After Hours

Daily update: A moving experience at Pangboche Monastery

Dave's feeling better after trekking to a lower altitude and taking a baby wipe bath. He relates the humbling visit inside Pangboche Monastery, where he and Mike sampled Chang-—a mysteriously potent drink.


4/23/00
Pangboche, Nepal
4:00 P.M. local time (6:15 A.M. EDT)

TR Base Camp: Please send more baby wipes.

Today, a monk escorted Mike and me into the sanctity of 500-year-old Pangboche Monastery. Inside, we gazed upon painted woodcarvings that stared solemnly down upon us from their hand-carved altars. We saw ritualistic masks whose eyes followed our every step in the gloom, and we ascended a timeworn ladder to a second story where we walked upon wooden planks, worn lacquer-smooth by countless feet for half a millennium. The monk himself then poured us a glass of Chang, with which we toasted his health. What a day.

Chang is the drink of choice in Sherpa land. I'm not sure exactly what it is. Mike thinks its base is curdled milk that's been fermented. I did see some really thick residue inside the green plastic jug that the monk poured from, and the clear liquid that slipped into our glass had some white spots floating upon its surface. Either way, it wasn't that bad, really. It had a taste of lemon to it. And yes, you could taste the sublime potency that just waited to strike the uninitiated. I took a couple of sips, while Mike took… where is Mike?

Now for some personal impressions. I was deeply moved by the whole experience. Just being allowed onto the premises was an honor. With each step inside, you could feel the weight of ages poised above you. Whether or not you believe in Buddhism isn't even relevant. What's relevant is the deep significance that these people place upon their belief system. It's a system of interconnections, of new beginnings—like the prayer flags that fly at every corner of the land. Each color has special significance. The beauty of the flags is not that they are put there by an individual for that individual, but rather that they are placed in an area where the wind will keep them in constant motion, so the prayers will always be moving towards their intended subject—you and me. A wonderful aspect of this religion is the belief that the good you send out to others will, in the end, return to you. So simple, yet so eloquent.

Now onto some other issues I know you'll want to know about.

After a much needed and deserved baby wipe bath, I'm happy to report I'm on my way to wellville. And, as if I needed more to confirm my own decision to decrease my altitude, get this… we ran into someone on the trail today that we had initially met at the Amari Hotel in Bangkok. She advised us that there had already been three deaths—maybe four—among trekking groups heading towards Everest Base Camp. And those were just the deaths that she knew about. We've seen at least a half dozen helicopters in the past few days performing evacuations. Folks, there are people dying up here.

The sad thing is that all trekking deaths can be prevented. Altitude sickness doesn't just sneak up on you. You always have warnings. Like I did. It's pretty easy to just turn back. It's when peer pressure and monetary concerns come into your thoughts that you begin playing a serious game of Russian roulette with your life.

I'll step off my soapbox now.

Today we made it to Pangboche with no problems. Not that we could just coast, mind you. The trail from Dingboche to Pangboche is pretty exposed at points. And all it would take is me tripping Mike, I mean Mike missing a step, for him to plummet a thousand feet. So it was a great trail with great views. The distinct Ama Dablam, with its ice-encrusted dablam pointing defiantly at us for most of the day, silently disappeared beneath the mid-afternoon clouds that signaled an end to our sunny skies. More snow was on the horizon. Our thoughts turned to our traveling companions, Bruce and Gerry, as they made their way to Island Peak Base Camp. They were going to be in for a rough ride.

I can't tell you how much of a relief it is to be feeling better. Over the past few evenings, I've had the opportunity to reflect upon my own feelings of mortality. The mountains have a way of doing that to you. You're absorbed by them, taken into their fold. With my strength ebbing, but my desire to continue the expedition as strong as ever, I was perhaps one foolish instant away from possibly the last decision I would ever make. It's a humbling thought. It could all be gone so easily. Had I gone forward, it would have been a selfish act of indulgence. One act that could have ended it all. What am I getting at? Just this. In any extreme activity there are always risks. But weigh those risks against your physical limitations. Back away and live to climb (or insert your activity here) another day. I did. And there's not a regretful bone in my body.

What'd Arnie say in Terminator? Yup. I'll be back.

Namaste,
Dave
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David Bard has been a fixture at TechRepublic for some time now. At one time he was editor in chief of LinuxRepublic and then AdminRepublic. Currently, he occupies space as an editor in chief with TechProGuild. In addition, he’s a freelance writer who has covered extreme sports for years. He also is a writer of horror and—contrary to what his climbing partner may think—is hoping the expedition to Nepal doesn’t provide fodder for his next story. When he’s not at home teaching his year-and-a-half-old daughter why it’s not a good idea to eat rocks, or trying to convince his wife why yet another expedition really is necessary, he’s usually off in some remote section of woods trying to discover himself. He’s still looking.

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