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The Mighty Mountain of Bhutan


by Erica Storm

August 12, 2002

My story begins when I heard about the magnificent mountains in Bhutan. Being one of the top writers and climbers in the U.S.A., National Geographic paid me to go climb a lost mountain named Mongchua, in Bhutan, and then write a piece for their magazine. Having nothing to write about and needing adventure I said, “yes.” They would pay me two million dollars to go to this lost mountain. I could not wait for departure!

Arriving in Bhutan I found that the people were very welcoming and I quickly felt at home. I spent two weeks preparing for the climb, which would be seven days to the summit of 27, 569 feet. I would have five other people on my climb and two guides. There would be six camps on the mountain. We could make our attempt to summit from the highest camp, located in the death zone where we would need oxygen. After getting physically and mentally prepared we were ready to climb.

We reached base camp on May 28th, 2000. There we sent two weeks getting accustomed to the lack of oxygen. We left for camp one on June 11th. We reached the first camp at 4 P.M., had dinner and went to sleep in our tents at 6:00. We were on our way to a great adventure.

Camps 2 through 5 went by quickly and smoothly. Only two people had to be taken down because of the lack of oxygen and altitude. At camp six a storm blew in delaying us for two days. We tried to radio in to base camp for help but our batteries were dead. Our guides told us that we could not summit, but I determined we could, and persuaded our guides to push on, although we had not eaten anything for two days.

We headed up a rock section we called the Ilene Step, a rock-climbing wall that was harder than anything we had seen before. For us to climb the Ilene Step we would need fixed ropes. Fortunately people had already fixed it for us before the storm hit. But who? Weren’t we the only ones to every try this climb? There was no time to wonder. We had a certain order in which we could climb the step. I was the second to last person. Half way up the step, the last person fell. But wasn’t I one of the best climbers in the US? I caught him just in time and he reconnected himself to the line and continued.

We reached the summit 4:00 PM. We stayed for a moment and decided we needed to get down. By the time we reached camp 6 it was 5:00. We had two hours of rest and then headed down to camp 5, and then camp 4. At camp 3 we were able to trade with another climber a head light for some batteries to radio down to base camp. The batteries, unknown to us, were dead. Perhaps this climber was the one to fix the ropes?! But how would I explain this to National Geographic?

We made it down to base camp with no injuries, and radioed to the capital of Bhutan, Thimpu. We made it back to the capital city and enjoyed the comfort if a luxury suite at the Marriott. From there I flew back to NYC to write my story. When it was published, a book publisher asked me to write about the trip. When my book was published it was number one on the bestseller list, and I have been famous every since. And the mystery of the fixed ropes and the climber we meet at camp 3? I never explained it to the public and never will. This was my mountain to climb.

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