Saturday, April 28, 2007

Namaste, Welcome To Nepal!

I arrived in Nepal today at 1 p.m. local time. It was an hour-long queue at immigration, and then I was met by the Philippine Expedition Co-Leader Art Valdez. Trying to make it out of the airport in a rental, there was a long traffic jam. Apparently, a blockade had been put up by Maoists right outside the airport. It was reportedly in protest for some fighting that happened in a village west of Kathmandu, between the police and Maoists. Everyone who flew in had to walk for about a kilomter past the barricades so they could get a cab that charged 150 rupees to Thamel, the central tourist area. I wonder what happened to the poor souls trying to catch a plane out of Nepal.

Tomorrow, we are leaving at 5 a.m. for the Tibetan border. It will be a 7 day trip on jeeps to get to the Chinese Base Camp. I'm uncertain how our communications will be. Right now in Kathmandu, there is no SMART cellphone signal as the company does not have a tie-up with any local provider. GLOBE is supposed to have a signal, but I am having problems getting one.

I am asking a colleague to update the blog, and i hope I will be able to get in touch with her through satphone. Will try to keep everyone up to speed on what's happening to the girls.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Tibet Politics

Here is the latest text from Noelle, "Dr. Ted is taking care of my health while I am watching his politics." This is in reference to Dr. Ted's emotional involvement in the incident involving Tibetan refugees at the Nangpa La Pass which took place during last year's Cho Oyu expedition.

A few days earlier, 4 climbers in Tibet EBC were arrested because of political acts. We are keeping Dr. Ted away from "politics" and will keep him focused on supporting the 3 Filipinas on the summi-traverse climb.

Support Teams Moving Into Place

E-mail update from Co-Expedition Leader Art Valdez.

12:45 PM

At 8 a.m. today, Fred, Leo and Phemba Sherpa left for Lukla to set up support at Nepal Everest Base Camp (EBC). Earlier, Thamserku, our trekking agency had already settled in the crowded camp in anticipation of the "traverse" of our 3 Pinays and to set up support logistics.

Yesterday, another Nepal EBC support group also left by Yeti Airlines for Lukla headed by PALMC founder and co-expedition leader John Fortes. John will coordinate operations in Nepal. The Team is composed of Nepal Expedition Doctor Jodell Coates (MMS), Expedition Nurse Ralph Pilapil, Pewee Wenceslao (father of Noelle) and Larry Honoridez (PALMC). Altogether, they formed the initial batch of EBC support group.

On May 1, an 8-man PALMC group, headed by PALMC ex-President Banny Hermanos, will fly to Lukla to form a bigger EBC support and cheering group for the "traversing" Pinays.

Today, Abner Mercado of ABS-CBN's "The Correspondents" is arriving together with a cameraman and a satellite technician. He will set up shop at Nepal EBC to broadcast to our "kababayans" a blow-by-blow account of the "traverse" and descent to EBC.

Tomorrow, Saturday, Vince Rodriguez, veteran reporter of the "Kaya ng Pinoy" expedition of 2006 and Studio 23 will also blow into town. Together with Sha of Sandugo, they will leave the next day for Tibet to cover and broadcast the "summit" ascent of the 3 Pinays.

Early next week, ABS-CBN can start broadcasting from both sides of Mt Everest to Filipinos everywhere.

These coming and going keep us on our feet although the bigger task is really monitoring and coordinating the acclimatization training and receiving and operationalizing the weather reports coming from our weatherman.

Pastour just called (9:30 a.m., Nepal Time) to report that when they woke up at the Chinese Base Camp (CBC) in Tibet, snow piled up by 18 inches overnight. Carina and Janet are doing fine and easily recovered after descending from the North Col to CBC. I talked to the two girls and they sounded relaxed and well-rested after a night at CBC.

Noelle and Dr. Ted are in the Tea house at the lower end of CBC, a cluster of commercial structures set up by the Chinese to put order in the thriving business at Base Camp. I talked with Noelle yesterday and she sounds fully recovered and rested. Her initial ascent at higher altitude naturally caused mild symptoms of AMS. A couple more trip possibly reaching as high as Camp 3 (27,000 ft.), weather and time permits, will fully acclimatize her and the other girls.

Noelle is always the slowest to be acclimatized but once she gets going, she ends up the strongest. That is her track records in Denali and Cho Oyu.

Pastour and Lakpha Sherpa recommends that the summit attempt will commence once the South (Nepal) side has fixed ropes all the way to the Hillary Step. Fixed ropes have been set up already until Camp 3 on the Nepal side but have stalled since last week. This is always the natural problem in the South. Each expedition is "feeling its way" or watching who will start the initial work of fixing ropes to the South Col and beyond.
Delays in the fixing of ropes in Nepal is a major factor in timing the summit bid in the North for the "traverse."

