December 30, 2003:
Don't remember what woke me up. Sun on the tent maybe. Or voices. People in the cooking tent are awake. Getting stuff ready for breakfast. We don't have too much time to sit around. There's a long day ahead of us. We need to get moving. We need to get home.
Willi calls hot drinks while the rest of us start getting things organized for the move out. Trying to get stuff done with two other guys in the tent is like trying to get out of a straight-jacket in a crowded elevator. And Dad's -40 bag isn't making things any easier. On the plus side though, he's moving around, and he more or less remembers everything that happened yesterday. So that’s good. He's just pretty tired, that’s all.
As Carolyn passes breakfast over from the next tent, I notice a ridiculously dramatic bandage wrapped around her head. In the night her ear had started hurting and Winslow discovered that she had suffered frost bite. Not sure how it happened, but there it is. A black ear.
Breakfast is gruel with peaches again. Colin’s not thrilled. He and Mark are sick of peaches. Peaches in cereal. Peaches in soup. Peaches in curry. Mark calls it a crime. Colin refuses to eat it. I manage to force mine down, but I almost become ill. Yeah peaches.
An hour or more before we're done striking camp. I notice the two guys from Brentwood have been gone about that long, probably to Independencia by now. Seems less windy than yesterday. They should do well.
Tom's finally ready, so we can get going. He's the only person I've ever known who has tried to put his sleeping bag in his stuff sack while he's still in he sleeping bag.
Ang Dorje is carrying three tents again. How does he do that? And there's still more gear cached at Camp II. That guy's amazing.
We crampon across the ice field and traverse down to Camp II, passing that tent wreckage again. Everyone seems to think there's a body in there, but there's not. It's just some tent that got blown off the mountain when it‘s owners weren‘t looking. Now that old tent at the base of the Polish? That one had a body in it. Back in the early 80s? Maybe. Two guys on the Polish, one falls, breaks his arm. His buddy coulda walked him off the mountain, but instead leaves him to go get help. Two helicopters crash in the rescue attempt and the guy dies of cold.
Camp II we sort cached gear. Tom, Nigel and I try to break a hole in that frozen lake again so we can all refill our water. The hole we make isn’t big enough for our bottles so we have to use the dipper. Long work to get everyone full.
So the crew's gonna split up at this point, and at the last minute Nigel’s decided he's gonna join them. That makes Willi, Winslow, Tom and Nigel attempting the Polish tonight. They're all pretty tired from yesterday, and they probably wouldn't be giving it a shot except that Willi says conditions are the best he's seen in a long time, and they can't say no to that. Wish I could go with them, but I didn’t bring any of my technical gear. Nigel had to borrow a lot to be able to make this bid, so there wouldn't be enough gear left lying around for me to use. Oh well. I might be back this way in another ten or so. We'll see.
I let Tom borrow my overmitts for this climb. He had Black Diamonds, but his hands were cold yesterday, so he's gonna use my OR's. He asks me if I remember that day when we moved to Ameghino Col and I helped him carry some of his gear. He wanted to tell me again how much he appreciated it. He's told me this before. He just wanted to say again that it was a very nice gesture in helping him out.
So here we say our goodbyes and take a few pics of the Polish team, you know, for the newspapers. Ang Dorje is gonna come down with the five of us left. Colin, Mark, Carolyn, Dad, and myself. Ang Dorje has added a pressure cooker to his pack. Dad's working to get his ridgerest secured to his. And we're literally walking out of camp when someone shouts to Ang Dorje to hold up. It’s Willi, on the radio with Base Camp. We piddle around a bit while he finishes his conversation with Ellie. Dad takes off his pack and Winslow helps him make a few adjustments.
Willi shuts off the radio and tells Ang Dorje that there are three people in the second group who are turning around and that we'll need to pick them up at Camp I. One guy has a bad cough, the other two are a father-son crew. The son is calling it quits, so the father decided to turn back with him, which was a tough decision because the father was very fit. Mark and Colin exchange an "are you kidding me" look and suggest that we give these guys some grief for throwing the towel. Willi asks Ang Dorje if he'll need any help. This would make eight people in his charge. He says he'll be fine.
Now we head off for real. Colin can't wait to get down. We pause often to check on the slow people. Dad's not far behind, but Mark is five minutes back. He has a real mental block about moving quickly downhill. It's not a problem though. He knows the way down.
