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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
Apr 122012

Puja Prayer Flags

Everest climbers are all  over the Khumbu today, some are training on short ladders in base camp, others actually went into the Icefall, usually to the first ladders, to get a feel for what’s to come. And other are just resting.

Island Peak Acclimatization

First up a great report from Kristin Kobler along with some excellent pictures from their Island peak (Imja Tse) acclimatization climb. I love it when a 20,305’/6189m mountain is just the warm up!

Base Camp Updates

And a good overview of the Himex Base Camp from Greg Paul plus more nice pictures:

We are two hours hike from Everest BC in a small village called Gorek Shep. I thought I would take advantage of the cell tower here. Last night at Lobuche BC it started snowing during dinner. I decide it was movie time and I sat next to the gas heater in the dining tent and started watching 127 Hours. Seeing southern Utah made me homesick.  Billie went to her tent to listen to a book on tape. At 10PM I went to my tent and it was snowing hard but not windy. I got things situated in my tent then tucked myself into my sleeping bag and finished watching the movie on my IPad. The snow was building up on the tent but acted as insulation so it was warmer than the night before. In actually fell asleep I woke with a start at about 3:30PM. It was strange. All I remember was the I had the perfect happy dream..exact opposite of a nightmare. I could not remember exactly what I dreamed other than it was wonderful. I wanted to go back to sleep for more!  Ok enough about my dreams but I thought it was great that I actually slept well for once. Fortunately it did not snow so much as to make hiking difficult. We followed I wide rocky riverbed that had a few steep hills. The weather was perfect and after about through hour the Khumba icefall , Everest BC and Everest itself came into view. The trail is busy with Trekkers, expedition members ,  yaks and porters. You can feel the anticipation and excitement in the air….thin air.  I have two more hours to go and Billie is well on here way.  I will try to send some pictures and then I must go catch up with the group. Onward and upward!

Many people loose a lot of weight on Everest in spite of eating huge quantities of food as Ian Ridley reminds us with this excellent post. Click to read it all:

Life in BC revolves around meal times so much so you could almost set your clock by them. Adam our BC manager and chef has done an excellent job at producing a very varied and filling menu to date (we’ve only had Dahl Bat once since arriving here). Last nights Yak stew with mash pototoes and green beans was superb but it was surpassed by the dessert. He had said that he had tried to make some chocolate brownie during the afternoon but it hadn’t worked. So imagine our delight when he produced chocolate brownie crumble and custard. There must have been 1000 calories a serving! No one uttered a word until our bowls were empty.

So lot’s going on at Everest Base Camp! But one of the most important events is the Puja. Every team will conduct this ceremony over the next few days so i thought I would share what I went through, felt and saw last year as I climbed Everest on behalf of Alzheimer’s causes.


Ceremonies mark life. Many come with a birth of a child, a union of a couple or upon death. Today, we had a ceremony to climb a mountain but as with all ceremonies it meant much more.

The puja is a traditional ceremony lead by a Lama where the mountain Gods are asked permission for the climbers to climb and forgiveness for the damage caused by the climbing. All the Sherpas, climbers, cooks  – anyone associated with the climb participates.

This April 2011 Sunday morning was warm and clear, much different from the past few weeks. As we ate breakfast, we could smell the juniper starting to burn, the beginning of the ceremony. The Sherpas moved with an air of excitement and purpose as we made our way to the highest point in our large camp where a large rock alter had already been constructed.

We brought our harnesses to be blessed for safety and our ice axes and crampons for forgiveness for the holes we would put in the mountain snow and ice. Many brought pictures of their families and placed them on the alter.

Lama and Sherpas at our Puja

The Lama was seated to the far left of the Alter sitting on a blanket with another wrapped around his legs. He was Mingma Dorge Sherpa, a Lama from Pangyboche and has been conducting pujas for years. This was at least the third time I had seen him. To his right sat six Sherpa who assisted with the puja.

They all chanted in unison reading century old prayers from Tibetan prayer books. Climbers sat in rows behind the Lama and Sherpas and everyone else mingled around. Serious but not terminally so, camera shutters and video cams were in full action trying to capture the moment.

Sherpas poured milk tea, a sweet concoction of sugar, milk, and tea. The Lama and his Sherpas drank milk tea and chang, a potent rice wine. Food had been prepared the night before consisting of breads and other sweets.

Once the prayers were complete the puja pole was raised on top of the Alter. This held flags and served as the central point for strings of long prayer flags that covered our camp. The Sherpas moved with precision to erect the pole and raise the flags.

Now the energy really increased with more tea being poured. All stood up as another series of chants took place ending with everyone throwing rice into the air three times and cheering. This was followed by the tradition of spreading barley power on one another’s face. I took pride in spreading it on Kami and he on mine. It was really quite the mess!

As the Sherpas started to sing and line dance, I stepped off to the side. The icefall looked grand in full sun with no shadows. The 5 color prayer flags were held straight against their line by just a wisp of a wind. Everyone was smiling, laughing and simply having a good time.

But it occurred to me watching how the climbers interacted compared with the Sherpas, that this puja was more about the Sherpas. They shared food, embraced one another in the line dance with ease, smiled so easily and laughed sincerely. Yet, there was a seriousness and a conviction to their efforts that left the ceremony behind.

These Sherpas were affirming their dedication to one another on yet another dangerous climb of the highest mountain on earth. More Sherpas die on Everest than non-Sherpas. They know this all too well. This ceremony was certainly to honor and make request of the mountain Gods but it was also commit themselves to one another, to be there when needed, to support and be supported when the time came.

This spurred me to consider the Alzheimer’s community; the individuals, the family caregivers, the caregivers in facilities, the researchers, the academic and business element. Are we as committed to one another as these Sherpas? The stakes are higher. Are we willing to work together in search of improved ments, caregiver support and finding a cure?

These Sherpas know sacrifice like few in the climbing community. Away from families for months on end risking their lives all for a better future for their families.

Caregivers make sacrifices as well sometimes leaving jobs, making extreme financial sacrifices for only one purpose. Researchers spend their professional lives running theories as far as they can, or until they run out of money.

And the individuals with Alzheimer’s? They simply live as full of a life as the disease will allow at the time. Each moment is precious, each memory is fleeting.

As I climb Everest and the other 7 Summits, perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to bring the Alzheimer’s community together for the single goal of eliminating this disease. Make a donation, make the pledge of a penny a foot or $196 as I climb Everest or support another climb.

Volunteer at a local nursing home or Alzheimer’s care facility to hold someone’s hand, listen to them talk about their memories before they are gone. Learn about Alzheimer’s. Talk to your aging parents about the disease. Make plans, be prepared if this sad reality impacts your family or a friend’s.

There is so much to do. And there is no reason to wait.

As I watched the Sherpas return to their tents and duties, they moved with unity and purpose.

Can we do the same?

Climb On!
Memories are Everything



  One Response to “Everest 2012: Puja at Base Camp”

  1. I have your link on under Personal Websites in the General section of the forum