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


Note there are 3 updates below, they all came at the same time, so we put them up together...

Everest Update 5/2/2003: Everest Base Camp, Tibet, 17,000 feet: Sent via Go-Book Max and Telenor Satellite Systems

The team has been all over the place in the past two weeks and seldom together for more than a few days. We've basically been out of sync with each other because of a variety of health related problems and acclimatization. It's hard even for me to keep track of where everyone has been, but I'll give it a try. During the time Jess and I carried to the North Col, Jess began to experience pain in the back of his neck. The relationship between the infection in his jaw from the wisdom tooth removal and his neck was too obvious to ignore. An oral surgeon, in an earlier e-mail, had said, if the infection goes to his neck area, seek medical attention.

Jess was in a dilemma. Continue climbing and risk serious problems prior to a summit attempt or make a quick trip to the American clinic in Kathmandu for blood tests and an exam to accurately determine the problem. Since it was still early in the expedition and a summit attempt was still weeks away, he chose to go to Kathmandu. We descended to base on April 19 and arrived late in the afternoon. There was supposed to be a Toyota Land Cruiser available to us at all times. Dick, concerned about his health on the expedition, had paid $5,800.00 to have it on stand-by. It wasn't there. The Tibetan staff member for the Tibetan Mountaineering Association (TMA) claimed ignorance and our liaison officer, Mr. Au Ping, was in Zangmu. After all, this is Tibet.

With minimum debate, I signed a note promising to pay $700.00 to get Jess to Zangmu in a TMA vehicle, one dollar per kilometer. I knew who the culprit was and would stick him with the bill later. Jess, along with three injured Romanians, piled into the Land Cruiser and headed for Tingri, where they switched to another vehicle. They reached Zangmu at 5:00 AM, after an all night drive.

The Romanians were a jovial lot and Jess learned a lot about their country. For one thing, Romania is a poor country. These climbers were all owners of nightclubs or restaurants, which enabled them to travel and pay for trips, such as to Everest. Another interesting "fact" was, if you don't like your competition in the industry, it only takes $500.00 to eliminate them - permanently!

Once into Nepal, a Maoist strike prevented Jess from continuing to Kathmandu until the following day. He spent the night in Kodari, the small village across the river from Zangmu. Early the next morning, he was picked up by our agent and driven to Kathmandu, where he managed to get into the medical clinic for tests. These tests confirmed he still had an infection.

After running a variety of errands, including purchasing a generator for base camp, Jess joined Dan, Dick's son, and Lorraine, Dick's assistant at Snowbird, for the ride back to base. They entered Tibet easily and spent the night in Zangmu. It wasn't pleasant. Jess had a reaction to the medicines he was given in Kathmandu and ended up hugging the porcelain pony through the night, as his stomach turned inside out. I'm sure though, as a college student at the University of Montana, which isn't exactly a "dry" campus, being violently sick wasn't an unusual experience.

The next day, while Dan and Lorraine ate lunch in Nyalum, Jess found a ride directly to base camp, said good-bye and within five hours was in base, ending a unique adventure. Dan and Lorraine, who needed to acclimatize, would arrive two days later.

While Jess was busy traveling through Tibet and Nepal, I spent a rest day at base with Jim, who had come down from ABC with a sinus infection, then decided to go for ABC in a one day push. Ten years ago, I didn't even give it a second thought, traveling 13 miles and 4,000 vertical feet. It was just a long day. But at 54 years of age, I was a bit more concerned.

I left base at 9:30 AM and quickly covered the first quarter of the distance. Around 2 1/2 hours out, I reached Interim Camp, took a short break, then continued. My legs were sluggish four hours out and I could tell I was dehydrated. As I went through the old British camp, three quarters of the distance to ABC, there was a trekking group camp run by an old friend of mine, Eric Simonson. He recognized me as I passed through and invited me in for Tang. It saved me. I would have had a struggle the last four miles and 1,000 feet, without that quart of Tang.

