By Staff Sgt. Nick Gibson
Patrick Air Force Base
In this blog entry, Staff Sgt. Nick Gibson, a U.S. Air Force Reserve pararescueman and physician assistant student from Gulf Breeze, Fla., stationed at Patrick AFB, tells his story about the journey to the top of Mount Everest with his fellow Airmen. The team of six Airmen are on an independent 50-day journey. For more information, read Airmen make progress in bid for Everest.
March 28: We are sitting here in the Los Angeles international terminal waiting to board our flight to Hong Kong. This will be my first leg of two weeks of traveling to get to the Mt. Everest Base Camp (EBC). It’s something that you are not only choosing to do, but paying huge sums of money for, and that carries a level of danger with it. It’s not an easy concept to grasp, but there is so much more involved than just climbing. We have a goal that was set a decade ago to inspire Air Force members. We have a chance to bring attention to our brothers and sisters who struggle with the effects of combat and long deployments who need our help. We have our three wounded warriors who are trekking with us to Base Camp who are an example and inspiration to others suffering from scars, visible or not. Finally, we have the sense of adventure that comes with doing something that challenges every cell of your body and every element of determination within your soul.
I have no doubt in my mind that this expedition will test my will and have me relying on my friends and teammates. I will still miss my girlfriend. I will still want to comfort my family. I will still find myself feeling behind my classmates at Emory University. By definition, though, this is a calling. I go into it knowing that the climb isn’t about the summit, but the summit is about the climb.
April 4: So much has happened since my intro blog, but it’s time for me to bite the bullet and give a recap, so that we are all caught up. We left L.A. and had a 12-hour layover in Hong Kong, which was a first for me. We took a tour of the city and ate some of the local cuisine. We boarded our flight for Kathmandu ready for a solid night of sleep.
We arrived in Kathmandu late in the night and slogged through the customs process. As soon as we left we were swamped by people trying to carry our bags, recognizing us as an expedition. I even had one guy bring me aside and act as though he wouldn’t give me my bag back until I gave him a tip. We loaded up and headed to the Hotel Tibet. Over the next couple days we saw some sights in Kathmandu, including where they hold very public cremations of their dead. It was hard to even take pictures, although I was assured they expect it.
We boarded our plane the next morning to Lukla. I think we were all nervous about this flight. I’m sure the five or six pilots we have amongst our team were going crazy seeing as they weren’t in control of the aircraft — watching the mountain tops fly by around us, towering as we flew right into a valley with no escape. Consistently considered the most dangerous airstrip in the world, Lukla had us all in disbelief as the pilots throttled down when we came into a runway that began at the edge of a cliff and ended into the side of a mountain. At the bottom of the lead edge cliff is the remains, both aircraft and human, of those flights that misjudged in bad weather, too remote to recover.
Once we taxi into the small airfield, we unloaded and assembled. While waiting for the next flight with the rest of our team, we had cake and latte (something I didn’t expect). We loaded up our packs and hit the trail. It felt so great to be finally taking physical steps towards Everest! Lukla is at about 9,300 feet, so we went slow and took our time. We had just gone through a quick jump of over 5,000 feet!
April 13: After several days of trekking through various towns and across many suspension bridges, we have arrived at Everest Base Camp!!! Everyone in our group got some sickness that, while common among trekkers, has never been this bad. I believe only two in our group of nearly twenty escaped it. It took me out for a couple days, but I bounced back and recovered in time to catch up with the group.
We stayed a couple days at Lobuche Basecamp, where we will return in a few days to climb Lobuche itself as an acclimation climb. That climb will put us at just under 20,000 feet. I am now spending time at the 17,600 foot Everest Base Camp. This place is like a city! There are tents along the glacial moraine as far as you can see. We had to leave six from our group at Lobuche Base Camp to recover from the bug, but they will join us shortly. Right now it is just a struggle for those of us who are healthy to even breathe at times! The icefall looks beautiful and ominous at the same time.
April 16: We’ve been in EBC now for a few days, and we’re leaving this morning for Lobuche again. We’ll spend a day there and then up to Lobuche Advanced Base Camp, where we will sleep until 3 a.m. At that point we will get up and gear up to climb Lobuche false peak at 19,700 feet. This will be great for us to shake out our gear some more, and it means one less trip through the unpredictable icefall up on Everest.
The past couple days have been great here at EBC! Yesterday we had a Puja, a blessing of us as climbers and our climbing gear. It was an amazing experience. We threw rice onto the ceremony, and the Sherpas rubbed flour into our beards to symbolize living to an old age and having many children. I met my climbing Sherpa named Mingma Tenzing Sherpa. He is twenty years old and has summitted Everest three times!! That’s not counting two turn-arounds for weather. I gave him a USAF pararescue beret flash as a reminder that we are climbing this mountain together as brothers. He was very excited when I gave it to him as were the other Sherpas around him. Well, off to Lobuche!
April 19: Now I am at my final stop on my way back to Everest Base Camp. Three days ago we left EBC to do our first acclimatization climb up Lobuche to its east summit. The day before we left, visited the Everest emergency room, a small clinic tent put together by the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA). They have other clinics in the valley, but Everest ER is the highest. It is manned by physicians from all over including one from Nepal. These people are the top providers in the field of high altitude medicine and do a great deal of treatment with very little. I was very impressed with how they took time out of their day to sit down and talk with us about medicine as a physician assistant student. We also had a veteran and a fourth-year medical student who trekked in with us who were a part of this great discussion.
We headed to Lobuche Base Camp and then on the next afternoon to the Lobuche Advanced Base Camp. Once there, we caught some dinner on the rocks and watched the mountains reveal themselves one last time before the sun dipped. We crashed early and then woke up at 3 a.m. so we could summit early in the day. This climb was another personal altitude record for me at around 20,000 feet. I was feeling ill that morning because of the climb but gutted it out to the summit. We got some great photos and were able to get out the flags of those that helped make this happen. If all goes as planned, I should be pulling these flags out on the summit of Mt. Everest in about a month!!!
PHOTOS: (top) Part of the U.S. Air Force Seven Summit team smiles for a group photo in front of a Himalayan mountain range in Deboche, Nepal. A team of six active-duty Airmen is currently on their way to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth. (Courtesy photo) (bottom) The tents of the U.S. Air Force Seven Summit team are illuminated at night at a base camp near Mount Everest. A team of six active-duty Airmen is currently on their way to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth, to support resilience, raise money for charity and commemorate their fallen. (Courtesy photo)
Information courtesy of USAF Seven Summits Challenge blog. For more information, follow the team’s progress at http://www.usaf7summits.com and at http://www.facebook.com/pages/USAF-7-Summits-Challenge. The USAF 7 Summits Challenge is not officially sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Air Force. It is a team of military members acting unofficially, and with no DOD financial assistance, to spread goodwill about the U.S. Air Force.