Archive for the 'Travel' Category
The last 14-hrs have been a good one for our side in the long war against Islamic extremism. For over a decade, legion of professionals in and out of uniform have been trying to gather enough information on Osama bin Laden to give our leadership an opportunity to bring him to justice. Especially since 9/11, finding this man has been a career field of its own; success is sweet. This is their moment.
In the first wave after the word came out we have seen euphoria, pride, and thanks to all of those who executed an almost flawless mission. Every individual in this chain of professionals can take pride they truly were part of an important event in this war – and reminded the world again the capabilities of our nation’s military when opportunity meets preparation. No other nation could have done this.
Everyone, I hope, is taking time in their own way to bask in this first wave. From the MIDN at Annapolis, to NYC, to the people on my street who were lighting off fireworks at 1am – it was good to be able to celebrate. Enjoy the wave while you can – for most it will peak this afternoon – after that, we need to ponder the second wave.
The second wave is sober reflection.
As the adrenaline wears off, the coffee kicks in, and the mind starts to sort things out – certain facts should come to the front of the sober mind.
- Check the Operational Diagram. This is not an end state. This is not a “mission accomplished.” This war is not over. Osama’s death is a decisive point – in a way an inflection point. In both a practical and symbolic manner, his death is a victory for us – but only in the proper context. Osama started a franchise operation. When Ray Kroc passed – McDonalds did not go away. There is much more work to be done – this is no time to rest, as the enemy will not rest.
- Review your Sun Tsu. Though we can define it in any way we wish – often times you are in a war that is defined by your enemy. He wages war for his own reasons, so you need to recognize that so you know the war you are in. This war did not start with 9/11, and it doesn’t end now. This is not a global war against terror – terror is only a tactic. This is a war of culture, religion, world view, and grievance. This is a war with an enemy working within a decentralized, distributed network of command and control – regenerating, morphing, and regrouping with remarkable effectiveness. Their end state is nothing less than the destruction of your culture and way of life. Some may hope that Osama’s death will roll up terror, but hope isn’t a plan and that isn’t how this war will end. Hopefully we snagged enough paper and electronic records at the compound along with his body that we can roll up a lot of Osama’s organization, but that is like picking crabgrass out of your yard by hand – effective in a fashion, but not a cure. The weeds will come back.
- From FMJ to Tinfoil. Osama body is now in the possession of Hagfish – yet we need to watch how his legend morphs. Most of his followers live in cultures that are soaked in conspiracy theories. Nothing is as it seems, and behind every clear act there is really a back story of intrigue and deceit. With no body to examine – conspiracies will flourish. Take the JFK assassination industry here and add a couple of decimal points, then you might get close.
- Face and Payback. Things may tamp down a bit as lower level commanders hit the mattresses to preserve themselves until they know the extent of what we got from the compound. Others may want to get revenge for their commander directly or if they have access, they may pull the trigger on sleeper cells. Hard to know, but we should expect that with the killing of their figurehead – the enemy has an extra motivation to get revenge for losing face. Hope that they are too busy saving themselves to plan external operations in the near future – but be prepared for the fact that they can run operations as well as they did in 9/11 and they are a very patient lot.
There we are. A good day. A great day for our Navy SEALs and their supporting commands in Southwest Asia. It is good to remind others about our reach – this is a good Ref. A.
We also need to give a nod to the Commander in Chief. I am sure he was counseled about Desert One. Some probably advised him to go the route of bombing and cruise missile strikes. He didn’t do that though. Some group in his/our national security team briefed him on what was needed – up close and personal with terminal effect. He approved that action – high risk, high reward. Right call – right outcome.
There is another practical take-away as you get through the second wave – another lesson identified for the professional. Technology has its limits, as do precision/smart weapons. Since Publius Horatius, Spurius Lartius, and Titus Herminius Aquilinus stood at the head of the Pons Sublicius – it has always been a man at arms closing the enemy face to face that makes the difference – everything else is supporting arms. This century it was true with Saddam, his sons, and now Osama.
War is not new. It never has been. It never will be. Tools may change – but the essentials remain.
Celebrate, but prepare.
Surely, many of you are familiar with the news of four Americans who were captured when their vessel the S/V QUEST by pirates a couple days ago while sailing their yacht through pirate-infested waters. This morning their voyage ended.
In a statement, US Central Command said that negotiations were underway between the US Navy and the pirates, when the US forces heard gunfire coming from the Quest about 0600GMT.
