May 5, 2019
Another day where the winds were too much to really do anything with. Being in this valley, the sights you get are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The billowing clouds dance in the cobalt blue sky until they come just far enough on to the faces of the surrounding mountains where they create vortexes and the winds seem to fight each other from all directions. I never watched clouds as a kid, but now as an adult, I get why so people do.
I decided that I was going to try and avoid the black hole that is my tent. Everything felt really good so I may as well take advantage of it anyways. After breakfast, I threw on my leg and went to the dining tent to prep version two of my crampon foot for its first debut. I sat and had some coffee and waited for the boys to come back down. I attached the crampon foot to the end of my leg and played with the heights some, then went to the door to see where the boys were. No sooner than I did, I heard, “SNAP.” Version two bent beneath my insanely heavy 100 pounds on a rock. Clearly it wasn’t steel. Needless to say, I was not impressed. I’ve harped on the boys that I don’t need to fix what’s not broken countless times since being here. I should’ve taken my own advice. Back to old faithful, version one.
I couldn’t help but laugh. Most things aren’t Kirstie proof so I wasn’t too surprised. I’ve always been really good at handling critical situations calmly, and the minor meaningless ones like a hot head. I laughed this one off and began cannibalizing the parts once again to put the telescoping pylon on the trustworthy foot and I realized that this meant that I only had one back up crampon setup for the rest of the expedition now.
Up until lunch time, we snuck in some filming and photography. With all of the fresh snow, the boys and I knew we had a bit of work cut out for us to set a boot pack in to the fixed lines for tomorrow. We came up with the plan of sending Rob out first on the rope, then Christopher, then me — thinking that it would be easier for me to walk in their footsteps. We got on all of our gear, mainly harnesses and ball caps because the brutal Death Star of the sun was out in full force today.
It felt good to stretch the legs and to just be doing something… anything. While life is always purposeful, out here it’s certainly hard to find that purpose. About 20 minutes in I felt a bizarre pressure in my head stemming from my neck and moving to the front of my skull. It freaked me out and admittedly I tried to hide it by continuing to turn my head right as a way to relieve the pressure. I continued on even though I was uncomfortable and the sun was frying me. These are the days I feel like God is holding a magnifying glass over me like an ant to get his daily dose of laughing at Kirstie’s pain.
We moved for another hour or so getting slow motion shots, stomping out a path, playing in the snow, and just taking it all in. I couldn’t help but laugh watching our boot pack. Rob had a fairly narrow gait, Christopher would go a bit wider, then I would go far right outside of their steps with my right leg and land my prosthetic foot in their steps. My 8000 meter boot with the crampon is massive and was acting more like a snowshoe that kept me afloat on the fresh snow. Every time I would use their steps, I would simply sink further and further. Definitely not your typical path out here.
For aesthetics, Rob threw me out in front. I am not sure how or why I started to, but I began walking backwards through the snow. Holy shit did it feel good. The low side was on my left side now, I wasn’t sinking for miles, I was able to use my forearm crutches properly for leverage, I was stable, AND the breeze was hitting me in the face, keeping me cool. Prior to my backwards escapades, I was ready to turn around and get in some shade, but now I wanted to keep going. We kept on for a little ways and Christopher acted as my eyeballs pointing me in the right directions. Again, not the typical way of doing things, but it was working for me, it felt good, and I was wearing a smile.
When we decided to turn around to head back to camp, I asked to lead again. Don’t worry, this time, I was facing forward to go downhill. What took us an hour and a half (counting our videography stops) to get up, took us 10 minutes to get down. I was flying and I felt awesome. Being an amputee out in the mountains is far from simple, but once you find your rhythm and technique, its a game changer. I was stoked on the afternoon and couldn’t stop talking about the route to the fixed lines up until dinner. I had so many ideas racing through my head.
After dinner, Christopher popped in my tent and asked me if I was excited yet. We were made aware of a summit window opening May 12th and the promise of fixed lines to the summit being completed by the 14th, in turn setting us up to make a tentative game plan that would lead to us summiting on the 17th. Sure, I am excited to finally be nearing some action and the true climb, but its still a long way out. I have to make it through six more days before I will be excited. Camp three is just a check in the box and something to do, as is the move back down to camp one to rest. If only there were a way to speed up time.
May 6, 2019
I didn’t sleep a wink. I wish it were out of excitement for what’s to come or an eagerness to climb, but rather it was an extreme amount of pain shooting from the base of my skull to my right temple and all the way back down my right side. I can handle pain, as it is certainly not a stranger in my life. But nerve pain is something special, and something you can’t hide from especially out here with such limited resources. My over compensation for my injuries to do the things I love causes me some grief. Between the nail that was being driven through my temple, the finger pushing my right eye out from behind, the hook that was cranking on my skull where it meets my spine, and the bro that was tasing me in my right side — I was anything, but pleasant.
