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Pieter Nel

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Parchamo

Monday, 7 December 2009

So after leaving Namche I met up with the rest of the team again at Thame. It was good to be walking again, and I felt healthy and keen on the challenge of Parchamo. We overnighted in Thame and moved up to Parchamo base camp the next day. It was a stiff hike, gaining more than 1000m in altitude to get us to base camp at 4900m. Parchamo base camp is just a rock pile – very rough, and very cold. After another of Jangbu’s fantastic dinners, we hit our tents at 5:30pm. The next day we organised gear in the morning, and then started the hike up to high camp at lunch. High camp is at 5500m, and to get there we have to move up some very steep scree, and also move across a gully where there is a real danger of rockfall. It’s this gully, that becomes to dangerous to navigate after recent snowfall. I was feeling very strong moving up the mountain, and it was great to know that I recovered properly from my lung infection that cost me the Lobuche summit. However, the conditions moving up were brutal. There was extremely cold and strong winds coming from the Col where our high camp was to be pitched. Our sherpas were up on the higher parts of the mountain trying to fixe some rope, under severe conditions. We realised from the beginning that Parchamo will be a tough weather challenge. It’s known as a cold, windy, hard mountain to get up. It’s not as exposed as Island Peak or Lobuche – the challenge is handling the cold and the wind, and things like frostbite becomes a real risk on this ascent. We were about an hour from high camp when the sherpas reported that they’re having real difficulty fixing the last of the ropes, and that it’s become impossible to set up a high camp due to severe winds. Without a camp to spend a couple of hours in before we attempt the summit, our bid was doomed. But then, between our 4 climbing sherpas, they’ve gone up Everest a combined 20 times. When they say it’s too dangerous to continue, you tend to believe them. So Gary, our lead guide, made the call to retreat. It was a real bummer not to be able to continue, but Gary made a perfect call. Mountaineering is about getting home safe, not making the summit at all costs. So deciding to turn back set off a whole logistical curveball. We were just one hour from high camp, so going back suddenly made it a very long day for all of us. We got back into base camp by headlamp – dead tired. The sherpas and porters had to go up the mountain in the middle of the night to retrieve tents and gear. With limited tent space at base camp, this led to all of us crowding into 2 tents until the rest arrived. Quite a party. Yet, Jangbu astounded again. With short notice he produced a full 3-course dinner, including an excellent cake! We passed out shortly afterwards for some 12 hours of sleep with high winds buffeting our tents.

The next day we packed up base camp and hiked back down to the village of Thame. With the expedition basically over, everyone started to relax. (it’s a very focused group when you’re attempting a serious mountain – it’s a full-time job looking after yourself just to be in a position to get up there). Thame is also the village where sherpa Tenzing Norgay was born, and we stayed in a lodge just 50m from his humble birthplace. That night, our sirdar Passing organised that we all have a party together. Many expeditions kind of ignore the extremely hard work of the porters, yak drivers etc, and the groups keep very separate from each other. We wanted to show our gratitude so at 6pm we had everyone piled into the dining room of the Sunshine Lodge. This included every single one of our porters, our yak driver, all the climbing sherpas and all the cook boys. In total the expedition counted around 30+ people. After bonuses (which we pooled money for) were handed out, everyone was liberally plied with rum (for the westerners), and chang (local beer) for the others. So 2 hours later, here we were, at 4000m, deep in the Himalayas, very far from any civilization, having a HUGE party. iPods were found and spliced into a sound system which magically appeared. It was hard dancing all night long, to the sounds of ABBA and local Nepali pop. Truely one of the most surreal parties I’ve been to.

With severe hangovers, we first visited sherpa Mingma’s house in Thame the next morning, before moving back to Namche. Mingma took us into his house, and plied us with tea, and beer. And yes, it couldn’t be refused, so there we were drinking chinese-brewed Lhasa beer at 9am in the morning. It was excellent. Mingma made us feel very welcome, and also put a kata (silk scarf) around each of our necks. With all that done, we walked down to Namche Bazaar, where we’re overnighting in the Khumbu lodge again, before walking down to Lukla tomorrow. On Thursday we fly from Lulka to Kathmandu, and thus endeth our expedition.

I’m somewhat disappointed on missing out on Lobuce due to health issues, but it’s just one of those things one has to accept. I’m actually very satisfied with the Parchamo effort. I proved to myself that I could recover from illness and attempt a big mountain again shortly afterwards. I was going strong and would have made the summit, were it not for the weather. Happy with the effort. Mountaineering relies a lot on a bit of luck weather and healthwise, and one has to accept those things. The Buddhists believe that if you’re on a pilgrimage (which this trip really is to me), these curveballs get thrown at you to see if you’re serious about going the whole way. I’m satisfied that I handled them all well.

So my Parchamo effort is dedicated to my good friend Eldre. We’ve known each other for a long time and have done some interesting travel together ourselves. (I once, while spending the night on a pavement outside Barcelona Sainz station due to missed train, vowed to protect her against Catalan drug-dealers with a tent-pole. It’s a long story).

I’m very proud of the work she’s doing with PLWC, and she’s a real example to others that sometimes one gets sick, but that it can be overcome, and one can climb life’s mountains again afterwards. And mostly you’re so much stronger that you can now even climb bigger mountains. And that is what I believe she’s doing with PLWC. It’s a very noble cause and I sincerely hope you reading this support PLWC financially if you can, or by becoming a cancer buddy, if you’ve travelled that path yourself. Please take the time to make a donation at GivenGain.com. It’s an easy, secure credit-card payment and will do a lot of good.

Expect one last post when we’re back in Kathmandu.

Pieter

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