Dispatch 18: Re entry

Yellow knee high rubber boots. What do you think when you see them? I used to think they were cute, forgotten style…until I saw over 200 pairs of them marching on our return trek toward the airport town of Tumlingtar. Funny choice of footwear for carrying a 100lb. load I thought.
So directed to were my thoughts on the descent, constantly sidestepping, sliding and plunging through mud thicker and stickier than brownie batter. Feet were on my mind, losing them meter by meter…gaining them inch by inch And then my mind was on my feet, drying them, clearing clay from their soles and propping them up at the end of the day. On some days Jon, Josh and I would traverse more than 20 miles, others we would only make it in slightly less. What ground took us 15 days to cover on our way in we floated on the way out through mud filled gullies and streaming water in 5 days. These mountains are mysterious, but no longer are the yellow knee high boots What contrast to our experiences up high, what an epic journey through miles of country.
The landscape at 23,390′ Baruntse was sterile, sandy and dry. Brown and White. Merciless cold lived there. The forests and jungle are lush and alive, thriving like a giant oxygen churning organism. To taste this landscape after the deprivation of remoteness at altitude is like sipping water but tasting a milkshake.
Sometime it’s overwhelming too. I think these experiences can certainly always be compartmentalized, but usually they just distill to a couple of personal moments to me. When I think back on this expedition, there will only be two moments which really stand out. The first was on the icy rib on the Northeast face of Baruntse. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon, loose sugary snow spun in violent twirling gusts all along the smooth sculpted spine to my right and I was deep into climbing through it. This felt like scaling just along the inside of a snow and ice covered sharks fin…800′ tall, and with an altitude of over 20,700′ the thin air impacted climbing as if we were drifting against a fast moving current. The sun was falling to the west and I climbed to narrow edge of it and peaked over. I saw what I needed to see.
It was likes watching clouds play with fire on mountain walls so grand even up close a body would be smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. There are no storms like storms in these mountains, this is the last land between us and outer space, that is visually clear at times. Having followed that up with a rescue of my teammate after 4 days pinned in the biggest storm this season, I know not many living people have seen that.
The second moment was more endearing. As we trekked out from basecamp and on the 2nd day reached the area above Kongma, I couldn’t walk. I mean…I COULD NOT WALK. The landscape was suddenly that stunning, instantly I was overcome and frozen by it’s contrast. We had spent nearly three days in thick fog, hiking right into it with visibility so poor in the end it was hard enough just keeping your eyes on the trail. It started with some drizzle, progressed to rain and then finally…a brief clearing just before sunset. From a rocky knob like the Chimney tops in the Smoky Mountains I could see a 360° view. Clouds were layered like cheesecloth stratifying environmetal zones from jungle to craggy snow covered peak. The sun just squeezed through a tiny letter box and illuminated the bushy densely vegetated mountainsides miles right of the trail. And I longed to be there with my wife and our dog. It was a nice moment to be thankful for this wonderful life. It was the first time I had taken my mind off of the mountains after the climb, the one that would continue to steer my sore feet through miles of trail and days of dampness. The monsoon is here, finally I got to see it too. A little deeper every year we go, Josh Butson, Jon Miller and I. This year will total 51 days. 47 before a shower, 15 to basecamp, 4 too high. All of them worth it. With the greatest partners in the world.
But then what?
We’re coming back to finish the climb. Baruntse 2010. This route is incredible and something we’re comitted to working toward and completing. Climbing this route and dropping a ski descent is what we will do, still with safety and in a lightweight environmetally alpine style. I haven’t returned to a mountain in a while, this is the one to come back to…and the time in Nepali history is incredible.
Of course, just as we were marooned on the steep slopes of Baruntse we have been caught here in Kathmandu for a lengthy spell too waiting for a flight And Kathmandu is crazy. Actually, I have to rephrase that, Thamel is crazy. Hotelling it in the hard selling heart of the retail district is like being in Vegas with no car. The revolution that is occuring here is like the new 60’s, shopowners say. Just hold on to your wallet until you walk out the door.
Thin western people with bright red faces and raccoon eyed sunglass tans are on laptops in one restaurant. Out in the streets Everest climbers and other high altitude trekkers greet and congratulate each other, large groups of them. There are the expatriates, the tiger balm and “smoke hashish”salesman at every corner, or every 60 feet, whichever is first…the flute salesman, the beggars. But no robbers. No pickickets and no problems. The locals are nice. The selling can be annoying, but for a city that goes on strike tomorrow to demand more from the government, the safety is incredible. Something I will always appreciate about Nepal. Civility.
As we had dinner last night next to a Nepali percussion, brass and dancing ensemble the true sound of westernization lightly drew our attention away from dinner and then hammered us like an iron fist. It was rock and roll. Really good Rock and Roll from the time when Josh and Jon and I were discovering it. Pearl Jam, Candlebox, Dire Straits, Guns and Roses…and the mother of all encores. We paid the bill and walked upstairs two flights to this bar. Here was a slamming good band covering deep cuts of more contemporary rock and roll in front of an audience of two hundred Nepalis, three brits…and us. Western music but totally local bar. We sat down for an hour, I couldn’t believe how great this show was. They knew Pink Floyd, They knew terrible power ballads…the singer had serious pipes and then as two girls got up and danced on the table the crowd got going and they ended the show with AC DC’s Highway to Hell. Wow, blew us away. Our twenty something pop culture has replicated here.
Time to go home.
Nepal has changed. Climbing, travelling, mountaineering…that’s part of it, but oh this incredible culture. Seeing it yearly is amazing and if nothing else entertaining. Seeing the mountains, even wilder. Join us next year at www.skithehimalayas.com
Live the dream,
Ben Clark

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