May 29th, 2003 Old friends converge on Tangboche for the celebration
On the 28th I finally left Namche at 4:30 in the afternoon. I planned to walk quickly to Tangboche to rejoin Peter, Lloyd and our group by 6:30 for dinner.
This was not to be. As I ran across friends along the trail and I spent most of the remaining light hours talking and catching up.
At Sanasa, a short walk from Namche, I saw a very familiar face sitting outside a tea shop drinking an orange soda. Apa and I had a warm reunion, as we frequently get to do some where along the trails of Khumbu or in Kathmandu.
Amazingly, Apa, who everyone will know by now has completed his 13th successful ascent to the summit of Everest, had left Camp II that very morning. He had raced down the lower portion of the Western Cwm, through the Icefall and Base Camp. Now he was 10,000 feet lower than where he had awoken that morning. And he was 18,000 ft lower than the summit of Everest. He was in an entirely different world that high slopes of the South East Ridge, where he has worked so digelently to rescue someone only a couple of days earlier.
In Apa’s eyes I saw the exhaustion and humility of a mountaineer, a guide, a Sherpa, who had been through yet another epic effort of survival, service to saving other’s lives high on Chomolonga. The tallies of numbers of summits mount for Apa and the other elite Sherpa mountaineers with each passing season. But the tired, humble and grateful looks you see on their faces as they return home down the valley after each expedition tell a greater and more complete story than the lists of summits reached.
Later along the trail I saw Dorjee, from Thame, who had I last worked with on the GPS expedition in 1998. He had reached the top for the 9th time, and was returning home to his family with his sun and wind crusted face, and his amulets of blessing from the lamas still hanging from around his neck.
Then I ran into Henry Todd. Henry also sported a very sun baked and wind hammered face, and he looked tired, but at peace and satisfied after another long and successful South Col climbing season. This year Henry had done something that he had not attempted since 1994. He actually made a run, quite a serious one, to reach the top. He reached a higher point than he had ever been before, past the Balcony and on towards the South Summit, but told me that he had been tired and was moving too slowly. Knowing that he was “kakered” and that Chomolonga was indifferent and unmoving, that the mountain would be there for another effort on another day, the 58 year old, guide, Expedition organizer, and collector of adventures came down the life zones once again - with all his toes. Good job, Henry. We will see you again soon.
So as you might imagine by now, I reached Tangboche well after dark. I was extremely please to see that Ang Temba and the crew had gotten a campsite for BAI out along the ridge behind the Monastery, near the memorials for the American’s from the 1963 AMEE, “American Mount Everest Expedition”. This quite and beautiful spot has always been a special one to me. Because of the events planned for the 29th this is a crowded time at Tangboche that rivals and probably surpasses even the Mani Rimdu Festival in the autumn for numbers of foreign and Sherpa visitors. Yet we could feel alone at our camp out on the ridge.
The first thing I did the morning of the 29th was walk over to the memorials for Jake Britenbach, (“Long Live the Crow”), Barry Bishop (“And Away We Go”) , Lute Jersted and Gil Roberts.
It became apparent that this was going to be an exceptionally clear and mild morning at Tangboche. Everest stood above, indifferent and massive, surprisingly close, yet strangely distant in the perfectly clear morning sky. If she ever seemed benign and passive it was this morning and later the Rinpoche and other lamas of Tangboche would proclaim that this was an auspicious sign that this day was blessed and favorable beyond any historical significance that we had gather to commemorate.
As I walked back along the ridge to join the others, I was filled with thoughts of the humility and respect for the mountain that I had seen on the faces of Apa, Dorjee and Henry the day before. This day we were at Tangboche to celebrate more than anything else the accomplishment and service of the man who had said 50 years before when he and Tenzing made it down, “we knocked the bastard off”. Years later another great mountaineer, Ed Veisters, is reported to have said when he made it down “you don’t conquer Everest, you sneak up on it”. I have seen both the quotes misunderstood by people who have not climbed to the highest reaches of our planet. One seems arrogant and the other seems dismissive. Yet I have always known both the comments to be the well expressed, self-deprecating humor of an awed, tired and grateful man. Just as I had seen on Apa, Dorjee and Henry’s faces the day before, you come away from going high on Everest with the felling that you have “pulled another one off” deep inside you are always a bit more relieved than triumphant.
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