First rotation - Everest 2016

Climbing Everest involves a long acclimatization process. We make several ascents on the mountain before the final climb to the summit. Every time we go up, we climb higher and higher. Some people call each of these cycles “rotations”. I arrived at Everest Base Camp at 5,300m to begin my rotations on April 19, after attempting to climb Mount Pachermo, and climbing to the summit of Lobuje East.

Everest Base Camp  

Everest Base Camp  

Pachermo is a non-technical peak around 6,200 meters high that this last winter received almost no snow and therefore had many sections covered in blue ice. I was climbing with Phurba Sherpa from Thamo and we decided the conditions were too risky for the little acclimatization benefit the peak had for me. I later climbed Lobuje alone on a beautiful Himalayan morning with no wind. I was very proud to carry The Live Love Laugh Foundation’s banner to the summit. One of my goals for this Everest expedition is to raise awareness about depression and mental health issues, making the climb much more meaningful.

Puja at base camp

Puja at base camp

Base camp this year seems as big as the last two times I’ve been here in spite of the disasters from the last two years. It’s still a crowded tent city that sprouts at the beginning of April and it’s almost completely gone during the first days of June. We had our blessing ceremony on April 21st, and the multicolored prayer flags rose over our tents. Just two days later, at 3:00am, I started moving up the Khumbu Icefall and straight to Camp 2.

The icefall is one of the most unstable sections of the route we’re climbing. In 2014 over a dozen Sherpa lost their lives when an avalanche fell over the icefall and just last year the earthquake swept the rout and we had to be evacuated via helicopter from above Camp 1. It’s covered with huge crevasses we cross with aluminum ladders tied together over them. The route through the icefall changes every time we move up and down. It’s difficult to be objective with this kind of analysis but I believe this year the icefall is in one of the worst conditions I’ve seen. Usually snow covers parts of the seracs, making it more stable and passage is faster. Now, after a very dry winter, it’s almost made of chunks of ice, big and small, that obviously came from multiple collapses.

Khumbu Icefall

Khumbu Icefall

I arrived at Camp 1 after dawn but before the sun hit the glacier. Then came the frustrating climb along the Western Cwm. From the amphitheater made from Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse, snow accumulates and forms the Khumbu glacier. It is not very steep or technically challenging but between the extreme heat and the long distance, it wears out any climber and the hike seems endless. Seven hours after leaving base camp, I reached Camp 2 at nearly 6,500m.

Camp 2

Camp 2

View from my tent at camp 2

View from my tent at camp 2

Camp 2 is considered an Advanced Base Camp since it’s “safe” location allows us to have a small kitchen and dining tent, making our stay relatively comfortable. I remained at camp 2 for four nights. The first two were extremely windy but the weather improved later on. Sleeping was hard at the beginning and on the first night, as exhausted as I was, I spent most of it lying awake and listening to music on my iPod. During the days, I tried to move around as much as possible and climbed to the base of the Lhotse face. By the end of those four nights I was feeling the benefits of acclimatization, having no more headaches, moving faster and sleeping better. But it was time to head down to thicker air. I started my descent at 5:30am at the time I considered it was safer to go through the icefall. A few hours later I was having breakfast at base camp. That was the end of my first rotation.

Tomorrow at 2:30am I’m heading back up to Camp 2 and I will be gone for 6 days while I climb up to the South Col at 8,000m where Camp 4 is located. That will be my final rotation before the summit push.

Please take a moment to visit The Live Love Laugh Foundation’s website. You will find very useful information if you or somebody close to you is going through depression or any other mental health issues: www.thelivelovelaughfoundation.l

Climbing Everest and Overcoming Depression: It's all about Little Victories

People who have followed my blog know that I really try to avoid using clichés. It's very tempting to fall back on them, especially when writing about climbing. But there’s a concept that perfectly describes how to tackle a challenge that at first may seem insurmountable: break it down into smaller goals and take them on one at a time. That’s the way to climbing Mount Everest. I believe that’s also the way to start overcoming depression. 

A two month-long expedition to climb the highest mountain in the world involves a lot of variables, many that are out of our control such as the weather, route conditions, rock fall, icefall collapses, crevasses, etc. No wonder it can seem at first like an impossible goal. It’s so easy to feel discouraged. For me the first step is to break down that huge challenge into smaller goals. Make each one clear and attainable. When I reach a goal, I call it a “Little Victory”. The goal for one day may be reaching camp 1 for the first time. During summit day I may have several goals every hour. Keep breathing... Keep moving your hands and feet to avoid frostbite. One of the goals I had for these last few days was arriving in Kathmandu without having any of my luggage lost by the airline (last year none of my 3 duffle bags arrived in Kathmandu with me and I only got all of them back 3 weeks into the expedition). Fortunately this time I had my Little Victory. 

Arriving at Kathmandu Tribhuvan International airport

Another thing that I do is to identify which variables are completely outside of my control, like the weather, so I don’t stress over something I can’t change.

With depression you may feel that you are in a deep, dark emotional hole and making your way out is a hopeless task. Perhaps you feel you don’t even have the energy to start moving into the light. That you are too deep in it to get out. The key is also to break it down into smaller goals. In some extreme cases the goal may be to get through a whole day without crying or feeling worthless. That would be a Little Victory. For someone it may be to get out of bed and go for a walk. Another Little Victory. It’s also important to understand that with mood disorders, although at first it may not feel that way, things will eventually get better. Especially with support from family and friends, and the proper treatment. The Live Love Laugh Foundation's website has some essential information about understanding depression and how to begin your recovery.

