Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Island Peak Base Camp

Thursday, March 29
Island Peak Base Camp

Last night I felt as if my sleeping bag was closing in around me. I awoke around 3:30 AM, glad to have had a few hours of Ambien-less sleep, but then couldn't fall asleep again. It felt as if my "short lung syndrome" had returned in full force. ("Short-ness of breath" has taken on a new meaning for me.) Unable to take deep breaths, I'd try pressure breathing and sitting bolt-upright in order to move some air. And all the while, sweet Corell slept away. I must have also been a bit dehydrated because, even in my fabulous -40 degree bag, I couldn't get toasty warm. And then it was so cold this morning that I didn't want to get out of the bag at all. Desperately wanted a foley catheter, or to be a guy, just for a few minutes! And tonight, we move higher up in elevation, and into tents... BRRRR!!

I made a quick sat phone call home this am, and caught Blaise still up late, doing homework. Can't believe I won't see her until after her spring break, a week after I return home. She asked me how I felt abut the climb, if my spirits are up, and if I feel good abut it. She is just one of many rooting for my "success" on this mountain, and for that, I am most grateful. It is hard to be away from them for so long, and I miss them so. At any rate, the phone call made me a bit melancholy, and, added to new-and-improved-gut-distress, it made for a difficult first hour on the trail.

We didn't have far to go today, a few hours up the valley, wrapping around the side of Island Peak, and gaining about 1500 ft in elevation. We are now at 16,500 ft, and while it doesn't feel like our recent altitude reach of 17,000 ft in EBC has helped me, it must have.

We slowly climbed up the valley, watching Island Peak grow closer. Along the way, we kept hearing the quacking of ducks, which Linden says are actually pheasants. Pheasant under dome, anyone? Wonder what delights our base camp cook, Yubaraj, will dream up for us tonight?

Our base camp site is the farthest one up the trail, again. On the positive side, that means just a few minutes less of a climb to high camp tomorrow, so all is well. Once we hit camp, we made our way into the dining tent where hot tea and hot pineapple Tang/juice awaited us. (Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!) Lunch soon followed- grilled cheese, hot curried potatoes (yum!), coleslaw with carrots, and some smoked-fish salad which I didn't have the stomach to try. It is amazing how one's appetite diminishes at altitude -- right now, I am still Wheat Thin Dreamin'...

After lunch, I felt so cold, and we separated to set up our tents. Lucy and Corell are sharing this time around, and I am hoping that my medical kit boxes will keep me warm. Right now, they are proving useful as a back rest while I write this blog entry. Don't know how much off-gassing they'll do, but hopefully it'll all be for the good, and for some heat.

This is a wind-swept, desolate camp, and there are perhaps twenty or so other tents sprinkled around. There is what looks to be a latrine a bit down-camp, and another a bit beyond us. The latrine closest to us was locked, with a sign on the door reading "Do not use until March 2012." By the powers that be. Well, it is now late March, and our porters took a crow bar to open the door. Not sure what the penalty is for Breaking and Entering Latrines, but these guys don't seem too worried. The latrine is supposed to be for solid waste, and liquid waste is to be sprinkled around camp, literally. Very different from EBC where we had a tent for each. I am not sure if there is much benefit from this latrine...the platform is built up so that one of those ubiquitous blue barrels fits neatly just below the hole in the floor. With the wind whipping up through the valley, and through that hole, it'll be might cold taking care of business. (Again, the bowels references...can't help it, it's a way of life here in the hills...)

So here I am, in my tent, surrounded by my stuff, listening to the wind whip it's way through. Dust and dirt are everywhere, and everything is coated with a layer of it. I watch a corner of my tent lift in the wind, but I rest secure knowing that my gear and I are far too heavy to mobilize. One of the cooks knocks, and, in shades of Kilimanjaro, I am served hot tea and crackers in my tent. I am still cold, though buried in four layers and my sleeping bag. I will definitely be sporting my down pants and parka for dinner tonight! I just hope I can stay warm through the night.

After tea, Corell joins me for our devotionals, and once again I am moved. I guess it makes sense during Lent, a time to reflect on Christ's suffering, but so much of what we are reading is about being broken and wounded. One of today' s readings is about how weakness builds the soul. I have believed, for quite a while now, that we bond with one another, and with God, through our imperfections, our struggles, our losses. Our successes can trivialize our lives and our relationships, but through our journeys through pain and loss, we gain strength, commitment, insight, and we allow for the reception of love and devotion freely given. I am glad, in many ways, for the life I've lived, because along the way my pains have allowed me to be appreciative, in at least a small way, of the many blessings I have been given.

Ronald Rolheiser writes; "It is not that these (our death, our losses, our dark nights of the soul) are, in and of themselves, good; it is just that when we listen to them we grow deep. They build up our souls. Inferiorities and failures are not things to be buried as private and past shames. They are to be listened to. They are entries into the depth of our souls."

My time in the mountains (or time anywhere...) is a time of reflection, and awareness, as I've written before, of my own weaknesses. My prayer is that we all listen to our souls a little more deeply, and along the way, find greater compassion in each other's struggles. I know I yearn to be a better person, to have greater depth, to be kinder. I hope that this is a journey my kids can share.

I've obviously had a lot of tent time today...
Hope all is well back home...and love to you all!!!

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