A mundane day in the life at EBC…

At around 3am the Sherpas start tromping by the front door of my tent.
Their headlamps sometimes illuminate everything inside and I can hear
the occasional voice. They are on their way up the ice fall to fix Camp
I and Camp II for their teams. Our camp provides a perfect short cut
from the main trail to the ice fall. We have a little rock fence built
to keep yak trains out but it is no match for them. In a matter of days,
the Sherpas will be joined by paying clients like me. In general, it
seems the Sherpas would rather make their first forays across the ice
fall and get things situated at the higher camps without having to worry
about the safety and well being of clients. Wanting to help, but also
wanting to stay out of their way, preserve my energy, and limit my
number of trips across the icefall leaves me feeling conflicted. I reach
for my earplugs.

By 4-5am the hot water bottle in the bottom of my -40 bag is only
lukewarm. I go back and forth with sticking my head out of the sleeping
bag. The occasional Sherpa team goes by, boots crunching the frozen snow
and ice on the small pond next to my tent. By 6am it’s getting light and
if I can’t keep my head in the bag I search for my eye mask, feeling
like a airplane traveler ignoring the world. I’m awake by 7am and
staring at all of the hoar frost covering the inside of my tent,
wondering how many times electronic items and other objects can get
frosted over. I might hear Kami fire up the kerosene stove in the
kitchen tent and with one very cold hand I try to get a movie going on
my laptop. By 8am, the sun is on my tent and things are warming up to
the point it is unfcomfortable and I finally unzip the bag and start
cautiously (it’s still cold outside!) unzipping the tent and getting
ready for the day. I’m the only person in a 3 person North Face VE-25
tent. It seems to be the most popular tent at BC. We have ten of these
for our 4 person team. Three are set-up at BC and we will scatter the
remaining 7 up the side of the mountain at the 4 high camps. Down the
left side of my tent I have Eagle Creek Packit Cubes containing
different types of clothes and down the right – the same except they
mostly contain objects like toiletries or my computer etc. I think they
work better than stuff sacks for long-term stationary use like this,
though I have the latter for when we actually climb. At the head of the
tent I have all my down stuff, like my -30 bag which will eventually
become my BC bag, my -40 bag which will spend a lot of time at Camp II,
my down suit, large jacket which gets worn at night when the temp
plummets. It all makes up a very expensive, nice pillow and is probably
better stored ‘open’ like this than in stuff or compression sacks. The
entire floor is covered in cut-to-size foam and then several additional
pads. I’m on top of gravel which is on top of the glacier ice – just a
couple inches down.

Around 9am I’ll stretch a little, try to un-thaw some sunscreen, and
have a cup of hot chocolate while waiting for Kami to cook up breakfast
which is often hot milk with muesli or a pancake or egg on toast. Today
we had fresh chapati with fried eggs. Delicious. The kitchen tent has
benches which are essentially formed out of ice with some foam on top.
It can be a little cold in the morning. I think the day time temp is
usually in the 40’s – but it is often sunny which can make it feel a lot
warmer. I don’t know how cold it gets at night – just cold. Just about
everything freezes unless it is in your sleeping bag or in an insulated
bottle holder.

If I don’t walk to Gorak Shep – a lot of the morning might be spent
washing some clothes, organizing the tent a bit, and usually messing
around with emails or phone calls. I’m determined to do a full body bath
today with a bucket. It’s been ~15 days! In theory, I can do email on my
phone, laptop with a USB stick, or laptop with my connected satellite
phone. In reality – none of these work very well. Especially for
browsing the web. But they all seem to partially work which eats up time
in messing around. I have a secret email address for sending blog
updates. Executive member so the ‘Seth Wolpin Everest Expedition Fan
Club (SWEEFC) also have this email…more on them later :) There is also
the juggle of charging items which is a lot of fun – our antiquated
solar panel system has a mind of it’s own and the small one I brought,
which is hanging on the outside of my tent, doesn’t have enough power to
really recharge my laptop. But voice service on the cell phone seems to
work pretty well and I’m typically able to chat for 10-15 minutes with
my sweetie Kelly and sometimes James, my sister, and other friends and
family. Being able to talk to friends and family every day at 10 cents a
minute from EBC is Lately I’ve been dealing with recruitment issues
related to the fall class trip from UW to Nepal that I’m teaching (huge
thanks to Tandra, Meggie, and Tim for their help) and also some things
related to my faculty appointment at UW.

