp two, we may even be the first group. By the time we made it to the upper end of camp, my leg was throbbing. Luckily, we would be hitting a trail in the hard packed snow soon, but we had already caused enough damage. For another hour, I forced myself to move — letting my ego get in the way. We have plenty of time as the fixed lines to the summit aren’t even in place yet. I should have known better and spoken up the moment we started to move on the scree.
Rob made the comment, “Kirstie, we need to do what’s comfortable right now and not cause damage so if we need to make a change, let’s do it.” The moment he said that, I let my thoughts become words at a rapid rate. Part of me was pissed, where was the planning for client success in this? Where was a plan for efficiency? Did I just waste six figures of my hard earned money and two months of my life because I opted to go with an outfitter that wasn’t going to think two steps ahead? I was heated now.
After going round and round about what would be best, I finally said let’s turn around, regroup, and come up with a different plan — one that we will actually abide by, not just talk about. As Christopher looked to Sange and made a spinning motion with his hand, I began to cry. These tears weren’t out of pain, but of embarrassment and a blow to my pride. This isn’t how this is supposed to go. Even when we have a shit plan, I am always the one to be able to tough it out and compensate for the mistakes, but I didn’t have this one in me. While my head and heart ached, the call was easy knowing that if we continued and I caused more damage, we wouldn’t have a shot at a summit.
We all agreed to rope up and not go down the way we just came. First it was Sange, then Rob, me, and Christopher brought up the rear. It was eerie hearing the ground crack and settle beneath my feet, but I was comfortable and thankful to be glacier traveling, not scree traveling. This is the terrain I excel on anyway. We passed a green tin that Sange stopped to beat on a bit in an effort to break loose and bring back to camp. He was unsuccessful.
Shortly after, while we were two feet from a frozen boot and an extension of it, Sange looked back to Rob and said, “Dead body.” Rob replied, “Body?” Sange simply nodded and said, “Dead body.” It was a weird sensation to just walk past it, but it was clear that it had been there for a very long time and no one was making the effort to recover the body for a funeral. Eventually, I guess it could slide down the valley and in to base camp where people would be forced to take it out. I found myself wondering what the face of the person looked like. Had it been frozen black to the bone because it froze up high and slide down or fell into a crevasse and was forced up? Or had it rotted because day time temperatures down this far would allow for it to thaw? How long had it been there and how many people have passed it? Could loved ones even recognize it?
What took us hours to get through earlier, took us 20 minutes to get down via our new route. It ground my gears, but I was happy to be back at camp and coming up with a new plan aimed at what was practical. When I entered the dining tent, Sam, Pete, and Tom were finishing breakfast and getting ready to head down to base camp for a little R&R. Sam looked like a child in a summit suit that was easily three sizes too big for him. Really, I just questioned why the Hell he was in the summit suit at all.
Sam made me aware that he had, yet again, another pee bottle incident. This time, Sam spilled his collapsible water bottle that was full of the nights urine all over himself. In turn, he soaked his pants which were now frozen so he had to wear his summit suit. Thank God he is here because he made my morning a whole lot better just by sharing that story. I couldn’t help, but laugh my head off. While I am on the topic of Sam, he out did himself this morning before leaving… he knows that my leg gets painfully cold after being in my socket for a move. As I was warming it this morning, he looked at me and asked if I wanted his unopened hand warmers since he was going down and could get more. He tossed them to me, I caught them with the hand that wasn’t holding warm water on my leg, and read on the package, “Toe warmers.” After pointing it out, we laughed uncontrollably and he started his journey down muttering to himself, “I’m a dick, I just gave toe warmers to a lady with one leg.”
Thanks to Sam, my pride was restored some and my mood was in a much better place. For the next hour or so Christopher, Rob, and I came up with a new plan. We would step off tomorrow morning at 5 AM, taking our new glacier route, and then ascend the fixed lines. At least at 5 AM, we wouldn’t need our headlamps and the terrain would be much friendlier to my leg. I don’t care if I move “slow,” I have every excuse to do so, however I do care if I am moving slow due to pain. Sange let us know that there wouldn’t be any climbing Sherpa available to come with us as most of them were coming down in preparation for tropical storm Fani making landfall. We were all confident we wouldn’t need one any way.
I spent the rest of my day tinkering with gear and listening to audiobooks. I finished “Girl, Stop Apologizing.” And really, I needed to hear her words on a day like today.
May 3, 2019
3 AM: The winds are ripping. My tent felt as though it were ready for take off with the wind catching the floor and ever so slightly lifting me up. The winds would come and go, but I had never experienced winds quite like this in a tent alone before. Needless to say, I was wide awake well before I needed to be. It’s not that the winds scared me, it was more of a curiosity as to what it looked like outside if it sounded so bad inside.
