Volume 31, Number 1
February 11, 2000


The Doings of the Department of Astronomy
and the David Dunlap Observatory



COVER PICTURE: New Site for Helen Sawyer Hogg Telescope



See the DOINGS cover story for more.


THE DOINGS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ASTRONOMY
AND THE DAVID DUNLAP OBSERVATORY
ISSN 1209-0182
Editors: Brian Beattie & R.F. Garrison
© Governing Council, University of Toronto, 2000







CONTENTS

  1. Cover Story
  2. Comings and Goings
  3. Congratulations
  4. Letters
  5. General Interest
  6. Potpourri
  7. Colloquia
  8. Papers Sumbitted



Cover Story


Gleanings from Gaucho Fields

Bob Garrison


In December, just before Christmas, I visited the new home in Argentina of the University of Toronto 60-cm telescope. Formerly located at Las Campanas in Chile, the telescope has been known affectionately as "Helen" ever since its dedication to the late Professor Helen Sawyer Hogg. Helen (the telescope that is) is still in storage in the basement of the 2.15-m telescope of CASLEO. The observatory complex is located in Parque El Leoncito, which is halfway between Mendoza and San Juan, but closer to the Andes.

The site is far from civilization (90 km in a straight line from the nearest town), so it is exceptionally dark. Being on the lee side of the Andes, the new site is at least as dry and clear as Las Campanas; by the same token, the seeing is not as good.

When the construction is finished and the telescope is revived, the operation will be carried out remotely - at first from the control room of the 2m and eventually from Toronto and San Juan. The telescope is on permanent loan and University of Toronto will have 25% of the telescope time.

The new road from 2200m (7000+ft) to 2700m (9000ft) was carved out of the side of the mountain using a small cat and lots of dynamite. It is easy to see why it took a while to build it. The line-of-site distance is only 2km, but the road winds around for 7km.

Here are a few of the many images taken with an Olympus D340L digital camera:


Hugo Levato, Director of CASLEO, at the entrance of the National Park in which the observatory is located.



View of the new site as seen from the CASLEO 2m dome. It is the first small, flat part just to the left of the peak.



The Argentine 2m telescope dome.



View of the Andes from the new site. The highest is Mercedario, the second highest peak in the Americas.



View of the promontory which is to be Helen's new home.



Hugo Levato, Director of CASLEO.


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Comings and Goings


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Congratulations


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Letters


We have received this message from Jason Harlow, former student and telescope operator at DDO. -eds.

I just thought I'd give you an update on my life as I've been pretty busy lately:

My wife and I recently got tenure-track positions at the University of the Pacific, near San Francisco, California, U.S.A. We are both teaching in the Physics Department, a department of 5 faculty, in a school with about 6000 students. I am teaching an Astronomy course and a Physics course right now, and enjoying it! I was prepared to defend my Ph.D. in the summer, but due to a few technical difficulties (and difficulties scheduling my committee members), I had to postpone it. Hopefully I will get back to Penn State to defend the thesis this spring. Meanwhile, I am keeping busy at research, working on a new project with Pulsar data from the Hubble Space Telescope, and also continuing further thesis-related interests in M dwarfs and L dwarfs. There is no graduate program here in Physics, but there are some very bright undergraduates, some of whom have expressed an interest in working with me.

Although Cindy and I are thrilled to have jobs at the same place, and to have temporarily solved the "two body problem", we both miss Canada and Toronto, and hope to get back there some day. Cindy had hopes to get that experimental condensed matter openning at U of T Physics this fall, which would have been great, since I won an NSERC PDF, which I could have taken to U of T! But things just didn't work out that way, and I ended up turning down the NSERC.. Not that we mind being stuck in California, it certainly is a beautiful place to live with a lot to offer!

I enjoy reading The Doings and keeping up on U of T comings and goings. Please be advised that my email has changed to jharlow@uop.edu.

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General Interest


A Progress Report on the TRCS

Mike Gladders



After many delays in '97 and '98, the Toronto Red-Sequence Cluster Survey (TRCS) finally got underway in the summer of '99, with a 3 night run at CFHT. January saw another two runs (one at CTIO, the other concurrently at CFHT) and we now have about 1/3 of the survey imaging in hand (35 square degrees completed as of January 14th 2000). The Chile run was particularily successful - photometric throughout, with seeing as good as 0".65 - good enough to get our names on the CTIO 'Seeing Hall of Fame' whiteboard. The run was mundane otherwise, save for the scorpion which got into the 4m control room on the second night! (Howard and Pat had more serious adventures on the winter roads on Mauna Kea, and it has been suggested that I "thank my supervisor for risking his life to take data for the project" in my thesis aknowledgements ;-).

The trip to Chile was my first. Felipe and Daniella Barrientos made sure I saw all the sights. Daniella's parents own an apartament on the beach in La Serena, so we were able to spend a few days in the summer sun in between observing and giving a talk at CTIO. The ever-active Javier is growing up fast, and kept his parents constantly busy on the beach. Upon returning to Santiago, we discovered that Gabriela had arrived to take up the Princeton-Catolica fellowship halfway through the trip, so it was a real Toronto reunion for a few days in Santiago! Rumor has it that Pat Hall has now accepted the Princeton-Catolica fellowship for next year - they may need to rename it the Princeton-Catolica-Toronto fellowship before long.


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The U of T/Chile Fellowship Program

Bob Garrison


During my visit to Chile and Argentina in December, I spent some time with Jose Maza and Felipe Barrientos, respectively the first and most recent Ph.D. graduates of the University of Toronto under the fellowship program initiated in 1973 as part of the agreement of the University of Toronto with the University of Chile in Santiago. Both institutions have benefitted greatly from the association.

Jose Maza was the first student to receive a Ph.D. in astronomy under the agreement. He arrived in Toronto in 1973, just a week before the coup of 11 September. His wife joined him as soon as she could after the Coup, but those were tense times and Jose was understandably and justifiably quite worried about her.

Jose is now Chair of the Department of Astronomy, University of Chile, and Director of the Cerro Calan observatory in Santiago.


Josť Maza

Mario Pedreros was the second student to receive a Ph.D. under the agreement. He is now teaching at the University of Arica, in the North of Chile.

The third student to receive a Toronto Ph.D. under the agreement was Patricio Ortiz, who is now at Cerro Calan.(?)

Felipe Barrientos is the most recent graduate under the agreement. He is now an Assistant Professor (tenure-stream) in Astronomy at the fast-growing Catholic University in Santiago. When I visited him in December, he was happily working in a nice office with a new, powerful desktop computer.

He and Daniela say that they miss Toronto, but are glad to be back in Santiago. I didn't get a chance to see Javier awake; he was sound asleep when Felipe and I arrived home for dinner at 7pm.


Felipe Barrientos



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Astronomy in the School Science Curriculum - Latest Development

John Percy


As you may know, astronomy now appears in the Ontario school science curriculum at the grade 6 and grade 9 level. According to the Pan-Canadian Science Project, on which the Ontario curriculum is partially based, astronomy was also to appear at the grade 11/12 level, but this didn't happen originally. As a result, some of the topics which were to appear in grade 11/12 - the origin and evolution of the universe, the origin of the solar system, and the life cycles of stars - ended up in grade 9. This has caused a problem for teachers and students, because the students don't really have the background necessary to appreciate the scientific aspects of these topics.

The latest development is that a course in Earth and Space Science is being developed. It started as a course in Earth Science. The proposed content is at about the second-year university level in terms of detail! Many of the expectations would be difficult in terms of teacher and student knowledge, and in terms of resources available - especially for inner-city schools.

At the last moment (literally with 24 hours of notice), I was asked to put together an astronomy "unit", and I did. It stresses "the big picture" of planetary astronomy: the general features of the solar system; comparative planetology (the earth as a planet); external effects on the earth; and the use of spacecraft to study the earth. The astronomy unit is sufficiently flexible that it should be comfortable for most teachers of the course - who are likely to be science or geography teachers.

The next questions are: will universities accept/require the course? Which schools will offer it? Which teachers will teach it? Stay tuned .....


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Astronomy Sponsors Wiegand Lecture Series

The Astronomy Department is organizing the Wiegand Foundation Lecture Series in 2000. Two speakers have been invited. Please come out and show your support.

Wiegand Foundation Lecture Series presents

Neil de Grasse Tyson
Hayden Planetarium and Princeton University
speaking on
One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos
Wednesday, March 15 at 7 p.m
J.J. R. McLeod Auditorium
Medical Sciences Building
1 King's College Circle

and

Robert Kirshner, Harvard University
speaking on
The Accelerating Universe
Tuesday, March 28 at 7 p.m.
J.J. R. McLeod Auditorium
Medical Sciences Building
1 King's College Circle

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Potpourri


A Climb of Muztagh Ata

Howard Yee


In the last issue of the Doings, Howard published the first part of his story. It is reproduced below with some minor changes. To jump immediately to Part II of his adventure,
click here. -- eds.


Muztagh Ata (7546m, 24750ft) from Lake Karali. The normal route is the right-hand sky line.

In the summer of 1998, following the southern branch of the ancient Silk Road, I traveled a thousand kilometers overland from Islamabad up the Indus River on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), skirted the western edge of the Great Himalayan Range, crossed the Karakoram over the windswept, lonely Krejuber Pass and into the high steppes of central Asia in Chinese Turkestan, the province of Xinjiang. The destination was Muztagh Ata, ``The Father of Ice Mountains.'' At 7546m (24750ft), it is the second highest peak in the Pamirs, the ``hub'' from which all the great mountain ranges of Asia emanate.

.....................


Day 1, July 20, to Basecamp

We are finally on our way to Basecamp: the camels packed, the mountain in front of us. The four long days riding in the expedition buses have been grueling. After a fitful night sleeping nine to a yurt at the shore of Lake Karali, I got up before sunrise to take my first close look at the Mountain. It was just like the picture I saw 15 years ago in Galen Rowell's book Mountains of the Middle Kingdom, the first time I became aware of Muztagh Ata. The gleaming golden yellow of the early morning sun on the glacier 4000m above. Huge in scale and brooding.

We start the trek to Basecamp from the small settlement of Subax, just off the KKH. It's an 800m climb on gentle open grassland and lateral moraines to Basecamp at 4350m. The 20 camels carry most of our gear, with their drivers walking and singing next to them.

The leader of the expedition is Dan Mazur of Seattle, a summitter of five 8000m peaks, who has been privately leading what are called ``commercial expeditions'' for many years. I learned of the existence of guided climbs of high-altitude mountains in 1996, when I first heard of the tragic disaster on Everest, where eight members from two guided expeditions perished high on the South Ridge. The advances in technology in the 15 years since I last successfully climbed a (somewhat) high-altitude mountain, Huascaran Norte in Peru at 6600m, and the dramatic popularization of adventure travel and mountain climbing have changed the landscape of high-altitude mountaineering. The giant 8000 and 7000'ers, once the exclusive domain of the elite mountain climbers, are now possibilities for all those weekend mountaineers who are willing (and foolish enough) to put in the time and the cost, and tolerate the physical hardship and the risk. Many professional climbers, instead of making their living solely on writing books, giving lectures, and endorsing products, now also often become high-altitude mountain guides.