They boarded the ship, killing two pirates in the process, and discovered the four Americans shot. The US Navy sailors attempted to provide first aid but the hostages died, the military said.
“As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors,” Gen James Mattis of US Central Command Commander said in a statement.
“We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest,” the statement added.
The US Navy captured 13 pirates, and found the remains of two other pirates already dead about the vessel, the US military said. – BBC News
I have to say that I am surprised to hear this news, partly because you think that God might be watching over them given the bible mission that they were conducting. But relying on God to protect you as you plan to travel through pirate-infested waters is no plan at all. After-all the pirates pray to God too and are holding hundreds of seafarers hostage, not to mention a ship full of yachts whose owners were not interested in sailing through the area on their own. Their website makes no mention of the threat of pirates in their 2011 travel plans (page here). But given that pirates have been taking vessels as a revenue-generating scheme, and that live prisoners are worth lots more than dead ones, I just expected them to either end up ashore and hidden in Somalia or wait it out while the US Navy prevents them from taking them ashore.
I am not sure what the lessons are to be learned here that are not already known. But for the benefit of those still tempted to run the gauntlet, here is a reminder:
- Yachts are extremely vulnerable
- Even if the Navy comes to your rescue, it very well might be too late
- The close quarters of a yacht keep you in close contact with pirates at all times, including during any attempt to retake the vessel
- Pirates are very willing to kill their captives
- If attacked, it is extremely important to keep the pirates from getting access to the crew
Piracy in the area is spreading and turning into a free-for-all for the pirates. The game is over for the 13 the Navy caught while retaking the vessel, but the pirates seem to be running the board at the moment.
So, what criminal charges do the 13 face back in the US and might the death penalty be on the table?
Here is confirmation that they knew what they were sailing into:
Friends of a US couple aboard a yacht hijacked off Somalia on Friday say the pair knew their journey was risky, but were determined to press on with their Christian mission.
In an email sent days before they went missing, Scott and Jean Adam described plans to stay out of touch to hide their location from pirates. – BBC News
Three more very important lessons here:
- You can’t hide from pirates in the open ocean. It’s like trying to hide in the middle of an empty football field.
- The pirates are most likely to be where you want them least.
- Help is least likely to be where you want it most. A warship 30 miles away is an hour away from helping you. (outside of helo assistance)
Always the most powerful and enduring of Man’s weapons.
How they are spread has always been an obsession with repressive dictatorships, who have traditionally gone great lengths to control or eliminate those means.
Clearly, new media has emerged which accelerates the spread and increases the exposure to those ideas. Just after midnight, Egypt provided echoes of the violent and brutally suppressed Teheran protests following the “elections” of 2009. This from the Associated Press:
Internet and cell phone services, at least in Cairo, appeared to be largely cut off since overnight in the most extreme measure so far to try to hamper protesters form organizing. However, that did not prevent tens of thousands from flooding the streets.
And just what ideas are so powerful, so feared by Egypt’s government? Well, they are not new.
“It’s time for this government to change,” said Amal Ahmed, a 22-year-old protester. “I want a better future for me and my family when I get married.”
Interesting times, these.
Perhaps, also, this should give us pause before handing our own government the authority to have a “kill switch” for the Internet and electronic communications. Yes, the idea is being conceived as a protection of US critical infrastructure in the event of a national emergency. Yet once authorized, such a capability is more or less permanently resident, for whatever purpose, in the hands of the government.
History has shown us that granting overreaching emergency powers to a government is an emergency unto itself. Until the result is a fatal cure for whatever the disease might be. That’s not a situation we should ever be willing to risk.
Some VERY interesting details, some of which will likely be hard to prove. But if they are even true by half, the United States Government (and DoD) may want to reconsider how “secure” they consider their critical networks, and just how ready we are for a major cyber event.
From the Prosecutor’s proffer of charges:
The government’s evidence of the defendant’s guilt of the charged crimes, as well as uncharged criminal activity, demonstrates his position as an extremely sophisticated and dangerous computer hacker. At the time of the defendant’s arrest, Secret Service agents seized a heavily encrypted laptop computer that was in his possession. This computer contained a massive quantity of stolen financial account data and personal identifying information, including more than 400,000 credit card, debit card and bank account numbers, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1029 and 1028A (Counts One and Two).
