(Transcribed from six interrupted satellite telephone
voice messages received May 14, 2003 beginning at 5:23
Camp 17600 feet May 14, 2003
starting to become a bit reticent about my entrance
into law school this fall. Over these last several
weeks I have become an expert at wasting time, and I
am very concerned that there may be permanent damage!
These last few sentences, for example, have taken
literally hours to write; in that same time I have,
however, accomplished several other important tasks: I
managed to drink a cup of tea, eat five pieces of
taffy, and give directions to a lost man from Boulder
who was wearing a t-shirt with “CANADA!” in large,
plaid letters across the front.
ever happened to “I’m Proud to be an American!”?
Now perhaps I am jumping to
conclusions, but I have become sensitive over the last several years to a
disturbing rise in the number of Americans traveling under a Canadian
disguise. Here at Mt. Everest there is a tradition that each team displays
the flag of their country above their base camp. Of all the American
expeditions this year, only the Texan, Gary Guller, has raised “Old Glory.” (I
am ashamed to say that my flag is presently stored in Camp III awaiting a shot
at the summit.)
It seems that in times of
political crisis, many Americans do choose to take down the flag and deny
responsibility, rather than becoming informed and taking a position of support
or opposition for our government. What has made our country so strong is the
opportunity to make that choice, and it is our obligation to demonstrate it on
the international level.
Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to
the country always; loyalty to the government, when it deserves it.” This
passage may seem tangential to our purpose here on Mt. Everest, but I assure
you that it is critically related.
The biggest team on the
mountain this year is the Indo-Nepalese military expedition. Throughout the
season they have provided an incredible model of compassion and hospitality.
They not only share the weather reports generated by their weather bureau in
Karachi, but they frequently dispatch a messenger with critical information in
order to ensure everyone’s safety. Each of their camps is always staffed, and
when passing, members are always invited in for tea and biscuits. Frequently
in the afternoon there is a member of the expedition offering tea to tired
climbers as they exit the Icefall. As the route was advanced up the mountain,
they provided food and shelter to the group placing the lines, then added an
entire second line to insure the traffic could move quickly and safely. Any of
their resources, including the Base Camp movie theater, are open to all any
Let me now contrast that with
the American behavior. Several days ago a young Irish trekker stopped in for
a chat, as trekkers often do. He had stopped at several of the camps and from
one of the American groups was met with only, “what do you want?” before
denying him even a cup of water and sending him on his way.
It came to no surprise to us
that this group has done nothing to help advance the route, and while claiming
to have the most accurate weather reports, would never dream of mentioning so
much as a wind speed. I was shocked when another American joked to me of the
level of secrecy that teams have, and their related acts of “espionage.” I
tried to assure him that this was uniquely an American perspective.
Every day I talk openly with
many groups about any and all information that is available. Everest climbing
is not a competition. And while there are many climbers on the mountain this
year, it is certainly possible for all of us to reach our goal, all safely, by
working together. It seems that our lack of nationalism has made us forget
that we are on the same team, working towards one common goal. Having
forgotten that, our competitive spirit, which was so recently our strength,
has become our great vice.
On a lighter note, I realized
last week that I had been confusing the Sherpas with my own nationality. I
overheard a conversation where one Sherpa told another, “He’s not an American,
he is an Iowan.”
With my excessive pride for
our state, I must not have been clear on that one important detail: Yes, I am
an Iowan… and yes… I am very proud to be an American!