There are two types of commercial expeditions. One is the fully guided climbs, in which the leaders act as mountain guides in the traditional Alpine sense, taking the clients up the mountain step by step. The tragic Everest guided expeditions in 1996, described in Krakauer's Into Thin Air -- Mountain Madness, led by Scott Fisher of Oregon, and Adventure Consultants, led by Rob Hall of New Zealand -- were examples of these. The other is what are simply called ``commercial'' expeditions, in which the main job of the leader(s) is to organize all the logistics: permits, land transportation, porters, Sherpas, cooks, food, and tentage. Once on the mountain, the climb is then run similar to a regular expedition. Almost always, the leaders are the strongest and most experienced mountaineers, and hence they are the ones who put up the route, and fix ropes along the more technical and dangerous sections. Dan has led many of these trips in the Himalayas and Karakoram, including in 1996 an expedition to Lhotse, the neighboring 8000m peak of Everest, sharing the same basecamp with the ill-fated Fisher and Hall expeditions.

Everyone is eager to get going after six days in Pakistan and China, mostly spent in crammed buses. We walk on flat grassland. Muztagh Ata looms to our left with its glaciers and 1000m high cliffs. Soon, I drop far behind the group as my cough intensifies. I had caught a bad cold on the day I left Toronto. Spending two nights in airplanes with a cough, fever, and running sinuses was not an auspicious way to begin an expedition. The hard overland travel did not do me any good. And so, my hope of losing the cough before getting to high altitude is dashed.

After wading a wide roiling glacial river, we turn towards the mountain and climb up steadily on giant lateral moraines. I have lost sight of all others as I approach 4000m; I find I am no longer able to walk and cough at the same time.

Basecamp is in a bowl beneath a steep section of the moraine separating two giant glaciers coming down the mountain. The glaciers on Muztagh Ata have carved out these gigantic gullies of ice right from the summit, franked by 1000m-high vertical sides. The route up the mountain is simple. Follow the moraine up to the snow line at 5350m where Camp I is. From there, the ridge separating the glaciers becomes a fairly smooth glacier itself with a few easy icefalls and cliffs, leading up to a gigantic flat ice-capped summit plateau. Unlike many mountains of this height, Muztagh Ata is a massive block with a convex profile -- it gets flatter as one climbs higher. This unusual profile, although it makes climbing at high altitude easier, creates the problematic situation that once past Camp II at 6000m, one is out of radio communication with the lower camps.

It has taken two hours to put up my basecamp tent, a task that normally would have taken less than 15 minutes. The altitude, 4350m, is clearly taking its toll. But I am glad that we have enough tents so that we each have our own at Basecamp, for it will be home for the next 3 weeks.

The Chinese Mountaineering Association has made good use of Muztagh Ata as a source for foreign currency. They have set up permanently at Basecamp a number of tents and shacks, and staff them with local people during the climbing season. All expeditions must pay (at a relatively high price) for their services at Basecamp, which consist of providing an expedition cook and meals. They have a continuous train of donkeys and camels coming up from the road head, stocking the camp with fresh food, Pepsi, and yes, Xinjiang beer and incredibly fiery rice liqueur. There is one other sizable expedition on the mountain at the moment -- a group of 14 French climbers -- and no doubt more to come.

Day 3, July 22, Basecamp

We have set our tents about 100m away from the center of the Basecamp. And even the simple act of walking across the boulder field to the mess tent for meals in these first few days has been a struggle. The combination of cough and headache has prevented me from resting properly. Coughing is a real chore at this altitude; and what is worse is the implosion-like headache it produces. I have problems sleeping, eating, and even talking, with this constant coughing. And in times when I do fall asleep, altitude-induced illogical dreams trouble me.

The total number in our expedition is 19. There are 14 paying ``clients'' (a somewhat large number, we all thought); Dan; the assistant leader, Jon; Dahu, the Chinese liaison officer; and Phurba and Kaji, two high-altitude Sherpa guides who had traveled all the way from Nepal to assist the expedition. Of the 14 climbers, most -- six -- are Americans. The others include four Britons, two French, and two Canadians.

Yesterday, Phurba and Kaji scrambled up the moraine ridge a hundred feet above our Basecamp and strung two strings of prayer flags. >From our tent sites, we can see the multicolor flags fluttering in the wind. They then performed a simple Sherpa Buddist ceremony (even though we are in Muslim country) to ensure our good health and safety on the Mountain. We each ate some grains and nuts out of their hands, and they then presented each of us a yellow-colored cord which we tied around our neck. I knew I would not be taking this off till I am all the way back home.

Somewhat incredibly, a good number from our expedition, including the three Coloradans -- Angela, Ellen, and Steve, who obviously were initially less affected by altitude because of their high-altitude home, made a carry up to Camp 1 yesterday, after getting up at 5a.m.. And more went up this morning. With questionable weather, and the effect of my cough and the altitude, I have found neither the will nor the energy to head up towards Camp I until mid-afternoon, when the weather suddenly clears. And even that, it is intended as a test hike of a couple of hours, to prevent myself from becoming too inactive. I hike up with Patricia, the other Canadian in the group. She grew up in Ottawa, but has lived in Paris for many years, where she is a lawyer in international law with a Dutch firm. We both want to take plenty of time to acclimatize, and prefer not to rush up the mountain like some of the younger, brasher, and apparently stronger, climbers in our group.

Camp I is set right on the rocky slope just below the permanent snow line at 5350m (17500ft). A very steep, rocky, and ball-bearingly slippery trail leads most of the 1000m up to it on the moraine dividing two deeply canyoned glaciers. Somewhat to my horror, less than two minutes after I started up the steep trail, carrying an almost empty pack, I find myself gasping for air, and coughing incessantly. I am only able to settle into a steady pace after putting myself in a one-breath-per-step pace. (The normal walking gait is 4 steps per breath.) In two hours I climb about 400m (climbing at this altitude, the sole gauge of progress is elevation gain, and I have very little idea of the horizontal distance covered throughout the whole expedition), and sit on a rock for a long time to take in the stupendously expansive view the ridge affords me.

To the right and below the moraine is the Kmatoja Glacier, gouging a deep gorge from the summit snowcap. At this lower level the desert sun has carved the ice and snow into a countless number of giant sharp ice pyramids. To the west, in front of and 1500m below me lies the huge, flat, brown valley that separates the purple sharp peaks of the Tdajikastan Pamirs and Muztagh Ata. Rivers and streams cascade down in full fury from the glacial mountains, meander and then disappear into Lake Karali. The Karakoram Highway, invisible in the grand scale of the landscape, threads its way along the ancient Silk Route below. Marco Polo had supposedly passed through here, taking note of the ``Father of Ice Mountains.'' The air is incredibly clear; I can see ranges and ranges into Tdajikastan, until the snowy peaks disappear into distant clouds beneath the setting sun.


Looking west at gathering storms in the Pamirs in Tdajikastan from 4400m (Basecamp). The green patch at the right foreground corner is the oasis of Subax, the starting point of the climb. The KKH (and the Silk Route) runs along the foreground valley. (Watercolor, July 1998)


Day 4, July 23, Basecamp

The hike toward Camp I yesterday did me quite a bit of good, not so much physically, but mentally. After suffering from my cough for almost 10 days, and having sat in Basecamp for two days seeing others moving up, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get up the mountain. My body felt like a wreck; it didn't seem to be acclimatizing. The short hike got my body moving again, and put me in a better frame of mind.

And so, today my plan is to finally do a carry up to Camp I.

The general plan for climbing the mountain is simple. It is done in repeated stages, to build up acclimatization and stock up intermediate camps. So, the first step is to carry up to Camp I, dump the load, then come back down the same day. Then one goes up again with another load, and stays overnight, and come back to Basecamp. Next one would go up to Camp I again to sleep, continue to Camp II the following day, again to sleep and leave a small load, and return the following day all the way back to Basecamp. By this time, after sufficient rest, and if one is deemed acclimatized and fit, one then goes on a four-day push to reach the summit, by repeating the process of sleeping in Camps I and II, then on to Camp III and summit.

Not being in the forward group, I have to simply follow the route established by the leaders, marked with wands on the snow and protected by fixed ropes in the more dangerous sections. The two Sherpas have the job of carrying most of the tents and climbing ropes to the higher camps. The expedition has a sufficient number of tents so that we will always have shelters at all three high camps during summit attempts: little island havens in an incredibly inhospitable landscape. We carry our own personal gear: clothing, personal climbing and sleeping equipment, food, and fuel. Each time we head up to the intermediate camps, we carry more than we need and stock the camps with material that we would use for the final summit attempt.

The organization of the climbing is somewhat alarmingly loose. We are left by Dan to formulate our own precise plan with the general principle in mind, with the hope that compatible groups would form naturally.

It has taken me a struggling 4 hours and 40 minutes to climb the 1000m to Camp I carrying a relatively light pack, a very slow speed compared to reported times of as little as, for example, two and half hours by the Sherpas. I carried mostly climbing gear on this foray: my snowshoes, crampons, harness etc., to store at Camp I for later use. Our Camp I clings onto the black-rocked slope just below a huge snow field and is a good 100m above that of the French. Tent sites are flattened into the slope and completely exposed to the elements. It is windy, rocky, desolate, and sterile.

An expedition from New Zealand, which arrived two days after we did, has also set up their Camp I next to us. We met them a week ago at the Pakistani border town of Soust. It is a guided expedition with three clients led by Guy Cotter of Adventure Consultants, the company that was involved in the Everest disaster of '96. Cotter was Rob Hall's business and climbing partner, and bought Hall's half of the company after his death. Although at Soust Dan greeted Cotter warmly and said, after learning that they were going to the same mountain, something like: ``I hope we will be meeting on the mountain under happier circumstances than last time,'' referring to Everest, it was clear from comments from both sides in the last couple of days that there has been no lack of professional jealousies between the two camps. We also learn that this is the first time the company is on this mountain, and it is viewed as a trip to test the ability of the clients who are planning to climb Everest the following year.

I sit at Camp I for a couple of hours to maximize the acclimatization process, staring northwest to Lake Karali and Mount Kongur, at 7700m, the highest peak in the Pamirs. Muztagh Ata now looks like an endless upward-sloping snow field, too grand to contemplate, with the summit infinitely far away in my mind. The idea of climbing it seems both intimidating and ludicrous. All I can do is sit here and try not to make any sudden movements, lest I be gasping for breath. I make a quick trip down the slippery steep trail back to Basecamp, realizing that I should have brought either a ski pole or a walking stick.

And tomorrow, I will go right back up again, this time to sleep.

Day 6, July 25, Camp I, Basecamp

Yesterday, the climb back to Camp I with a heavier pack, including warm clothing, food and fuel, was easier than the first time. My cough has improved slightly; very bothersome still, but not as debilitating. By now, I have accepted that this cough will be with me for the rest of the expedition, till I get back down to sea level again. The body simply no longer has the spare energy to fight any respiratory infection. If anything, according to the experienced people, it is expected that everyone will have some sort of respiratory problem as time goes on. I have taken to rationing the small number of cough drops I have. I need to take at least one before I try to sleep.