In his post-arrest statement, the defendant admitted compromising the computer servers of a number of major financial institutions and companies. For example, the defendant admitted that he compromised a computer network of the Federal Reserve Bank (“FRB”) by exploiting a vulnerability he found within their secure system. The FRB in Cleveland, Ohio has confirmed that an FRB computer network was hacked in approximately June 2010, resulting in thousands of dollars in damages, affecting ten or more FRB computers, and forming the basis for Counts Three and Four.
The defendant’s seized computer also contains evidence of additional and very significant hacking activity. For example, the defendant possessed data illegally obtained from the computer network of FedComp, a data processor for various credit unions in the United States. By hacking into the FedComp system, the defendant had unauthorized access to the data of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York Federal Credit Union and the Mercer County New Jersey Teachers’ Federal Credit Union, among other victims. The defendant also admitted to compromising the computer networks of several major international banks and companies, and admitted earning money by finding and exploiting network vulnerabilities or trading and selling the information contained therein.
The defendant has not limited his criminal conduct to compromising financial institutions. The government has obtained evidence that his cybercrime activities extend to the national security sector. For example, in approximately August 2010, the defendant hacked into the secure computer system of a major Department of Defense contractor, which provides systems management for military transport and other highly sensitive military operations. These are but a few examples of the government’s evidence of the defendant’s criminal hacking activity targeting the United States’ financial and national security systems.
What was that part about a Defense Contractor and systems management for military transport systems?
Let me say it again. As for the “umbrella” DoD believes they are providing, it has to include myriad Defense Contractors, and everyone that touches those Contractors, and everyone they touch, and everyone who touches them, and in turn, everyone they touch….
One other thing. It may be tricky for the Prosecution in a public trial to provide “proof” without revealing technical, intelligence, and HUMINT capabilities we don’t necessarily want the world to know. Even with multi-source “attribution”, finding the suspect took nearly a year. Which in terms of the damage that can be inflicted with such cyber exploits, might as well be a half-dozen millenia.
Tucked into Charlestown Navy Yard are several true treasures of American Naval history. Of course, the main attraction is Old Ironsides, the world-renowned USS Constitution, one of the US Navy’s six frigates, berthed at Pier 1. There are many other buildings and structures, including the Marine Barracks, and the museum building, rich in tradition and history, and worth the Boston traffic battle. (Boston Maggie, by the way, is apparently an honorable Grand Admiral or something, having grown up within sight of “Chaahhlstown Navy Yahhhd”, and able to arrange just about anything for anybody, if she likes you.)
But beginning early on Monday morning, 9 August 2010, two of the other wonderful and historic attractions have been intertwined, as the World War II Fletcher-class destroyer Cassin Young (DD-793) slipped into the ancient but still working Drydock Number One for her first drydocking since her arrival in Boston from her purgatory in mothballs at Philadelphia.
From all tales told by docents and National Park Service folks, Cassin Young was in some rough shape, and needed repairs to hull plating that had seen the light of day only once since her mothballing in the Spring of 1960 (that was in 1978, upon her arrival in Boston). She was leaking and the museum was wary of even the “weather turn-around” which had been conducted periodically.
As the water drained away, the signs of decades-long immersion in the warmish salt water were apparent, as the images of her screws and rudder (above) clearly show.
After a great deal of scraping, the condition of the hull plates, sonar dome (the downward protrusion from the hull in the center picture above) and the shafts, screws, and rudder are clearer. What say you, Byron? Can you tell from these photos how she is faring?
Even though I seem to be a magnet for showing up at museum ships that are closed, (right Maggie?) sometimes in doing so, I find a gem or two. I am thrilled that Cassin Young is undergoing this 4-month drydocking. She is one of only a handful of Fletchers remaining in existence, and has been largely restored to her World War II configuration.
I shudder to think of what the underside of the unique and irreplaceable USS Olympia looks like. Somehow, some way, funds need to be found for the dredging, drydocking, and repair of the last remnant of America’s steel Navy.
If we do not preserve the few remaining examples of the great and rich history of the United States Navy, we will have done a great disservice to the men who made that history. Perhaps we will be doing an even greater disservice to tomorrow’s sailors, severing forever a link with a glorious and heroic past.
UPDATE: My reference of 1978 for the last drydock of Cassin Young is in error. It should read 1980, when she arrived at Boston. She was still in Philadelphia in 1978.
(Thanks, Jack Swanson, for pointing that out!)
