Parting thought: Take the next step!

I’ve been back in the good old US of A for two weeks now.  On reflection, I’d like to share a few thoughts in a final post to this blog:

  1. There is nothing like traveling abroad, especially in a third-world country, that makes one appreciate one’s home country.  Some things I have come to appreciate more:
    – American food and grocery stores!
    – clean air (wildfires notwithstanding)
    – freedom to travel unrestricted across our country (with no regular police or military checkpoints, as in China)
    – universality of the English language
    – modern roads, a reasonable traffic control system, and citizens who (mostly) abide by the traffic rules
    – a stable source of electrical power, and air conditioning
    – the accessibility of a host of great climbs right here in CO
    – did I mention the food?
  2. Mental cleansing and general decompression:  can you imagine having six weeks abstinence from email, internet, television, nightly news, cell phone, Facebook, etc.?!?  We didn’t see an airplane or a car for over a month.  Taking a retreat from tech reminds one how non-essential it truly is, leaving time simply to hang out with some climbing friends and good books, with a panorama of ice-covered peaks, a  starful of skies, and a few yaks.  As with climbing, it’s good for the soul to experience such liberation!   To be sure, I eventually had to wade through a ton of email upon my return (half of it from Facebook, begging me to return) but that is a small price to pay for the total shift of focus as we left civilization behind and immersed ourselves in the beauty and raw power of the Himalayas.
  3. Despite teaching our High Altitude Mountaineering students that one must “eat one’s way up the mountain”, that is easier said than done at altitude, where climbers burns a lot of calories just keeping warm, where one’s appetite is greatly diminished, and where the food is not always appetizing.  As it turned out, I lost about 10% of my body weight during the expedition.  In fact, I was a bit concerned going through airport security on the way home, after I removed my belt and lifted my arms for the security scan, that my pants would fall to the floor in the scanner!   I also lost about 10-20% of my strength (easy to estimate when I finally got back to the weights in the gym).  However, I’m happy to report that I am slowly regaining my ass.
  4. Lance definitely cheated, and it undoubtedly helped him win!  How do I know?  because I found out first-hand that blood doping really makes a difference!  More than a week after I returned, despite having spent the better part of the previous week recovering from a stomach virus and still feeling weak, I climbed a snow couloir and then summited a 14er, Mt. Evans.  Driving up to 11k or 12k feet and then climbing two or three thousand feet to 14k’ often induces mild AMS (e.g. headache) and invariably has me breathing hard.  This time, however, I was hardly breathing!  It was truly remarkable.  My climbing partners Debbie and Wayne had the same experience (Wayne enjoyed running partway up the couloir).  I’m sure our red blood cell counts are still way higher than normal, thanks to living at 19k’ for four weeks and climbing to almost 27k’, even after having descended for a couple of weeks.  Perhaps I should sign up for a marathon!
  5. Finally, as I mentioned in my personal blog post “Why I climb”, one of the benefits of climbing is that it teaches important life lessons.  I learned an important one during our Cho Oyu expedition:  “Just take the next step!”.  Those words were the advice of an elite climber, Don Bowie, whom we happened to meet at the airport in Kathmandu.   Don was en route to making a solo attempt of Makalu, a difficult, technical 8000m peak (http://www.donbowie.com/makalu-another-day/) .  I had previously heard the story of Don’s incredible ordeal on K2, where, after summiting that iconic, most difficult and dangerous peak, his crampons were stolen by a desperate climber.  Don had to survive the long, steep, icy descent by downclimbing while relying primarily on his ice tools and upper body strength — and he had to prevail even after suffering a broken leg from a fall during the descent!

    Don was kind enough to share with us some information and tips about climbing Cho Oyu, and he left us with some wonderful advice:  Don told us that even elite climbers feel wasted when trying to summit 8000m peaks, and the key to their success is simply “to take the next step.”  I kept that advice in mind — even making it a mantra — after I began to struggle on summit day and entertained serious doubts about whether or not I could summit.  I was feeling weak even at the start of the climb, and then I got hit by a rock prior to the Yellow Band and the steep, technical section.  Although, fortunately, the rock hit me squarely in the headlamp, the impact still left me with some cuts on my forehead and bridge of the nose.  I was able to stem the bleeding, and a Sherpa happened to have some duct tape that he used to tape up my face so I could continue on.  I then had to climb the steep chute in the dark (all that remained of my headlamp was the strap and the baseplate).  And then came the seemingly never-ending series of rock bands, which required about three breaths for each step.  I kept telling myself, “Just take the next step!”

