Today, I woke up to the sound of a helicopter flying over my tent. I went up to the helipad and we watched as the helicopter made trip after trip up the mountain to look for Simone’s body. We all hoped that by some miracle, he was still alive with maybe broken limbs that prevented him from contacting base camp. He was after all in his tent with a sleeping bag and stove, so there was some remote possibility that he may still be alive despite spending more than 24 hours injured on the mountain (think Beck Weathers on Everest). After a few trips, the helicopter dropped off his sleeping bag. The next time, it brought his very unique gore-tex jacket, which had blood stains on it. Finally, with Alex Gavan inside and with the help of a Sherpa, Simone’s body was brought down by helicopter. He was found just above the altitude of Camp I under a dangerous serac. Alex and I broke down momentarily as our hope of his rescue came crashing down. Alex contacted his wife and broke the news to her. We all returned to our tents as Simone’s body was taken down to Kathmandu in the helicopter. We ate lunch, and I spent the afternoon with Alex as he worked through the traumatic events of the day. He took an enormous risk exiting the helicopter underneath the very dangerous serac in order to recover the body of Simone, but we do these things for those we care about. Ryan and I kept ourselves busy in order to avoid having to feel the devastation of losing a good friend. We sorted through equipment for our next acclimatization cycle up to Camp III. The weather has been unstable, alternating between heavy snow and high winds, so we are working on a plan to get up high with as little risk as possible. Heavy snow began to fall in the afternoon and continued to fall all evening. We ate dinner in the mess tent, then I went over to Alex’s tent to work with him a bit. We pushed off our acclimatization cycle a day thanks to the heavy snow accumulation.
Today, after hearing the Chileans and Chris depart in the early morning hours, my tent was shaken loudly by our base camp manager around 6:00am. He came with bad news. Late yesterday, Simone La Terra was swept from a lower bivy between Camp II and Camp III. I immediately got dressed and went up to the Seven Summits Camp where I spoke with Rosa and some of the Sherpas about what had happened. Simone had decided to pitch a tent below the normal place where Camp III is located. He chose a location on the ridge for his tent platform, and as he was taking shelter in his tent, a strong gust of wind blew him and his tent off of the ridge with him inside. Simone fell a significant distance before coming to a stop just underneath a serac (his final location was not known at the time). I returned to our camp and we advised Parajuli. He was not satisfied with the information that we had in base camp and wanted to wait for more concrete information about Simone’s location before sending a helicopter for rescue. Later in the morning, we spoke with Chris in Camp I. He advised us that Alex Gavan had arranged a rescue effort and that the helicopter was inbound. The weather moved in, as had been forecast, and we all moved inside as we tried to put together exactly what had happened. The helicopter was unable to make it to Camp I in this weather, so it stopped in Italian Base Camp for the night so as to be poised for a rescue effort first thing in the morning when the weather is normally clear. I’ve known Simone since 2007 and consider him to be a close friend and part of my climbing family. We climbed together most recently on Gasherbrum I in 2015 and on K2 in 2016. He was always cheerful, generous, caring, and the life of base camp, as his jubilant personality always brought a smile to everyone’s face. I take solace knowing that he died doing what he loved most in the world; climbing. Lina and Javi arrived from Camp II to base camp just before lunch time. We gathered for lunch, during which we spoke fondly of memories of Simone. In the late afternoon, to distract ourselves, Badia, Mauricio and I went up to Carlos Soria’s camp to speak with his doctor. He examined my leg and said he was sure it wasn’t broken or fractured and said that it most likely was a strain of a tendon, ligament or muscle. He said he would prefer that I take one more day of rest before beginning my descent but said the injury shouldn’t prevent me from completing the expedition. We returned to our base camp, had dinner, and spoke at length about our plans to go up the following morning. Since heavy snow had fallen most of the day, and considering the events that had occurred so recently, we made the decision to postpone our ascent to Camp I until Tuesday, to allow the mountain a day of good weather to clear excess snow.
