The Ravens glided over ABC using the updrafts like the experts they are. Soon there were ten or more staring down as the Sherpas spread four strings of prayer flags in each direction from the central alter. It is said that Ravens are good luck at a Puja. One by one each team member arrived as did the cooks, yak herders and any one else associated with our expedition.
Pujas are always special to me. It signals the transition from high altitude trekking and camping to high altitude mountaineering. We are not allowed on a big mountain without a Puja – a rule dictated by the Sherpas. It also brings home to me the significance of climbing the big Hills. They are not just a geological wonders but a living and integral part of the local people. We are guests in their home.
This Puja was slightly different in that we placed our ice axes and crampons next to the alter. The sharp points were covered with yak butter. This was to ask forgiveness from the mountain for the holes they would cause. Dawa and another Sherpa lead the ceremony by chanting Buddhists prayers from centuries old prayer books. We sat quietly around them, crossed legged, sipping milk tea.
Before the prayers began, each of us were given a silk scarf, a katja, and a small handful of rice. We placed the rice in the center of the kajta and tied a small knot around it to hold in place. Then we faced the alter or the mountain and lifted the rice to our heart and then to our forehead. There were no instructions beyond this simple physical act but each person from Westerner to Tibetan to Nepalese used the moment to go deep within.
As I lifted my scarf to my heart, I looked up at Shisha Pangma. I left my mind go free. I felt the emotions well up as I moved it to my head. It was clear why I was here.
Soon the Puja took a quick turn and as is the custom whiskey and beer were passed around by Dawa. One by one we took a capful of the local swill – just enough to keep you warm since the winds had picked up and snow had started to fall.
Some members took off an hour later to carry a load to what is called the Depot Camp at 19,200’. It is located just off the glacier and serves as a cache for our high mountain gear. I choose to stay at ABC and reflect on the day.
However today just after breakfast, I left along with six of my teammates. I had loaded my pack with all my high altitude clothes, food and sleeping bag. For whatever reason, I felt strong today and soon went at my own pace and left my teammates behind. I am not the fastest on our team but felt good today.
The route was marked with the occasional cairn and bamboo wand with a red flag. It meandered around the glacier rock and scree filled hillsides. Shisha and her neighbors were always on my left.
The lower part of the glacier was filled with ice structures called pentanentes. As gravity, sun and erosion work on the glacier they create stand alone towering giants. They seemed almost like soldiers marching in formation. To me, as I climbed higher they soon became friends who kept me company. As I got higher they got taller but their fate was sealed. It was mostly silent as I walked. But occasionally a loud womp sound came from the soldiers as they moved a slight bit forward. I paused to looked at them. I thought about how fast they were melting. I told them on behalf of all humans, we were sorry for what we were doing to their climate. They responded with an icy stare.
Several rushing streams awkwardly fell down the hillside as if to frantically try to help the glacier. I carefully crossed a ten foot stream hoping from slick rock to rock. Soon the camp came into view. It is really nothing more than a few tents pitched on rocks on a sloping hillside. This will be home tomorrow
So all is well here. The team is experiencing the normal health issues but nothing serious. It is snowing most nights and partly cloudy during the day. It is 45F right now in my tent as I type this. My health continues to be good.
From the Depot Camp, I could see the route to Camp 1 at 21,000’ It looked straight forward – whatever that means! We leave the comforts for ABC and our heated dining tent, one person tents and great food to 3 in a tent, cooking our own food and carrying heavy loads.
I will be using a PDA and a sat phone to send dispatches from the high camps so they will be slightly shorter with fewer pictures. Hang on, it is about to get interesting!
Please remember: Memories are Everything