Everest 2013

Looking 'a little' tired on the summit of Everest
Looking ‘a little’ tired on the summit of Everest

It has been almost a year since the day I posted an article here called Everest 2012. I still remember typing it up, smiling nervously, happily and incredulously at the title. I’d climbed and trekked like a maniac and worked days and nights, earning the nickname ‘Red Bull Didi’, to pay the astronomical expedition invoice. Once I clicked ‘Publish’, my impossible dream to scale the world’s highest mountain became a daily struggle not to get crushed by the experience.

I lived and breathed Chomolungma for a year – all for 20 minutes on the summit. When the expedition was over, and I returned to Kathmandu, the colorful photo from the top of the world and many beautifully rich memories were all I had left. It felt like all my happiness, everything I could ever accomplish, all the love and passion I had in my heart – all stayed there, on Everest, in the past. One of the most heartbreaking thoughts of my life was the one that crossed my mind when I sat by the summit prayer flags, touching The Dream with my hands of flesh and blood: ‘this is the one place I will never come back to; I will never want anything as much as I wanted this – and have it, and hold it, and have to let it go. This is it!’

In spite of coming close to dying on descent, a week after my return to Kathmandu, I wished for nothing more than a chance to be on Chomolungma again. Training for the climb and subsequently being on the mountain had made me a different person – a person I liked. If my newly-developed qualities were to survive, I had to continue challenging myself even more, if possible. There is no greater challenge on this planet that I can think of than climbing Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen, and so I return to The Mountain this spring. I wish to give Mother-Goddess of the World what I keenly feel I owe Her: my gratitude, but also my life, – for her to give back to me, ever more worth living, or to keep on her airless, icy slopes.

According to this article (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/everest/blog/2012-05-18/to-os-or-not-to-os)from last year, over 3500 people have climbed Everest, 5% of them – without the use of supplemental oxygen. Another article (http://www.mounteverest.net/story/Everest2005WomenonTopMar232005.shtml) from 2005 says that ‘about 90 women have summited Everest so far, but only three of them did it without oxygen. They were New Zealander Lydia Bradey in 1988, British Alison Hargreaves in 1995, and American Francys Arsentiev in 1998. Sadly, Francys died on descent.’ I imagine, by now there must have been over 100 ascents of Chomolungma by female climbers, and definitely a third successful climb without O2 by Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner in 2010.

Do I stand a chance? No. However, I can and will try my absolute best, as always. If there’s any life left in me after the attempt, whether failed or successful, I will return to Everest base camp, rest for a few days, and, weather and health permitting, climb back up – to Lhotse, the world’s fourth highest mountain at 8516 meters. Is there so much as a remote possibility of me pulling this off – any part of it, not to mention the whole undertaking? Hardly. This is a very unrealistic plan, with, perhaps, only a 5% chance of success, and even survival being… rather uncertain. These are not great odds, but they are good enough for me – an average person with dreams not fit for such. Cursed as I am with my unbridled imagination like Albert Camus’ Sisyphus is with his rock, I can’t help climbing and falling back, and climbing, and falling, over and over again.

Drop by if you would like to follow my preparation for the climb, which will undoubtedly be by far the hardest I have ever attempted, or simply the last.

Love,

Mila

Manaslu 2012

Manaslu

At this time last year I was preparing for my first 8000-meter peak expedition on Manaslu, the 8th highest mountain in the world. The climb was a fantastic learning experience. It showed me exactly what I had to do to prepare for the ascent of Everest, which I successfully completed last May. As those of you, who have been following my adventures for a while, know, I did not reach the summit of Manaslu last fall. When I was leaving the mountain, I wished but doubted that I could return one day – to thank it, in a way, for exposing to me my every weakness and, therefore, helping me grow as a climber and individual, as well as for introducing me to some of the best of my current friends. However, I didn’t think I would be coming back soon.

