Episode 030: A Little Help From My Friends
It’s All About Communication. I don’t know when the team is going to be able to resume the climb again, or even if their gear has been blown off the mountain. This storm is still raging and it feels like there’s no end in sight. If the gear cached on the North Col or above is gone, then it’s game over. Period.
Ben just returned from a solo trip to the Rhonbuk Monastery. He had been thinking about making the 14km round-trip for a few days now. So far all he’s had time to tell me about the experience was that he was offered a can of Coca Cola and spent some time praying with our friend; the Lama who conducted our Puja a few weeks ago. I can’t say for sure what transpired down there since I wasn’t present, but I can tell you what happened when he returned.
A few minutes ago, Pasang our ABC cook returned to base camp for some rest and good news. Some sherpa had climbed to the North Col to check on the conditions of various teams’ gear. It was confirmed that our equipment is still there. It hadn’t been blown off of the mountain.
We’re so thankful that Pasang has come down. I think of that runner in ancient Greece who traveled 26km from Marathon to Athens to communicate an important message. Pasang traveled 22km from ABC to BC to give us the good news.
The timing is interesting, though. Seconds after hearing from Pasang, Ben walked up, returning from the Monastery. Coincidence? I don’t think so. This is Tibet, and there’s a certain power and mysticism about this place that I really can’t put into words. All I can say is, I wasn’t surprised.
The gear is still in place. The game is not over. Period.
Total Running Time: 18:18
Dispatch 31, May 6, 2003: Mount Everest Base-camp
Like any other day during this storm it was unsafe to venture upward towards the mountain. I chose a different path. Concerned and deeply moved by the culture that surrounds the mountain and in turn gives it it’s meaning, I traveled through the gale to the Rhonbuk Monastery to visit a Llama or High priest who has been praying for our expedition.
I did not come to Tibet to undergo a metaphysical transformation of religious beliefs. I also did not come here to absorb the trendy “Free Tibet” lingo of radicals who have never been here or seen the squat toilets we share with Tibetans.
For what it is worth, I have not seen an absence of smiles and some Tibetans are proud of the growth in opportunity since the Chinese occupation. I don’t say this because I am a thoughtless man, I say it because I am critical, analytical and truth seeking. These traits keep me objective and grounded in reality despite such surreal liftoffs from the daily American routine. Sometimes though, the truth is a stretch I must swallow and endorse, no matter how fantastic.
I visited the monk to investigate the tales and legends of Mount Everest or Chomolungma its Tibetan name. Although based on folklore and widespread variations over 5 million people on both sides of the peak do not call it Everest, when translated they refer to it as “the Mother Goddess of the Earth”. I argue against numbers regularly, but not 5 million people in the direct vicinity, not against my own experience here. It is an experience on a mountain with people from 15 nations interwoven with conversations and exchanges with a Llama, a high priest who has lived 4.5 miles from this mountain for over ten years.
The Llama has visited us regularly since we had our puja blessing ceremony and told me that he prays for me regularly. I let him use my sat-phone and he returned with seeds blessed by the Oracle of the State of the Dalai Llama, he said these would protect me.
I walked away from ABC as the storm began its approach. When the winds began to ravage the mountain he told me it was because something is angering the peak. The largest commercial expedition, one utilizing a contest and that has overlooked and used the culture here, lost all their tents on the upper mountain. He offered me a Coke for my return to base-camp as a gesture to me for caring so much about learning about him and his culture.
When I returned to base-camp, our cook had returned from the ghost-town and wind torn ABC. He had news. Out of the tents at the North Col, perched on an unprotected ledge, crowded out of the protected area by large commercial expeditions, lies a single tent where once there were six. This tent has no fly on it and broken poles, but by the mercy of something, that tent is still there, in it lays our gear to continue the climb.
Somehow, we have beaten the odds! Somehow we were of the few granted mercy by the mountain.