“I learned that every mortal will taste death. But only some will taste life.” – Rumi
RIP Simone La Terra. You will live on in our hearts.
Today, we woke up to a clear morning with a blanket of fresh snow covering base camp. Chris decided not to go up late last night due to the heavy snow. He will begin the climb to Camp I tomorrow instead. We witnessed an enormous avalanche come down the mountain in the afternoon, the wind blast dusting base camp in snow, and another from Mahabharat Lekh in the evening, which thankfully took a detour around base camp, though the wind blast did blow our tents around.
Today, after a very good night’s sleep, I woke up around 7:30am, cleared the snow off of my solar panels, and watched as an enormous avalanche swept very close to the route to Camp I. Thankfully, we had advised Lina and Javi to leave very early in the morning for Camp I and we were confident that they were well past the place on the route that was at risk of being hit by that time. We ate breakfast together, spent the morning organizing and visiting with Dhaula, and again witnessed the afternoon storms materialize. We watched Office Space and played Monopoly Deal in the mess tent to kill time in the afternoon, and then I spent the remaining time before dinner organizing my meals for our next acclimatization cycle. We enjoyed a filling dinner (not something that we usually get this year), spoke with Lina and Javi in Camp I, and went to sleep as heavy snow fell.
Today, I woke up at 8:00am, iced my leg, took another NSAID to reduce swelling, and hobbled over to the mess tent for breakfast. My leg felt a bit better in the morning, which gave me hope that it would recover before the next weather window for our upcoming acclimatization cycle. We all showered, ate lunch, and watched as our weather forecast materialized with snow in the afternoon. Dhaula (the dog) showed up in the afternoon, whimpering with excitement when she saw Eva and I. I spent the remainder of the day organizing gear for our upcoming climb to Camp III, maintaining optimism that my leg will heal and that I will be able to continue my expedition on Dhaulagiri. Dhaula spent the night in Eva’s base camp tent’s vestibule, sheltered from the snow.
Today Ryan, Badia, Mauricio, and I woke up at 6:00am, made water, ate a small breakfast and began the long descent to Base Camp. Due to my injury, I was extremely slow and was fortunate to have such patient climbers around me. Ryan broke trail through the new snow, while Badia walked just in front of me. Mauricio took my backpack and walked just behind me and we made steady but slow progress down to Base Camp. I hobbled down and after more than 5 hours, made it back to the relative safety of Base Camp. I had lunch and unpacked my equipment while the weather deteriorated. After dinner, Nico, the Chilean doctor examined my leg. He seemed confident that it was not broken or fractured and said it should get better in a few days. If it got worse, he would again become suspicious that it was fractured, but for now, since I was able to make it down from Camp I on my own, he doubted that it was fractured. I took another NSAID and iced the leg before bed and turned in for the night.
Today Ryan, Chris and I woke up at 5:00am, melted snow for water, prepared breakfast, and packed our backpacks for our respective days. Chris will descend to Base Camp to recover from his stomach bug, while Ryan and I will climb to Camp II and return to Camp I to sleep another night at altitude. Ryan started around 8am while I started at 9am. We both made steady progress toward Camp II in beautiful weather, keeping in contact over the radio. Ryan reached Camp II in just 4.5 hours while I made it later in the day in 4 hours (no doubt due to a better boot track). Ominous clouds began to drift our way, so we wasted little time in Camp II, took a few pictures, and retreated to Camp I. The clouds caused whiteout conditions on my descent, but fortunately, I had my tracks saved from the ascent on my satellite tracker, so I was able to verify that I was on the correct route. Snow began to fall, and as I continued my descent, my right foot punched through a weak snow bridge over a large crevasse. I landed hard on my rear while my left foot remained above ground anchored by my crampons in its original position. Unfortunately, this resulted in a large amount of force placed on the upper head of my fibula and the connective tissue in that region. I realized quickly as I began to scoot backwards out of the crevasse that I had injured myself and as I stood up, feared that I had broken or fractured something. I was able to weight the leg as long as my foot was perfectly in line with the direction of movement, however, if my foot shifted, which is does all too often in snow with crampons, it caused excruciating pain. With no other choice, I began to hobble down on my injured leg in the worsening weather, using my trekking poles to absorb some of the weight. I made painfully slow but steady progress down, and after what must have been a few hours, finally arrived to Camp I. I quickly went inside my tent and looked at the injury for the first time. No bones were sticking out, and there wasn’t a significant amount of bruising at that point, so I felt some relief, however there was evidence of swelling and the degree of pain I felt made me worry that it was a fracture of the fibula, allowing me to walk, while making stabilization movements painful. Ryan made me water, and I ate as many snacks as I could to help with recovery. Badia and Mauricio were also descending in the whiteout conditions and thankfully made it to Camp I without incident. I took a NSAID to help with swelling, then went to sleep.