After a rest day at ABC, Pasang Gelu, Pemba and I carried personal loads to the North Col at 23,000 feet. Despite the weight of a sleeping bag, down gear, headlamp, camera gear and everything I needed to stay warm and dry, I made the carry in 3 1/2 hours. While I waited for the Sherpas (who started later and were much faster), I leveled a tent spot below the large serac. Since we had reserved a larger area for our tents than we needed, I offered to let another American group from Aspen set up two of their tents on our spot. On both sides of us, a large contingent of Swiss and their equal number of Sherpas, pitched their tents. We were packed in on this small sliver of ice, like toothpicks in a box, but all along the col, large and small groups were in the same position. I felt fortunate that Jess and I had managed to reserve the space we had, otherwise we would have had to camp outside the protection of the large serac and the wind would have blown our tents apart.

Early the next morning, Pasang and Pemba were ready to carry to 7,800 meters (25,584 feet). We left camp and were on the fixed ropes before any one else. The two Sherpas quickly outdistanced me, as I took my time ascending the ropes and enjoying the view. Rising before me and slightly to the right was the gigantic north face, with the Great Couloir, slicing the face like a sword cut, ending just short and left of the summit. The sight brought back memories of my attempt in 1984.

Nineteen years ago, I was part of a strong American team, composed mostly of Rainier Mountaineering guides, attempting Everest from the north. We had worked hard putting ourselves in position to summit, only to be turned back by ferocious winds each time. By late October, we were reaching the end of the climbing season. The jet stream's effect on the summit and extreme cold were eminent. We decided to give it one last shot.

Jim Wickwire, Phil Erschler and I, supported by several others, traversed from our camp at 25,200 feet, along a snowy ramp system into the Great Couloir. We placed a camp off to the left side of the couloir at a little over 27,000 feet. The next morning we started up, Wickwire carrying a bottle of O2 and Phil and I without. There had been a foul-up several weeks earlier and one of the bottles that was supposed to be cached near the Great Couloir had disappeared.

Just a few hundred feet into the climb, I began to fall asleep. I told them it was best I returned to camp. They chose to return with me. On the descent back to our high camp, I figured out why I was so tired. During the early morning hours, I had taken two Tylenol with codeine to ease the pain in my frost-numbed feet. The drug was putting me to sleep in the rarified air.

Once back to camp, there was pressure from Lou Whittaker, the expedition leader, to abandon the attempt and come down. He thought I had cerebral edema. I told him my theory about the codeine and said I would make another attempt in the morning. Jim agreed to stay in camp in support, while Phil decided to use the one remaining bottle of oxygen and accompany me on the attempt. 

It was severely cold the next morning. I led out and quickly covered the distance to where the couloir bottlenecks. With a few quick moves, I was over the rock and into the upper snow gully. There's no reasonable exit straight up, so I angled right and climbed a steep snow and ice ramp to the bottom of the yellow band. I sat down and brought Phil up to my position with the rope. Up until then, I felt pretty confident. But as I sat waiting for Phil, I realized I had no feeling in my hands and feet. They were completely numb.

Phil approached my position. I told him about my hands and feet and said I don't want to lose any tissue for a summit. Standing there, breathing in the bottled oxygen, Phil said he was warm and comfortable. He even offered to share his bottle. Wanting to do Everest without the use of bottled oxygen, I thanked him, but refused. I told him to continue up and I would descend by myself, leaving the rope in the bottleneck for his use. The plan worked. Phil summited several hours later and I made it back to camp in one piece. I still think it's one of the best decisions under the circumstances I've ever made in the mountains.

After several hours of jumaring and cramponing up the fixed line, I made it to the 7,600 meter camp (25,000 feet), where the snow field stops and rock begins. Pasang and Pemba were somewhere in the rock above carrying another 200 meters (650 feet) to our camp. I slowly followed. Just 100 meters (300 feet) higher, the two Sherpas descended upon me. Knowing it would take me another hour to reach the camp, Pasang, much better acclimatized than I, offered to take my load and run it up. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. I waited for him and soon the two of us were in pursuit of Pemba, who had taken off immediately for the North Col. 

