Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nepal 2012 Exhausted

Yesterday we climbed Island Peak, descended exhaused, stumbled into basecamp, and slept. 

But the 'exhausted' experience was not yet over.

We had a long and grueling trekk ahead of us - 15 hours to Namche, then 9 hours to Lukla.  We had just 2 days to rejoin our trekking team and catch our flight back to Kathmandu.  

Base camp to Namche was a nasty marathon of 15 hours, and 4 of those hours were in the dark. We hiked 18miles (28kms), climbing 5,096ft and descending 10,075ft (1553m and 3071m) in that single day. 
Roughly, that means we climbed a vertical mile, and dropped 2 vertical miles that day!  

This was the one and only day that our porters could not keep up with us. They were embarrassed. Without our porter-bags we slept in our clothes with no sleeping bags... exhausted for the second night.

It started to snow as we walked in the dark. 

Even Hogus is dragging in this picture!  

My pants show the signs of 4 weeks of rough wear without a wash.

The old men (Roy, Lennie & I) were exhausted. It shows on our faces. Sanjay admitted he was 'just a little tired' but looked like he could travel hours more. Sanjay is Nepalese, and conditioned for this exertion, and he is half our age, but he is a very powerful man.

Next day was shorter (9 hours) but still a hard day. We hiked 10miles (16kms), climbing 3937ft and descending 6368ft (1200m and 1941m) that day. 

Our porters, embarrassed by being left behind by aging guests, redeemed themselves quickly. They awoke at 4am, passed us while we were still asleep, and proudly arrived in Lukla well before us. We heaped praise on these porters who outpaced us, while carrying 6 times the weight that we did. I have seen these porters work many times, but I am continually amazed by their quiet resolve and power.

There are few pictures of these 3 days of exhaustion. Creative pictures happen when feeling relaxed or powerful. Documentary pictures happen when feeling weakened or strained. When exhausted, and near the end of my strength, all energy is focused on the immediate physical challenge, and it's just too much effort to get the camera out. Unfortunate, because 
 ... many of the most memorable experiences are those that inflict 
the most demanding challenges to adapt and overcome.

In the past 3 days we trekked and climbed for 40 hours. 

We climbing 12,723ft and descending 20,133ft (3878m and 6137m). 
In these 3 days, we climbed 2 vertical miles, and dropped 4 vertical miles! 
(4 vertical kms up and 6 vertical kms down). 
With slopes up to 74%! 

We had climbed Island Peak and returned safely to Lukla.

Completing a major bucket-list adventure should warrant celebration, jubilation, and relief. 
None of this happened during these 3 days... we just forced our bodies to keep moving, focusing one step at a time, thinking of nothing, and ignoring the discomforts. 

On the 3rd day after sumitting Island Peak, Lennie, Roy, and I were sitting quietly, when Lennie broke into his huge grin and said "You know what we just did? We 3 old guys actually climbed Island Peak!". 

It took 3 days before our minds and bodies were ready to realize we had met the challenge of Island Peak. Lennie and Roy may have had a beer or two. As an ostomate I avoided the carbonation :) 

<Previous                   Next>

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nepal 2012 Ostomates Only - Cold Induced

Only Ostomates are likely to relate to this post. The experience is all real, but if it makes you uncomfortable then quit reading, and move on to other stories that are less-revealing.

Most days we are unaware of our ostomy, except for a 3-minute bag change. But flange failures without cleanup facilities, while living in sub-zero temperatures 24 hours a day, can certainly consume some mindshare. I had solved Heat-Induced ostomy challenges earlier in this journey and was thinking I was better-built for cold conditions. Apparently cold also offers challenges.  This is a log of my Cold-Induced ostomy experiences while trekking and climbing in Nepal.

I use Convatec Durahesive flanges (normally good for 6 days) with closed-end pouches.  
My terminology:
  • Seal Failure - stool seepage past the seal and into the tape adhesive
  • Tape Failure - stool seepage outside the tape adhesive, and stool now exposed
  • Total Flange Failure - more than 50% of the flange is not attached to the skin, and stool spreads well beyond the flange area.

