Friday, December 11, 2009
Fortunately, I´m pretty used to packing for these expeditions by now, so was able to spend a lot of time socializing with people I haven´t seen for two months and won´t see for another two. A screening of films from the traveling Banff Film Festival, tea with Mary, a tromp in the snow to get the feel of the Northwest again. The snow was hard from warm weather followed by a clear cold snap, so it was more of a hike, but good to remind my toes and fingers how to stay warm after two weeks of 90 degree weather! Freezing cold and windy, but great to get out.
Now in Mendoza, I´m getting food and logistics prepared for nine climbers and a few guides for almost three weeks on the mountain. I´m working with a local guide for the first time instead of all Alpine guides, and he seems to be a great guy. The best part is he knows where to find things it would take me hours to do with my broken spanish. (¨Do you have ... something ... for ... umm, uno momento.¨) But at least it´s warm again...
We´ll be posting cybercasts for Team 3 on Aconcagua at: http://www.alpineascents.com/aconcagua-cybercast.asp
Catch you on the flip side!
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Is it possible to miss a place before you've even left?? How do you reconcile yourself to your world, to your own choices, when they exact their toll? Oddly enough, I'm not talking about love, though the parallels are certainly there. Love or life, the loss is part of the having.
These last three trips to India have been spent developing stronger and stronger ties to a place that's literally half a world away, that doesn't hold lucrative work for me, that is in many ways diametrically opposed to the culture I call home. But each time I come I meet more cool people, those I want to see again, and find more things I want to do with those I already know well. In Indian parlance, "what to do?" The only answer is to keep coming back.
OK, enough of the philosophical rant. This last week in Bangalore has been exactly what I've needed at the end of every trip here, a little time in a place I'm coming to know better, with no demands except those I willingly submit to. To and from a climbing area, I rode pillion (second) on a motorcycle for only the second time, with just my bicycle helmet - better than nothing. A friend generously loaned his road bike, this time the perfect size, and I learned how to get around (just a tiny bit of) the city by bicycle - while traffic is chaos, at least that means drivers are somewhat used to looking out for motorcycles, cyclists, cows, etc, and won't run you over without even noticing! Ironic.
I did manage to go rock climbing (sometimes no one's available, and you just have to hire a guide :-) at one of the more beautiful locations I've been to, Ramanagar, about an hour outside Bangalore. The city is in one section of a huge plateau punctuated by tall rounded rock outcroppings, around 500' high. Many of these have ruins of forts, or temples on them. Ramanagar supports a temple and a few other structures, pavilions. It has also been developed by the local climbing community into a climbing area, complete with new bolts for leading and anchoring, and a variety of routes from easy to extremely hard. It's not a terribly large area, but one wall was plenty to remind my fingers that they haven't done much climbing recently! Fortunately that allowed for some time to look around, out at the plateau and the other rock bumps in the greenery. A beautiful day.
So now, headed back to Seattle, I'm mentally preparing for the shift in time, culture, friends, and the little interactions that make a place home, looking forward to briefly seeing good friends there, but missing those here I won't see for a while. Ah, well - til next time...
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Chennai (named Madras by the British, corrected relatively recently back to a more local moniker) is a bit different than most of the places I've been so far. Furthest south, and close to the ocean, it's incredibly humid and warm, even in "winter", which is now. It actually reminded me strongly of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, a strange connection that took a day or two to shake off. Lots of temples of various architecture and age, including many older ones (600 AD?) in a place called Mamallapuram, a tourist town that did little to dispel my Mexico schizophenia.
Most interesting, however, was getting to stay with my friend and her husband and son - altogether an incredibly talented family. She is a very accomplished Indian Classical Dancer, and we were treated to a short private performance. There are many styles of classical dance, but I'd never seen any of them, and to get such an amazing performance up close was perhaps the best introduction one could hope for. Her husband is a well-known Classical Vocalist who performs with her as well as in his own shows; she played a commercially-produced CD of him for her mini-performance. And last but not least, their son is a budding western-style guitarist, inordinately fond of Jimi Hendrix, who we got to hear play in his school's "western music assembly" the day we arrived. Wow. Best of all, they are all incredibly warm and welcoming, a pleasure to get to know individually as well as part of a family.
Also met up with a new friend from this year's MTB Himachal (funny being on the same trip and meeting back up with people from previous activities...) and cycled to Pondicherry, about 150km south on a beautiful coastal road. My first trip on a road bike was great - so different than the grinding you do cycling up and down rough mountain terrain. No crazy pictures, but it was great to just ride through the greenery and salty air. A quick stay with other cycling friends there and back the next day - nice tour.
Now off to Bangalore for the last stop on this tour - a little climbing, a little cycling, and some good face time with friends.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
We spent about a week back at the main NIM campus de-issuing gear, doing a bit more rock climbing, practicing the graduation ceremony, and, most importantly, going into town so the long-deprived students could have some junk food. Junk food in this case means chaats, street food, often fried, frequently sweet, and, as required by the definition of street food, largely without redeeming nutritional value but fun to eat! Tikki burgers (fried potato patties on a roll with chili sauce), dahi puri (fried crunchies with sweet sauce and chili sauce and yogurt), and jalebis (fried swirls of batter subsequently saturated in sugar syrup)... sense a trend?