We meet up at Ameghino Col, divide the cache, and have a quick snack. There's some other gear cached here that doesn‘t belong to us. Probably from to the second group. They're moving to the Col today. We'll pass them on the way down. It'll be cool to see Eric again.
Not long before we see some guys from the second crew just a few hundred feet below the Col. Todd's with them. We've heard stories about him from Winslow, so we joke around a bit. We meet the rest of the crowd for the first time as well. They seem pretty fun. One of the guys, Henry, is from Atlanta, so he and Carolyn chat a bit. Henry's pretty talkative. Mr. Wonderful they call him. I think I would’ve called him Henry.
It’s hard to see their faces under all the headgear, so I don’t immediately recognize Eric. I ask lamely if he’s among them. Someone points down the hill a bit. Eric is just coming up with one other guy. I greet him warmly, reminding him that I took a 6-day with him back in May and that it's funny running into him way off here. He asks my name again, and I tell him I was in the crew that gave him the hepatitis scare. Oh yes. Now he remembers. Says he did eventually get cleared up on that.
The guy with him is David. It's his brother and father we'll be picking up at Camp I. Eric updates us on their condition and where they'll be waiting. Mark makes a snide remark about them without knowing David's relation to them, but David doesn't seem to take offense. He just keeps smiling like he didn't hear. It occurs to me later that he probably doesn't speak British.
We bid the second team good luck and get on our way. Dropping down through the penitentes is slow going. Dad and Mark are struggling to navigate the route and stay on their feet. Carolyn is also having difficulty. We pause every once in a while to allow them to catch up.
Ang Dorje cuts off the beaten track to make a short cut to Camp I, requiring us to break trail through the penitentes. It's a violent process.
Camp I is quite close now. I can see three people waiting there. One is standing with his hands on his hips, facing us. His jacket is yellow and black. Very distinctive. I think I've seen this man before.
The man behind him, I can see, has longer dark hair showing out the back of his baseball cap. His hands are in his pockets. I've seen this guy before too. And in the context of the first guy, I suddenly recognize them both.
While Ang Dorje greets these guys, I smash my way through the last of the penitentes, nearly making a fool of myself in the process. As I approach, I wrack my brain trying to remember these guy’s names. It shouldn't be that hard. They both have the same name.
"Roberto?" I ask the older man. Close. Roberto is his brother. Of course. This is Ricardo. Roberto is the crazy one. Roberto is the one who looks like Paul McCartney. No, this is Ricardo. Of course.
I give my name and tell him I think I climbed Kili with him a couple years ago. Yes, now he remembers. Wow, how've you been? And I remember his son, Ricardo Segundo, Little Ricky Jr. How you doin bro? Great to see ya.
Ricardo tells me his son is sick. He came here with a cold and never really got better, so they're gonna turn back and maybe return in a few weeks when he's feeling better. Maybe Roberto will join them then. He was very sad he couldn't be here. He would have loved to see us again.
We reminisce a bit and somehow break into an impromptu song and dance: "Jambo, jambo bwana. Habari-gani, mzuri sana. Wageni, wakaribishwa, kenya yetu hakuna matata." Ricardo says he bought the CD and listens to it in his car. All the time.
Presently Dad arrives and greets our old friends. It's like a little reunion. We talk a bit about the people we used to know and about the climb we're on now. Ricardo says his wife had joined them on the trek into Base Camp and had really enjoyed herself. She actually rode out on a mule just a few days ago with someone from our group. That would be Mark Minter, we tell him, and recount the circumstances which forced him to leave. Ricardo says his group didn't have any trouble of that sort, but some of the Dutch at Base Camp... yeah, no surprise there.
Eventually Mark rolls into camp, being the last person in our group. His trekking pole is bent at 45 degrees. Which reminds me. I haven't met the third guy we're picking up. He's sitting on a rock with his head down, not really looking too good. His name is Curtis, and he doesn’t have much to say.
After a quick snack, we all nine of us pack up and set off for Base Camp. Ang Dorje makes for another field of penitentes, but a passing climber reminds him that the scree slope makes for an easier decent. And it does.
We pause at the bottom of the scree field, at the top of the Relinchos Glacier. We drink up while Ang Dorje runs a quick errand to pick up some gear Dad and Winslow had cached. Curtis is lagging behind, even more so than Mark. We can tell he's not feelin real good.
