NOJIN KANSA SUCCESS, MARCH 2002:
Daniel Mazur of Bristol and Seattle, together with Jon Otto of Chengdu, China and Washington DC, our 9 member team made a first western ascent of the 7200 meter Tibetan peak: Nojin Kansa. We were from America, Briton, France, Greece, and Korea, making the first non-Chinese attempt of this peak located 100 kilometers south of Tibet's beautiful and historic capital city: Lhasa. The climbing research backing up this claim was done by Daniel Ferrer. Needless to say, being in such a remote area, we saw no other climbers in Tibet this season. We were a group of new and old friends, among them Jean-Christophe Van Waes from France, Richard Fullerton from London, Michael Doyle from Virginia, Daniel Mazur from Seattle, Brian Mertes from New York, Andrew Bruske from Seoul and Detroit, Dimitri Koutsogiorgas, and Antoni Sykaris from Athens, and Martha Johnson from Seattle, whom we had known since 1995.
My strongest Nojin Kansa memory was of March 20th, burned into my memory banks, when I will never forget spending a frightening night in an Ozark tent in the 6700 meter high camp with one of our members who was suffering in extreme pain from one of the worst cases of altitude sickness I had ever seen. The previous day we had made a challenging 1200 meter ascent up a semi-technical snow-ice and rock face. In the tent brewing tea, I was feeling ok, if a bit shaky from the big ascent (there had been no place to make an intermediate camp), but my friend, on the other hand, was getting slammed by altitude sickness. We spent a harrowing night in the wind buffeted tent, on the high 6700 meter plateau of Nojin Kansa, and my friend was crippled by a vice-grip headache and, due to a somersaulting stomach, was unable to keep anything down, and kept vomiting into a tiny zip lock bag that I was holding. At one point, as my friend lay there moaning and writhing in pain, I panicked and prayed to every god I could think of. Perhaps that worked, as eventually my friend began to improve a tiny bit. We took Diamox, drank water, and my friend tried some Dexamethasone tablets toward morning. Feeling shaky, and counting our lucky stars for making it through the night, my friend and I completed the many rappels down the snow ice and rock face, which brought us out of danger.
Richard Fullerton from London, and Michael Doyle from Virginia, in the company of Pemba, one of our very tough Tibetan high altitude climbers, headed for the summit. It was a beautiful sunny and windy morning, and Richard, not feeling well, turned around at the halfway mark, but Michael Doyle continued on with Pemba, reaching the summit around 4:00 pm on 21 March, and became the first non-Chinese person to reach the summit of Nojin Kansa. During the ascent, Michael sunburned his lips so badly that they turned into a mass of black scabs and 3 weeks later, still looked as if they might benefit from amputation. Nevertheless, for the next few weeks, Michael fairly danced the jig with joy, through a well-deserved sense of pride in his accomplishments.
Martha Johnson completed an interesting high-altitude medicine research study on the members, which involved taking multiple measurements of each team member using a portable EKG machine, which was hooked up through wires connected to the climber's chests with stick-on electrodes, which, when removed, tore out a fair amount of chest hair by the roots with quite a loud ripping noise and a modicum of pain.
When we finally left basecamp and made the grueling, bumpy, jarring, freezing cold, day-long drive down to the beautiful and warm city of Lhasa, all of us were feeling exhausted and shattered, after spending too many days exposed to icy blasting winds from the Tibetan Plateau. Nevertheless, after touring the gilded Potala Palace, watching the debating monks at the Sera Monastery, and sleeping in our quiet rooms for half of the day, several of our expedition members and about 500 Tibetans, spent the night in an enormous Lhasa disco and dance hall, dancing our selves silly with our new-found Tibetan disco friends, learning steps to some of the most beautiful and evocative group dancing I have ever done. Nearly the entire audience were out on the dance floor with arms linked, under the watchful scrutiny of the steely eyed Chinese soldiers, who wore pressed uniforms, arms folded across chests, army caps pulled low over their foreheads, brims covering eyes, skeptically witnessing the audience's expression of joy and solidarity.
In a final "goodbye" in a classically Tibetan moment of confusion, we flew on March 30 from Lhasa to Kathmandu, but before they let us on the plane, they weighed all of our baggage and tried to charge us an outrageous $1200 for excess baggage. We argued, and complained and cajoled, and after much squawking on our part, they lowered it to $900, but still, we considered ourselves stung. At the eleventh hour, the airport staff rushed us through immigration, customs, and security, and we trotted across the runway and ran up the steps into the plane, just as they closed the doors. On the way to Kathmandu, we flew over Mount Everest, and were treated to amazing views, including a very closeup view of Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu, all of which Daniel had climbed before.