Maurice Isserman: Ascends Kala Patar in Nepal following 14 day trek

Historians in the News

On the morning of June 7, I was just about a hundred vertical feet short of reaching the summit of Kala Patar in Nepal. Colorful Buddhist prayer flags strung along the mountaintop fluttered in a gentle wind against a brilliant, blue sky, perfect climbing weather. Many of my trekking companions had already reached the top. I could see them seated comfortably beneath the flags, as they waved and shouted down encouraging words.

"Come on up, the view's great, only a little more to go." Five minutes effort was all I needed to join them. And after 14 days of strenuous trekking on Nepal's steep mountain trails, leg muscles hardened and middle-age spare tire diminished, I should have been ready to tackle those last hundred feet. But lungs heaving and heart pounding, I had serious doubts about my ability to take even one more step upward.

Not that the 18,192-foot summit of Kala Patar is a particularly lofty goal. Behind me, across the Khumbu glacier and a mere seven miles to the east as the gorak (a Himalayan crow) flies, loomed Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain at 29,035 feet. Looking over at Everest, I could clearly see the route that in 1953 New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay followed up the southeast ridge to the summit, as well as the route up the west ridge that Americans Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld took in 1963. That was real mountaineering; all I had to do this day was scramble up a big pile of rocks.

But making it up the last hundred feet of Kala Patar proved one of the hardest physical challenges I've ever faced. I felt as though I was chained to a large invisible boulder, condemned to drag it up the slope behind me. I knew I was fighting altitude, the ultimate adversary in Himalayan mountaineering. On previous climbs in the US, I'd climbed more technically challenging mountains over 14,000 feet. But at 18,000 feet, the air contains half the oxygen found at sea level. If I spent a week camped near the summit of Kala Patar, my body would acclimatize, and I'd be able to breathe easily, like the Sherpas who accompanied us. But it wasn't going to happen in the next five minutes. For a moment, contemplating the pile of rocky debris that lay between me and the summit of Kala Patar, I thought I'd hit my limit....

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Susan M Reverby - 7/4/2007

OK Maurice. I'm really really impressed. I don't think I could even do Mt. Marcy.
Good for you and all the history that kept you going.

Susan Reverby