But the more important graduation ceremony was carried out in good style, followed by a "cultural" presentation - everything from Bollywood-style dance numbers to skits about decompressing from the NIM experience to local dance and traditional music. Students returned their stylish NIM graduation sweaters and were suddenly faced with that inevitable end of such an intense ordeal and bonding experience. Hasty goodbyes and early-morning departures left some relieved, some hoping to see new friends on the Advanced Course next year.
I personally am ready for some down time, and am looking forward to a visit with two new friends, one from the mountain bike race, one from the Basic Course, in Chennai. Mmm... warm weather.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wow - that was definitely interesting. I learned a ton of old-school and expedition-specific techniques, a bunch more Hindi, and the names of about a quarter of the students. I thought remembering eight English names on a 3-day Rainier climb was hard...
A three-day march brought us to Base Camp, complete with generator and electric lights, 10-person canvas tents, a stone shelter with propane stoves, a cook staff, and the biggest pressure cooker pot I've ever seen. Porters carried up daily fresh vegetables and eggs, and the ten goats I watched being weighed at our first camp were regularly made into mutton stew. (I love the idea of being able to pet my, or my fellow climbers', dinner's fuzzy nose.) Once a week there was even a "mail run" - money could be given to a porter who would bring back sweets or TP the next day! Crazy expedition stuff.
Over 18 days of hiking in and practicing around Base Camp we covered ice climbing, crevasse crossing, basic snow skills, navigation, and height gain. Some things were the same, some from about 20 years ago, and a few things were just straight-up new to me. Such a strange mix of old and new techniques. Fortunately, a guy who works with a climbing-certification organization paid a visit as well, so I wasn't the only person insisting on crazy things like manufacturer-specified angles of ice-screw placement.
And despite being the "slow" instructor, both in the speed of my students and my non-understanding of daily instructions in Hindi, everyone was great, super helpful and largely indulgent of my ignorance of daily camp workings. On top of it, I had to take my turn as Duty Instructor, responsible for making sure everything happens on time and in line. But I don't know what I'm supposed to be ordering or finding out during morning parade, let along the Hindi words for "attention" and "at ease"... (Actually, I do now - Sabdan and Vishram, in case you ever need to know.) One of the hardest things I've ever done, truthfully - maintaining a (relatively) even keel through not knowing what's going on, trying to suggest improvements while not being condescending, and generally having to sit back and watch a situation I would normally be at least partially in charge of run completely differently.
My basic goal of understanding more of how climbing works here has definitely been accomplished. Larger goals will come with time - I intend to do more with the programs here, though I'm not sure yet in what capacity or timeframe. Down from the mountains now, we're back to more ceremony and logistical management than activity, and I'm about ready to go. A couple more days of graduation rehearsals, assessments, etc, and I'll be on my own again, in charge of my own time. Amazing how important that is when you don't have it.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Rishikesh the tourist town is separate from the actual town, suitably populated by weathered beard-wearing men dressed in the holy color of saffron, variously wandering about, reading languages I can't (yet), and/or asking for money along the well-traveled pedestrian corridors. There are more Hindu temples here than I can pronounce, which means there are as many Indian tourists as foreign ones, all targeted by sellers of an assortment of jewelry, sandalwood, cowboy hats (really!), clothing and blessings - a tikka mark on your forehead, say these words, here's your string bracelet, donation please?
But it's close to the mountains, so there are some beautiful places. A twenty-minute hike reveals two waterfalls, dammed up to make pools to swim in, and just beyond, a valley filled with rice fields and simple houses. Locals as well as tourists come to swim in the falls; I watched three skinny local boys swimming in their underwear once a middle-aged white couple had gotten out, followed by the too-cool boys from Delhi who were still silly once they jumped in and ruined their styled hair. The air was cool in the shade, and the forest green and teeming with butterflies, so different from the dust and smells of the city.
I hiked most of the way to a temple, deciding I didn't need to hike the rest of the way downhill to actually get there. (Who builds a temple halfway down a mountainside, anyway?) Funny how even a simple walk can feel like a story, like you're in a pilgrimage or travel essay if you let it... Two stoned men sitting in the path feeding monkeys ("good monkeys", I was informed) with monkey snacks so I could feel their tapered fingers on mine, then offers of various versions of a smoke. A little further on a couple shyly posing for pictures with their camera and mine, delighted at my offer, likely because they knew I wouldn't disapprove of their intimacy. Reached the top of the hill to find cell towers and a farm but no temple - that was downhill again. Ah, well - maybe next time.
Rafting, reading, and just enjoying my own quiet space here. Next up, headed to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering to see what I can contribute there. I'm supposed to be helping instruct their basic mountaineering course, starting with walking uphill and ending with ?? but I'm not sure how I'll fit into their military hierarchy, especially as a woman in a relatively conservative region. Huh. Well, some of us are going to learn something, not sure who...