|Untagged||3 Jun 2008 7:17 PM|
|Story in The UK's Independent: Into the Death Zone by The Web Team|
|Untagged||2 Jun 2008 2:00 AM|
|Challenging Times by Don Bowie|
Over the last few weeks I've endured some of the most challenging moments of my life. My repeated attempts to sufficiently articulate myself in words have mostly ended with the delete key, typing the opening lines of this dispatch over and over- but I've finally managed to get out a few thoughts...
First, I am deeply saddened by Inaki's death on Annapurna. Inaki's accomplishments in the high mountains of the world were beyond impressive, and he leaves very large footprints to fill for those chasing the highest summits. He will be missed by many. My thoughts these days are with the friends and family he left behind, and my prayers are that they would be comforted in this difficult time.
I also frequently think of Nancy, Inaki's girlfriend, who stayed throughout the entire ordeal at base camp, often coordinating rescue efforts herself, and then having to endure departing the mountain without Inaki by her side. The courage and strength she showed throughout those impossibly challenging days was extraordinary.
My heart also goes out to Horia, my former partner on the expedition, who stayed with Inaki until the very last moment possible. Endangering his own life, he had to be convinced to come down, unwilling to leave until help had arrived. Such loyalty is uncommon these days.
Ueli and Simon, the two Swiss climbers who immediately went up to help, had no knowledge of the route or way through the glaciers and left their camp in the darkness of night- with no high altitude equipment (theirs was stashed on another route)- to bring medicine to Inaki in Camp 4. Ueli's display of strength and courage, climbing alone in extremely poor and dangerous conditions was, plainly stated, beyond heroic.
Dennis Urubko and I started climbing from near Machppucharre Base Camp to Camp 2 immediately after the helicopter dropped us there mid morning of the 23rd. Two different helicopters had tried in vain to place us as higher on the mountain, but thick cloud cover repelled earlier efforts. We would have to start the climb from even lower than base camp. Climbing through new snow and poor visibility, we reached Camp 2 after a 7 hour slog. Alexei Bolotov met us in the tent, surprising Dennis and I with his intention of ascending back up to the ridge with us. After 1 or 2 hours of sleep, the three of us began climbing the wall. Early that morning we met Simon and Horia descending near the bottom of the steeper slopes. Ueli had convinced him to leave and was now making his way along the ridge toward Inaki. Horia was weak from his extended stay at altitude, but had improved with the thicker air at 6200 meters. (and a dose of dexamethasone, which Ueli had administered up on the ridge).
The snow was soft and deep. Simon and Horia's down-tracks had all but disappeared under the fresh snow of spindrift avalanches. One avalanche in particular split in 3, with the major portions sliding behind, between, and in front of Dennis and I, who were about 10 meters apart when it hit. When the snow cloud cleared, Dennis turned and looked down at me, asking me if I was alive. My simple response was "Yup", and we continued up the wall, saying nothing more about the event. Despite the soft conditions, we climbed as fast as we could, reaching Camp 3 a few hours later and taking a short break to re-hydrate and rest for half an hour. But just before we began up the steep slopes above the tent, Ueli's voice came franticly over the radio, announcing Inaki had stopped breathing. Standing on the narrow ledge at 7000 meters, we both cried...
Since the helicopter flew us out of base camp on the 25th, I've spent my days soaking in the relative comforts of Pokhara, the small city nestled in the jungle foothills below the Annapurna Sanctuary. Monsoon has almost arrived, and as the afternoon thunderstorms wash away the debris in the streets, so the rain also seems to have some therapeutic affect on my heart, which has been so saddened these last few weeks- first, with Inaki's death, then my grandmother who, unbeknownst to me at the time, had passed only a few hours later. Then, when I opened my emails back in Pokhara, I learned of the death of my friend Gianni Goltz on Everest.
Enduring such adversity and challenges while being so far removed from my friends and family during this time has been extremely difficult, yet, I feel your strength even now. Your prayers, encouraging emails, and messages have been my strength through such adversity, and at some point I hope to thank every one of you for you support. It continues to be made clear to me that my strengths come from the cords of many.
In a few days I depart for my next expedition, which I intend to announce upon arrival in country. More to follow soon...