As I reported earlier, I will be making a wide de-tour to Lhasa to talk to China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA) for clarification and reconsideration of additional "traverse" charges they slapped on us. Since there are not many "traverse" attempts this year, we are the most affected. I communicated already with the Chinese Ambassador in the Philippines and talked with an Embassy officials this morning who promised assistance. Our Philippine Embassy in Beijing was also furnished copies of our official communications with CTMA.
The amount is no small penny, hence this trip to Lhasa is worth every cent.

I will be in Lhasa from April 29 to 30. then I will take a land trip to Tingri hoping to rejoin Vince and Sha at CBC no later than May 2. By this time, Pastour, Dr. Ted and the 3 Pinays will already be back in ABC as they are leaving a day earlier. Our contacts will only be through the radios but I will be reunited with them when they descend back from the North Col to ABC on May 5.

There are lots of variables in when to finally reach the decision to make a summit bid. But we hope that these are manageable to ensure the success and safe descent for the 3 Pinays.

For John Fortes - How was the trek to Namche Bazaar from Phakding? Hope you enjoyed the scenic and exotic beauty of Sherpa country.

Leo and Fred - I will arrange that the radios will reach you tomorrow after I talk with Sonam. Extend my regards to our friends along the route, especially in Namche.

I have not been to Tibet although I have heard so much about its beauty and mystery. I am excited and am looking forward to an unforgetable odyssey together with our 3 Pinay adventurers.

Art Valdez
Tibet Expedition Co-Leader

Heat Wave In Manila, Snow Storm In Tibet

While we're sweltering in Manila's summer heat, here's a friendly reminder from the Filipina Women Climbers who are freezing their bums off at Everest Base Camp in Tibet.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Effects Of Altitude?

Some pictures of the women having fun during their acclimatization training a few weeks ago...

Janet Belarmino and Noelle Wenceslao


Carina Dayondon

Carina and Noelle

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Noelle Wenceslao Back At Base Camp

Noelle with Mt. Everest in the palm of her hand.

Finally got to talk to Pinay Everest Climber Noelle Wenceslao who is now at Chinese Base Camp. She had to go down after suffering from a severe headache and vomiting at Advanced Base Camp. She is now feeling a lot better in the relatively thicker air down the mountain.

Noelle says the two other Filipina women, Janet Belarmino and Carina Dayondon are probably making their way back to ABC after sleeping at the North Col or Camp 1. Noelle says the two are performing well at high altitude, and their next climb up in four or five days could already be a summit push for the two, if the conditions are right.

Noelle can now be reached by cellphone, but she will be charged when you call. Please e-mail me if you want her number to text or call her, especially if you're donating SMART ACES pre-paid cards for their satphone.

Update from Co-Expedition Leader

Just got this e-mail from last year's Expedition Leader and this year's Co-Expedition Leader on the Tibet side, Art Valdez.


01:38 PM

Hi All,

I am still holed up in Kathmandu waiting for the ABS-CBN Team to arrive so we can cover the last stage of acclimatization and the final push to the summit. Vince Rodriguez of Studio 23 will climb with me on the Tibet side to the Advance Base Camp (ABC - 6,500 meters, 21,300 ft). From Kathmandu, it will take them at least 7days. Assuming they will leave April 30, the earliest he and Sha of Sandugo can leave, they will reach ABC on May 5.

Abner Mercado of ABS-CBN's "The Correspondents" will trek to Everest Base Camp on the Nepal side (EBC - 5,530 meters, 17,600 ft) to cover the descent of the three Pinays. The Nepal EBC Support Group will have John Fortes to coordinate all activities. Leo Oracion, Fred Jamili and a Pemba Sherpa will help set up upper base camp support on C-2 and C-4 to provide shelter and food for the descending Pinays.

I am really praying that the broadcast team of Vince and Abner will make it on Friday, April 27. There is no more time because the three Pinays will be leaving/arriving camps a day or two upon arrival at the respective Everest base camps.

Before proceeding to Tibet ABC, I will undertake a wide detour - fly to Lhasa, capital of Tibet to negotiate with China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA) on the new Traverse charges of $3000/person they slapped on our Expedition. This is on top of the $1700/person climbing permit they imposed recently. I will negotiate with them why they imposed new traverse charges when we are already in the middle of our expedition. If this was presented earlier then we would have prepared and considered our options knowing that costs and charges just keep on going up.

I am flying April 28 and will stay in Lhasa for two days. Then I will travel by car and meet with Vince and Sha in Tingri on May 1. From Tingri we will proceed to Chinese Base Camp (CBC - 5,180 meters, 17,000 ft) to stay for 2 days. From CBC we will climb ABC and hope to make it there on May 5. At this time, the three Pinays will be coming down to ABC after they have slept at Camp 2 (7,775 meters, 25,500 ft). They will be resting for two days, May 6 and 7, and on May 8 will make the final push for the summit. Weather permitting and fixed rope in place at both rock faces of the mountain, they will be at the summit on May 11.