Our expedition is a virtual high-altitude pharmacy, carrying almost every kind of drug one can imagine: different types of antibiotics, pain-killers, morphine, diarrhea medicine, and drugs that I don't know about. But I have resisted taking a course of antibiotics, partly due to my general dislike of taking any medicine unless absolutely necessary, and partly because I have no idea what interaction it would have with my body at high altitude. Others seem to be much happier popping pills. An interesting phenomenon I have found is the prevalent use of the drug Diamox by climbers. I first learned about this in 1983 in Peru, when it was still somewhat of a novelty. It is supposed to change the water content of one's blood, helping the body to acclimatize. It seems a good number in the expedition are taking it, some because they feel they are not acclimatizing well; others, simply because it gives them an edge. It almost seems as if it is the steroid of high-altitude climbing.

I hiked up with five others yesterday; among them: the two Sherpas, Patricia, Joe (a computer engineer from Britain), and Clint (a young banker-turned-geography-graduate-student from Berkeley). The forward group who were up at Camp II also joined us, creating somewhat of a traffic jam at Camp I. I was stuck in a tent sleeping three last night, with large sharp rocks protruding up underneath my thermarest sleeping pad. But I survived the uncomfortable night without too much ill effect from the additional altitude.

The main task today is simply to climb a few hundred meters up the snow field to aid in acclimatization and also to try out the snow/ice gear for the first time this trip, before heading back to Basecamp.

This is especially important for me. Before the trip I had finally ditched all the expedition climbing gear that I had had for the last 15 years, and bought completely new, higher-tech equipment, most of which I had not field-tested, as it was difficult to find snow and ice in July around Toronto. The main two pieces of equipment I am eager to try out are the double boots and these new ``rapid" clip-on crampons. Frost-bitten toes have always been the bane of high-altitude climbing. Now, plastic double boots with high-tech insulation have become standard in even moderately high-altitude mountaineering, making amputation of toes due to frostbite a much rarer occurrence. Climbers have survived incredible feats of bivouac at over 8000m without ill effects to their feet. I found the warmest pair of double boots available in Toronto. They are unwieldy, stiff, but light; and I wonder how my feet will like them.

Day 7, July 26, Basecamp

A rest day. Having slept in Camp I successfully, I begin to feel better about my chances. The number of expeditions arriving at Basecamp has taken a jump. A Spanish expedition pulled in this morning. Two Japanese climbers have also arrived. They are part of a larger expedition to climb Manaslu, an 8000m peak in Nepal, later in August, and are here to climb Muztagh Ata as a warm-up. The Japanese tell us that in a few days a large Japanese expedition, not associated with them, will arrive.

The weather has turned unstable again in the afternoon, but Jon and Dan, with a few others, leave late in the day in hope of sleeping at Camp II the next day, and start the process of setting up Camp III in two days' time. Meanwhile, the rest of us begin to formulate timelines for summit attempts. I am hoping to join a group heading back up to Camp I tomorrow, and sleep in Camp II the following day and then return to Base. And after a one-day rest in Basecamp again, we can then begin the summit push on day 12. This would allow me to attempt the summit as early as day 15 or 16. This may be too fast a pace, but my own rationale is that this schedule may allow me a chance for a second attempt if the first one fails. This would mean coming back to Camp I to rest, and start up the mountain again by day 18 at the latest, in order to summit and return to Base by day 21, the last day of the expedition.

Day 8, July 27, Basecamp

Today, a large group, including Joe, Patricia, Steve, Alex (an Irishman who runs a model agency) and Olivier (a young professor of mathematics from Paris), wants to head up to Camp I and onto Camp II. The weather continues to look bad. Joe starts up to Camp I right after breakfast, but the rest of us decide to wait out the uncertain weather at least till after lunch.

And indeed, right after lunch there appears to be a break in the weather with the sun coming out. I quickly pack, and start up the moraine behind our camp, with Patricia and Alex saying that they will follow in a few minutes.

After 30 minutes of struggling, I finally settle down into a steady rhythm and feeling reasonable good moving up the steep trail. But perhaps I have been too optimistic about the weather -- as I get higher, I begin to see large areas of precipitation across the valley and on the mountain. I turn to the south and see this huge dark menacing storm over the Kaloong Ridge, moving at a fast speed toward this part of the mountain. All the sudden, I feel a chill in the air, and hear thunder approaching. I wonder if the storm will pass below me, or if I should continue on and hope it will blow by quickly. The wind becomes fierce, and soon, ice pellets are beating down on me. I stop and put on my Gore-Tex clothing trying to cover as much exposed skin as possible. Realizing that the others are almost certain not going to come up under this kind of weather, and not wanting to be out of sync with the others, I decide to go down.

In a blowing mix of rain and ice pellets, I run down the slippery steep trail back down to Basecamp and find everyone has squeezed cozily into the Sherpas' large tent drinking milk tea.

The rain finally stops around 4p.m., and Olivier and Steve begin to try to convince people to start up to Camp I again. I simply feel that this is too tight a schedule, I would barely make it into Camp I by darkness even if I could greatly improve my pace. They manage to convince Patricia, however, and then the Sherpas. They make Camp I right at darkness, and now, I am in danger of being out of sync with the Sherpas.

Day 9, July 28, to Camp I again

Andrew, the young American who teaches English in Korea, has graciously lent me one of his walking sticks. (``Walking sticks'' have also gone high tech in the last few years. They are no longer your old wooden staff, but high-tensile strength ski-pole-like, and telescopic, with tungsten tips and ski baskets, that could cost upward over a hundred dollars.) There will be at least four of us going up today: Andrew, Alex, Clint, and myself; and possibly Dahu, the Chinese liaison officer.

I start in mid-morning with fine weather. Although I am feeling reasonably good, I am still walking with the laborious one-breath-per-step slow pace. High up at the rocky outcrop that we have dubbed the ``fortress,'' where the moraine turns into a boulder slope, I see Joe, who is on the way down. He is sitting on a big rock, looking exhausted, more so than someone who is going up. He has a wracking cough, and complains that he had a very poor night with headache and nausea. At 28, Joe is the youngest in the group, and also one of the three or four with very little mountain experience (the other two being Andrew and Alex, both also among the youngest in the group). Poor fellow, he was sick as a dog on our very first day at base camp; we almost had to take him back down to the roadhead that night. But he did reasonably well during the first time we went to Camp 1. Now he looks completely defeated.

It has taken 4 hours and 30 minutes for me to arrive at Camp I. I am disappointed at not seeing an improvement, and wonder how I'll do tomorrow to Camp II. Camp I is empty. All those who were up yesterday have either gone up or back down. We assume that Patricia, Jon, Steve, Olivier and the Sherpas have gone to Camp II. It is not clear who will be going up to Camp II tomorrow; it could be a rather inexperienced team.

Andrew, Alex, and I crowd into one tent in the blowing wind to brew up and make soup and tea. Andrew drops a burning match onto my thermarest mattress in his clumsy attempts to light the hanging stove. And now I have a leaking air mattress. Another lesson learned at high altitude: cover up mattresses when playing with fire. A leaking mattress means an unbearably cold sleep. But after my unpleasant experience in 1993 of sleeping on a Greenland glacier on a leaking mattress, I have taken to having a repair kit as an essential item. I spend the rest of the afternoon fixing the leak.

In the late afternoon we see three people coming down from the glacier above. It is Patricia and the two Sherpas. It turns out that they have not gone up to Camp II to stay; partly because of not having enough tents set up there yet. Jon, the assistant leader, Steve, and Olivier are staying up and will attempt to establish Camp III tomorrow. Patricia and the two Sherpas plan to go back up to Camp II to stay tomorrow, with the Sherpas ferrying two more tents up. This makes for a rather tiring trip for Patricia, but it does put me back on the same phase as her and the Sherpas.

Dahu, who has started late, finally gets into Camp I just at dusk. We are all a bit worried about him. Although he is a cycling champion and an avid rock climber, he has no experience as a mountaineer. Also, it is puzzling that he has no English whatsoever, other than very simple words. This presents a problem as he often is the person who needs to act as a go-between between us and the local basecamp staff. He got this job as the liaison officer because he is a good friend of Jon in Beijing, and the two are working on starting an adventure travel business in China. Jon, a Minnesotan with a physics degree, has lived in China for a few years and speaks impressively fluent Chinese. When Dahu and Jon's Chinese girlfriend (who stayed in Basecamp for the first week with us) saw me at the Chinese border post where they met the expedition, their eyes sort of lit up -- a ``foreign'' Chinese person who is actually going to climb the mountain. But they were disappointed at my poor Mandarin, and conversation just became too difficult once we got to 4000m; the brain is no longer willing to work on speaking an unfamiliar dialect.

Day 10, July 29, Camp II

We all woke up too late this morning, but I had a good sleep, all things considered. This could be regarded as the beginning of the real climb, onto the much less secure world of ice and snow, glaciers and crevasses. Alex had a bad night, and elects to go back down. Andrew wants just to hike higher a bit to try on his snow and ice gear. Knowing that I would be slow, I start out on the snow slope first at 10:30a.m.. Five others are going up: Clint, Dahu, Patricia, and Kaji and Phurba.

We have learned that we have to stop referring to Kaji and Phurba as ``Sherpas,'' even though we continue to do so. They are in reality Tamangs. Sherpa is actually the name of a clan. There are other clans in the region of Namche Bazaar, under the shadow of Everest in Nepal where the legendary climbing Sherpas live, with the Tamangs being the next biggest group. Dan had regaled us with story of envy, infighting and even physical violence during expeditions between the different clans in the region.

Over the last few days I have learned more and more about Kaji and Phurba. They are cousins, and now both live in Katmandu, working for trekking companies. Although they are Tamangs, they have plenty of high-altitude experience, having both been up well above 8000m on the South Ridge of Everest. They are both professional climbers in their own right. Other members of their family have also been involved in the expedition business. And almost as expected, the mountain takes its toll; Phurba's brother died on Everest in the 1980's on a West Ridge expedition led by the British climber Doug Scott. And like most of the Sherpa mountain guides, their English is good, and they can communicate in three or four other languages.

The slope is unrelenting, but I am actually moving up at a faster pace than last time, even with a moderately heavy pack. We all gather at the base of the icefall where we meet Steve on his way down. He has decided not to help establish Camp III with Jon and Olivier. Patricia had told me last night that Steve looked really tired yesterday on the way to Camp II, and almost didn't make it.

The icefall is a place where there is an abrupt change in the slope of the glacier, often a place of falling ice blocks, and large crevasses. This one did not look too menacing to me, despite what Ellen and Angela, who were up here 2 days ago, have been telling me. They wanted, as a matter of principle, for us to rope up for more sections on the mountain, especially in the icefall. Ellen was especially adamant about it. She has lost many friends to glaciers -- most recently a month ago in Italy where she had just competed in a high-altitude marathon. So far, the leadership's intention is to continue the policy of unroped climbing on the glacier, but with a well-marked and wanded path. They do concede to put up several sections of fixed ropes between Camp I and Camp II. Here in the icefall, we come upon the first roped section, winding down into a gully traversing along a huge crevasse. This icefall is really the only ``interesting'' bit on this relatively smooth mountain.

The next section of fixed rope is at the headwall of the icefall -- a 30m stretch of the steepest slope on the whole climb, at about 50 degrees. While this is not overly steep, a fall here may be problematic as the bottom of the slope leads to a huge gaping crevasse, the biggest I have seen on the route so far. I clip on to the fixed rope for protection, but intend to free climb the slope without using the rope. At 5700m, carrying a 20 kg pack and having only one ice tool makes that a rather strenuous exercise for me, leaving me desperately out of breath near the top. And it is also here that the exposure become the most palpable -- having to do a short three-step traverse directly over the wide open crevasse. Now that I have free climbed this slope once, next time, I will climb on the rope. But I wonder if I have unnecessarily expended the much needed energy reserve for the remaining half of the climb to Camp II.

