Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Manaslu Part 14

Kusang and Ki Kami were farmers from the Makalu region of Nepal; both were thickly built handsome men in their mid-forties, and both were in possession of what turned out to be nearly unfathomable strength. This is where their similarities ended. Ki Kami was stoic and devout while Kusang always wore a carefree smile and owned a somewhat dirty sense of humor. Our third Sherpa, Khan Cha, was the odd man out. In contrast to Kusang and Ki Kami, Khan Cha was a full-time professional mountaineer and unmarried, and unlike his husky partners he couldn’t have weighed over one hundred and fifteen pounds. When I first met him Khan Cha was draped in an oversized tee shirt, sweat pants and Vietnam era combat boots; he certainly didn’t look like the unstoppable force we later discovered him to be.

For generations the Sherpa and Tamung people have lived at altitudes above ten thousand feet; constant exposure to the thin air of this harsh environment has modified their physiology. No matter how hard I train I will never be able to adapt to high altitude as well as our trio of sherpas; my inner workings were simply not as efficient. Kusang, Ki Kami and Khan Cha would provide the loin’s share of the muscle needed to get up Manaslu.

Later that day we met Ngawang Sherpa, our sirdar, and Krishna Rai, our chef, in the blue tarp covered courtyard of Everest Trekking. Ngawang was thin and alternated between a phlegmy cough and hard pulls on a cigarette, while Krishna was short, well built and only spoke when spoken to. I liked Krishna immediately. Tashi had agreed to supply us with trekking and base camp tents, emergency oxygen and a Gamow Bag. A Gamow Bag is a seven foot long by two foot in diameter fabric cylinder into which air can be pumped in order to treat serious symptoms of altitude sickness. Placing a sick climber inside of the inflated tube tricks the ailing body into believing that it is at a lower altitude. It is a simple, effective piece of equipment that I hoped we would never use.

Bottled oxygen is typically only used on the highest of the high mountains: Everest, K2, Kanchenjunga and Lhostes. Oxygen is used on the other eight thousand meter peaks, but rarely. We decided to bring four bottles of oxygen for emergency purposes and would not climb on bottled air. We weren’t moralists or unusually strong, it was a simple decision that Manaslu did not warrant the extra burden and expense of climbing on oxygen. The bottles that Tashi supplied were American-made filament wound tubes roughly the diameter and half the length of a standard SCUBA tank. The regulators and masks were designed and built by Prosk, a Russian company, and were built for posterity and not weight savings. The contraption was a heavy bulky mess and one look reinforced the validity of our decision not to carry these things to the summit. The oxygen system seemed ridiculous and after one look I tried to walk away, but Brian held me back and made me pay attention as Tashi demonstrated how to attach the regulators and masks. Brian and I make a good team, he is careful and deliberate, while I am casual and refuse to think too hard. Without me Brian would never get anything done and without him I’d never get anything done right. Brian checked every oxygen tank and refused those that were low on pressure, he checked every regulator against every tank and every mask and discovered that not everything worked with everything else. It was only through Brian’s diligence that we ended up with four tanks, four regulators and four masks that all worked interchangeably.

While at Tashi’s compound Dan tapped my shoulder and asked if I’d seen the bloody spit someone had expelled onto the concrete floor. I hadn’t. One of the first things a Western visitor will notice in Nepal is the constant coughing. When Tom asked Ngawang about his constant cough saying “is your cough anything I should know about or be concerned with,” Ngawang simply replied, “no sir only Nepali cough.” Fact of the matter is that tuberculosis is a major concern in Nepal, but we never did find out who was spitting blood.

"If you walk the trial of Nepal, you will know what Buddhist dharma is all about
Tengboche Rimpoche.

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