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Dispatches Index
Route Coverage of Belgian Shishapangma expedition

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Wednesday 01/05: We are surrounded by thick and heavy clouds...Today it seems we are not going to get very far. Every one of us is finding a way to occupy time. One day hanging around like this isn't too bad after all. D. has dismantled the generator and has finally gotten it working again. Tonight I am going to surprise my fellow-climbers with a home (tent)-made "mousse au chocolat".

Tuesday 30/04: The generator has broken down, so we can't recharge the satellite telephone and will have to restrict the number of contacts with the MSF base. The encouragement we are getting from the home front is very heart-warming, and we can certainly do with a bit of heat, as the temperature is now more than 5°C during the day and minus 20°C at night.

Monday 29/04: Another snowstorm raged last night. The tents were severely tested several times and I had to go out twice to remove the snow from my tent. The climbers who spent the night at C1 are now back with me and we are setting off together to return to the ABC. There is a complete whiteout: it is impossible to see anything through the flurry of snow. Our track is covered with a 70 cm layer of fresh snow. We have to find the track again so progress is slow. There is a biting wind and a few hours later a series of stalactites come down on the ABC.

Friday, April 26, 2002: A terrible snowstorm has sprung up. It is so thick I can't even see my own hand in front of me. I'm feeling pretty low with a headache that never lets up. I rely on my climbing companions for comfort and support. Everything is wonderful when you are in good health. I realize that even the most experienced alpinist can get altitude sickness, as it has nothing to do with a poor physical condition or lack of preparation. I have never had it before so it seems like a terrible ordeal for me.

Thursday, April 25, 2002: Today we established a temporary store for materials higher up in the mountain, just before the snow fall. We each carry 15 to 20 kg. We call this porterage. We travel for about five hours over a difficult track along the edge of the glacier. Back in ABC, I am feeling so bad that it is decided to call for the doctor belonging to a Finnish expedition. His verdict is that I have a slight cerebral oedema, an infiltration resulting from a lack of oxygen. I'm ordered to rest for three days and to take a diuretic medicine. A blood specimen produces an oxygen level of 75%, which is more than sufficient.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002: The sherpas are organizing the Puja ceremony today and all climbers are obliged to take part. The sherpas use the ceremony to ask the gods for permission to climb the mountain. It is a very restrained ceremony. They hang pray flags up, burn juniper berry twigs and whilst declaiming Buddhist prayers and songs, they offer food and money to implore the gods to give their approval to the expedition. ABS is the nerve centre of the expedition: this is where everything is  discussed, organized and planned. We will also be spending a lot of time here. Our new "home" is located on a moraine (= an accumulation of glacial waste, sand and stones) in a great deal of brown in the midst of all that white. Two of the four sherpas will remain at ABC at all times. The other two are our climbing guides.

Thursday April 23, 2002: Temperatures: a maximum of 9°C during the daytime with a minimum temperature at night of -11°C inside the tent and -13°C outside. Yesterday's trip was too grueling for ordinary mortals from the Low Countries. Our heads were throbbing, our bodies were crying out for more oxygen. The only person who was not in such a bad way was the expedition leader J. We know what we have to do: become more acclimatized to the conditions. To be completely honest, I ought to add that one question that popped in my throbbing head today was "why am I doing this? Now, as I look out of the tent at this nocturnal landscape and see how the moonlight is reflected by the magnificent Shisha Pangma, I have found the answer again!

Monday April 22, 2002: We continue on foot and our luggage is carried by the yaks to Advanced Base Camp (ABC 5,600 m). The original plan for the day was to climb to the Intermediate Base Camp (5,200 m). We decided to head directly to the ABC because our sherpas said this was feasible within four to five hours. The fastest (Westerner) in our team took six hours. We are all exhausted by this difficult route and the changing weather conditions (sun in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon with a lot of wind). The luggage has suffered badly from being transported on the backs of the yaks. We assess the extent of the damage: dents, bumps and rips.

Sunday April 21, 2002: Temperatures: a maximum of 12°C during the daytime but the sun makes its feel hotter and we are even walking about in T-shirts: The minimum temperature at night is -8°C in the tent and -10°C outside. A Chinese official is permanently based here as a so-called "liaison officer". The man's obsession with order and authority verges on the absurd. We in the team agree to live according to Nepalese time as this is the most obvious one from a biological point of view. Nonetheless, as the whole of China observes Beijing time (although it applies to a geographical area that covers at least five time zones), the liaison officer refuses to allow our sherpas to use Nepal time. The man's enjoys quite a luxurious life here. He has a TV and a video, whose generator succeeds in disturbing my slumbers. When the throbbing machine finally stops at about 11 o' clock in the evening I turn over in my sleeping bag with a sigh of relief. Until the dogs belonging to the yak drivers begin a barking concert that lasts all night long.