It's easy to forget sometimes that there's a glacier under all this dirt, but today there can be no mistaking it. This is not the same terrain I climbed through seven days ago. The trail has shifted a bit. New crevasses are forming, and old ones have widened. A boulder we rested under on the way up has tipped on its side. And something else is different. There's a river.
Now we’re having to wait up for our slow folks since route-finding is such a problem. Ricardo and Ricky are pretty far back, and Curtis is completely out of sight. We really can’t spread out in this section. We wait for all the group to catch up so Ang Dorje can make sure that everyone knows this.
At one point Ang Dorje slips on some black ice and falls on his bum. Colin immediately follows suit. They jokingly argue over whose fault it was as Carolyn slips down behind us. Mark falls too, and ends up rolling down in the mud like a pig. We all have a good laugh at his expense.
Seven days ago the narrow ravine between this glacier and the rock buttress was filled with penitentes. Now there's a river cutting its way down, cutting under the hillside, under the glacier. It's brown with silt, but it's white with turbulence.
We wait on the glacier side while Ang Dorje crosses a snow bridge and scopes out the opposite slope. It's unstable talus, and the rock buttress above looks about ready to shower us with whatever it has lyin around. Ang Dorje's kicking steps in the scree. I snap a picture of him assessing the stability of the slope. Looks like we can move across safely if we're careful. He digs a small platform in the scree, takes off his pack, and signals for us to start moving over one at a time. Colin's first.
He crosses the bridge and climbs the opposite slope, then begins traversing to Ang Dorje’s position. “Move quickly here, don’t stop,” he warns Colin when he’s three or four meters away. As he moves swiftly across the slope, Ang Dorje grabs him by the pack and yanks him the rest of the distance. “It’s safe now,” he tells Colin, “wait down here,” as he points nowhere in particular. Colin looks up at the precarious slope above him. No way he’s waiting under that. He begins moving down the trail.
I’m now in position to make my move across. Ang Dorje gives me similar instructions. I move deftly across the slope, careful not to disturb any rocks which could destabilize the hillside. I’m a little over halfway across when Ang Dorje grabs me by my haul-loop and jerks me across the last meter. I wasn’t expecting it, and I end up landing on my knees next to him. “Wait down there. It’s safe,” he points behind him. I see Colin walking fifty meters or so down the way. I start to move off toward him.
With a quick glance back a thought occurs to me. Take a picture. Maybe I can get the river in a shot with a few stray penitentes. Well, no, that wouldn’t really make a good picture, and this isn’t a good place to linger. It’s all just rocks anyway. I almost turn to continue down the way, but I stop. Take the picture. I hesitate. It’s not gonna be a good picture. Just take it. Okay. Fine. Camera out. Point. Click. Camera back. “Oh that’ll be a good shot, “ Carolyn says as she walks toward me. She’s just made it across safely, and I can see Mark moving toward Ang Dorje 30 meters behind her.
I’m not sure how it happened. I wasn’t watching her. Just next thing I knew she wasn’t standing anymore. She was leaning into the slope, trying to get back on her feet. And the slope was moving. She smiles with frustration as she struggles to find her footing, but everything around her is falling. And she’s falling too. Below her boulders are cascading into the river. She spits out my name, and there’s a hint of panic in her voice. I can still hear it.
I quickly assess the situation. I’m standing a couple meters away, and the ground I’m on isn’t going anywhere. It was the first thing I checked for: whether I could reach her without putting myself in jeopardy. That’s what you’re supposed to check for. Ask anyone.
She holds out a ski pole and I’m thinking no way I’m gonna grab a ski pole. I want her hand. I don’t trust poles. So I make go for the hand, and I kinda get part hand, part ski pole, but it’s good enough. Right now it’s all I can do just to hold on. She’s fallen below me now, so I also got gravity working against me. I can’t really get her back up, but at least she’s not going anywhere. I have her. Rocks are still moving though. And the ground she’s on is pretty much on its way into the river.
But now the slope seems to be stabilizing somewhat. It’s still dodgy, but things are slowing down. Objects are coming to rest. I think I’ve held her here for almost an eternity, but that’s only five or six seconds real-time.