Today, we woke up at 4:30am, ate breakfast together in the mess tent, prepared our equipment, and started out on the glacier toward Camp I at 6:00am. After just 20 minutes, we gained the steep slope that leads to the traverse. We climbed up this slope then traversed to the left to reach a long glaciated section of the climb which is covered in crevasses. Fortunately, these small crevasses were well marked and had fixed lines over them for security. We began to regret our “late” start, as the sun began to intensify and made the remaining hours of the climb unbearably hot. Chris had not been feeling well since breakfast, and apparently his stomach problem intensified over the course of the day. Ryan and I arrived to Camp I in around 6.5 hours, while Chris, thanks to his stomach issues took 10 hours. We set up our tents, melted snow for water, and waited as the weather came in and cooler temperatures prevailed. After Chris arrived, he quickly got some rest and made the wise decision to descend in the morning and address his stomach bug in base camp. In the morning, Ryan and I plan on climbing to Camp II then descending to Camp I where we will spend another night before descending to Base Camp ahead of the forecast bad weather.
Today, we woke up at 6:30am to say goodbye to Simon and Wendy as they are descending today from Dhaulagiri Base Camp. Afterwards, I showered, did laundry, and organized my equipment. We had another delicious lunch, then visited with Rosa Fernandez, Alex Gavan, and Simone La Terra. The remainder of the afternoon was spent packing our backpacks for tomorrow’s climb. We plan on climbing to Camp I, sleeping a night there, then climbing to Camp II and descending to Camp I to sleep there another night, then descending to base camp before the start of the heavy snow.
Today, I woke up at 6am to a clear, cold, beautiful morning in base camp. I took some photos of our camp in fresh snow, then spent the next few hours setting up my solar power system. We had breakfast at 8:30am, which again was impressive. Wendy and Simon decided to remain a day in base camp to rest and will descend tomorrow. The remainder of the morning was spent organizing equipment. I began preparing meals for the mountain and put some of the gear I intend to bring up to Camp I and II together. We had a delicious lunch as the weather worsened outside. Snow fell, and the temperature dropped as the light dwindled. We enjoyed our last dinner with the trekkers and returned to our respective tents. The base camp dog, who we named Dhaula looked cold, so I spent some time preparing the vestibule of my base camp tent with a mattress pad and an emergency blanket so that she could come inside and get warm. Surprisingly, she did and spent half of the night with me and half of the night with Eva.
