CADILLAC — Christina Vipond, a speech and language pathologist at the Wexford-Missaukee ISD, just received a “You climbed the mountain!‘ cake from co-workers.
“Chris has a passion for life,‘ said PK Harrison. “She has a zest for life in all she does ... an empowering spirit to live life to the fullest!‘
On April 14, Vipond with a team of seven and a sherpa guide reached their goal, the base camp of Mount Everest as 44 expedition teams were gathering for their May summits to the peak.
Base camp was packed, a sea of yellow tents and prayer flags flapping in the wind. Climbers often spend weeks or months at camp to acclimatize to the high altitude while they wait for the few days in May when it’s safe to head to the summit.
Last May, Vipond’s Facebook group of like-minded adventurers suggested the trip to Kathmandu, Nepal.
“Sometimes I get myself into things,‘ she said. “Whenever something pops up, don’t ask me unless you really want me to go because I always say yes!‘
Which is how years ago, she lost a kidney after a rugby tackle she made in England went dreadfully wrong.
April trek to the Everest base camp
Vipond’s group met in Kathmandu on April 6 for their two-week trip.
The first stop in their climb was at Namche Bazaar at 11,286 feet.
Vipond was shocked by the crowds, “the touristy-feel‘ and how jammed the trails were leading to the base camp. She didn’t know until she returned home that in May, 11 hikers would lose their lives attempting to summit.
“The first hike wasn’t very strenuous,‘ she said. “But so many people, there were people lined up going to base camp. We had to wait for the pack animals to come past, constantly pack animals headed to base camp and beyond. They had the bells, you could hear them coming. And we had to go slow with the altitude.‘
It took her team eight days to reach base camp. During that time, they ran into two groups on the trail that were planning to reach the top.
“I read that four people from India died (trying to summit),‘ Vipond said. “That was one of the two groups we were walking with. It’s quite possible that the people I was hiking with may have been in that group.‘
They also rubbed elbows with the National Geographic group, of which two were planning to summit.
When Vipond reached base camp, the group could only stay long enough to take photos before heading back to Gorak Shep just down the mountain.
Base camp is reserved for expedition teams waiting to summit. At 17,500 feet, it offers a last safe refuge. Somewhere between 18,000 and 19,000 feet, the body enters a state of decay. Even at base camp, the altitude can cause life-threatening illness.
Vipond witnessed altitude sickness first-hand before even reaching base camp.
“It was very real, the sickness and the (possibility of) death,‘ she said. “One night in the tea house where we stayed, the walls are very thin, I heard a man yelling, ‘Get me out of here now!’ He was violently sick and was helicoptered out with another man, an older gentleman.‘
Altitude sickness can cause fatigue, dizziness, vomiting, headaches, confusion, trouble walking and sometimes a coma.
Evacuations, she said, were a common daily occurrence.
“Three in our group were taking (altitude) medication,‘ she said. “I didn’t take anything and was thankful I didn’t get it. Two in our group got pretty sick.‘
Vipond heard their “crackling coughs‘ and knew their oxygen levels were low and they had severe headaches.
Base camp doesn’t have a view of Mount Everest. So Vipond’s group took a two-hour day trek to Kalapattar at 18,192 feet.
“That was our highest climb,‘ she said. “I think part of the beauty of it was there weren’t as many people, you could see the beauty and the amazing sunrise views over the mountains.‘
One of her most challenging treks was to Gokyo Lakes and Cho Lo Pass in the Khumbu region that includes the Khumbu icefall and glaciers.
“When we climbed Cho Lo Pass, the lakes were frozen over, the narrow pass was snow covered and we had to have crampons,‘ Vipond said. “We came in late at night in the dark with head lamps, so that was pretty dangerous. We were up on the ledge going through the glacier. We were slowed down because of the sicknesses, two of our people were sick.‘
“Just going to base camp, there was an excitement about that and the celebration of being there,‘ she said. “It was cool to see but not what I would go back to see. I would like to make a trek to Island Peak (20,305 ft.) It’s affordable. It gives me the risk. I would need oxygen and a guide.‘
Since returning from Everest in April, Vipond, 47, spent Memorial Day weekend backpacking in the mountains of New Hampshire and is looking forward to a backpacking/river rafting trip in Montana in July.