Dispatches from South Asia

Features Issue 16 Aug, 2010

One Humble Man’s Himalayan Theory of Relativity.
"In a hundred ages of the Gods I could not tell thee of the glories of the Himalaya.  As the dew is dried by the morning sun, so are the sins of man by the sight of the Himalaya" --Skanda Purana, an ancient Hindu text.

Somehow I feel that I must attempt to write some account in less than a hundred ages of the Gods, and it's not going to be easy.  At first I thought I could write a daily journal in the first person but that notion failed because of a lack of desire due to exhuastion, lack of light, and cold temperatures.  What little did get written seemed 'messed up', especially at 16,000 ft. and above.  At 18,000 ft. there is only 50% of the oxygen that there is at sea level and I swear it would take five times as long as normal to get the square and round pegs in the right holes.

You can pace yourself and deal with it while you are moving during the day, but when you are asleep and suddenly awake gasping for air, it can become a bit disconcerting.  That's when those nights can become very long and the silence of not a creature stirring, not even a mouse, can be deafinening and give your head a sense of impending implosion.  My Sony Discman became my Teddy Bear.  It's easier to get used to the cold than the lack of sleep from high altitude. The sleep deprivation becomes cumulative and eventually just wears you down.

Eventually, the sun does cast it's light show on these abodes of the Gods and you get yourself moving and keep moving as your senses reach another previously unknown level of wonder and awe.  I had 16 out of 18 clear days on this trek and I swear I will never succumb to useless complaint over inclement weather in the future.  To have good weather and to be spared from health and injury problems makes one feel truly blessed that the Gods allowed me to play in their domain.  I now have a renewed desire to see as much of the Himalaya as possible.  I am still a novice in this land but this last trek moved me up to double A ball, maybe next year I'll make it to triple A ball.  The big leagues?  Well, right now I know I don't have the skill or the nerve to stand in against a major league Himalayan curve ball.

The truth of the matter is that I stopped about 200 ft. short of the top.  The view was just as good from that point plus my guide was getting bad headaches and the wind was becoming fierce.  I told Kedar to return to our base while I went across this ridge to Mt. Pumo Ri and down toward the ice pinnacles near Everest base camp.  I know that you are not supposed to do this stuff on your own but this was my last shop on this trip and I took it slow and safe.  We had our base at an Italian research station that was four hours round trip from the base of Kala Pathar.  We left in the morning carrying only a few kilos of equipment, so we knew that we had to get back before dark so I had two hours to explore until a 3pm deadline to start back to the research station.  That was a great two hours because it enabled me to go down to a few spots near the ice pinnacles and just stare straight up at Nuptse and Everest without a cloud in the sky.  If that doesn't get your juices flowing, nothing will.  Actually, Nuptse is the dominant mountain from this direction and it is sheer faced and snow covered, while Everest is a massive pyramid of rock that can never be viewed in it's entirety except from Tibet and the eastern side.  I found a spot that is off the beginning path of the summit expeditions and when I return here some day I will camp on this exact spot.  I know that I am not the only person to have been to this little secluded area but I have already made my mental reservation for this "room with a view" for sometime in the not too distant future.

If it were not for the Italian researach station and their skeleton crew, I would have no pictures of this area and the return trip.  My batteries all went dead at once, despire my efforts to keep them close to my body.  They had 72 solar panels and a converter for my charger and that brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.  VIVA ITALIA!!!!

With regard to the title subject of this dispatch -- Relativity -- I must admit that everything I thought might be unbearable or unthinkable does find it's way to being overcome by sheer will.  During the first few days 10 - 20 degrees F. at night was outrageous.  It's amazing how one's body can adapt.  Even the oxygen deprivation becomes relatively tolerable;  but I've yet to hear anyone say that they have had a great night of sleep.  While the night temperatures can get down to 0 decgrees in the high elevations, the day temperatures at the research station hit a balmy 68f degrees.  What a joy to get out of the thermal wear and be in a T-shirt and rolled up pants with your shoes and sox off!!!!  One day in Namche Bazar, on my thermometer, it actually stayed at 88 degrees for three hours! Yeti - maybe, vampires -- no way.  One of the things that will always amaze me is the relative strength of a Sherpa compared to someone who is not from this area.  They routinely carry 200-250 lbs. on a daily basis on the same routes that I labour up with just a minimal load.  The power guys can manage 330 lbs.  That's almost three times their body weight.  On the way down, I saw this 15 yr. old Sherpa girl who was taking a break and I offered to trade packs as a half serious gesture.  I couldn't even get it up on my back.  As a result, everyone had a good laugh at my expense.

Well, I 'm at the end of the trail for this dispatch; this is about the test of my literary endurance for one day.  Besides, I wouldn't want to interfere with too much of that there multi-tasking going on in the West.

(The Karma Kid is a 60 year old retired money market dealer from Chicago, writing home to his friends in the U.S. and elsewhere).