November 11, 1999

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Latest Dispatch

April 19, 1999

Camp II

(Note: does not research or edit dispatches.)

Hello there stateside!

Dining TentI’ll waste no time in introducing myself to avoid the potential confusion. My name is Terry O’Connor, a good friend of Bill and the rest of the crew who has since been adopted by the expedition for a variety of Base Camp errands (so to speak). My original intention was to come up and have a bit of fun with Bill and Pete on the front and tail end of their trip, with a little of my own climbing spaced in the middle, but I have since been recruited by Pete Pilafian to help with the filming project. Given my presence at Base Camp, other responsibilities have since ensued. Enough about me. In his [climber, Charles Corfield] absence, the honor of updating the web dispatches has been bestowed upon me by the honorable Sir Charles, so here’s to hoping I can meet the man’s standards.

On the 12th of April, the team awoke to an early morning. It was 4 a.m. and as usual, the air was crisp and clean. A dim halo, the sun’s early imprint upon the snow-coated skyline, already hung upon the cirque of towers surrounding camp. Stars were still visible however, and one could see Scorpio’s serpentine outline hovering languidly over Nuptse’s southern shoulder. It was quite a morning to begin the first push up the mountain.

There was little activity in camp, as most teams had decided to make their preliminary run up the icefall the previous morning. The occasional whumph and crack of the settling glacier could still be heard through the cold air. The gentle hiss of kerosene stoves from the kitchen tent in the distance, seemed to draw the collective attentions. The sweet purr promised one of our precious vices—coffee.

We soon collected under the kitchen’s frost-ridden blue tarp. Blue flames flickered at the bottoms of black pots. Concentrated eyes gazed through the steam rising from fresh cups of Joe. The team was keen to cruise.

Sherpa Nima Tashi On the way out of camp there was a pause for the traditional blessing. Pete, in the lead, stopped at our Base Camp chorten and wafted some of the smoke from the smoldering juniper up to his face. Our expedition sirdar [Sherpa leader], Chhongba Sherpa, then offered up some rice, which was promptly accepted. In Sherpa tradition, Pete threw three offerings to the air: one for God, one for mother, and one for father. The team followed in similar fashion, and then it was off to the dull morning glow of the icefall.

By all accounts the trip up the icefall ran smoothly—smooth being a relative term here at the icefall. The delicately balanced ladders, monotonously popping ice, and looming blue seracs [blocks of ice among the crevasses of a glacier] always leave one a bit concerned. After the first (and possibly only) night at Camp I, the team pushed forward, making the long haul to Camp II—home for the next three nights. Much to the team’s chagrin, few problems were experienced. Mild headaches were had by a few of the members up at 6,250 meters (20,506 feet), the rough camp altitude. The second night up [at Camp II] could also have been described as less than restful. The winds picked up within the Cwm, warping the tents throughout the night—a mild preview of the windy Everest lullabies to come.

The Camp II experience has been enlightened by the recent hire of Dawa Sherpa, or “professor Dawa” as Pete likes to call him. He has been hired as our Camp II cook, and his efforts have already fit his industrious reputation. Furthermore, his talents as a Nepali historian should serve the team well during the long days waiting in the Cwm. I am still anxiously waiting to hear his 500-year royal historical record of Nepal—the abridged version.

As usual, the days were hot within the Cwm, the upper oven of the Khumbu. Uncovered skin quickly suffered from the sun’s bite. Charles did brave the elements however, to bring us a few interesting images of the yellow band.

The trip down the icefall on the 16th was slightly delayed by a collapse within the route. A large serac finally went the way of gravity, making the use of the old route impossible. This is a common occurrence on the icefall of course, so the icefall crew was quickly on the scene with a pre-calculated plan, and the path was re-routed. Thankfully, no injuries were suffered.

The ensuing rest days in Base Camp were much appreciated by the team. The precious days of organizing, cleaning, and good old napping, served the team well. All are still in good spirits and in good health.

An interesting smog has crept up the valley in the past few days, leaving Tawoche and Cholatse hidden behind a drab murk. Rumor has it that there are some forest fires well down the valley. We have yet to be updated via the porter grapevine.

We’ve also learned a bit of interesting history about our sirdar, Chhongba. A few nights ago, he shared with us an exciting story from his youth. On rounds collecting milk for his family’s cheese factory, he came across and startled two young cubs within the dark confines of an old barn. The cubs quickly fled, and Chhongba stood frozen and startled. He soon heard a rustle behind him, and turned around to find the mother, quite displeased, standing on hind legs, arms high in the air. In panic, Chhongba reached for the bear’s wrists and a brief struggle ensued. In the end, Chhongba fell backwards, the bear following in a summersault fashion over him. Startled, she fled, leaving our fearless leader with a badly lacerated face—a scar that he continues to wear today. Move over Grizzly Adams, we’ve got a real mountain man with us!

Well, the team has left for its most recent sortie up the hill. The objective is a few nights up at Camp III. We will surely fill you in on all the details as they come. Until then, I’m keeping a keen eye on a hanging glacier off Pumori’s north ridge that seems ripe to take a jump into the Khumbu valley. It’s spit a few waves of frothing white so far. The biggin’ will likely give us a bit of a dusting. Mother Nature has a tendency to keep us on edge out here.

Thanks for listening, and here’s to hoping I’ll chat with you again soon!

—Terry O’Connor, Everest Base Camp

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