After four days of exhaustive and exhausting medical testing in Kathmandu, what exactly happened to Cory at Camp 2 at 21,200 feet (6,462 meters) is still not clear. Hence, sadly, the expedition is over for Cory, and he is returning to his home in Boulder, Colorado. Because nothing conclusive was discovered in all the diagnostic testing, Cory was ready and anxious to get back up with the team at Base Camp. However, team leader Conrad, after consulting over a half dozen doctors—including the Mayo Clinic staff docs who are here with us at Base Camp right now—decided the potential risks to Cory’s health, if he were to return to altitude, were simply too high. Quite naturally, Cory was upset, but Conrad’s decision, backed by the National Geographic Society and The North Face, heartrending and difficult as it is, was the only rational choice. The health of every climber and Sherpa and the safety of the team as a whole are always the highest priorities on an expedition.
Although Cory’s departure does not affect the plans of the South Col team—Kris and Hilaree, Sam and Emily, Phil and myself—Conrad is suddenly without a partner for the West Ridge attempt. Fortunately, there are two solid possibilities here at Base Camp: Italian Simone Moro, 44, one of the world’s leading 8,000-meter climbers, and our own Jangbu Sherpa, 25. Moro has summited Everest numerous times, besides his many other 8,000-meter ascents. Jangbu, young and hungry, has summited Everest once before, with oxygen. (Conrad, himself, has summited Everest twice, in 1999 and 2007, both times with oxygen.) When I spoke with Simone this morning, he said several conditions would have to be met for him to join Conrad. First, he needs to change his climbing permit. Second, “I need to have time to fall in love with this route. It’s like a woman, you know.” Simone also said he would need more time to acclimatize, and that it would have to snow. “The mountain is too dry right now. Too icy. There is risk of rockfall in Hornbein Couloir.”
Right now, the whole team is back down at Base Camp, lamenting Cory’s departure but thankful he got off the mountain alive. Besides eating and sleeping as much as possible, we are running through a battery of physiological and psychological tests for the Mayo Clinic (look for my upcoming blog). Winds are howling up high, so we’ll be here at Base Camp for the next few days at least. Recuperation includes getting a hot bucket shower and drinking gallons of Nepali milk tea. There is constant speculation about the weather (no conversation whatsoever about politics, thank God). We spend evenings huddled in the mess tent playing cribbage or gin rummy, or hunkered around a laptop in down parkas watching the hilarious, if sleazy, HBO series Entourage or the no less addictive, but just as vulgar, Breaking Bad.