Sunday, October 4, 2015

Back in Kathmandu

On the 30th, we began the chore of packing up camp.  First we took down the tents that were non-essential - communications, shower, storage - and packed everything into 30 kg loads for the porters to carry to Samagaon.  This was an arduous task, and I was sad to see our base camp dismantled and our expedition come to a close.  Late in the morning the telescope was packed, shortly after we watched Sherpa from another team push the route toward camp 4, crossing the troubling crevasse that had temporarily swallowed Namgel a few days ago. 

Porters from Samagaon arrived early the next morning, accompanied by some of the seemingly stray dogs from the village.  I tried to give one of them a piece of bacon, but he looked at me like I was crazy.  Maybe he was a vegetarian.  Nearly all of our porters were young women.  Most of the men from Samagaon have traveled across the newly-opened border with Tibet to purchase household goods at much cheaper rates than they can locally.  When we arrived in Samagaon strings of donkeys and yaks strolled through the single "street" carrying their purchases ... blankets, rugs, re-bar, plywood.

Porters claiming their loads
Photo:  Lisa White
I descended the steep, rocky path and arrived in Samagaon before lunch.  I spent the next several hours waiting for all of our loads to arrive.  Due to the shortage of porters, many of them had doubled their loads, eager to make some extra money and to accommodate all of the descending climbers.  These double loads proved to be too heavy for some of the porters, so they temporarily abandoned part of them on the trail, went ahead with the rest, and then walked back up hill to retrieve the abandoned parcel.  This process of course delayed the final delivery in Samagaon.  If more than ten porters are used, a foreman, or Nike, is required.  Our Nike was sympathetic to the situation.  She carried a dirty white puppy with her and she was worried that he would get squashed by a load in the tiny stone courtyard of the lodge, so she put it to work as a guard dog by plopping it on top of one of our barrels.   Unfortunately the puppy didn't comply for long and fell asleep.


Our guard dog and Lopsang
Photo:  Lisa White

In the morning I enjoyed my favorite breakfast, Tibetan bread (which is most like the elephant ears  that I ate as a kid at the county fair) and fried eggs and made my way to the helipad.  Although their frequency has increased since the earthquake, helicopter landings are still a big deal in Samagaon.  In my experience,  they are always chaotic as locals compete for the space of paying customers by stuffing grain sacks of potatoes into any open spot. Occasionally locals will stow away on a heli or concoct a medical condition which requires treatment in Kathmandu.  For this reason, my surly Austrian pilot hid a machete on his floorboard.

Although Nepal is currently experiencing a fuel shortage, the roads of Kathmandu were still disorderly and crazy.  Motorbikes, cars, busses, cows, pedestrians, and occasionally monkeys all move about noisily on their own agenda and pace, paying little regard to anyone else.  At least the stray dogs seem to have enough sense to stay out of the streets.

I sat in my hotel room for a while, still stinky and sunburnt from the mountain, and contemplated things.  Not having to stare at Manaslu made it a bit easier, but I still felt empty.  Although none were this significant, I have missed lots of summits before, but this time it stung more because I felt like I hadn't given it my complete effort.  I felt like I was giving up prematurely.  It's not that I doubted the decision to forego another summit attempt, it was just difficult to let go of a dream that I had worked hard to achieve; I had more fight left in me.  But mountaineering is a gamble and the mountain doesn't care if I've trained for months and made sacrifices, and have more to give.  It has the final say.

In the following days I would learn of several successful summits, and one fatal accident on Manaslu, causing my emotions to swing from selfish jealousy back to sadness.

I don't know of I will return to Manaslu.  My goals for this climb were to climb to 8,000m and to use oxygen; I may set my sights on another 8,000m peak in order to achieve them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Coming to an End

After much deliberation, a lot of analysis, and some tears we have decided to cancel the 2015 Manaslu expedition.  The conditions at 24,000 feet, between camps 3 and 4 are too unstable to safely climb.  In addition to the 12 foot crevasse, this section of the route has become heavily loaded with snow in the past few days, making it avalanche prone.  While we could wait for the avalanches to naturally occur, high winds over the next week will also prevent safe climbing.

With a very heavy heart, I have begun packing gear to be taken back to Kathmandu, where I hope to be in a few days.

Reluctantly packing up base camp
Photo:  Lisa White

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The return to Basecamp

I woke up comfortably at base camp this morning instead of at camp 4 with freezing fingers preparing to climb to the summit.

Our summit attempt went according to plan ... we left base camp and climbed to camp 2, spent the night, then climbed to camp 3.   Both days of climbing were unbearably hot.  I wore a wool tshirt and slathered sunscreen on every hour to avoid a burn.  I found myself fantasizing that there would be a Slurpee machine at camp 3.  There wasn't. Just wind-blown snow slopes and more blazing sun.