    Fortunately, the weather held, and as I was seriously beginning to consider turning back, I was able to get additional water from Wayne and Tengi Sherpa as they were descending, and they encouraged me by saying I wasn’t too far from the summit snow cap, which was easier going.  I finally made the summit after nine hours of continually just taking that next step.  I’m sure you see the application of this advice to life in general:  whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation, as often happens, just take the next step, and then the next one, and eventually you will get through it.

Thanks again to all of you following the blog, to all who have expressed their support, prayers, and well wishes. We’ll be posting photo albums soon. God bless!

John Martersteck
Arvada, Colorado

Image

John on summit of Cho Oyu, May 22, 11am (Nepal time)

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Excuse me, has anyone seen my ass?!?

Over the years, pretty much each time I have returned home, my Mom has taken one look at my scrawny frame and been prompted to exclaim “John, my dear, you need to eat more.”  Clearly I had best regain some of the weight I have lost on the mountain before my next visit home, as  I can currently pull my jeans down over my hips without unsnapping the waist, thanks to the combined effects of loss of appetite at high altitude, food fatigue (the standard menu at ABC got old fast — particularly the fried Spam!) , and the expenditure of energy just to keep warm, not to mention to actually climb the mountain!

Yes, we are off the mountain now and enjoying our final days in Kathmandu.  The trip back to civilization included a long drive through desolate western Tibet, over the Pass with majestic views of Shishipangma (another 8000m peak), past Nyalam and down the deep river gorge to the humid border town of Zhangmou (a sizable town that was built on the side of a cliff, essentially), then a long process through Chinese and Nepal customs, culminating in a walk across Friendship Bridge to Nepal, and finally a six-hour bus ride down the river gorge to Kathmandu.

It has been quite a change suddenly living about 14,000′ lower in a much more humid and warm environment!  We have been enjoying slow, sunny days in Kathmandu, despite thunderstorms overnight and occasional showers during the day.  We visited the fascinating Monkey Temple; we have been doing a bit of shopping (trying hard not to overpay for gifts and souvenirs at the ubiquitous shops, though invariably feeling as if the merchants got the better deal); and we have been gorging ourselves at various local restaurants, savoring the food and trying to regain some weight.

What an amazing part of the world, and what a treat to have been able to experience a memorable visit to remarkable areas of both Nepal and Tibet — not to mention taking a crack at an amazing 8000m peak!  I feel very blessed to have been able to share these experiences with my amazing wife, Debbie.

The expected next question that seems to cross the minds of many of our climbing friends seems to be “So what about Everest?”  The subtitle of this blog indicated our desire “to gain experience on an 8000m peak”, implying that if our Cho Oyu climb went well, we would probably consider climbing Everest in a couple of years.  Indeed, Cho Oyu provided the 8000m-experience that Debbie and I had each become enthused about, but frankly the climb turned out to be as much of an ordeal as it was fun to climb.  It turns out that climbing an 8000m peak is more about acclimatizing and simply trying to maintain strength than about actually climbing.  We completed the difficult acclimatization program and then, as is typical, had to wait weeks for a low-wind window in order to move up and make a summit attempt.  Meanwhile, we lounged about ABC, continually losing strength (and interest in the food).  We all felt relatively weak by Summit Day, and I stretched to my absolute limit to complete the climb — it was definitely one of the most difficult (and proudest) accomplishments of my life.

 Although Debbie wasn’t able to summit, neither of us were especially surprised that she reached her limits at over 7000m (~7150m), due to the difficulty she has keeping her hands and feet warm, and of moving at a sufficiently fast pace that high up.  Certainly she might have done better with supplemental oxygen, but we both decided that’s not how we wanted to climb the mountain.  I am proud of the efforts she made in her preparation, training, and execution, and congratulate her for a 7000+m altitude PR.  We both learned so much and accomplished many personal goals on this Himalayan expedition — the trip was definitely an experience of a lifetime that may well rank indefinitely as our most memorable trip together ever!

