Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Waiting Out

in Denali during a snowstorm, fixing our tents
and barriers (2008)
 There are days in an expedition where one would get bored, finding almost nothing to do! Storms, summit weather wait, rest and recovery days, sickness, lazy days – are but a few reasons why one or his /her entire team needs to ‘stand by’ in one of the camps. Big climbs with big and well-supplied base camp (like Everest) offered easier wait times, but getting stuck in a steep high camp during a relentless snowstorm would be more challenging.

Part of pre-trip planning should include this ‘what do I do during slack time…’ In reality – we don’t plan for this, as most climbers do not like waiting! One tip – live the journey, enjoy each day – and yes even those boring wait days. Some things we do, and tips on what one can bring to ‘live through idleness’…

1. Read books! Read them again. In Everest, majority of my wait time was in the base camp. I only had 3 books and borrowed 2 from somewhere – and even with that ‘reading arsenal’, I ended up re-reading the same books. One book was a last minute buy from Kathmandu (7 years in Tibet), another is lent by a friend (Angels and Demons) – of which I skip the ‘don’t-like-this-part’ on my second pass. Tip: bring an e-book reader! (and a solar-compatible charger). Or just bring many books and stock them in the base camp.

2. Photography and videography. Alpine mountain setting is one of the best (for me) photo opportunity. Even if one has no professional clicking skills – just snap-experimenting on many subjects and angles and forms should produce enviable pictures of your expedition. Video camera is also a good add – assuming you have a use for it. Majority of my well-placed shots are actually during wait times, though not the most awesome (as normally one is just near or around a campsite). In the film days – it was but normal to consume rolls and rolls of film. With a high density card of digi cams – the offer seemed endless!

3. Learn and socialize! Talk to the locals / guides / porters. Talk to team mates. Talk to the mountain even (silently). Even visit other teams’ tent. Talking to teams are consequential during group meals – and add-on activity if the team have extra ‘social tent’ (ex. dining tent). Big climbs would normally have this. Other climb would only offer ‘outdoor socializing’, i.e. if the waiting time offered sunny and not-so-windy weather. Tip: if you’re the guide – try to bring a social tent. As a climber, and if you don’t mind extra weight – bring a foldable snow-insulating no-leg seat with back support (useful for outdoor reading as well).  A good insulated camp shoes would also be nice.

4. Eat. A lot! Slack time is the best time to recover and re-load. Big climbs with base camp are generally better where one may stock big supplies. In Everest, our crew (Pinoys) brought with them boxes of munchies from home. Yum! In faster/relatively smaller climbs – one may need to bring extra munchies – something most climbers don’t like doing. Expensive outfitted climbs (like Denali) normally offered a carry-your-own goodies, but bring something ‘local’ for your taste for added morale boost. I normally bring nuts (relatively lighter, good munch and energy source). Worse is to run out of snacks and munchies BEFORE the summit stage.

a storm-ravaged campsite in Denali, storms consequently
provides wait out times

5. Play around. I normally build alien-looking snowman. I saw guys flying kites (in Denali)! I saw a group doing yoga under a bright, sunny day. In Aconcagua, we even have ‘training day’ to practise with crampons – then did a crampon race after (i.e. running with crampons).

6. Practise your skills. If you’re not tired or sick – go out and do some ice climbing or minor hikes. I.e. If the weather is nice. In Everest BC, we visited some huge seracs in the nearby gladier and did some ice-climbing (unfortunately with our ‘soft’ expedition boots and glacier crampons – not ideal but then who cares).

7. Fix your stuff. Even during the height of a storm, one may go out of the tent (with winter gears) to fix tent, shovel out snow (it can collapse tents), build and strengthen ice-block fences or walls. Among the 7 summits, Denali was the worse in terms of snow storms and one will surely find him/herself digging out tents and building barriers before, sometimes during and after storms.

8. Think, imagine, reminisce. One will eventually run out of things to do, or constrained by environment to do something. A good me-time inside the tent (and maybe sleeping bag) will be a good time to think about one’s life, other people’s lives, what to do after the expedition, how to live life further, etc. etc. Worse thing to do during me-thinking-about-something time is to worry about summits, bad weathers, unfinished office work, bad things that may happen, among many other things that can weaken one’s psyche or mood. Better sleep.

Enjoy the wait time, when you're back in the office or in the work field busying yourself to earn money - you'd realize those rare slack times were actually a hidden gift of expeditions... :)

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