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On Everest, Hummer Daydreams of Beaches and Waves -- April 1, 2003


By Craig Hummer

EVEREST BASE CAMP, May 27. I'M assuming most of you had a glorious Memorial Day weekend! The holiday, no doubt, ushered in the sounds, sights, and smells of summer. I wish I could say the same up here.

Day #33 here in Base Camp has dawned much like the thirty-two before, with frigid temperatures, frost-covered zippers, morning tea, and a breathtaking view of Chomolungma, Mt. Everest.

One of our cameramen and I set out the other day on
the West Ridge of the Rongbuk Valley, in the hopes of
hitting a new “altitude record.” We struggled for over
4 ½ hours up a 60-70% pitch, and topped out at 20,610
feet. We then set our sights on 21,000 feet, which we
felt we could accomplish with a little more effort.

The “little” effort became Herculean in nature when we
realized we were traversing a ridge that, on both
sides, dropped off at close to 80-85 degrees. Add to
that wind that was gusting at over 40 mph, and we
realized we had perhaps cooked our own goose.

It was another one of those “hold onto your hats”
type of climbs, and especially the descent, which I
will reveal in a second. Up on the ridge, we sucked
down water and a few Clif Bars, and then contemplated
life and our own existence. Interesting how the
mountains make one question meaning in almost
everything. Frankly, I was just glad to be alive.

After following a black line on the bottom of a pool
for over thirty years, sometimes the expansiveness of
my surroundings can be overwhelming. Composed, and
ready to retreat, we began to look for our avenue off
the mountain.

Our traverse had given us a few options not available
when we stood on our first “summit.” The scariest way
down, yet most cost-effective from a time standpoint,
was a straight descent down a scree drainage. Imagine
the sort of drop off you see in the Extreme Skiing
Championships, and that’s what we threw ourselves off
of. Scree, for those of you who may not know, is rock
that has broken off from the bigger boulders that
ranges in size from dust to basketball-sized chunks.
Depending on your speed, agility, and guts, you can
travel great distances in very short amounts of time.

We hurled ourselves from the heights of the mountain
with the speed of a downhill racer; constantly looking
ahead to see what we were about to run into, and very
concerned with the pitch at which we were losing
altitude, but gaining speed.

Those of you who are skiers know the feeling. With
skis however, there is a general sense of fluidity to
your course. We were more like kamikaze pilots - except
we were trying to avoid anything that would constitute
a “target.”

After well over an hour, we had come to the first of a
few “plateaus” that allowed us to empty our stone-
filled shoes, and take a much-needed break. The
hard part was over, thank goodness. I felt more pain
then the time my swim coach made me do 10 x 400 meters
fly! Now that’s saying something.

Back at Base Camp, the normal routine has become a
countdown. We are still “on” for our summit bid, but
with a few qualifications. It’s no longer a true
live telecast. We have to record the attempt and then race to Kathmandu to feed it to you all back home. Now, I hear this is unique, so I guess we have that feather in our cap. The roughly ten-hour drive into Nepal will not be easy, however. Even after we have crossed the border and left the lovely, overly
hospitable country of China in our wake, we still have
regional checkpoints and fiefdoms to get through.

If and when we arrive in Kathmandu, we’ll send the
feed out, and you all should get the show sometime on
Friday, May 30th, or Saturday, May 31st. I apologize that I can not be more specific.

We have had two more climbers back out of the Everest
bid. Colleen Inkhen decided not to go on before the rescue attempt. Petit Pinson has since called off her bid, citing that her energy was tapped during the rescue. It really is a courageous story that the Global Extremes climbers helped close to a dozen people off the mountain. Here’s the kicker: almost half of the people they saved have refused to acknowledge they needed any help. One man, who was completely snow-blind, went so far as to say that he thought our climbers were afraid to try for the summit, and used the “rescue” as an excuse. This was the same man that needed TWO PEOPLE to bring him off the mountain!!

My time as a lifeguard has me all too aware of that
mental state. My lifeguard buddies will attest, we are
lucky if 25% of the people we save thank us afterward.
Oh well. As my co-host Conrad Anker said, “The
unwritten rule of the mountains is you help people.
Period. Because the next time it might be you.”

I can safely say, I do not foresee myself on a
mountain anytime soon!

It’s time to go home, please…

A lot of the crew I’m working with will be with me in
France, when I host the Tour de France coverage, and
Lance’s Drive for Five. We laugh that the grind of
switching hotels for thirty days in a row will be a
piece of cake compared to this. I would have to agree
whole-heartedly. This has been a grind of epic
proportions. I’m not sure I would in good faith, or
clear-conscience advise ANY of you to come here and
try this. Hey, everyone is entitled to their own
opinion, but give me a beach, a few waves, a nice cold
beverage, and some friends, and I’ll be happy!

:-)

Keep your fingers crossed for us that Chomolungma opens her arms, and her heart, to our climbers in a few days. I’d like to be home before the fireworks on July 4th!

:-)