The bottom line is that we have both concluded that there are many more reasonable investments of time and money that provide much better and more fun (and safer) climbing opportunities than joining the annual zoo on Everest.  Debbie and I agree that our next objective, for example, may likely be to fly to La Paz and climb some fun mountains in Bolivia (highly recommended by many of our climbing friends).  We are also interested in returning to the beautiful and massive mountain wilderness in Alaska, which contains a treasure trove of amazing climbs.  In the meantime, we now look forward to returning to Colorado, where a wealth of Spring snow couloir climbs and rock routes await!

We have a ton of photos to sort through and cull, and we look forward to posting the “best of” online to share with you.  There have been so many interesting encounters and experiences that would take months to blog about, so hopefully the photos — each worth a thousand words — will be the best way to share this amazing adventure.

It is hard to believe we will be leaving Kathmandu tomorrow, but a piece of Nepal will remain in our hearts forever.  As we end our adventure, we thank each of you for your support, prayers and best wishes.

And please let me know if you happen to spot my ass — I seem to have misplaced it somewhere . . .

John Martersteck
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Kathmandu, Nepal

Chitwan National Park (jungle)

While I was waiting for the guys to summit, I decided I wanted to leave Kathmandu and see some new areas.  I headed to Chitwan National Park (jungle) and had a great time with the elephants.  We started the day by riding in a dugout canoe down the river, and I did see a large Rhino eating at the edge.  Several more rhino sightings on the Elephant safari, but I enjoyed the elephants the most.

Debbie

Gharial Crocodile

Gharial Crocodile

Elephant Breeding Area - this little guy/gal is only 3 days old! They breed the females with the wild, bull elephants.

Elephant Breeding Area – this little guy/gal is only 3 days old! They breed the females with the wild, bull elephants.

Elephant Breeding Area - Mom and a 2 1/2 month old

Elephant Breeding Area – Mom and a 2 1/2 month old

The Elephant Wash - She's having a great time and I'm cooling off! I  was sprayed at least 15 times.

The Elephant Wash – She’s having a great time and I’m cooling off! I was sprayed at least 15 times.

 

Quite gentle while letting me off ...

Quite gentle while letting me off …

The Elephant Safari - typically 4 people on an elephant and the groups go into the jungle together.

The Elephant Safari – typically 4 people on an elephant and the groups go into the jungle together.

Baby Rhino with Mom, just outside the forest - 15 days old

Baby Rhino with Mom, just outside the forest – 15 days old

Monkeys everywhere; they hang out with the little, spotted deer.

Monkeys everywhere; they hang out with the little, spotted deer.

Crossing over the River; the elephants enjoyed quite a few drinks.

Crossing over the River; the elephants enjoyed quite a few drinks.

Photos from the camps/climb

24-May 2013 (Updated to add more photos – enjoy!)

Hi Everyone,
I was elated this morning to learn our group had a successful summit and is closer to being safely back in camp.  I’ve had a very stressful couple of nights, waiting to hear just like everyone else …  (in fact, many of you ended up hearing before I did!).
     Congratulations to all of them!! and I can’t wait to hear the details.

I finally have some time here at a Pokhara internet cafe to download some of the photos from the camera and get them uploaded.  I’ll start with the camps and climbing photos first, as the mountains/views are really quite impressive.  Our Camp 2 photos were on the other camera when I switched cameras with John, so I don’t have any of Camp 2.  I’ve also realized that since he was taking photos with this camera, it doesn’t have many pics with John in them (that would be on the camera I started using, but he now has).  Really bizarre not being able to find hardly any of John…
Over the next couple of days, perhaps I’ll load a few more of the Lukla-Namche Bazaar-Thame trek, and our visit to Lhasa and the drive/stops to get to Chinese Base Camp.
Yesterday, I was in the jungle and rode a couple of elephants – totally fun and those photos will lighten things up.

Once we get back home, we’ll upload a nice selection to our shutterfly site.