4 AM: I could hear Kinsang fumbling around the kitchen, getting things ready for us to go up and shortly after, Rob holler out to Christopher, “Do you think it’s even worth leaving camp in these winds!?” Christopher isn’t a morning person and it takes him hours to even come around once he wakes up. I sent an InReach message to both of the boys asking if we would still be moving to the fixed lines. Eventually, I heard Christopher unzip his tent and go speak to Kinsang telling him not to bother with breakfast until later as we wouldn’t be moving.
I won’t lie. It was nice to be able to roll over and go back to sleep, but I was also a little disheartened because I wanted to prove myself today. For the next hour, it was uncomfortably quiet — which made me laugh. Was it going to be calm the rest of the morning? Could we have gone out after all?
5:15 AM: Hell no. Absolutely not. There’s no way we could have gone out anyway. The winds ramped back up and I snuggled down in to my sleeping bag in order to avoid getting a concussion from my tent wall bouncing off of my head. I fell back asleep for a few hours surprisingly and later decided that I would not be making an appearance at breakfast or lunch because I was not going to brave the winds.
8 AM: I got lost in my Kindle basically all day. I just kept reading like it was an obsession. Not that there was much to do anyway, but go crazy. My dad sent me a message asking, “What the Hell do you do all day when there’s a storm?” To which I laughed and replied, “Read. Stare off in to space. Nap. Move things from the left to the right side of my tent.” And that’s the truth.
Sure, I guess I could go be social with Christopher and Rob in the dining tent, but let’s face it — it’s cold in there and I have no desire to get blown over or bust my ass on the ice on the way there. So read, it was.
1 PM: We were all told that Sange gave Rizza (the young Kashmiri man) a second chance and as long as he could make it to camp one from base camp again in 7 hours, that he could continue on. No one really kept up on the updates, but I ended up hearing Rizza and his Sherpa’s voice shortly after lunchtime. While I am not sure what to think of it all, I am thankful that everyone is safe especially with the storm making landfall. I pray that everyone stays safe and smart, and uses their senses for the remainder of this climb.
I read for several more hours and took one of the best naps I ever have. Maybe I have grown accustomed to the howling winds especially those with the deep rumble that sounds like a freight train on the ridge — I think I have been using them to rock me to sleep. I woke up, yet again in a puddle of drool. I really need to come up with a solution to that. As I laid there in a haze, I decided it was time to assemble version two of my crampon foot.
While even thinking about using a different crampon setup makes my head hurt, deep down, I truly feel like this is the best way to go. For any more descents where I need a longer leg, I will use my old faithful crampon foot. But for any more ascents I will use my bright, shiny new set up. I snatched up the new crampon and the telescoping pylon and attached the two, then fumbled my way through putting my leg on and getting my stix.
I sat in the dining tent trying to get the two as close to the same angles as possible, obviously the new one was about an inch shorter, which is what I wanted. I will be able to extend a little height from my pylon in my knee to make it perfect. This was the most excited I had been in days. I don’t know why it took me so long to come around to the idea — I guess like most people, I was fighting off change.
7 PM: I asked the boys if there was any hope to go to the fixed lines tomorrow, to which they let me know that it wasn’t worth it because the weather would be the same. However, our team of forecasters let us in on some good news — that it looks like a potential weather window opening on May 12th. Hallelujah. We told Kinsang that since it was the weekend and we weren’t going any where, to just plan on “brunch” so that the Sherpa could sleep in a little. No need for an early breakfast when we have nothing to get done. Besides, they deserve a break more than anyone.
After dinner, I crawled back in to my bag feeling somewhat accomplished. I finished an entire book today, stretched, ate three meals, took a two hour nap, and played with prosthetics. As I write that, I realize how anticlimactic my day really was. Holy crap. It is definitely time to move again before I go mental.
I messaged my little sister before I fell asleep and said, “My Everest memoir title will be: How to Pee in a Bottle While Being Punched in the Head by a Tent Wall.” Maybe I’ve already gone mental.
May 4, 2019
My tent walls still shook and I laughed at my laziness from last night. I didn’t feel like turning my sleeping system so I seriously contemplated sleeping in my helmet for a minute. To put your mind at ease, I didn’t turn anything, nor wear any protective equipment — I just slid down into the middle of my sleeping bag and made myself cozy. I was awake at 7:32 AM. The heat from the sun was being trapped in my tent. There is no worse feeling than sweating in your sleeping bag, let me tell you. As I popped up to unzip the the doors to my tent my head hit a heavy tent wall (leaving a mark similar to a rug burn). Snow. Christopher and I had gone back and forth yesterday as to if the forecasters would be right about the precipitation. They were right, we were wrong.
I was pleased to see my tent was, for the most part, still in tact. The walls have caved a little with the weight of the white fluff outside and the once perfect archways of my doors now had a melted droop like look to them. Basically, it feels like I am living at a 35 degree angle now. Luckily angles, don’t affect my Kindle or audiobooks. If I were back home, there is absolutely no way that I would be able to sit still and do nothing; but out here it truly is the way of life, especially when there is a storm. You are forced to learn a lot about yourself, some good and some bad.