Today marked another milestone in the expedition: the drop back.
In prior posts I have written about the process of returning to lower altitudes as an acclimatization tactic that triggers rest, recovery and rebuilding for a return to even higher altitudes. In keeping with this protocol I “dropped back” to Namche Baazar today at an altitude of 11,286’. Many of the responses to this process are well known and to be expected: a return of appetite, a capacity for deeper and more restorative sleep, production of red blood cells, and healing. However, today offered an additional and unexpected experience: reflection and a sense of progress.
The reflections started simple enough. My first observation was that the helicopter pilot was breathing bottled oxygen upon arrival to Base Camp. I guess it was to be expected, but I have grown to consider the air at 17,500’ to be quite sustaining. Next was the process of transferring the climbing team from Everest Base Camp to Namche Baazar. Only three team members could be transported at a time from Base Camp due to the limited atmosphere for the helicopter to gain purchase and lift. So the transfer process happened in stages: first three climbers at a time were transported from Base Camp to Dingboche (14,470’), then four at a time with packs could be moved to Namche Baazar.
As I awaited transfer in Dingboche I reflected that just weeks before at the very same place each step was labored in the thin air. Then upon arrival to Namche Baazar another reflection point: I could keep pace on the steep terraced trails with the locals.
All of this made me realize that for the past month every day has been focused on the hard work of going higher, all culminating in a tremendous effort to reach 23,000’ on the Lhotse Face just days ago. Today I am 12,000’ lower and encouraged by the progress as I prepare for the final push of the expedition.
All of this provides an important reminder of the importance of stopping once in awhile to reflect and take stock and to recognize progress.
I am happy to be in Namche Baazar and to be at a welcoming place that offers the luxuries of ordering meals from a menu, heated blankets, and a clean and well lit place to take stock and reflect.