As our team climbed to camp 3 our amazing Sherpa team was climbing to camp 4 to fix the route and establish camp.  Unfortunately just before camp they encountered unstable, deep, sugary snow that wouldn't support snow pickets.  Shortly after they decided to turn around a snow bridge broke sending one Sherpa into a crevasse.  He was excavated and sustained a recoverable shoulder injury.

With high winds forecasted, the safest thing was for all of to descend back to base camp, where now the only topic of conversation is how to safely get around that monster crevasse, which is buttressed on one side by ice cliffs and yawns into an ever widening abyss on the other.

Some Sherpa from another team will climb up to inspect it tomorrow.  Until we know more, we're all waiting patiently.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A lot has happened since my last post!

A lot has happened since my last post!  Weather determines the course of mountain expeditions, and on the morning of the 15th, I woke up at 4 to the sound of thunder, flashes of lightening (which I first though was someone shining a flashlight in my tent), and serac fall from the peaks opposite camp.  I continued to listen and eventually my groggy brain registered an unfamiliar sound against my tent.  During my stay at Manaslu base camp I've become adept at recognizing the various sounds of rain hitting my tent's nylon fabric.  There's the soft pitter patter of light rain, and the invasive pelting of hard rain, but this was different.  Like the sound of salt being sprinkled on popcorn.  SNOW!  I frowned and went back to sleep.

Photo:  Lisa White

By late morning, though, analysis of the latest weather forecast determined that there was a small period of good weather on the mountain during which we could spend a few more days acclimatizing above camp 1.  So I hastily packed my backpack and started for camp 1 in the damp, cold rain.
The route to camp 1 has now become familiar, and even with fresh snow the fixed ropes navigated me around crevasses.  I slept better at camp 1 (18,200 feet) than during my first stay and was happy to see partly cloudy skies when I awoke in the morning.  The sun can be brutal in the mountains, zapping my energy and frying my skin.  So, even though I normally curse cloudy weather at home, I was thankful for it today.
The route between camp 1 and 2 is probably the most challenging due to the walls of ice and snow that must be climbed, but this time I knew what to expect.  From camp 1, the route leads up two small hills; at the top of the second are more tents from other expeditions.  From here there is a flattish spot before the route moves up a serac and continues along a flat traverse to the left.  This section is easier on the lungs, but is probably the most dangerous spot on the route as it passes underneath a series of lurking seracs, not a spot to stop for photos!  Next comes the first of five snow/ice walls to climb with the aid of a fixed rope and jumar.  The first one is the most daunting but I timed myself on the steepest part and it only took 10 minutes.  I can do anything for 10 minutes!  After this wall the route meanders for a bit and comes to an intricate section of broken snow and seracs, which is spanned by two sections of aluminum ladders.  One ladder is vertical and climbed normally, the next is horizontal and each wrung must be delicately stepped on, balancing each foot the flat metal bar of my crampon.  Thankfully the ladder was only four feet long, so only a couple of steps were across the wide-open mouth of the crevasse.  The route continued this way ... winding between crevasses and up snow/ice walls of varying steepness until finally the tiny dots of tents at camp 2 (20,500 feet) are visible.

Sunrise at Camp 2
Photo:  Lisa White

After a restless night of sleep thanks to the altitude and a stuffy nose (I'm concerned that some of the stuff coming out of it should be sent to a crime lab for analysis), our small team set out toward camp 3 for more acclimitization.  The weather was thankfully cloudy again and we moved at a slow pace.  We made it probably 1000 feet before the snow became deep and unconsolidated and we returned to camp to relax, melt snow for water, and play cards.
Wet snow continued to fall throughout the day with little accumulation, but that changed overnight.  When I awoke at 6 am, there was probably 15 inches of new, wet snow on the tent.  We decided to descent to base camp, I was thankful that other teams left before us to break the trail and dig out the fixed ropes.
Now the team is back at base camp, we're officially acclimatized, although my lungs still heave in protest when I walk up the hills around camp. The storm predicted to arrive this afternoon has, which will keep us here until probably the 24th, plenty of time to rest, recover, and prepare for a summit attempt.

Some recovery yoga at base camp

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Back at base camp :(

On the afternoon of the 10th, we left sunny base camp and headed for camp 1, carrying extra clothes and food and hoping that the weather would allow us to spend a night at camp 2.  I made the now-familiar climb to camp 1 in good time, even with the heavy pack, proof that I am acclimatizing.  At camp 1 we had an early dinner of soup and semi-appetizing ready-to-eat meals.  Just as the sun set over the jagged peaks surrounding camp, snow began to fall lightly, creating comforting pitter-patter sounds on the nylon tent.

