It’s Saturday April 29th and we are officially one month into the expedition as of yesterday. I am now longer into this trip by a week or more than my previous longest expeditions (Denali, Aconcagua). Normally by this time, I’d be flying home from Alaska or Argentina and quite glad of it too 🙂 This is where time management and keeping myself occupied between rotations is going to be crucial – to try and not lose my mind or go down dark rabbit holes of negative thoughts and doubts. Anyhow, after a well-needed shower and day of rest yesterday, here’s what’s being going on this pat week as we successfully completed our second rotation – first full trip through the icefall to C1 and onto C2.
After our false start on Sunday due to issues with ladders in the icefall, last Monday came our chance to finally climb to C1. With the usual early start, we trekked to crampon point where yet again, we donned crampons to the backdrop of a string of headlamps making their way up the icefall.
It turns out the icefall wasn’t simply going to let us pass this day either, and we were delayed for 1hr+ due to a collapse up near the football field. A Sherpa had been seriously injured and was being carried down – he ultimately was flown to Kathmandu for treatment but lived to tell the tale thankfully. With that, we finally started our ascent after 5am; When we reached the point of collapse the fixed ropes simply disappeared in a giant, eerie jumble of ice blocks – which required some navigation from our Sherpa to thread a path to where the lines reappeared again. This was a stark reminder that any confidence you have that you are entirely master of your own destiny up here is purely fiction; there is luck involved too – and you just try to limit the time you are exposed to that luck – in essence by limiting the time you are in the icefall, especially the more exposed areas.
The good news was that overall this felt better than our previous dry-run. However, our work was not done yet and there was more of a climb than expected from the football field (where we stopped on the dry run) to get to C1 @ 19,600 ft, especially as the day heated up and we became somewhat dehydrated. After another push, the IMG camp beckoned, perched at the head of the western cwm. We happily fell into our tents and rested for the afternoon before dinner (our first taste of MREs – military style boil in the bag meals – not too bad at all!) and bed later that eve.
On the docket Tuesday was a short enough trek (maybe 1hr) above C1 making our way up the gradual steps of the glacier into the Western Cwm proper, to eventually look down on C1. Happy to report that any fatigue from the day before had vanished and everyone appeared strong. For those unfamiliar with the term (most people), “Cwm” is a Welsh word meaning a “rounded or glaciated valley” – hence rather apt for the bowl that is formed above C1. We enjoyed the views, acclimated that bit more, and made our way back to C1 to rest for the remainder of the day.
Wednesday morning came with wind battering our tent. As always in a tent, this sounded worse than it was, but it still sounded bad enough to make me more than a little reluctant to leave my sleeping bag (inertia is a terrible thing!). We had breakfast and hit the trail up the western Cwm towards C2 – with the cold & wind quickly freezing my hands (after NH two months ago where I got frostnip I am very wary of this) – even with the best planned glove system, some mornings just get you regardless. Finally after much swinging of my arms to get the blood flow going again, and a brief period of screaming with pain as the blood returned to my fingers, I was good to go.
We gradually climbed the same terrain as the day before, and then beyond, crossing some of our largest crevasses to date – some more hairy than others (one in particular where my Sherpa was audibly praying as I crossed!!) Once done with this final rope and ladder work we faced a very long, gradual uphill trek to C2. This is usually a sweltering affair with the Cwm acting as a huge sun reflector – thankfully on this day, the somewhat adverse conditions meant that we didn’t roast as many other climbers have in the past. The thing about the Cwm is that you can see your ultimate goal – C2 – from miles (and hours) away. Distance and perspective are hard things to gauge in this environment. After several hours we finally had C2 nearby and just remained to plod through the various other team camps to make it to IMG, near the back of C2 @ 21,225 ft. We fell into camp – as usual slugging back mugs of tang and Sherpa tea upon arrival.
I did notice that my chest cough seemed to have worsened for the travel to C2, in that I now had a mild pain in the area of my left ribs / lung whenever I coughed. My stomach was once again making very odd noises too. Not sure what to make of that yet but all sorts of worries enter ones mind – and one thing is very clear on this mountain from what I have seen of other climbers that have had to descend – it is a war of attrition… your most important – and most difficult – task is to stay healthy long enough to give yourself a shot at the summit. In and of itself, that is turning out to be no small feat.
After a fairly poor sleep I rose Thursday AM and while feeling pretty crappy, joined the team for another relatively short acclimatization trek above C2. This is where we got our first good look at the Lhotse face, the bergschrund (crevasse formed where the moving glacier in the Cwm separates from stagnant ice above – i.e. from the Lhotse face), C3 perched precariously above @ 23,500 ft, and on to the yellow band, Geneva Spur and C4 on the South Col. Funny thing (not so much) with Everest – no sooner are you over the challenge of the icefall, crevasses and ladders but you are then confronted with the far more intimidating Lhotse face.
For now however, I chose to concentrate on the task at hand for this rotation – and that was to make it to C2, stay awhile and return to EBC – and by that measure, this has been a success. I will worry about the Lhotse face on our next rotation – one thing at a time.
Friday morning we awoke and prepared for the trip back to EBC. It was once again a cold start but with a quick descent to C1 which warmed us up and then on back down through the icefall before the midday heat. I stopped by the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) for a check-up after my few health issues had flared up in C2 above – the doctors found no sign of a chest infection, and suggested I carry on and comeback if things worsened… good enough for now. We got back to EBC camp proper for a great lunch, dinner, warm shower and contact with the world at large to replenish my spirits.
I have to admit that I am still daunted by this challenge, particularly after seeing the Lhotse face and beyond – and maybe not enjoying it as much as I should? In boxing you are never supposed to afford your opponent too much respect – but this isn’t boxing and I don’t think there is such a thing as too much respect for this particular mountain. Only time will prove me right or wrong. Either way, we now have 4+ days at EBC to rest and rehabilitate. I am quite sure cabin fever will have hit by then and we will be well ready to go back up the hillagain. Current weather reports are hindering other teams advances, but given we are not planning a move for some days yet – our timing may be perfect. Next move likely towards the end of next week – but I’ll update before then as things become clearer.
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