Pastour and Dr Ted called up at 5 p.m. (Nepal time) to report that the girls are sleeping at North Col or Camp 1 (7,010 meters, 23,000 ft.) and will descend today back to ABC. Everyone is afflicted with symptoms of AMS so they decided to go down to CBC tomorrow April 26 to rest and recuperate. The original plan of going down on April 23 at CBC was cancelled because the Pinays showed remarkable physical improvement. Instead, they pushed up higher and had gone up to the North Col. But they are not fully acclimatized yet, hence the decision to descend as low as CBC where they intend to rest for 3 to 4 days.

Then, the three Pinays will climb up to ABC on May 1, to Camp 1 on May 3 and Camp 2 on May 4. They will then descend back to ABC on May 5. Which is why I am looking forward to reach CBC by then together with Vince and Sha. The women will have a two rest on May 6 to 7. On May 8 they will make the final summit push. Weather permitting and wilth God giving them strength and protection, they will wave our flag at the summit on May 11.

They will be at Nepal Everest Base Camp on May 13 and to the warm embrace of the Nepal EBC Support Group.

The schedule here serves as a guide. There are no fast rules in an Everest climb but I hope this will serve as a guide for everyone.

We are nearing the most crucial stage of the climb and we seek prayers from everyone for a successful and safe summit and traverse of the three Pinays.

Art Valdez
Co-Expedition Leader, Tibet

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Team Still Going Up

A quick update on the team...

Two members of the Philippine All Women Everest Expedition are still climbing higher on the mountain. Carina Dayondon and Janet Belarmino have climbed to the North Col or Camp 1, which is at 7,100 meters, to spend the night there. Tomorrow, Wednesday, the two women will try to climb a bit higher, probably midway up to Camp 3, which is at 7,500 meters. They will then proceed all the way down to the Chinese Base Camp (CBC) to recover, maybe stopping at an intermediate camp if it gets too late.

Everest Summiter Erwin "Pastour" Emata is at Advanced Base Camp with the other team members Noelle Wenceslao and Dr. Ted Esguerra. Noelle and Dr. Ted will go down to CBC tomorrow as Noelle continues to experience symptoms of altitude sickness.

The whole team will regroup at CBC Thursday for some much needed rest the next two to three days. Pastour reports that it is extremely cold (of course they knew it would be cold, but he says it is really cold) at ABC aggravated by the strong winds. They are really looking forward to going down to CBC and be back in contact with the outside world through SMS and cellphones.

Members of the support team are now in Kathmandu preparing for their trip to Tibet. Last year's expedition leader, Art Valdez and one of the team's sponsors, Zsa Faminialagao of Sandugo are expected to leave Kathmandu Friday or at the latest Saturday to meet up with the team at CBC.

Everest Summiter Leo Oracion, Fred Jamili and John Fortes of PALMC are also expected to begin the trek to Everest Base Camp on the Nepal side. They will set up the camp that will welcome the women after they cross Everest from Tibet to Nepal.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Moving Down The Mountain

Pinoy Everest Summiter Erwin "Pastour" Emata was able to make a satphone call Saturday night from Advanced Base Camp. According to Pastour, it had been snowing heavily all evening. And two days afer reaching ABC, everyone is feeling symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) -- including the Sherpas. They are all experiencing mild headaches, coughing, loss of appetite, and in an extreme case, vomiting hit some members of the Team.

Upon team physician, Dr. Ted Esguerra's advise, the team will go back down to the Chinese Base Camp (CBC) to rest and recuperate after conducting a "puja" or Buddhist at ABC. Other foreign climbers who were also hit by AMS, had earlier gone down to CBC.
The team is estimated to reach CBC on April 24, giving them two to four days to recuperate. By April 28, they should be ready to start their climb back to ABC, reaching the camp on April 29 if they can acclimatize properly, or April 30 if they decide to take it slow.

This will allow the Philippine All Women Team to go up to the higher camps during the first week of May. Weather permiting, if the fixed ropes are in place at the most critical rock faces -- the 1st, 2nd & 3rd steps -- and if they are fully acclimatized, the three Pinays will have a shot for the summit and cross into Nepal on the second week of May.

Pastour had initially thought the team could make a summit bid on the first week of May, but AMS has taken its toll on the climbers. They are physically alright but not in top shape for a summit bid according to Dr Ted. Their rapid ascent from CBC to ABC climbing more than a thousand meters in two days last week caused these physical conditions.

The teams descent to CBC is timely, as weather forecasts show that Everest will be buffeted by strong and stormy weather the whole week. So the best thing for them to do really is to descend to CBC and rest.

According to their Climbing Sirdar, Lakhpa Jelgen Sherpa, they've received reports that someone from the Nepal side will try to make a summit bid next week. Maybe, he has not heard about the worsening weather condition next week during his summit push. But this is also good news because it means that most likely, the fixed ropes are now all in place in the South.

Once the team reaches CBC, communication will be much easier as they will have cellphone signals and access to SMS.