New Vineyard, Durham climbers at base of Everest

Editor’s note: In February, the Sun Journal reported on Bill Yeo and John Bagnulo’s planned expedition to Mount Everest. Here’s an update on their progress.

Their toughest two miles await.

Never mind that they’ve already traveled halfway around the world. At least the Maoist rebels attempting to overthrow the Nepalese government haven’t caused them any problems.

Nor did counter-demonstrations raging throughout the country; they’ve been able to dodge that as well.

Too bad the same can’t be said for the air in Katmandu. Pollution there – the place has a population of about 1.5 million people – was so bad that Bill Yeo and John Bagnulo hired a local to run out and fetch pizza to their hotel room. The runner charged them the equivalent of $1.50.

It was worth it, though. Anything they could do to avoid the fouled air was worth it. After all, they’re here now to acclimate their lungs to the clean – and very thin – mountain air of the Mother Goddess of the Universe.

Just as well, Yeo told his wife, Julie, that Katmandu is behind them.

Now Yeo of Durham, and Bagnulo of New Vineyard, have taken up temporary residence at Everest base camp – the Tibetan base camp – on the mountain’s north flank, deep in communist China.

They arrived in Nepal in March, and almost immediately had to cancel a planned 18-day trek to Makalu Valley. Excessive snow prevented access to the fabled region.

Instead, the pair trekked to the Everest base camp in Nepal, the start of about 80 percent of all expeditions up the world’s highest mountain. They visited at the base camp for a few days and climbed to 18,000 feet as part of their overall conditioning.

From there they returned to Katmandu, gathered their gear, got it into a truck and made their way to the Tibetan border.

Now they’ve arrived at the North Face base camp, altitude 17,500 feet above sea level.

“They’re enjoying it,” said Julie Yeo, “and everybody’s healthy, but it’s very windy.”

She said Yeo and Bagnulo are making daily climbs from base camp to the advanced base camp at 19,000 feet. Each time they haul up a load of something – food, fuel, cooking, tents, clothing, first aid needs and other equipment. Once everything is there, they’ll relocate to the higher camp.

The North Face approach calls for climbers to make their way from base camp to the advanced base camp, then on to four successively higher mountain camps before the final push for the summit.

At each camp they’ll take their time to acclimate. They hope to make it to Everest’s 29,035-foot-high summit without using auxiliary oxygen. Bagnulo, a former University of Maine at Farmington nutrition expert, has figured out a menu that, with supplements, is intended to help him and Yeo better purge naturally occurring toxins from their bodies and adjust more easily to the differences in climate and altitude.

Yeo, a professional mountaineer, guide and L.L. Bean bicycling and skiing expert, also is conducting some experiments on the trek. He’s checking soil samples for pollution carried on the winds from China’s industrial cities.

Both men are also renewing some acquaintances and forming new friendships with the cadre of climbers they share the mountainside with.

“Rock talk,” as Yeo calls the conversations climbers often share, builds camaraderie.

Julie Yeo said there’s no firm date set for the two men’s final assault on Everest’s summit. Much of that depends on weather, as well as the climbers’ abilities to acclimate.

The North Face approach has much less snow and doesn’t cross crevasse-filled ice fields, but requires more technical rock-climbing expertise and it is more exposed to the elements.

At 17,500 feet, the North Face base camp is a bit more than two vertical miles below Everest’s summit. The approach wanders along ridge lines, avoiding sections of cliff, until nearing the summit.