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2002 American Manaslu Expedition "Seeking the Spirit"

May 24: Kathmandu

From Mike:

Hello everyone, I'm so sorry for not writing earlier, but wasting time in Kathmandu has become a full-time job. We leave for the airport in one hour, so I'd better make this quick.

First of all we're all clean, healthy and happy. Tom has a purple frostbite bulb on the tip of one finger, but luckily he hasn't done any permanent damage and should heal quickly. Dan's lips are also nearly healed. Dan and Brian are keeping the razors at a distance, while the rest of us had our whiskers taken off with a straight razor by the local barber. It takes a bit of nerve to sit still while a stranger holds a blade to your throat.

Last night we enjoyed a quiet dinner at the home of Tashi Sherpa, our agent here in Nepal. His wife, Nancy, is from Toronto and she fixed us a delicious lasagna dinner. It's nice to be a guest instead of a tourist.

For me it's going to take some time for this accomplishment to sink in. Over the past seven weeks my long-time buddy Brian and I solidified a friendship that is difficult, if not impossible, to explain. Life has been to good to me, and there hasn't been a day on this trip during which I have not offered thanks for my family and friends. Thank you all for your support, your interest and especially for keeping nine small mountain climbers in your thoughts.

So in closing the only thoughts I can offer are: aim high, cherish good friends, and most of all remember that one life is all you need if you live it right.


May 24: From Bangkok

From Tom:

Only three hours flight from Kathmandu but a world away. Certainly far enough to begin reflecting in past tense on the fantastic adventure we had and try to put it into the perspective of the rest of our lives.

These six American men came to Nepal to do one thing.... climb the eighth tallest mountain in the World. We were disciplined, focused, and concentrated. We achieved our goal. But we leave with so much more than the summit alone. We leave with an experience that is profound.

How can we forget dancing in twilight in a small village square to the soft voices of young girls singing traditional Nepali folk songs as the entire village looked on with great joy. Where does it fit in our experiences of life, common place or otherwise? I do not know yet but I do know it left an indelible mark because we all bought Nepali Folk Song CD's before we left Kathmandu.

In the context of his life where does Scott place his long horse ride through a Tibetan valley to Samdo guided by a local resident teacher and civic leader? Scott has ridden many horses in his lifetime and will ride many more. He will never ride one in the same space and time as richly surrounded by the sites, sounds and people of this near Tibetan region. When we first saw him upon his return he could have passed for Tibetan. His skin was black with dirt, his hair was long and dusty and his cloths smelled richly of the Tibetan animal. I know because I spent that night with him in a tent. The trip and companionship were so moving for Scott that he worked for days afterward to return the favor by arranging to fly roofing panels for the local school to the village on our helicopter.

The bond we formed with our Sherpa will last the rest of our lives. They are models for sacrifice and care. I will never forget Kikami climbing up to me as I approached Camp 2 (exhausted on the way back from the summit) offering "water sir" or Kan Cha taking over Jerome's pack when he was sick. They always smiled, always watched with a anticipatory eye and yet gave us all the opportunity to achieve on our own. These are men from a special culture with a gift for interacting with patience and respect. We all learned some of the traits of that gift. I am sure, though not yet spoken about, we all intend to practice some of those traits when we return to family, work, and friends.

Our bus ride to start the trek. Finally we were out of Kathmandu. Our first look at the "real" Nepal countryside. We stared out the windows in amazement, joy and wonder until we ran out of road. In America one runs out of road a lot sooner than in Nepal!

And then, after the first night out, the porters came. Like magic they appeared from the hill sides above the Buri Gandhaki river sand. 97 of them to start. Their nearly black faces were impossible to photograph in the flat light of the rising sun. They crowded together and haggled over their loads. But they were happy for the work and just as anxious as us for the long journey ahead. Our relationship with them lasted for nine days. We passed each several times a day on the rough trails. We got familiar with their work patterns, their nightly customs, got to know some by name and even traded loads once as a joke. Then they were gone. Depositing us in Sama and rushing all the way back down the river valley. Some were barefoot. Others wore colorful scarves of tightly woven Yak wool. All had infectious smiles.

Our Sirdar, Narwang. The Nepal version of Alan Alda. Always comical but always in charge. His sort of tough guy image cracked as we approached the summit. He had been on many expeditions. He knew what can happen when climbers get over 24,000 feet in what climbers call the death zone. He managed things well and was both proud and moved when it was done. He is coming to the U.S. next year. He accepted my invitation to stay in my home without hesitation. Serving as Sirdar was not just work for him.

And so much more. In the coming months we will sort it all out. What will remain for certain is a sense of humility and peace. We traveled to the roof of the world and achieved what most just dream of. We have bragging rights but none of us are bragging. Instead we have left Nepal with a calm confidence and a profound respect for the chance to have touched the corner of the sky and return to our families, jobs and daily lives never to be the same.

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