The Last Mountain

©Stephen McDonnell 2002

draft April 27. 2002

9. Road to Deqen Town

The trip to the mountain was breathtaking. No, that word has been over done. Nothing I haad known could have prepared me for the views, the beauty of the place. We were chatting away like children, it was like going on a picnic with you were your best friends. Maybe they will make a movie about us one day.

"You are happy Mr. Worth?"
"More than at anytime in my life."
"Maybe you have gained wisdom. Taoism says you should emulate water and follow the path of least residance. Like the stream that flows through Lijiang."

"She is right mate, the tao masters say 'become one with the rock,' or become like a rock."He added the last with a wicked grin. Jason was not jealous, he was happy for us. Siegfried? He kept his own council. The others were whooping it up in the other jeep, admiring the scenery. Picking mountains to climb. We detoured to Leaping Tiger gorge, deeper than the Grand Canyon, they say, and we were in awe. Chip wanted to white raft it or at least do a kayak. He seemed to be the hot head in the bunch, the risk taker.


Deqen Town

Zacheria had arranged for the television crews to greet us at Teqen, so that we felt like GI's arriving in a liberated European city. The ministery of tourism had done its bit. Every one and their uncle was out to see us arrive. In a way I felt a part of it and an interloper. There was no more talk of money, I was part of the crew, what role I would play was yet to be defined. They needed a pair of hands to off load equipment, I was there, if they needed coffee perked, I was there. After a while I felt the role of gofer fit me. It allowed me to meet people and to over hear conversations.

I started a diary, the one I am using now to write this story. As well, I interviewed people using my micro recorder as a back up. No one noticed it, as I later found out, it was to save us all.

Yes, you all saw the images, the ones edited for the special and even some of the live feeds. But I was behind the camera, I saw what actually transpired.

Most of the TV crews and petrolium guys hankered down in the few hotels offering western conforts ie flush toilettes, in the little town of Diqing or Deqen, the climbers were based ten kilometers away at the base of the mountain.

All mountains have a window of opportunity, our mountain was no exception, except it enjoyed a bad reputation for both climbing and for weather. Mr. Fu was just one of many resources they used to predict the weather. Unfortunately, as the climbers on mount Everest found out, a slight shift of the jet stream and the wind can go from a balmy 20 K an hour to 200 Klicks an hour a flash. For climbers attached to a shear rock cliff, they are sitting ducks, and could be brushed off like flies. Climbing entailed its own problems as I was to find out.

Acclimitization to the altitude for the climbers was the first concern. Air bubbles form in the blood, like the bends that divers feel, and an embolism can form in the blood that can be fatale at high altititude. Base camps had to be set up, supplies taken up and down to those camps. Routes had to be mapped out. Using some sophisticted side looking radar equipment, our team was able to scout some good routes and then display them on a computer screen. Some of the Texas millionaires money also went into flow simulation, enabling the team to see how the air came over the mountain and mixed with the lower air. We are talking about a mountain that rises in a tropical zone and goes all the way up to near space conditions, with snow.

All this equipment had been set up near the town of Deqen. That left the climbers isolated and left alone.

In a way those problems were the simplest. Human nature provided us with the worst nuts too crack. 'Zacheria had dissapeared since the banquet, off to leverage more deals and whatever, he had many pots boiling at one time.

Lilly was gone a lot, hanging out with the climbers who were training, running and even doing small climbs. Chip was the fall man, he loved to go up a rope, and then free fall. He tested the new climbing ropes. Manfried was the ice man, he took anyone who wanted to the glaciers and gave them tips. With his spiked footwear, he was wicked looking. Marie continued to boulder. They all did exercises to strengthen their hands, hanging on to ledges for hours, a contest of wills, to see who would be the first to fall. Lilly even tried this and sometimes won.

The big worry was the Chinese participation. "No Chinese, no climb" Michel kept repeating, anytime he came to the camp. Mostly he stayed enconced in the western hotels. He was the company man, Zach's eyes and ears.

One day some chinese army helicopters arrived with the same crew who had climbed with us two weeks ago in Stone Forest. They set up their own camp, and stared at the westerners, even coming over to bum cigarettes. Lilly chastized them and they stayed away. Every day some news crew would come by or a satelitte link up was arranged to keep the interest high. Like watching any physical sport, it got old fast, atheletes doing nothing is not exciting.

Lilly and I were into a strange place as well, as soon as the army showed up. She stopped sleeping with me, claiming she was stressed. One day she came by and grabbed me saying she had the afternoon off, and she wanted to show me Songzanlin Monastary.

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