We hit the trail early, headed for camp 2, 2,000 feet above.  My toes and hands were chilled, but I knew that would soon change as the sun rose.  The route meandered for a while and eventually I could see a daunting headwall in the distance, with tiny black dots representing people moving up and down the ropes affixed to it.  Soon enough it was my turn to climb the snow/ice wall.  At sea level this would have been fun, but in an oxygen-deprived environment, it was very challenging.  About this time the sun stopped being my friend as my skin started to sizzle under its heat.  I focused on kicking the front points of each crampon into the snow and ice, taking 3 or 4 deep breaths, then sliding the jumar up the rope and breathing again.  Kick, kick, breathe, breathe, breathe, slide, breathe, breathe, breathe, kick, kick ...

The route continued to meander around crevasses and menacing seracs, punctuated by four more steep walls and one ladder.  Thankfully the clouds shielded the sun for part of the day.  Eventually I rounded a corner and could see a handful of tents perched on flat-ish ground.

Carefully moving up the vertical ladder among the seracs

Sadly, though this would not be our home for the night, the clouds were increasing and we made the right decision to descend and avoid deep, wet, avalanche-prone snow.

I'll be at base camp for at least the next two days "enjoying" Seattle-like weather: 40 degrees and rainy!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Back at base camp

Aside from an intense badminton game, made exponentially more difficult by the thin air, today was a day to rest, read, recover, and dry laundry in the sun.

Base camp badminton
Photo:  Nick Cienski

Our cooks, Puri, Lakshu, and Moma never have a rest day, though.  They are constantly busy in their make-shift high altitude kitchen.  They have turned out amazing treats like apple pie with creamy custard, steamed salmon, sizzling lamb chops and fresh bread.  I couldn't possibly make these things in my own kitchen, even if I tried.

Puri hard at work in the kitchen tent
Photo:  Lisa White

In addition to feeding the climbers, they feed our exceptionally strong Sherpa team.  Yesterday Puri spent part of the afternoon making a fresh condiment for the Sherpa - ground chilies, garlic, salt and vinegar that was so aromatic, my eyes watered as I watched him.

Moma and Puri preparing dinner
Photo:  Lisa White

Tomorrow we will climb back up to camp 1 to spend the night, and climb to camp 2 the following day.  This schedule is slightly amended from our original plan as a storm is expected to arrive on the 12th & 13th, and we need to be back to the comforts of base camp before it gets here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Still building red blood cells!

Still building red blood cells!

Today we completed our first rotation from base camp (15,700 feet) to low camp 1 (18,200 feet).  There will be at least one more rotation like this before moving further up the mountain.  Then the rotations will repeat between camps 2 & 3, and so on, until I've built enough red blood cells and strength to safely summit.  I can tell that I am making progress; though, when I arrived at base camp a few days ago my oxygen saturation at rest was in the upper 70s, now it's in the low 90s.

Rather than returning directly to base camp this morning, we had a little extra acclimatization and climbed up to 19,000 feet in order to get our first taste of moving through the icefall that sits between camps 1 and 2.  When I arrived at today's high point I looked up to see the route.   I think that the first word out of my mouth started with "f".

This first rotation also provided the opportunity to cache some food and gear at camp 1, lessening the load that I will have to carry when we move.   But, I'm still worried a out how I am going to get all this crap plus climbing gear up there!  One step at a time!

Tomorrow we will take a rest day to recover.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Rest day at base camp

Although it was a rest day, there was a lot of activity in base camp.  Thankfully the weather was clear in the morning, which seems to be the normal pattern.

Our base camp consists of multiple large tents plus individual sleeping tents.  The large tents function as: shower/storage, Sherpa sleeping, Sherpa dining, cooking, climber dining, communications/medical, and toilet.

Tents at base camp
Photo:  Lisa White

Water is very plentiful here, the constant sound of water flowing from melting glaciers envelops camp.   Our team is using some of that water to generate electricity.  Water is diverted to a hydroelectric generator, which is attached to a cable that runs up the hill to a series of batteries that are used to power computers, satellite modems, and other electronics.  When it warms up during the day, and the volume of water flowing through the generator increases, electricity is plentiful.

Our water system at base camp
Photo:  Lisa White

Each morning, camp starts to come to life around 6:30, which is when the best views of the surrounding mountains are available, today was no different.  After eggs, toast, and yogurt for breakfast I took advantage of the sunny weather to do some laundry.  Along with one of our Sherpa team, Namga, I scrubbed dirty clothes on rocks and rinsed them with the water diverted from a waterfall into camp.

Before the clouds moved up the valley, we set up a volleyball net and watched the Sherpa teams compete.  They were the only ones acclimatized enough to play!  I used the volleyball game to memorize the names of our Sherpa teammates - Lakpa, Geljin, Namga, Nima, Noang.  Things were going well until the ball bounced out of bounds end down the rocky hill out of sight.