I made it!
Via the North Face.
This is the sixth in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest
I just returned to Everest Base Camp (BC) after the most challenging 8 days of my life. I am unshaven, extremely dirty, feeling the initial effects of frostbite, starving and physically and mentally exhausted (See Photo “Return to Everest BC”)… but at 4:19 AM on Sunday May 23rd, after a 10 hour climb from Camp 3 (See Photo “Hike to Camp 3”), Kaji and I watched the sun rise over Tibet from the summit of Mt. Everest.
Words can not convey the beauty of that particular sunrise or the feeling of accomplishment and joy of having attained the summit with my teammate, Kaji. I am thankful that I prepared properly and that we had (and made the most of) our opportunity for success.
Heck, I’m so hungry I’m willing to eat broiled Yak… or raw… (See Photo: “Kap eats Yak”)
Due to a camera malfunction on the summit (read “my $300 camera froze as soon as I pulled it from my down suit), I have to wait for Kaji to have his summit photos developed (read “Kaji’s circa 1980 camera that cost $12 worked well”) before sharing. However, all photos and a recap of the final 8 days of climbing will be part of my corporate presentation on “Leadership and Overcoming Adversity” and will also be made available to all 2010- 2011 Program clients.
“You never know what is ‘enough,’ until you know what is more than enough” – William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Ironman.com explains the why behind Eric’s grueling climbs and competetions:
“My mother always told me if you want to change something,” he says, “then get yourself to the position where you can change it.”
There will be one constant for Kapitulik. He’ll continue racing Ironman triathlons, partially because The Few, The Proud . . . they like testing themselves physically. Once a Marine, always a Marine, Kapitulik will enter the Marine Corps Reserves upon being discharged. But Kapitulik’s Ironman dedication goes far deeper than any personal challenge.
He must preserve the memories of those seven military men who died under his command in a frightening helicopter crash off San Diego on Dec. 9, 1999. Kapitulik and 10 others were the lucky ones. They survived the crash. Between them, the seven men who died left behind six children. Since the accident, Kapitulik has raced four Ironman races, each time raising money toward a college education fund for the six youths.
“This has become his mission,” says Kapitulik’s long-time girlfriend, Melissa Marinaccio. “His top priority is to make sure those families are taken care of, never lonely and never wanting for things. He talks about them just about every day.”
It was a reconnaissance-training mission, the final evaluation check-off before Kapitulik and his command departed a month later for the Persian Gulf. Marines and Navy SEALs were to descend a rope, land aboard a ship and simulate a takeover. Thirty seconds before the helicopter was to begin hovering over the ship, Kapitulik, as he always did, glanced outside a window, gauging the helicopter’s arrival.
“It seemed like the ship was coming into view pretty fast,” he says.
The opening where the men were to repel onto the ship, which was already open, is called the “hell hole.” Later, some of the surviving Marines said they sensed the helicopter was flying lower than usual. “The down force of the blades was causing water to spray up into the helicopter,” Kapitulik says.
Still, he didn’t think disaster loomed. He had safely flown similar missions at least 15 times.
“You just have faith nothing’s going to happen,” he says.
Seconds later, the helicopter crashed into the side of the ship’s steel netting. The 18 men inside the helicopter were thrown forward. When the pilot applied power to the engines, trying to lift the chopper, the helicopter spun round and round like a fan because the wheels were stuck in the ship’s steel netting. More
As you read this, I am attempting to summit Everest.
Via the North Face.
This is the fifth in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest, leading to his planned ascent on or about May 19th.
May 15, 2010
I have spent the last eight days staring at a wind and snow swept Chomolungma from Everest Base Camp (BC). High winds and severe cold have made a summit attempt impossible. That is about to change…
After studying the most recent weather forecasts for the Everest Region, my climbing partners and I have decided to leave BC on Sunday morning, May 16th to attempt our final assault on Mt. Everest. We will depart BC early and hike to Interim Camp (IC) at 18,000’. After an early breakfast on Monday morning, we will continue to hike up the East Rongbuk Glacier to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 21,000’. The plan is to spend two or three days at ABC before continuing our climb to The North Col/ Camp 1 at 23,500’ on Wednesday, May 19th or Thursday, May 20th.