So getting back to clichés: how to climb Mount Everest? One step at a time. Want to build the Great Wall of China? One brick at a time. Want to get over depression? One day at a time. A Little Victory.

Paragliding over Sarangkot, the launch above Pokhara

For the last two days I’ve been in Pokhara, Nepal for some final training hikes and a few paragliding flights. Today I’m traveling back to Kathmandu to receive our Everest climbing permit from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. Then it’s off to Lukla and the Himalayas, and the highest mountain in the world. I’m looking forward to those Little Victories. 

Boats in Phewa Lake, Pokhara

Boats in Phewa Lake, Pokhara

Everest 2016 and The Live Love Laugh Foundation

For the last 12 years I’ve been climbing in the Himalayas where I've summited several 8,000m peaks including reaching the summit of Mount Everest five times. The last one was in 2013 when I was able to finally complete an ambitious challenge: reaching the summit of Everest two times in the same season, from both sides of the mountain (Nepal and China). I was able to achieve this with only 8 days between summits.

For these adventures I've had no sponsors and no commitments. It's not my job and I do it as a personal challenge. So why go back again this year?

The first part of the answer is that every time I’ve climbed Everest I’ve had a unique goal. The first time, in 2005, it was just to reach the summit of the highest mountain on Earth. It was a difficult year because of the tough weather conditions but I reached my goal. I went back in 2008 to climb Lhotse (fourth highest mountain) and Everest, reaching both summits within 5 days. I then took on the challenge of the Double Summit and I had to go back three times to complete it. In 2010 I was only able to reach the summit once from Nepal and the next year I had to return home after turning around on summit day in conditions that I didn’t feel were safe for climbing. 2013 was the big year when I reached the summit for the 4th and 5th time and set my record. On every one of those expeditions I used supplemental oxygen and last year I was going to climb without it for the first time. On April 25th 2015 around noon, I was at 6,300 meters on Everest's camp 2 when the glacier started shaking violently under our feet as a massive earthquake hit Nepal and killed over 8,000 people. The expedition was cancelled but I stayed behind to help with disaster relief.  So in the next few days I will be traveling halfway around the world, again, to try to achieve this goal of climbing without oxygen.

The second part is the most important for me right now. Last year I completed a nearly 10,000km motorcycle ride across northern and central India. I did it alone, on a Royal Enfield Bullet 500 motorcycle made in Chennai, in Southern India. Now that I think about, it’s odd that in so many years of traveling I’d never been to that amazing country. So, just like I do when I plan every other adventure, I researched my destination as much as I could before the trip. During June of 2015 I was following the news in India every day and that’s when I first read about Deepika Padukone and The Live Love Laugh Foundation. 

Deepika is arguably the most celebrated leading lady in India’s prolific film industry. Earlier in 2015 she opened up about her struggles with depression. In India, as in may other countries, mental health issues are taboo and the people that suffer them usually have to deal with them in the dark. They rarely get the medical and social support they need. In order to bring these issues to light, Deepika put together a team of experts and in September officially launched The Live Love Laugh Foundation against depression. Some of the Foundation’s main goals are to raise awareness and remove the stigma attached to mental health issues, to provide information about the causes and symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses, and to direct people to medical professionals that can provide help. 

I was deeply moved by Deepika’s story. Several family members have suffered from mental health problems. When those problems have been addressed and treated, the result have been completely positive. On the other hand, when treatment has been rejected and even acknowledging that there is a problem has been denied, the results have been tragic for them and their loved ones. Therefore, depression and mental health are issues that are close to me and that I take very seriously.

I’ve now been climbing for 23 years and going on international expeditions for the last 13. Something I learned early on is that whether I’m climbing, sailing, paragliding, long distance running, or any of the activities I do, my goals are very personal. Even when I succeed, those achievements don’t make someone else’s life better. Almost a decade ago I began sharing my experiences through social media and my blog, hoping to inspire others to live an exciting life with personal goals and, perhaps adventure. But still, something was missing. That’s why I decided to work with different organizations and try to raise funds and awareness to their causes with the goal of making someone's life a little better.

When I finished my motorcycle trip in Delhi last December I jumped on a plane to Bangalore and met with Mr. Aashu Calapa, the Foundation’s director. We talked about ways that I could support the Foundation's goals through my activities. For that reason, this spring I will be carrying The Live Love Laugh Foundation’s banner to the summit of Mount Everest. Although it doesn’t compare with how challenging it can be for them, I believe that bringing the banner to the highest point on earth is symbolic of the struggle that people go through to overcome depression and mental health problems. By sharing this adventure through traditional and social media, we expect to reach millions of people and let them know that there is no shame in dealing with these issues, that help is out there and that with the proper support there is light beyond those dark times. 

The expedition will last for two months, April and May with a possible summit day between May 15 and 25. 

The way you can help us is by visiting the Foundation’s website www.thelivelovelaughfoundation.org and sharing it with anyone close to you that is going through tough times. Also, please use the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone to let them know there are others that care about them.

Thank you for sharing yet another adventure with me and this time for a very important cause.