Volleyball at base camp
Photo:  Lisa White

Tomorrow the plan is to move to camp 1 to spend one night in order to continue our acclimatization.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Moving to camp 1

Whew ... I miss oxygen!  I woke up early this morning - at 5 to the gentle voice of Moma, one of our cooks saying "Dee Dee, milk tea."  Dee Dee is the Nepalese word for older sister, he serves the steaming, syrupy drink each morning from a thick thermos and I fear that I will need to go to milk tea rehab when I get home.

At 6 our small team of 5 headed up the rocky hill adjacent to our camp.   Going from sipping milk tea to hiking up hill at 15,700 feet is a difficult transition, especially at 6 am, and my lungs screamed at me for the first 30 minutes.

After about an hour the rocks gave way to glacier and we stopped to put on crampons and harnesses.  I was happy to be on snow.   We moved pretty quickly through the crevassed  Larkya glacier.  Instead of traveling as a rope team, we each clipped into the fixed line that the Sherpa anchored to the glacier yesterday.  Clipping in is accomplished by attaching a carabiner to the fixed line; that carabiner is attached to a short rope, which is attached to my harness.  If I should fall, using this system would keep me anchored to the surface of the snow, preventing me from falling into a crevasse or sliding down an exposed slope.
Moving to camp 1
Photo:  Lisa White

Camp 1 is positioned at 18,200 feet - a little lower than expected - we arrived there in good time, just under two hours.  After staying for just a few minutes, I reversed my path and returned to the comfort of base camp and the familiar sounds of yak bells and the whistles of their drivers.

The plan is to rest at base camp tomorrow - and if it's sunny I may even wash my hair again!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Hike to crampon point

It has been a busy day - a good contrast from yesterday when I spent most of the day in my tent since it was raining.   To continue our acclimatization, we hiked up the rocky moraine to the point where it meets the Larkya glacier.  My lungs were definitely feeling the effects of the altitude as I made the hike up to 16,400 feet.  It was a short trip, though, and we were back at base camp in less than two hours.

Since it was still sunny, I took the opportunity to take a much needed shower and do some laundry.

Our Sherpa team had a productive day as well, they left camp at 7, each one stopping at the chorten to breathe juniper smoke and throw rice in the air.  They hiked up to camp 1 in order to set the circuitous route through the broken glacier.

Our Sherpa team at the Chorten
Photo:  Lisa White

If the good weather continues, tomorrow's plan is to climb up to camp 1 at 18,700 feet for some more acclimatization and then return to base camp.

Samagaon & Puja

We finally arrived in Samagaon on August 30th, after endless hours waiting in the domestic terminal of the Kathmandu airport.  The 45 minute flight was breathtaking, the pilot navigated through a labyrinth of lush, green valleys, all of which were sliced with white, frothy waterfalls.

Landing at Samagaon
Photo:  Lisa White

The village of Samagaon is situated at 11,500 feet.  The stone houses of its inhabitants are connected by a maze of cobbled walkways, used equally by people, yaks, donkeys, and dogs.  I can frequently hear the bells hanging around the necks of the yaks and donkeys.
Yak in Samagaon, loaded with supplies to take to base camp
Photo:  Lisa White

We took a short walk to a glacial lake after we arrived, I felt lucky that local lamas unlocked the doors to their temple and let us take a look inside the tiny square building.  Every inch of the walls inside were brightly painted and a few butter candles lit the dim interior, creating shadows across the Buddha statues inside.

Alter in the Temple
Photo:  Lisa White

This morning the clouds cleared just long enough for Manaslu to make it's first appearance ... the mountain looks beautiful and daunting!

Manaslu peaks through the clouds
Photo:  Lisa White
After an fried egg and toast breakfast, we took a short acclimatization hike to a nearby waterfall.  We walked through green fields dotted with flowers and rocky stream beds.  Along the way we passed locals carrying firewood in hand-made baskets strapped to their backs.  Occasionally we encountered children wearing traditional clothing, playing in their muddy yards.  They all screamed namaste!  namaste!  when we walked by.

Photo:  Lisa White

We gained about 1,000 feet of elevation, and I definitely felt the effects of the altitude as we neared the waterfall.

Tomorrow we will stay in Samagaon again and take another acclimatization hike.

September 2, 2015
Samagaon 6:37 am

I woke up this morning to the smell of juniper burning.  The juniper is meant to ward away bad spirits and every morning the female proprietor of the lodge walks through the open hallways and courtyard with a rusty, perforated coffee can stuffed with burning juniper branches.  Today is the day that we leave the relative comfort of Samagaon and move to base camp.

14:32, base camp 15,580 feet

We arrived at base camp just as the rain started, we have had such good weather so far, I can't believe it!

After breakfast we walked through the chaos of porters, Sherpa families, yaks, dogs, donkeys and mud to begin our trek to base camp.  The route wound through lush, green forests dotted with wild flowers and paved with mostly mud.  Up ahead I could see the brightly colored loads of the yaks and porters.  Their position above me told me that the route was about to get steep.

