faulkner 

By Jayson Faulkner The long logistical preparations continue day in and day out. So much of the preliminaries seem to be unrelated to the climbing and objectives of the climb as to be ridiculous and depressing. How many tents do we need? How many pounds of granola will we need for 10 people for two months? How much food will we need to supply each climber with 3,000-4,000 calories a day for two months and not have them all commit suicide if they face freeze dried beans one more time? When can we expect to get our crampons and axes? And so on and so on. I guess it’s all part of the process. The food is one of the key items on the trip. Your appetite is so affected that you have a hard time eating anything. Everything tastes like cardboard because of the altitude and yet you have to eat a lot to stay strong and healthy. Ever if you don’t move you would need a minimum of 2,500 calories a day to maintain your weight because you burn so much energy fighting the cold. The ultimate weight loss program. Each climber, depending on body weight, can expect to lose 20 to 30 pounds during the climb. If you don’t eat you waste away faster and more severely. This is just one example of why the equipment and logistics are so very important, despite my complaining. So many things can go wrong that will affect your chances of success or destroy weeks of hard work that get you in position for a summit attempt: an improperly fitted pair of boots, badly designed goggles, a faulty stove. I think the best description I have read about what the whole event is like is a description of summit day on Everest written by David Breashears, who is there now on an expedition for Nova. Keep in mind you have already spent four weeks of very hard work to get to this point, never mind eating kilos of beans. Breashears: "Here’s what happens on the summit day and here’s what makes the whole process of climbing Everest so difficult. The day before you climb from Camp III to Camp IV. You leave Camp III at 8 a.m., you’re at 24,000 feet, and it’s a long, hard day up to the South Col at 26,000 feet. All I can tell you is that climbing at 20,000 feet is twice as hard as climbing at 15,000 feet, climbing at 22,000 feet is twice as hard as climbing at 20,000 feet. It’s almost exponential. So here you have a group of people, some of them relatively untrained in terms of a Himalayan veteran mountaineer, who have gone from Camp III to IV, from 24,000 to 26,000 feet in a day. You arrive there between 2 and 5 p.m. In order to make climbing Everest safe, it’s standard to leave anywhere between midnight and 1 a.m., and you wear a headlamp over your wool or polypropylene hat. The reason we leave so early is because we get to the top earlier — between 10 and 12 a.m. the next day. It’s about a 12 hour climb, and you get down in generally good weather. It’s not unusual in spring to have conductive cloud cover and mini snowstorms and snow squalls between 4 and 7 p.m., in fact it’s very common. "So, these people had climbed up, probably spent an uncomfortable night at Camp III, then spent between five and eight hours climbing at high altitudes, maybe had a quart of water and a few snacks. They get to the high camp and don’t have much of an appetite. Really, what you do is you spend your time there just flat on your back, taking oxygen at one litre a minute, trying to eat something, trying to drink, and drying out your clothes that have become wet from perspiration, especially your double boots and your mittens, and you don’t really have a good sleep. No one really sleeps that night or those few hours. Around 10:30 that night you wake up and put ice in a pan and you start to "brew up," because mostly you want to rehydrate. You figure its going to take two hours to get ready. If you’re not already in your sleeping bag in your down suit, then you get out of your sleeping bag and you put on your down suit. You’re at 26,000 feet and everything takes 10 times longer and 10 times more effort than at sea level. You put on your over boots, put an oxygen bottle in your pack, check pressure on both oxygen bottles to make sure they are full, make sure the oxygen regulators are working, slowly, with cold fingers you put on your crampons, maybe have a sip of fluid before you leave, put a quart of hot water in your pack and off you go in the darkness and starlight, between midnight and 1 a.m. "So you really haven’t had sleep or nourishment for 24 hours or much water and you start up the face; by dawn you reach the southeast ridge at 27,500 feet and may be mostly through your first oxygen bottle. You then turn up the southeast ridge toward the south summit, and it’s an enormous effort to climb at those elevations, even with oxygen. You are moving continuously for almost 12 hours before you reach the south summit. Now you’re only 300 feet from the top, but you have a treacherous traverse and you have to climb the Hillary Step and the climbing becomes more exposed. You’ve finished your first bottle of oxygen and you’re on your second. Maybe you’ve managed to take your water bottle out once or twice and sip some fluid that now has turned mostly to slush and ice in your bottle. Maybe you can nibble on a candy bar. And then, 300 more feet and you’re on top. Great! It’s 12 hours of effort and you’re exhausted. The euphoria of making the summit soon dissipates, hopefully you’ve been using oxygen at the rate of two litres a minute instead of three — or you’re now out of oxygen — where if you’re lucky a Sherpa is carrying a third oxygen bottle for you, and now you begin the long, hard descent to the South Col, dehydrated, not having slept now for 40 hours. "It’s windy, one side of your body — facing the wind — is colder than the other, even with a down suit on. Typically the hand grasping the ice axe becomes cold because of the metal; smart climbers tape foam to the head of the ice axe, which is better than gripping steel in -30 degree temperatures and conducting the cold into your hand. You begin to stagger down. "You get down to the Southeast Ridge and you’re still 1,000 or 1,500 feet above camp. You’re on fixed ropes, and suddenly it’s dark, you’re disoriented, you’re hypoxic. And then you’re at the end of the fixed ropes and you don’t know where to go. The South Col is a broad flat place. You take your goggles off because it’s dark but you can’t look into the wind to look for your tent because 60-70 mph snow particles will be stinging your face and eyes. Many of the people who made it down had minor frostbite on their noses and faces. "You reach the South Col, which is as large as many football fields, it’s flat, and have no idea of which way to turn. You can hardly communicate with your companion, who is 10 feet away. Your feet and hands start to get cold, you’re hypothermic — your body starts to shunt the blood away from the extremities and save it for the organs — and the unfortunate ones just lay down and die, freezing to death. "And if you’re lucky, there’s a gap in the storm. A few hundred feet away you see the tents and stagger into them at 3 in the morning. If you’re Beck Weathers you lay down to die; you’ve wandered in the wrong direction several hundred yards away from the tents you’ll never find; you’ve lost your gloves because you tried to take them off to warm your hands inside your jacket. Incredibly, two people pass you over for dead the next day, but in the afternoon you wake up, decide you want to live, remarkably you’ve survived this horrible night of cold and snow and howling wind, and stagger into camp. And that’s the way it went." I guess it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun. Fund-raising parties for the Everest expedition will be held at Buffalo Bill’s June 18 and 19. The evenings will include screening of mountain films and a presentation on the eight-week expedition, which departs Aug. 1. Faulkner, Reto Marti and Rob Driscoll are the three Whistler climbers who will be part of the expedition.

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