Day 28 ... The temperature is well below freezing every night, and we sleep in unheated lodges or tents. As we continue to gain elevation, it gets progressively colder each night, and the 'accommodations' get progressively rougher. In 2 days we will be at Island Peak BaseCamp. It is day-4 for my flange, and I prefer to avoid changing a flange in a very cold tent at Island Peak BaseCamp, or while climbing Island Peak Mountain. So I decide to change flanges early and have a 'new flange' in place for the Island Peak adventure. In a sub-zero temperature lodge, I wash with cold water, and place a cold flange on cold skin with cold hands.

Day 29 ... Next day, while trekking from Dingboche to Island Peak BaseCamp I had Seal Failure by noon. With no cleanup facilities, it was impractical to change flanges, so I just added a band of micro-pore tape around the perimeter of the flange, hoped it would last until we arrived at BaseCamp that night, and continued trekking. I had Tape Failure during the afternoon, so a cleanup was due by the time we reached BaseCamp that night. Temperature in my tent was -15C (5F). At home I would have a hot shower, then place a hot flange on hot skin with hot hands... but of course that wasn't practical here. Heat would be nice, but it's not available. There is also the dilemma of my clothes (wearing multi layers of bulky warm clothes)...  If I take off my clothes I will be very cold very quickly and the flange won't stick when cold. But if I leave my clothes on... well I already have a mess to clean up, and I know that dealing with a Failed Flange will mean sh*t smears on my clothes. So I compromise, leaving most of my clothes on, and open up the midsection enough that I can see what I am doing. Then I wipe the smears with a damp sock, knowing I will have a cold night drying damp long-johns and socks with body heat. I rigorously slap the area around my stoma, bringing heat to both my hands and the stoma area. I heat the flange under an armpit. The flange-change seems good, so I zip up all my clothes and get into my sleeping bag to warm up.

Day 30 ... Did local-climbing near Island Peak BaseCamp, and ostomy gear seems ok.

Day 31 ...  While on Island Peak Mountain yesterday, I had a challenging Total Flange Failure under extreme conditions,  and descended 5 hours with extreme exertion
without ostomy gear
See Skipping Stones
I was totally exhausted after 16 strenuous hours on the mountain, consuming just 1 litre of water and 3 Mars bars, living on 50% oxygen, and physically drained from the effort. All I wanted to do was sleep. But I had a serious cleanup to do, and a cold-induced ostomy problem to solve. I had sh*t and smears from belly-button down to mid-thighs and everything in between (if you get what I mean :)). On my skin and on my clothes.  Fortunately, and common at high altitudes, appetite and stool production declines, and stool thickens, so the 5 hours without ostomy gear was not as bad as it could have been. I laid out my cleanup and ostomy gear and pre-thought how I would get this job done without exposing too much skin too long to the below-freezing temperature, and without leaving my clothes wet as I would have to dry them with body heat. At home I would just toss the dirty clothes in the laundry, have a hot shower, and put on clean dry new clothes, but of course none of this exists here. I again used flat stones as scrapers, and semi-cleaned my skin and long-johns.

While this may seem crude and gross, it needs to be put in context with our local conditions ... these clothes have already been worn 24 hours a day for weeks without washing ... I have no other clothes ... there are no practical washing/drying/showering options ... and we have all adapted to this lifestyle we have lived for the past month.

As I crawl into my tent, our camp-cook hands me a bottle of boiling water, simply saying 'you need this'.  I am humbly pleased with this rare luxury, and with the thoughtfulness shown by our Nepalese team (Ganesh or Sanjay must have told our cook about my ostomy-gear-failure on the mountain).  I first use this hot water with a damp sock to wash my skin and "reasonably" clean my clothes, inside and out. Then I wrap a new flange around the water bottle  and hold the water bottle on and around my stoma... heating my skin, my hands, and the flange. When all is hot (and uncomfortably burning my skin) I place the new flange and add a pouch. 

Then I slip back into my sleeping bag, holding the hot water bottle over my stoma to heat-seal the new flange in place. The hot water bottle heated the inside of my sleeping bag, and I immediately fell asleep, exhausted from climbing Island Peak Mountain, pleased I had solved my cold-induced ostomy gear challenges, and still thinking about the Nepalese kindness shown by bringing me hot water.

