Brian Smith, a 1988 South Medford High School graduate, is more than halfway up Mount Everest in a quest to reach the top of the world.
The son of Larry and Linda Smith of Jacksonville will be sending periodic e-mail dispatches to the Mail Tribune as his adventure continues. His abridged e-mail journals will appear in the paper, while unabridged versions will be carried on the Web site at www.mailtribune.com.
All I can say about this dream coming true is, wow! Not only am I in the big leagues for the first time in my life, but I am playing in the World Series.
One of my teammates is Mustafa (Mahmoud Salameh) from Jordan. Mustafa is the first Jordanian to ever attempt Everest. He is a national hero in Jordan. Our first call if/when we make the summit is a live video satellite call to the king of Jordan himself! Mustafa was also knighted by the king recently after he made the summit of Cho Oyu and Denali last year.
Mustafa and I hit it off immediately. We are about to go explore Kathmandu together. Our two Norwegian teammates are to arrive later today. What a great international team we have.
Erik and I hit it off right away, also. He is another teammate who has made the summit of Cho Oyu (the sixth highest peak in the world) as well as Ama Dablam and multiple ascents in Ecuador, the Cascades and an attempt on Aconcagua after mine. They didn't make the summit. He told me that since I made the summit of Aconcagua in January, only five climbers have since made it.
Kathmandu is a trip. It is a city of 10 million and reminds me of Manila with total chaos as you drive on the wrong side of the road while sharing 11/2 lanes with bikes, five cars, three motorcycles, cows and pedestrians. The city is a mix of Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian. What a contrast in religions!
We are well on our way into Everest base camp and are in the famous Namche Bazaar for the next two nights at 11,309 feet. We have hiked maybe 15 miles so far.
I loved Kathmandu but could not get out of there fast enough because the air quality was so bad.
So far the trek has been beyond amazing. We hike along beautiful rivers, through dense forests and cross many wild suspension bridges as they swing and sway a couple hundred feet above the rivers. Many yaks and porters are coming and going along the trail as there are no roads in here. We have about 50 porters for our team, each being about 5 feet, 3 inches, 90 pounds and carrying 130 pounds or so apiece in baskets suspended off their heads by a single strap. I saw two porters each carrying five sheets of 3/4-inch plywood for the past two days. I couldn't carry one sheet for a mile and they are at 15 miles and over 11,000 feet.
The tea houses are fairly nice. We have a bed and tonight we have a shower and bathroom in our room. The food is good and the Sherpa people wonderful. My bunk mate is Mustafa. He told me today that on the summit he is going to put me on the live satellite video feed with the king of Jordan, where I will be congratulated by the king and can talk to him for a few minutes. I just have to refer to his as "your majesty" while talking to him. How cool is that!
Tonight we are in Gorak Shep at 17,000 feet (5,180 meters) very close to Everest. So far I have climbed 20,000 vertical feet in elevation with my side adventures — up to 17,000 feet several times along the way — and hiked over 50 miles.
Our team is coming together very nicely. Erik, Willy (our team leader) and I often run or hike at a four-mph pace between Sherpa villages even at the 17,000 foot level. We are known as the speedsters of Everest. I feel really strong. Some of the trekkers in our support team are really suffering from the high altitude, though. Yesterday we came across a trekker lying in the rocks semiconscious at 16,400 feet. We checked him out and encouraged him to head down immediately.
We have a record amount of teams on the mountain this year. We have 33 teams setting up at base camp for a push to the summit just on the south side. Along with the record amount of teams I am sure 2007 will be the record year for fatalities on Everest. Willy has been to the summit five times and is one of the top high-altitude climbers in the world, so I am very confident in his skills and judgment. Yesterday we passed through a region with about 40 memorials to Everest climbers who have lost their lives.
We have been at Everest base camp for five days or so now. My tent is sitting at 17,500 feet right at the base of the Khumbu Icefall. All day and night the air is filled with the sound of massive booming avalanches coming off Everest.
Yesterday our Sherpas were able to punch up to Camp II. The day before I pushed up to 18,100 feet inside the ice fall with some of the climbers from our team. Wow! is all I can say about the Khumbu Icefall. It is a fascinating and spooky place all at the same time. We crossed three crevasses on suspension ladders. Our third crevasse spanned 20 feet wide and 200 feet deep. It takes concentration to cross while wearing crampons over three suspension ladders that are lashed together at the ends.
At 18,100 feet we traversed and climbed what seemed to be miles of fixed lines and ladders and yet we were still 1,400 feet beneath Camp I and only one third of the way through the icefall.
It is warm and sunny each morning at base camp and then about noon the temperature plummets down to around zero and it snows all afternoon and into the evening. Nights are cold with it being near zero at 8 p.m. inside our tents.
Our team has suffered from severe illness for the past week or so. Mustafa was down with a serious flu and is finally feeling better. Casey, Bjorn and Erik had serious and violent diarrhea and vomiting for the past week and now Willy is sick. I have been healthy other than a case of the "Khumbu cough." My concern is that this cough often turns into broken ribs at 23,000 feet.
We are now actually climbing Everest. Today three from our climbing team and two of the Khumbu extension climbers made it up to Camp I at 19,870 feet and then descended back to base camp.
The climb was amazing and dangerous inside the Khumbu Icefall. In all it took us 91/2 hours round trip. Sections of the icefall seem worse this year then in past years, according to Willie. I climbed or crossed 33 extension ladders. We moved fast and kept in mind that the icefall is no place to hang out for long. At times we had to cross underneath arches of ice that will collapse any day now. These arches were 100 feet high and consisted of hundreds of thousands of tons of ice.
The South Koreans have a huge team up here this year. Yesterday the prime minister of South Korea flew in to base camp in a helicopter to congratulate and motivate their national climbing team. His helicopter almost crashed on takeoff. There are crashed helicopters all over base camp. Inside the icefall I found a helicopter rotor blade stuck in the ice from a crash in 2005 that killed two people and severely injured five more.
Mustafa and Casey have retreated down to Namche to attempt to recover from their illnesses. It is amazing how the body simply does not heal itself above 17,000 feet. Cuts don't heal, coughs don't heal and colds don't go away easily. Fortunately I have only suffered with the common "Khumbu cough," which about 90 percent of everyone up here has. Some are much worse than I am. It seems like I coughed up a lot of stuff last night.
It was both good to get back to base camp yesterday, as well as disappointing that I did not get up to Camp III on my third trip up high onto Everest.
Base camp is much more comfortable than the high camps. During the mornings up high it is nice and warm as long as you are hanging out in camp. If we are climbing in the morning, whether inside the Khumbu Icefall or Western Cwm (cirque), it is a veritable oven and feels like it is 130 degrees in the still morning air under a very intense high altitude sun. So far I have been through the Khumbu Icefall three times round trip.
My night at Camp II never seemed to end. It was cold and the air thin. Having a case of the Khumbu cough going did not allow for any deep rest, as a deep violent coughing fit was never far away, and always left me breathless and exhausted. In the morning everything inside the tent was covered in frost. My 40-degrees-below sleeping bag had a thick layer of ice covering it. Unless we are moving up to the next camp, we generally wait until the sun hits the tents to make getting out of our bags a little warmer and easier.
Signing off until Camp III!