After the icefall, we are on a long, steep, persistent slope of about 35 degrees, considerably steeper than the slope below the ice fall. Along that steep valley, there are several places where there are signs of hidden crevasses, and the forward team has marked those areas with wands and put fixed ropes along a few particularly ``porous'' sections.

The slope seems to go on forever. The mind numbs to the slow upward progress. And now most of us are climbing up together at about the same pace. Except Dahu. We have not seen him (well below us) since the base of the ice fall.

Then all the sudden, we see the tents of Camp II. It sits on a ledge of a ridge on top of the long slope, so that we don't see it till we literally come up on it. It has taken us slightly less than five and a half hours -- not an unreasonable time, even if we, with the exception of the Sherpas, are all exhausted.

As we are getting into the routine of settling into the now three-tent camp, we see two dots sliding down in the golden light of the setting sun on the slope above us. It is Jon and Olivier, skiing down, having successfully established Camp III. Dan and Franck had carried two tents part way up the day before. Jon and Olivier moved them further up and set our Camp III at about 2 hours higher than the French Camp III. They are a bit fuzzy about the exact altitude, but the opinion of our expedition is that the French Camp III at 6500m is too low. That leaves a 1000-metre-plus climb for the summit, a daunting task at these altitudes. Perhaps this explains why the French team has not been able to place a climber on the summit yet. But of course, by setting Camp III higher, the trip between Camps II and III becomes a much longer slog which also has to done with a full pack.

Jon and Olivier continue down on skis after a brief rest, hoping to make Basecamp before dark.

Day 11, July 30 -- Back to Basecamp

It was almost dark last night when I saw Dahu's head peeking up from the slope below Camp II. We all thought he had turned back. He looked like a shell of a man, with vacant eyes and on the verge of collapse. My tent was the only one with extra space, so, I helped him in and gave him some water, while asking the Sherpas to make some hot soup for him. Between my broken Mandarin and his broken English, I was able to establish that he managed to climb the icefall on his own, continued up, but became so exhausted halfway up that last slope that when he came upon the load stash of the New Zealand expedition, he was about to simply settle there for the night. But Jon and Olivier saw him on their way down, and told him that it would be dangerous (clearly!) to stay the night out. And somewhat to my astonishment, Dahu's decision was to continue up (rather than go down with Jon, perhaps because Jon had told him he was only half an hour from Camp II). And it took him almost another two hours before he finally pulled himself over the edge to Camp II.

Last night was hell. I was in the smallest tent there, and then had to shoe-horn in Dahu, who is tall for a Chinese. And he basically drifted off into unconsciousness right away, squeezing me into one-third of the tent against the tent wall all night. And even worse was that my sinuses had become completely blocked for some reason. I was not able to breath except through my mouth. At these altitudes, the air is incredibly dry. And I found that as I drifted off, my mouth and throat would get so dry in just 10 to 15 minutes that I would wake up gagging, and had to take a sip from my water bottle. That went on for hours, until perhaps 4 a.m., when I could finally breath again. But I also seemed to be taking the altitude in stride, despite the terrible discomfort all night -- I had no nausea, and only a slight headache. That, along with lethargy and shortness of breath, is normal.

The agenda for the day is to climb up above Camp II for a few hours to help acclimatization, and then return to Basecamp in the afternoon. I have no success in rousing Dahu from his comatose sleep, but am able to ascertain that he is not gravely ill before I head up slope at 11a.m.. These late starts have become somewhat worrisome. The group never seems to be very good at getting going in the morning, which becomes increasingly important as we go higher. Almost all of this has to do with exhaustion and lethargy at altitude.

I climb alone up the slope behind Camp II, following existing steps on the snow and ice, and aiming for distant wands. It is an open slope above Camp II, with tremendous view to the west. Soon, both our and the French team's tents look like little color dots clustered on a snowy ledge with a huge drop down to the brown valley below. The snow slope is bordered with gigantic crevasses on both sides, dropping off to the huge 1000m-deep gullies that we saw on our Basecamp approach. After about two hours, I top the slope onto a flat. I estimate that I have climbed perhaps 250m. Since the mountain steepens again after this, I decide that this is far enough, and head back down to Camp II after a bit of a rest.

When I get into Camp II, I see, somewhat to my relief, that Dahu had gotten up and descended. The younger of the two Japanese Manaslu climbers arrived at Camp II from Basecamp at the same time. He has basically forsaken the standard high-altitude acclimatization routine, and is climbing this mountain very fast and in alpine style. Other than making one carry to Camp I a couple of days ago, he is now on his summit attempt, carrying everything from camp to camp, and attempting the summit solo and in one single push. Somehow for him, this must seem just like a little stroll up some snowy hump that he could do at will (or at least in three days).

And just as I am about to leave, Ellen and Angela poke their heads over the lip of the flat where Camp II sits. They will be part of our ``summit Team A,'' which evidently consists of Dan as the leader, the two, and Richard, a Californian who has his heart set on setting the altitude record for snowboarding. They will stay in Camp II tonight, go to Camp III tomorrow, and hopefully summit two days from now. Summitting 13 days after arrival at Basecamp seems like a rather ambitious schedule (the Japanese climber's superhuman effort not withstanding). But apparently many of the other expeditions do not give themselves much more time than 15 days, somewhat naively, I think; and mostly due to the pressure of commercial trips having to confine themselves to a total of 3 to 4 week schedule, including travel, to fit into the standard vacation length. But both Ellen and Angela are in high spirits.

The steep slope below Camp II that had taken what seemed an infinite time to climb now looks just like an easy snow face of a couple thousand feet that I could run down. I follow the fall line and plunge-step down. Without really thinking, I do what I usually have done in North American mountains of much smaller sizes -- rather than following the zig-zagging path of foot prints on the snow, I decide to run down in a straight line next to them, so as not to ruin the kicked steps for those who are coming up. About one-third of the way down the slope, my body suddenly sinks and I find myself buried up to my hips in snow, and instinctively I spread my arms out. I have fallen partly into a crevasse. But I am not alarmed as I stablize myself and examine the area by poking my ice axe into what seems to be a hole going into the slope horizontally at chest level. It is indeed a good size crack, as I hear ice chunks falling. I have half sunk into the down-slope side of the lip of a small crevasse that appears to go into the 45-degree slope that I am on. Phurba, about 30m above me, yells at me: ``Keep going!'' At first I have thought he meant I was doing fine, and should keep going. Then I realize he meant ``move out of there quick!'' I level myself up slowly, and move carefully a few metres back to the established trail. It is only then I realize what a stupid mistake it was to have run down an untested path -- I forgot I was on a glacier, not a snow field, and unroped; and perhaps it was only my downhill speed that carried me over to the far lip of the crack. It is much later that I realize the reason why I wasn't alarmed as I sat there on the edge of the crevasse examining it with detached curiosity. I was thinking to myself that this was a much smaller crevasse than the one I fell into in Greenland a few years ago. But of course I forgot that, that time, I was on a rope, and couldn't have been safer. My mind was clearly running at fractional speed at these altitudes.

Day 12, July 31, Basecamp

A rest day -- the only one before repeating the whole sequence again, and going all the way to the summit. The climbing situation has cleared up considerably. ``Team 1'' (Dan, Ellen, Angela, and Richard) is already poised at Camp II and moving up to Camp III today, carrying additional tentage, and will attempt the summit tomorrow. Today, ``Team 2,'' consisted of Jon, the deputy leader, Steve, Franck, and Olivier, will leave Basecamp later today. And, ``Team 3,'' led by the two Nepalis, with Patricia, Clint, Dahu and myself, will start up tomorrow. The remaining others have mostly not acclimatized well enough to make an attempt, and have more or less given up. Ironically, these include both the youngest and less experienced -- Joe, Andrew, and Alex; and also the oldest and more experienced -- the two retired seasoned Himalaya trekkers, Derek and Rod, both in their late fifties.

But still there is a lot of discussion back and forth. Tent space is the primary concern. With three teams so closely spaced, with some going up and some coming down, there is a good chance of a bad bottleneck, especially if weather or sickness intervenes. But the big argument is turning out to be amongst the Team 2 members. Jon and Olivier, feeling strong, want to move all the way to Camp II from Basecamp today, so that they would be one day behind Team 1. But both Steve and Franck do not feel up to the task, and think by doing so would only burn themselves out for the actual summit day. And for a while, neither side will budge on their decision, with the possible unhappy consequence that Jon and Olivier would go up on their own, and Steve and Franck join our Team. But that clearly will not work, as it would mean Team 3 having eight members -- too unwieldy and at the absolute limit of tent space availability, almost certain to cause a problem.

The other big discussion is whether Dahu should be allowed to join a summit attempt. Most of us have thought he put himself in great danger by continuing onto Camp II a couple of days ago. And some of us, including myself, worry very much about his lack of mountain sense, compounded by the communication problem. None of us want to find ourselves in a rescue situation. But Dahu indicates rather strongly that he wants to try the summit, and his friend, Jon, who has the sole authority (with Dan being on the way to Camp III, and out of radio range), refuses to deny Dahu's chance to try. In the end, we make up a set of rules under which Dahu is to attempt the summit; and that includes the Sherpas having the authority to turn him around.

By mid-morning, not liking the possibility of an eight-person summit attempt, I offer to mediate the differences between the two camps of Team 2. And it takes only a short time to convince Jon and Olivier that all in all, including improving their own chances, it is better to stay with the original one-day-per-camp itinerary, and stay two days behind Team 1.

So tomorrow, I will start on a what is hoped to be a four-day climb to the summit. Although I feel fairly recovered from the last trip to Camp II, a one-day rest seems rather inadequate. And I wonder if it is all too early. Summitting on August 4, day 16 according to this schedule, still seems too soon to me. At the beginning of the climb, I was hoping that I would make an attempt early enough so that there would be enough time within the 22 days to have a second try if the first one fails. And leaving for the summit push tomorrow is the latest start that would allow me to even contemplate a second try. It would require coming down only to Camp I to recover after the failed attempt, and with no rest, head all the way back up again. That seems like an impossible demand on my body and will-power. After having been up beyond Camp II, I realize that it will be almost certain that any summit attempt will take so much out of me that there will most likely be nothing left in me to want to try again. So, there will be only one try for me. And if that is the case, then the present schedule is not optimal, because it would be better if I have another rest day or more. And of course, none of this takes the weather as a variable into consideration. The weather has improved in the last few days after the wet stormy conditions that plagued most of the beginning of the expedition. The bad weather has at least been partly responsible for making the French expedition a dismal failure, with only two out of 14 barely making the summit just one day before they were to leave.

In the afternoon, I pack and repack, trying to figure out what is the minimum I need to carry, to be as ruthless as possible without endangering myself. How much food? How much extra food? How much fuel? Everything is looked at with a critical eye. Now that I have seen the upper part of the mountain, I decide that I will carry no climbing gear. The mountain is not steep enough, and the glacier appears to be very benign. I will be carrying what seems like a ridiculously small amount of food for 5, possibly 6, days, some of which is already sitting at Camps I and II. It amounts to per day: two granola bars, one chocolate bar, a few dry apricots, a handful of peanuts, a pouch each of hot chocolate and instant oatmeal, and one package of ramen noodles. To supplement the dinners of instant noodles, there is a couple of cups' worth of mashed-potato powder, three pouches of instant soup, and a few ounces of my favourite Chinese beef jerky which I use as a treat when all else fails to give me an appetite.