I laid awake all night irritated and nearly counting down the hours til my alarm went off just so that I could have a change of pace. My alarm buzzed at 345 AM and Christopher was meant to be by for leg water bottles at 415. I shimmied around in my sleeping bag to get my sock, boot liner, and pants on, then cracked open some hand warmers that would be attached to my socket for the move. 430 rolled around and still no signs of life, now I really wasn’t in a good mood. Eventually Christopher showed up and I tossed my water bottles to him with attitude. Pain and no sleep leads to impatience and Lord knows I don’t need any help with that.
I could hear Rob and Christopher going back and forth. Apparently Christopher wasn’t feeling the best either. I think Christopher sent Rob in to my tent to talk to me as the voice of reason — smart man. Rob sat in my vestibule and explained that he didn’t think it was a good idea to push it today. I felt like I was disappointing everyone by not going, even though I have been told time and again that going to camp three really holds no benefit for us any more due to length of time we’ve been at camp two. “It’s just not worth it,” Rob said. I finally swallowed my pride after expressing how bad I felt that everyone was up early and I know everyone is going stir crazy just sitting here letting our bodies adjust to the environment. He told me to shake it off, chill out, and get some rest, then I replied, “Guess its a good thing I just ate a handful of caffeinated jelly beans huh?”
I closed my eyes and slept for what seemed like a well deserved eternity, but was only three hours. The golden hue of my tent and the heat certainly wasn’t helping my mood or my headache. I laid in my sleeping bag pressing my hot hands to my neck hoping the heat would offer some relief. My stomach started to grumble so I dug around for any (what very little) remaining snacks I had. I pulled out a Wilderness Athlete ReBar which was frozen solid. In all of my infinite wisdom, I put it between my hot hands for a few minutes to warm it up. To my surprise, when I opened it and took my first bite, it was like warm cookie dough. That was the exact kind of morale boost I needed this morning.
Beyond my sulking, the rest of the day was filled with keeping hot water on my spine and trying not to beat myself up too much. Since we have been at camp two far longer than anyone ever even plans to, we decided that we would go down to camp one in the morning to rest. Rob would go all the way down to base camp to dump media and make sure he was 100% ready for the summit push.
May 7, 2019
I’m sure you’ll get sick of hearing about how we are late all the time, but today, we actually out did ourselves… and we had help. The plan was to be cruising on down to camp one no later than 6 AM so that Rob wouldn’t be moving in the warm temperatures through the ice fall. I was up at 430 per usual and slowly getting things together. Christopher had asked Kinsang to have breakfast ready at 530 so Rob could hit the road for his brutal day down to base camp, and Christopher and I could start moving as soon as everything was sorted — we were in no rush as our move to camp one is far shorter.
Kinsang acted really upset when we told him that we would be headed down and would see him in just shy of a week. I think in retaliation, he sent breakfast out late — at 630 AM. Rob scarfed his food down and was gone. Shortly after, I grabbed my pack, harness, and crampons, then Christopher and I were on the move. Because we had no Sherpa and couldn’t get in touch with our base camp manager for 96 hours to plan for assistance with our move, Christopher not only had his pack, but a 120 liter Osprey duffel full of food and gear as well. We were definitely a sight for sore eyes and the most interesting looking pair on the trail this morning. We jokingly dubbed him the “White Sherpa.”
To crampon point, the path is straight forward — solid packed ice and snow and gentle rolling hills. After crampon point, its a different story. There are the famous horizontal ladders, extremely narrow ice bridges gapping deep crevasses, awkward traverses around bulgy ice features, and a rappel section to get back to camp one. On the way up, none of this bothered me. But on the way down, my mindset was far different. I wasn’t comfortable and at times my heart was in my throat — then anger came over me. Usually, it wouldn’t be so bad because there’s always three of us to be able to point out things I may not be able to see or there’s always a means of redundancy for safety.
As soon as I made it across the first ice bridge, I voiced my concerns to Christopher fairly calmly (which I am proud of). “This is stupid, how can you help me if something happens when you have all that shit on your back? This isn’t right or safe.” We continued on, Christopher still with the duffel. I hit the second ice bridge and had an audience which didn’t help my demeanor. Luckily, one of the onlookers was Dawa Sherpa and she always puts a smile on my face. Once across it, she gave me a huge hug and said she was proud of me after I apologized for being so slow across it. Her and the Nat Geo team sent high fives all around.
Once past the other teams, as to not cause a scene, I told Christopher he would be dropping the duffel as it was keeping him from being an effective team mate and ultimately expedition lead. I was pissed — safety comes first out here. I can’t rescue him with all that trash on his back, and he can’t rescue me should something happen, so he dropped it at an anchor; an anchor where my buddy Scotty and the rest of the Royal Marine team was sitting. After a quick catch up and finding out what their rotations were, Christopher and I were off again.