Porters carrying our loads to base camp
Photo:  Lisa White
I focused on breathing as the air got thinner.  Eventually the terrain changed from green to brown and rocky.  I looked down to see the glacier-blue lake that we had visited two days ago and marveled at the volume of water sliding down slick rocks and falling into it from the terminal end of the glacier to my left.

Looking back at Samagaon on the way to base camp
Photo:  Lisa White

I was higher now than the summit of Mt. Rainier, and my lungs noticed.  I focused on breathing and the feeling of my feet finding firm footing along the rocky ridge that lead to base camp.  Before long we were enveloped in clouds, and around me was the sound of the Sama locals whistling at their yaks and donkeys to keep them on course, mixed with gongs from the animals brass bells.  I continued to think about breathing, and before long I looked to my right to see the bright yellow tents of base camp.  This will be my new home for the next four days, and I am happy to be here.

September 3, 2015
14:08, base camp 15,580 feet

It has rained most of the time that I've been at base camp, but we managed to complete out puja ceremony today.  The puja is conducted by a local monk in order to ask the mountain to allow us to safely climb.   The puja involves a lot of praying, rice throwing, whiskey drinking, more rice throwing, some more praying, and some dancing.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

August 30, 2015
Kathmandu, Nepal

It's 4am on Sunday and I'm still, unfortunately, at the Hyatt in Kathmandu.  Yesterday we  successfully completed a dress rehearsal of our heli flight to Samagaon.

We left the hotel promptly at 6, loaded with bags of gear and food, made our way through the dusty streets of Kathmandu, our driver skillfully avoiding a large brown cow running towards us, being chased by a pack of mangy dogs.

At the domestic terminal of the Tribhuvan airport, I walked through security side-by-side with locals, listening to the metal detector beep as I passed.  A stray dog followed me all the way through the airport to security, hoping for a bite of my muffin.

I was handed a boarding pass and said goodbye to the half of my team that would depart on the first flight.  An hour later, they phoned from the tarmac; they were still waiting in the rain to take off.  Another hour passed before we were escorted to the tarmac.  I started to get excited about flying and watched our heli gracefully land.  Then the first half of my team walked off of it.  They were unable to fly higher than 3,000 feet due to low clouds, making it unsafe to fly through the narrow valley connecting Kathmandu to Samagaon.  

We all went back to the hotel and relaxed by the pool, disappointed at 12:30 when three helicopters flew by, headed in the direction of Samagaon.

My escort through security
Photo:  Lisa White

Hopefully today will be a better weather day! 

Friday, August 28, 2015

August 28, 2015
Kathmandu, Nepal

I'm sitting at the pool at the Hyatt Regency.  The air to me smells like brown sugar and flowers, and all around me are lush green manicured shrubs.  It's still technically the monsoon season so the sun is fighting to break through the clouds and everything is sticky and damp.

Outside the ornate gates of the Hyatt Regency is a completely different world, full of honking cars spewing black exhaust fumes and motorbikes stacked with people.  A few steps fron the Hyatt remains a refugee camp filled with tidy rows of tents and tarps, home to families who lost their homes in May's earthquake.  Some locals say that 75% of the inhabitants don't need to be in the camp, but have gotten greedy from the regular meals that are provided.  The only similarity between this world and the one inside the Hyatt's walls is the thick, damp smog.

Earlied today I traveled by taxi to the neigborhood of Thamel.  Because so many climbers and hikers travel through Kathmandu on their journeys, the narrow streets of Thamel are home to more gear shops than Seattle.  Most of the dark, dusty shops sell knock-off equipment, which shop owners are completely transparent about.  But, there are also bright, shiny Mountain Hardwear and North Face stores.  Some climbers have difficulty buying quality gear in their home countries due to local regulations, and purchase everything when they get to Kathmandu.  The thought of climbing a Himalayan peak with entirely new, untested gear stresses me out.  I'm happy that I have easy access to quality gear and that I've had the opportunity to earn the scratches and dings on my equipment.

August 29, 2015 
Kathmandu, Nepal

It's 4:30 in the morning, and I'm still suffering from jet lag, I'm happy to have slept for 5 hours, but the pigeons cooing and flapping their wings outside of my open window distracted me from sleeping longer.  I'm also anxious to leave Kathmandu and travel to the mountains.  The helicopter leaves at 6am!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015
Training was a little light this week, thanks to travel and meetings in Philadelphia.  I endured several treadmill runs plus one muscular endurance workout and one high intensity AeT run.  