Day 13, August 1, Camp I

It has taken me three hours and 35 minutes with a moderately heavy pack to come back up to Camp I, a whole hour faster than last time. For the first time I feel a glimmer of hope that I might make the summit. Dahu, as if to prove we were wrong in showing concerns for his performance, climbs up to Camp I keeping pace with the Sherpas. But Patricia seems to have slowed considerably. On the advice of the Sherpas she had taken some Diamox the night before to help improve her acclimatization. But she evidently reacted badly to it and did not have a good night of sleep at Basecamp. It seemed like bad advice to me. I thought she was acclimatizing at a rate similar to mine, and was climbing faster than me two days ago above Camp II.

I try to force myself to eat as much as possible for dinner. I know my food intake will slowly diminish at higher altitude. It will be a situation in which energy output can be as high as four to five thousand calories a day, while intake is less than a thousand.

After dinner, I go out of my tent to catch the splendor of the sunset over the mountains of Tdajikastan. And much to my chagrin, my 20-year-old Pentax camera refuses to work, its mirror stuck in the open position. I tinker with it for a long time in my tent without being able to revive it (which I had done a couple of times already this trip). After all these years of rough usage, including tumbling down mountain sides, being choked by dust from endless dirt roads, bouncing along on thousands of miles of bus and truck rides, it finally has the last laugh. There is nothing to do. I decide to carry it at least to Camp II, and if it still insists on not working by then, I will leave it there and continue the climb without a camera.

Day 14, August 2, Camp II

Alex, the gruff and loud Kiwi from the Adventure Consultants group, came over from his tent in the morning to borrow my Swiss Army knife and to wish me luck on the climb. He told me that it was very unlikely that their group would make it to the top. He was not acclimatizing well. The other three trying to establish Camp III higher up today were not either.

Camp I is now virtually a tent city. There are four expeditions there, with the Japanese and the Spanish being the largest. Earlier a group of about six Japanese started up the mountain above Camp I. They climbed up the slope in a tight formation with only a few feet separating each other, connected by a rope. It was a very strange sight to us as they moved in locked steps as if in a military march, totally in contrast with our willy-nilly style of spreading all over the mountain.

The climb back to Camp II does not seem any easier than the last time. And my optimism of yesterday sinks as I trudge on. Just before the icefall, we meet the lone Manaslu Japanese climber coming down. He had made the top yesterday, alone. With his broken English and hand gestures, he tells us that the climb was easy, and the biggest problem was cold.

On the steep slope beyond the icefall we see Angela, with skis strapped on her backpack. We greet her warmly and eagerly ask for news of the Team 1 summit attempt. She didn't make the peak. The four of them started out for the summit early yesterday, but less than halfway, they felt their feet and hands were getting too cold, and decided to turn back. Dan, Ellen, and Richard stayed in Camp III and are making their second attempt now, starting later in the day, hoping to climb in slightly warmer temperatures. She felt that she had enough of the big mountain, and left Camp III yesterday. The game is over for her. I had read that, in the 1930s, the two top British mountaineers, Eric Shipton and Bill Tillman, were turned back from their attempt at first ascent 500 feet from the summit due to severe cold; and now with two successive reports of cold temperatures, I begin to feel that the game is probably up for me too.

I reach Camp II only half an hour faster than last time. I do not consider that to be a good sign -- there is so much thinner air ahead. But Dahu got there in good time ahead of everyone else. Perhaps we were wrong on judging his previous performance.

Quite a bit of snow had fallen since I was last here two days ago. I dig out the snowshoes and the bag of supplies that I had stowed here three days ago and proceed to organize melting snow for water, dinner and the night. Team 2, as expected, had left early this morning for Camp III. We are a little concerned that there would be a traffic jam at Camp III if Team 1, having stayed an extra day, did not want to, or prepare to, as one might expect, come down to Camp II directly from a summit bid. Sure enough, in late afternoon we see a few dots high up on the mountain above Camp II, coming down.

Ellen arrives first, poking her head into my tent and asks ``Is there room at the Inn?'' She and Dan made the peak, in just a bit over five hours. Richard turned back not long after starting. After the summit climb, they were too tired to come all the way back to Camp II, and had already settled into the two tents at Camp III, when Team 2 showed up. And under the circumstances, they had no choice but to evacuate the tents and come down to II. Ellen was very unhappy with Team 2. They did not carry up a tent as instructed by Dan a few days ago. She also tells me that Richard was on the verge of total exhaustion, and hopes that he will make it here before dark, as he is not on skis. In a few minutes, with the sun low on the western sky, Dan swoops in on skis. He intends to continue down all the way to Basecamp, only stopping for a brief conversation and to take some water from us. ``I will make dinner,'' he says, and disappears over the lip and down the steep slope. It is already 6p.m..

I suppose if anyone could do this -- climb Muztagh Ata and then descend all the way to Basecamp in one day -- it would be him. Of all the members in the expedition, Dan and Ellen can be considered as elite athletes; so, it was fitting that they summitted first. Dan has these legendary ascents of 8000m peaks to his credit, including a 36-hour continuous ascent of K2, a testimony to his incredible stamina and strength. Ellen, who has earlier in the year given up her job as manager of a health food store in Vail, Colorado, is a high-altitude marathoner. I did not even know such a sporting event existed until I met her. A high-altitude marathon is a marathon that is run entirely above the elevation of 10,000 ft. And a few months before Muztagh Ata, she had climbed Denali (McKinley) in Alaska, and run an high-altitude marathon in Italy, and is planning later in the year to climb Argentina's Aconcagua, at 6900m, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.

We watch anxiously with my little binocular for signs of Richard above us as the sun sets. He staggers in just after sunset, looking completely exhausted. The daily 8p.m. radio call crackles in the other tent, and we learn that Dan made the mess tent right at 8p.m., just before it got completely dark, and dinner was cold.

Day 15, August 3, Camp III

Again, we didn't start off early enough. In the morning Ellen offered me her thermarest when she learned that mine had a slow leak. She also gave me the insulating pouch for her water bottle after I mentioned that I was worried about water freezing during the summit attempt. I remembered when I climbed Huascaran 15 years ago, on summit day my water bottle froze into solid ice; I did not have a single drop to drink during the second half of the summit climb. She then offered me her supergaiters, saying that everyone so far had complained about cold feet. These I declined. I thought my boots would be warm enough, and I did not want to have to deal with an unfamiliar piece of equipment at high altitude.

It is an incredibly long haul to Camp III at almost 6900 metre. We put Camp III higher than the other expeditions to make the summit bid easier and safer, but clearly pay for it in the longer climb from Camp II to III. At first I have the impression that I am going very well, as I compare landmarks with the last time climbing up through here, thinking that I am well ahead of the ascent rate of last time, despite carrying a fairly heavy pack of close to 20kg. In the bright sunshine I feel good despite the constant gasping for breath. My thoughts circle around Skylar, my little niece who was born just one week before I left -- that feather lightness of warmth. I become infused with optimism -- the importance of peaking at the right time.

Dahu, who started out first, is sitting on the snow an hour out of Camp II. He tells me he's had it, he is turning back. I do not understand why he crashed so suddenly. The Sherpas have gone ahead of me, but Patricia again is lagging worrisomely.

But my optimism wanes and my revelry is broken soon after. I must have been confused by ambiguous landmarks on this continuous, almost featureless, white slope. When I finally reach the distinct little flat space where I stopped the last time, I find I am not any faster. I see Gary Cotter of Adventure Consultants and one of his clients sitting there with their skis and eating some snacks. I ask them: ``On the way down or up?'' Gary replies that they are on the way down, abandoning the climb. They have not acclimatized well. They camped even lower than the French Camp III last night, putting them over a 1000 metres away from the peak; and realized there was no chance for them to summit. I move on, and in the distance the third member of their group is coming down toward me to join his friends. It is Kurt, the stocky Texan, in his yellow Gore-Tex. He is not using his skis, which are strapped to his pack. I say ``Hi'' to him as he passes and turn around to see him continuing toward his group and Patricia, about 50m beyond, talking to Gary.

That scene, in the glaring, blinding light of the high-altitude, midday sun, is burned into my mind.

Along with the optimism, the sun soon also disappears. We are now climbing in fast blowing drifting clouds, with occasional horizontal snow squalls. It gets very chilly whenever the sun is blocked by the mist and fog. We have no real idea where exactly Camp III is located, how much further. We follow the wands and the trail of footsteps on the snow, one step, two breaths, at a time. I have had a vague expectation that Camp III should be about four hours after that last flat spot. The only real landmark that would give us some idea is the abandoned French Camp III, which, according to Jon, should be about one to two hours below our Camp III. The occasional whiteout removes the last of the prominent sensory inputs -- the edge of the slope to our left, and Mt Kongur to the northwest -- and in a hypoxic state I feel like a robot. We get to an abandoned camp site -- one circular flattened area of snow. But that is only the New Zealander's site. By the time we reach the bigger remnants of the French Camp III site, it is well past 4p.m., a time by which I have thought we should have reached Camp III.

The pace of everyone has slowed, and the weather is getting darker and colder. We continue in a stupor up the never ending slope. I begin to wonder if we can make it to Camp III before sunset, and whether we should consider picking a place and pitching the two tents that the Sherpas are carrying. Out in the fog we hear the sloshing of skis ahead, and Jon pulls in beside us. Yes, all four of Team 2 made the summit today. Olivier, just behind, and Jon, are descending to Camp II, while Steve and Franck, being too exhausted, elected to stay and descend tomorrow. Somewhat disheartenly, Jon estimates two hours or more from where we are to Camp III, and also suggests that we might want to consider setting up for the night when we find a flat enough place. But Kaji and Phurba think it would be better if we move on and try to get to Camp III.

By now, we are continuously in low fog and a blowing blizzard. Six p.m. passes, then 7p.m. -- no Camp III. The darkening sky and blowing snow make things look very ominous and gloomy. Both Patricia and I are near the end of our strength.

Then, I spot a blue dot in the distance, as the clouds part momentarily. It takes what seems like an eternity to finally plow through that last slope to Camp III. Franck and Steve stick their heads out of the tent to greet us, and I am still coherent enough to congratulate them on their summit. Next to their tent is Richard's snow board. Richard had carried his snow board all the way up, hoping to make the world's highest snow board descent. He left it up at Camp III, hoping for another attempt later.

God bless Kaji and Phurba, who, arriving 20 minutes ahead of us, have already erected one of the tents they brought up and are busy leveling a platform for the second. They tell me to just crawl in one of them and start dinner before it gets completely dark.

It has taken a grueling nine hours almost nonstop to climb those 900m, most of it in bad weather. But here I am, at 6900m, well above my previous altitude record. I am too exhausted to eat, but I also know that I have to eat something -- or at least convince myself mentally that I have had dinner -- before going to sleep.

In the rapidly falling light at 6900m, everything becomes a chore. I do not have the will power to force myself to cook the ramen noodles, and so decide to simply pour some hot water into half a small cup of mashed potato powder, mixing in some beef jerky. It is totally unplatable. I end the little half cup ``dinner'' with a couple of mouthful of peanuts, for ``dessert,'' something that I should have eaten during the day.