Departing Camp 1 to Camp 2 represents our commitment to a summit attempt so we will be checking weather frequently after arriving to see how conditions are improving/ deteriorating at higher altitudes. Right now, although the weather looks good, it is still very unpredictable. Should we decide to continue, it will be an approximate 6- 8 hour hike to Camp 2 (25,250’) where we will spend the night prior to departing for Camp 3 at 27,000’.
During our 6 hour hike to Camp 3 the following day, we will cross into “The Death Zone,” the altitude where our bodies lose the ability to regenerate and slowly begin to die. Upon reaching Camp 3, we will eat and rest as much as possible for a few hours before departing for the summit of Mt. Everest at 29,028’ (approx Sunday, May 23rd).
After a successful summit, we will head as far back down the mountain as possible based on our own physical and mental condition, time and weather. Although the primary goal is to get back down out of The Death Zone, I would like to return as far as Camp 1 where I will spend the night prior to returning to ABC and BC.
I hope to be able to email you a photo from the top of the world in 8- 12 days. I can’t promise that I will be able to do so, but I do promise that I have prepared my body for the challenge I am about to subject it. Further, I promise that I will try my best…
As you read this, I am attempting to summit Everest.
Via the North Face.
This is the fourth in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest, leading to his planned ascent on or about May 19th.
I returned to Base Camp (BC) yesterday (Saturday) evening after 7 days on Mt. Everest. We departed last Saturday morning and hiked to Interim Camp (IC) at 18,000’. My acclimatization is apparently working as the 7 mile trip (3,000’ elevation gain) took me 3 hours and 25 minutes (almost an hour faster than the first time I attempted this hike). I arrived at IC and after getting settled in my tent, I went to the dining tent (we have separate, larger dinning tents at BC, IC and Advanced Base Camp (ABC)). Since arriving at IC, I had been patting myself on the back over the speed in which I arrived there. I went inside the dinning tent and met a trekking group that was hiking to ABC. One of the group’s members was a 110lb woman from France (Lawrence). Her friend happened to be speaking to another of the group’s members and mentioned that Lawrence had completed the same hike in 3 hours and 7 minutes. I congratulated Lawrence on the speed in which she completed the hike and she assured me that, “the second time you try the hike, you’ll be much faster too…”
It snowed all night and after breakfast we departed for ABC into a driving head wind and 10 inches of standing snow. After almost 2 ½ hours of hiking and approximately an hour from ABC, I needed to take a rest, get a drink of water and eat a Powerbar. I cleaned the snow off of a rock, pulled my coat/hood around me and sat down drinking and eating with frozen hands. We had left our winter, climbing boots at ABC so I sat there whining to myself about my light, La Sportiva trekking boots, medium weight Smartwool socks and my accompanying numb and frozen toes: picture me sitting on a rock, snow whipping around me entering every open crack in my clothing, talking out loud about how miserable I am and how frozen and painful my toes and fingers are. After five minutes of sitting and complaining, a Sherpa comes walking over the small hill to my left, whistling. The Sherpa was carrying a backpack three times the size of my own, had no gloves and was wearing a baseball cap and Salomon trail running sneakers with no socks… And I repeat, he was w- h- i- s- t- l- i- n- g, whistling!!!
It reminded me that a) toughness is a relative term and b) no matter how tough you think you are, be confident that there are at least 10 people (and 100 Sherpas) who are tougher…
Like my second hike to IC, I completed the hike to ABC (6 miles and 3,000’ elevation gain) almost an hour faster than my first attempt (of course, I was looking behind me the entire hike ensuring that I was kicking Lawrence’s butt)!
After four days at ABC, Diula, a climbing Sherpa and I departed ABC on Friday morning at 5AM and climbed the almost 3,000’ vertical feet to The North Col/ Camp 1 in 5 hours (See Attached Photo: Diula and I, North Col in Background). The climb was challenging and steep (See Attached Photo: Up and Higher), but within my physical and mountaineering capabilities. Admittedly, I did require more than one break during our ascent…(See Attached Photo: A Needed Rest). Further, Diula is like American Express: do not leave home without it… He is a foot shorter and weighs 50lbs less than me, but is just a monster in the mountains. I can only hope that eventually my mountaineering skills will resemble his own.