My original plan for this fall was to climb another 8000-er in the Himalaya called Makalu. The world’s 5th highest, the Black Mountain, as it is known, would have been a much more challenging ascent than any of my previous ones. Needless to say, I was very excited about it. I went to Khan Tengri with the sole purpose of training for it and, although the expedition in Kazakhstan was by no means a success, it did – paradoxically – give me the confidence I needed to attempt Makalu. However, my plans changed unexpectedly once I arrived in Kathmandu – the Makalu expedition had to be cancelled – and I was left with a hole in my schedule, plans and dreams the size of an 8000-er. The fact was all the more disappointing because I was dying to go back to the Himalaya, and go I would.

Tarke Sherpa smiling at the camera at Camp II on Manaslu

‘But why on Earth are you going to Manaslu again? Surely, you’re not one of those people, who can’t live with themselves unless they reach the summit?’ a lot of my acquaintances asked when I gave them the news. No, I don’t believe I am one of ‘those people’. However, I wanted to return, and I wondered what it would feel like to see ‘my first BIG love’ again. I don’t think of climbing Manaslu now as taking care of unfinished business: in coming back to the mountain, I will simply be returning to a place, which is dear to me in the company of people I enjoy climbing with.

Manaslu East Summit

‘It’s the same mountain! You’ll be bored!’ Not at all: just like a stunning opera performance is worth hearing again, a large wreck deep in the sea is worth a second dive, and a pristine white beach somewhere at the very edge of the world and its worries – another trip, Manaslu is more than worth coming back to, whether or not I have, in fact, changed as much as I like to think – which, I believe, I have. I am a different person now from the overwhelmed girl, who stumbled into base camp last year; I am certainly a different climber. With this in mind, I feel Manaslu 2012 will be nothing like Manaslu 2011, for better or worse.

To climb Manaslu I will once again join Phil Crampton’s Altitude Junkies. The expedition team leaves Kathmandu on the 1st of September, and should return after 40-45 days. You can follow us online via Phil’s regular dispatches at http://altitudejunkies.com/dispatchmanaslu12.html
This time I won’t promise to update my blog while I’m on the mountain (I never manage to do it, anyway), however, do check back once in a while because there will be access to Internet at base camp, and I may have the time and the inclination to blog. Otherwise, I will, as always, post a detailed account of the expedition when I return to Kathmandu. Drop by if you’re curious :)!

Love,

Mila

P.S.: I would like to dedicate the climb to my friend, Christophe Manfroi, who was lost in the Alps at the beginning of August.
You are with me always, mon ami: in my every step, in my every smile, in my every prayer to our mountain Gods, among whom I know you to be now.

Everest 2012

View of Everest from Renjo La

For a climber, especially a nonprofessional one, no mountain is just an enormous chunk of rock, ice and snow. Many of the ‘mountain people’ I know think of the peaks they climb almost as sentient beings, with unique faces and ‘personalities’. A ‘conquest’ of a mountain is often an overcoming of some inner obstacle to happiness or success for a mountaineer, a vanquishing of an enemy within, of whom the mountain is the embodiment. The mountain one chooses to climb must, therefore, bear certain resemblances to that inner enemy. Thus, climbers satisfied with proving themselves on a trekking peak of five-six thousand metres and those battling the many demons of Chogori or Chomolungma on long expeditions are, probably, rather different people.

The desire to climb Everest may not say much about the personality of a professional mountaineer, who is simply undergoing a sports ‘rite of passage’; an amateur’s choice to climb to the top of the world, however, is much more telling. Everest is the world’s highest climb in terms of altitude, price and prestige among non-mountaineers. During short ‘weather windows’ allowing climbers to reach Chomolungma’s summit, blasted almost year-round by the powerful jet stream, over two hundred people at a time may head into the ‘death zone’ above eight thousand metres in the first hours of the morning. For some, summit day on Everest ends in tragedy: the mountain is the last resting place for many climbers, suspended forever between reality and dream.

