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Day 18. Sleeping at 19,800 ft. (September 18, 2010)

Current Position
Position Date: 2010-09-19 00:35:04
Position Latitude: 27.9872
Position Longitude: 86.8777

Chhering, my Stanley mug and some really good Ramen noodles in Camp 1.We (Chhering and I) are up early and making our way up the ice fall to Camp 1. For the first hour, it is clear and beautiful. Behind us Pumori peak rises high into the sky.

It is quiet. I don't remember it ever being this quiet on the Arctic Ocean and certainly only a few times in Antarctica. If it weren't for my heavy breathing, I could probably hear my heart beat too. Every so often, we hear the low rumble of a nearby avalanche tumbling down one of the steep rocky slopes adjacent to the ice fall. Our footsteps are quiet in the soft snow. With the weather becoming increasingly worse (read: whiteout) our world is reduced to these few sounds. We don't talk much as both of us are focused on the task at hand - navigating our way up the ice fall.

For Chhering, this is more routine than anything. To say he is quiet is an understatement. He's only now told me I've been spelling his name wrong. During our few short breaks, I learn that he has summited Everest four times. Last year, he also spent four nights camped on the South Col. His feats span far greater than his 21 years - twice summiting Cho Oyu in the span of three days. Coming down from the South Col last year, he carried over 150 pounds of gear in two duffels strapped to his back.

'I fell twice and broke the antenna I was carrying,' he commented modestly. The feat is remarkable on many levels not to mention that his slight frame holds only 125 pounds at the most.

Climbing steadily, I feel old and slow.

While Chhering and everyone else has offered to carry my gear, clothes and food, I remain resolutely stubborn in doing my part. That said, compared to the efforts of the Dawa, Passang, Passang and the rest of our small Sherpa team, my efforts are minimal at best.

We have given up on using fixed ropes in the ice fall as most are buried in a thick layer of snow that has accumulated over the past couple of days. Looking at the upper ice fall, I have to amend my previos bread loaf analogy The glacier here is more like a long layer cake cut into slices. It is easy to distinguish separate layers of ice - each layer representing a year's accumulation of snow and dust. These layers and slices are then twisted and cracked in ways I never thought possible.

Suddenly, we hear a louder rumble and I look up to see a large cloud of snow billowing towards us. I race up to a large ice block for potential cover. Chhering back tracks a bit to the same spot. I have enough time to analyze the quality of snow racing towards us and am thankful that is just spindrift. Still, it was a fairly large avalanche relatively close. We would learn later that two Sherpas for the Japanese climber were luckily in the middle of the slide - the only place not affected by moving snow.

We waded through deep snow to our supply cache at Camp 1 and quickly began leveling a platform and setting up our SD Mountain Meteor tent. It was snowing hard so I added a shell on top of my Terramar base layer. In no time, I was immersed in the routine of setting up the tent and camp and the stresses and hardships of the day's hike were already becoming a distant memory.

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