I have the Bibler tent to myself. There is a lot of advantage in having a tent to oneself. These high-altitude tents are small so as to save weight. When it is crowded, it is a difficult, and sometimes comical, task to maneuver in the tent, trying to put all that heavy clothing on, or melt snow from the hanging stove. Having one's own tent cuts down significantly on the preparation time. Dressing up to start climbing in the morning takes over an hour at times, as neither the body nor the mind is working properly. Putting boots and crampons on are probably two of the most dreaded tasks, leaving one completely out of breath and with frozen feet and fingers. But there are also disadvantages to not sharing a tent, the biggest being the lack of body heat produced by the other person. I have brought a very light (relatively speaking) sleeping bag for this expedition, and have worried about being cold sleeping at these altitudes. The idea is to use all my available clothing in addition to the sleeping bag to keep me warm -- apparently now the ``approved'' method for lightweight high-altitude climbing. So I go to sleep wearing all the lighter clothes, placing the heavy down parka on top of the sleeping bag, and putting all the outerwear -- all the Gore-Tex clothing -- beneath the sleeping bag to add insulation from the icy ground. At altitude, the game of how little one can get away with carrying becomes constant. It is difficult enough to move without having to carry what may be dead weight. But at the same time, there is little margin for not having the right equipment, and enough clothing, food, fuel, and water. And the risk calculation is always being made, even if the mind isn't working very well.

Just before it gets completely dark, I steel myself to go out of my tent to fill up a large plastic bag with snow for melting water for tonight and tomorrow.

I put the plastic bag on the snowy ground and started scooping up snow with both of my hands and dumping it into the bag. It takes a few minutes to fill the bag; and just as the bag is about full, I look down at my hands. I realize I have no gloves on, and small whitish patches along my fingers and palms appear to be forming. I was too hypoxic to realize I have been scooping snow with my bare hand -- the cold and pain did not register until I looked at my hands. The discoloration makes me panic a little, thinking perhaps I have frozen something. I immediately opened the zipper of my parka, and stick my hands into my armpits to warm them. Later, I come to understand why in pictures of climbers who have frozen to death, their jackets are often open. It had always puzzled me why stranded climbers would open their jacket instead of doing everything to keep the elements out. They, as a reflex, must have tried to warm their hands, whether due to the accidental loss of their gloves, or the hands being too cold even when they were in gloves.

Day 16, August 4, Camp III

The night was long. It was the first time I have slept at such high altitude. At 6900m, the oxygen level is down to less than 50% of sea level. But other than lethargy, I do not feel particularly terrible. I slept, if one could call it, in a continuous state of repeated non-sensical, unsettling dreams induced by high altitude.

Morning comes, and no one has moved. We are all too tired. The climb from Camp II to III, the longest on the whole route, has taken its toll.

Phurba is not feeling well. Ironically, he is having stomach problems, something expected of us Westerners, not the hardy locals from the Himalayas. Time ticks by, and it becomes clear that a summit bid today would be unlikely. We finally start discussing our options across the tent around 10a.m.. The Sherpas feel we should rest today and try the summit tomorrow -- Phurba is sick, and we are too tired, and in any case, it's getting too late to get started safely. But Clint wants to give it a try. After more indecisive discussions, I finally reluctantly tell Clint that I would start off with him to break trail on the fresh snow for him if he really wants to go, but it is almost certain that I will not go to the summit. It is too late for me to try the summit. Steve had told me that it had taken five and a half to seven hours to reach the summit; starting this late is not a feasible time for my speed. And with the Nepali not wanting to go, I also feel we have too small a safety margin.

Just before 11a.m. I am all suited up and start up the mountain again. With the new snow last night, I am using snowshoes for the first time in the climb. These are relatively small, lightweight, plastic models with metal claws, optimally designed for mountaineering. I say goodbye to Franck and Steve, who are readying themselves for the descent back to Basecamp after their summit climb yesterday. Franck tells me that inside the tent it is --4 deg C, and it was --12 deg C earlier before they unzipped their sleeping bags to let the body warmth out.

The four tents of Camp III recede painfully slowly below me as I kick steps up the slope. It is, as usual, a real struggle to get going for the first few minutes. A sense of panic, no air, the heart jumping too fast. And it takes 10 to 20 minutes for the body to learn the rhythm again; now one step, two to four breaths, depending on the steepness.

I am not feeling great. Very soon it is evident that my stomach is not happy. My breakfast appears to be just sitting there, refusing to be digested. Not having any appetite, I had a fairly light breakfast: a hot chocolate, a pouch of instant oatmeal (which I hate with a passion), and a granola bar. My body appears not to be able to do the three simple tasks I am asking of it: lifting one foot after another, breathe, and digest. I realize, tomorrow I will have to eat even less for the summit attempt, if there is to be one.

Clint starts about 20 minutes after me. And a few minutes later, I am slightly surprised to look down and see Kaji and Patricia also on their way. But Patricia is moving very slowly; she does not seem to be well. Now the only game I am playing in my mind is to see how long it will take for Clint to overtake me. He accomplishes that about an hour after his start. But not having to break steps does not seem to make things easier for me. My stomach continues to bother me -- feeling like there is a chunk of lead sitting in it. Finally, I decide this is it. I should go back and conserve my energy for tomorrow. I yell out to Clint, who is about 50 metres ahead of me, that I am turning back. But in the high wind, he is not able to hear me and does not look back. I wave down to Patricia and Kaji that I am coming back down. I can almost see their relief in the distance, as they quickly also turn around.

The rest of the day we spend in a lethargic state. I try not to sleep, believing that sleeping when not necessary is less useful for acclimatization, as the body forgets to breath and continues to build up a larger oxygen debt. Instead, I try to spend most of my time paying attention to my breathing, almost in a meditative state, to attempt to draw in as much oxygen as possible with each breath. Ever since the first time I have been to high altitude, I have noticed that deliberate deep breathing clears the mind, and improves vision and my ability to focus my eyes.

Around 4p.m., I crawl into Patricia's tent to have tea, and to prevent both of us from sleeping too much. We are getting a bit worried about Clint. Was he going fast enough to make it to the summit and back in daylight? Traveling alone at such high altitude and starting so late, he has little or no safety margin. The weather also has turned in the afternoon; clouds rolled in, capping the mountain, and it has been snowing on and off. It all of a sudden seems to us that maybe his decision to go was all a folly, and that we erred in letting him go. Even if he were to take five hours to the top, and two hours to descend, we should not be expecting him until after 6p.m. at the earliest. But we open the tent flap and look up the mountain once in a while anyway.

Then sometime after 6p.m., we hear Clint. As he gets to the tent, he excitedly tells us that he made it. Yes, he was in whiteout conditions along the way, and navigated by the wands left along the route by others, trying to avoid the cliff edge to the left. It was a very unsettling experience, but he kept going, pushed on by adrenalin, and was greatly relieved and happy when he finally reached the rocky outcrop that was the summit. He reached the summit in a very good time of just under five hours.

Night two at 6900m. I didn't eat much again for dinner. It is now three days with very little food intake. All the water bottles are filled, the pack packed, and we hope to start off at a reasonable time tomorrow.

Another minor mishap -- I spill most of a litre of water onto my sleeping bag and sleeping pad as I try to get a last drink just before I settle down to sleep. Luckily my sleeping bag is Gore-Tex, which prevents the down from being soaked. Soon the puddles of water turn into ice. I put the pair of wet socks into the sleeping bag, hoping my body heat will dry them by tomorrow.

Day 17, August 5, Summit Day

I cut down my breakfast by skipping the oatmeal. I have with me one litre of water with some orange powder. Although I have some peanuts and two granola bars in my pack, I know it is unlikely that I will eat them during the summit climb. The orange drink will probably be my only source of energy till I come back to Camp III. The weather appears to be good. And at around 9:30a.m., still rather late by most standards, but much earlier than yesterday, the four of us start up the mountain. Phurba appears to have recovered from his stomach problems, and Patricia is also feeling better. It's 650m to the top, with a light pack.

And so one more time, the shock to the body, and the game of counting steps and breaths. And this time, my stomach is not complaining. The sun and the snow are bright, and the sky is a dark navy.

We are well above 7000m now, and climbing with an atmosphere equivalent to about 45% sea level. Everest (about 1300m higher than Muztagh Ata) has a partial pressure of about one-third sea level. When supplemental oxygen is used (usually only for peaks higher than 8000m), the flow rate is typically set to the equivalent of about 7500m, about the same as what we are experiencing now. The reasons for setting the oxygen level to such a high altitude are two-fold: so that the number of oxygen cylinders one carries is manageable, and in the case when oxygen runs out, which evidently happens often, the body does not go into a severe shock from too drastic a change. We have no oxygen, not even an emergency bottle at Camp III.

The lack of oxygen is becoming more apparent as I progress. I now slow to three or four breaths per step. There is no question of sitting down to rest. The will and energy to stand up again to continue may not be there. I rest by leaning on my ice axe, and only allow myself to do so after the mandatory number of steps, be it 10, 20, or 25. There are only two things to concentrate on: breathing as deeply as possible, and lifting one foot at a time. After a while, it seems one settles into a serene state of mindless repetition. The wind, the glare of the sun and ice, the blowing snowdrifts, the crunching beneath one's feet, the sound of heavy but controlled breathing. The mind numbs to all this, as if it would go on forever. I see the silhouettes of Kaji and Phurba against the skyline ahead of me; and I simply keep that in sight and follow it.

Occasionally I drift. My mind seems to go into a stupor or even black out for a short time, and I find myself either in mid-step with a gap in my immediate memory, or find myself standing leaning on my ice axe, and momentarily forget where I am and what I am doing,

I climb the gentle slope of ice and snow alone, Kaji and Phurba 100m ahead of me, and Patricia 100m behind me. We are now high enough to be partially in a cloud cap. Visibility decreases to nothing when the wind blows a white-out fog across the slope. It turns cold very quickly. I am wearing all the clothes I have, and can feel the bone-chilling wind whenever the sun is blocked. In my feeble mind, I try to gauge whether I am close to the summit by seeing how much the ridge has flattened. I know that near the top, the mountain is almost as flat as a football field.

Far away, I see Kaji and Phurba no longer moving. Perhaps they are calling a rest stop? They seem to be standing on some yellowish rock outcrop, going in and out of view in the blowing mist. It takes me what seems to be a very long time before I approach where they are. They wave at me, and when I reach them, they give me big hugs and handshakes, and tell me that I have made it. It has taken a bit over five hours.

So this is the summit. A little rock outcrop, the only rock I have seen since leaving Camp I. There is a bundle of wands marking it. There is no view, we are completely enveloped in cloud, a cold snowy cloud. It is, well, anti-climatic. And I have always known exactly how I would feel. Relief. Greatly relieved.


On the summit of Muztagh Ata in a white-out blizzard.

The only thing I can see other than the blanketing clouds is the dark shape of Patricia in the distance moving agonizingly slowly toward us. The wind is howling; we need to shout to talk to each other. I am almost glad that I do not have a camera. Phurba takes out his Kodak Instamatic and asks me to pose. Finally Patricia gets to the rock outcrop. I can see her beaming smile, the only visible part on her face. She quickly takes a few pictures of us and herself on the summit. And we head down -- it is too bitterly cold, windy and cloudy to stay any longer.

