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.

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