On our way down, we passed numerous climbers and Sherpas carrying loads up to 7,600 meters, including the Global Extremes OLN group, their cameramen and Sherpas, who were going to stay overnight for acclimatization. They had won the opportunity to climb on Everest and I'm sure some of them were having second thoughts on that prize (I heard today, May 3, one of them may not continue). 

The two Sherpas melted some ice for a quick drink at camp, then descended to ABC. I did the same. After filling my water bottle and catching an hour of sleep, I made the long descent just before dark. I was beat by the time I entered camp, after two tough days of hauling loads at altitude.

To this point, I had not heard from anyone at base. Dick had descended to Interim Camp, then to base over the same two days I was above ABC. All of us, it seemed, were going in different directions and acclimatizing at different times.

Two days later, Jess showed up at ABC. It was great to see him looking healthy and eager to climb. Unfortunately, I had come down with a throat infection and was having a difficult time breathing. We decided to split again. Jess would go up with Pasang to 7,800 meters for acclimatization; I would descend to base camp to recuperate. He would join me for our final stay at base before pushing back up, hopefully healthy, for a summit attempt.

I descended reluctantly all the way back to base. At Interim Camp, I stopped and rested. As I had climbed up a section to get into camp, I realized my breathing was compromised. My thorax was so constricted from the infection that I wasn't getting enough air to my system. Not only was I having a tough time breathing, but because of the lack of oxygen, my hands were numb and wouldn't function properly. I was only too happy to walk the last mile into base camp, where I could get looked at by a Chinese doctor and start a treatment of anti-biotics.

At this point, it looked as though only Jess was healthy. As I've said over and over, climbing Everest takes some skill, a lot of stamina, but above all, you have to stay healthy. Jim was still recovering from a sinus infection, Dick was trying to overcome the pain in his back and I was now fighting some odd-ball infection in my throat, an illness that had been plaguing our Sherpas and base camp staff since Kathmandu. I don't know how the other teams were faring with illness, but unfortunately, we were getting more than our share. 

On April 29, Jess climbed to the North Col with Pasang. There were lines of people doing the same thing in the partly cloudy and windy weather. That night it snowed all night depositing close to two feet of snow. Despite the accumulation of snow on the ridge, there were thirty or more climbers on the ropes to 7,600 meters the next morning. Jess and Pasang managed to pass most of them to the camp, but with conditions deteriorating, they had to stop short of the 7,800 meter camp.

This was a major physiological break-through for Jess. Six years ago in Ladahk, India, Jess had come down with cerebral edema on Stok Kangri (20,300 feet). I had pressed my clients and Jess too hard that morning fearing we would be caught in a storm and, by the time we summited, several of the team, including Jess, were in pretty bad shape. For years he worried he wouldn't be able to acclimatize to higher altitudes. By reaching 25,000 feet without a problem, he proved to himself his body could adjust.  

Jess and Pasang descended to ABC that afternoon. Early the next morning, May 1, Jess left ABC and headed for base. He had a brief conversation with Jim, who was several hours short of ABC and feeling much better after his rest days at base. Their meeting was short, but Jim informed him that his infection was cleaned up and he was going to the North Col on May 3 and maybe higher, depending on conditions. Jess continued on and reached base in four hours.

Just after Lorraine and Dan arrived at base with some medicine for Dick's back, he started to feel like he could at least reach the North Col. Things were looking up. But, within the past few days, another area of Dick's back has erupted into painful spasms. He reluctantly admitted this morning that his chances of even going up from base at this point are now remote. With that weighing heavily on his mind, he decided to travel to Lhasa with Dan and Lorraine for five days to mentally recuperate and see if sleeping in a real bed wouldn't help his condition.