Today, we began the longest day of our trek to base camp, starting around 7:30am. We made our way up the grassy hills above Italian Base Camp then descended onto the glacial moraine formed by the Chhonbardan Glacier, where we remained for the rest of the day. The morning temperatures were cool and breezy, and we didn’t stop for a break until we reached sunny slopes. We turned a corner and reached Japanese Base Camp at 12,762ft/3890m where we got a beautiful view of Dhaulagiri, Manapathi and Tsaurabong. We stopped briefly here to remove layers and noticed a few climbers waiting nearby. Later we discovered that two of these men were evacuated by helicopter, but we still are unsure of the reason. An hour later, we saw Tukuche Peak before clouds came up the valley and obscured our view. The wind picked up, and we put our layers back on for the remaining hours as light snow began to fall. We eventually turned a corner and headed up the glacier where we got our first view of Dhaulagiri Base Camp. We crossed the river and gained the moraine where our base camp was located. We were disappointed by the lukewarm welcome we received when we arrived, and I had to ask multiple times about the disposition of our tents as the weather further deteriorated. We were given no tea, and hardly got a hello as we took refuge inside the mess tent. Fortunately our bags arrived, and we thanked our porters and gave them generous tips before wishing them a safe descent. After all of this was finished, our base camp tents were finally sorted, and we moved our equipment inside. We had a delicious dinner prepared by Gopal, the same cook I had in 2009 on Manaslu. The dinner saved the day, as we were all quite disappointed in the base camp services until we ate it. We relaxed in the mess tent as the heavy snow began to lighten, and by the time we retired to our tents, the moon came out and lit up the base camp in a beautiful blue light. We settled in for the night. A dog had made her way to base camp and was covered in ice after the snow storm, so I spent some time warming her up and fed her before bed. I left a mattress pad in the vestibule of my tent so she had somewhere dry and insulated from the icy glacier to sleep for the night.
Today, we woke up at 5:00am, packed up our things, had breakfast at the teahouse, and began the trek to Italian Base Camp. The temperatures were cool for most of the day and we made good time as we climbed through lush dense bamboo forests. We stopped in Sallaghari (11,392ft/3445m) where we had lunch and charged up our equipment, taking advantage of the sun before the afternoon rain began, then continued on through drier terrain to Italian Base Camp. Here, we got a view of the Dhaulagiri’s rocky west face, which made an appearance in the late afternoon when the clouds cleared. We took advantage of the nice weather and paid 300Rs each for a hot shower. We set up our camp, ate dinner, and went to sleep, excited for tomorrow when we will reach Dhaulagiri Base Camp.
Today, we woke up to a calm clear morning and began the trek to Doban Kharka. We took a short detour to see the Hot Springs (Tatopani) less than an hour from Bagara, then continued up and down steep lush muddy slopes (with leeches) to Lipsiba where we stopped for tea. We enjoyed the shade of the small shack as we watched the water buffalo graze on the stinging nettle, amazed that they were able to tolerate it. It began to drizzle lightly as we approached Doban, but we enjoyed the cooler temperatures so the rain didn’t bother us. We arrived and took shelter in the small teahouse while our cook prepared lunch and tea. We again waited anxiously for the porters to arrive and were finally able to relax once they did. We set up our camp, washed off in the river, and had dinner in the fading twilight. Tomorrow, we will trek from Doban to Italian Base Camp (12,008ft/3660m).
Today, we woke up at 6:00am, packed up our very damp equipment, had breakfast at the tea house, and began the trek to Bagara in the cool morning hours. Not long after we crossed the Myagdi Khola (Khola means river), we stopped for a tea break. We resumed our trek after this in the hot mid-morning temperatures, and I eventually broke away from the group to go my own pace. A few hours later, we arrived to Bagara at 6824ft/2080m where we had lunch inside a small hut and continued down in light rain to the place where we were to establish our camp. Shortly after arriving, the rain intensified, then turned to hail. We felt awful for the porters who were stuck out in this weather and applauded when they finally arrived. We set up camp, had dinner in a small tea house, and went to sleep early to beautiful bird songs and the occasional rooster call (which at first was nice, but later became a nuisance).