I apologized for getting so angry and decided to shift my mood. Because we never came down for the storm and have been up at camp two for so long, it was quite fun coming down when everyone we knew was coming up; almost like a small high school reunion. We passed Garrett Madison’s team, the Indian Army again, all of the Sherpa from HST, and more. Everything went with a breeze from then on out. It’s a short distance from the rappel section to our lone three tents in camp one now. Since camp one is decommissioned for the other teams for the most part, it was beginning to look like a ghost town.
P Diddy was tucked away in his tent and popped his head out screaming, “Welcome!” Instantly reminding Christopher and I of Kramer from the tv show as his hair bounced in the wind. We chatted for a bit about how everyone thinks he’s Indian because of the sun making him darker before P Diddy said, “Okay Kristile (he struggles with my name just as much as I do with his — I get a new name nearly every day), I am going to go up to camp three then to the South Col and camp four.” We parted ways and I finished setting up my tent.
Christopher went back for the duffel, which took him an impressive 40 minutes round trip. When he made it back, he let me know that he appreciated me checking him the way that I did because he had told Rob earlier in the morning that he intended to double carry from crampon point and he should have stuck to his own plan. Though we bicker, we make a good team. While all of this was unfolding, and we scrounged for snacks, two people from a different team strolled past my tent, peered in, and stopped at the next tent and said, “Home sweet home.”
Christopher and I both looked at each other with sheer confusion. Who were these strangers staying in our tent? Luckily, there was still the tent that P Diddy was in that was now available. Normally I would be fine with sharing a tent with Christopher, but if you could hear the way this man snores you would understand my objection. I would also never be able to forgive myself should there be a “Sam pee bottle incident” and someone else be affected.
I was happy to be at camp one and enjoying a change of pace and scenery. Christopher and I passed the time by talking about food and beer for a couple of hours — which set us up to be let down by our expired freeze dried meals and ramen. Just a few more weeks and I’ll be in hog heaven. We wrapped up the night by finagling a plan to have Rob create a food care package of our remaining yummy snacks (Kraft Mac N Cheese, Goldfish, Reese Peanut Butter Cups, Oreos..) — now its a matter of if we can find a follow through to get it up here.
May 8, 2019
I woke up this morning to the Canadian one of the two strangers (who moved in to the tent six inches next door to me) attempting to sing Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey,” struggling to hit the high C. My legs had managed to slide off of both of my mats and I was now laying diagonal across my tent. I had been hot in the night and it was evident by the tangled mess of my sleeping bag. I wiggled around to check the time and it read 730 AM. Not quite the morning of sleeping in and doing nothing (again) that I had envisioned.
The day didn’t really call for much; mainly just to lay around and let any cuts I had heal and to let my body adjust to being ~1000 feet lower than we were. Yesterday, I laughed at Christopher as he struggled to explain to another team our climb rotations. It would have been far easier had he just told them we were doing things differently to accommodate for my lack of leg.
Since the start of this expedition, I have pushed to not go below camp one, given I was healthy. The risks of going through the Khumbu ice fall and the bottlenecking that takes place isn’t worth blowing my summit. I know I acclimatize well, but again, we don’t have to worry about going up if my leg isn’t healthy. The boys have made the comment that I may just be the first person to not come down below camp one in the last decade. It is a super old school way of doing it, but I have never been known to do things with the grain.
Most of the climbers stick to a few days at camp two and eagerly rush down to base camp to get back to their luxuries. Some teams at base camp have TVs, endless power with generators, heaters, wake up tea with warm wash clothes, three hot meals a day, make shift showers, WiFi, and the list goes on. Even Christopher and Rob will break up this crazy, long rotation of mine to go down to base camp, while I remain high. The luxuries of going down do not appeal to me when I remind myself of the end goal — to summit. My reality is I need to do what’s best for me and my leg to get to the top, and right now that’s just to remain high and come the 13th, we will move back up to camp two.
At this point, I will have been above 6000 meters for nearly two weeks. Should all go according to plan I will be down by the 20th, setting me up for potentially another record — longest time above 6000 meters on Everest. Just a joke.
Camp one is pretty lonely especially with Rob down low, and Christopher running back up to camp two grabbing some forgotten gear. It’s been calm minus the random straggler of a Sherpa stopping to throw his bag down for a break, and giving me a wave through my tent door. I have enjoyed the peace and quiet, for sure, with my time being occupied by reading and writing — and random crunches so I don’t feel like a toad. However, it’s eerie to sit here alone as I write this and it be silent with the exception of falling rocks and the occasional avalanche. Looking out the tent door, there’s no black specks amongst the sea of white. There’s no other flies in this bowl of milk.