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Everest North Side Expedition:  Dick Bass, Jim Wickwire, Dick Bass, John Roskelley


Everest Update from Dick Bass: Sent via Itronix GoBookMAX notebook and Telenor satellite phone system

Sunday, 27 April, 2003: I am now back at base camp (17,000 ft) after 5 days at Advance Base Camp (ABC/21,000 ft). 

I injured my lower left back (probably muscle strain or possible tear) trying to enter my 2 man tent through its low vestibule when we first arrived, Monday, 31 March. Because the lower 4 of my 7 cervical vertebrae are fused by being screwed to a titanium plate, I can't bend my head very low. The main inner tent opening was even lower, so that I was unable to stoop my body down enough without crawling on the outside rocks, so I just dove in the tent like a playful little boy. 

Since I haven't done any conditioning (which I got away with while climbing in my early 50s, and I cavalierly thought I could get away with again at 73), my lack of muscle tone I'm sure, was the culprit.  At any rate, I've been in medium to great pain for a month whenever walking very far – particularly on downhill grades where each step has greater impact force. I'm in real agony when walking in jumbled boulder sections (which is over half the trail) when trying to step from one sharp or rounded rock edge to another with the strain of a tightrope act, and not being able to get many flat footings on sandy trail portions. 

I don't want to complain or make excuses, but I've been depressed because my ability to hike is hampered by my back and I can go only half the speed of the others, whether up or down.

Instead of talking one day to get to interim camp like the others (John Roskelley even made it all the way from base camp to ABC in 9 hours like the Sherpas!), I had to take 3 days going up (lower interim, interim, upper interim with the attendant food and tent requirement logistics for the Sherpas). I made back down with only one night at interim camp, but both days my back hurt me so badly I could barely hobble and I took 8 hours each day. 

Frankly, I was tearful with pain, swearing at myself for having such mock-heroic, vainglorious, and extremely unrealistic expectations by being here. I was ready to call it quits as soon as I could gracefully bow out from my teammates (Jim Wickwire, 62; John Roskelley, 54; and his son, Jess, 20). 

As often before in situations of extremis, I prayed to God for help, for the right attitude (since my poems and aphorisms of before weren't really doing their usual job due to the extreme physical pain and overwhelming impact of the challenge as I looked over my shoulder at Everest towering nearly 2 miles vertically and approximately 25 trail miles distance from where I was approaching base camp on the alluvial glacial plain). 

Like so often in my life, my prayer was soon answered my a seeming angel from the world (that I desperately longed for) as a tiny, moving spot grew larger and larger and behold it was my administrative assistant, (whom I refer to as "Girl Friday") Lorraine Fry,  and not far behind her was my son Dan, both of whom had just arrived that afternoon at Base Camp. I was immediately resurrected and we closed the remaining distance to our section of International Tent City with hugs and excited exchanges of what we'd been respectfully experiencing. 

I didn't leave the Chow Tent until 5 hours later when I had to unpack my gear in the dark. The Sherpas had left all my stuff in me and Jim's tent (he had long been in bed). 

During dinner Lorraine and Dan gave us several things from home, and the main thing of need for me was a six-day dosage pack of methylprednisolone, which I have now learned is a strong steroid that may bring fairly quick, beneficial pain relief to my back. Roskelley had recommended it by phone to Alice, and the trail of delivery here from the U.S. was very creative, to say the least. I'm already feeling some relief, but the first real test will come on a 12 mile round trip hike up and down tomorrow, with Jim Wickwire leading Lorraine, Dan and myself. I won't know if it will do the trick until I finish taking all of it, but I hope I can take Dan and Lorraine back up to ABC, probably individually since Dan has to leave for the U.S. on May 9th. 

I hope to be able to go from ABC up the roped, steep, icy face to the North Col at 23,000 feet.  At this stage– and after a very sobering reality check of just how big Everest is– that looks like it will be my highwater mark.  To say I'll be disappointed by not reaching the summit  is true, but to say I'm a wiser, more realistic man, is also true.  In fact I blame my wife, Sweet Alice from Dallas, for part of the self-deception I've been practicing for some years, because she repeatedly referres to me as a "5-year-old in a 73-year-old body" (or whatever my age has been at the time). On this climb I've been feeling like a 100-year-old in a 73-year-old body with all the frailties that entails. 

Dan's been trying to cheer me up by saying that just my being here is laudatory. I can't agree with that, but one thing this experience is teaching me is to have for the first time, a greater awareness of just what I accomplished when I climbed Everest in 1985 at age 55 with David Breashears. 

When climbing with Dave, we weren't roped together, we had no fixed ropes on summit day to ensure that we wouldn't fall off the mountain, our steel oxygen bottles weighed 19 pounds compared to the 8 pound titanium bottles of today, and I'd had only 12 days of acclimatization above base camp. David and I actually climbed together only on summit day from the South Col (26,000 ft) because he had been there for weeks before my arrival, making a movie for Arne Ness. I was basically on my own from Base Camp, up through the icefall, to the Western Cwm and across the Lhotse Face to the South Col. It's incredible to think now that I was carrying 40+ pounds up those verticals without supplemental oxygen. I made 4,400 ft of vertical in one day from Base Camp (17,200 ft) through the Khumbu Icefall and lower Western Cwm to Camp 2 (21,600 ft). Another day I did 4,600 ft of vertical from Camp 2 to the South Col (26,200 ft), across the Lhotse Face! 

Looking back, I was far stronger in limb and lungs than I'd realized, and honestly I can't believe I did it. Yes, I'll be thinking more pridefully as I start the rocking chair, reminiscing period of life. HA!

This will probably be the only email I will write during whatever time remains for me on this expedition. I intend to write a few, short essays after returning home that will describe the little nitty, gritty details one has to adapt to and adopt when on such a climbing expedition as this, particularly on the Tibetan north side. 

Maybe for the much younger climbers the discomforts may not seem like much. But for us geriactrics who have become so used to a more comfortable, less-strenuous life style, it seems like a self-imposed personal tragedy of misery. On the other hand, " tragedy plus time equals comedy", so I look forward to getting a lot of good laughs out of it some day. 

Thanks to all of you for your email support. We can't carry a lot of the equipment above Base Camp, and our generator that charges our computer and phone batteries is not very dependable – and I can't operate any of it anyway. The only reason you're getting this massive epistle at all is that Girl Friday showed up to get me at least current as of now. 

I'll leave you with my two guiding Bassisms over here: "It's a great life if you don't weaken" and "If you never stop you can't get stuck".  Warm regards to everyone,

Dick for John Roskelley, Jess Roskelley
Richard Bass, Jim Wickwire

Dispatches

 





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