Today, we woke up early, packed up our things, and said farewell to Jeremy, as he doesn’t have time to trek to Dhaulagiri basecamp anymore thanks to the change in our plans. He decided instead to trek part of the Annapurna circuit via Poon Hill before heading home. We all already miss him and it hasn’t even been a day. We began trekking through Darbang and walked on a dirt road for the first few hours of the trek. We aren’t following the traditional trekking route, instead opting for a variant that is slightly shorter and meets up with the normal trekking route on day 2. We enjoyed the cool calm morning, and were gifted with views of Dhaulagiri II, III and V up the valley (we are climbing the highest, which is Dhaulagiri I). We eventually reached the end of the road, and the route became steep as we climbed up and down the face of the foothills surrounding the Myagdi Khola. As the cool temperatures of the morning gave way to extremely hot temperatures and high humidity, we did our best to stay cool and hydrated. We reached Kalleni, where we took a break for tea and made friends with a local toddler then continued for a few more hours until we reached Khamla. The plan had originally been to continue onto Jukepani, however, since we hadn’t seen our porters all day and saw no sign of them when we looked back, we decided to stop in Khamla for lunch and remain here for the night. The camp was located among terraced farmland, and we were surrounded with chickens, roosters, water buffalo, dogs, and horses. The location was absolutely stunning. We waited for a few hours, worried that we would experience the same disappointment we had at Yak Kharka. Thankfully, the porters followed through and all of our equipment made it to Khamla. We settled in for the evening, had a relaxed dinner in a tea house close to where we had our tents pitched, and went to bed.
Today, we woke up at 6:00am, packed up our equipment, had breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, and walked our bags down to the place just outside of town where our bus was waiting for us. The bus ride was even more turbulent than before, and we all hit our heads on something along the way. We found it strange how many people the bus stopped to pick up and drop off along the way, despite apparently being a bus hired just to take us down. We eventually made it to Beni, where we had a late lunch. We were met by another staff member from Prestige Adventure, who tried to order us the two cheapest things on the menu (rice and French fries, as if that’s a meal), insisting that we must only get one or at most two different dishes for the entire table. We pushed back and managed to get some protein into the meal. Afterwards, we carried on, completing the drive to Darbang. When we arrived, we had no hotel reservation (despite the tour operator having three days’ notice and a definite arrival date), and we waited around for awhile while our poor trekking guide worked to figure something out. After some time, we managed to snag four small rooms, and we spent the rest of the afternoon organizing gear, taking much-needed showers, and charging our electronics. We had a traditional Nepali dahl set meal and went to sleep early. Tomorrow, we will begin our trek to Dhaulagiri Base Camp.
Today, we woke up, had a quick breakfast, and walked through town, past the temple, toward Thorung La. The well-marked, steep route passes by a number of small guesthouses and shelters along the way. All of the climbers and one of the trekkers (Jeremy, who shattered his previous altitude record of 14,410ft) made it to the top, while all of the trekkers broke altitude records but turned back before reaching the pass. Overall, the day was a huge success and was a much-needed change from the logistical nightmare we have been dealing with so far on the expedition. We descended quickly, witnessing a beautiful sunset along the way, and had dinner in our hotel. Tomorrow, we will drive from Muktinath to Darbang, where we will begin the trek to Dhaulagiri base camp the following day.
Today we had breakfast and awaited the arrival of our bags from the small shepherd’s hut. We packed up our things and the bus to Beni arrived in the late morning. After much deliberation and an argument with our tour operator, we finally decided to head in the opposite direction from Beni and drive to Muktinath at 12,171ft/3710m elevation. We weren’t confident that the porters would be ready to leave the following day from Darbang since the person who was to arrange them hadn’t even arrived in the city where they were to be sourced. We didn’t want to spend an extended amount of time at very low elevation and lose the acclimatization that we had gained from our hike to Yak Kharka and from sleeping in Marpha. Muktinath is a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists and the name means “place of liberation”. The Tibetan Buddhist tradition states that Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, had meditated at Muktinath on his way to Tibet. After arriving to this beautiful sacred town, we all felt liberated from our earlier troubles and more at peace. After checking into our hotel and having dinner, we were greeted with stunning views of Dhaulagiri as the sun fell behind the range, our first glimpse of our climbing objective since arriving to Nepal. The energy of our group shifted and we all had smiles on our faces. We plan on waking up early tomorrow to climb up to Thorong La, a high mountain pass with an elevation of 17,769 ft/5416m, returning in the early evening, and leaving Muktinath for Darbang the following day to begin our trek to Dhaulagiri Basecamp, working under the assumption that 3 full days should be sufficient time to ensure that we have porters ready upon our arrival.