Some will imagine this to be an awful or humiliating experience. But it wasn't.
This entire journey has been about challenges, adaptability, acceptance, and grit.
The details of easy-times are soon forgotten.
The most vivid memories are of adapting to the harshest events.

Read about more Ostomy challenges at Ostomates Only - Disposals

<Previous                        Next>

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nepal 2012 Ostomates Only - Skipping Stones

We had summited Island Peak and stopped to rest during our descent. I checked my ostomy gear, discovering that the flange was totally detached ... what a mess!
I knew I had troubles with flanges not sticking when placing a cold flange on cold skin with cold hands. And my climbing harness had rubbed and pressured the flange when I had been twisted, hung, and supported by the harness and ropes. So I wasn't really surprised to find the flange completely detached. But this was not a convenient place for my worst-ever ostomy-blowout!

The smell was obvious when I opened my pants and long-johns. I had sh*t from belly-button down to mid-thighs and everything in between (think about that visual image). On my skin and on my clothes. I was cold and exhausted. It would not be possible to get a new flange to stick under these conditions. We still had 5 hours of grueling work to descend. Delays would have us traveling dangerously in the dark, seeing only with headlamps.
I would have to clean up quickly and spend
the next 5 hours
on the mountain
Without Ostomy Gear

Many of us, as kids, would find flat stones on the shore of a calm lake, and throwing them underhand or side-arm, could make them skip on the top of the water. Skipping stones made sense then, and was my inspiration for skipping stones on Island Peak Mountain.

So how was I to clean up? Smears are pasty and partially dry. Toilet paper isn't coarse enough to do the job. I won't sacrifice a sock, as it's more important to keep my feet happy. I have no water, and ice doesn't seem appealing to my already cold body. I had a problem, and seemingly not much to work with. Then the inspiration struck - I was standing on a pile of flat scree stones which would be perfect scrapers! I scraped enough to cover one side of a stone and flung it down the side of the mountain, skipping dozens of times before coming to rest thousands of feet below. With 6 stones, I scraped my skin and inner clothes 'reasonably' clean. I had to laugh out loud at the practical ingenuity of scrapers and skipping stones!

Being environmentally sensitive ... the smeared stones landed thousands of feet from
where any person or animal would be, and the smears would dry. This would be
an insignificant amount of 'contamination' relative to the immense size of these mountains.
The flange was put in a ziploc bag and carried back to base camp for proper disposal.
My climbing partner (who was aware of my colostomy) recognized the situation. He scowled and shook his head, then walked away, muttering ...
"you're the toughest son of a b*tch I have ever known"

Really, he was complimentary, concerned, and uncomfortable
... and his presentation was typical for men our age.

Our Nepalese climbing guide Karna was curious with the Skipping Stones and came to investigate. The shock, horror, and panic on his face is unforgettable. (Karna was not aware of even the concept of a colostomy, as there are few if any ostomates in Nepal).
"Sh*t comes out front !?!?" he said, assuming I had been injured on this climb, which was his responsibility. Karna quickly conversed in Nepalese with Ganesh and Sanjay (both aware of my colostomy). I don't know how they explained the colostomy, but Karna was much relieved and came back to talk with me. In his basic English he said
"I take many climbers to top of Island Peak, but I will always remember you in a good way. Because you are old. And because of that..." as he traced a circle around my stoma. I expect I was the first 62 year old ostomate he had guided to the top of Island Peak :)

This was a short delay, and we soon continued our descent. I used a wad of toilet paper to pad my stoma from rubbing. Fortunately, and common at high altitudes, appetite and stool production declines, and stool thickens, so the 5 hours without ostomy gear was not as bad as it could have been.

After an exhausting 16 strenuous hours on the mountain, we arrived safely at Base camp. All I wanted to do was sleep. But I had a cleanup to do, and a cold-induced ostomy problem to solve. Posted next as Ostomates Only - Cold Induced

You can also read about other ostomy-challenges on this adventure ...
Ostomates Only - Heat Induced
Ostomates Only - Disposals

<Previous                     Next>

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Nepal 2012 Hogus&Paul Descend Island Peak

Summiting was more relief than jubilation. Summiting is the goal, but getting down safely is all that really matters. We were on the summit after 10 hours of climbing. We had planned 9 hours to summit AND descend, so we were behind schedule. But we would not increase our risks by hurrying. We would descend at a safe pace and arrive at base camp safely.