Today, May 2, Jess and I are relaxing in base, Dick's on his way to Lhasa and Jim's at ABC. We're almost back together as a team in one spot. My throat infection is slowly - and I mean slowly - getting better. It's one of the worst infections I've had to contend with on a climb. On May 5, Jess and I will join Jim at ABC. The weather is supposed to improve on that date and my infection should be a lot better.

John Roskelley, Jess Roskelley
Richard Bass, Jim Wickwire

May 3, 2003
Generations On Everest Update from Jess Roskelley
Sent via Itronix GoBook MAX computer and Telanor satellite phone system.

The infection in my mouth is mending. I'm feeling strong and ready for our summit attempt.

On April 29, Pasong, one of our Sherpas, and I headed up to the North Col to spend the night. It began to snow that afternoon and by morning there was about 2 feet of fresh powder. The top of my tent vestibule was
covered in snow.

On the morning of May 1, the sun was shining through the clouds and it appeared to be a nice day. We ate breakfast and headed up to our Camp 2, situated at approximately 26,000 feet. At the beginning of the fixed lines, we acended behind 30 or more people. After a couple of hours, the weather took a turn for the worse. The winds increased and more snow started to fall.

Pasong and I gradually passed some of the crowd. Half of the crowd turned around because of the bad weather. Four hours after leaving camp, Pasong and I reached our high point of about 25,200 feet. This was my highest elevation ever. Despite the cold weather and heavy snow fall, I felt strong and excited and can't wait to go higher. The snow level was thigh deep when Pasong and I turned around and headed back to the North Col. We did not quite reach our Camp 2 because of high winds, but it was a good height for acclimatization.

The next day I decended to Base Camp to join my dad. We are now resting and waiting for a good weather window for the summit. If we stay healthy, I think our chances are good. I'm having a blast!

Jess Roskelley

5:00 PM; Monday, May 5, 2003; Everest Base Camp: Sent by Itronix GoBook MAX computer and Telenor Satellite Systems
 
Special Update: Congratulations to all those Bloomies! I turned over in my sleeping bag last night, after a particularly nasty gust of wind blasted the tent, and glanced at my watch just in time to know that many of my friends and family were somewhere on the Bloomsday course or had just finished. I have to admit, I missed the camaraderie waiting for the gun and the dash away from the starting line, but not the climb up Doomsday Hill. (Note to non-runners: Bloomsday is a large 10k race held in Spokane each May. Over 50,000 runners/walkers participate in the timed event. "Doomsday Hill" is a long climb three-quarters of the way through the course.)

Since my last update on May 3, Everest has been hammered by winds. Every team on the mountain has been affected. The Korean Black Yak Expedition camp and Chinese Expedition camp at ABC, who had their tents at the highest level, were decimated. All their tents were either damaged or destroyed. Throughout the international camp, gusts of wind would pick up tents and fling them hundreds of yards into other camps or onto the glacier. Flying toilet tents were so common that they looked like a scene from Mary Poppins.

According to Jim, who came down from ABC just an hour ago, a Russian tent, lightly loaded with climbing gear, took off, flew over the Northern Ireland Expedition tents and landed on the tent Jess and I had been using when we were there. An ice axe in the Russian tent punctured our tent and the weight of it broke the poles. Dick's tent, loaded with his big, heavy duffle, took flight, bounced several times, dumped the duffle, then disappeared. This was happening throughout ABC.

Here at base, the winds are lighter, but we still lost two tents on Sunday; our communications tent and the four-man Jess and I were sleeping in. We're eating a lot of grit and dust and, if we lose any more tents, we're going to get to know each other in ways we never imagined. Many teams, other than the British Royal Navy Expedition, are experiencing the same problems, especially those that are further toward the center of the glacial moraine and closer to Bartertown. They're having to contend with large whirlwinds created by winds coming down from Everest hitting warmer winds coming up the valley. According to the weather reports, the storm should be over by the weekend.

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

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