Something happens. I don’t know. Maybe she slips again. I’m not sure. So much going on, somehow we lose our grip, I’m left holding a ski pole. She slides down the slope a bit, then seems to get kinda stabilized. She’s close to the river now. Half a meter at most. Not all the rocks have stopped. And I don’t know how I can possibly get her back up here.
A quiet voice comes from directly behind me. “No, no, no,” it whispers. I look back just in time to see Ang Dorje, well, no, I didn’t really see him. I see legs, a red blur, and I swear to God , next thing is he is down
her, getting between
her and the river, holding her, keeping her stable. And he does this in like the blink of an eye. I coulda swore he was thirty meters off helping Mark across the slope, but I blinked, and now he’s flying feet-first down to the river, down to Carolyn. This man, who six weeks ago became a father, is running
to get between her and danger, showing complete disregard for his own safety, rushing to the very edge of the river itself. I don’t know how he didn’t fall in himself…
The two of them get situated on the precarious slope. Ang Dorje smartly takes her pack off and sets it close by. In the struggle to remove the pack a water bottle pops out of one of the side pockets. It’s instantly in the river, and within a heartbeat it disappears under the glacier. That’s when the adrenaline wears off and the gravity of what I just witnessed hits me. If anyone had gone into that river they would have gone under the glacier too. Hell, they’d still be there today. And again I look in awe at Ang Dorje, who without hesitation has put himself within a footstep of certain death. And I realize that if not for him, Carolyn might now be dead, and I would have been to blame.
Ang Dorje directs Carolyn to a larger boulder on the bank nearby which seems to be pretty solid. She stops there to catch her breath for a second. I stand up (how did I get on my knees?) and position myself to try to help her up. I notice I still have her ski pole. I lamely hold it out to her as Ang Dorje directs her to a sort of traverse that brings her back up to the path. Go ahead and take her down over there to wait, he tells me. He’ll bring her pack down when he’s done helping the others. Carolyn regains the path as I guide her to stable ground. “Wow, Tim. You saved my life,” she laughs. “You woulda lived,” I lie with a smile.
We find Colin a little way down the path. He had been unable to see what had happened from his position, since he had proceeded onward to find a safe(r) place to wait. Base Camp is not far now. 30min max. Mark joins us presently as the others continue to come across one at a time. He had been standing with Ang Dorje when they saw Carolyn down by the river and Ang Dorje had run to her aid. Mark had the best view of the rescue, and he is simply in shock. Ang Dorje had moved with such speed…
Eventually the rest of the crew catches up and we move on. A few of us stop after a few minutes to fill water bottles. Dad asks if I’m okay. I show him a bleeding finger. “Hate when that happens,” I smile. I know that’s not what he meant. I continue on down, hoping he didn’t notice my hand was shaking.
On the trail to Base Camp I climb a small moraine then drop down abruptly into a kind of gully. I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure this gully wasn’t even here seven days ago. A chunk of the slope appears to be missing, perhaps evidence of a mudflow, maybe similar to the ones that formed the alluvial fans in the Vacas Valley. Willi wasn’t kidding: you really gotta be alert out here.
We trickle into Base Camp one by one. It looks like home. Ellie is there to greet us. Mark and I walk in together. After he hugs Ellie he points over to Ang Dorje. “That man saved Carolyn’s life just now,” he says brusquely. We briefly describe how it went down. She’s not really surprised at the fall. She hates that section of the trail, and she knew it was just a matter of time before someone got hurt there. And it’s not even high season yet. In another week or so there’ll be even more water coming down there, with a whole lot more traffic moving through. Ellie says she’s been wanting to find another route to gain the Relinchos, maybe crossing the river lower down… but she’ll never find the time for that.
The rest of the crew get in safely and we head to our tents to get stuff organized, unpack a little, sit around a little. I’m really tired. I zone out. Wait. I was doing something. What was it? I was looking in my boundary bag. For what? How long have I been sitting here? Woah. I’m tired. I feel like I should be doing something. But what? I don’t know. I’m tired. And shaking. There it is again. Maybe if I ate something it would stop.
Everyone’s kinda found their way to the mess tent. We’re snacking on crackers and tuna. Some carrots too. Everyone’s just kinda unwinding, getting comfortable, just chilling. People are kinda filing in and out, and there’s no real plan for the rest of the day.