I rounded out the week with back-to-back double hikes up the cable line trail on Tiger mountain with a 33 pound pack.   The cable line trail is steep, rocky, but thankfully short, gaining 2,022 feet in 1.5 miles.  It's one of those trails visited mostly by people training for something.  We're all heaving and sweating under heavy packs, carefully manuvering in heavy montaineering boots on loose rock.  Those of us completing the hike multiple times just nod and grunt at one another with as our ear buds blast motivational tunes. 

Tiger mountain cable line trail
Photo:  Lisa White

In May - actually five months ago to the day - I hiked up the cable line trail without any weight in 53 minutes, this weekend my fastest time was 1:06.  Even though it was tough, I feel like my aerobic fitness has definitely improved!

I've also spent some quality time this weekend with the Hypoxico tent.  I feel like I haven't spent as much time sleeping in the hypocic tent or doing hypoxic training.  So, twice this weekend, I turned the tent into my office.  Murray, of course joined me.  He just can't stay out of that thing!

Murray and me getting some work done in the tent
Photo:  Darrin White

Sunday, August 2, 2015

August 2, 2015
It's hard to believe that I'll be leaving for Nepal in just 24 days!  I feel like it's crunch time  ... for the past two weeks I've planned my schedule  in order to maximize my time to train while not compromising recovery or - my favorite - sleep!  Although, sleep isn't quite as enjoyable in the hypoxic tent.

My training for the past two weeks has consisted of one hard run for an hour, two recovery runs, one muscular endurance session, two or three hypoxic training sessions, and climbing or hiking on the weekend.  Whew!

Yesterday I headed south to Mt. Rainier and hiked to camp Muir with a 25 pound pack ... twice.  In order to finish my double header before the heat of the day, I started in the early morning.  There was still a warm breeze blowing as I started out on the familiar asphalt path and made my way up the rocks to Pebble Creek.  Under the full moon, I didn't even need a headlamp.  I hadn't been on Rainier in a few weeks, and I was surprised that there was exposed rock almost up to 8,500 feet.  As I was trudging along in the moonlight, I heard running water on the Muir snowfield and looked up to see a waterfall exposed in the snow, something I've never seen before at that location.  It's hard to believe how much snow and ice has melted on Rainier this summer, it feels like a completely different place.  Things were quiet at camp Muir during my first visit since all of the climbers were on their way to the summit, I watched the horizon start to lighten for a few minutes, then started down.

Sunrise on Mt. Rainier
I began my second trip to camp Muir at 6:30 am, there were just a few other hearty people on the trail, and I was so thankful to be able to witness the mountain waking up.  The moths that had fluttered by me during the night were gone, replaced by grasshoppers and birds.  I watched a bear rambling through blueberry bushes on a slope below me, looking for breakfast, and saw a spotted fawn test her courage by jumping after its mother across a gurgling creek.  I felt more connected with the mountain because I had experienced this transition from night to day.  

I made it to camp Muir in 3:03, took a break to rest, eat and drink, and then headed back down and enjoyed perfect snow for book skiing.  I was back at Pebble Creek in 1:10.  Along the way I noticed delicate moth wings in the snow.  I thought about the moths that had escorted me last night and wondered why the had lost their wings.

Waterfall on the Muir snowfield
Photo:  Lisa White
 I also thought about the snow below my boots, how long ago had it fallen, 5 years, 50 years?  How much of it would be left when fresh snow fell this winter?  Mt. Rainier is a wondrous place! 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 18, 2015
This weekend marked the end of the quick training hikes with light packs that I have been enjoying.  On Saturday I hiked 3,000 feet up Granite Mountain with Roxy and 20 pounds in my pack.  Roxy spent most of the time looking for shade, and I spent most of the time wishing that my pack was 10 pounds lighter.

Roxy on Granite Mountain, Rainier in the Distance
Photo:  Lisa White
Today I decided to discover a new trail near Darrington.  The Neiderprum trail  steep, solitary and perfect!  I hiked up 2,400 feet in 1.8 miles with 25 pounds in my pack.  Best of all, I discovered Whitehorse Mountain, which I will definitely return to climb.

Whitehorse Mountain
Photo:  Lisa White
Roxy joined me again today, even though she would have preferred to stay home and sleep.  We were both rewarded for our efforts with ripe raspberries and blueberries in the warm sun.

The crazy thing about the Neiderprum trail is that it leads the way to the site of a former mining cabin.  I can't imagine Mr. Neiderprum coaxing a team of horses up there to build his cabin.  Must have been one hell of a mine!  I searched around the "flat" area near lone pine pass, but unfortunately couldn't find any remnants.  

It was a beautiful, peaceful day in the woods, thanks Mr. Neiderprum! 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

July 17, 2015
It's hypoxic time!!  For several years Darrin and I have included hypoxic training in our preparations for big climbs.  The idea is that by sleeping or exercising in a hypoxic environment, you build more red blood cells, which carry more oxygen, effectively starting the altitude acclimatization process before even starting to climb.  Brilliant!  I met some of the Hypoxico crew while climbing several years ago and was really impressed by their technology.  Since then I've worked with them to prepare for each big climb.  