Saturday April 20, 2002: Bumped and jolted from one side to another, the people driving our jeeps are trying to find a way between the huge boulders strewn over the path. We follow the River Nyan Chu from Nyalam in a westerly direction and reach the base camp (BC 5,000 m) of Shisha Pangma. Our Nepalese Sherpa friends are waiting for us there and it is heartening to see they have already got our tents ready and have prepared a delicious meal for us in the tent used for this purpose. Tibetans walk in out of the tent without so much as a by-your-leave. They're quite a noisy lot. Anyhow, we won't be troubled by this anymore once we get higher up.

Friday April 19, 2002: From Tingri (4,342 m) we trek southwards. As well as providing us with an opportunity to pay a very interesting visit to a Buddhist monastery, the excursion also offers us a breath-taking view of Everest (8,848 m) and Cho Oyu (8,153 m). I am always game for these types of challenges.

Thursday April 18, 2002: The temperature has reached 10°C, but there is a strong wind. The entire team seems to have got used to the new pace: the day starts with a rest, followed by major excursion in the area of Xegar (4,420 m) and in the late afternoon, we gather together on the terrace located on the lodge roof. There, M. accompanies us on the guitar while we sing at the top of our voices.

Wednesday April 17, 2002: To the west of Nyalam we saw "our" mountain for the first time, hiding behind a thick coat of snow. We nonetheless continued to travel eastwards and followed the Friendship Highway (which has nothing in common with a highway, apart from the name) linking Kathmandu to Lhasa. The next three days we stayed on the Tibetan high plateau so as to become acclimatized to our new environment. It is important to shift our pace of life down a gear or two. We have to allow our body the time to acclimatize to the height, we have to moderate our efforts and empty our minds...

Tuesday April 16, 2002: The Friendship Bridge marks the border between Nepal and Tibet (China). The chaos at the border post set my imagination running wild: it looked as though a swarm of very busy bees had been let loose on our multicolored luggage. The customs formalities were finished quite quickly. Zangmu (2,300 m) is the only border town. This trading centre has few attractions apart from the fact that it is built vertically against the sharp mountain slope. After only 31 km our lorry had reached a height of 1,450 meters. It is no wonder that this road full of hairpin bends should be known locally as the road to hell. By the time we reached Nyalam (3,750 m) the green landscape was well behind us.

Monday April 15, 2002: We traveled from Kathmandu to Kodari (on the Nepal/China border) by lorry. On the way I had another attack of Nepalitis: the landscape was positively teeming with bushes and rhododendrons in flower, wild amaryllis and orchids,... along the way, we saw hundreds of waving hands and dazzling smiles, with people calling after us "Namaste" (= hullo). I realized that this happiness could not last, as tomorrow we would be crossing the border to enter the inhospitable Tibetan high plateau with its monotonous brown colors and endless sand. When we reached Kodari we set off for the mountains to enjoy a pleasant hike. We came across a tiny village hidden in the mountains and a stupa (a clock-shaped Buddhist structure containing religious relics). In the evening we stuffed our luggage with equipment, including a satellite telephone, which I will be using during spare moments to report back to the MSF base in Brussels. Since I got here, we have eaten nothing but dahlbat (a local lentil-based dish). State of health: 2 cases of diarrhea in the group. Who will be the next one?

Sunday April 14, 2002: Kathmandu... I was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that I was coming back home again. I haven't been here for years but this city and country are always with me in a certain sense. My love for the place tends to make me forget its defects, such as the thick cloud of smog looming over the city. This frame of mind is known among travelers as "Nepalitis". I meet the people who will be climbing with me: the other Belgians (who arrived two weeks earlier and have already been trekking through the Langtang region) and Sue from New Zealand. She may be an inch tall and as light as a feather but you should never go by appearances: when it comes to mountains and climbing she has bags of experience. The news about the consignment was confirmed: everything had arrived quite safely. That helped compensate for my missing Leatherman.

Saturday April 13, 2002: Take-off from Brussels... We are at last on our way in search of adventure. I've been caught up in a furious round of activity in recent weeks. The list of priorities was so long I didn't know where to start. I put all my energy into preparing for my long absence from my job and home, dealing with last-minutes problems planning for the expedition and getting myself in good physical shape. I am now setting off easy in my mind: we have been assured that the consignment of equipment for the expedition has arrived safely in Nepal. I've been receiving lots of heart-warming e-mails, telephone calls and cards in recent days from people offering me encouragement. Friends and family have been paying me a visit to say a final farewell. A delegation from Médicins Sans Frontières and another from Sportspeople for MSF accompanied my traveling companion and me to the airport. A bit later on I was grumbling about the blunder I had made: the Leatherman (an American version of the Swiss knife with pliers) in my hand-luggage was pounced upon by security staff. Such a shame, because it is such a useful tool to have with you.