Daily Dispatches
Satellite phone updates from the 1998 American Everest Expedition

Wally Berg
The Milky Way from 17,000' at 4am
Wednesday, April 29, 1998 — Base Camp (17,500')

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Good Morning Mountain Zone, it's Wally Berg calling from base camp about 4am on April 29th. I wasn't going to call you this morning before I set out through the Icefall to go up into the Western Cwm to join the rest of the climbing team, Eric, Greg and Charles, but it's such a brilliant morning,

Chungba Sherpa
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I thought I should just try to describe it to you.

First of all, it started off in a rather funny way. Chungba, the head cook, always brings me a cup of coffee to wake me up and get me started on an Icefall morning, typically that's at 3am. This morning he came around and did just that except it didn't seem like I had been asleep very long, and we realized, sleepy-eyed, there at my tent, that it was actually only midnight — it was only about 12am. He had woken up and had the notion that his alarm didn't work and hurriedly got coffee going for me and tea going for Dorjee, the one climbing Sherpa who is still working out of base camp. So, we kind of went back to sleep as best we could for a few hours and had another go at it at 3am.

I have just been really struck this morning, as I wander around and get ready to start, with how brilliant the sky is. It's very hard to describe. You can only try to imagine at 17,500', when it gets clear, how brilliant the sky is. There are absolutely no clouds this morning. It's still, very good weather, and the Milky Way has a presence that is hard to describe. It's right there, it's brilliant, the stars, the star light is pretty intense; there is no moon at all with a very clear sky. Then looking down to the south and west, there is what I call "heat lighting," I'm not sure really the explanation for it, but there are flashes of light that illuminate the sky even more — very peaceful setting.

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Chungba does what is typically done any day a Sherpa or a member or any group of Sherpas or members goes through the Icefall. Early in the morning, after he gets tea going, he will walk to the Lhapsung Chortan, or altar from which our prayer flags are strung, and he will light a juniper fire. We always keep juniper at base camp for this very purpose, this is a sacred thing the Sherpas do as a blessing to the gods before people set off onto the climbing route.

It is a very peaceful setting here this morning. Interrupted only by the grandeur of the mountain walls around us when things come crashing down, and just moments ago, a very big avalanche came down off of Lho La [a col in the ridge of the West Shoulder of Everest]. These rumblings, these extended periods of crashing ice coming down, are part of the scene here and a pretty constant reminder each night that you are in a very grand mountain setting and a place which we feel very small and very humble to even be here.

So, that's the scene as I set off into the Icefall. I'll sit here and continue to slowly get ready, and with first light, which will come shortly after 5am, so I don't have to take a head lamp, I'll walk from our camp, which is situated at the highest point really of all the base camps this year, and it's very easy access over to the crampon point where I'll put on crampons to begin climbing through the Icefall to Camp I.

Wally Berg, Expedition Leader