For Manaslu, I started sleeping at the equivalent of 4,000 feet last weekend.   I'm slowly working my way up to 9,000 feet, monitoring my SpO2 each morning when I wake up to be sure that it's not less than 90%.  If I increase the elevation too quickly, my sleep quality, and in turn my workouts, will suffer.  So, I'm walking a fine line to be sure that I gain the benefits of acclimatization without compromising performance.  Plus, getting a crappy night's sleep sucks and leaves me feeling hung over and cranky in the morning.  No one likes that.  Once I'm comfortable at 9,000 feet, I will follow the mountaineering principle of "climb high, sleep low" and alternate between 9,000 feet and increasingly higher elevations. 

Ideally I would have started this whole process a few weeks ago, but since I have been traveling for work, it would have been hard to make much progress.

One weird thing about the tent, which fits over our mattress, is that our cat, Murray loves to sleep in it.  By loves, I mean he throws a fit and paws at the walls until we let him inside.  And once he's in the tent, he stays there all night.  Cats live at high elevations, so I don't think it's bad for him, I think he's just weird.

Hypoxic tent

Monday, July 6, 2015

Our tickets are booked!  

Now we just need permits, vaccinations, Sherpa, trip insurance, food, and good weather! 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

July 2, 2015
"It's ok, I'll sleep in the trunk."  I found myself saying illogically as Darrin, our friend Jeff, and I were making plans for a one-day ascent of Mt. Rainier.  The plan was to "sleep" in the car for a few hours at Paradise, then start climbing an midnight and be home for dinner.  Making the climb  in one day would afford us the luxury of carrying light packs and moving quickly.  

We started off on the familiar trail which seemed completely different without a parking lot full of cars and people.  It felt peaceful to move in the warm night air.  Moths flew in patterns in the light of my headlamp and everything felt still and quiet.  Under the full moon we made good time to Pebble Creek and stopped to top off our water bottles before pushing to Camp Muir.  With the exception of a glissading cowboy - which I still think may have been a mirage - we were alone on the Muir snowfield.

This is where things went awry.  Remnants of greasy yakisoba started to torment Darrin's stomach and our pace slowed.  We weren't able to make it to Camp Muir by our three hour time limit, and Darrin didn't feel strong enough to push on.  Frustrating for us all, but it's a team sport and it just wasn't coming together for us.  I'm already planning my next Rainier-in-a-day trip.  Hopefully I won't have to sleep in the trunk.

Oh, and I kicked cancer's ass 3 months ago :)

July 4, 2015
Since I didn't achieve my objective on Rainier, I needed to gain some vertical.  I opted for a quick hike up familiar Mailbox Peak, making it to the top in just 1:47, which I think is a new record for me.  Jeff's time is still 10 minutes better, so I have some work to do!  In order to keep my heart rate above 130 bpm, I jogged down the new trail.  4,000 feet of vertical gained and lost in 3 hours and 11 minutes.

July 5, 2015
I leave for Nepal is 7 weeks!!!  It's time to transition my training regimen from max strength - low reps with high weights - to muscular endurance.  The muscular endurance phase is designed to reach muscular "burn" in about a minute without raising my heart rate above my aerobic threshold (which is now 160 bpm).  Achieving muscular burn in this way will increase the endurance of the affected muscles.  For my first muscular endurance workout, I started by warming up with a few core exercises (hanging leg raises, L-sits, kayakers, and sit-ups) and did two sets of weighted pull-ups (18#) and step-ups (60#).  When I was warmed up, I did one minute each of squats, step-ups, and lunges with a 22.5# weight vest.  I'm embracing the burn!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

June 27, 2015
Today I braved the sweltering heat to hike/scramble up the south ridge of Black Peak in the north Cascades.  Normal people opt to take on the 11.2 mile trip in two days, enjoying stunning views of the three lakes and wildflowers along the way.  But since this is training, I made the trip in one 9.5 hour day.  Whew!  

Surveying Black Peak
Photo:  Darrin White
I made good time to the snowfield and as I made my way onto it, I encountered the first descending climber that I had seen all day.  "How was it?" I asked him.  He sort of grumbled about loose rock and asked me if I had an ice axe.  "Nope."  I said and tried to bury my trail running shoes in the snow. "But I have my helmet!"  I told him as consolation.  Just before Wing Lake, which sits at the bottom of the snow field that I was now standing on, I had cached my boots, deciding that there was no way given the recent heat, that snow would be an issue.  I was wrong.  So, I put on my helmet and started up, carefully placing my feet in the path of another cramponed climber, and kicking steps when I had to.  I was thankful when I made it to the col at the top of the snowfield without incident.