Shortly after arriving at Camp 1 (See Attached Photo: The North Col), I forced myself to eat two packets of noodle soup and stowed the gear that I will be using higher on the mountain during our summit push/climb. I was also able to shoot off a few emails (but when you only have connectivity by figuratively standing on one leg, sticking your bb up in the air and waving it around while at the same time having to bend over due to lack of oxygen- emails don’t seem very necessary). For dinner, I had another packet of soup and then went to sleep at 7PM. Other than a midnight bathroom visit, I slept through the night till 5AM Saturday morning. I had no altitude headaches and although my appetite was small, it was better than most when arriving at 24,000’. Typically, you would prefer to spend 2 nights at North Col/Camp 1 prior to your summit push, but with bad weather blowing in and no altitude sickness related symptoms, Diula and I returned to ABC on Saturday morning in approximately 2 hours. I then had a quick breakfast and continued the 13 mile hike back down to Base Camp.
I arrived back at Base Camp at approximately 4PM Saturday afternoon and after dinner and a long night’s rest, I awoke this morning and enjoyed my first shower in 10 days: a bucket of hot water and a bowl to scoop the water out of the bucket on to myself, soap/shampoo and then rinse with the remaining water… heaven!
In speaking with an Austrian team that is collocated with us at BC, it appears that there might be apossible weather window to attempt a summit bid on May 16th- 17th. If that is the case, we will be relaxing and recovering here at BC until Tuesday, May 11th or Wednesday, May 12th before beginning our ascent. Prior to starting our ascent of Chomolungma, I will send another dispatch to update everyone on our final plan for summiting Mt. Everest.
I hope everyone continues to be good team leaders and good teammates and prepares themselves everyday to fill either role.
“The proper function of man is to live… not to exist.” – Jack London
As you read this, I am attempting to summit Everest.
Via the North Face.
This is the third in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest, leading to his planned ascent on or about May 19th.
April 30, 2010
We have been in Base Camp (BC) for 3 days now and although living at 15,500′ is relatively pleasant (highlight “relatively”), I (we) did not come to Mt. Everest to look at it from 12 miles away. After looking at the weather reports for the next 5- 7 days, we have decided to leave tomorrow for the North Col/ Camp 1 where we will spend 2 nights (my plan last week before the avalanche made movement up to the North Col impossible).
We (Barry, Fernando, Jamie and I) will depart BC early Saturday morning and spend one night at Interim camp (18,000′), before moving to Advanced Base Camp (ABC- 21,000′) for two nights. We will depart ABC on Tuesday morning and move as a team up to the North Col/Camp 1 (23,000′) for two nights.
My teammates and I will then return to BC on Thursday morning. If the weather cooperates however and I continue to feel strong at the higher altitudes, I may begin my ascent to the summit alone with Kaji on Thursday morning. Kaji and I will spend one night at Camp 2 (25,000′), one short night at Camp 3 (27,000′) and then depart early Saturday morning (05/08/2010) for the summit (29,028′).
This would be an aggressive plan so early in the climbing season and weather (snow, high winds and extreme cold) may preclude us from doing so. If poor weather occurs, I will return to BC with the rest of our team on Thursday morning. We will then rest and recover for 2 or 3 days and then (weather dependent) make our summit attempt (with a tentative summit on May 18th or 19th).
Although it will be nice to summit next Saturday (and return home shortly thereafter), we will review all available weather reports/ information before making a decision that would allow me to do so. I would certainly like the opportunity, but not at the expense of frostbitten toes, fingers, nose (or worst). We shall see…
“Nec Aspera Terrent (Difficulties Be Damned)”
As you read this, I am attempting to summit Everest.
Via the North Face.
This is the second in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest, leading to his planned ascent on or about May 19th.
April 28, 2010
We just returned to Everest Base Camp (BC) after a very challenging 7 days above 21,000’. We left BC last Wednesday morning and hiked 6 hours covering approximately 7 miles to Interim Camp at approximately 18,000’. We awoke early Thursday morning and hiked for another 6 hours covering the final 5 miles to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) to 21,000’ (See Photo “Hike to Everest ABC”).