We carefully descended the summit ridge with ropes, uncomfortably aware that a fall on either side would be an unpleasant (but not life-threatening) recovery. Those small dots on the bottom-left of the picture are climbers. It's a long way down through the ice. It's even further down to the valley where our sleeping bags at base camp are waiting for us.

We stayed roped together as we descended through the ice. If one of us fell into 
a crevasse, the others would dig in their crampons, hold the weight, and haul us up.
It didn't happen.

With descenders and ropes, we stepped backwards down the steep sections. It is safer to step backwards, as most falls are face-forward ... so better to do a face plant in the snow, than to tumble downhill. As we transfer from rope to rope, we must 'twist-lock' the carabiner. We travel in pairs and check the other's carabiner to ensure our safety. Twice, Sanjay and I each caught the other 'forgetting' to twist-lock his carabiner. It is frightening and appalling that the brain doesn't remember to do such a simple task, particularly as such a simple error would result in death if we fell without the twist-lock done. This is a symptom of oxygen deprivation and fatigue.

When we stopped at the ice-to-rock transition zone to change from mountaineering boots and gear to trekking boots, I checked my ostomy gear. The flange was totally removed - what a mess!
 Ostomates Only - Skipping Stones.

It's a grueling trip down. We are exhausted from the physical exertion, wasted by the lack of oxygen, and without energy because our water and food is gone. I think my brain is functioning well, but it is not. All my brain needs to do is pick the next spot to plant my next step. How hard could that be?  Legs are unresponsive. Nerves don't fire so muscles don't react. Normally, a misplaced step is easily fixed with quick muscle reactions, and balance is automatically restored. But here, under these extreme conditions, a misplaced step means a fall. And I fall because I am exhausted. But a fall demands excessive exertion to get back up on my feet, and the exhaustion escalates. A fall in the wrong place would result in serious damage or death. Our guide Ganesh, tired himself, gives brilliant advice
"No talking, only thinking ... Just think your next step"

Those of us who have experienced cancer or other life threats are familiar with
"one day at a time". This was one step at a time. 

I thought I knew exhaustion. Working a 24 hour shift as an underground miner or playing 3 hockey games back-to-back, were not even in the same league. After 16 hours on the mountain, hungry, dehydrated, starved for oxygen, physically fatigued, and mentally drained, we stumbled into base camp. Boots off. Sleep came quickly.

<Previous                         Next>

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nepal 2012 Hogus&Paul Summit Island Peak

Everyone has their own 'mountains to climb'

Climbing Island Peak Mountain was
a long term commitment
a formidable challenge
a test of fortitude

We woke near midnight, to a magnificent black sky and brilliant stars. The snowy mountains shone with an iridescent glow. We ate a hot soup breakfast, filled our 1-Liter bottles with boiling water, and started the approach to Island Peak. Today, groups totaling 39 climbers would attempt to summit Island Peak. 

We picked our steps carefully, lit only by our Petzl headlamps. Apparently, climbing in the darkness was a blessing to some. As daylight broke and they could see beyond their headlamps, the Japanese team was horrified with their surroundings - a very steep and sharp rocky ridge with fall-to-death edges on both sides. The entire Japanese team turned back at this point.

We climbed to a transition place where the rocks ended and the snow and ice began. We changed from hiking boots to mountaineering boots, and geared-up with harness, helmets, crampons, carabiners, jumars, descenders, and ropes. Here the more technical climbing started. If you've ever walked in ski boots, then add crampons with a dozen 2 inch spikes on each foot, then start on a 45-60 degree slope ... well, you get the idea.  

The terrain is mixed - gentle slopes, steep inclines, crevasses, sheer drops, rocks, and ice.
But it's always uphill!

