More Than Just a Mountain Top 超越众山之巅
You wouldn’t think of the area just below Mount Everest as a “hot” place. When most people think about the tallest mountain in the world, “icy,” “treacherous,” and “windy” come to mind. Contrary to popular belief, heat was one of the principle factors that kept me from summiting this year, just beneath Camp 4, 1,000 meters below the top.
I had been working towards the goal of summiting for a better part of 6 years, a major milestone moment of a much bigger endeavor. It started back in 2010 when I sat down and listed 100 bucket list items as a thinking exercise. I was, at the time, putting together the pieces of a puzzle that would end up becoming the JaYoe World Tour. The tour was a 5-year long cycle around the world incorporating my love of travel, filmmaking, and living adventurously. It was also a vehicle for checking off all my bucket list items by the completion of the tour, no matter how unachievable or unrealistic I thought them to be.
Number one on the list… Summit Mount Everest.
I had no idea how I would go about accomplishing this goal. In fact, I never climbed a mountain in my life. All I knew was that summiting Mount Everest was a symbol, a symbol of everything I thought was impossible. In my mind, normal people didn’t climb Mount Everest, they watched people on adventure shows do it. Real life has rules, managed risk, and eliminated the possibility of things like climbing to the top of the world.
But as soon as I moved beyond the reasons I couldn’t and shouldn’t do it, I started inching my way to the summit.
Climbing Mount Everest requires a few things as prerequisites: money, which I surely didn’t have enough of, and experience, of which I had none. Financially, the cost to climb Everest is substantial. Adding up gear, flights, permits and hiring an expedition company, I was looking at close to $80,000. When you think about what can be bought with $80,000, the mind reels with images of luxury cars, a heaping spoonful of amazing vacations and even a house to live in. I had a mission in mind though, so over the subsequent years I pushed aside buying those things for myself and instead put everything I made into a special “Everest Fund”. I am not a wealthy person, but I stashed almost all the money I made into this fund for the following 6 years and eventually, I made it work.
Gaining climbing experience was another story. Climbing Everest requires that you understand how your body behaves at high altitudes. You have to know the effects of oxygen depravation and appreciate the endurance it takes to climb. So over the course of 5 years I climbed ever higher and higher mountains. First stop was Haba Mountain in Lijiang (5800m), then Yuzhufeng in Qinghai (6178m), and topped off with Muztagh Ata in Xinjiang (7509m). Getting up over 7500m meters gave me real understanding and confidence, knowing that I could withstand and achieve those heights without having any internal edema or hemorrhaging. I also learned that my big lumbering body makes me an extremely slow climber, an important realization for the road ahead.
Fast-forward 6 years. I found the expedition company, attained a slot on the team, amassed the experience necessary and arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, to start the Journey to Everest.
There are 2 ways to climb the biggest mountain in the world, the South Face and the North Face. The north face of Everest is in Tibet, has road access all the way to base camp, and consists of a bit more political red tape and hassle to climb. The south face is inside Nepal, a week hike from any road or airport through the Nepalese countryside, and is a bit more of an “all-inclusive climbing Journey”. Whatever the case, I chose the expedition climbing from the south.
When I got to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, I learned very quickly that I was a small fish in a large pond of experienced climbers and athletes. When I told myself I was going to climb Everest 6 years ago, I had never met anyone that had done so. I was inspired by what I saw on National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, but soon I found myself shaking hands with people that had made multiple trips to the top. Heroes on TV instantly became friends and fellow climbers. It was truly surreal.
I left Kathmandu shortly after meeting my teammates and headed to the airport to board a small commuter plane and fly 30 minutes to what seems to be known as the most “dangerous airport in the world”, Tenzing–Hillary Airport. It has earned that title due its dismal safety record and the fact that the runway sits at an 11.7 degree angle running up a hillside in the city of Lukla, which stands at an elevation of 2845 m.
From Lukla my team and I embarked on the trek to Everest Base Camp, and over the next 5 days we passed through some exceptionally beautiful countryside, winding up and down through hills that became less and less green, eventually giving way to dry tundra and subsequently white glacier. Along the way we stayed at tea/rest houses with rudimentary services, meant only to hold trekkers for a night’s rest and nothing more.
Arriving at base camp, we settled in for the next month. Base Camp was part of our expedition package, so we had a tent of our own to call home, 3 meals a day and even a gravity-fed shower. When not training on the glacier, days were occupied with the basics: rest, eat, shit and sleep. In tandem with those times we all experienced headaches, nausea, and a general malaise, all symptoms of being at 5360 meters above sea level. This was all part of the plan, because in order to have our bodies properly attuned to climb to the height of Everest, time needed to be spent at elevation.
The average human body is designed to live at sea level. Our blood is intended to pump oxygen that exists at this level to the muscles and organs in our body, providing enough fuel to power us through the day.
At altitude the same volume of air has less oxygen in it, meaning that there is less O2 in every breath to be directed throughout the body. Less fuel means less energy. It also means that parts of your body are perpetually starved of air. For some people this can have devastating effects, but for most climbers, it simply means you’re tired, lazy, and have a perpetual headache. This typically increases as you ascend, elevating the risk as you climb further.
The good news is that your body slowly catches on to the new environment, and produces more red cells in the blood to try to carry more of what little O2 exists in the air. This takes time, which is why we sit and wait at basecamp for so long before moving up the mountain.
For the rest of Matt’s epic adventure up the world’s tallest mountain, stay tuned for Part II in our August issue. If you’re interested in following Matt’s journey from his camera lens, you can check out his day-by-day vlog of the entire journey from beginning to end at www.jayoe.com, chapters 1-55 of the JY_VLOG.
Written & Photos by (作者, 图片来源): Matt Galat
Chinese translation credits to: NINGBO FOCUS