We are now in Namche allowing our bodies to heal and recover from our week up at camps 1,2 and 3 on Everest. A surreal thickness of air and greenery engulfs four of our Everest team that hiked 15 miles down from Basecamp and hitched a ride on a helicopter the remaining distance to Namche Bazaar. I reflect on the preceeding events as if they are far removed. We just heard that the same storm which hit us here last night wrecked havoc on base camp and we are still gathering information about the extent of the damage to our camp and friends.
In the early morning hour of 3 am, Saturday, April 28, 8 Everest and four Camp 3 climbers departed to thread our way through the notorious Khumbu icefall. In darkness we attached ascenders to rope, crampons to boots and packs to cold backs. My head was filled with images of danger, falling seracs,tumbling ice blocks and bottomless crevasses.
The reality was fortunately much less dramatic. They say the Icefall route is one of the safest in years. Yes, we did ladder crossings, crevasse crossings and the like. I remember the first time I placed my steel crampons on the aluminum rung of a ladder spanning a bottomless crack. There were two sections of ladder and I gripped the rope tighter than a tourniquet. Dawa steadied me like an anchor.
It took 6 hours to ascend through what Conrad Anker called the “Ballroom of Death”. The sun rose to illuminate giant ice walls that signifihe the top of our Khumbu experience. Camp 1 was still hours away. My breathing was labored beyond comprehension and the sun was beating me into the snow. Our team was similarly puffing through this section. By now it was blazing hot and I doubted my ability to reach that speck of yellow far above.
Eight hours was my final time to camp 1. We rested there for two nights in the sweltering Western cwm. The morning Dawa and I blazed out our first hazard was a huge icewall with multiple ladders lashed together. Then there was a 3 ladder crossing over a yawning crevasse. And to think I had relegated that scene to the icefall prematurely. The cwm is an oven on a cloudy day. This morning saw a few passing vapors.
Very far in the distance, I spotted tents across a minimally rising expanse. Dawa assured me it was HOURS away, and I believed him. My Sherpa brother doesn’t lie. It is at this point my body temps rise to unbearable. I’ve not been this hot ever. Four hours it took to coax me into camp 2 at 21000 feet.
That night was incredibly cold, single digits freezing. My toes numbed and the darkness was a battle to warm digits. My tentmate, Richard suffered as well. It snowed most afternoons at 2 on until dark. We had 10 people at camp 2 and the Sherpa did well to cook meals at this altitude. One of our team remained at camp 1 on oxygen.
We rested before attempting to reach camp 3. A couple in our group, including ny new tentmate, tried to ascend to camp 3. Three turned around due to extreme cold and exhaustion. The two who reached 24,000 feet took 10 hours and looked like refried hell when they came dragging back. It was a harbinger of the following day.
Again, it was freezing cold that afternoon, night and morning as we booted up for our biggest day. 8 am saw four climbers with numb toes depart for camp 3. Two hours was when we hit the bergschrund which signified the beginning of the fixed ropes on the Lhotse face. Imagine 45 degree slopes with ropes hanging from ice screws to which we attach an ascending device, safety biner and start “jugging” skyward.
Pitch after pitch of coordinated jug and kicking into blue ice was unrelenting for hours upon hours. Add to this the misery of the afternoon snow storm. I had stripped down to underclothes and ditched my shell jacket. This did little for the freezing wind and snow now sticky on my sweaty garment. The precipitous ground afforded little opportunity to modify wardrobe. Dawa Sherpa led over ice lip and ice lip. No margin for error existed here. We were three hours on the Lhotse face.
As the wind increased we gained what I hoped was the final wall into camp 3. However, Dawa wished to push on another hundred feet into our tent compound he had so carefully helped chip out days before. I flung myself into a shelter from this storm, but only long enough to don mittens as my hands immediately went to numb. Reclothed, we began our descent into or out of bad weather, it mattered not. We had barely enough time to beat the retreating sun. Here is NeilsN video of our team at camp 3. https://youtu.be/N9CtlMk2urk
I lost count of the number of rappels back down the Lhotse face we racked. I’m guessing near six or 7 full rappels and five arm raps. The ice was firm and polished, unforgiving lest anyone miss a rig. Dawa ensured that didn’t occur on his watch. With great relief and little sun we reached the bergschrund and cold booted down the glacier.
10 hours was our day on the Lhotse face. Every light on my dashboard was blinking when we rolled back in to camp 2. Soup was waiting for
me and I could barely stomach any of it. I drank what little water I could and passed out for the night. We left for Basecamp the following morning. That was another 5 hours including time back through the ice fall.
We spent Seven days above 20 thousand feet and completed our acclimatization for Everest. I had likely lost 15 pounds and it showed. Our team was bedraggled, malnourished and exhausted.
Michael, Neil, Tom and myself grabbed our packs after a daysd rest and walked 15 miles down to Pheriche. The following morning we hitched a ride on a helicopter to Namche where we currently remain. I can’t post pictures due to the unstable internet. I have a bit of stomach bug, along wit Neil but have time to sort this out here in lower elevation.
We are safe, rested and recovering and hope to return to ebc in a few days. Thanks for following.