Our first pitch on ropes had us climbing a vertical of 200M (600ft), with jumars and a lot of arm and shoulder power. Lock the jumar, hoist yourself up about half an arm-length, raise a boot and kick a crampon into the ice.  Rest for 30 seconds. Try to breathe. Force the body to do one more step.  Again and again.

The next pitch got steeper.  Fatigue and altitude started to close in on us. Earlier in the day, legs screamed tired ... now they just felt dead and would only move slowly and reluctantly when overpowered by the brain. One step, rest for a minute, try to breath, force another step. On the West Coast Trail (at sea level) I climbed ladders in minutes, but here on the mountain with 50% oxygen, it took hours to climb the same heights.

Many climbers will say that high-altitude-climbing is the most strenouous and demanding  performance they have ever done.  Maybe for them.  Yes, it is severe.  But for those of us who have walked within days of Ostomy and Resection Surgery (or other major surgeries), there are life-challanges that are equally formidable.
The last pitch looked steep and harsh but surprisingly I felt strong, fluid, and energized. Like the mountain gave back some of the energy I had imparted with her that day. We summited Island Peak at 6189M (20,306ft) and attached our safety ropes.  Hogus and Paul quickly flashed their ostomy gear, and with numb fingers zipped up to protect skin from the nasty cold wind.
Ganesh, Karna, Paul and Sanjay all celebrate with Hogus
As I stood to take pictures, I stepped over a rope, but misjudged by the 2inch crampon spikes, tripped on the rope, and fell. Our climbing guide was instantly horrified, then relieved when my safety rope held and I got back on my feet, only embarrassed with my fatigue-induced clumsiness. Then he explained the horrors from 2 weeks prior, when a Japanese woman fell to her death from this summit. She had made a mistake - she had not attached her safety rope. Her body was not retrieved.

This was a hard-earned Bucket-List accomplishment for each of us,
but summitting was more relief than jubilation.
Summitting is usually the goal - getting down safely is all that really matters
Of the 39 climbers attempting Island Peak today, only 11 summited.
Our group of 3 old climbers, totaling 190 years of age, all summited.

<Previous                     Next>

Monday, January 14, 2013

Nepal 2012 Island Peak BaseCamp

We arrived at Island Peak base camp to see a haphazard jumble of tents, gear, and climbers. Conditions at base camp were grim - it's the bottom of the 3rd world, beyond the trekking trails, and at the end of a long journey to prepare for the final climb.

Island Peak BaseCamp has our unanimous vote for the nastiest outhouse in Nepal.

We worked hard to get here today, but looking UP at Island Peak, we have more difficult days ahead of us.

The landscape is bleak with rock and snow - there is no vegetation and no birds or animals .... its just too harsh. It's not a place that makes us feel that people actually belong here. People are tired, equipment shows the signs of rough usage, food is nearly depleted, and there is an underlying stress over the exertion and risk of the climb. There were teams from around the world - Japan, Austria, United States, Nepal, Spain, and others.  And of course our small team of 2 climbers from Canada and 1 from Guam, with our Nepalese guides and porters.

During our first night at Base Camp the temperature dropped to -15 C (5F). We slept in goose-down sleeping bags in unheated tents, wearing goose-down coats, toques, and insulated pants. But we didn't generate enough heat to warm the sleeping bags, so we slept cold that night. Water bottles froze in our tents that night (water froze while the bottle was vertical, then the bottle was knocked over during the night, and continued to freeze horizontally, making an interesting picture in the morning).

Next day we got good instruction on the use of climbing harness, crampons, jumars, descenders, carabiners, and ropes. Then we did a serious work-out, practicing what we had learned.

We had a short and fitful sleep during our second night at Base Camp. For many reasons, sleep was difficult:

  • Temperature dropped to -15 C (5F) so we would sleep cold again  
  • We started taking Diamox (prescription medication to reduce AMS symptoms) but the side-effects include increased breathing-rate and heart-rate, and its hard to sleep with a fast heartbeat.
  • With oxygen at 50% at that altitude, it is common to awake with the panic feeling of suffocation.
  • We were excited and anxious about our climb next morning
  • Our climb would start at 1:00am, so there wasn't much time for sleep anyway
It is normal to leave just after midnight, as the climb is long, daylight hours are few, and night-time usually is calm while the winds grow progressively more severe at the day unfolds.  

