Updated by Linda McMillan
Sunday, April 23,
Feeling extremely weak, I decide to stay here today to rest and acclimatize at Middle Camp as Tom pushes on to meet with our team at Advanced Base Camp. I spend part of the day in one of the Tibetan teahouse tents, enjoying getting to know the small group of women who live and work here with their families. It's a "ladies only" afternoon, and we have fun together listening to Tibetan songs and playing with the little child of one of the women. Even in the most remote places of the world like this, bonds of gender and societal roles can create instant trust and friendship beyond the borders of nations and cultures. We have a great, memorable afternoon together. It offers a few precious hours of calm, freed from having to take care of anyone else, before I have to throw myself back into the expedition logistics maelstrom.
Later that night, Tom arrives with the maelstrom. He descended from his brief visit to our team at Advanced Base Camp with news of huge problems created by our cooks and tents, and a resulting depression gripping our team. He is extremely angry about what he has seen and heard reported to him at our expedition camp at ABC. The litany of complaints is long and serious:
Denied Team Use of Kitchen Equipment
Refused to Cook Meals and Keep Dining Facilities Clean
Endangered Team Health by Refusing to Fetch Clean Water for Drinking
HOWEVER, as I listened to Tom's report I was totally amazed to hear that no one on our team had ever thought of simply firing the cooks when they first started misbehaving. That could have been done quickly and easily. It now seems obvious that the cooks hated being at ABC, as one of them eventually fled. So I'm sure they might have been happy to be told to leave.
Each of our team members at ABC had some cooking experience, especially each of the Sherpas. Early in their careers, they all had followed the traditional apprenticeship path for expeditions, learning all the important cooking and meal preparation skills before moving up to the guiding jobs. Why did our team allow the cooks to ruin their expedition experience and compromise their health instead of removing them from the mountain? I'm simply amazed.
Five smart, burly climbers versus two cooks. Maybe they were waiting for Tom and me to get to ABC and solve all the problems instead of pulling together and working through them there? Although Tom had done much of the planning of the expedition, we made it clear that the expedition members could not rely on him (or me) for all decisions, but needed to be proactive in taking care of their needs when we were not around (as in the case of members separately working their way up the climbing route). When we left the team and headed back to Tingri with Tom ill, I estimated that it might take a week for Tom to recover. I told the team "We'll see you in a few days", not expecting storms to delay our return further. So maybe our team was just waiting for us to return and deal with the problems?
After listening to Tom's report, I lay out an action plan to revitalize the expedition and the team. The plan starts with me firing the cooks and taking over all the cooking and kitchen needs for the expedition members. I also plan a way to effectively treat the sinus ailments of Tom, George, and Pete with the clever "steamy thermos" idea Tom used in Tingri that brought him relief. Tom and I had purchased two new large thermoses in Tingri before we headed back up the mountain, and these will be perfect for the sinus treatment.
With the maniacal cooks cast off the mountain, I also plan to have a local lama perform a new puja ceremony for our team. This should help to "reboot" our expedition psychologically, and put us back on a path of harmony, teamwork, and success, not failure. With firm plans conceived, I am able to fall asleep for a couple of hours before dawn arrives. Before turning in for the night, I step outside the tent to drink in the spectacular night sky with its brilliant stars and planets at this altitude. I'm looking forward so much to getting to ABC, and having the chance to enjoy more starry, high-altitude spectacles like this.
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The Tibetan ladies at Middle Camp work just as hard as the men there. Besides being in charge of all the food preparation, childcare, and serving visiting climbers and trekkers, they also share the back-breaking work, like moving around huge stones to set up their tea lodges. Despite the hard work, they remain extremely friendly and fun-loving. I really enjoyed having the chance to spend a day "in their world" with them.
A strong team of Austrians kindly carried a message for us up to our team at ABC. We wish them success on Cho Oyu!
The view from Middle Camp to Cho Oyu
Here is a photo of our unprofessional cooks (left and right) posing with Pete Lardy at the start of our expedition in Lhasa. These men threatened our team members with knives and refused to carry out some of their important duties.