After walking alone for the past three days through rugged valleys over a distance of 30-plus miles, I have reached the land of the living once again. It has been over a month since I've seen trees, grass and flowers.
It smells fresh and clean here. After a month without a shower, the only smells high up on Everest are your own.
It is hard to believe that only five days ago I was at 23,200 feet on Everest. The world changed so much during my 12,000-vertical-foot descent.
There are not many states in the USA were you can get 12,000 feet of relief. You can't in Oregon or Colorado.
Everest gave me a special "hello" today just before I dropped down into Namche. I turned to look back and could not believe the point I saw floating high up in the clouds 18,000 vertical feet above me. It did not seem possible to have a peak sticking out of the clouds so high in the sky.
To get the same effect, you would have to add another nearly 5,000 feet to Rainier as you viewed it from around Enumclaw on a semi-clear day. Everest seemed to be telling me to hurry back. I enjoyed the sight for a couple of minutes before Everest in her entirety was swallowed up in the clouds and vanished for the day.
Once I reached the 14,000-foot level, the air became so very thick that my lungs were flowing in oxygen. The 14,000-foot level still only contains 66 percent of the oxygen breathed at sea level, but in comparison to the 41 percent I was breathing at Camp III, it is a life-giving difference.
I am feeling fortunate after my experience with high-altitude pulmonary edema. I was reading the other day that up to 15 percent of HAPE victims die within a couple of hours.
My body is responding quickly. My cough is almost completely gone and I am eating huge quantities of food and sleeping 12 hours or more per night as my body recovers.
It is too early to tell, but I still have a chance at the summit. Willie told me just as I was leaving base camp that if I can eat a lot, get healthy, ditch my cough and gain some weight, he will give up his Lhotse summit bid to return to Everest's summit with me around the 25th of May. This is incredibly generous of Willie. Not many people in the world have ever made two summit bids on Everest within a week or so of each other. Not many in the world have that kind of strength.
I will play it by ear until Willie calls me back to base camp and keep my fingers crossed. I have not given up on my dream, but although I am pretty much acclimatized for a summit bid, the summit is miles away from me, literally.
I did enjoy the three-day walk down here, lost in my thoughts as the miles passed beneath my feet. Life is so simple here in the Khumbu region. I have not even seen an automobile for more than 40 days. I imagine that many of the Sherpa people living here have never seen an automobile in their lives.
If you travel anywhere in this region, you walk. If you need to bring anything, you carry it suspended by a rope over your head. I saw a porter today carrying a large Honda generator along with five gallons of gas all suspended off a rope hanging from the top of his head. Amazing people, these porters are.
My porter, who carried my two bags full of climbing gear down from base camp, was about 5-foot-3 and 100 pounds. The equipment in my bags weighed in at 100 pounds! I will never complain about dragging those two big duffels through the airports again. Every time I struggle with them I will just picture them both strapped together hanging off a rope from the top of my porter's head as he walked more than 30 miles. He is headed on a three-day walk back to base camp once again tomorrow with another heavy load.
That's about it for now. Time to stuff myself with pizza and chocolate cake over at the bakery. It has been three hours since I ate last.