I felt strong throughout the hike, but arrived at ABC (like everyone else) with a raging altitude headache. As I sat in my tent shortly after arriving, I thought about all of the climbing photos in Patagonia or North Face catalogs. Photos are always of good looking, men and women smiling and shaking hands on the summit of mountains. Much more accurate would be photos of unwashed, exhausted, cold men and women sitting, bent over in full down pants and jacket with their heads being cradled in their hands trying to lessen the pain in their heads from too little oxygen…
We spent the next 5 days at ABC trying to acclimatize and taking day hikes in the surrounding area. At that altitude, everything takes 3- 5 times longer than what it would at sea level. As an example, just to go to the bathroom at night requires you to get fully dressed in down pants, down jacket, hats, gloves and boots. Then, on the way to the bathroom area (a designated rock), you will probably stop at least once or twice trying to catch your breath and give your brain and muscles enough oxygen to function. Going back to your tent requires the same functions to be performed in the opposite order. Further, at high altitudes, your appetite becomes non existent and you must force yourself to eat whatever you can just to give your body the energy it requires to survive and perform as effectively as possibly.
One of my teammates, Barry (South African, Diamond Merchant) was having a very challenging time acclimatizing and due to severe altitude headaches was sleeping only a few hours a night. After 4 nights, he decided to descend to BC for a few days to recover before returning to ABC. Fernando (Mexican, Doctor) was also struggling with acclimatizing and was limited in his ability to take hikes to higher altitudes. Fernando decided to stay at ABC, but not to climb higher. After 5 days at ABC, it was decided that I would move up higher alone with one climbing sherpa (Kaji- 27 years old) to the North Col/ Camp 1. Kaji and I would carry personal and team gear and equipment to the camp, acclimatize for two nights, return to ABC for a night and then hike all the way back to BC for a full recovery.
Monday was not a good day. I have spoken to some of you previously about climbing and the dangers of high altitude mountaineering. If we have had that conversation, there is a good possibility that you have heard me say that “mountains don’t kill people, bad decisions do… and I don’t make bad decisions.” I can’t say that any longer. I made one on Monday: Kaji and I awoke early, finished our packing and headed to the North Col. The North Col face begins approximately one hour climb above ABC. When we arrived, I looked at the face and thought to myself that it did not look good/safe. The route we would have to take up the face would bring us directly beneath not one, but numerous hanging seracs (a build up of overhanging snow). Further, Monday was the nicest day we had had at ABC and with no clouds in the sky the sun was already warming the snow on the route. There were climbers already on the face and Kaji and I decided to climb despite my uneasy feeling/ thoughts (to see what the North Col face looked like moments before our ascent of it, see attached photo “Everest North Col”).
Kaji and I decided that we could move quickly enough to get up and across the face fast enough that we would be ok. We ascended the face as temperatures continued to climb making the snow more unstable. Approximately 50 minutes into our ascent up the face, we heard a loud cracking sound above us and then the tell tale loud and thunderous rumbling sound of an avalanche. Kaji and I slammed our ice axes into the icy face and waited for the snow to rip us off the mountain. Thankfully, unbeknownst to both of us, there was a large crevasse (a long, big hole in the ice), that the avalanche fell into losing most of its power and resulting in Kaji and I being covered in only a harmless layer of snow. Unfortunately for two climbers just ahead of us (names and nationality intentionally left blank- at this time, I am not sure if the families have been notified), they were caught between the avalanche and the crevasse. The avalanche slammed into both climbers, sending them down the mountain and into the crevasse. One climber was hit by the full power of the avalanche. His climbing partner was hit, but not as violently. This climber, although injured, was able to ascend out of the crevasse after a short time. His partner who was in the middle of the avalanche when it hit them has still not been found.
Kaji and I rappelled down the face in case of further avalanches and waited at the foot of the face to see what, if anything, we could do. Jamie, our lead guide was following an hour behind us and saw the avalanche rip down the face and hit the two climbers. After making link- up at the foot of the face, the three of us waited for the injured climber to rappel down. We provided what little aid we could for him (i.e. gave him my down jacket and something to drink etc) as Jamie used our communication equipment to attempt to contact his climbing partner (to no avail). After an hour at the face, Kaji and I returned to ABC.
That night, the injured climber came to find us and had dinner with us. I believe he did so just to be surrounded by others who cared. Fernando looked over all of his injuries and provided great care and comfort. Despite the circumstances, watching someone do what they are passionate about at 21,000’ was impressive and made me realize yet again how fortunate I was to have Fernando as my teammate. After a very long night and bad weather blowing in, Fernando and I descended 12 miles in 7 hours into a stiff wind and snow back to BC to recover and prepare for our next assault on Everest (see attached photo “Return Hike to Base Camp”).
“I don’t want my life to be fun… I want my life to be real.” – Quote from injured climber who survived an avalanche earlier in the day on 04/26/2010 that took the life of his climbing partner.