Although both the South/Nepal and the North/Tibet sides of the mountain are crowded, commercialized and still very dangerous to climb on, hundreds of people flock by the foot of Mother Goddess of the World every spring, along with their wounded egos and larger-than-life personal issues. This spring I will be among those people at the North Side base camp. How and why? By working day and night as well as selling my apartment; because my inner demons are, like the world’s tallest mountain, enormous.

I first ‘met with’ Everest three years ago, at its base camp in Nepal. It was a cloudy day in November, and I could feel rather than see the presence of something colossal and powerful close to me. It was like touching something you thought was just an idea, a concept, too grand to exist in the real world in solid form. I dared not imagine then that one day I would be planning to actually climb that half-real, half-dream mountain. However, last June I met a woman who made me believe that Chomolungma could and should be real for me; that it was something I needed to experience. ‘Just do it,’ she wrote on a photograph of her on the summit of Everest, and I decided that do it I would, no matter what it would cost me.

As frequent visitors to this blog will have observed, I have spent quite a long time in the mountains of Nepal between August and February: I climbed on Manaslu and Cholatse, and summited Chulu Far East, Ama Dablam and Ganchenpo. Although I tried to view each of the climbs as a meaningful experience in its own right, I was constantly mindful of the fact that each was a stepping stone towards Everest. Failures and successes of my expeditions have all contributed to the training process for a climb that can end in either. Whether I summit or not, whether or not I return, I have done my best to prepare for Everest, mentally and physically.

In the series of articles I will be posting in the course of the next couple of weeks, I will talk about how I trained for the expedition, the climb strategy and gear I will use, and, finally, my reasons for embarking on a pilgrimage to Chomolungma. Given that I’ll be posting from the moody St. Petersburg, which I am visiting before the climb, I will certainly be inspired to dilute the mountaineering broth with some whiny poetry.  Drop by if you’re curious.

Love,

Mila

One Day

My name now officially appears on the Manaslu expedition webpage. With just one day left till the start of the expedition, I am beginning to seriously worry and to question my decision to try my hand at climbing an 8000+ metre peak. The only reassurance I find in the whirlpool of doubts now surging in me is the knowledge that it’s too late to turn back. I am reminded of my first skydive several years ago: the training is over and I know that, falling through the sky, I will be left with whatever little I remember – it should be enough; the small airplane rises higher and higher, and the throbbing in my chest becomes unbearable: I find pleasure in feeling fear overflow me, certain as I am that in just a few minutes I will be stepping right over it and into cold morning air; it is my turn to jump and I do not hesitate for one instant; it is only when I’m already hanging off the strings of my parachute that I begin to doubt, and question, and fear again.

My mountaineering training is over, too: as I climb, I will employ whatever few skills I have; I will have at my disposal as much strength as I have managed to accumulate in my broken mess of a body over the past couple of months, and no more; I will most probably be the weakest climber on the team, and will have to deal with it with the help of the remnants of my confidence. Am I ready? No. Yet, in all probability, I will never be better prepared than I am now – or want to do it more than I do now.

The expedition will take 35-55 days to complete. It will bring together 11 climbers from the UK, US, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Colombia and Russia, who will be assisted by 8 climbing Sherpas and 6 cooks. The team will climb without supplementary oxygen – oxygen will only be used for medical purposes.

I have now got together all the necessary gear, of which I particularly adore the Marmot 8000 Metre down suit, the La Sportiva Olympus Mons mountaineering boots and the -40 degree Mountain Hardwear down sleeping bag. Just looking at those pieces of personal equipment reminds me how cold and tough the conditions are going to be up there. In total, over five tons of gear will travel to Manaslu base camp with the team to help us deal with those conditions. The team will have access to telephone and internet on the mountain but I have decided not to ‘stay connected’ unless it’s absolutely necessary: I want to focus entirely on the wonderful books I am taking with me, the people I will be surrounded by and, of course, The Mountain. I will, however, keep a journal and, once back in Kathmandu, I plan to publish some of the content in this blog.

Good luck and my best wishes to all of you who have been following my adventures in writing and mountaineering. I hope to be back here soon with more poems and stories for my readers.

Love,

Mila