When Ang Dorje is out organizing something, Mark brings up the subject of Carolyn’s fall with the group, specifically with Ellie. He’s been in the police force in Hong Kong for something like twelve years, and he can say without a doubt that if Ang Dorje were a cop, he’d be getting a commendation right now. That kind of action merits some sort of recognition. Now perhaps the American Alpine Institute may be willing to do something, but he was thinking that it would be better for everyone if he went directly to the U.S. Ambassador in Buenos Aires. The embassy’s PR department has got to love stories like this, and anyway, some official
recognition from a real
government office would go a long way toward Ang Dorje’s citizenship application. Now this kind of stuff crosses his Hong Kong desk all the time, so he would know the proper channels and methods to go about making this happen. Because what happened was nothing short of heroic, and he deserves something recognizing that on such-and-such date at such-and-such time, Ang Dorje saved the life of an American citizen.
Ellie says feel free to give it a shot, but don’t get your hopes up. While we’re still relaxing and hanging out in the mess tent, she gets out her radio for a scheduled communication with Eric. He should be set at Ameghino Col by now.
From the other end of the radio, Eric confirms that they’re all situated and resting at the Col. Most everyone’s doing well, but Henry was having trouble. This comes as a shock to Ricardo and Curtis, who tell us that Henry was the strongest member of their crew. Eric says he was just having headaches, having trouble concentrating and coordinating. They decided that he should try spending the night at Camp I, so Todd went down with him. The two of them plan to come back to the Col while the rest of the crew carries to II tomorrow. Eric sounds optimistic, but Ricardo and Curtis are still concerned. Henry was strong.
Ellie also radios Willi for a status report. Tom and Nigel are resting up for the departure tonight while Winslow is cooking some dinner. Everyone’s locked and loaded, ready to tear it up on the Polish. Ellie says to tell Winslow that Todd won’t be at the Col since he went down with Henry, so if you don’t see him on the way down, don’t panic.
People are starting to file out to do some assorted chores before dinner in a few hours. Before he stands up to leave, Ricardo raises a drink to me. “It’s very good to see you again. I’m glad we found you today.”
“Yeah. We had some good times on Kili.”
The tent is nearly empty when Carolyn stands to leave. “Well Tim, Mark seems to have left out your part in what happened today.” I shake my head.
“I just bought Ang Dorje some time. He did the hard part.”
“Yeah… you know, I don’t remember ever being afraid at any point?”
“That’s because you didn’t look behind you.”
I head back to my tent to make a bed for tonight. Dad’s asleep. I think he had one of Willi’s dark beers. There better be one left for Willi when he gets back, or there’s gonna be an ice ax coming through this tent, and Willi may not be sure which side I’m on.
As I’m outside tryin to figure out which gear to carry out and which to give to the mules, I run into Mark doing errands of his own. He takes the opportunity to congratulate me on an amazing summit day, telling me that I’ve done something truly remarkable, especially given my young age. I’m way flattered, and I thank him for his kind words. I just wish we all could have been up there that day. But despite the disappointment, I don’t sense any discouragement in Mark. He’s already expressed tremendous gratitude to Ang Dorje for noticing his condition and smartly getting him out of the wind and into the sun, even if it did cost him the summit. Besides, he’s learned a lot up here, and he’ll be back for sure. But not before giving Denali a go…
Dinner is hamburgers. Brilliant. After over a week high on the mountain, Base Camp is starting to feel like a four-star, with all the comforts of home. The blue box may be full, but the green one is just as cheering. The water may be opaque, but at least it’s plentiful. And the air is thick enough to make you think you’re at sea level. “Maybe that’s why there’s so many Dutch here!” Mark shouts out the window.
So Curtis, are you feeling better? His problem had been a violent cough that only occurred when he was lying down. This made it kinda hard to sleep. After several nights of little or no sleep he was too exhausted to continue. Now that he’s lower he’s starting to feel better, but tonight will be the test. Mark can relate, he says. Except that instead of a cough keeping him awake it was Nigel whispering sweet nothings in his ear.
As nice as it is to be here at Base Camp, a lot of us are anxious to get back to the real world. Mark comments that he needs a shave like no other. “I’ll say,” Colin pipes up, “You look like you swallowed a ginger sheep and left the ass hanging out!”