View from col - Wing & Lewis Lakes in background & climber on snowfield
Photo:  Lisa White 
The rest of the route would require scrambling, so I was once again thankful for my trail shoes.  I picked my way through the rock, stopping to build extra cairns to assist my descent, and made it to the top and was just a little frightened on the last pitch up a chimney to the summit. 

View of the summit
Photo:  Lisa White
View from the top
Photo:  Lisa White

Sunday, June 21, 2015

June 21, 2015
Mt. Rainier is probably my favorite mountain, and Darrin and I endeavor to climb  it each summer.  So, this week I decided to cap off my training with a Rainier climb.  

We got permits to camp an 10,188 foot Camp Muir and made it there with a 40 pound pack in under four hours on Saturday, not horrible time, plus I did stop to change from trail shoes to mountaineering boots on the way.  Camp Muir is an interesting mountain setting, and I am always entertained when I stop to people-watch.  Invariably, there will be one or two people lying in the dust and rock, too exhausted to move, there is usually also someone trying to make a phone call to advertise their locale, plus a handful of mountaineers bustling around either making or breaking camp.  

After a pleasant night with mild weather, we left camp for the summit at 2 am, carrying light packs.  The snow conditions were really good -firm but not icy - and we made good time through cadaver gap, across Ingraham flats, and onto the rocky spine called disappointment cleaver.  We meandered through the loose rock. scree, boulders, and talus and exited the cleaver just as the sun was starting to light the eastern horizon.

Sun just starting to rise
Photo:  Darrin White
After the rock gave way to snow, we got into a steady rhythm, slowly moving up the mountain.  The winds were forecasted to be between 20 & 25 miles per hour, and as we started a long traverse toward Gibraltar ledges, my hands were starting to feel it.  My rule when my hands get cold is that I will make an adjustment, and continue moving for twenty minutes to assess improvement,  Today I was counting on the sun to warm them,  but as soon as it rose, it was concealed by thick, dark clouds.  Next I changed to my warmest gloves.  After twenty minutes my fingers were still painfully cold, and a couple of them  had been cold for more than forty minutes.  I put my head down and kept moving, certain that they would warm up if I increased my heart rate.  But I was breaking my rule, and the summit wasn't worth damaged fingers.

So we turned around, and started to descend quickly.  It would be thirty more minutes before I could feel all of my fingers.  Once I was warm, we could take our time and enjoy the mountain, stopping to marvel at teetering seracs and endless icy crevasses on the way back to camp Muir.  

Looking down on Ingraham flats
Photo:  Darrin White
As I was loading our gear into the car a few hours later, I looked back at Mt. Rainier, already planning my next summit attempt.  I noticed what looked like the beginning of lenticular clouds forming over the summit.  I've been told that lenticular clouds are a sign of high wind and impending precipitation when they sit over mountains.  I'm not sure if  that is true, but it made me feel better about making the right decision.

Lenticular clouds?
Photo:  Lisa White

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What an incredible weekend to be in the mountains!

It started on Saturday on Mt. Rainier, I left the Paradise parking lot at 9:30 and started off for Camp Muir on the under warm blue skies, I was carrying a light pack and moving quickly up the rocks and eventually onto the Muir snowfield.  Once on  the snow, I settled into a quick pace, the sound of my boots in the snow muffled by the drone of a Chinook helicopter searching for a missing climber on the north side of the mountain.  It reminded me that while it was a beautiful day, mountains can be dangerous places, especially when you let your guard down.

I continued moving quickly, thanks to firm snow, even under the sunny skies, and made it to Camp Muir at 12:05.  A new record for me!

I met Darrin a few minutes after I started to descend, and together we hiked down in a little more than 90 minutes.  Thanks to firm snow we were able to quickly boot ski most of the way down the snowfield.

Hiking down the Muir snowfield
Photo:  Darrin White
Today with our friend Jeff I traded Mt. Rainier's snow for dust and rock on Granite Mountain.  Again a light pack allowed me to move quickly, my legs no longer feeling tired like they had a few weeks ago ... all of those squats & step-ups are paying off!  I made it to the top in 1:59 and despite the wind enjoyed view of Mt Rainier and Mt. Adams.

Mt. Rainier from Granite Mountain lookout
Photo:  Lisa White
In total,  this weekend I gained 8,440 feet in 8.3 miles ... whew!  Time for some stretching and a foot massage! 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Yesterday, Darrin and I climbed up Silver Star mountain in the north Cascades.  It was a beautiful climb, with just the right balance between glacier travel and scrambling.  We ascended via the Burgundy col.
The Burgundy Col is the deep notch in the middle
as seen from the trailhead
Photo:  Lisa White
I was very happy to encounter only three other climbers the whole day,  I was less happy about the endless scree and shifty kitty litter on the descent, but we made it back to the car with just a few scratches and one blood knee.

View from the summit
Photo:  Lisa White