The afternoon might be some technical practice on the glacier, reading
in my tent, or working on a research data set from UW. I’m still
employed at ~10% on a couple of my own grants and have a bunch of data
to analyze and a paper to work on. At a forty hour work week – that is 4
hrs a week, but really it will take a lot more work than that to get a
paper done. There are the occasional trekkers who wonder this far into
base camp, frequently straying off the main trail as well and walking by
my front door. I understand and respect the need for the Sherpas to get
to the ice flow with all due expedience, but find the trekkers a little
intrusive, as if someone is walking through my backyard.

Dinner is around 7pm, we’ll usually eat it together in the dining tent
where there is a small gas heater. Sometimes we’ll watch movies on a
laptop, a few times I have ventured over to the Everest ER Dining Tent
to watch movies with the nice young docs who staff the clinic (Rachel
and Jenn from the UK and Ashish from Nepal). It’s a nice place and one
of the few ‘neutral’ places where people come to socialize.
I’m usually in bed by 9 or 10pm – often reading or watching half a movie
with plans to finish it in the morning when the sun starts warming up my
tent.

Tomorrow marks 2 weeks at base camp. There is still a long ways to go –
but overall things are feeling better and more like home. I’ll start
making forays to higher camps in a couple days and that will shake
things up. I’ve made half days out of the 3hr round trip walk to Gorak
Shep quite a few times. It is a great walk (really the only walk),
heading south down the Khumbu Valley. Gorak Shep is really just a
cluster of lodges, but there is a small solar powered tower and I can
get a hot chocolate in one of the lodges and a strong enough signal to
get my laptop with the USB stick to actually send/receive emails (and
sometimes open a web page) at a fraction of the cost of using my sat
phone’s data cable. I never feel bored – always lots to do. Like any
other endurance activity – be it an ultramarathon or the Appalachian
Trail, there are a lot of interesting characters to meet.

My health seems pretty good. I have not gone running in a month which is
a little distressing, but have engaged in some serious hiking. I
still get winded pretty easily though and that makes me nervous about
keeping up with Damai and Kami when climbing. I take a daily vitamin,
anti-oxidant, and add a fizzy iron pill to my water bottle. A porter is
going to arrive in a week or so with some baby aspirin. It’s hard to say
what to do at 17,500ft. Some people say you will never get stronger here
and rest is the best thing. Others say to do moderate exercise if you
are feeling ok. I think I’m in line with the latter. I haven’t been sick
yet at EBC outside a couple middle of the night headaches my first
couple days. The backs of my hands are covered with cuts from the ice
climb on Island Peak and they are healing incredibly slowly because of
the altitude. But there is also almost no risk of infection. One cut on
my right index finger opens wide every time I bend the finger and I can
look down into it – a little freaky. Our team appears to be missing a
full size medical kit which is unfortunate. But I have a little one.
Everest ER has a nice system where if all of the paying clients on a
team pay $100, not only do they receive free services for a season – but
so do all the Nepalese on their team. I paid this on day 2 and, as the
only paying client on my team, it strikes me as a great bargain. On day
2 or 3, I had my big toe nail trepanned (sp?) as the descent from Island
Peak had left it battered and angry with a lot of blood build up under
the nail. The prognosis is that the nail is now supposed to fall off,
but the same nail was also supposed to come off after running Western
States and it didn’t…I guess it is still attached to me :)

Ok-this is getting a little long. More about the team, other teams,
bathrooms, food, etc in other posts. Congrats if you read this far! I
tried attaching a picture but it would not sent. Too bad. Another time…
Cheers, Seth.

One Response to “A mundane day in the life at EBC…

  • SWEE2011FC 4eva!! Thanks for the detailed update, Seth… it may be a “mundane” day in your life these days, but it’s pretty exciting for everyone else! Travel safely uphill these next few days – we’ll all be looking forward to hearing your tales and seeing your pics of crossing the icefall this first time. Love you!

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