Today, Ryan, Jeremy and I woke up at 6:30am to a beautiful view of Nilgiri. We waited for our tents to dry a bit, and after some time, our breakfast and water arrived from below (we went to sleep last night without water or food; only what we had left from the morning and the bars we had packed for the day). We ate, then began our descent to Marpha. We were told that the group gear (kitchen tent, cooking equipment, and tents) would be sent up from Alu Bari to Yak Kharka today so that when we leave Marpha tomorrow, we are assured to have a camp to arrive to. We arrived without incident to Marpha in the late morning and had lunch. While we were eating, our trekking guide informed us that the remaining porters had run away AGAIN; this time apparently due to the fact that a couple of trekkers and their porters had disappeared days before during bad weather on that same route. Having already changed our plans once due to the fiasco that had occurred just the day before, I told him I needed some time to think and decided to visit with a friend who was in Marpha. Jeremy and I spent the afternoon visiting with Eva Zarzuelo who was on K2 with me in 2016. We hiked up to a temple high above town and were joined by a very friendly temple dog, who followed us all over on our walk. After this, we returned to the hotel and had dinner and discussed a new plan that had been made to bring down our bags from the stone hut on donkeys and take a bus in the late morning back down to Beni to begin the trek via the longer, easier route that starts in Darbang. We discussed possible alternate plans at dinner and went to bed not knowing what to expect the following day.
Today we woke up at 7:00am, ate a quick breakfast, and prepared our bags for the trek to Yak Kharka. We headed into town where the route began and headed up the foothills surrounding Marpha. What began as a relatively well-established trail turned into goat tracks. We worked our way up these steep slopes as the winds picked up. An ice ring began to form around the sun and we knew it wouldn’t be long before precipitation followed. We turned a corner at 11,750 ft (3581m) and rain began to fall, accelerated by the intense gusty winds. We stopped to put on our waterproof gear, and continued on to a small shelter, where we stopped to have some water. It was here where we realized that even the porters didn’t know the route. We continued as the rain turned to snow and crossed a gully to begin the climb up grassy slopes toward Yak Kharka. The storm intensified, at times causing whiteouts, and the staff that had accompanied us did not know the way. Ryan descended from Yak Kharka to see where the porters were and met us. Badia, Mauricio, their Sherpa, and Ryan had been waiting for an hour in the intense snow with no shelter and were beginning to get cold (fortunately Ryan had packed his small 1-man tent, which provided some limited shelter while things were sorted). Communication broke down between the porters and the staff and it became evident that continuing up the remaining 700ft to Yak Kharka would not be wise with no sign of the tents anywhere and all of us soaking wet thanks to the very wet snow that was falling. We made the decision to descend to Alu Bari (3900m/12,795ft), decreasing the distance that the porters with the tents and cooking equipment would have to go before reaching us. We took refuge from the storm inside a small stone shepherd’s hut with a fire burning inside (set by one of our porters) to warm up and waited for the rest of the porters to arrive. As the light began to fade and there was no sign of anyone coming up, it became clear that we needed to descend, as we didn’t have sleeping bags, tents, food or a stove and a few in our team were beginning to show signs of hypothermia. We began our descent in the dark at 7:00pm and arrived to another stone shelter where we discovered all of our equipment abandoned inside. We were told that two porters had been injured and the rest had run away. We discussed our plan, and decided that Ryan, Jeremy and I would stay there overnight while the others continued the descent to Marpha. We set up our personal tents on the roof of the stone structure and guarded the equipment with our cook. We ate a few bars and drank some of the remaining water we had from the morning and settled in for the night. The clouds parted, the winds died down and we were treated to stunning view of Nilgiri across the valley underneath billions of stars on a moonless night. Moments like these make all of my frustrations disappear, and despite all of the things that had gone wrong today, I felt lucky to be standing on that dirty rooftop with such humbling surroundings.