From: Everest OnOrbit
Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2008
OK, so Gladys Knight has a better knack for lyrics, but I'm about to depart on a pilgrimage today that I've been dreaming of (and preparing for) my entire life --- a trip that I hope will take me all the way to the summit of Mount Everest.
My boyhood was filled with all sorts of adventures, both as a result of traveling all over the world with my Dad's job, and through the many books of exploration that I devoured. One such book, "The Ascent of Everest", chronicled the first successful summit of the mountain on 29 May 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. I recall staring at the summit photo of Tenzing Norgay, his left boot resting on the small summit platform and his ice axe held high, wondering what that view through his dark goggles must have been like that day... and what it would be like to see it with my own eyes.
I've been fortunate beyond belief to ride rocketships into space on 5 occasions, and step out into the vastness of space 7 times for "Extravehicular Activities" (EVAs) a.k.a. spacewalks. This time my trip to "orbit" will take a good deal longer -- 6-8 weeks to the top of Everest instead of 8 and a half minutes to the weightlessness of space -- since my ascent will be on foot instead of by Shuttle and solid rocket booster engines! My hope is to be able to see and savor the equivalent of an orbital sunrise near the summit of Everest. Astronauts can see many sunrises and sunsets each day as they orbit the earth every 90 minutes, but they go by so quickly that its all but impossible to pick out the many shades of color as the sun rises from behind the earth's horizon.
I'm taking this trip on my own time and dime, but my team and I hope to share with all those interested a view into the life of an Everest expedition, particularly since there are so many parallels between the exploration we do in space to what we'll be doing in the Himalayas. Years of training, abiding by lessons learned from earlier missions, attention to detail when preparing your gear, the importance of teamwork, the use of technology to solve difficult problems, the importance of diet and hydration, and monitoring of the weather to plan your activities are some of the many commonalities we hope to explore over the course of the coming weeks on the mountain.
I'll be climbing with a good friend of mine, Adam Janikowski, a Canadian now living in London. I'll also have Kami Sherpa with me on the mountain, an amazing climber who has already been to the summit of Everest 8 times, plus many other major 8,000 meter peaks. Our immediate climbing team will also include Ang Namgya Sherpa, who has summitted the mountain twice. We'll be climbing under the umbrella of the International Mountain Guides group, run by my friend Eric Simonson.
Additionally, we'll have a group of 18 NASA rocket scientists (Team NASA Everest, led by EVA flight controller Sabrina Singh) trekking in to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in the first week of May, just before we head up to the summit (the typical "summit window" is the second to fourth weeks of May, based on movement of the jet stream and local weather patterns). Finally, my friend Keith Cowing, a web consultant and explorer in his own right, will arrive in early May to chronicle the final phases of the summit push on this and other blogs such as OnOrbit.com/Everest.
I'll be calling in to "Mission Control" in Houston (when able) from Everest Base Camp using a satellite phone, and will try to give you a flavor of what life at extreme altitude is really like (so you can better appreciate the comfort of your own home). However, photos, video clips and lengthier dispatches probably won't begin until around May 1st, when Keith and his laptop arrive in base camp. Amiko Nevills, Rob Lazaro and others in Houston will run the website, and post entries from the climbing and trekking team as it comes in - which is much appreciated!
I've gotten a great deal of email in the last couple days as I've completed my packing for the trip. The best line was from my good friend Ken Kamler, a respected hand surgeon and highly experienced Everest climber, who said: "The first 10,000 miles to the summit are easy; only the last five are hard." One step at a time... it's time for me to load up the car and head to the airport.
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