I remember the 6600m summit of Huascaran Norte in Peru 15 years ago. It was clear, but also bitterly windy -- gale-force winds that I could barely able to stand up against. I stared down to the distant hazy brown plain of the Peruvian altiplano with a barely working mind. Now all I have is whiteness.

As I leave the summit, I notice one of my outer mittens has blown away in the wind. I have a three-glove system; but the third is a pair of very light gloves. So, the redundancy has proven to be crucial. I have tied my middle mittens, the warmest of the three, to my parka sleeves with parachute cords before I started, and I am now glad that I have done that, so that the probability of losing that all-important pair is minimal.

The downhill trek is not as easy as I have anticipated. The accumulation of snow has made the slope more treacherous, and even with snowshoes, I stumble now and then. I now also realize that on the new snow, my ice axe is almost useless in helping with balance, as it sinks rather deep into the snow, giving me little or no support.

I lag farther and farther behind, and stumble into camp about 4p.m.. Patricia is already in her tent, and yells out to me: ``Should we continue down to Camp II?'' I am too tired to even contemplate that. There are about three and a half hours of daylight left, and the descent to Camp II is much longer than that from the summit. With packing time and tiredness factored in, I doubt that we could reach Camp II without risking darkness. Without too much thought, I answer: ``I am too tired, and I think it is too late.'' Patricia has hoped to continue down, but there is no question of applying any pressure to anyone to do so; Kaji and Phurba have left the decision to us. She has been saying how she is uncomfortable with having to spend so much time above 6500m. She has read that above this one's brain begins to suffer irrecoverable damage. And now we are spending our third night at 6900m.

I crawl into my tent, and see that someone has opened my little sketchbook on top of my sleeping bag. I wonder who has done that. I tell myself: perhaps Kaji or Phurba was curious about what I have written or drawn and took a look when for some reason they needed to get into my tent before I got back. I carry the little sketchbook up here not to draw, but to use as a journal, as it is lighter than the regular journal notebook that I have been using. I have wanted to write at these altitudes to see if later it would give me some interesting insights on how my brain was functioning in such thin air. But writing is indeed difficult, not so much the act of writing itself, but with the general lethargy -- there simply is little incentive to do anything that is not absolutely necessary for survival. But I have managed to force myself to write a few lines a day.

After an hour of rest, I go into Patricia's tent to brew up some liquid, and make an attempt at dinner, hoping that with encouragement from each other, we would be able to eat something. The climb is not over until we get back to Basecamp; we still need to try to get some energy for the down-climb tomorrow. We can barely believe that we have been to the top and back. But still eating has not become any easier; and for the fourth night in a row, I have my little half a cup of instant mashed potatoes for dinner.

The snow is coming down harder and harder in the fading light as I drag myself back to my tent to settle for the night. I pick up my sketchbook to put it away, but notice that the top of the open page says: ``Howard''. Why have I written my own name on the page? I wonder. Suddenly I realize it is not my own writing that I am looking at. The book is opened at a page where someone has scrawled a message to me in barely legible handwriting:

``Aug. 05, ~~~ Hi Howard, Sorry to intrude but this is very important...''

I have missed this message all these hours.

`` One of the New Zealanders fell into a crevasse and disappeared.''

Kurt, for some reason, I know it was Kurt even though no name is mentioned. The fellow wearing the yellow Gore-Tex and carrying his skis, trying to catch up with his friends.

`` It is essential that you all descend together and are roped together alpine style...''

The message then goes on to tell us that we must follow the wands instead of old step prints on the snow, and it is important not to stray off. And then it apologizes for rummaging through my belongings to find the only pen and paper in camp, and the bad writing and spelling due to altitude. It was Jon Otto who left this message on my sleeping bag. He evidently had come all the way up here from Camp II while we were climbing to the summit, to leave us the message and to accompany Clint down, presumably so that Clint would not have to down-climb to Camp II by himself, risking a crevasse fall. The inability to communicate by radio from the lower camps to Camp III had forced Jon to make the arduous climb back up to Camp III, only two days after summitting himself, so that he could warn us. They clearly are taking this situation very seriously.

I shout out to the other tents and read Patricia, Kaji, and Phurba the message. We fall into a stunned silence. ``Disappeared,'' the note says. What does that mean? I try to put a brave face on the situation and tell Patricia: ``Perhaps he fell in, and was rescued; and `disappeared' just means that he fell in completely....'' But I knew Kurt was dead. That is what ``disappeared'' means in the mountains.

Now we are sort of glad that we did not rush off to Camp II earlier. Kaji tells us that we don't really have a climbing rope, but just 40m of 4mm rope, a very light rope that is used for fixing easy grounds, totally unsuitable for glacier travel (which requires a minimum of a 7mm rope to be considered marginally adequate to hold a free fall into a crevasse). Moreover, we have no climbing equipment -- neither carabiners nor climbing harnesses -- thinking that the steep parts are behind us we had left these behind in Camp II or even at Basecamp to cut the weight. So, the best we can do is to rig up a tie-in into a slender rope and hope that it will hold if one of us falls through.

Whatever relief we had felt upon reaching the summit has now dissipated. Sitting in the falling darkness at 6900m, the snow is falling harder and harder, the wind is howling, someone has died, and we don't have the right equipment to avoid the possible danger that separates us from the safety of the lower camps. But then the mind is too feeble up here to worry too much.

Meanwhile, I have a more immediate problem to amuse myself with. The broken zipper on my Bibler tent door is getting worse, now leaving a half-metre opening. The Bibler tent is one of these new high-tech single-layer tents, and has no fly or vestibule, and so the broken door exposes the inside to the elements. Snow has been piling up at the foot of my sleeping bag. It is cold enough inside so that the snow does not melt anyway. I tie my gaiters and gloves at the opening of the door to slow down the accumulation of snow at my feet, and settle in to try to sleep. I am not particular worried; there is plenty of free tent space up here, but moving seems to be too much work for me to contemplate.

Day 18, August 6, To Basecamp

The night went by fitfully. I could feel the weight of snow on my tent. At first light, I peer out the gaping gap on my tent door to find that a couple of feet of snow had fallen overnight, and it is still blowing horizontal out there. The snow has piled almost halfway up on the downhill side of the tent and practically buried the uphill side. I quickly snuggle back into the warmth of my sleeping bag.

Nine a.m., and still no one has stirred. Patricia calls from her tent ``Howard, what should we do?''

I answer `` I don't know, may be it will let up later....''

The Sherpas do not say anything. Without their initiative, neither Patricia nor I want to move from our sleeping bags.

The snow continues to come down hard and the wind does not let up. We lie in our own silence, inactive. Maybe a fourth night at 6900m? We have fuel, we have food. But the latter hardly matters, we are barely eating. And that is the problem -- without refueling ourselves properly, the longer we stay, the weaker we will get. And the thought of a multi-day storm begins to seep into my mind. One day? Two days? Three? All possible. Maybe we should brave the storm and make a dash for it...

The hours tick by. Then around 11:30a.m., Phurba calls acrossed the tents: ``I think we should go. Lets get ready and leave in an hour. Howard, Patricia? Is that okay?''

Someone has finally taken a decision and in one hour, we summon the energy to boil snow, pack, try to have some food, and dress. It is almost too much to deal with. But a bit after 12:30 p.m., we are in the process of finally getting out of our tents and strapping ourselves into our boots and snowshoes.

Kaji takes out his 4mm rope and we try to arrange ourselves as a rope team. It is almost comical to try to use that little rope -- everything that we have been taught not to do in the mountains. Kaji, who is to go first, the most dangerous position, ties himself directly onto the rope; but the rest of us have only enough rope to tie in through the belt loop of our backpacks. I tie in on the last position. The rope is almost completely psychological -- it will not hold on any clean fall into a crevasse.

In the blowing blizzard we start down. I can barely see Kaji at the head of the rope. He has to stop often to wait for the cloud to clear to look for the next wand that marks what is supposed to be the safe route. A few minutes into the descent, I realize I am in for a very strenuous time. The new, deep, powdery snow has made walking, even with snowshoes, a struggle. Now my lack of ski poles is becoming a serious problem. In the deep snow, my ice axe is totally useless as a balancing tool. The combination of the terrain, wind, tiredness, and the tug of the rope by my mates make me stumble and slip often. And occasionally I simply sink up to my thighs. At these altitudes, once one is down, even if on a sitting position, getting up again becomes a battle, one that I have to wage continuously. I would gasp for breath, and then try to get up after collecting myself and summoning the will power. The lack of ski poles gives me almost nothing to push on to get myself back on my snowshoes. The body simply wants to stay in the sitting position.

The blizzard continues, and I have gotten myself into a vicious circle. By falling, I tire myself out much faster. Being tired, I become slower than my rope mates. Being slow, I am dragged on the rope whenever I am not able to keep up. And being dragged makes me fall. I become exhausted very quickly and feel the situation becoming untenable. I begin to feel that the only way out is to unrope and go down at my own pace. I yell out to Kaji that I cannot go on this way and want to unrope and go down on my own. Kaji and Phurba adamantly refuse to let me do that, saying that there is not only the crevasse danger, the blowing whiteout blizzard may simply separate us if I were to unrope. A deadly possibility.

I stumble on like someone who has little or no motor control. I am not able to believe how difficult and exhausting this has become, much more so than any part of the uphill climb so far, even when I was at 7500m. And I know, this will be yet another day that my limit of endurance will be tested. The blowing storm now hardly registers in my mind, which is totally occupied with the physical unpleasantness of the descent.

It had taken us nine hours to climb from Camp II to Camp III, the longest stretch between any two camps. I begin to wonder how long this nightmare of a treadmill, going the other way, will go on. And on it goes. Eventually thinking that it might speed things up Phurba volunteers one of his ski poles to me, taking my ice axe in exchange and offers to carry my backpack. Soon after that, we pass through the spot where the New Zealanders had lunch, and presumably near where Kurt fell. Camp II is now in sight, three little yellow dots way below on a snow ledge.

We get into Camp II at about 4p.m. I am astonished to see that Dahu is still in a tent up here. He has never left, and is planning to spend his fifth night here. He sticks his head out of his tent and points up hill and says very matter-of-factly: ``Some guy died up there, just there...'' Disappeared did mean dead.

I ask him what is he doing there -- may be he should come down with us. He doesn't say anything. I am not sure if his mind is all there -- he is simply staying put; no one to tell him to go down, and no one to tell him to go up.

After a very short rest we continue down. Below Camp II, the weather improves. It seems that the snow storm has mostly confined itself to the higher reach of the mountain, and there is much less new snow from here on. We down-climb unroped, and follow the established path as closely as we can. Jon and Dan have set up more fixed ropes on the slope below Camp II, near the place where I had sunk into the lip of a crevasse last time. I continue to be slow. They wait for me at the headwall of the icefall where we switch from snowshoes to crampons. I am falling farther and farther behind, but the weather is relatively clear on this part of the mountain, and I am able to keep them in sight way below me.