Debbie

Chinese Base Camp

Chinese Base Camp

Chinese Base Camp

Chinese Base Camp

Deb and John on a hike high above Chinese Base Camp.

Deb and John on a hike high above Chinese Base Camp.

Truck carries our gear to Interim camp, then it's loaded onto the yaks to take to Advanced Base Camp.

Truck carries our gear to Interim camp, then it’s loaded onto the yaks to take to Advanced Base Camp.

Interim Base Camp

Interim Base Camp

... and we named this guy "Wayne"

… and we named this guy “Wayne”

Note the yaks walking down the road that leads to Advanced Base Camp.

Note the yaks walking down the road that leads to Advanced Base Camp.

Yaks loaded and headed to Advance Base Camp.

Yaks loaded and headed to Advance Base Camp.

Glaciers everywhere

Glaciers everywhere

Deb and Wayne resting and enjoying the views on their way to Advanced Base Camp.

Deb and Wayne resting and enjoying the views on their way to Advanced Base Camp.

Yaks carried gear to ABC and then got to rest.

Yaks carried gear to ABC and then got to rest.

Cho Oyu - upper view

Cho Oyu – upper view

Advanced Base Camp (ABC) with Cho Oyu in background. Most believe Cho Oyu's adv base camp is one of the most beautiful (tops Everest).

Advanced Base Camp (ABC) with Cho Oyu in background. Most believe Cho Oyu’s adv base camp is one of the most beautiful (tops Everest).

Our power sources

Our power sources

Puja Ceremony: The Sherpas want their Gods to be happy. Involved some drinking of whiskey, bud, and coke. We also placed our boots and ice axes against the stupa for blessings as well.

Puja Ceremony: The Sherpas want their Gods to be happy. Involved some drinking of whiskey, bud, and coke. We also placed our boots and ice axes against the stupa for blessings as well.

Puja Ceremony: One of our cook boys had gone to Monastery and acted as our Lama, chanting all the prayers.  We are holding rice we periodically throw in the air.

Puja Ceremony: One of our cook boys had gone to Monastery and acted as our Lama, chanting all the prayers. We are holding rice we periodically throw in the air.

Tengi Sherpa pouring out our whiskey.

Tengi Sherpa pouring out our whiskey.

Flour on everyone's faces

Flour on everyone’s faces

 

 

Deb "testing" out the gamow bag for the group. It was a little claustrophobic!

Deb “testing” out the gamow bag for the group. It was a little claustrophobic!

Deb inside the filled gamow bag. My pulse ox went from 84 to 98 in just a matter of minutes!

Deb inside the filled gamow bag. My pulse ox went from 84 to 98 in just a matter of minutes!

Deb practicing on the ice wall, with some changes to our ascender safety lengths. We also used a Figure 8 device for rapelling (new to us) - Thanks, Jerry for letting me borrow your device!

Deb practicing on the ice wall, with some changes to our ascender safety lengths. We also used a Figure 8 device for rapelling (new to us) – Thanks, Jerry for letting me borrow your device!

John rappelling down

John rappelling down

Yakpas carrying our duffels - 40-50 kilos for each yakpa! They sure made me feel like a slug - awesome strength!

Yakpas carrying our duffels – 40-50 kilos for each yakpa! They sure made me feel like a slug – awesome strength!

Climbing up "Hell Hill" to Camp 1 - over 1500' of nothing but scree; some areas really steep.

Climbing up “Hell Hill” to Camp 1 – over 1500′ of nothing but scree; some areas really steep.

Camp 1

Camp 1

Deb at Camp 1 in front of all the tents.  A bit of protection from the winds.

Deb at Camp 1 in front of all the tents. A bit of protection from the winds.

Camp 1 from another angle.

Camp 1 from another angle.

 

Look closely right below center in the rocks, and you will see Advanced Base Camp.

Look closely right below center in the rocks, and you will see Advanced Base Camp.

Ice Seracs outside Advanced Base Camp

Ice Seracs outside Advanced Base Camp
More Ice Seracs

More Ice Seracs

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The winds are coming!  Lenticular cloud over Cho Oyu when we knew we'd be sitting in ABC longer ...

The winds are coming! Lenticular cloud over Cho Oyu when we knew we’d be sitting in ABC longer …