The Hazards of High Camp

Tents are pitched on the graveled slope of High Camp. Tommy sorts out the arrangements: I will bunk with Greg; Brad with Keith; Tanner with Tommy. Wilkerson, who continues to struggle, will have his own tent. We bend the poles, stretch the nylon, and lasso the rain-fly to large boulders. In the process, we discuss domestic strategy.

As cozy as it gets at 14,000’.

Greg and I will pile our gear on the “downhill” end of the tent and sleep with our heads at the “uphill” end. I unroll a company-issued polyurethane pad and place my shorty therm-a-rest on top of it. The mummy bag goes on top of that; it is supposed to be good down to zero degrees. I hope this arrangement will keep me warm and somehow dull the protruding rocks beneath me. I stretch out my legs and test it. It is hardly a feather-bed, but it is actually more cozy than I imagined. Of course, no arrangement can offset the ominous feeling of sliding straight off the mountain. The thin nylon wall of the tent shields the view to ten thousand feet of yawning air just outside the flap. It is a mind game, I decide. I put my feet up on my backpack, close my eyes, and imagine swinging in a hammock between two palm trees. Then I wiggle my toes inside two layers of damp and woolly socks. There is nothing tropical about it.







The view from inside Tanner’s tent.

There is no toilet in High Camp. Alternatively, you could say that there is a toilet everywhere in High Camp. Nature’s call is answered (hopefully) behind the largest and most convenient boulder in the area. The wise climber-in-need must venture cautiously to the perimeter of the camp, recognizing that our group is only the most recent to attempt Ağrı Dağı this season. Needless to say, the camp is ringed by a miry “mine field.”

The horses are less modest.

I remember how Uraz smiled the first time I hit such a “mine” on the trail.

“That’s good luck,” he chuckled as I kicked the chunks from my hiking boot, “but only if you step in it by accident.”

“And what would the other option be?” I muttered to myself.

A careful walk to the snow above our tenting area reveals the origins of the gurgling water hose in Low Camp. The upper end is attached to a homemade funnel and placed in a glacial stream. Rocks hold everything in place. The system is admirably simple. It also explains why the water is brain numbing cold.

The water-catcher below the glacier.

I do feel slightly dizzy or light-headed, but cannot decide if it is from the climb, from the lack of anything horizontal, or simply from the thin air of 14,000 feet. Uraz tells us that we should try to get some sleep tonight, but is skeptical to the possibility.

“Nobody sleeps up here in High Camp.”

I do carry medicine for altitude sickness. However, since I have not experienced an altitude like this before, I am not exactly sure what the sickness feels like. Uraz says that you will develop a headache whether you take medicine or not. I can’t say that my head is seriously throbbing at the moment. It just feels light . . . and goofy. I decide to skip the medicine. If I get to feeling worse, I’ll take it. Some in the group do the same.

The rest of the afternoon is spent lounging around. We rest, chat, rearrange gear, and compete by throwing rocks. The worry-wart within me imagines that we will start an avalanche. I can picture the headline: “Climbers die in self-administered rockslide.”

“Throw downhill,” I admonish Tanner.

We are to bring our crampons to the mess tent before dinner. Uraz wants to see how they match up with our boots. He also wants to teach us how to walk on ice. This should be good, I think.

Keith among the tents of High Camp.