On the snow slope just above Camp I, I see someone coming up. It is Richard, the Californian snowboarder. He looks incredibly tired as he struggles up, but then I am sure I look even more so. He didn't make the peak on his first bid, and is now going back up to Camp II to position himself for one more try; or, at the least, to retrieve his snowboard from Camp III. I wish him luck, but know he has little chance; especially since Dahu cannot possibly be much of a support for his attempt, and going up solo in such foul weather is simply not to be taken lightly, even if he somehow manages to find the energy.

Camp I, at 5400m, now feels like sea level. I can get some semblance of oxygen into my brain again. And being on solid ground once more after 5 days, at last I am able to tell myself: the climb is over -- I just have to slide and slip down the trail to Basecamp. Camp I is now a booming tent city. The large Japanese expedition, the Spanish expedition, they are all there. Kaji opens a can of fruit cocktail, heats it and shares it with Patricia and me. I greedily drink up the sugary syrup, the only real food I have had since the granola bar at Camp III at noon.

More repacking. I want to leave most of my gear at Camp I and make a fast run for Basecamp with as light a pack as possible. But I have become so tired that the task of packing occurs in an almost slow-motion pace. I tear my crampons and double boots off, and eagerly put on my light hikers. The sun is low in the western sky by the time I start down the boulder field, well behind the other three.

Being in a much more hospitable environment, with the solid earth beneath my feet, a steady flow of oxygen to the lungs, and friendlier weather elements, the body becomes much more aware of the punishment it has taken in the last few days. My feet are bruised from days of wearing double boots and crampons, and now the constant braking with only light hiking boots on the steep rocky trail becomes a painful chore. I realize my lips and face have been terribly sun and wind burnt; and sometime in the last day or two, I have injured a rib bone probably from coughing so hard.

The sun sets. The sky quickly turns milky gray and then dark navy blue. I skip and hop across the stream in front of the mess tent just before it becomes completely dark. In eight hours, we have descended 2600m (8500 ft) through a blowing snowstorm and snow-covered crevasse fields.

I step through the door of the candle-lit mess tent. The adrenalin finally drains completely out of my body; I am too tired to even take my pack off as I stand there. Dan, Derek, and a number of others are sitting around the dining table, having just finished their evening meal. Derek comes up and congratulates me, takes my pack off, sits me down, and pours me a cup of lukewarm tea.


Phurba and Kaji packing the expedition gear after retuning to the green pastures of Subax at the end of the climb.
..................
Homeward Bound

Basecamp was rather deserted. Most members of our expedition, those who made the peak with the first two teams, and those who did not make the higher camps, had gone to Kashgar, the greatest bazaar town on the Silk Road, about 200km north of here. I had visited that fabled city 12 years ago, and had no desire to see the modern version of it. Other expeditions were mostly at Camp I. I spent the next three days mostly inactive, waiting for the body to recover, and the weather to improve, in order to get back up to Camp I to retrieve my remaining gear. The upper part of the mountain continued to be under huge black clouds, and fierce scattered thunder and rain storms hit Basecamp daily. I was glad that we made the decision to brave the storm to descend.

I asked Derek for his pocket mirror, ostensibly to shave, and was shocked to see what my face looked like -- my lips and cheeks were badly swollen, which explained why I was having problems eating at Basecamp, or even speaking. The part of my face that was not covered was practically black from wind and sun burnt. It was as if someone had punched my face repeatedly.

The Adventure Consultants expedition's tents were already gone from Basecamp. I had a chance to talk to others about the New Zealander's fatal accident. And indeed, Kurt fell into a crevasse shortly after they left the lunch spot above Camp II. Kurt had been having problems with his skis, and decided not to use them. It appeared that he might have wandered off the established path a bit, and fallen through in a place that was not obvious that there was a crevasse. It took Guy Cotter about an hour to rig up a rappel into the narrow crevasse. He found that Kurt had fallen about a whole rope length: 40m, and head first, still wedged upside down where the crevasse narrowed. It was clear that there was nothing to be done. There were so many ifs. If he had been on skis... if he hadn't walked over there... And two days after, the remaining three members of the expedition pulled up their tents and left, and everything on the mountain remained the same. It all had this air of unreality. It was as if nothing had happened. The mountain remains indifferent.

But climbers tend to have this obsession about death on the mountain, and a macabre sense of humour. We talked about this around dinner table, and already deemed it to be in the distant enough past that we even made jokes about it. We wondered about the survivability of Adventure Consultants, having a fatality so soon again after 1996. We also conjectured why crevasse danger on this mountain has been down-played so much, and predicted that this death would do nothing to change how other expeditions would travel on this mountain. Muztagh Ata has always been touted as the highest (easily) skiable mountain in the world. That is how both the Chinese Mountaineering Association and the Western guide companies want to sell this mountain. Crevasse hazard would detract too much from this image, as to ski while roped is hardly an attractive feature. And in any case, traveling without a rope team gives so much more freedom.

Richard never made it above Camp II, and he struck a deal with Kaji and Phurba to carry down his snowboard. The Nepali had to go all the way back up to Camp III to bring down the rest of the equipment in any case. I did the grueling climb back up to Camp I on the third day, the last possible one, to bring my own gear back down, something my body was barely able to accomplish. Dahu, as I expected, had stayed on in Camp II, for whatever unfathomable reasons, until the last day, before coming back down. The camels came on the fourth day, and the expedition regrouped and started the long overland journey back to Islamabad.

The trip back to Pakistan was in itself an epic. The locals have been telling us that this summer had the wettest weather they have seen in many years, perhaps the lingering effects of El Nino. There were rumours that the Karakoram Highway was washed out, a very rare occurrence in the summer. And indeed, 30 km into Pakistan, high on the mountain, we found ourselves faced with the complete destruction of over a kilometer of the highway, forcing us in falling darkness to ferry our expedition loads across the landslide, detouring high on an impromptu foot path above a cliff. Further down the KKH, north of Gilgit, we ran into a local inter-tribal dispute (ironically, precipitated by trade disagreements arising from the washed-out highway), and found the highway blockaded by a group of gun-wielding men. We, along with a dozen other vehicles, spent a whole day stuck under the hot dry sun, ``guarded'' by the protesters, not able to go forward or retrace our steps, hearing rumours about deadlock negotiations, planned army/police assault, potential hostage taking, and so on. And we were finally let passed just before midnight, after we had already settled into our sleeping bags to spend the night on the pavement literally in the middle of the Karakoram Highway.

Pulling into Gilgit at 3a.m. in the morning, we also confirmed another rumour we had been hearing that on the day we summited, Ned Gillette, an American Olympic skier, who ironically led the first Western and ski ascent of Muztagh Ata, which resulted in Galen Rowell's book and making this mountain a popular goal, was killed by bandits while camping with his wife in the mountains not far from Gilgit.

Finally on August 18, I found myself cozily esconced (by luck) in a first-class seat on a British Airway flight. As the plane rose steeply north from the dusty plain to cross the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, and the Pamirs, I was transfixed by the range after range of snowy high mountains reflecting the golden early morning light.

So close, I can almost touch them.


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An Early Aerial Photograph of DDO

Tom Bolton


One of my brothers-in-law likes to prowl around old book stores. Recently his curiosity was piqued by a book entitled Geometry for High Schools, because he was aware of my interest in collecting pre-war secondary school math and science texts. When he opened it, he discovered a very early aerial photo of the David Dunlap Observatory. The first addition of the book was published in 1935. My copy is from the 1938 printing.

The Title Page, shown below, shows that the book was written by W. J. Lougheed, Professor of Methods of Mathematics, Ontario College of Education and J. G. Workman, Instructor in Mathematics, University of Toronto Schools and authorized by the Minister of Education for Ontario. It was published by the Macmillan Company of Canada Limited, at St. Martin's House. The original cost was $0.50 (plus no tax? Sorry folks, I'm neither that old, nor that knowledgeable about Canadian tax history.) It cost my brother-in-law, who's an ardent foe of all things taxish, $5.00 plus PST plus GST.

The caption on the photo reads

The David Dunlap Observatory
Geometry and other branches of Mathematics have been indispensable in the
development of the Science of Astronomy.

The photo credit is Courtesy of Airmaps Limited,Toronto. They are, as far as I can tell from a thorough internet search, defunct.

Given the publication date of the book and clues in the photo, I think it is most likely that it was taken sometime in the summer of 1935. The ruts and paths left by the construction work are still visible on the grounds, but the construction appears to be complete. The people in the photo appear to be dressed lightly and the trees are fully leaved. I'm a bit surprised at the number of people visible on the grounds and how widely dispersed they are. I count six. They might have been attracted outside by the low flying aircraft, but I have the impression that some are going about their business, whatever that might be. I wonder if the photo was taken during some event at DDO.


Title Page from Geometry for High Schools


Early aerial photograph of DDO


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Colloquia




See
http://www.astro.utoronto.ca/~johnstone/AstroTalks.html.

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Papers Submitted


PREPRINTS BY UofT FACULTY AND STUDENTS
RECEIVED IN THE ASTRONOMY LIBRARY
September 28 1999 to February 7 2000

The following list of papers is not necessarily comprehensive. For others, see the individual Astronomy Department staff web pages, CITA preprints and papers, faculty projects and graduate students' pages. You could also try searching LANL astro-ph: the e-preprints archive (the astrophysics bit).

For more information about preprints, more sources, and an astronomy preprints project, see Preprint Sources


Donati, J.-F.; Wade G. A.; et al. Zeeman-Doppler imaging of active stars using the MuSiCoS spectropolarimeter Preprint No. 99-0666

Fuller, T. M.; Couchman, H.M.P. Simulation of primordial object formation Preprint No. 00-0039

Henrichs, H. F.; Wade, G. A.; et al. Detection of a weak magnetic field in the pulsating Be star beta Cepheii Preprint No. 99-0693

Kronberg, P. P.; et al. A search for flux density variations in 24 compact radio sources in M82 Preprint No. 00-0050

Patton, D., Carlberg, R.; et al. New Techniques For Relating Dynamically Close Galaxy Pairs to Merger and Accretion Rates: Application To The SSRS2 Redshift Survey http://www.astro.utoronto.ca/~patton/ssrs2

Reid, R. I.; Kronberg, P. P.; Perley, R. A. VLA images at 5 GHz of 212 Southern galactic objects Preprint No. 99-0620

Rucinski, S. M. W UMa-type binary stars in globular clusters Preprint No. 00:0061

Shorlin, S.L.S.; Wade, G. A.; et al. Precise measurements of the longitudinal magnetic fields of chemically peculiar stars Preprint No. 99-0664

Wade, G. A.; Donati, J. -F. Theta Ori C through the eyes of the MuSiCoS spectropolarimeter Preprint No. 99-0665

Wade, G. A.; et al. High precision magnetic field measurements of Ap and Bp stars Preprint No. 00- 0040

Wade, G. A.; et al. Spectropolarimetric measurements of magnetic Ap and Bp stars in all four stokes parameters Preprint No. 00-0041

Wade, G. A.; et al. Magnetic field geometries of two slowly rotating Ap/Bp stars : HD 12288 and HD 14437 Preprint No. 00-0051

Wade, Gregg A. An atlas of Zeeman polarisation in the spectrum of Beta Coronae Borealis Preprint No. 99-0579

Wade, Gregg A.; et al. Spectropolarimetric measurements of magnetic Ap and Bp stars in all four Stokes parameters Preprint No. 99-0580

Wade, Gregg A.; et al. High precision magnetic field measurements of Ap and Bp stars Preprint No. 99-0581

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