Ricardo shows me his mug as he fills it with hot-water. “Remember this?” Under the REI logo is written “Babu” in permanent marker. Swahili for “old man.” How can I forget!
“Tim how are you eating all those hamburgers?”
“I don’t know. I’m just hungry.”
“Nigel’s gonna have some competition when he gets back.”
“Provided this moldy bread doesn’t make me sick.”
“Yeah right, this kid’s invincible. He probably brought some homemade ecoli or something in a jar and let it out when we weren’t looking, kept the antidote for himself!”
Some guardaparques come to visit Ellie and they chat outside the tent. Carolyn and I listen in. She’s more fluent than I am, but you don’t have to speak Spanish to understand what they’re talking about. “Cerebral edema?” Carolyn frowns, “That’s not good.”
The table quiets down as everyone tries to pick up what they can from the conversation outside. They’re talking too fast for me to understand, but the looks on Carolyn and Ricardo’s faces tell a lot. I become aware of a lot of activity outside. Some shouting. A few people running. What’s going on?
Ellie gives a few orders then fills us in. The guardaparques got a radio call from some French at Camp I that Henry was in trouble. As he was coming down from the Col he was only getting worse. By the time he got to C1 he couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk on his own, and was practically unconscious. Todd dropped their packs and got someone to help him carry Henry down. They’re on their way here now.
She fires up a quick burger for Ang Dorje. He’s gonna head up and meet them. It’s not gonna be easy getting an unconscious man across the Relinchos. And that river crossing won’t be much fun either.
Ellie throws together some things to take up to the rescue team, some food, water, dexamethasone, same stuff they gave Dad yesterday. Ang Dorje’s gonna head up with one of the guides from Aymara while Ellie gets things ready in the doctor’s tent. So what are they gonna do when he gets here? Ellie lets out a heavy sigh. Well, hopefully they have a different Gamov bag this season. The one they had last year was hand operated. And it had a hole in it.
What happens if he doesn’t improve? Then we gotta get him lower, back to a real hospital. They’ll probably have to put him on a mule to get him back to Mendoza. A helicopter is out of the question at this point. Ricardo tells Ellie that he’ll pay for any helicopter if it becomes necessary to evacuate Henry. Ellie shakes her head. Price isn’t the issue. The choppers can’t leave the ground. They’re tied up in red tape. Some bureaucratic wires got crossed, and the choppers are grounded until they can get it sorted out. Mules are the only way out now.
Ellie goes to talk with the doctor while Ang Dorje and the other guide take off to rendezvous with Todd and Henry. It gets quiet as they disappear over the moraine. There’s not much else anyone can do for now, so people start disappearing into their tents. It’s been a pretty long day for everyone. Mark and I decide to wait up and make sure everything goes okay, maybe lend a hand if anything needs doing. Ricardo and Ricky stay up too. Henry was a good friend to them.
Ellie returns to give us a quick update. She’s not sure how, but someone has managed to get a call out and get a helicopter ready in case it should become necessary. And the other good news is that they have a brand new Gamov bag in the doctor’s tent. Thank God. The old one took three people to operate.
She leaves us to wait in silence. I quietly chew on a cracker and think nervously about the slope where Carolyn fell. It was hard enough getting ourselves across there. How do they expect to carry a body down?
Mark and I chat to pass the time. He asks what I’m studying at university. I’m pretty much undeclared. I briefly explain how the university system works in America, basically that I still have some time to figure out what I want to major in. He tells me a bit about his background, and how he came to be involved in the work he’s in now. Even though he ended up in the police force and has worked in Hong Kong for many years, it was only after a visit to Cambodia not too long ago that he finally discovered what he considered his true calling, charity. “Climb for a Landmine Free World” was born out of this visit and the horrors he witnessed there. But the point he was making to me was that you never know when you’ll find that one thing you really want to do, that what you study doesn’t automatically become what you do, but it just might lead you there. I dwell on these words for a moment, temporarily transported back to the world I came here to escape.
After a small eternity, some shouting alerts us that the team is close. Ricardo and Ricky go to meet them. Mark and I linger by the mess tent and watch from a distance. Presently the group appears over the moraine. Looks like Henry’s doing better. He’s on his feet, although he still needs assistance. Todd and another man have him under either arm and are moving swiftly to the doctor’s tent, followed closely by Ang Dorje, Ellie, Ricardo, Ricky, and several others I don’t recognize. Encouraged by the sight of Henry walking, Mark and I return to the mess tent.
