Alan on the summit of Everest, 5:00AM May 21, 2011
I am back in Lukla on our 3rd of 3 days trek from Everest Base Camp. This is an important time for me to process any Himalaya experience. I love walking the Khumbu trails, sharing them with the Yak trains going to or return from Everest Base Camp; seeing the porters with loads taller than they are and of course, the mountains.
The weather has been perfect and I am hopeful to fly out of Lukla on Thursday (tomorrow) morning to catch my Friday flight home. I am trekking with Jay and Mirjam and thoroughly enjoying their company. The vast majority of the rest of the IMG team is either home or in transit. Some took the $7500 helicopter ride from BC to Kathmandu! IMG had 37 Everest summits this year including Sherpas.
We stopped by to see Lama Geshi again yesterday. He seemed so happy that people he had blessed going up would stop after their summit to say hello. The old Lama’s big hands were warm, his smile crisp, eyes dark and clear; and his laugh deep and genuine as he called me “Ellen” for “Alan”. I was so pleased to see him back in his old form.
As I walked the dirt trails, I was thinking of how I can somehow repay in a tiny way your kindness and support for me as I climb the 7 Summits this year. I am forever grateful for every donation to your choice of Alzheimer’s non-profit. I hope to get a tally when I get home. But another thought was to try to share my Everest experience through a Q&A on this Blog. Just post a question in the comment section and I will do my best to answer it. If you prefer something less public, send me an email at email@example.com. Remember I am still in transit and will answer as quickly as possible.
Obviously, I am not a professional climber, mountain guide, Alzheimer’s specialists or physician so some topics I am not qualified to respond to and other resources are better suited for those topics. But I am glad to share my experiences as I have for the last decade through my site.
To get things started, Paul Adler asked a poignant question about my Everest performance: “I would love to know what you attribute your fast times this year compared with past attempts? Was it comparatively good health?
Paul, I was thinking a lot about this and can identify four areas. Obviously these are my thoughts and don’t apply to everyone.
PACE: Thanks to advice from many people (John Dahlem) and my own experience of pushing too hard and succumbing to the pressure of the guide clock; this year I climbed at a pace I was comfortable with. IMG never put any pressure on me to meet climb times between camps and Kami’s favorite word was “slowly”. Obviously I knew that I needed to be able to go fast through dangerous sections or if the weather turned but allowing my body to acclimatize naturally was a huge advantage and I did not waste energy competing against the clock or other climbers.
Also when I got sick, I gave myself permission to be sick and get well. This was critical in that I did not stress over schedules and got the necessary rest, food and hydration my body so desperately needed. As my friend Brad Jackson commented, it was better that it happened early in the expeditions than later. Allowing myself to recover allowed me to enter the final acclimatization rotations strong.
A final factor in pace was that I employed every trick and technique I new throughout the expedition from sleeping to gear to eating, drinking, foot placement (simple, small steps), clothing layers, attitude, who I hung out with, etc. One proof of how it worked was that I never lost my appetite, rare for me.
PREPARATION: My fitness was at a different level than on the previous attempts even though I was 9 years older. In the previous 18 months, I climbed over 30 14,000 Colorado and California mountains with 30-50lb packs. Also climbed Vinson and Aconcagua in the prior 4 months. I lost about 10 pounds before coming to EBC then lost another 15 pounds in the early expedition time; which was a bit too much.
It is said you have to be in the best shape of your life to climb Everest. Well, I thought I was before but now know I had to be in Everest shape to climb Everest.
Paul, you had a hand in this one through thinking through the best way to climb Everest. For example, I always stayed at Camp 1 around 19,500′ on each rotation based on your suggestion. The standard program is to stay there once, but I found by staying there each rotation, I was able to manage my energy more evenly and not wear myself out trying to go from BC to C2 in one big push. Also, I pushed the envelope a bit by staying at Camp 2 three nights instead of the normal two on the first rotation.
Reviewing my own prior performance, I changed my supplemental oxygen plan. I was very glad that IMG used the TopOut mask instead of the old Posix one that leaked 50% of the air. Also, I used an extra bottle of oxygen on the final summit push from the South Col. These two factors, mask and O’s, allowed me to climb using 4lpm flow from Col to Summit and back instead of a leaky 2lpm in my previous climbs – this was a huge difference.
PERSONAL SHERPA: This should be no surprise to anyone who has been reading along. Kami (Ang Chhiring Sherpa – Pangboche) was a perfect match for me. At age 46 with 12 Everest summits, K2, Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, and many other climbs, he had the maturity, experience and personality I needed. We spent time getting to know each other with local climbs, shared tents, meals and became friends. He understood the importance of this climb to me in spite of the culture and language difference. His gentle touch yet strong focus was what the Doctor ordered. He inspired confidence as did many of the IMG Personal Sherpas.
PURPOSE: In looking back at my other climbs, I hit my mental wall way before my physical wall and quit too soon. I never understood how much reserves my body really had. Again, many people talk about mental toughness but a simple note one time from Clive Jones, a climbing friend, and discussing directly with Jim Davidson, a dear climbing friend, about his Rainier tragedy (www.speakingofadventure.com) showed me how far one can push their body if the mind is willing. So in the last few years, I have been working on mental toughness. When the time came on Everest to push my body, my mind was willing.
But the biggest difference was the inspiration and motivation that came from watching my mom struggle with Alzheimer’s. She did it with class, dignity and humor. She never let on how much it hurt. Her strength and courage kept me going every time I felt weak – physically or mentally. In addition, knowing that there are millions going through the same struggle inspired me knowing that all of you were watching me. I simply could not let you down. So perhaps the pace went a little quicker.
OK, not all my answers will be this verbose but please send them in. I hope I can add some value back to like you have to me.
Memories are Everything
Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. He is climbing the 7 Summits throughout 2011. He has summited Vinson and Aconcagua already and leaves for Everest in late March. All to raise $1 million for Alzheimer's research. You can read more on his site.
Photo Courtesy AlanArnette.com