Dispatch—Day 18: April 13, 2009
Climbing in the Shadow of Legends
Photo: Seth Waterfall
By Seth Waterfall
Photograph by Jake Norton

Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'

Greetings from Everest Base Camp! I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m really here. To come here and climb has been a longtime dream for me, but it’s only been the last four or five years that I thought it would be possible. I never really imagined I’d be doing so as a part of this amazing team.

For me personally, this couldn’t be a better opportunity. I get to pester Ed Viesturs with pretty much any question I want about climbing in the Himalaya, and learn how to guide these peaks from Dave Hahn. I can’t really see me ever having access to this kind of brain trust again in my guiding career. To add that in with climbing in gear that we have all helped develop from the ground up makes this truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

It was just over a year ago that I was doing a normal guiding rotation at RMI [Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.]. For me, that has meant starting in May on Rainier, then heading to Alaska to work on Denali, then back to Rainier until August, then I head over to Africa to guide on Kilimanjaro. When my boss, Peter Whittaker, invited me to be a part of this team, I had no idea what it would lead to, yet here I am at Everest Base Camp getting ready to head into the Western Cwm.

This is our third day in Base Camp and I’m still trying to judge the scale of the mountains here. I’m used to the feeling of getting my bearings in an unfamiliar mountain range. It’s one of the best parts of climbing somewhere new. With no trees or buildings or anything familiar to give you reference, you can get vertigo trying to approximate distances or elevations. Typically, the novice will underestimate distances drastically. I’ve spent enough time in the mountains, though, to have a healthy respect for this trickery.

The difference here is that there is no grander scale. When I first saw Everest from Namche Bazaar, I couldn’t believe how big it was or how far away we still were. Now that we’re closer and the satellite peaks of the Everest massif block the summit from view, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t even more intimidated.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years from all of my mentors and climbing partners, it’s how to tackle big objectives. In a sense, this one is no different … wait, what am I saying?! It is different. It’s the biggest mountain in the world. Step by step, that’s how we’ll do it. With a healthy respect for the mountain.

In a few days, we’ll head into the icefall for our first real physical test of the trip. I’m really psyched to put the boots on and get the crampons and ice axe out. My job on this trip is really just getting started. I can’t wait to get going.

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