After they pass Henry off to the good doctor, the rescue team starts making their way to the tent to grab some food. We meet Nate, the climber from Camp 1 who stepped up when Todd called for help. This is his first big altitude trip. Being from Boulder, his background is more technical. Which paid off for Henry I guess. Funny. Nate had only moved to C1 this morning, and he had just been thinking that even though he misses Base Camp, at least he’ll never have to climb through the Relinchos again. So much for that.
When Ellie offers him a hamburger, Nate just about dies. He obviously hasn’t had access to the luxuries the rest of us have been enjoying. “It’ll be a few minutes, “ Ellie says.
“Oh God, that’s fine. Thank you. Wow.”
“While you’re waiting would you care for some peaches,” Mark asks sarcastically, “cuz I never want to see another peach as long as I live.” Nate’s eyes go wide. Peaches. He grabs the can and begins devouring. “You don’t understand,” he explains between bites, “I’ve had nothing but rice for two weeks. And it doesn’t cook at this altitude! It’s crunchy!” He continues to eat while the rest of us look on in silence. Mark mutters under his breath. “Never complain. Never ever complain.”
The radio crackles to life at a predetermined time. Ameghino Col calling Base Camp. Todd takes the call. Base Camp, over. It’s Eric, hoping for an update on Henry. Todd tells of how his condition had worsened coming into 1, where Nate joined them to help carry. Ang Dorje and the Aymara guide met up with them a little way above the river crossing and were able to assist through that section. A few hundred feet above Base Camp he did end up regaining consciousness and was eventually able to walk into camp. He was able to speak, but didn’t know who he was or where he was from. In fact, the only person he was able to recognize was Ricardo, but he called him “Mr. Taco.” They got him in the Gamov pretty quick, and it looks like he’s gonna be okay for now.
Eric inquires about Ricky and Curtis. Todd says they’re doing fine, feeling better to be lower, but Ricky and Ricardo were wondering how David was doing. Eric says that by the end of this climb, David’s gonna be a certified AAI guide. Ellie smiles, “Yeah, no surprise there.”
So the rest of Eric’s group is doing well. He tells us it’s pretty windy up there, so everyone’s tucked in tight in their tents and bags, and with that he sets the callback time and signs off. Ellie puts away the radio for safekeeping and serves Todd a hamburger.
It’s almost full night now, and a chill in the air reminds us that the rescuers left all their gear at Camp I. Tent space shouldn’t be a problem since we got the four Polish climbers still at II. Ellie has an extra sleeping bag, so Todd can stay with her. Mark offers his tent to Nate, but we don’t have a bag for him. Well, it’s not that cold down here. A warm down jacket should be enough. Hey, Colin’s got a pretty nice one...
I figure out which tent is Colin’s, probably waking him in the process. “Hey you still got that jacket, some of the rescuers are out in the cold.”
“Yeah it’s no problem, long as I get it back.”
“Well yeah, of course.”
I get back to Nate, “here’s that jacket, hope it’s enough, oh and, um, its owner is gonna want it back.”
“Well yeah, of course.”
So everyone’s pretty much calling it a day, such as it was. Ellie says she’s gonna force Ang Dorje to take a rest day or two. He’s certainly been pretty busy today. I’ve never seen anything like it. But he's probably no stranger to this sort of thing. Hell, he was sirdar on Rob Hall’s final expedition. I doubt anything he's experienced since '96 could compare.
I head back to my tent, noting the light in the doctor’s tent as I go. Ricardo and Ricky are still there. That’s good. Someone should be with him tonight.
Dad wakes up as I crawl into the tent. “Did you help get that guy down?” he asks sleepily.
“He had plenty of help, and he’s looking much better now. Saw him walk into camp.”
“Well, that’s good,” and he’s asleep again.
I crawl into my bag and glance at my watch. Eleven something. Tom and Nigel will be waking up in another hour or so. Wonder if they regret not coming down yet? Nah, prolly not. I wouldn’t.
I lay down and stare up at the tent ceiling. Sleep won’t come easy tonight, not while I’m still shaking. I don’t think I’ve ever had a day like this.
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