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

Update: 3:00 p.m., Friday, April 4, 2003 Everest base camp Sent via Itronix GoBook MAX computer and Telenor Satellite Systems

Last night, the wind cut through the narrow Rongbuk Glacier valley with gusts I estimated to be over 50 miles an hour. On Everest, a huge plume of condensed air and snow arched off the summit and a mile-long lenticular cloud capped its top, indicating jet stream winds aloft. Our Sherpas felt that we would lose one or two tents through the night, so we secured all of them with extra cord. By morning, the winds had subsided and all our tents were still standing.

We're still acclimatizing to the altitude. All we have to do is start working or walking and we're quickly reminded that we're at 17,000 feet. That afternoon, despite the wind, Jim, Jess and I, walked
down the valley four miles to the old Rongbuk nunnery, where many Tibetan nuns used to stay before it was destroyed, most likely during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. One of our Sherpas, Pasang, went with us to visit a holy cave in the nunnery and translate any information the caretaker/lama might provide.

The old lama, in frayed crimson robes, looking somewhat like a snaggle-toothed Ichabod Crane, greeted us and kindly agreed to take us on a short tour of the cave. He was a gregarious sort and very animated about the cave's Buddhist history. Pasang managed to do quite well in translation.

The lama wasn't done with us after the cave adventure. He indicated for us to follow him into the inner area of the monastery grounds, which was formed by a huge rock landslide. It seemed as if every house-sized boulder had some relationship to Buddhism and, as old and emaciated as he looked, the lama literally ran us through the five-acre site, climbing up and down boulders and through passages between them that were barely big enough to crawl through. I heard Jess remark in jest that maybe we should let him climb Everest with us.

The last Buddhist "site" was a huge boulder, 25 feet high and 60 feet long. After showing us special markings on the rock, the lama scrambled up to the top in his worn Chinese tennis shoes to show us how it was done. Even in our trekking shoes, with good rubber soles, we had a difficult time following him. The walk back to base was into a steady 30 to 40 mile per hour wind. By the time we got back to base camp and dinner, we were chilled to the bone and worn out.

On April 4, we rested and worked on gear. The wind has continued to rip through camp and we've had to sort everything out in the tents. Everest continues to play hide-and-seek with the quickly moving clouds and occasionally a snow squall hits the basin. As nasty as it is in camp, we can only guess what awaits us 10,000 feet higher.

One of the problems we've been having is charging batteries for the computer and satellite phone. As it turns out, the generator we sent from the states does not have the power needed to keep the batteries charged. Last night, Jess and I worked for over an hour in the cold (although inside our communications tent) trying to retrieve e-mails. The process is not difficult, but every once in awhile, one of the e-mails has an attachment, which takes too much satellite time to download. We had to quit and telephone the Web site manager at Klündt | Hosmer to remove all the attachments from the server. Hopefully, the downloading will go a lot quicker. If you send the team email, please don't send any attachments!

In order to solve the battery charging problem, it looks as though we'll be buying a generator from Lhasa. The Tibetan Mountaineering Association representative, Aping, who is our liaison officer, has one running the lights in the TMA building a half mile from our camp. We've been using one of his outlets to
recharge our batteries, but it's not working very well. So the solution is a bigger generator at our disposal in camp. We are also looking into getting a solar charging set up so that we can keep batteries charged above base camp.

Below Aping's TMA's building is a place I refer to as "Bartertown". Some of you may remember the movie "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome", with Mel Gibson and Tina Turner. Without going into to detail, the Rombuk "Bartertown" is similar to the rabble that infested the bartertown in the movie. On either side of the gravel road that leads into base camp are located large, square Chinese army tents that have been transformed into Tibetan bars and other haunts for wayward men. Around them are huts made of red, white and blue plastic tarps that seemed to have taken over Tibet ten years ago. Despite the gathering of Tibetan yak herders, traders and those interested in making a quick buck, the area is clean of garbage and there are large blue recycling containers around the camp. I'm glad we're far from this area and out on the glacier plain.

The instant communication systems we have on this expedition are new experience. On my first Himalayan expedition, which was to the sixth highest mountain in the world, Dhaulagiri, communication consisted of handing letters to hired mail runners. I didn't receive my first letter until I was on my way down from the summit, almost three months after I had left home. Watergate had come and gone and my wife, Joyce, had purchased our first house, without my knowledge.

Times have certainly changed. We have two satellite phones, one of which we can connect to our Itronix GoBook MAX notebook computer to email up-dates and photos. We can call our families or business associates any time we like. For me, a great deal of the adventure is gone. Although, I didn't like being out of touch with my family for so many months, there was a sense of adventure–a mystery–that I preferred. Thirty years ago or even ten years ago, what was going on in the outside world didn't seem important. I couldn't do anything about it from the other side of the world anyway.

For instance, Joyce let me know through an e-mail several days ago that her car had been broken into near the Spokane Art School. The side window was broken and her purse, as well as my daughter's computer, had been stolen. Nobody was hurt and Joyce took care of the situation. The point is that instant communication can be a mental burden, as well as a source of gratification. Whether it's really an advantage is up for debate.

– John Roskelley

Update: 3:00 p.m., Saturday, April 5, 2003 Everest base camp Sent via Itronix GoBook MAX computer and Telenor Satellite Systems

Today, April 5, is cloudy, with a fine skiff of cold snow on the gravel. The wind is continuing to howl and shows no sign of a let-up. Living at base camp is like camping out in a gravel pit. Continual glaciations have left billions of tons of sediment in the form of lateral and terminal moraines, as well as the glacial out-wash we are camped on. We're at the very tongue of the Rongbuk Glacier and what little vegetation has managed to take hold in this harsh environment is incredibly tenacious.

Everest is again capped with long, lenticular clouds. The team has managed to pack for the next camp, an intermediary acclimatization camp at around 19,000 feet, and will be moving up tomorrow, April 6, for a few days. During this move, yaks will carry our upper mountain gear to advanced base camp at 21,000 feet. We'll stay at the lower camp and just make a short visit to that altitude for the first time. No matter what the weather, we'll move up.

The team is feeling pretty good overall. Dick pulled a muscle in his lower back yesterday walking over to Marty Hoey's memorial. Jim, Dick and I knew Marty well before she was killed in a fall down Everest's Great Couloir in 1982. We all feel very close to her in this base camp.

Back problems are common occurrences when changing from a comfortable bed to laying on a cold tent floor in a sleeping bag and trying to get dressed sitting down. Dick is recuperating and has discovered small, but important friends in Advil, Flexal and a hot water bottle. Dick's spirit is still at 100%. That's why he summited Everest in 1985 and how he's going to get there again. Yes, you have to be in good physical condition, but a person's spirit is by far the most important component to success in any venture and Dick's is unbreakable.

– John Roskelley



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