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Dhaulagiri Expedition 2002

Friday, April 5, 2002: There are many days in my life I have considered truly rewarding. Having spent 74 nights in a tent this year in the Alaska Range, the Andes, the Cascades, The Rockies, and now the Himalayas I have found a new and beautiful front yard. Our climbing Sherpas, whom I now realize make our egos and resumes as professional climbers and guides whither to humble toddlers in the very playground that these men call home, woke us at 6:30 to the most spectacular view I have ever seen from a tent. This view of a 24,000' peak named Nilgiri has defeated views from the highest peaks in North and South America and finally does not leave me calling for home. 

It is an amazing landscape and an amazing people who truly define what we as climbers and people alike can accomplish and share, even through barriers such as strength, language, and customs. On our rest day today, I enjoyed the camaraderie of sitting next to two gentlemen, Pemba and Babu, these men are the real heroes of our climb. Sherpas have a long history as high altitude porters, guides, and hard-men. Sitting next to them at 15,000' sharing the last of my peanuts and water, I knew that even as a professional climber from America, no matter how long and hard I worked, only these native men would have the strength to open the doorway to the land I so hoped to share with them, where the only wind that blows is the jet stream...at 26,788'. 

Ben Clark

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Saturday, April 6, 2002: Yesterday's rest proved to be extremely beneficial as I closed my eyes to go to sleep last night. You really have to love the Himalayan countryside with its gnarly roots that so often snag pants, shoelaces, and boots. Of course, as Murphy's Law would have it, the longer a climber concentrates on footwork the more likely an objective hazard is to come right up and bite you in... well you know. In the case of our teams restlessness last night, it bit in every spot it could, right behind our tents, behind the cook tent, in front of our mound of duffels and pretty much managed to feed all night long on the countryside or as we will refer to it: the Yak salad bar. Climbers, often referred to as animals akin to the smelly and bushy haired Yak, don't wear bells around our necks and if we did; at the very least we would take them off if we were going to graze for hours on end while others slept. So goes life on the Himalayan countryside.

Today's rewards began after we left the salad bar for the real Himalayan high country, the land where every step is on crunchy white snow and the only other living creatures up there are harmless but curious yellow butterflies. The team ascended with no problems and the promise of vacuum-sealed smoked salmon and Colby cheese with our Sherpa tea, as long as we set up camp in a timely fashion. So here we are at 15,800' hanging out in our portable and lightweight homesteads enjoying panoramic views and food that would make anyone salivate a river.

Keep Dreaming, Ben Clark

Monday, April 8, 2002: Today marked the end of the road for the support/trekking team and led the climbing team one step closer to basecamp. After our customary egg breakfast we loaded up again to hit the long and dusty, except this time we were pounded by the weather and route conditions. So goes the "luck of the draw" weather here in the Himalayas.

The weather started to move in right as I finished my Yak cheese and boneless chicken lunch (a.k.a. hardboiled egg). Customarily as a team of seasoned mountaineers, we know to expect a little weather; today's weather was a little more than expected. As we finally traversed the upper snow slopes of Dampas pass, a place we had only dreamed about for the last 20 days, our lungs worked hard to utilize what air there is at 17,000' and we took a long and deserved rest break. It was at this time that the tables really began to turn. The wands the Sherpas had left in the snow to mark our route were no longer visible, we were at the mercy of a raging blizzard, and we were still at 17,000'. Pounding our way through snow that with each step plunged our legs thigh deep we found ourselves almost swimming in the new fallen snow. Putting our heads down, marching with packs on, and breathing through at least four thick warm high-tech layers of clothing we descended from the pass and through the white piercing gale, we found our camp. An hour after we arrived in camp we had fought our way to establish stable tent platforms, unload all our gear and you bet we hit those sleeping bags with a firm appreciation for all things warm and the sun we hope still exists somewhere over our heads.

Keep Dreaming, Ben Clark

Dispatches

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April 4: home d'jour Photo: Ben Clark

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April 6: heavy weather Photo: Ben Clark