Tomorrow is the big day. 
Months of preparation, weeks of trekking and much determination,
has brought me to Island Peak Base Camp. 

I know that everyone has their own challenges and 'mountains to climb'.  
Island Peak will be my challenge. I will attempt to climb Island Peak Mountain tomorrow.

<Previous                          Next>

Friday, January 11, 2013

Nepal 2012 Oasis of Heat - Yak Dung

In the southern parts of Nepal, firewood is used for cooking and heating ... cut by handsaws and axes, and often carried long distances by porters.

In northern Nepal there is no firewood. For most people, kerosene is far too expensive and must be carried by porters from Kathmandu. Yak dung is the fuel of choice. (This is not dissimilar to the buffalo-chips used throughout much of the prairies of North America just a few generations ago).

The process for making yak dung into fuel is quite simple but labour intensive, and takes several months.
Of course yaks generate the raw dung.

The raw dung is collected and dried - usually on rocks, facing the sun. The drying dung is normally 'turned over' each day and covered by a tarp at night. Dried dung is often bagged and carried by a porter, then stored for use in the winter season.

This fuel is valuable, so is used sparingly, and only when it's very cold. Oil-drum stoves are used for heating a lodge. A few yak chips are put in the stove and a small amount of kerosene is used as starter.

We trekked for 34 days, staying in tents or lodges ... all unheated, even when the temperature was well below freezing. But the lodge-owners want to keep their guests happy, so occasionally will have a brief fire in the common room. Guests gather, huddle close to the stove, and try to soak up some heat before retiring to their cold rooms.

After a long, hard, cold day of trekking, this stove, fueled by yak dung, is much anticipated and appreciated 
... like an Oasis of Heat.

<Previous                            Next>

Monday, January 7, 2013

Nepal 2012 Hogus&Paul Summit Kala Patthur

We awoke early from a cold sleep in an unheated lodge at Loboche and trekked to Gorek Shep.
We were concerned about our trekking team as we had not heard from them for almost 2 days and we knew they would have some struggles with the challenging Chola Pass. Of course they had not heard from us either and they knew we had set out to climb both Chola Pass and Kala Patthur. 
     We knew we were OK but we worried about them. 

     They knew they were OK but they worried about us
Later that day our guides would connect with cellphones.  We were relieved to know that everyone was safe.

We ate a breakfast at Gorek Shep then started our climb of Kala Patthur with summit at 5545m (18,192ft). This would be a vertical climb of 419m (1376ft) with slopes as steep as 50%. Kala Patthur is not a technical climb but it does require power and persistence. We were conscious of our Nepal 2011 experience where only 5 of 20 summited Kala Patthur.

Early on our climb we looked back to see Gorek Shep, then continued with our 'mountain slow' pace.

The Khumbu Glacier is below us. Boulders, rock, and scree is above us.

We stopped for a break, and were surprised at how comfortable a rock-chair can be.
Looking up it's still a long climb. You can see Pumori in the background.

As we near the summit, Hogus stops to admire the big mountain views.

A harsh wind blew over the Kala Patthur summit and the Prayer Flags flew horizontally.
We carefully climbed the small steep peak.

Mount Everest (Sagarmatha) is always a special view, as she is the highest point on our planet.
At Kala Patthur we are not at the top of the world ... but we can see it from here.

Hogus and fellow-ostomate Paul proudly showed their ostomy gear, then quickly zipped up to protect sensitive body parts from the biting cold wind.

The 3 Guest Climbers (totalling 190 years old) were pleased with the ascent. We had now climbed 200m (656ft) higher than Gokyo Ri and Chola Pass and forced our bodies to acclimatize to the 50% oxygen levels. And we had done this without Altitude Sickness symptoms and without anti-AMS medications. Of course our 2 Nepalese guides, Sanjay and Ganesh, had no troubles either. Kala Patthur was our last conditioning-climb and we were as prepared as we could be for our climbing goal of Island Peak (Imja Tse).

We CAN live ordinary, even extraordinary lives.

<Previous                       Next>